General

4 armored fighting vehicles designed by Porsche during World War II

A disabled and abandoned Elefant tank

Porsche is perhaps best known for its 911 and other sports cars. While the company likes to reference its history, with a German commercial highlighting an old Porsche tractor, products made in the 1930s and 1940s are left alone. During the Nazi regime, the company’s founder, Ferdinand Porsche, designed cars for the Nazis, such as the Volkswagen Beetle and the light military transport vehicle Kübelwagen. Porsche was also a pioneer in hybrid technology that he was eager to use in German armored fighting vehicles such as tanks and tank destroyers.

1. UK 45.01 (P) Tiger

The Tiger (P) can be recognized by its forward mounted turret (Public Domain)

One of the most famous armored fighting vehicles of all time, the Tiger tank was as much loved by its German crews as it was feared by the Allies. Although the Tiger that the Germans fired during World War II was designed and built by Henschel, Porsche designed its own version during the development competition. He reportedly even gave the tank its nickname. As chairman of the Panzerkommission, Porsche headed a group of engineers and industrialists who advised Hitler on German tank design. As a result, Porsche found out that Daimler-Benz was designing a new tank and began work on a competing design in 1939. Using its favorite petrol-electric powertrain, Porsche designed the VK 30.01(P) heavy tank. Although only two prototype chassis were built, the design evolved into the VK 45.01(P), Porsche’s entry for the Tiger tank in 1941. However, the hybrid powertrain was unreliable and copper for the electric drive was scarce. Combined with inferior maneuverability compared to the Henschel design, the Porsche Tiger was not awarded a production contract.

2. Panzerjäger Tiger (P) Ferdinand/Elephant

A disabled and abandoned Elephant tank
A Disabled and Abandoned Elephant in Italy, 1944 (Bundesarchiv)

Although the Porsche Tiger was not selected for large-scale production, Germany had a use for the 91 chassis that were built. Instead of being fitted with the Krupp turret used on the Tiger, the VK 45.01 (P) hulls were repurposed in 1943 as turret-less tank destroyers. Panzerjäger Tiger (P), the new vehicle was armed with a long 88mm gun, heavier and more lethal than the older version mounted on the Tiger. This was possible due to the fixed nature of the gun on the casemate design. Originally nicknamed Ferdinand, after its designer, the tank destroyer was first deployed during the Battle of Kursk on the Eastern Front in 1943. Although the impressive gun could kill Soviet tanks at long range and the thick armor was difficult to penetrate, it was vulnerable. to mines and prone to mechanical problems. This destroyed the protection of the Ferdinand’s armor, as the crew had to dismount to perform repairs and maintenance. In 1944, Ferdinands received upgrades and modifications, including an additional MG 34, a new turret, improved armored engine grilles and Zimmerit upholstery. This resulted in a new nickname: Elephant. While these improvements improved battlefield performance, continued mechanical failures and a lack of spare parts at the front left most Elefants abandoned during combat. Only two copies survived the war, with America and the Soviet Union capturing one each.

3. Pz.Kpfw. VI Ausf. B (P) Porsche King Tiger

Henschel Tiger II tank
The Henschel Tiger II ran on nine overlapping wheels per side versus the Porsche six per side (Bundesarchiv)

As with the original Tiger heavy tank, both Henschel and Porsche received development contracts for the Tiger II. Likewise, both designs had a Krupp turret. The differences came in the hull, transmission, suspension and wheels. The Porsche Design used the suspension of the Elefant and the ubiquitous Porsche hybrid drive. While the Henschel hull design was more conventional with a rear-mounted engine and a center-mounted turret, Porsche Design turned this around with a mid-mounted engine and a rear-mounted turret. Porsche’s experimental designs were not much appreciated by the German army and Henschel’s design was selected for production.

4. Panzerkampfwagen VIII Maus

Maus V1/V2 tank
The Maus V1/V2 prototype in Kubinka (Public Domain)

Completed in late 1944, the Maus remains the heaviest fully enclosed armored fighting vehicle ever built. Designed as a breakthrough tank, the Maus weighed 207 short tons and was 33 feet long, 12.2 feet wide and 11.9 feet long. The powertrain was of course a typical Porsche hybrid drive. The turret was equipped with a 128mm main gun and a 75mm coaxial gun. Combined with 200mm of frontal armour, the Maus would have been a formidable foe on the battlefield. Five were ordered, but only two hulls and one turret were completed before the war ended. The only complete Maus prototype is on display at the Kubinka Tank Museum in Russia.

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