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A heavyweight big cat

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A Sturmtiger at the Deutsches Panzer Museum in Munster (Photo: Author’s own)

Many history buffs know the fearsome German Tiger tank. Similarly to other German military vehicles, the Tiger had several variants. One of the lesser-known versions of the Tiger family was the Sturmtiger, the “assault tiger”, which was meant to provide heavy fire support with its huge 380mm rocket-mortar to German infantry in urban settings. In today’s article, we will explore the beast that was not only an idea on a drawing table, but which was actually built and used in battle, though in small numbers. Being one of the heaviest subversions of the Tiger I and having the most destructive firepower, it represented Adolf Hitler’s ever-growing megalomania that resulted in a series of gigantic, resource-hungry armored vehicles.
 
The idea to develop such a vehicle came after the fierce urban fighting on the Eastern Front, especially during the siege of Stalingrad. The Germans had been using already similar weapons, such as the Sturm-Infanteriegeschütz 33B (“Assault Infantry Gun 33B") or Sturmpanzer IV – Brummbär (“Assault tank IV – Grouch") but with the quick development of anti-tank weapons they needed a vehicle with even more firepower and armor.

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A Sturmpanzer IV – Brummbär at the tank museum in Saumur (Photo: Author’s own)

The design was supposed to be based on the hull of late-production Tiger I tanks armed with a 380 mm rocket launcher used by the Kriegsmarine, the German navy, to fire depth charges against submarines. The vehicle’s official German designation was Sturmmörserwagen 606/4 mit 38cm Raketen-Werfer 61 (“assault mortar vehicle 606/4 with 38cm rocket launcher 61”). It had a crew of five: commander, driver, gunner/radio operator, and 2 loaders. At the time, it was only the chassis of the Tiger I that could mount the new weapon and resist the strong recoil of the rocket launcher. The turret and some other parts of the tank were removed and replaced by a casemate-like fighting compartment. The Tiger’s already thick 100 mm frontal armor was beefed up to 150 mm and became sloped to give it a much better armor protection already used on the Russian T34 and the German Panther tanks. With its 65 tons, this made the Sturmtiger even heavier than the Tiger I (57 tons). Due to the removal of the turret and the legendary 88mm gun, the new vehicle was somewhat shorter and lower.

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A German Tiger I tank in France in March 1944 (Photo: Bundesarchiv)

Let’s look at its main armament of which probably no enemy soldier wanted to be on the receiving end. The 380 mm rocket launcher could fire projectiles that weighed 829 lb (376 kg) and were 4 ft 11 in (1.5 m) long. The original naval version of the rocket launcher was made and modified by the Rheinmetall-Borsig company in Düsseldorf. The crew could select from a high explosive charge against mass living targets or a shaped charge ammunition against heavily fortified targets. The latter could penetrate 8 ft 2 in (2.5 m) of reinforced concrete. Only 14 rounds could be carried altogether. The rounds could be loaded through a roof hatch with a help of a crane located at the rear of the vehicle. Loading necessitated the cooperation of the whole crew due to the heavy weight of the ammunition. The average rate of fire was four shots per hour.

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The crew winching a projectile into the Sturmtiger (Photo: Bovington Tank Museum)

A ring of small holes for ventilation of gases was placed around the barrel to vent the exhaust from the fighting compartment. For self-protection, the Sturmtiger had a close-defense grenade launcher and an MG 34 machine gun which was manned by the radio operator. The concealment of the vehicle was important, and the firing position had to be selected carefully since it could be easily spotted by the propellant fire and the subsequent smoke.

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A short video showing a Sturmtiger firing its rocket-mortar (Video: YouTube)

The first prototype was built in three months and presented to Adolf Hitler in October 1943. Despite the quick production of the first prototype, the production of the vehicle turned out to be quite slow. Thus, Hitler ordered to repair and use damaged Tiger hulls for the construction. The first batch of Sturmtigers were completed in February 1944. Only around 18 were built between 1944-45. The Sturmtiger already suffered from the drawbacks the Tiger I had, such as mechanical unreliability, underpowered engine, and high fuel consumption. Consequently, it needed a lot of maintenance and a strong logistical background, special flat cars for transport and strengthened bridges, etc. On top of that, its rocket launcher was quite inaccurate, and its accuracy also depended on outside temperatures. While it was designed for providing close-fire support in offensive operations, by the time of its deployment the Third Reich was retreating already on all fronts and could not take advantage of all its special capabilities and were rather tasked to cover the German retreat. Sturmtigers were organized into tank companies (Panzer Sturmmörser Kompanien – Pz.Stu.Mör.Kp.) with four vehicles in each company. Later, they were converted into artillery units. They were deployed for the first time to crush the Polish uprising in Warsaw in August 1944. They were used in Hungary also, but they saw action mostly on the Western Front during the Battle of the Bulge followed by the German defensive operations along the Rhine River. Some were knocked out, while most of them were abandoned or destroyed by their crews due to lack of fuel, spare parts, and ammo.

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Soviet soldiers examining a captured Sturmtiger in Hungary (Photo: militaryfactory.com)

There are some noteworthy reports about their involvement in battle. In March 1945, some were tasked to destroy the bridge at Remagen to prevent the Allied from crossing, but their rocket launchers proved too inaccurate, and the operation was cancelled. Still, one the Sturmtigers attacked a group of Sherman tanks in the vicinity of Düren and Euskirchen and managed to destroy three Shermans and damage several of them with just one single shot.
Shortly before the end of the war, in April 1945, one unit was tasked to destroy the church tower of the German town of Drolshagen that was believed to be used by the Americans. The commander ignored the order to save the building from unnecessary destruction and decided to attack the Americans head-on but the left track broke and the crew had to bail out. Some of them were killed and some taken prisoner. The captured Sturmtiger was recovered by the U.S. forces for study.

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A prototype of the Maus tank and a Sturmtiger on a flatcar probably taken to the Soviet Union (Photo: Reddit)

There are only two remaining Sturmtigers left, both on display in museums. You can find them at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia in the vicinity of Moscow and the Deutsches Panzer Museum in Munster (not be confused with the other German city of Münster). One separate 380 mm rocket launcher can be seen at the Tank Museum in Bovington.

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Children pose with an abandoned Sturmtiger (Photo: Reddit)

Nowadays, children or adults with a young soul can build their own small Sturmtiger with the help of the sets of Cobi, the Polish manufacturer of Lego-style sets (Lego has a policy to avoid making realistic weapons and military equipment that children may recognize from hot spots around the world).

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A Sturmtiger set by Cobi (Photo: cobi.pl)
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