A German heavy tank battalion (German: "schwere Panzerabteilung", short: "s PzAbt") was a battalion-sized World War II tank unit of the German Army (1935–1945), equipped with Tiger I, and later Tiger II, heavy tanks. Originally intended to fight on the offensive during breakthrough operations, the German late-war realities required it to be used in a defensive posture by providing heavy fire support and counter-attacking enemy armored breakthroughs, often organised into ad hoc Kampfgruppen.
The German heavy tank battalions destroyed the total number of 9,850 enemy tanks for the loss of only 1,715 of their own, a kill/loss ratio of 5.74. The 1,715 German losses also include non-combat tank write-offs.
Early formation units experimented to find the correct combination of heavy Tiger tanks supported by either medium Panzer III tanks or reconnaissance elements. In 1942 this consisted of 20 Tigers and 16 Panzer IIIs, composed of two companies, each with four platoons of two Tigers and two Panzer IIIs. Each company commander would have an additional Tiger, and battalion command would have another two.
Later formations had a standard organization of 45 Tiger Tanks, composed of three companies of 14 Tigers each, plus three command vehicles. Maintenance troubles and the mechanical unreliability of the Tigers posed a continuous problem, so often the units would field a smaller number of combat-ready tanks.
The limited number of these heavy tanks, plus their specialized role in either offensive or defensive missions, meant they were rarely permanently assigned to a single division or corps, but shuffled around according to war circumstances.
The organisation structure of a German heavy Panzer battalion in 1943, on example of the schwere Panzerabteilung 508, was as follows.
- staff / German: Stab
- staff company (three tanks) / Stabskompanie
- 1st – 3rd Panzer company (14 tanks each) / 1. – 3. Panzerkompanie
- company detachment (two tanks) / Kompanietrupp
- 1st – 3rd Panzer platoon (four tanks each) / 1. – 3. Panzerzug
- medical service / Sanitätsdienst
- vehicle repair detachment / Kfz. Instandsetzungstrupp
- combat train I / Gefechtstross I
- combat train II / Gefechtstross II
- baggage train / Gepäcktross
- workshop company / Werkstattkompanie
- 1st and 2nd workshop platoon / 1. and 2. Werkstattzug
- recovery platoon / Bergezug
- armorer detachment / Waffenmeisterei
- communications detachment / Funkmeisterei
- spare part detachment / Ersatzteiltrupp
By the end of the war, the following heavy panzer detachments had been created. Early units were re-built several times by the end of the war.
Independent units attached to the German Army (Heer) were:
Units attached to the Waffen-SS were:
Tank losses include losses inflicted other than by enemy tanks. Also, many tanks were abandoned by their crews due to a lack of fuel, ammunition or breakdown, especially at the end of war.
- Jentz, Thomas (1996). Panzertruppen 2: The Complete Guide to the Creation & Combat Employment of Germany's Tank Force 1943-1945. Schiffer. ISBN 978-0-7643-0080-6.
- Schneider, Wolfgang (2000). Tigers in Combat I. Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books. ISBN 978-0-8117-3171-3.
- Wilbeck, Christopher (2004). Sledgehammers: Strengths and Flaws of Tiger Tank Battalions in World War II. Bedford: Aberjona Press. OCLC 200489614.