Le centenaire des chars Français

Sd.Kfz. 164 Nashorn

The best German tank hunter in 1942, the only one capable of defeating every allied tank, using the famous Rheinmetall 88 mm AA gun converted for antitank purposes.

A tank hunter fielding the feared 88 mm

After the first encounters with tanks like the T-34 and the KV-1 in the summer of 1941, the OKH was well aware that it had to quickly devise a response, in order to have the necessary firepower when needed. The long-period development projects, like the Panther and Tiger, were already on the agenda, but faster ways of fielding this kind of firepower were already available in the shape of self propelled guns, already tested and built since 1940.

This photograph of a Nashorn 88mm self-propelled gun was taken in January 1944.

These were proven solutions, fast-built at low cost. Older tank hunters equipped with the Pak 40 75 mm (2.95 in) gun, like the Marder, were barely sufficient against the KV-1, so the adoption of the most efficient piece in the German ordnance came as a necessity. Following the specifications of 1942, a tank hunter was planned to carry the ubiquitous 88 mm (3.46 in) gun. It was to be built by Alkett (Altmärkische Kettenwerke GmbH) in Berlin.


Alkett choose the Geschützwagen III/IV chassis to mount the heavy 8,8 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 43/1 L/71 (Pak 43/1), a lightweight version of the standard German AA gun, also mounted on the Tiger II tank. The chassis was based on the Panzer IV, with the same suspension configuration with four bogies, each with two pairs of rubberized roadwheels, idlers at the rear and drive sprockets at the front, but lengthened and strengthened. The hull armor was 30 mm (1.18 in) at the front, 20 mm (0.79 in) on the sides and 15 mm (0.59 in) for the rear plate. The engine was a Maybach HL 120 TRM Ausf.A V12 producing 300 hp@3000 rpm, with 11,867 L of displacement. It was coupled with a ZF (Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen AG) SSG 77 Aphon transmission of the synchromesh manual type, with 6/1 gears. The driver had a Daimler-Benz/Wilson clutch/brake with a Fichtel & Sachs La 120 HDA dry clutch, triple disc. The gun and its bearings were placed at the rear of the chassis, surrounded by an open-topped superstructure, which had a 15 mm (0.59 in) front and 10 mm (0.39 in) sides to protect the crew (only against shrapnel and small arms fire). There was a 15 mm thick (0.59 in) gun shield inside the casemate, acting like an internal mantlet and allowing some traverse, 15° to either side and between -5° in depression and +15° in elevation. To balance the weight, the engine was shifted from its rear position to the center. The gun was semiautomatic, with an horizontal sliding block, manual traverse and elevation. The casemate and hull could carry from 24 to 40 rounds, crammed into any space available, of the Pzgr.39 (Armor Piercing Composite Ballistic Cap) tungsten-core type, which could penetrate 132 mm (5.2 in) at 2000 m. There was no secondary armament except one 7.92 mm (0.31 in) MG 34 or MG 42 machine-gun carried inside the vehicle, with 600 rounds in store. The gun was aimed by a gunner’s sight with a 5x magnification, 8° field of view, and had an indirect fire sight Aushilfsrichtmittel 38 with a 3x magnification, 10° field of view. There was also a FuG Spr.f radio.

Production & variants

The model, called “Hornisse” (Hornet) initially, was presented to Hitler in October 1942, approved, and production began in January 1943 as the 8,8 cm Pak 43 (L/71) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen III/IV (Sf) or 8,8cm Pak 43 (L/71) auf Geschützwagen III/IV (Sd.Kfz.164). In May 1943, a new model was introduced, featuring a new driver’s front armor plate, 15 mm (0.59 in) uniform gun shield and some other minor differences. This new version represented the bulk of Alkett’s production until early 1944, when it was slowed but not stopped. Some models received the wider “Ostketten” tracks, adapted to the Russian winter and autumn, making the overall width rise to 3.17 m (10ft4), instead of 2.95 m (9ft8). Hitler renamed it “Nashorn” (Rhinoceros) in 1944, and this name stuck to the series ever since. Some authors, however, make the distinction between the early and late series using the two names. By 1944, new tank hunters, with a lower silhouette and much better protection, like the Jagdpanther, were favored by the OKH. The bulk of the 494 vehicles produced were delivered in 1943 (345), however the remainder were delivered discontinuously, 133 from February to November 1944, and only 16 from January to March 1945.

This Nashorn Self-propelled Gun has elven Kill rings painted on the barrel of the 88 mm anti-tank gun (cc)

The Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorn in action

When entering service, the Hornisse was issued to six of the newly-formed heavy antitank battalions, the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 560, 655, 525, 93, 519 and 88, each with 45 vehicles. The main gun was derived from the regular 88 mm (3.46 in) Pak 43, one of the most effective anti-tank guns of the war, and later used, with few modifications, on the Ferdinand/Elefant, Tiger II and Jagdpanther. In addition, the Panzergranate 40/43 tungsten carbide–cored round could defeat 190 mm (7.48 in) of RHA at a 30° angle at 1,000 m. This allowed the Hornisse to engage enemy units while staying out of range themselves. So there was no need for armor protection. It was reported several times that T-34s were destroyed at distances of around 4000 meters, in almost direct fire. Usually, the prey were the “hard-skinned” KV, IS-2, SU-152, ISU-122 and ISU-152. This made the Nashorn the first of the German alpha predator bred for the Eastern Front. The Sd.Kfz.164 was first blooded at the Battle of Kursk, and performed quite well, engaging heavies like the KV-1. Its long-range ability was found particularly adapted to the open and flat landscapes of Russia. Added to this, the open fighting compartment gave excellent peripheral vision compared to an enclosed turret. After Kursk, three of these Abteilungen, the 560 sPzJagAbt, 655th sPzJagAbt and 525 sPzJagAbt, were sent to Italy. They again proved to be successful tank destroyers. Six more schwere Panzerjager Abteilungens (560, 655, 525, 93, 519 and 88), each equipped counting 30 Nashorns, saw service on the Eastern Front, Normandy and Italy. Each Abteilung was composed of a command company and 2-3 companies (14-17 tank hunters each) with 4 platoons each.

There was a Nashorn ace, platoon commander of 1st company, sPzJagAbt 519, Junior Lieutenant “Tiger of Vitebsk” Albert Ernst. On December, 23, 1943, he destroyed 14 Soviet tanks in a single day with 21 rounds near Vitebsk. In December 1943, he destroyed 19 more enemy tanks and was awarded the Knight’s Cross. Lieutenant Beckmann from sPzJagAbt 88, destroyed a Soviet IS-2 at the amazing distance of 4600 meters near Marzdorf in March 1945. A Nashorn from the 2nd Company, Abteilung 93 destroyed the only M26 Pershing in Europe, at 250 meters, with the first shot, in Niehl, north of Cologne, March 6, 1945.

Bad weather cover

The Nashorn SPG was open topped. The crew were exposed to bad weather and hot sunshine. They were issued with a tarpaulin that could be strapped down securely to the small ‘D’ shaped loops on the side of the upper superstructure. To give extra head room inside the fighting compartment over the gun, some crews used a curved metal pole that spanned from one side of the upper superstructure side to the other. They welded a small tube under the strengthening bracket into which was drilled a hole. The curved pole was poked through this hole and into the tube. Other crews used a rectangular metal frame to give extra height under the tarpaulin above gun.

The German Nashorn self propelled 88mm gun had a five man crew. You can see the curved arch of a pole spanning across the two sides of the upper superstructure. It was used to increase the height of the tarpaulin above the gun. (Archive source not known)

On this Nashorn a small tube welded under the strengthening bracket on the superstructure side can be seen behind the loader’s left shoulder. A hole was then drilled into the strengthening bracket. The curved pole was then poked through this hole and into the tube. (Archive source not known)

The majority of Nashorn SPGs did not have frames to support the tarpaulin that covered the vehicle’s fighting compartment. They were just strapped to the outside ‘D’ shaped brackets on the external sides of the superstructure. (Archive source not known)

Camouflage wires

The crews used tree branches and foliage from large bushes to help camouflage their vehicle. They tied a mesh of thin wire on the outside of the superstructure. This enabled vegetation to be poked underneath it and kept in place.

Nashorn in Russia
Nashorn 88mm self-propelled gun in winter whitewash livery on the Eastern Front. The crew are loading ammunition. You can clearly see the mesh of thin wire on the outside of the superstructure. (Archive source not known)

mesh thin wire superstructure Nashorn 88mm self-propelled gun
The mesh of thin wire on the outside of the superstructure of this Nashorn 88mm self-propelled gun can be clearly seen. (Archive source not known)

The Nashorn Exhaust system

The early production Nashorns (Hornisse) had the muffler/silencer box fitted below the rear hatches at the back of the SPG. This caused burn injuries to crewmen getting in and out of the vehicle. On later versions the layout of the exhaust system was changed with an exhaust pipes ending above the rear idler wheel on both sides. Notice that the three gun aiming poles on the early version of the vehicle were painted red and white. Later they were painted Dunkelgelb dark yellow to match the colour of the vehicle.

Early production Nashorns Hornisse
On early production Nashorns (Hornisse) the two exhaust pipes entered the muffler/silencer box from below. The gases were expelled from the end of a single pipe coming out of the centre of the muffler/silencer box on the left side. (Archive source not known)

Nashorn 88mm self-propelled gun
On later production Nashorns the two exhaust pipes ending above the rear idler wheel on both sides. Two metal curved racks were mounted under the rear hatches. They were designed to hold spare road wheels. Notice the gun aiming poles have been painted Dunkelgelb dark yellow to match the colour of the vehicle and over sprayed with a darker colour. (Archive source not known) Surviving German Nashorn Kubinka
A Surviving German Nashorn self propelled gun on display at the Patriot Museum, Kubinka, Russia (Yuri Pasholok)

Nashorn at US Mil. Storage Facility Anniston
German Nashorn self propelled gun was used as a tank destroyer. It can be found at the U.S. Army Center for Military History Storage Facility, Anniston, AL, USA

Nashorn 88 mm
The 88mm tank killing gun was mounted on the specially designed Geschützwagen III/IV tank chassis

Nashorn pending restoration In 2019 a workshop fire engulfed this surviving, working Nashorn SPG. The engine, transmission, final drive, electrical system and the road wheels were all damaged. The team need your help. Please could you click the following link and donate the price of a large beer or more if you can afford it. Every little helps. They need to raise 65,000 Euros. Link

Crew of an early prod sdkfz 164
Behind the gun crew enjoying a rest in the sun you can see an early production Nashorn (Hornisse). The muffler/silencer box is fixed below the rear hatches. The left track is off the wheels. On the rear hatch there is a stowage box. These may be for S-mines. Only one gun aiming pole is visible. It is painted dunkelgelb dark yellow to match the vehicle and not red and white. (Unknown src)

Early Nashorn Notice the two foot plates at the rear of this early production Nashorn (Hornisse)over the muffler/silencer box that is fixed below the rear hatches. There is a U shaped foot step to the right of the muffler/silencer box and a D shaped handle above it to the right of the right rear hatch. On the rear right hatch there is a stowage box. These may be for S-mines.

Czechoslovakian Army Nashorns

Surviving Nashorns self-propelled guns were used by the Czechoslovakian Army after WW2. Twelve vehicles underwent renovation and entered service in 1950. They were officially called “Samohybné děla Nashorn (88 mm ShPTK vz. 43/41N, SD-88). They were later withdrawn from Army service and presumably scrapped. Czechoslovakian Army records recorded the original German production chassis number (Fgst.Nr) of the Nashorns that entered their service. German Fahrgestellnummer 310004, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 121, army registration number 79.671
German Fahrgestellnummer 310077, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 24, army registration number 79.672
German Fahrgestellnummer 310032, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 184, army registration number 79.973
German Fahrgestellnummer 84494, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 182, army registration number 79.974
German Fahrgestellnummer 84431, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 169, army registration number 79.975
German Fahrgestellnummer 310294, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 175, army registration number 79.976
German Fahrgestellnummer 84431, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 98, army registration number 79.977
German Fahrgestellnummer 310093, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 190, army registration number 79.978
German Fahrgestellnummer 84433, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 47, army registration number 79.979
German Fahrgestellnummer 310437, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 97, army registration number 79.980
German Fahrgestellnummer 310398, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 69, army registration number 79.981
German Fahrgestellnummer 84432, date in service 2nd June 1950, Tactical unit number 110, army registration number 79.982

Sd.Kfz.164 Hornisse of the 2nd Schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 560, Kursk, summer 1943.

Hornisse of the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 519, Group center, Vitebsk area, Russia, winter 1943-44.

Nashorn of the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 88, Russia.

Another Nashorn of the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 88, Russia, 1944.

Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorn of the schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 525 in Italy, summer 1944.

Sd.Kfz.164 Nashorn in Italy, schwere Panzerjäger Abteilungen 525.

Spécifications SdKfz 164:

  • Dimensions (L-W-H): 8.44m (7.26m without gun) x 2.95m x 2.65m
  • 27’8″ (23’10” without gun) x 9’8″ x 8’8″ ft.inch
  • Total weight, battle ready: 24 tons (52,910 lbs)
  • Armament: 88 mm (3.46 in) L/71 Pak 43/1
  • Armor: Hull 20-30 mm (0.78-1.18 in)
  • Sides: 10-15 mm (0.39 – 0.59 in)
  • Crew: 4/5 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
  • Propulsion: Maybach 11.9 liter V-12 gasoline 300 PS (296 hp, 221 kW), 12 hp/t
  • Speed: 42 km/h (26 mph)
  • Suspension: Leaf spring
  • Range and consumption: 235 km (146 mi), 470 l/100 km
  • Total production: 394