Building On the Past: Kursk and Heavy German Tanks
At Brickmania, we love our heavy tanks. In discussions about the Battle of Kursk, one cannot avoid the topic of big German tanks, namely the Panther, Tiger, and Ferdinand. These massive iron monsters are often featured in popular World War II films as nearly impossible to destroy, adding to the mythology surrounding German armor.
After the invasion of the Soviet Union and encountering the new Russian T-34, German commanders immediately requested tanks that could defeat this new threat. That request began a production line of German tanks that continued to increase in size with every generation. On Hitler’s orders for bigger tanks, the Axis war machine produced armor unlike anything seen before in history.
The Panther is often considered the best of the three. Lighter than the Tiger, the Panther was more maneuverable and deployed a long 75mm gun turret. This balance of speed to firepower is often described as one of the best in World War II.
The 88mm gun of the Tiger made it incredibly deadly at long range, forcing Soviet tank commanders to move in and attempt to flank. In several instances, it was recorded that a single Tiger might destroy 5–10 enemy tanks in one engagement.
Among the three, the Ferdinand was the least effective. Comparable to the Tiger in armor and firepower, its lack of maneuverability combined with no defensive weapons made it susceptible to Soviet infantry, often armed with simple weapons like Molotov cocktails. After Kursk, surviving Ferdinands were retrofitted and renamed the Elefant.
The complex engineering of these tanks made them susceptible to mechanical breakdown. Few spare parts were available, forcing several tank crews to blow up their stranded vehicles to avoid enemy capture. Many of the Panthers never even made it to the front, reducing the armor available for the offensive.
Simply speaking, the German tanks were some of the best in the war — when they were actually operational.