Tuesday 16 March 2021

King Tiger Battlefield Penetration Trials

Field penetration trials weren't an unusual phenomenon during WWII. Soldiers often wanted to look with their own eyes at what their own weapons can do against the enemy, plus the sight of blowing holes in enemy tanks is always good for morale. In this case, two rare beasts were captured for trials: a Tiger and a Tiger II. 

"1st Howitzer Artillery Brigade of the Reserve of the Supreme Command
November 9th, 1944

For your information, I direct to you the results of experimental firing on Tiger and Tiger B tanks.

Forward these results to battalion commanders, and the results on SU-152 shooting to all troops.

Attachment: the aforementioned on 4 pages.

Chief of Staff of the 1st Starokonstantinov Order of the Red Banner Order of Bogdan Khmelintskiy Howitzer Artillery Brigade, Major Vinogradov"

Diagram #1: upper front plate and illustration of the angle and thickness of the upper and lower front plates.

Information on the armour of the King Tiger and its size:

  1. Armour thickness:
    1. Gun mantlet: 180 mm
    2. Upper front: 100 mm [sic]
    3. Lower front: 110 mm
    4. Upper side: 85 mm
    5. Rear: 80 mm
    6. Turret side: 80 mm
    7. Turret roof: 40 mm
    8. Floor: 25 mm
  2. Dimensions:
    1. Width: 3650 mm
    2. Length: 7000 mm
    3. Hull height: 1550 mm
    4. Full height: 2550 mm
    5. Gun mantlet width:
      1. Upper: 1080 mm
      2. Lower: 1300 mm
    6. Gun mantlet height: 790 mm
    7. Turret length: 3500 mm
    8. Turret width: 1800 mm
    9. Track width: 820 mm
    10. Track height: 1070 mm
    11. Gun length (without muzzle brake): 6000 mm
    12. Mass: 68 tons
Firing conditions:

Firing was done from a range of 1000 m with armour piercing shells using the BS-3 gun, D-25 (IS tank) gun, and SU-152. 2 guns of each type were used. Each gun crew was told to fire five shots. One gun fired at the Tiger, the other at the King Tiger. All shooting was done in the presence of Front Commander, Marshal of the Soviet Union Konev, the Commanders of Artillery of the Front and Armies, Army Commander, and others.

Out of 5 shots fired at the King Tiger from the BS-3 gun, 4 hit:
  1. One hit the drive sprocket on the right side, shattered two track links and the sprocket. This hit would have disabled the tank.
  2. One hit to the turret. The shell penetrated 80 mm of armour and burst inside. This penetration would have disabled the tank. 
  3. Two hits to the upper front armour, 160 mm thick and sloped at 45 degrees. No penetration. Both shots made dents 150x250 mm in size and 100 mm deep. Bulges were found on the rear size of the plate. The tank would not be disabled, but tank crews present estimated that the crew would be contused and unable to fight for 20-30 minutes.
Out of 5 shots fired at the Tiger tank, 2 hit. One shell hit the side and the second the gun mantlet. Both cases were complete penetrations that would have disabled the tank.

Diagram #2. Results of firing the BS-3 gun. 1, 2, 3, and 4 indicate hits.

Out of 5 shots fired from the D-25 gun (IS tank), 4 hit.
  1. Hit in the dent made by the BS-3 gun earlier. Complete penetration was achieved and fragments were knocked out on the inside.
  2. Hit in an undamaged area at the top of the upper front plate. A 190x270x90 mm dent was made with a bulge on the rear side. No penetration.
  3. Hit on the upper left corner of the front armour. The shell made a 220x270x100 mm dent. As a result of the impact, a crack formed and the upper left section of the plate fell off.
  4. Hit to the lower front plate, 110 mm thick sloped at 60 degrees. The shell penetrated completely and burst inside the tank.
Out of the shots fired at the Tiger tank, 3 hit. In all cases the shells attained complete penetration and burst inside the tank. The tank was completely destroyed.

Diagram #3. Results of firing the D-25 gun.

Firing from the SU-152:

Out of 10 shots fired at the King Tiger tank, one hit was recorded on the lower left corner of the tank turret. The turret was spun around and the 85 mm thick left side was torn off by the force of the explosion inside the tank and thrown 3-4 meters away. The destructive power of the SU-152 armour piercing shell is great and one hit is enough to destroy a tank.

In addition to the aforementioned trials conducted on October 13th, 1944, preliminary trials with the BS-3 gun were conducted against a King Tiger tank on October 12th.


Range: 600 meters
Two hits at the upper front armour. The size of the the dents was as follows:
  1. 195x250x75
  2. 175x220x80
No penetration was achieved. The rear of the plate had bulges. 

Range: 800 meters
One hit at the upper front plate, 195x220x100 mm dent. No penetration. The rear of the plate had a bulge.

Range: 1000 meters
One hit to the joint between the upper and lower front plates. As a result of the hit, a 140x250x90 mm dent was formed. The edge of the upper plate was turned up by 63 mm. 
A second hit was scored to the upper front plate at this distance. A 120x240x65 mm dent was made. There was no bulge from the rear side.
A hit with an HE shell from 1000 meters destroyed three track links and cracked two more. The tank would have been knocked out. See the results of the shooting on diagram #4.

Diagram #4, firing the BS-3 gun at various ranges.
1,2: hits from 600 m
3: hits from 800 m
4,5: hits from 1000 m
6: hit with an HE shell from 1000 m

The following conclusions can be made based on the above observations:
  1. All of the aforementioned weapons are powerful and reliable means of fighting the Tiger and King Tiger tanks. Armour piercing shells fired from these guns can penetrate any armour (with the exception of the upper front plate of the King Tiger) and destroy these tanks.
  2. The BS-3 and D-25 guns cannot penetrate the front armour of a King Tiger tank (160 mm at 45 degrees) with their armour piercing shells. However, a second shot to the same place results in a penetration. If a 122 mm shell hits near the corner of the plate, it will fall off. In either case, the tank will be disabled and the crew will no doubt be killed.
  3. The most vulnerable areas of the King Tiger tank against a BS-3 gun are:
    1. Left and right drive sprockets.
    2. Lower front plate.
    3. Turret.
    4. Rear and sides.
      A hit to these areas with an armour piercing shell at a range of 1500-2000 meters will no doubt put the tank out of action. The running gear is also a weak spot. A hit from an HE shell will completely disable the tank.
  4. The BS-3 and D-25 guns easily penetrate the front armour and gun mantlet of the Tiger tank at a range of 1000 meters. Firing at a greater range was not performed.
    The results of firing at Tiger tanks with the BS-3 gun confirm that it is possible to fight them at a range of 1500-2000 meters.
  5. When hitting the upper front plate of a King Tiger tank, the BS-3 armour piercing shell breaks up into small pieces that could not be found near the target. There is a theory that this happens because the tip of the shell is insufficiently robust and perhaps due to excessive explosive filler, as a result of which the shell does not give the desired result and does not destroy the upper front plate of the King Tiger tank. 
    A BS-3 armour piercing shell burst in a peat bog. 7 large fragments were recovered. The tip split into two halves and the cylindrical part of the hull split into five pieces.
  6. The D-25 armour piercing shell ricochets after hitting the upper front plate of the King Tiger tank and can be observed flying 100-150 m away with the naked eye. 
  7. The precision and accuracy of the BS-3 and D-25 guns are good. A greater amount of hits of the King Tiger tank than the Tiger tank is explained by better training of the crews.
  8. The materiel functioned normally and without issue.
Commander of Artillery of the 4th Army, Guards Colonel Mentyukov
Captain Nosenko


  1. “ a second shot to the same place results in a penetration.”

    Good luck with that!

  2. Very strange how the guns hit the Tiger IIs turret and ended up penetrating the 80mm sides which are steeply angled towards the front.
    The Tiger I was also apperently also hit from the side. Makes you wonder at which angles the tanks were shot from.

  3. Only one hit out of 10 with the 152 mm gun?

    I'm also surprised that a (rarer) AP round was used when these thought out of the 20 rounds per SU/ISU-152, only one was usually AP and all the rest HE. So HE rounds would be the most likely thing available.

    1. Firing conditions aren't given in the document, sadly, hit rate seems to be much lower than I'd expect across the board. Inexperienced gunners, maybe?

      The AP shell was indeed rare, but I've seen surprisingly few tests against enemy heavy tanks with HE.

    2. #5 contradicts #4, unless #4 is the turret.

    3. #5 states specifically the 'upper front plate" of the King Tiger, while #4 is consistent with testing done with the King Tiger tanks captured at Sandomierz on the front turret resistance.

  4. Oh, and BTW--any ideas which German heavy tank battalion(s) "volunteered" these samples?

  5. Were these the pre-production turrets? I thought the later type had roughly 200mm of frontal turret thickness.

    1. War Thunder (not a rock-solid source for either armor or gun values data now, alas) has the production turret with 200 mm of mantlet armor and 185 of turret armor, which roughly agrees with this report.

      Given that, and the gun stats in War THunder for both the BS-3, the D-25, and the M-20, none of this in the report could have possibly happened. By contrast I see that War Thunder has the Kwk43 penetrating fully 10 % more armor thickness, normalized for the hardness difference, than it did when it was tested at Aberdeen by the US military. This trend will no doubt continue, until the Germans win WWII in the game. /snark