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).
The Ferdinand's baptism of fire occurred in the summer of 1943 during the pivotal Battle of Kursk along the Eastern Front. Its hurried development and manufacture was driven by Hitler who looked for the vehicle's participation in his grand Operation Citadel thrust. The German offensive began on July 5th and ran until July 16th, meeting a Soviet offensive from July 12th to August 23rd. The battle took place near the city of Kursk and became the site of one of the biggest tank battles in military history, the German goal intended to shore up resupply lines to frontline units by neutralizing the Kursk salient which formed after the German failure at Stalingrad. For the battle ahead, Tiger Heavy Tanks and the new Panzer V Panther Medium Tank would come into play, the Ferdinand would join the new generation of German armor on the battlefield - arriving in June just a month after production wrapped. Delays caused by training of Panther and Ferdinand crews added to the postponement of Operation Citadel for Hitler required his newest and best available units to be on hand. Unknown to the Germans, the Soviet forces were very well prepared and numbered 1.9 million men, 25,000 guns and 5,100 tanks against the German force of 900,000 infantry, 3,000 tanks and 10,000 guns. While air support was given through the 2,100 committed Luftwaffe aircraft, the Soviets could field 2,800 aircraft in response.
Eighty-nine Ferdinand gun carriers were completed and shipped to the front, arranged across two battalions of Panzerregiment 654. In action, it reportedly claimed between 300 and 500 enemy tanks which only grew the legacy of the fabled "German 88". However, the vehicle was not without severe limitations in her design for the newness and hasty delivery of her drivetrain technology meant that many teething issues were never truly ironed out. This led to stoppages of Ferdinand vehicles almost as soon as they began to progress. Many were abandoned by crews before seeing destruction due to mechanical failures over direct enemy attacks. The weight and bulk of the system also worked against the crew as she proved slow and grounded in the mud fields of Eastern Europe. The fixed superstructure - while providing cover from all angles - forced the entire tank to be positioned into the direction of fire, placing strains on fuel and oil supplies as well as the drive gears. If a Ferdinand received track damage, it could no longer move and became a stationary armored bunker with no way to train its gun, leaving the crew with no option but to abandon the vehicle. With no self-defense weaponry as standard and no firing ports for the crew within, Ferdinands could be openly targeted by Soviet anti-tank crews with relative impunity if not supported by defending infantry or support vehicles. A soldier could simply run up to the Ferdinand and attach explosives to the superstructure or track systems, leaving the scene to watch the detonation occur without threat from the Ferdinand crew.
Between mechanical problems, anti-tank weapons, enemy armor threats and air attack, the Ferdinands delivered a promising, though something of a failed, initial impression. They proved tactically limited in the Kursk operations which eventually was decided in favor of the Soviets as a decisive victory. Form this point forward, German battlefield superiority could be challenged directly and the losses would begin to mount until the final fall of Berlin in 1945.
Of the 89 units fielded at Kursk, just 50 battle-damaged Ferdinands managed to survive the fighting into December of 1943. In response to its poor showing, the survivors were shipped back to Nibelungenwerk for rebuilding and several key changes were instituted to help improve the vehicle across 48 of the remaining examples. One important change was in the installation of a trainable hull-mounted (front-right) MG34 machine gun for anti-infantry defense to be manned by the radio operated. The trainable nature was accomplished by way of a ball mounting which provided some flexibility in engaging apart from those targets directly in front of the vehicle. A cupola was added for the commander to improve situational awareness of the crew as a whole. Tracks were widened to content with the muddy and snowy approaches of Eastern Europe and armor along the front panels was increased to provide for improved protection. Additional protection (particularly from magnetic mines and sticky bombs) was made through the application of "Zimmerit" paste - a coating to counter their adhesion. This modification came at a price, however, for the vehicle's operating weight increased from 65 tons to 70 tons and this earned the revised Ferdinand the name new name of "Elefant", the name made formal by Hitler himself on May 1st, 1944.
With the loss of Italy in September of 1943, additional German firepower had to be sent to the Italian Front. This included the revised Elefants which were completed in March of 1944 and delivered to the charge of Panzerjager Abteilungen 653. Elefants were Once again, limitations shown through as the heavy beasts were not able to traverse much of the Italian landscape due to weak bridges and tight throughways. Additionally, the uniqueness of their design - unlike any other vehicle in the German inventory - meant that in-the-field repairs were next to impossible. There was no doubt as to the effectiveness of the 88mm gun against Allied armor in any theater but the vehicle proved more valuable as a stationary armored bunker than a direct contact hunter. Again, mechanical failure doomed more Elifants in the fighting that followed across Italy and many crews left their vehicles for good, they falling into advancing enemy hands.
Of the 91 Ferdinands/Elefants completed, only two survive today as showpieces - one at the United States Army Ordnance Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia and the other at the Kubinka Tank Museum near Moscow.
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