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Tiger Tank with turret off and scorch damage


February 2, 2018

In Part V of the story of Tiger 131’s restoration, the engine blows and the Tiger is repainted after research reveals its original camouflage.

Tiger 131 was captured in April 1943.  In September 1951 it was passed to the Tank Museum where it soon became one of the most famous vehicles in the collection.  In 1990 it was decided to restore the tank to running order.  Battle damage would not be repaired. 

In November 1999 the Tank Museum created a website to track the restoration project.  This site featured monthly updates for 4 years.  This series of posts will republish some of the photographs and details featured on that site, and then bring the story of Tiger 131’s restoration up to date.

See Part I on Disassembly, Part II on Hull and Suspension, Part III on The Turret and Part IV on The Hull.


Alas for the best laid plans…

A ceremony to hand over the Tiger from ABRO back to the Tank Museum was scheduled for the 5th December 2001. Unfortunately, with just a week to go, during a pre-delivery trial run at ABRO the Tiger’s Maybach engine blew up, damaging the crankshaft and leaving a hole in the crank case.

The photograph below was taken just minutes after the incident. The tank was then running without its turret on a transmission test. See how the blast has scorched the left side exhaust shield.

The other damage dates from the war and has been retained on purpose.

This photograph was taken just minutes after the incident. The tank was then running without its turret on a transmission test. See how the blast has scorched the left side exhaust shield.

The scorched left side exhaust shield.

The  photo below shows clearly the damage done to the crankcase. This can be repaired but the effect on one connecting rod, piston and cylinder liner cannot.

The damaged crankcase.


Fortunately there is another spare block to hand, shown here after the initial strip at ABRO. All being well this will be the new engine for the Tiger.

another spare block to hand

A spare block to hand

And here are some of the components, all in pristine condition.  Connecting rods, cylinder liners and cylinder heads. The quality remains impressive even today and all goes to prove what a remarkable range of engines those Maybach V-12s were.

Connecting rods, cylinder liners and cylinder heads.

Connecting rods, cylinder liners and cylinder heads.


Despite this setback, all was not lost.

Working hard, in the inevitable last minute rush, the team at ABRO lifted out the engine, replaced the turret and gave the tank a complete repaint in time for the handover ceremony.

Here the Tiger’s ignition key is presented to General Sir Robert Hayman-Joyce, Chairman of the Trustees of the Tank Museum, by Mr Mike Hayle, Chief Executive of ABRO. At the ceremony, Mr Hayle generously committed ABRO to restoring the vehicle to full running order.

The ignition key is presented to General Sir Robert Hayman-Joyce

General Sir Robert Hayman-Joyce is presented with the ignition key

Here is the Tiger back in the Museum in its restored paint scheme.  It sits in a sand tray with supporting displays behind it.

Repainted Tiger in the museum

Repainted Tiger back in the museum.

The repaint proved controversial.  From time to time during the Tiger restoration programme, the Tank Museum was criticised for removing the ‘original’ sand coloured paint from the tank. In fact research revealed that the tank had been repainted many times since it was captured; indeed a Sergeant who repainted it at one stage was so proud that he left his name on it! So if the sand colour wasn’t correct, what was?

Working from original Tank Museum photos such as this one two leading experts, Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle observed traces of a camouflage pattern on the tank.

Look at the turret side, particularly around the pistol port.

Original photo of Tiger shows camouflage

Original photo of Tiger turret shows a camouflage pattern

Traces of two original shades had been discovered during the restoration process.

The official German shade RAL 7008 (graugruen) was found on some of the inner road wheels with traces of RAL8000 (gelbraun) found on the turret when the stowage bin was removed. These colours were purchased and tested as shown in the picture.

The colours RAL 7008 (graugruen) and RAL8000 (gelbraun)

The colours RAL 7008 (graugruen) and RAL8000 (gelbraun)

The only real problem was to establish the pattern. On original photographs it shows up clearly in some areas and not in others so we have to admit that an element of educated guesswork was involved.

This two-tone pattern caused much comment when it was first revealed.  In this photograph we can also see the red number ‘131’.  For many years these too were inaccurate, being larger with a lighter outline, but in fact this is the correct style.

Red number ‘131’

Red number ‘131’ in the correct style.

In the next post we’ll look at some of the details that were uncovered during the restoration.

Written by Ian Hudson

See Part I on Disassembly , Part II on Hull and Suspension , Part III on The Turret and Part IV  on The Hull

Read more about Tiger tanks, as well as the history of tanks from their conception onwards, in the books below. Make your own Tiger with this Tamiya model. 

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  1. Loving this detail on 131.



  2. Up till 1999, it was assumed that most Tigers were issued in “Dunkelgrau” dark grey paint, before the introduction of “Dunkelgelb” in 1943. The remaining Tigers were the African ones, which were assumed to be painted in “sand”. But a troubling statement from a British officer described “green Tigers” in Africa. Some people assumed that the Germans had used captured American paint.
    In 1999 the authors Doyle and Jentz, quoting German documents, revealed that the Tigers issued to the SS companies in this period were painted in “tropical” colours, as well as others sent to southern Russia. But there were two “tropical” schemes defined for the German military. Which one was used?
    As this article explains, examination of Tiger 131 revealed that it was painted with the older “tropical” scheme. This explained the British officer’s comment, because as you can see by looking at the restored Tiger, its colour could be called green.
    Other research has confirmed the use of these colours on the Eastern Front, just as Doyle and Jentz stated. In fact the majority of Tigers manufactured during this time were painted green rather than grey.
    And so, Tigers coloured just like “131” were sent to snowy Russian terrain in the winter of 1942/43. Most of the recipients covered their tanks with whitewash, but the Army’s “Grossdeutschland” division used their green just Tigers as delivered, in snowy white landscapes!

  3. Hello
    I have been studing all Tunisian Tigers pictures available for years…and I came to these two conclusions:
    1-/ The tigers were originally painted in camouflage 8000/7008 … BUT probably with a base coat of RAL7008 (instead of RAL8000, the color photos of the LIFE magazine show the Tiger’s chassis in RAL7008 color, although some people see the RAL800 , it’s clearly RAL7008 for me). Perhaps this explains the “myth of the green tiger”, since almost all war veterans remember those tigers painted in dark green.
    2-/Many of those tanks also used (contrary to what is believed) the RAL8020 paint, not only for small equipment and spare parts, but at the level of external camouflage, mainly in the last phases of the conflict.
    Hope it helps!

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