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Weapons of World War Two

The Battle of Kursk (Jul-Aug 1943)

Jagdpanzer Elefant

Jagdpanzer Elefant

Area of Kursk, summer of 1943. Two armies, the Russian and the German, are facing each other in that which would be considered to be the largest battle of armored elements of the Second World War. Tanks and self-propelled tank destroyers fight each other by resorting to every "trick of the trade" known by their crews; it is truly a fight of giants. Unexpectedly, the Russian tanks find in front of them an armored element which has never been seen until now. Huge, of squarish forms, but with surfaces sloped enough to effectively ricochet the anti-tank projectiles. These do not seem to have any effect on the newcomer. Slowly, but with constancy, it continues advancing, and its cannon, a 88-millimeter one whose tube is longer than normal, relentlessly hits the Russian tanks. But during a counterattack several infantrymen manage to place themselves under the monstrous contraption, and some of them become exposed to its frontal sector, immobilized by terror. The blood seems to freeze in the veins. It is the end. A brief machine gun burst will soon end these hallucinating moments. But the tank, like an undecided pachyderm which notices the presence of the prey but does not consider it worth of attention, continues advancing along with the roar of its engine. The Russian look at each other astonished, and then they realize what has happened. The monster has no weapons for close defense. In front of a man, the tremendous tank destroyer is not more than a relatively dangerous stupid beast. This discovery sentences the Jagdpanzer (Tank Destroyer) SdKfz 184, the weapon with which Hitler had expected to smash the armored elements of the Red Army. Soon, the Russian infantrymen learned its weak points and blind spots, so the "Elefant" - for this was the nickname of the new weapon - had to be almost immediately withdrawn from the frontline. Born from the transformation of a heavy tank, the "Ferdinand" - as it was initially denominated in honor of its designer, Engineer Ferdinand Porsche - revealed itself as a strange element from the very beginning. Rejected by the Army because of its excessively complex mechanics, it was thought then to turn it into a tank destroyer, by replacing the turret by a casemate while enhancing the armor and the armament. This one comprised the latest model of the 88-millimeter cannon, of 71 calibers in length, whereas the armor had been increased to up to 20 centimeters in thickness, by adding additional plates. But it was not taken into account the fact that, for achieving the most powerful and armored tank destroyer, it had been made so heavy that its speed had been notably decreased (from a maximum of 35 kilometers/hour to only 20 kilometers/hour) and that it had been deprived from the close defense provided by the frontal machine gun. When this fact became very clear, a large number of "Elefant" - as the "Ferdinand" had been renamed due to its appearance - had been already destroyed. Immediately withdrawn from the frontline, it would be fitted again with a frontal machine gun (as the exemplar shown in the illustration), but it would never become the weapon which Engineer Porsche had dreamed of. However, when used in Italy to stop the Allied advance, it would achieve good results against the American tanks, in a war which was not based in maneuvers, but in ambushes and surprise actions.

Year: 1943

Weight: 68 tonnes

Length: 8.14 meters

Width: 3.43 meters

Height: 2.97 meters

Ground clearance: 47 centimeters

Maximum armor: 200 millimeters

Engines: Two HL 120 TR of 320 horsepower

Maximum speed: 20 kilometers/hour

Operational range: 150 kilometers

Crew: 6

Armament: One 88-millimeter cannon; one 7.92-millimeter machine gun (not installed in the first exemplars)

Ammunitions: 50 of 88 millimeters

Maximum surmountable trench: 3.20 meters

Maximum surmountable step: 79 centimeters

Maximum surmountable slope: 35 degrees

Fording: 1.20 meters

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