Historical Information for Elefant
The Panzerjäger Tiger (P) Elefant (Sd.Kfz. 184) was a Panzerjager (tank hunter) of the German Wehrmacht in World War II. They were originally built under the name Ferdinand, after their designer, Ferdinand Porsche.
The design evolved from cruder, improvised designs of 1941-42, as well as the later, but still defective,Marder designs. The chassis was created from the 90 Porsche Tiger I models already built with new tracks and an all-steel wheel arrangement. Suspension consisted of six twin bogies with longitudinal torsion bars. The engines were placed in the middle of the hull to give room for the armament at the rear in a simple, casemate-style box structure, with slightly sloped sides, on top of this chassis. The engines drove electric generators, which in turn powered electric motors connected to the rear sprockets. The driver and radio operator were in a separate compartment at the front. Surprisingly, the track setup on the "Porsche Tiger" chassis which the Elefant vehicles are based, appears to have used two drive sprockets per track, where the frontmost wheel is sprocketed, just as the actual rear drive sprocket is.
The vehicle was fitted with an 88 mm PaK 43/2 L/71 gun. The L/71 had originally been developed as a replacement for the famous 88 mm anti-aircraft gun that had been used against Allied tanks in the Western Desert Campaign, although in the event it was never fielded as an anti-aircraft weapon. The L/71 had a much longer barrel than the L/56 Flak 18 and Flak 36 guns, which gave it a higher muzzle velocity. It also fired a different, longer cartridge. These improvements gave the 88mm L/71 significantly improved armor penetration ability over the earlier 88 mm. As fitted, the gun was capable of only 25° traverse and a similarly limited elevation.
Porsche AG had manufactured about one hundred chassis for their proposal of the Tiger tank, the "Porsche Tiger" in the Nibelungwerk factory in St. Valentin, Austria. Since the competing Henschel Tiger design was chosen for production, the Porsche chassis were no longer required for the Tiger. It was therefore decided that the Porsche chassis were to be used as the basis of a new heavy tank destroyer, mounting Krupp's newly developed 88 mm Pak 43/2 anti-tank gun. This precise long-range weapon was supposed to take out enemy tanks before they reached their own range of effective fire. Ninety-one chassis were converted (chassis number 150010 to 150100).
The two Porsche air cooled engines in each vehicle were replaced by two 300 hp Maybach HL 120 TRM engines powering two generators that drove two electric motors which in turn powered the drive sprockets. The electric motors also acted as the vehicle's steering unit. This so called "petro-electrical" drive delivered 0.11 km/l off road and 0.15 km/l on road at a maximum speed of 10 km/h off road and 30 km/h on road. Besides the high fuel consumption and the poor performance the drive system was also maintenance-intensive; the sprockets for example had to be changed every 500 km.
Add-on armor of 100 mm was bolted to the front plates, increasing the plate's thickness to 200 millimetres and adding another 5 tons of weight. A large housing for the gun and most of the vehicle's crew was mounted in the rear end of the vehicle. As the engines were placed in the middle, the radio operator and the driver were separated from the rest of the crew and could only be addressed through radio. The work was completed in just a few months from March to May 1943.
In September 1943 all surviving Ferdinands were recalled to be modified based on battle experience gained in the Battle of Kursk. During October and November 1943 forty-eight of the fifty surviving vehicles were modified by addition of a ball-mounted MG 34 in the hull front (to improve anti-infantry ability), a commander's cupola (modified from the standard StuG III cupola) for improved vision and the application of Zimmerit paste. This and other minor armor changes increased the weight from 65 to 70 t. These improved vehicles were then unofficially called Elefant, and this became the official name by Hitler's orders of May 1, 1944.
Five Bergepanzer Tiger (P) armoured recovery vehicles were converted in Autumn 1943. Three from Tiger (P) prototypes and two more from battle-damaged Ferdinands not suitable for the Elefant modification.
The units were deployed at a company level, sometimes sub-divided into platoons, with infantry or tanks to protect the vulnerable flanks of the vehicles. On the attack, this Jagdpanzer was a first-strike vehicle, while in defence, they often comprised a mobile reserve used to blunt enemy tank assaults.
All but two of the 91 available Ferdinands were put to use in the Battle of Kursk, the first combat the Ferdinand saw. Although they destroyed many Russian tanks, they performed quite poorly in other respects. Within the first four days nearly half of the vehicles were out of service, mostly due to technical problems and mine damage to tracks and suspensions. Actual combat losses to direct Soviet action were very low as the Ferdinand's very thick armor protected it from almost all Soviet anti tank weaponry. However, at this point in its development the Ferdinand lacked a machine gun or any secondary armament, making it vulnerable to attack by infantry. Most total losses of the Ferdinand occurred during the Soviet counter-offensive after the Kursk offensive, many damaged Ferdinands had to be abandoned as they were too heavy to tow and others were lost to mechanical breakdown during the retreat. The surviving vehicles saw further limited action on the Dniepr front during late 1943.
At this point they were recalled and modified at the works in Austria and received the name Elefant. While the modifications improved the vehicles, some problems could never be fully fixed. In 1944 the Elefants served on the Italian front but were rendered rather ineffective, as their weight of nearly 70 tons did not allow them to use most Italian roads and bridges. Due to a permanent lack of spare parts most of the units were not destroyed in battle, but abandoned and blown up by their own crews. One company of Ferdinands saw action during the Soviets' January 1945 Vistula-Oder Offensive in Poland, and the very last surviving vehicles were in combat at Zossen during the Battle of Berlin.
In terms of kills per loss, the Ferdinand/Elefant might well have been the most successful tank destroyer employed during the war, reaching an average ratio of approximately 10:1. This impressive ratio was primarily due to its extreme firepower / protection ratio, which gave it an enormous advantage when used in a defensive role. However, poor mobility and mechanical unreliability greatly diminished its offensive capability.