Tuesday, 22 September 2015

The Birth of the Tiger I

Author: CaptianNemo

The following is a transcribe of part of an original postwar interview with the Chief Technical Engineer[i] Kurt Arnoldt, of the Henschel firm's AFV Research and Experimental Establishment at Haustenbeck[ii]. The interview was conducted by Captain R.A. Harrison of GSI (Tech) 21st Army Group starting on Monday May 7th, through the 8th, 1945. Harrison arrived back at the 21st Army Group HQ on the May 13th. The typed interview copy is dated May 28th and stamped May 29th 1945.

     I could have sat down and done it all… but it is 30 pages of material and that’s not counting the appendixes. So, I am transcribing parts of it at a time. Sharp eyed readers will note that it is similar, and different, with the version provided by Henschel designer Dr. Erwin Aders in Walter J. Spielbergers books. Many thanks to MadestCat for his assistance with the German sections, name corrections and searches. And many thanks to Shapeshifter for leading me to the interview to begin with. And lastly, to Vollketten, for his assistence in getting the last part done and to everyone else for listening to me ramble away...



                The original order to construct a Tiger I was given to the firm Henschel in 1941. At the same time Dr. Ferdinand Porsche was allowed to develop his own idea of what the Tiger should be. Two versions of Tiger were eventually produced and were referred to, in industrial circles, as the Porsche Tiger and the Henschel Tiger.

                In March 1942 Dr. Speer ordered Henschel and asked Porsche to have their respective prototype tanks ready for inspection by the Führer on 20th April, (Hitler’s birthday). Herr Arnoldt’s Henschel Tiger was not near completion in March and he advised the Director of Henschels that his tank could not be got ready in time. He was told that it must be ready at all costs as the Porsche Tiger would be ready and Henshel might have to revert to production of railway engines only if their Tiger was not a success.

                Arnoldt was told to have the Henschel Tiger ready for loading on a train on 17th April for this journey to the Führerhauptquartier at RASTENBURG[iii]. All the engineers and employees at HAUSTENBECK were galvanized into motion and by dint of working day and night the Henschel Tiger was finally assembled 40 minutes before time on the day in question. The 40 minutes could not be spent in trying the tank out, but had to be spent in loading it on to a trailer so that it could be taken to the local station.
                At 1120 hours on 19th April both the tanks arrived at the detraining station 11 kilometers from the Führer’s Hq. A special crane had been brought from LUKBECK[iv] to offload the two heavy tanks. The two tanks were unloaded, but the Porsche tank immediately bellied.

                Herr Arnoldt went over to Dr. Porsche, when he saw this, and offered to tow Porsche out with the Henschel Tiger. Dr. Porsche was very angry, refused Arnold’s offer, and had his tank dug out. Present on this occasion were General Thomale[v], Dr. Rolland of Edelstahlwerke and the Director of the Mibelungen factory at St. VALENTIN[vi].

                The 11 kilometers journey to RASTENBURG was then undertaken and took the best part of the day. Neither the Porsche or the Henschel Tiger could go more than a few yards without stopping for a general overhaul as neither tank had moved under its own power before. The final drive on the Henschel Tiger gave a lot of trouble and Herr Arnoldt had to hammer large nails into the mechanism to get the tank to work at all.

                On the morning of the 20th April both tank were ready for inspection by the Führer. At 10 o’clock a courier arrived from the Führer to say that the tanks were not going to be inspected until 2 o’clock, whereupon  Herr Arnoldt had the Henschel Tiger’s final drive stripped down.

                At 11 o’clock Hitler arrived to inspect the tanks causing considerable confusion in the Henschel camp. The Führer was accompanied by most of the leading Nazis including, Goering, Ribbentrop, Ley, Himmler, and Speer.

                Hitler and Goering went up to the Henschel Tiger and examined it for a few seconds only. Goering remarked “My Führer, it is fantastic”(Nain Führer, das ist ja fantastisch[vii]). Hauptamtsleiter Saur[viii], who was in Hitler’s party said “Herr Stalin, will learn of this to his cost” (Na, Herr Stalin, wird davon nooh mo Kosten beko nen![ix])

                None of the Nazi personalities appeared to have much of a clue as to tank design and construction and Hitler said nothing at all.
                When both the tank prototypes had been inspected, General Fichtner[x] , who was officially in charge of the display, gave orders that both tanks should do a straight run of a few hundred yards to show their of speed. The Porsche Tiger started off and managed to do about 1200 yards at a speed of about 30 m.p.h. There was a general sigh of relief among many officials and senior officers who knew all the time that neither the Porsche or the Henschel tanks were in the least ready for trials. Then it was Herr Arnoldt’s turn.

                He raced off at full speed (about 25 m.p.h) and managed to do about 900 yards. Then he turned the tank round and began the return trip. By this time the temperature in the engine compartment had risen to 110°C. Smoke was coming from the final drive and engine compartment and the crew could hardly breath.

                Arnoldt brought his tank to a halt about 200 yards short of where Hitler was standing. If he had gone any further the tank would have caught fire. An official in Hitler’s entourage signalled Arnoldt to drive on. He deliberately misconstreed the signal, got out of the tank and walked towards the Führer. It was explained to him that the Führer wished the Henschel tank to approach and not just Herr Arnoldt himself. Arnoldt kept up a flow of conversation during which time the tank was cooling off. Hitler then decided  that he would be photographed between Herr Arnoldt and Dr. Porsche. After this photograph has been taken Hitler made a short speech to the assembled body of people and thanked all concerned for their work. Hitler and most of the high ranking Nazis then lost interest in the demonstration and moved off.

                Some of the heads of the AFV industry began to talk over the results of the demonstration. Arnoldt heard Saur remark that the Henschel Tiger was “a lame duck”. Herr Rolland of the Edelstahlwerke said that the Porsche Tiger was faster than the Henschel Tiger. Arnoldt himself had an opportunity of speaking for a few minutes to Dr. Speer. He suggested that a further trial should be carried out to show the steering capacity of the two tanks, knowing that the Porsche Tiger could hardly be steered at all.  His suggestion was later put into practice and the Henschel Tiger put up quite a good performance. The Porsche Tiger could only be steered with the greatest difficulty and a number of officials noticed that the Porsche Tiger, though fast, was quite unmanoeuvrable.
                Later on further tests with both prototype tanks were carried out at KUMMERSDORF, HAUSTENBECK, BERKA-EISENACH and Henschel was given the order to proceed with the production of the Tiger E. Further production of Porsche Tigers was stopped and about[xi] 80 of the existing 90 Porsche Tigers were converted into SP carriages for mounting an 8.8 cm Pak 43 (“Elephant”). All the Porsche Tiger turrets were scrapped.

[i] Kurt Arnoldt is sometimes labeled as Chief Engineer or Senior Engineer.
[ii] The facility can also be referred to as “Henschel Panzerversuchsstation 96 at Haustenbeck Sennelager.”
[iii] The Wolfsschanze, Hitlers first military headquarters on the Eastern Front.
[iv] Lübeck
[v] See: Wolfgang Thomale http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Personenregister/T/ThomaleWolfgang.htm
[vi] Nibelungenwerk
[vii] Mein Führer, das ist ja fantastisch!
[viii] See: Karl Otto Saur https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Saur
[ix] Ha, Herr Stalin wird davon noch zu Kosten bekommen!
[x] See: Sebastian Fichtner http://www.lexikon-der-wehrmacht.de/Personenregister/F/FichtnerS.htm
[xi] It could also be ‘almost’, it is very hard to read.
Source: 21 Army Group Technical Intelligence: Report No. 5, 28 May 1945, Interrogation of Herr KURT ARNOLDT, Chief Technical Engineer HENSCHEL AFV Research and Experimental Establishment at HAUSTENBECK. Pages 15-17.

No comments:

Post a comment