While the Tiger I was feared by many of its opponents, it was over-engineered, used expensive and labour intensive materials and production methods, and was time-consuming to produce. Only 1,347 were built between August 1942 and August 1944. The Tiger was prone to certain types of track failures and immobilizations, and limited in range by its huge fuel consumption. It was, however, generally mechanically reliable but expensive to maintain and complicated to transport due to its overlapping and interleaved road wheels. In 1944, production was phased out in favour of the Tiger II.
The tank was given its nickname Tiger About this sound listen (help·info) by Ferdinand Porsche, and the Roman numeral was added after the later Tiger II entered production. The initial official German designation was Panzerkampfwagen VI Ausführung H (‘Panzer VI version H’, abbreviated PzKpfw VI Ausf. H), but the tank was redesignated as PzKpfw VI Ausf. E in March 1943. It also had the ordnance inventory designation SdKfz 181.
Today, only a handful of Tigers survive in museums and exhibitions worldwide. The Bovington Tank Museum's Tiger 131, is currently the only one restored to running order.
Henschel & Sohn began development of the vehicle that eventually became the Tiger I in January 1937 when the Waffenamt requested Henschel to develop a Durchbruchwagen (breakthrough vehicle) in the 30 tonne range. Only one prototype hull was ever built and it never was mounted with a turret. The Durchbruchwagen I general shape and suspension greatly resembled the Panzer III while the turret would have greatly resembled the early Panzer IV C turret with the short barrelled 7.5 cm L/24 cannon.
Before Durchbruchwagen I was completed a new request was issued for a heavier 30 tonne class vehicle with thicker armour; this was the Durchbruchwagen II, which would have carried 50 mm of frontal armour and mounted a Panzer IV turret with the 7.5 cm L/24 cannon. Overall weight would have been approximately 36 tonnes. Only one hull was built and a turret was not fitted. Development of this vehicle was dropped in the fall of 1938 in favour of the more advanced VK3001(H) and VK3601(H) designs. Both the Durchbruchwagen I and II prototype hulls were used as test vehicles until 1941.
On 9 September 1938, Henschel & Sohn received permission to continue development of a VK3001(H) medium tank and a VK3601(H) heavy tank, both of which apparently pioneered the overlapping and interleaved main road wheel concept, for tank chassis use, that were already being used on German military half-tracked vehicles such as the SdKfz 7. The VK3001(H) was intended to mount a 7.5 cm L/24 low velocity infantry support gun, a 7.5 cm L/40 dual purpose anti-tank gun, or a 10.5 cm L/28 artillery piece in a Krupp turret. Overall weight was to be 33 tonnes. The armour was designed to be 50 mm on frontal surfaces and 30 mm on the side surfaces. Four prototype hulls were completed for testing. Two of these were used to create the 12.8 cm Selbstfahrlafette L/61, also known as Sturer Emil.
The VK3601(H) was intended to weigh 40 tonnes, and carry 100 mm of armour on front surfaces, 80 mm on turret sides and 60 mm on hull sides. The VK3601(H) was intended to carry a 7.5 cm L/24, or a 7.5 cm L/43, or a 7.5 cm L/70, or a 12.8 cm L/28 cannon in a Krupp turret that looked very similar to an enlarged Panzer IVC turret. One prototype hull was built, followed later by five more prototype hulls. The six turrets intended for the prototype hulls were never fitted and ended up being used as static defences along the Atlantic Wall. Development of the VK3601(H) project was discontinued in early 1942 in favour of the VK4501 project.
German combat experience with the French Somua S35 cavalry tank and Char B1 heavy tank, and the British Matilda I and Matilda II infantry tanks in June 1940 showed that the German Army needed better armed and armoured tanks. Superior tactics had overcome superior enemy armour, but the Germans did take notice.