Heavy Tank Elefant
Elefant Heavy Tank
Before giving the go-ahead for production of the very small and simple Panzer I light tank in 1932, the German army issued tentative requirements for a large heavy tank. At the time, German industry was unable to even consider such a project, so the heavy tank concept was dropped. However, the need for a heavy tank never disappeared.
Between 1937 and early 1941, the German firm of Henschel, under sponsorship by the German army ordnance department, undertook a series of experimental projects that focused on a viable medium tank design. This work resulted in the building and testing of a number of prototype vehicles. While none of these prototypes were considered for production, the effort gave Henschel valuable engineering experience in the design considerations for heavy tanks.
Hitler's growing interest in armored warfare was a strong factor in encouraging German tank industry to work on heavy tank designs. By the time Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Hitler had already begun to use his position as head of the armed forces to intensify the German army's interest in heavy tank development.
The Elefant Tank
One of the items that attracted Hitler's attention was a set of requirements for a new heavy tank designated the VK 4501 project, issued a few weeks before the attack on the Soviet Union. The requirements of the project called for a vehicle weighing roughly 45 tons and featuring as its main armament a modified version of the already-proven German 88-mm antiaircraft gun. One of the conditions imposed on the German tank firms interested in the project was the need to complete a prototype in time for Hitler's birthday on April 20, 1942. Hitler's interest in the project peaked after the invasion of the Soviet Union showed that the Russian T-34 medium tank had rendered the entire inventory of German tanks obsolete.
The German firms of Henschel and Porsche were both vying for the contract to build the new heavy tank. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche was so convinced that he would win the contract because of his personal friendship with Hitler, that he went ahead and built 90 turrets and hulls for his own heavy tank design. Tests of the competing prototype vehicles soon confirmed that the Henschel vehicle was the superior vehicle. Therefore, Henschel—not Porsche—won the contract to build the German army is new heavy tank.
Ninety of Porsche's remaining chassis were bought by the German army and were converted by the German firm of Alkett into a combination assault gun and tank destroyer between April and May of 1943. The conversions consisted of relocating the engine compartment to the center and building a large, block-like armored superstructure at the rear of the vehicle to house an 88-mm gun-in a limited-traverse mount. The vehicle was originally named the Ferdinand in honor of its designer. This was later changed to Elefant Tank (Elephant) as an indication of its large size and weight.
The Elefant Tank weighed 65 tons and had a crew of six men. It was 26 feet 10 inches long (excluding gun), 11 feet 3 inches wide, and 9 feet 10 inches tall. Frontal armor was 200 millimeters thick with 80-millimeter side protection. Early models lacked hull-mounted machine guns for close-in defense, causing them to become easy prey for Soviet infantry tank-hunting teams. Its weight and size made it difficult to maneuver. The Elefant Tank was considered to be a failure in German army service.