The battlefields of World War 2 became the domain of the tank within time. The German Blitzkriegs of 1939 and 1940 showcased to the world the power behind strategic use of armored formations coupled with fast-moving mechanized infantry and precision air strikes. Tank battles inevitably peppered the North African Campaign and proved critical to success in France and Italy while they proved wholly decisive along the East Front where German forces were pitted against a worthy foe in the Red Army. With the rise of the tank as a primary battlefield power, much thought was given into various implements that could disable or destroy enemy tanks for many participants experimented with high-powered anti-tank rifles, anti-tank grenades, improvised field weaponry, anti-tank field guns and other ideas intended to keep the steel beasts at bay. One of the more practical developments became the tracked, self-propelled tank destroyer which allowed for penetrative hitting power at range all the while promoting mobility.
For ease of production, the tank destroyer was usually set upon an existing tank chassis. The Germans had held early experience in this field with their Marder series which utilized captured French tracked vehicles and outgoing Panzer tank chassis. In either case, the method proved wonderfully effective for now the army could field both tank and tank destroyer from the same lot of vehicles all the while increasing commonality of parts, fuel and - in some cases - ammunition. These vehicles could further be produced relatively quickly in the numbers required - fixed superstructures being welded atop the existing tank hulls. As the East Front began to grow into stalemates and Soviet counteroffensives seeing increased successes, the Germans were forced to develop ever more potent tank-stopping vehicles. The Soviets were keen on fielding medium and heavy tank concepts beginning their war-winning T-34 Medium Tank alongside the KV-85, KV-1 and the Josef Stalin IS heavy tank series. One such German development became the short-lived "Sturer Emil" - a large, armored tracked vehicle mounting a powerful 128mm main gun.
Design of the Sturer Emil (formal designation of "12.8cm Selbstfahrlafette auf VK3001(H)" was consistent with other tank destroyers of the period. The chassis was a slightly modified version of the abandoned VK3001 heavy tank by Henschel. The hull was lengthened to add another road wheel to each track side and increase the vehicle's weight distribution which was critical to mobility and traversing soft terrains. In all there were eight road wheels to each track with the drive sprocket mounted at the front of the hull and the track idler at the read. Three return rollers managed the upper portion of the track sections in a conventional fashion. The driver was situated in a pillbox-type front-left hull emplacement apart from the gunnery crew. To the middle-rear of the vehicle was a fixed, armored, open-air superstructure which housed the four members of the gunnery crew including the vehicle commander. The open-air nature of the compartment was necessary for the active movement of the crew in managing the loading, reloading and firing of the main gun - though this exposed the crew to all manner of battlefield dangers and environmental factors. As the superstructure was fixed in place, the main gun managed only 7-degree traversal to either side and could elevate as high as 10-degrees and as low as 15-degrees. As such, the vehicle was primarily turned into the direction of desired fire - a tactical disadvantage.
Primary armament of the Sturer Emil was the massive 128mm (12.8cm) PaK 40 L/61 main gun - a tank-based version of the highly-effective FlaK 40 anti-aircraft artillery system. The crew managed an ammunition store of just 18 armor piercing projectiles but this was offset by the sheer penetrative firepower inherent in the 128mm's design. Anti-infantry measures included a mounted MG34 general purpose machine gun to be operated by any one of the gunnery crew. While holding limited traverse, this weapon could prove decisive in a short-ranged firefight with enemy infantry bent on assailing the vehicle with grenades. Additionally, any personal crew weapons (usually submachine guns or service rifles) and sidearms could be brought to bear as needed.
Design work on the Sturer Emil began in 1941 to which production on a pair of prototypes ensued in 1942. The prototypes were named "Max" and "Moritz" in typical German fashion (they had a habit of naming specialized developments) and were in operational service for field evaluations in 1942 and into 1943. Each vehicle weighed in at nearly 40 short tons with a running length of 32 feet, a width of over 10 feet and a height nearing 9 feet. Armor protection was 50mm along the critical front facings and as thin as 15mm elsewhere. Power was derived from a single Maybach brand HL116 V6 water-cooled engine developing 300 horsepower and allowing for speeds of 16 miles per hour with limited operational ranges. Slow and plodding, the Sturer Emil had its tactical limitations to be sure but, again, this could largely be offset by its powerful main gun while protection could be managed by accompanying combat tanks, infantry and proper use of air power.
Only these two prototypes were ever completed though both saw combat service along the East Front. Of the two, only one survived to be captured by the victorious Soviet Army at Stalingrad in January of 1943 (the Stalingrad campaign ended the following month). The other example was destroyed in the fighting and assumed a complete loss. The captured specimen was then returned to Moscow for evaluation and ultimately ended up in the famous Kubinka Tank Museum as a war trophy in the post-war years. Of particular note with this specimen were the 22 "kill" icons found on the side of the barrel - evidence of the true effectiveness of the Sturer Emil system despite its limitations.
All told, the Sturer Emil certainly held promise for the desperate German Army. Its high-impact main gun undoubtedly proved a large part of its limited field success (particularly when paired with a trained and skilled gunnery crew). Had the vehicle been available in suitable numbers, the battles of the East Front may have very well ended differently for both sides. However, history showed otherwise.