When it came to self-propelled heavy anti-tank guns during World War II, Germany’s Nashorn (rhinoceros) was nonpareil. Engineered in response to the Soviet T-34 and KV-1 Soviet tanks, the Nashorn boasted the infamous 8.8cm Pak 43 as its main gun. This was the most powerful anti-tank gun of the Wehrmacht that was produced in high numbers. The Pak 43 or KwK 43 was also the main gun on the Tiger II, the Elefant and the Jagdpanther. AFVs utilizing this devastating 20-foot, 10-inch barrel were to be feared. The standard armor-piercing round was accurate up to 2.5 miles, had a maximum range of 9 miles and a muzzle velocity of 3,300 feet/second; there was no Allied armor this shell couldn’t penetrate. Though it had a high profile and was lightly armored, the Panzer III/IV chassis had superior mobility and could be produced at relatively low cost. Also, the gun’s performance enabled it to engage enemy units while staying out of range itself. 100 Nashörner were built by May 1943, in time to join the fray in that summer’s planned assault on Kursk. During the Battle of Kursk, the Nashorn performed well, providing long range cover for the flanks of the 4th Panzer Army. Production continued until the end of the war and a total of 473 units were built.
TIn January 1944 in the Battle of Monte Cassino, a Nashorn destroyed an M4 Sherman from a range of 2800 meters (1.7 miles). But the most famous exploits were recorded during the defense of Vitebsk (present-day Belarus). This was a key location in the face of the Soviets westward advancement. Lt. Albert Ernst, Commander of the 1st Platoon in the 1st Company, destroyed some 65 Soviet tanks from December 1943 to March 1944. His Nashorn “Buffalo” took down 19 Soviet tanks as well as a ground attack fighter. He also took out a JS-2 (the Soviet’s largest tank) at 4,800 meters (approx. 3 miles). Following the battle, he was nicknamed the “Tiger of Vitebsk” and received the Knight’s Cross.
Deep into the Russian Winter, this Nashorn is preparing to fire upon a distant target. The yellow tipped shells indicate they are using high-explosive rounds for soft targets such as artillery emplacements, infantry or buildings. The commander looks through his binoculars, ready to see if the shell hits the target. The Nashorn’s crew consisted of two loaders as each shell weighed over 23 lbs. A well-trained crew could achieve a rate of fire of 6-10 rpm. That is a huge amount of devastation in just one minute! Two other soldiers look on, hoping the Nashorn will soften the targets they will no doubt eventually have to face. The conversation that the two soldiers are having at the Nashorn’s rear will soon be drowned out by the Pak 43’s massive blast.
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