Authored By Dan Alex (Updated: 7/12/2016):
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June of 1941, and the introduction of the T-34 Medium and IS-2 Heavy tanks, it became painfully clear that the Germans required more formidable solutions and this, in turn, spurred development of the Panzer V "Panther" Medium and Tiger Heavy tanks. The Panther entered service in 1943 and saw service in the post-war years across foreign hands.
it was the development of the Tiger that proved interesting to the origins of the Ferdinand/Elephant tank killing vehicle. Henschel and Porsche were both charged with design of a new class of heavy tank with impressive armor protection and fielding the fabled 88mm field gun. For a period, Dr. Ferdinand Porsche and his "Porsche Tiger" were thought in the lead due to the doctor's close relationship with German leader Adolf Hitler. Porsche designed a new drivetrain for its heavy tank submission, one that coupled two conventional engines driving a pair of generators which, in turn, powered electric motors which drove frontal drive sprockets of the track gear. While innovative as a gas-electric drive, the technology in a tank was unrefined and posed technological challenges.
Thusly, it was the simpler and more conventional Henschel design that won out and garnered the contract to develop and ultimately produce the SdKfz 181 "Tiger" Heavy Tank for the German Army. Production began in 1942 and rendered 1,347 units before the end of 1944, these fighting into the final weeks of the war.
Porsche had dedicated large amounts of manpower and resources into developing the Porsche Tiger - including near-complete hulls - it was decided in September of 1942 that development should proceed with the tank being converted to a dedicated tank destroyer. The selection of gun was the excellent 8.8cm (88mm) KwK L/71 (PaK 43/2, a development of the FlaK 18-37 anti-tank system) capable of knocking out all known Allied armor miles away. The turret concept of the Porsche Tiger was dropped and, in its place, a stout, fixed superstructure was designed to house the gun breech, recoil system, ammunition stores and gunnery crew. Unlike previous German self-propelled gun offerings, the Porsche vehicle would provide all-around protection for all of the crew within. The Alkett concern handled the initial design work beginning in November of 1942 with manufacture of two modified pilot vehicles managed by Nibelungenwerk (by way of Krupp). Initially it was thought that Alkett would produce the superstructures with final assembly at Nibelugenwerk. In the end, all work fell to Nibelungenwerk for the available 100 Porsche Tiger hulls from February 1943 onwards. After two months of frenetic work, from April 1943 to May 1943, 89 vehicles were converted.
The running gear consisted of six double-tired road wheels to a track side. Drive sprockets were positioned at front of the hull with no track return rollers being used. This gave the track link system a drooped appearance. The hull consisted of vertical side facings with a very shallow glacis plate leading up to a vertically-faced fighting compartment wall. The driver was positioned at the front-left of the hull with a hatch and vision blocks provided. Atop this compartment was fitted a boxy fixed superstructure mounting the armament. All sides of this emplacement were deliberately sloped where possible to provide some ballistics protection. The main gun protruded out of the frontal face of the superstructure and overhung the front of the hull. Since the superstructure was not a traversing turret, an A-shaped, hinged, two-strutted support was affixed to the lower compartment roof to support the frontal mass of the 88mm gun. The barrel was capped by a massive double-baffled muzzle brake and entered the superstructure through an armored mantlet. Armor protection registered up to 200mm in thickness, an impressive level of security to say the least.
Power was served through 2 x Maybach HL 120 TRM V12 gasoline-fueled, liquid-cooled engines each developing 300 horsepower (600 horsepower combined). These drove twin Porsche/Siemens-Schuckert electric motors which powered the front drive sprockets. The engine was settled in a compartment at the middle of the hull. Maximum road speed was only 19 miles per hour and road range was limited to 95 miles due to the vehicle's sheer size and weight. The Porsche design measured a running length of 8 meters with a width of 3.4 meters and a height of 2.9 meters. Its operating weight was 65,000 kilograms, about 143,300lbs.
To operate the various onboard systems required a standard crew of six personnel. This included the driver and radio operator in the front of the hull. The vehicle commander, gunner and a pair of dedicated ammunition handlers were all located in the hull superstructure. With its 88mm main gun, 50 x 88mm projectiles were carried aboard. There was no provision for a self-defense, anti-infantry/anti-aircraft machine gun. spent shell casings were ejected through a port in the rear hull face.
In September of 1942, official work on the Porsche design was undertaken. After hasty trials and showings, Hitler ordered the type to be readied for the grand German offensives of 1943. The vehicle was formally adopted with the German inventory designation of SdKfz 184 and given the nickname of "Ferdinand" after Dr. Ferdinand Porsche himself. All together, the official vehicle designation became Jagdpanzer Tiger (P) Sd.Kfz. 184 (the "P" indicating it a Porsche development).