The Elefant Tank Destroyer

The Elefant Tank Destroyer

The Elefant Tank Destroyer Background

The need for a heavy battle tank in the German Army had been foreseen early on before the break out of World War II, design and production of prototypes of a 35 tonne heavy tank had begun in 1937 by several German arms manufacturers at Hitler’s request.

The design specifications for the new tank changed to 45 tons and the main gun was increased to a calibre of 88mm rather than the original 75mm after German forces encountered the Russian T-34 Medium Tank.

Porsche and Henschel both produced prototypes and the Henschel manufacturer’s design was the one chosen for production, which began in August 1942 as the Tiger Tank.

The Elefant Tank Destroyer Development

Porsches design was called the VK4501 or Tiger (P). They had built some 90+ Tiger (P) chassis during 1942. Though a small number of completed Tiger (P) “Porsche Tiger” had been built, not wanting to waste these chassis’s, they were converted in tank destroyers.

The designer of this new destroyer was Ferdinand Porsche and between March and May 1943, 90 (possibly 91) Elefant (German for “elephant”) aka “Ferdinand” were built by the company using Tiger (P) chassis’s.

The Elefant Tank Destroyer Description

A disabled Elefant in Italy, 1944

The Tiger (P) drive system, which consisted of 2 petrol engines used to power a generator for the  electrical motors attached to the rear drive sprockets that propelled the vehicle was retained. However the earlier Porsche petrol engines were replaced with Maybach engines.

The main gun was the 88mm (8.8cm) calibre Length 71 Pak 43/2 anti-tank gun. It was a highly effective at long range and required 2 crew loaders. It was capable of  traversing 25° left to right whilst the vehicle was stationary.

The rear mounted superstructure housing the gun and the crew that operated it, was well armoured and fully enclosed. The engine compartment was located centrally in the hull so the driver and radio operator sat up front in vehicle.

The Elefant Tank Destroyer Combat History

Elefant in Italy, 1944

Ferdinands first saw combat in the 1943 Battle of Kursk on the Eastern Front. Whilst being able to pick of targets at range, as the battle raged on, Russian infantry soon exploited the vehicles lack of a roof mounted Machine Gun and were able to launch close in attacks disabling or destroying the vehicle.

Its heavy weight proved troublesome to recover damaged vehicles and German crews would have to destroy the vehicle to avoid it falling in to enemy hands, so many were lost in the battle.

A few did survey and went on to be used in the Italian campaign of the war, whilst some of these were converted in to heavy recovery vehicles called the Bergepanzer Tiger (P).

The Elefant Tank Destroyer Spec’s

Armament: 88mm (8.8cm) calibre Length 71 Pak 43/2
Armour: 200mm Steel (frontal)
Crew: 6 (Commander, Gunner, x2 Loaders, Radio  operator & Driver)
Dimensions: Length 8.14m / Width 3.38m / Height 2.97m
Weight: 65 tonne
Engine: x2 Maybach HL 120 petrol (total 592hp)
Top Road Speed: 30 km/h
Operational Range: 150 km

Remaining Examples Of The Elefant Tank Destroyer

Only two Ferdinands survived the war. One Ferdinand was captured by Soviet forces at Kursk, and is on display at the Kubinka Tank Museum. The second was captured at Anzio by the Americans, and is now part of the United States Army Ordnance Museum’s collection at Fort Lee.