The SdKfz 164 came about from the existing weapon carrier vehicle designed to lug the sFH 18 artillery gun. This vehicle was itself a combination of Panzer III tank parts and the chassis of the Panzer IV tank, making it an efficient vehicle to produce from available stores. This system was designated as the Geschutzwagen III/IV and was selected as the chassis to field the powerful PaK 43 anti-tank gun in a new SdKfz 164 Panzerjager design - in essence an improvised design to fulfill a growing battlefield requirement.
The mammoth SdKfz 164 was an imposing tank destroying platform for Germany in the Second World War. With the obsolete Panzer III and Panzer IV chassis still in inventory or on production lines, it was decided to put them to better use by modifying them to become self-propelled guns mounting the powerful 88mm PaK 43 series. To accomplish this, the hull was lengthened to accommodate the new gun and the engine relocated while armor was removed in an effort to keep the vehicles weight at a respectable level.
The main gun was fitted into a high superstructure which provided the vehicle with a tall profile and its turretless design meant that the entire vehicle would have to be turned in order to engage the enemy. The turret also offered no protection to the firing crew and commander from above or to the rear as it was an open-top design. As such, crews had to resort to battlefield modifications to keep the elements or shrapnel out and were issued small arms and a machine gun for self-defense work. Power was derived from a Maybach HL 12-cylinder engine producing some 300 horsepower and a crew of five personnel could man the system with the driver being the only one to benefit from any type of armor protection.
In its initial form, the SdKfz 164 appeared with the designation of "Hornisse" (meaning "Hornet") though this was later changed at Hitler's request with the name of "Nashorn" (meaning "Rhinoceros") as he required a more imposing name attached to the vehicle. Early Hornisse models were fitted with the standard PaK 43 L/71 main gun while later Nashorn models sported the new and improved PaK 43/1 L/71 occurring from 1944 onward. Both vehicles were similarly designed and constructed apart from their main armament.
Once in combat, the SdKfz 164 proved its worth against Soviet armor of all classifications, engaging and defeating them some 2,000 to 4,000 meters away. After action reports dictated how the sheer velocity of the 88mm round could simply tear apart the Soviet T-34s like paper with a single direct hit. Mobility of the system did play a part in its usefulness however and the tank destroyer most always performed better when dug into a prepared position. The Hornisse/Nashorn series would later be superseded by the purpose-built Jagdpanther and Jagdpanzer tank-killing designs.