VK30.01(H) (Panzerkampfwagen VI)

The VK 30.01 (H) Panzerkampfwagen VI was an early stage in the development of the Tiger tank, and the first to use interleaved road wheels.

Henschell began work on a heavy tank at the start of 1937, when they were asked to produce the chassis for a 30 ton tank to be armed with the same 7.5cm KwK L/24 gun as the Panzer IV. Two prototypes were produced during 1938 - the Durchbruchswagen 1 and Durchbruchswagen 2 (breakthrough tanks) and even at this early stage the basic layout of the Tiger was apparent. The D.W. chassis underwent testing during 1938, and on 9 September 1938 Henschel was ordered to produce an improved 30 ton tank. This new design had three different names. VK 30.01 indicated that it was the first design in the 30 ton tank rank. It was also known as the D.W. neue Knostruktion (new design), and by 31 October 1940 as the Panzerkampfwagen VI (7.5cm). 

The basic layout of the tank was similar to the earlier D.W.1 and D.W.2. It had a boxy hull, with a superstructure the same width as the hull (thus not overlapping the top of the tracks). The front of the superstructure was over the front road wheel. The un-lubricated tracks were 520mm wide, and with a pitch of 160mm (shorter than on either of the D.W. models).

The VK 30.01 was to be armed with the same 7.5cm Kw.K L/24 gun as used on the Panzer IV, and was to have the same crew space as the lighter tank. The main difference would be in armour. The VK 30.01 was to have 50mm front and side armour, which was expected to be effective against uncapped armour piercing shells as fired by the standard German anti tank gun of the time, the 3.7cm PaK L/45. Krupp had the task of producing the turret, just as on the D.W. series. The sides of the D.W. had been made in two pieces, joined just behind the fighting compartment. The VK 30.01 had single piece sides.

The VK 30.01 introduced the interleaved road wheels used on the Tiger. There were seven pairs of wheels on each side, with the second, fourth and sixth on the outside and first, third, fifth and seventh on the inside. This resulted in four rows of narrow wheels (from outside to inside in a three-four-four-three arrangement. This arrangement allowed more road wheels to fit in the same space than a non-overlapped system, and thus helped support the increased weight of the tank. However this system would also prove to be one of the weaknesses of the Tiger, as the narrow gaps between the road wheels could easily get clogged with snow and mud, and freeze solid, while any damage to an inner wheel required all of the rows of outer wheels to be removed and then replaced, a time consuming job. Suspension was provided by simple torsion bars. There were three return rollers, mounted at the top of the hull.

The VK 30.01 was powered by a 300hp Maybach HL 116 motor which drove a Maybach-Motorenwerk Variorex gearbox.

The VK 30.01 used a new Henschel L.320 C steering gear which used epicyclic double differential steering. This had three steering speeds, and took both its steering drive (to the sun wheels) and main drive (to the annulus) from the output of the main gearbox. It gave the tank three turning radii. This was the precursor of the L.600 C and L.801 transmissions used in the Tiger, but these were more flexible systems, which took the steering drive from the input of the main gears, and the main power from the output, producing sixteen possible turning circles (two steering speeds times eight speeds).

Krupp had produced one example of the D.W. turret, although it was never mounted on either prototype. They then redesigned the turret for the VK 30.01 and the heavier VK 65.01. The two turrets were to be identical apart from side armour thickness - 50mm on the VK 30.01 and 80mm on the VK 65.01. The turret was to carry the 7.5cm gun, a coaxial machine gun, and have a gun port for a second rear-firing machine gun.

Towards the end of 1939 Krupp was given an order to build four hulls - one based on the D.W. layout, as the VK 3001 alte Konstrucktion for use in armour penetration tests, and three VK 30.01 neue Konsturktion (new design) hulls with armoured superstructures, for driving trials. By the time the target hull was complete in September 1940 it had been modified to the new standard, and it was used to test the armour against 3.7cm anti-tank fire. The three new design hulls were completed by 1940.

In January 1940 Krupp received separate contracts to produce eight armoured hulls (to be delivered between July and October 1941) and eight operational turrets (to be delivered between October 1941 and January 1942). This would give Henschel time to complete work on the hulls and then install the turrets.

The first hull was delivered to Henschel on 8 August 1941 and the armour for the first two turrets on 27 September 1941. The last hull was sent on 30 November 1941 and the last turret on 21 January 1942. However by this point the number of tanks to be completed urgently had been reduced, from eight to four (two in March 1942 and two in April 1942). The other four weren't cancelled, but construction was suspended. This proved to be a bit optimistic. Henschel delivered two in March and two in October, and the four turrets were completed by September 1942.

By the end of 1941 it was clear that the VK 30.01 would be under-armed. A series of suggestions were made for ways to improve its firepower. In October 1941 Krupp was asked if the longer 7.5cm KwK L/34.5 would fit. Their response was that it would need too many modifications, but the 5cm KwK L./50 or L/60 could be installed. In December Krupp was asked if the 7.5cm KwK 44 l/43 being produced for the Panzer IV could be installed in the eight VK 30.01 turrets, but again the answer was negative. On 30 January 1942 any attempt to up-arm the VK 30.01 was abandoned.

The VK 30.01 was being developed alongside the heavier VK 36.01. Krupp had been working on heavier turrets since the summer of 1939, and Henschel received an order to modify the D.W. chassis to carry the heavier turrets in mid-1940, with the designation D.W. (VK 36.01). They were thus parallel developments for some time, before the larger VK 36.01 became the main priority. This project later evolved into the VK 45.01, the Panzer VI Tiger, after the gun selected for the VK 36.01 was abandoned due to its reliance on scarce materials. The existing VK 30.01 hulls were extensively used as trials and test vehicles and in tank driver training schools. One was recovered intact and in running order on the Henschel proving grounds after the end of the war.

Six of the VK 30.01 turrets ended up being used in permanent fortifications. They were armed with the 7.5cm KwK L/24 gun, and a M.G.34 machine gun. They were being modified for use in February 1944, and were ready to be installed by May 1944, and were all installed in either the Atlantic Wall or West Wall.

Names
VK3001(H)
Panzerhampfwagen VI

Stats
Production: 4 chassis March-October 1941
Hull Length: 5.81m
Hull Width: 3.16m
Height: 1.85m
Crew: 5
Weight: 32 tons
Engine: Maybach HL116
Max Speed: 25km/hr
Max Range:
Armament: One 7.5cm KwK L/24 or one 10.5cm KwK L/28 main gun, two 7.92mm MG 34 machine guns
Armour:

Armour

Armour

Front

Side

Rear

Top/ Bottom

Turret

50mm

30mm

 

 

Superstructure

50mm

30mm

50mm

25mm

Hull

50mm

30mm

50mm

20mm top
35mm bottom

Gun mantlet

 

 

 

 

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]
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 August 2017), VK30.01(H) (Panzerkampfwagen VI) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_VK3001H.html

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