Published: 27/10/2023 | Last Updated on 27/10/2023
- The Hornisse Tank was an important German tank destroyer during World War II, specifically designed to combat enemy tanks and armored vehicles.
- German self-propelled anti-tank evolved out of the need for a highly mobile and effective solution to counter enemy allied tanks on the tank battlefields of WW2.
- The development of the Panzerjäger Hornisse Tank involved creating a compatible chassis that could support the heavy firepower of the tank destroyer, resulting in a powerful and versatile vehicle.
Introducing the Hornisse / Nashorn German Tank Destroyer of the WW2
World War II saw the emergence of innovative and powerful armored vehicles, including the Soviet T-34 and Kliment Voroshilov (KV)heavy tanks, which posed a significant threat to the German Wehrmacht forces during Operation Barbarossa.
This threat prompted the development of self-propelled tank destroyers capable of effectively countering these heavily armored adversaries. One of the notable outcomes of this effort was the creation of the Nashorn, a self-propelled anti-tank gun.
This text will delve into the evolution of German self-propelled anti-tank artillery during World War II, focusing on the development of the Nashorn and the challenges faced in mechanizing heavy weapons.
Mechanization of Heavy Weapons – Need for Tank Destroyers
The concept of mechanizing heavy artillery and creating “self-propelled gun mounts” gained traction in the late 1930s. The primary objective was to transport heavy guns, primarily designed for destroying fortifications, in a mobile and efficient manner.
These self-propelled guns were often referred to as “Betonknacker” or concrete busters. Two prominent German companies, Krupp and Rheinmetall-Borsig, were tasked with the development of these self-propelled gun mounts.
However, the early efforts in this direction faced challenges. Two particular projects, the Pz.Sfl.V and Pz.Sfl.VI, did not progress beyond the design stage due to their poor mobility.
Instead of targeting fortifications, the focus shifted to enemy battle tanks. The need for a self-propelled anti-tank gun became apparent.
The Challenge of Mobility
The increasing calibers and firepower of anti-tank guns posed a mobility challenge.
While the smaller 3.7 cm Pak could be moved around the battlefield by a crew of 2-3 men, larger guns like the 5 cm Pak 38 and the 7.5 cm Pak 40 required significantly more effort to transport.
The 7.5 cm Pak 40, effective against Soviet heavy tanks, weighed around one and a half tons and necessitated a crew of eight to maneuver.
In 1942, the development of an 88 mm anti-tank gun with superior penetration capabilities to the 8.8 cm Flak 18 began.
Rheinmetall-Borsig designed the 8.8 cm Flak 41, which boasted impressive penetration characteristics but weighed a hefty eight tons.
Krupp, on the other hand, presented the 8.8 cm Pak 43, designed exclusively for ground targets and with a significantly lower weight of 3650 kg in combat mode and 4750 kg in transport mode.
However, even the 8.8 cm Pak 43 was still challenging to transport manually. These guns, with their considerable weight, had mobility constraints, which needed to be addressed.
The Need for Self-Propelled Chassis
Recognizing the limitations of a towed anti-tank gun of this size and weight, a meeting convened by Reich Minister of Armament Speer in July 1942 raised the question of developing a compatible self-propelled chassis.
Rheinmetall-Borsig was already working on a self-propelled gun (SPG) for the 149 mm sFH 18 cannon, making it logical to explore a variant of this chassis for the 8.8 cm Pak 43 gun.
However, Krupp had its vision of what an SPG should look like, proposing a modified version of the Pz.Sfl.IVc chassis, which had a tumultuous development history.
This chassis had initially been designed as a bunker buster, but it never advanced to the prototype stage. The modified variant used the 8.8 cm Pak 43 with an altered gun shield.
Although work on this project reached the full-scale model stage, it did not progress to the metal. By that time, Rheinmetall-Borsig was nearing completion of its chassis, and Hitler was insistent on having a single chassis for both heavy guns.
Development of the Nashorn Tank Destroyer
The responsibility for developing a tank destroyer on the s.Sfl. auf Pz.Kpfw.III/IV Fg.St. chassis, initially named Geschuetzwagen III/IV, was entrusted to Alkett, a company based in Spandau, a suburb of Berlin, and a division of Rheinmetall-Borsig.
The progress made in the development of the Geschützwagen für sFH 18/1 chassis played a crucial role in this decision. Since both vehicles shared the same chassis, there was no need to build a prototype of the tank destroyer.
Birth from both of the Panzer III and Panzer IV elements, we might call the Nashorn as a hybrid tank.
The foundation for the new vehicle was the Panzer IV tank chassis, utilizing the drive sprockets and transmission elements from the Panzer III. This simplified production at Alkett, which was also responsible for producing StuG 40 self-propelled guns.
To create more space in the fighting compartment in the rear, the engine and cooling system were relocated to the middle of the chassis, resulting in large air intakes along the sides. The casemate and driver’s compartment designs were adapted from the Geschützwagen für sFH 18/1, with only the front plate of the casemate being modified.
The armor thickness remained consistent with previous designs.
The gun mount was also similar to previous models. The oscillating part of the 8.8 cm Pak 43 L/71, known as the Pak 43/1 variant, was installed on a pedestal mount, with a substantial mantlet covering the front.
Due to the use of single-piece ammunition, the crew was reduced to five members, and the vehicle carried 40 rounds of ammunition onboard.
Additionally, an MG 34 machine gun and two MP 40 submachine guns were included for defense against enemy infantry. Despite being 2 tons heavier than the Geschützwagen für sFH 18/1 (Hummel) at 24 tons, the Nashorn maintained its mobility, although the impact of the increased weight would become apparent later.
1943: The Nashorn’s Production Journey
First units of the Hornisse
Alkett, the German company responsible for armored vehicle production during World War II, was initially hesitant to build the Geschützwagen für sFH 18/1, which would later become known as the Hummel.
However, they did not decline the opportunity to create a tank destroyer.
On January 22nd, 1943, a contract for 420 Hornisse tank destroyers was signed in Dusseldorf. The plan was to have the first vehicles delivered before the end of January, with the factory aiming to reach a full production rate of 30 vehicles per month by March.
An additional contract for 150 Panzerjäger Hornisse vehicles was signed with Deutsche Eisenwerke AG, Werk Stahlindustrie on the same day, with the first 5 vehicles planned for May of 1943 and 15 per month from July 1943 to March 1944, resulting in a total production volume of 570 Hornisse vehicles.
The initial stages of production were not without challenges.
Mufflers were installed on the Hornisse until June of 1943, a feature that was not particularly well-received by the crews operating these vehicles.
In practice, the first 14 Hornisse vehicles were not delivered until February, forcing a reevaluation of production plans.
At a meeting on February 6-7th, Adolf Hitler emphasized that Hummel production was of the highest priority, given their inclusion in tank division artillery batteries, whereas the Hornisse was of lower priority.
Deutsche Eisenwerke AG, Werk Stahlindustrie ultimately abandoned the production of Hornisse vehicles altogether, opting for Hummels instead.
Alkett was left as the sole producer of Hornisse tank destroyers. Despite the initial delays, production rates picked up, with 30 SPGs manufactured in March, 41 in April, and 35 in both May and June.
This surge in production allowed the formation of heavy anti-tank units starting in late March.
Production Challenges and Continuous Improvement
Various changes were introduced during the early stages of production.
The first Nashorn tank destroyers were equipped with PzIII Ausf.F type air intakes for cooling the brakes.
However, by March, these were replaced with larger air intakes. In fact, no fewer than five changes were introduced in March alone.
April 1943 marked another significant modification, with vehicle #51 onward featuring a periscopic Sfl.ZF.1a sight in place of the previous telescopic ZF 3×8 sight. Additionally, the thickness of the gun shield was increased from 10 to 15 mm in May.
Around the same time, the right headlight was removed, and a crucial improvement was made to the travel lock, allowing it to be disengaged from the driver’s seat. This adjustment made the travel lock more useful in case of a sudden enemy attack.
In May, a half-ring was added behind the mobile gun shield. As with the Hummel, the Hornisse also lost its muffler in June of 1943.
Production of the Hornisse encountered a decline in August when only 16 vehicles were delivered, followed by 27 in September.
However, production numbers rebounded in October, with 42 vehicles delivered. On November 23rd and 26th, the Alkett factory was heavily bombed by British Bomber Command. The devastating bombing raid significantly damaged the factory and destroyed several plants.
Production was promptly relocated to a different facility, and 24 vehicles were completed in November. Subsequently, 37 were built in December, but production came to a standstill after that, resulting in a total of 345 Hornisse vehicles being delivered in 1943.
The challenging circumstances following the bombings in Spandau indicated that production there was winding down.
The last 25 SPGs were delivered in February 1944, concluding Alkett’s production run with 370 Hornisse SPGs, chassis serial numbers 310001-310370. Remarkably, despite the numerous hurdles faced during production, the shortfall in meeting the initial order for Hornisse vehicles was only 50.
Production of the Hornisse could have ceased without the interference of British bombers.
The summer and fall of 1943 saw the Hornisse in action, and it offered little cause for optimism. The vehicle lacked the armor of the StuG 40 and the mobility of the Pz.Sfl.IVc.
Although the Jagdpanther was considered as a potential replacement, practicality prevailed. It was better to have a subpar tank destroyer than none at all. Consequently, until the fall of 1944, the Jagdpanther was produced in limited quantities and never truly became a substitute for the Hornisse.
Given these circumstances, the idea of continuing the production of the Hornisse gained traction, especially since a reserve factory was found.
On May 22nd, 1943, Contract SS 210-8911/43 was signed with Deutsche Eisenwerke AG, Werk Stahlindustrie, for the production of 2064 vehicles on the GW III/IV chassis.
The Panzerjäger Hornisse production was shifted to Werk Teplitz-Schönau in the Czech city of Teplice. The first 25 cannons arrived in February 1944, but production realistically commenced in April, resulting in 20 vehicles being delivered.
The plan was to produce 100 of these vehicles in Teplice by June 1944. The expectation was that Jagdpanther production would soon gain momentum, and the Wehrmacht was in dire need of resources for building Hummels. Surprisingly, Werk Teplitz-Schönau managed to produce 108 vehicles in 1944.
On June 6th, 1944, the 6th Department of the Armament Directorate officially designated these vehicles as Nashorn (Rhinoceros). While the name had been informally used before, it was now the official moniker.
Nevertheless, some documents continued to refer to it as Hornisse, and there were a few name changes along the way, but Nashorn remained the prevalent name, especially in correspondence.
Production of the Nashorn – previously known as the Hornisse – resumed in January 1945, resulting in the production of 16 more vehicles before March of the same year.
The original plan called for allocating 180 GW III/IV chassis out of a total of 430 for Nashorn production in March. Unfortunately, these ambitious plans were not realized, and production of all SPGs at Werk Teplitz-Schönau came to a halt.
In total, 124 Nashorn vehicles with serial numbers 310371-310500 were constructed in this facility. Unlike the Hummel, these Nashorn vehicles did not receive the redesigned driver’s cabin or modified air intakes.
Nashorn’s Primary Weapon: 8.8 cm Pak (88 mm Pak) Tank Gun
The Nashorn’s main armament was a variant of the Pak 43, a gun that would later find its way into the formidable Ferdinand/Elefant, Tiger II, and Jagdpanther tanks.
What made this gun truly formidable was its tungsten carbide-cored ammunition, the Pzgr. 40/43. Nashorns would penetrate an astonishing 190 mm of rolled steel armor at a 30° angle of impact and a distance of 1,000 meters with this ammunition type.
This remarkable feat of penetration gave Nashorns the ability to engage and neutralize the front armor of virtually any Allied combat vehicle.
The Nashorn crews could target and eliminate enemy units while maintaining a safe distance, thanks to their excellent gunsights, optics, and precision.
This combination of firepower, optics, and accuracy made the Nashorn a formidable force on the battlefield until the end of the war – despite some of its other limitations.
Baptism of Fire: The Battle of Kursk
The Nashorn saw action in the second world war first time at Battle of Kursk in 1943.
This battle served as a testing ground for the tank destroyer’s capabilities, and it performed remarkably well.
One of the Nashorn’s key advantages was its ability to engage the enemy at long distances. This advantage effectively offset its shortcomings, which included light armor, lack of a roof, and a large profile.
The open and flat terrain of the western Soviet Union, especially in the steppes, provided room for the gun and set ideal circumstances for the Nashorn to shine.
However, the situation was quite different in Italy, where the hilly terrain did not favor the Nashorn’s ability to deliver accurate long-range fire against enemy forces, as it had in Russia.
A Surprise Encounter: Nashorn vs. M26 Pershing
One amazing event in the Nashorn’s history was an encounter with a U.S. Army M26 Pershing heavy tank on March 6, 1945.
The Nashorn could penetrate and knock out the Pershing at close range, marking a notable engagement between German and American armor in March 1945.
Development and Deployment: The Evolution of the Hornisse/Nashorn
The story of the Hornisse/Nashorn goes beyond its combat prowess; it’s a tale of continuous adaptation and development.
Preparation for its use in combat began before the first Hornisse (Hornet) was even completed.
On January 30, 1942, the Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) K.St.N 1148b for a Hornisse anti-tank battery was approved.
Initially, a battery consisted of 10 vehicles, with 6 of them distributed among 3 platoons, 3 held in reserve, and vehicle #10, equipped with FuG 8 and FuG 5 radios, designated for the commander’s use.
However, the concept evolved, and on March 25, 1943, a decision was made to consolidate 3 batteries into the 560th Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion (Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 560 or s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560).
This decision led to an updated TO&E on April 1, 1943, with 14 vehicles per battery, including 2 commander’s SPGs and 4 Hornisse per platoon.
A battalion, according to the revised TO&E K.St.N. 1155b approved on March 30, 1943, included 3 batteries plus 3 Hornisse in the battalion headquarters. Consequently, a battalion of tank destroyers was constituted of 45 Nashorns.
The rate of production for the Hornisse was notably high, leading to the formation of additional battalions. On April 14, 1943, the s.Pz.Jg.Abt 655 (Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilung 655) came into existence, followed by the Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 525 (s.Pz.Jg.Abt 525) on April 25th.
By May 1943, the 560th and 655th battalions had reached battle readiness and were deployed during Operation Citadel on the Eastern Front.
Hornisse or Ferdinand: A Case of Mistaken Identity
The Panzerjäger Nashorn’s distinctiveness was not immediately apparent to the Red Army. During the Battle of Kursk in 1943, two battalions of Hornisse were initially misidentified as Ferdinands by the Red Army on the Eastern Front.
The confusion stemmed from similarities in armament and the silhouette of self-propelled guns (SPGs) with a rear casemate.
These incidents illustrate the Nashorn’s adaptability, as it could be easily mistaken for other German tank destroyers of the time.
Challenges on the Battlefield: Nashorn’s Operational Issues
Despite its formidable firepower and initial success, the Nashorn or Hornisse (Hornet) faced a set of challenges both in training and on the front lines.
During training, issues of Nashorn began to emerge related to the chassis and components of the Nashorn.
One significant problem was engine overheating, leading to the replacement of five Maybach hl 120 TRM engines in s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 due to damage caused by an issue with tachometers,contributed to this problem.
Additionally, four vehicles experienced various transmission problems, affecting their operational readiness.
The positioning of the exhaust pipe, right under the access hatch, caused further complications. Exhaust gases heated up the ammunition in the rear rack, posing a potential hazard. Sight issues were also prevalent, leading to replacements with the Sfl.ZF.1a.
These issues continued to manifest on the front lines.
Engine overheating remained a persistent problem, exacerbated by the increase in mass compared to the Hummel, another vehicle based on Panzer III and IV chassis.
Sights had issues during movement, which were compounded by problems with the aiming mechanisms. These operational challenges highlight the complexities faced by the Nashorn crews in maintaining and using their formidable weapon effectively.
Mixed Outcomes: The Nashorn’s Combat Performance
The Nashorn’s combat performance yielded mixed results.
On one hand, Nashorn batteries claimed the destruction of numerous Soviet tanks. Given that these battles often took place at long range, such claims were credible.
However, by August 31, 1943, s.Pz.Jg.Abt 560 had only 31 Nashorns remaining, with 18 ready for combat. The s.Pz.Jg.Abt 655 fared slightly better, with 40 Nashorns, 26 of which were functional.
The Nashorn SPGs achieved success when employed defensively, preferably from well-prepared positions.
Problems arose when German infantry utilized them as assault guns. The perception of any tracked vehicle with a gun as an infantry tank was not unique to the Red Army; German infantry also enlisted Nashorns for unconventional tasks.
This usage introduced two serious issues: the Nashorn’s size and limited armor. Standing at 3 meters in height and width, the SPG became an inviting target.
Its armor thickness was a mere 30 mm at best, rendering it vulnerable in close combat.
The Rise and Fall: Formation and Replacement
The story of the Hornisse/Nashorn continued with the formation of new battalions.In August and September of 1943, the 93rd and 519th battalions were created.
Later, in December 1943, the s.Pz.Jg.Abt 88 joined their ranks, being the last battalion to reach the nominal strength of 45 vehicles.
In total, six fully equipped battalions operated the Nashorn (SdKfz 164). An additional 12 Nashorns were received by the 664th tank destroyer battalion, which also operated towed Pak 43 guns.
However, as the war progressed, German command began to contemplate a replacement for the Nashorn. The Nashorn’s large profile and lack of armor had become a liability in close and medium-range combat. By December 30, 1944, only 165 Nashorns were left out of 478 produced, with a mere 130 of them still battle-ready.
The Transition: Replacing the Nashorn
The Nashorn was gradually phased out and replaced by the Jadgpanther and Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyers by the end of 1944.
The Nashorn’s core concept had proven to be flawed. It was too heavy, expensive, and large for a “gun carrier.”
A lighter and simpler alternative, preferably with the ability to remove the gun, was sought.
This need ultimately led to the development of the Waffentrager concept.
However, neither the PzIV nor the GW III/IV chassis were deemed suitable for this purpose. Consequently, the Nashorn’s story ended, but its legacy as a formidable tank destroyer lives on in the annals of military history.
The Nashorn, a remarkable piece of military history, has left an enduring legacy as a rare surviving relic of World War II.
Only two complete Nashorn tanks, also known as Hornisse, remain in existence today, each with its own unique story.
These tanks serve as a tangible connection to a bygone era of warfare, and their presence in military museums allows us to reflect on the past while marveling at their historical significance.
The first Nashorn, with the serial number 310030, stands as a testament to the ingenuity and adaptability of wartime engineering.
Produced in March of 1943, it underwent modifications that included the addition of new air intakes to cool the brakes, a practical enhancement to enhance its performance.
Remarkably, it retained its exhaust pipe post-war, serving as a reminder of the vehicle’s durability. This particular Nashorn had a fateful encounter during the Battle of Kursk, where it was captured.
Today, this historical relic finds its home in Kubinka Tank Museum, Patriot Park, Moscow, allowing visitors to witness a piece of history that played a role in a pivotal moment of World War II.
The second surviving Nashorn, a later model of the tank, was originally displayed near the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. However, it has since been relocated to Anniston, although it is currently inaccessible to the public.
This Nashorn, with its distinct characteristics and evolution, represents the progress and adaptations made in the design and construction of these tanks throughout the war.
While it may not be readily available for viewing, it remains a vital part of the Nashorn’s legacy, contributing to our understanding of the vehicle’s history.
In addition to these two Nashorns displayed in military museums, a third Nashorn, privately owned and bearing the hull serial number 310163, has undergone a remarkable journey of restoration in the Netherlands.
This unique restoration project brought the Nashorn back to life, making it operational once again. The project is a testament to the dedication of historians and enthusiasts who strive to preserve the memory of these vehicles. The process involved the acquisition of essential parts, some of which came from as far as Kaliningrad.
While the Nashorn’s engine and steering system are not original, the decision was driven by practicality and cost considerations.
The engine is a Deutz FL12814 V12, and the steering system was sourced from an FV432. The replacement of the original tracks, which were of World War II vintage, became necessary due to their brittleness. They were replaced with newly manufactured tracks, ensuring the vehicle’s mobility.
Five Facts About Hornisse Tank, The German Tank Destroyer Of World War II:
- ✅ The Hornisse, also known as the Nashorn, was a German tank destroyer developed during World War II. (Source: Team Research)
- ✅ The Nashorn was created to counter heavily armored Soviet tanks, such as the T-34 and Kliment Voroshilov. (Source: Team Research)
- ✅ The Nashorn featured an 8.8 cm Pak 43 anti-tank gun with superior penetration capabilities. (Source: Team Research)
- ✅ The Nashorn had a crew of five members and carried 40 rounds of ammunition. (Source: Team Research)
- ✅ Despite weighing 24 tons, the Nashorn maintained its mobility on the battlefield. (Source: Team Research)
Nashor / Hornisse Tank Destroyer with 8.8 cm PaK 43/1 (Sd.Kfz.164) specifications
Nashorn Dimensions: Length 8.44 m, Width 2.95 m, Height 2.94 m
Weight: 24 tonnes
Armor: Hull front: 30 mm, Side and Rear: 20 mm, Top and Bottom: 10 mm, Superstructure all around: 10 mm, Gun shield 10 mm
Crew: 5 (Driver, Gunner, Loader, Radio Operator and Vehicle Commander)
Engine: Petrol powered Maybach HL120 TRM
Speed (on road / cross country): 40 km/h / 15-28 km/h
Total range (on road / cross country): 260 km / 130 km
Armament / Main Gun: 8.8 cm PaK 43/1 L/71 (88 mm)
Gun Traverse: up to30°
Gun Elevation: -5°, +20°
Total units manufactured: 494 units
FAQs about Sdkfz 164 Hornisse Tank: The German Tank Destroyer Of World War II
What were some German companies involved in the development of self-propelled tank destroyers during World War II?
Answer: Two prominent German companies involved in the development of self-propelled tank destroyers were Krupp and Rheinmetall-Borsig.
Why did the early efforts in developing self-propelled gun mounts face challenges?
Answer: The early efforts in developing self-propelled gun mounts faced challenges primarily due to poor mobility, which hindered their effectiveness in combat.
What were the mobility challenges posed by larger anti-tank guns like the 7.5 cm Pak 40?
Answer: The larger anti-tank guns, such as the 7.5 cm Pak 40, weighed around one and a half tons and required a crew of eight to maneuver, making their transportation and mobility challenging.
What were the characteristics of the 8.8 cm Flak 41 and 8.8 cm Pak 43 anti-tank guns developed during World War II?
Answer: The 8.8 cm Flak 41, designed by Rheinmetall-Borsig, boasted impressive penetration capabilities but weighed a hefty eight tons. The 8.8 cm Pak 43, designed by Krupp, was lighter, weighing 3650 kg in combat mode and 4750 kg in transport mode, and was exclusively designed for ground targets.
Why was the development of a self-propelled chassis necessary for anti-tank guns?
Answer: The development of a self-propelled chassis was necessary to address the limitations and mobility constraints posed by the considerable weight of towed anti-tank guns, enabling them to be more effectively deployed in combat.
How did the Nashorn tank destroyer differentiate itself from the Geschuetzwagen für sFH 18/1?
Answer: The Nashorn tank destroyer, developed on the s.Sfl. auf Pz.Kpfw.III/IV Fg.St. chassis, was 2 tons heavier than the Geschuetzwagen für sFH 18/1. It utilized the drive sprockets and transmission elements from the PzIV medium tank and featured modifications to create more space in the fighting compartment.