VK36.01(H) (Panzerkampfwagen VI)

The VK 36.01 (H) was the direct precursor to the Henschel version of the Tiger I, but was let down by the choice of a weapon that required scarce tungsten.

The VK 36.01 chassis evolved from the earlier Durchbruchswagen 1 and Durchbruchswagen 2 and the VK 30.01, a series of designs for 30 ton tanks armed with a short 75mm gun. The D.W. chassis had been produced during 1938, followed by three VK 30.01 test chassis in 1940 and eight pre-production VK 30.01 chassis and turrets during 1941.

The project that led to the VK 36.01 began in June 1939 when Krupp was asked to design a turret to carry a 10.5cm L/20 to L/28 gun, with 100mm armour, to be carried on a Artilleriewagen (A.W.) Panzer. Krupp completed the basic design by 20 October 1939, producing a 2.27m wide turret that needed a 1.75m turret ring, would have weighed 8.4 tons and produced a tank of over 80 tons.

The campaign of 1940 convinced the Germans that any tank weighting over 30 tons would be of limited use, as they wouldn't be able to cross smaller guns. In June-July 1940 work thus began on a project to produce a turret capable of carrying the 10.5cm gun on the D.W. chassis. In July 1940 Krupp was given the choice of modifying the heavy A.W. turret so it could be carried by the 30 ton D.W., or modifying the existing D.W. turret to carry a 10.5cm gun. The turret was to use a turret ring with a 1.7m diameter, have 80mm frontal armour and 50mm side armour, and be either polygonal or cylindrical. At about the same time Henschel was asked to modify the D.W. chassis to allow it to carry the new turret.

Both turret designs continued to be developed for some time. On 16 September 1940 Krupp was given a contract to produce a 10.5cm L/278 gun to be mounted in a A.W. turret, while on 21 November they were asked to produce a single D.W. test turret, with two mantlets - one made from rolled plate and the other from cast armour.

On 18 January 1941 work on the A.W. turret effectively came to an end, when the September contract was modified to cover the D.W. turret instead. In the same month Krupp was asked to produce a complete example of the D.W. turret, with a hydraulic traverse drive.

In March 1941 Krupp was asked to send the designs for the D.W. (VK 36.01) (Neukonstruktion) turret to Henschel. In the same month Krupp was informed that they would soon be given a contract to produce four VK 36.01 hulls, to be delivered in January and February 1942. The contract itself was awarded on 5 May 1941, and covered the chassis and turrets.

After a conference with Hitler on 26 May 1941 the decision was made to abandon the 10.5cm gun, and instead use a new weapon with high armour penetration - the 75mm Waffe 0725 (or Gerät 725). This was a tapered bore weapon, narrower at the mouth than at the breach. As the shells moved down the barrel they were squeezed and got quicker. The shells had a soft outer section and a hard tungsten core.

On 11 June 1941 the original turret contracts were modified. The first order for a single turret was cancelled, and the second one, for four turrets was altered to a contract for six turrets armed with the new Waffe 0725. At the same time Henschel was given a contract to produce one test chassis, which would be used without a turret as a trials vehicle, and six test series vehicles, which would carry the six turrets.  Somewhat ironically, at this stage the VK 36.01 was seen as a fore-runner of the rival VK 45.01 (P) Porsche Tiger, which was to be armed with a 88mm gun, also carried in a Krupp turret.

In July 1941 it became clear Germany didn't have enough tungsten to waste it in tank shells, and so the VK 36.01 project lost its important. No further vehicles were ordered after the pre-production series of six, and those vehicles were never completed. Henschel did complete the original trials vehicle, the VK 36.01 Fahrgetell, in March 1942. Krupp completed eight armoured hulls, but seven of these were never completed as working tanks. The single completed chassis was used by Maybach for engine tests, and took part in comparison trials in November 1942.

A project did begin to turn five of the VK 36.01s into towing vehicles to be used with the Tiger. The original expectation was that these vehicles would be ready by November 1942, but by September the design had not yet been completed. These vehicles were probably never completed.

More progress was made on the turrets. Eight of the production version of the gun, the 7.5cm Kw.K.42, were to be completed between November 1941 and January 1942. The six turrets were to be built between February and April 1942. Work was slow, but the turrets were eventually completed, and turned into turrets for use in fixed defensive positions. The guns were reworked to use stand 75mm ammo designed for the 7.5cm Pak 41 (Krupp). Even now work was slow. None had been installed by March 1945, and five of the six were found incomplete at the Krupp works in Essen after the Allies captured the factory.

On 21 October 1941 the new tank was described as the Pz.Kwfw.VI, Ausfuehrung B (VK 3601).

The VK 36.01 retained the boxy structure of the VK 30.01. It was to be powered by a 450 metric HP Maybach HL 174 engine, which drove an eight-speed Maybach Olvar 40 12 16 transmission. Steering was provided by the Henschel L 600 C system, a controlled differential system that would also be used on the Tiger. The VK 36.01 used the same suspension system as the VK 30.01, with pairs of interweaved road wheels carried on torsion bars. The number of pairs of wheels on each side was increased from seven to eight, with the first wheel on the inside of the track and the second on the outside. The extra set of wheels was introduced to cope with the increase in weight from around 30 tons to 36 tons. After the change of weapon in May 1941 the internal layout had to be modified, and at the same time frontal armour was raised to 100mm and side armour to 60mm. The complete vehicle was now expected to weight 40 tons.

Henschel's work didn't go to waste. Porsche had been producing its own heavy tank, the VK 45.01 (P), which was armed with a Krupp 88mm anti-tank gun. There had always been a possibility that the Waffe 0725 project wouldn't be practical, and so in May 1941, at the same time as being ordered to modify the VK 36.01 to carry that gun, Henschel were also ordered to redesign the chassis to carry the 8.8cm Kw.K gun. In July 1941, after the decision was made not to use the tapered bore weapons on tanks, Henschel was ordered to modify the design once again, to use the Krupp turret being designed for the VK 45.01 (P). The new design got the designation VK 45.01 (H), and resulting tank began the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf.E, the famous Tiger I. Porsche's own design, the Tiger (P), was a technical failure and only a handful were ever completed.

Names
Panzerkampfwagen VI
VK3601(H)

Stats
Production: 1 prototype and 6 chassis
Hull Length: 6.05m
Hull Width: 3.14m
Height: 2.7m
Crew: 5
Weight: 40 tons
Engine: Maybach HL174
Max Speed: 40km/hr
Max Range:
Armament: One 7.5cm Gerät 725 and two 7.92mm MG34 machine guns
Armour:

Armour

Armour

Front

Side

Rear

Top/ Bottom

Turret

100mm

80mm

80mm

26mm

Superstructure

100mm

60mm

60mm

26mm

Hull

100-60mm

60mm

80mm

26mm

Gun mantlet

100mm

 

 

 

Tiger, Thomas Anderson. A very useful book on the Tiger tank, using contemporary battle reports and other German documents to examine its service record, looking at issues including its reliability, performance in combat, the structure of the units that used the tank and the tactics used with it. The result is a very valuable study of the effectiveness of the Tiger, based on original combat reports and thus reflecting both its virtues and its flaws. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 August 2017), VK36.01(H) (Panzerkampfwagen VI) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_VK3601H.html

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