Tank construction has always been a labour intensive, expensive process. The need to increase manufacturing during the Second World War saw existing factories adapt for the job.
Some, like America, had access to the expertise and facilities of a large automotive industry. Others also made use of firms that had previously built railway locomotives. Germany, with a less well developed car industry than other nations, followed this second path.
The Construction Network
The Tiger I was built by Henschel at their factory in Kassel in the centre of modern Germany. This was at the epicentre of a large network of firms that produced components for the tank and transported them by rail to Henschel for final assembly.
To give an idea of the scale of this network, the armour plate for hulls and turrets was made by Krupp in Essen in Western Germany. Many of the 88mm guns were built by DHHV in Dortmund, not far from Essen. Engines came from Maybach in Friedrichshafen, well to the south near the Swiss border, but the transmissions they would be connected to were built by Adler in Frankfurt, halfway back to Essen. Getting the completed turrets to Henschel was somewhat easier – Wegmann Waggonfabrik was also based in Kassel.
Henschel employed 8,000 workers manufacturing tanks (not just Tigers). They worked in two 12 hour shifts, with the night shift up to 50% less productive than the day shift. They also made railway locomotives, and in fact of the two production sheds used to build Tigers one was only half converted – Tigers were built on the right, locomotives on the left.
German tank manufacture didn’t use production lines as we understand them today. Instead Tigers were built in nine stages or Takt. The tanks did move around the factory, but not generally as part of the construction process – workers moved around a static tank whilst adding parts.
Takt 1 was the receipt of the unfinished hull from Krupp, and the process of moving it into the factory. Takt 2 and Takt 3 involved precisely drilling and machining holes for the suspension arms, drive sprockets and final drives. In Takt 4 the turret ring was machined on a massive lathe.
These stages required careful positioning of the hull around the large, static machine tools used for this work. On average there would be 18 tanks in these stages at any one time.
The next steps saw the hull move to the final assembly line. Takts 5 and 6 saw the installation of major internal components such as the engine, transmission, torsion bars and fuel tanks, and the fitting of the road wheels, drive sprockets and tracks. These stages would see a buzz of activity, with parts being craned into place and carefully fitted, welders at work around the tank and components being carefully installed all over the vehicle.
Takt 7 was a test drive, and assuming this had gone well the final components were fitted in Takt 8. By far the largest of these was the turret, which was craned into place. Takt 9 saw final painting in red oxide primer and the prescribed base coat, either Panzer Grey or later Dunkelgelb.
The finished tank would then be loaded onto a railway wagon for delivery. The final assembly line had an average of 10 Tigers being built at a time. Total construction time was around 14 days.
Tiger I production ran from July 1942 to August 1944, with 1347 built. After this Henschel built 490 Tiger IIs until the end of the war, with the last 13 produced between the 1st and 4th April 1945 and handed directly over to the German forces defending Kassel.
Written by Ian Hudson