During the development of the Tiger(P) and Tiger(H), Hitler had agitated for a turret design which would be large enough to mount the 8.8cm KwK L/71. This had not materialized and on 22 September 1942 it was decided that a StuG with 200mm frontal armour and the long 8.8cm gun should be immediately designed, with the Tiger( P) as the basis, and part of the Tiger( P) production diverted for the vehicle. Alkett was to design and produce the Ferdinand, with Nibelungenwerke supplying the completed chassis. Despite the shortage of suspension parts and lack of test runs, on 6 February 1943 Hitler ordered that 90 Ferdinands were to be supplied for the front as quickly as possible by all available means. This resulted in the order for Nibelungenwerke to complete the Sturmgeschutz Ferdinand instead of Alkett. All 90 were completed by the end of May 1943, in time for use in the summer offensive at Kursk.
The hull of the Ferdinand was that of the Tiger(P), but with 100mm plates bolted to the front, and an addition to the rear to support the superstructure and vent cooling air for the electric motors. The superstructure housed the long 8.8cm gun in a limited traverse mount. No secondary armament was mounted until late 1943, when those returned from the front were modified to carry a hull machine-gun. The superstructure was also changed at this time to provide the commander with a cupola. Forty-eight Ferdinands were so modified and were designated Elefant after Hitler's order of May '44 renaming them from Ferdinands - p.320 Karl-Heinz Münch's "653").
Ferdinands were issued to Panzerjagerabteilungen 653 and 654 in April and May 1943. These units fought at Kursk during the limited offensive and helped plug holes in the line for the rest of the summer and autumn.
Ferdinands at Kursk: only one (1) lost to infantry attacks
This is one of the perennial myths that seem to live on in cyberspace. During the Kursk battle, 13 guns were lost, only one of which can be credited to close combat infantry assault (The gun was blinded by a smoke grenade and fell into a ditch - crew bailed). Another three guns were destroyed by their own crews after being immobilized in minefields (with a bit of a stretch, the claim could be made because of enemy infantry threat, but would be pure speculation)
Other causes of losses were:
- Artillery round into open drivers compartment.
- Artillery round through fighting compartment roof.
- Crushed by flying Pz III, falling onto gun/engine deck.
Pz III was advancing on top of an embankment, the Elephant was behind the embankment and traveling parallel to the Pz III. The Pz III was hit by Soviet AT fire and flew through the air landing forward of the armored casemate.
- Friendly (sic) Pz IV fire.
- Generator fire.
All info: "Combat History of SchPzJgrAbt 653" by Karlheinz Munch
The units were pulled out late in 1943 to overhaul the vehicles, after which, the 653rd Panzerjagerabteilung was re-equipped and a separate company was attached to the 614th Panzerjagerabteilung. The Ferdinands were refitted starting in January/February 1944. Of 52 vehicles, 47 were completed by April 1, 1944. (2 Co./653rd with 14 vehicles and 1 recovery vehicle, 3 Co./653rd with 14 vehicles and 1 recovery vehicle, and HQ with 4 vehicles) and Italian Front (1 Co./653rd with 11 vehicles and 1 recovery vehicle) until the vehicles were "used up". Also as is often implied, the rename had nothing to do with the rebuild program, it just occurred within a few months after a light globe flickered in Hitler's addled brain. So they were technically still "Ferdinands" even after the ball mount and cupola were added for a few months.