Ferdinand: The 70-tonne Porsche with 88 mm cannon

At the height of World War II, German engineering was booming, resulting in the creation of some of the most impressive war machines in history. Among these was an armoured colossus designed by the legendary Ferdinand Porsche, whose name resonates in the minds of classic car enthusiasts today. Let’s talk about the famous Panzerjäger Elefant (Sd. Kfz. 184).

The Elefant, also originally known as the Ferdinand, was a heavy tank destroyer that earned its place in military history. It was not considered a standard battle tank, but a tank hunter designed specifically to destroy enemy armoured vehicles, especially heavy tanks. Its primary role was to support tanks in their advance or to defend key positions from the rear.

The history of this armoured monster began with Porsche’s early designs in 1941-1942, and was refined from the effective designs of the Marder series. The chassis was based on the Model 90 of the famous Tiger I, also designed by Porsche, but significant improvements were made, including new tracks and steel wheels. The distribution of the engines in the centre of the barge allowed space for the armament located at the rear, in an armoured box structure on the chassis. The driver and radio operator were located in a separate compartment at the front. And, of course, we must not forget to mention the imposing 88 mm PaK 43/2 L/71 gun, a true marvel of war engineering.

The production of the Elefant was a monumental challenge. Porsche had originally built around one hundred units for its proposed Tiger tank, but ultimately opted for the Henschel design for mass production. However, these Porsche-designed units were not discarded. Instead, they were given a new life as the basis for a heavy tank destroyer, equipped with the new PaK 43/2 gun developed by Krupp. A 100 mm front plate was added, doubling the armour thickness in that area. The two air-cooled engines were replaced by two Maybach HL 120 TRM units. In the spring of 1943, a total of 90 units were converted. After their deployment on the Eastern Front, 48 of the fifty surviving vehicles underwent upgrades, such as the addition of MG34 machine guns and improved optics, which increased their weight to an impressive 70 tons. It was then that they received their new name, Elefant, on Hitler’s orders in February 1944.

Photo: Flickr, Alan Wilson

The Elephant faced numerous challenges on the battlefield. During the Battle of Kursk, it had its baptism of fire, and despite some setbacks, proved to be a fearsome force on the battlefield. While it managed to destroy around 320 Soviet tanks, it also showed some limitations that needed to be addressed.

One of the Elephant’s main weaknesses was its vulnerability to enemy infantry. Many units lacked additional protective weapons, leaving them open to attack by enemy soldiers. In addition, its slowness and inability to turn its turret made it a relatively easy target for cunning enemies. But that was not all; the electrical system also had recurring problems, which led to the conversion of several units into recovery crane vehicles

It was precisely because of these challenges and difficulties that the vehicles were given their new name, Elefant, as an attempt to revamp their image and improve their characteristics. These modifications included not only the addition of machine guns and improved optics, but also adjustments to mobility and armour strength. With these changes, the Elefant proved to be a formidable opponent on the battlefield.

As the war progressed, the Elephants continued their involvement on the battlefronts. They deployed to Italy in 1944, where their might was once again felt. However, as the war drew to a close, only two Elephants managed to survive. One was captured at the Battle of Kursk and is now part of the impressive collection at the Kubinka Museum outside Moscow. The other was captured at Anzio and is now an invaluable part of the Army Ordnance Museum.

Photo: Wikipedia
Weight65 Tm (Ferdinand)
70 Tm (Elefant)
Length8,14 m
Height2,97 m
Shielding200 mm
Primary weapon88 mm PaK 43/2 L/71 PaK 43/2 L/71 gun
Outreach90–150 km
Motor2 Maybach HL 120 TRM
600 CV
Maximum speed15–30 km/h
SuspensiónLongitudinal torsion bar
These specifications show the Panzerjäger Elefant’s imposing presence and power on the battlefield. Its robust armour, combined with the formidable 88mm gun, allowed it to engage enemy vehicles with great efficiency. Although not the fastest tank, its range and ability to carry a crew of six made it a force to be reckoned with.

Today, the Elefant’s legacy lives on in the history of classic military vehicles. It is a testament to the engineering and innovation of Ferdinand Porsche, who left an indelible mark on the world of automotive design. Despite its challenges and limitations, the Elefant remains an icon of power and endurance, reminding us of the impact of technological advances in warfare.

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