United Kingdom, WWII

Jagdtiger vs a Rabbit-Filled Churchill Tank

Jagdtigers and rabbits are not things you’d typically associate with each other, but in 1949 Britain put the two head-to-head in armour tests to find out how damaging non-perforating hits were.

Well, to be precise, the 12.8 cm gun used by Jagdtigers (and the Maus!) was technically aimed at a Churchill tank. But the real value of the test was the condition of the bunnies afterwards. So while you’ve probably never thought about what the most powerful anti-tank gun of the Second World War could do to a rabbit, you’re now probably pretty intrigued.

The results may surprise you…



In the post-war, the Fighting Vehicles Design Establishment (F.V.D.E.) were busy people. The war was over but the threat was not; instead of ideologically motivated, dangerous Nazis, there were now ideologically motivated, dangerous Soviets on the doorstep.

Tanks, aircraft, and infantry were massing on the borders, in this case, along the East and West German divide.

Rather than having the luxury of relaxing in the post-war world, the new Allied forces were busy developing counters and weapons. In many cases, these were continuations of wartime projects. They also spent much time evaluating what would be needed and what the enemy might be fielding in the future. Some of these projects were to assess the impact of the next generation of tank guns versus armour.

Various tests of different types were carried out, some we’ve covered here before; the HESH versus Tiger II being a good example.

The test Tiger.
This Tiger II was beaten around by 165 mm HESH rounds in 1947.

Reasoning for the Test

The test that we are looking at today was undertaken in November 1949 under the guidance of A.E. Masters, Chief Engineer of the F.V.D.E. Its purpose was to assess the effects on a crew from heavy calibre impacts that did not perforate the armour.

At this time, the largest Soviet tank guns were of 122 mm calibre and the British and Americans were working on new 120mm guns. Therefore, they assumed, quite correctly, that in the future these guns would not only increase in power, but calibre too. Naturally, their effects on armour needed to be established.

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To find this out, a suitably large calibre gun was needed. This requirement was answered by a German 12.8 cm PaK 44 anti-tank gun. The PaK 44 was one of the most powerful guns of the war, originally being developed as a field gun. It possessed excellent range and was capable of knocking out any Allied tank fielded during the Second World War from the front.

Zimmerit, only applied partially up the hull of this Jagdtiger,
The PaK 44 was used in the Jagdtiger

This weapon is most famous for being the main armament of the Jagdtiger, the heaviest AFV to enter service during the war. It was also planned for use on the Maus, the heaviest tank ever built.

For the tests, armour piercing capped (APC) rounds were bored out and filled with HE taken from other leftover rounds. They were fired from 100 yards away at an angle of 30 degrees. Each round weighed approximately 59 lb and was charged to give an equivalent impact as if fired from 800 yards. 

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Before this, several tests had been carried out with normal APC rounds. These were done on normal armour plates of varying thicknesses and angles. A 90 mm plate was tested with 14 mm burster plates (spaced armour). The 14 mm plate being grossly overmatched shattered and exploded as a plate will do when overmatched to this extent.

12.8 cm round impacts against 90 mm plate.
90 mm plate angled back at 55° was mostly unable to stop the 12.8 cm APC rounds. Only rounds 3 and 4 scooped the armour.

The 90 mm plate, although angled at 55° for an effective thickness of 156 mm, was still perforated in multiple places. A thicker 113 mm plate was mounted at 50° for an effective thickness of 175 mm and faired better, with only two complete perforations and one penetration.

These tests would serve to indicate the sort of armour thickness that would be needed to protect allied tanks from guns they may face. 90 mm was not going to cut it, but armour around 120 mm thick – and well-sloped – could defend against such an attack.

113 mm plate during armour tests.
The 113 mm plate angled back at 55° held up much better, with only 2 perforations and a single penetration. Tests like these helped to establish the sort of protection needed on tanks to face the Soviet 122 mm guns. Vehicles like Centurion would have their armour increased to 120 mm angled back, and Conqueror was even thicker.

This information was very useful and resulted in the Centurion being upgraded to compensate, and tanks like the FV214 Conqueror being more heavily armoured than its FV201 ancestor. But while this was all well and good, they still needed to see how these large calibre rounds behaved on the armour and how the crew would fare when the armour was stuck, but not perforated by such rounds.

The idea was that sufficiently thick armour could stop a round, but the immense concussive effects involved may still cause injury to the crew, or damage the tank.

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To find out what these rounds would do in this circumstance, they needed a tank… and some bunnies.

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The Bunnies…

Bunnies have a hard time in life. They are nature’s punching bags; everything seems to be set out to eat them, trap them, cook them, poison them or generally make their life as short as possible, and the British War Office was no different. They went through more rabbits than General Woundwort.  

The various testing grounds would use white rabbits in many tests, to see how shockwaves, debris and other forces would affect the human body. White rabbits were used as it would be easier to identify where damage was done.

These tests were no different. A selection of rabbits were placed in small cages and stuck inside the tank in various positions. 

Rabbits inside the tank.
Bunnies inside their cages in the tank.

The Tank

The tank selected was an old, unserviceable Churchill Mk VII, No. T.251536. As these tests were investigating the effects of non-perforating hits, the already well-protected Churchill had to be reinforced.

Extra armour plates were attached to its sides and turret, bringing these areas to a total thickness of 9.25 inches (235 mm) to withstand the impacts of the 12.8 cm projectiles.

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The poor rabbits were placed inside the tank in wire cages, ready to feel the impact of very fast-moving lumps of steel. The probable concussion effects on a human crew would be judged by the effects found on the rabbits.

Churchill Mk VII.
A typical Churchill Mk VII.

The additional armour on both the hull sides and turret sides consisted of 3-inch and 2.5-inch thick plates welded together into a steel sandwich. These assemblies were then welded to the tank’s main armour with inch-thick fillet welds.

The areas covered by the applique armour were approximately 4 sq ft on the turret sides and 8 sq ft on the panniers. The total thickness including the main armour was approximately 9.25 inches, equivalent to 235 mm, which was estimated as the amount from the previous tests required to resist this attack. 

The general structure of the hull was very much energy overmatched by the attack, so there was considerable weld failure, with fillets being fractured for as much as 10 ft long in places. The spectacular overmatch failures were expected as there was little point in providing heavier weld fillets in the hull structure.

Churchill VII left side.
The Churchill VII. Note the thick applique armour on the turret side.

The vehicle did not require any stronger attachment than was necessary to withstand repeated attacks from the projectile. The vehicle, although marked down as a non-runner, was complete with engine, main armament and other major assemblies but was unstowed (had no live ammunition in it). 

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The 12.8 cm round was fired at a 30° angle from a range of 100 yards, however, the plates stuck to the side were of unknown quality and considered scrap, so the charges were reduced to provide a striking velocity of 2,471 fps.


The first round that struck the armour scooped a 1.5-inch trough out of the applique armour, tearing it off and splitting the inside pannier welds open along its seam. The air intake louvre on the side, which was fastened by four 1-inch bolts, was torn off via the shock. The inner surface of the pannier revealed a cracked bulge .75 inches high directly behind the voltage control regulator that was enclosed in a cast iron case.

Churchill Target tank.
Round 1, the louvres have been torn off a large dent is seen where the applique was.

This case shattered and exploded from the impact, sending shards across the inside of the tank. An ammunition bin in contact with the panniers buckled and was forced inwards, causing the bin doors to foul the turret basket thus preventing the turret from traversing. Had rounds been included a number would have been bent and unusable.

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The second shot hit with a bit more velocity due to the gun being warmer. The round hit the applique armour at 30° and ripped it apart, sending it flying off to the side and once again damaging welds and further buckling the side in. Surprisingly, the turret was still movable by hand traverse once the obstruction was cleared. 

Churchill target with turret knocked off.
Round 3 – the turret has been knocked clean off its perch, the ring is damaged, the bolts sheared and the cupola sent flying off. While the concussive shock was minimal to the crew such a hit would still be quite fatal physically

The next shot hit the nearside turret wall at 30° – the same charge weight was used but the velocity was now recorded as 2,549 fps and the strike was central to the applique armour. The entire turret was dislodged from its seating and thrown to the opposite side of the hull, where it was left balancing precariously on the offside track.  

All the securing bolts on both the fixed and moving race rings were fractured and dowels in the latter rings were partly sheared. The applique armour plates were shot off in pieces and the turret wall was scooped, producing a slight bulge and large cracks on the inside surface of the casting.

Churchill target turret.
Another view of the turret shows the missing applique armour and heavy-hitting power of the 12.8 cm gun.

No items of stowage were on this wall, but studs and mounting strips were broken off, indicating any item would have been violently dislodged. Light fittings were left hanging by their wires. The cupola and periscopes were all thrown off the tank.

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Condition of the Bunnies

Surprisingly all the bunnies lived, which was the desired result. No severe concussion was found, no ruptured eardrums or bleeding was spotted and pathological examinations on site seemed to show the rabbits were healthy and that no serious injury to real crews would be caused by the concussion effect.

Churchill target interior.
Inside the hull. The dents and bulges as well as cracks were caused by the rounds even after hitting over 200 mm of steel. However, the crew here would have suffered no sound or shock damage, only physical damage from dislodged items.

However, whilst this was positive for the test results, the actual physical damage the crew would have received had they been in this turret or hull due to the dislodgement and parts shooting across the hull would have undoubtedly caused casualties in their opinion.