The Sturmtiger was a German mobile assault gun development that appeared in few numbers during the latter years of World War 2. The system, as a whole, was a massive weapon intended to demolish standing structures and ease the losses attributed to urban fighting such as that encountered by the German Army in their critical loss at Stalingrad. As it was, the Sturmtiger arrived too late in the war and in limited quantities to make much of an impact. Also, its single-minded battlefield scope lent itself poorly to the defensive campaign German was now fighting after key losses along major fronts closed the noose around her.
The Battle of Stalingrad (July 1942 - February 1943) proved a major turning point along the East Front during World War 2 and marked a major victory for the Red Army while conversely serving as a major defeat for Nazi Germany and her allies. At times, the German Army could lay claim to large portions of the city (as much as 90%) though the Red Army proved a most determined foe as pockets of resistance held up key regions which ultimately centered along the west bank of the Volga River. Bloody and barbaric hand-to-hand fighting dotted the battle as Soviet soldiers used whatever means necessary to thwart all German advances through the city. These fighters were ultimately saved with a November 1942 Red Army offensive that was enacted just as cold weather began to set in on the desperate, tired and hungry German Army. By the middle of February in 1943, the German siege of the city was no more.
For Hitler, Stalingrad solidified a key shortcoming in the power available to his army when attempting to take a major Soviet city - an operation that would, presumably, have to be repeated if the communists were to be enslaved by the Germans. The shortcoming was derived from the guerilla-style warfare utilized by the Soviet Army in which the city itself was used to great advantage. Its structures, be they rubble or partially standing buildings, served well to establish key chokepoints, house booby traps or set up well-timed ambushes. The taking of a city with a determined foe would mean unacceptable German losses in the street-to-street, house-to-house fighting to come. The German 6th Army itself was ultimately surrounded during the fighting at Stalingrad, cut off from resupply and utterly destroyed.
German authorities therefore requested a mobile artillery vehicle to completely do away with entire structures through sheer firepower. The decision was made to develop a heavy armored vehicle to carry an equally heavy armament capable of laying waste to buildings and the like. Alkett of Berlin was tabbed as the primary contractor of the new machine and work began in the middle of 1943 to which a single prototype was offered up for presentation to Hitler himself in October.
The new design mounted a powerful 380mm (38cm / 15in) land-based version of the Kreigsmarine navalized anti-submarine rocket launching weapon to the existing hull of the Tiger I tank. The weapon fell under the designation of Raketenwerfer 61 ("RW61 Rocket Projector") and was essentially a launch tube firing a 761lb high-explosive depth charge out to ranges of 6,180 yards. The muzzle featured a perforated perimeter to jettison the ensuing launch gasses forwards and away from the vehicle. Up to Fourteen 380mm projectiles could be carried in the hull, one already loaded and ready to fire with another prepared on the loading tray - needless to say, space aboard the hull would be at a premium. The launch "projector" was fitted to an all-new fixed, boxy superstructure that offered no traverse and a good deal of elevation for "arcing" shots out and over. The superstructure had to be specially held in place by toughened welds and massive bolts to counter the violent recoil effects of the projectile launch. The road wheels of the original Tiger I were now made steel-rimmed. As the new vehicle was intended for the deadly nature of urban fighting, armor protection was given special attention with thicknesses ranging from 80mm to 150mm. The crew would be made up of the driver, commander, gunner and at least four personnel charged with loading the large 380mm projectiles into place. As such, a crane was fitted to the rear, squared off facing of the superstructure to help facilitate the loading of the launcher, this also helped by an access hatch along the compartment roof.
The weapon system became known as the "Sturmmorserwagen" but would also come to be known as the "38cm Sturmmorser", "Tiger-Morser", "Sturmpanzer VI" and the "Sturmtiger". First production models were made available in August of 1944 after developmental delays in which the intended Tiger I chassis were relocated to other wartime needs of the German Army, leaving Alkett to rebuild Tiger I chassis to fit their Sturmtigers. Sturmtigers were produced in several batches but, in the end, totaled just 18 vehicles. All production was handled by Alkett and ran from October of 1943 to December of 1944.
Hitler envisioned a company of his Sturmtigers, some fourteen strong, attached to his German divisions and laying waste to Russian cities in swathes. He optimistically imagined his Sturmtigers burning through some 300 rounds of 380mm ammunition per month and perhaps rightfully - yet hopelessly - put a great deal of value on such plodding yet terrifying weapons of war.
The end-product resulted in a rather stout, impressive - perhaps still comical - appearing tank design. The tank was characterized by its angular, fixed superstructure that provided for good ballistics protection with the short, stubby launcher barrel protruding from the forward glacis plate facing. The main armament was supplemented by a 7.92mm MG 34 or MG42 series general purpose machine gun fitted to a ball mount in the right side of the glacis plate with up to 2,550 rounds of 7.92mm ammunition in tow. The superstructure sat on a hull suspended by a torsion bar system. The driver maintained a position in the front left portion of the superstructure - left of the main gun mount - and had access to a vision block. A PaK ZF3 series gun sight was mounted above this visor. The hull itself was decidedly from the Tiger I with its overlapping road wheels (now steel rimmed) and applicable track systems.
Operational weight of the Sturmtiger was listed at 65 tons and she was much shorter in length (6.28 meters) than the Tiger I before her, of course owing to the fact that the Sturmtiger did not mount a long-barreled main gun. Additionally, despite the fixed superstructure and massive installed projector, the Sturmtiger was actually shorter in height (2.85 meters) than the Tiger I, the latter utilizing a traversing turret. The powerplant, mounted in a compartment at the rear of the hull, was a single Maybach HL 230 P45 V12, water-cooled engine delivering 650 horsepower to the massive frame. This allowed for a relatively acceptable top speed of 23 miles per hour with a limited range of just 74 miles (considerably less - 53 miles - off road). It is of note that the inherent differences found in the available Tiger I chassis marks ultimately led to some minor physical differences to production Sturmtigers themselves.
In practice, the Sturmtiger proved something of a mixed result. She was fielded in the Warsaw Uprising against the Polish resistance in August 1944 and later that December in the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944 to January 1945). In February and March of 1945, the Sturmtiger saw its last notable action during the Battle of the Reichswald against British and Canadian forces. Its immense size made for an imposing foe but this also led to a tempting target. Perhaps more debilitating to the Sturmtiger's legacy was the fact that the vehicle was limited in its operational range and battlefield scope. Its powerful armament proved of little value in most settings as quick-changing developments strictly dictated her application. The fuel-hungry Maybach engine was also quick to go dry, forcing crews to abandon their Sturmtiger mounts to the enemy outright. Other Sturmtigers simply fell victim to enemy tanks or anti-tank crews as well as coordinated infantry advances that served to overrun positions. The Allies managed to capture Sturmtiger examples and ship them off to England and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds of Maryland in America for complete evaluation. Many-an-Allied soldier was said to be quite fascinated with coming across a Sturmtiger in after action walks, its immense size and formidable armament playing favorably into the their descriptions of these interesting weapons.
As it was, the time for urban fighting in World War 2 had passed for Germany who proceeded to manage a growing defensive war on all fronts. The Sturmtiger had simply arrived too late to be of much use in the late war years and, at their core, served as nothing more than yet another wasteful allocation of resources intended to change the course of the war in favor of the Axis. Unfortunately for Hitler, Stalingrad had already gone on to change the course of the war in favor of the Allies - many even agreeing that the Soviet victory at Stalingrad itself was the deciding vote towards a saved Europe.