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SdKfz 184 Ferdinand/Elefant tank destroyer

Written by Sakhal

When Porsche lost the contract for the Tiger I tank more than 90 chassis had been already produced, in different stages of completion, and for such reason it was decided to use them for a new project: a heavy and powerful self-propelled anti-tank cannon. Only two tanks had been completed, so the remaining hulls were reconverted to the new concept. The resulting vehicle would be denominated Panzerjager Tigre (P) Ferdinand, in recognition of its projectist. Later the Ferdinand would be named Elefant, as the crews of these tank destroyers had been calling them since time ago. The chosen cannon was the new Panzerabwehrkannone Pak 43/2 L/71 caliber 88 millimeters, which was too long for being placed in the centerline on the combat compartment, so an enlarged project was started. The two engines were forwarded towards the center of the hull, and the combat compartment was relocated backwards, being placed aback the electric transmission system. A big box was used as superstructure, placed in the rear half of the hull, with the armored surfaces so sloped as possible. The cannon, which had a limited transversal firing sector, was placed in this aft superstructure, and even so, it surpassed 1.22 meters the front of the hull. The superstructure had a cuppola in the center to the right for the commander, and a hatch in the rear that the crew used to access or leave the tank. All the unions between armor plates were overlapped and strongly welded. The hull was light and flat in the upper part, similarly to the one used in the Henschel Tiger, which had been the winning contract. Suspenssion consisted in three pairs of road wheels at each side, being each pair mounted in a torsion bar. The two Maybach gasoline engines were attached to a Siemens Schuckert electrical generator, which gave energy to two electric motors, one installed for each drive sprocket.

In the contest against Henschel for creating the new Tiger tank, the Ferdinand had been rejected because of its excessively complex mechanics. Steering was assisted by hydropneumatic engines, and the absence of a gearbox to change speed facilitated the driving. The powerful cannon, equipped with 50 shells, gave the Ferdinand the possibility of destroying the enemy tanks at a distance larger than the effective range of their fire. However, it was committed the surprising mistake of not installing any machine gun, leaving the new tank unprotected against infantry. In subsequent models this defect was fixed and the radio operator sitting beside the driver had at his disposal a hull machine gun, albeit this mounting had a limited rotation angle and visibility. The great thickness of the armor, reaching 20 centimeters in the front, made the Ferdinand/Elefant invulnerable to frontal attacks from Allied tanks, but the overweight caused by the heavy armor resulted in an excessive pressure on the ground, being the suspenssion one of the weak points of this tank. It was soon clear than a meticulous inspection was necessary before attempting any movement, either by road or through the countryside. Because of this reason and a low power to weight ratio, the speed resulted drastically decreased; from the 35 kilometers/hour intended in the original project for the Tiger I, the final prototype of the Ferdinand would reach only 20 kilometers/hour. There were great expectations about this highly specialized tank destroyer, and two batallions were equipped with the first units produced in 1943, to be destined to the Battle of Kursk. There, the Ferdinand/Elefant drove the attack and broke through the Soviet defenses, only to be later surrounded and almost decimated by the rear. In the occasions when this tank was used more wisely, the probabilities of success greatly increased, gaining a good reputation in other Soviet fronts and specially in Italy, where the war was not based in maneuvers, but in ambushes.

SdKfz 184 Ferdinand/Elefant tank destroyer

Panzerjager Tiger (Pak 43/2) Elefant (SdKfz 184).

In the summer 1943, in the Battle of Kursk, where Germans and Soviets released the largest battle of tanks in History, the crews of the Soviet tanks are suddenly surprised by a self-propelled cannon never seen before. It is a huge vehicle, with a square-like aspect, but with surfaces sloped enough to effectively deflect the anti-tank shells, which apparently make no effect in the new tank, which advances slowly but without the minimal turn back, while its 88-millimeter cannon, longer than any other seen until then, relentlessly hits the Soviet tanks. However, in a counterattack, being placed practically under the huge vehicle several infantry soldiers, they become aware that the new tank nothing can do against them, for it lacks armament for close attack and defense. So, the fabulous tank destroyer is vulnerable against the foot soldier. This discovery sentences the fearsome Jagdpanzer SdKfz 184, one of the weapons that was expected to help crush the Soviet Army. In no time, the Soviet infantrymen learnt its weak points and blind spots, so almost immediately this tank had to be retired from the front, when a good number of units had been already destroyed. The illustration below shows five views of the Ferdinand/Elefant tank. In the rear is visible the large hatch used by the crew to access or leave the tank, but used as well to install or remove the large cannon. In the upper view are visible, to each side, the rectangular air intakes for the Maybach gasoline engines. A similar propulsion system like the one adopted in the Ferdinand/Elefant tank was later used in the Maus tank. A foldable holder attached to the upper part of the hull holds and immobilizes the long cannon during displacements in the countryside. Twelve large rivets on each side reinforce the union between the supestructure and the hull, and additional rivets reinforce the front of the hull. The radio operator and the driver could see the exterior through two loopholes located in the chamfered corners of the fore hull, orientated about 45 degrees, or by using the upper hatches; there was no frontal hatch for the driver's view.

SdKfz 184 Ferdinand/Elefant tank destroyer

Crew: 5

Armament: One Pak 43/2 L/71 88-millimeter cannon, one MG 34 7.92-millimeter machine gun in the hull (not installed in early units)

Ammunitions: 50 x 88-millimeter cannon

Armor: 30-200 millimeters

Length: 8.14 meters

Width: 3.43 meters

Height: 2.97 meters

Weight: 68 tonnes

Ground clearance: 47 centimeters

Ground pressure: 1.24 kilograms/square centimeter

Power to weight ratio: 9.56 horsepower/tonne

Engine: Two Maybach HL 120 TR with 12 cylinders in V, refrigerated by water, developing 320 horsepower at 3000 revolutions per minute

Speed (road): 20 kilometers/hour

Speed (cross-country): 17 kilometers/hour

Range: 150 km

Maximum surmountable trench: 3.2 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 0.8 meters

Maximum surmountable slope: 22 degrees

Maximum fording: 1.2 meters

Article updated: 2014-12-27

Categories: Tanks - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-07-16

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