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Elefant tank-hunter 653. Schwere Panzerjägerabteilung

By Dr. Michael L. McSwiney, Ph.D.

April – August 1944
In December 1943, the Soviets began operations that would ultimately drive a wedge between Army Groups South and Centre. By late March 1944, Soviet forces had surrounded the important road junction of Tarnopol with the goal of securing the junction and the rail line from Odessa to Lemberg, which was vital to the German war effort. During this time, the 653. Schwere Panzerjägerabteilung was undergoing refit with the overhauled Ferdinands (soon to be renamed “Elefant”).

The first company was re-equipped and sent into service in Italy (along with the 1st Maintenance Platoon). This left the Stab (headquarters) company and the 2nd and 3rd companies to await completion of their overhaul and assignment. This effort was completed in on 31 March 1944 and the three companies embarked for the eastern front on 2 April arriving in Brzezany on 6 April. By 8 April, 653. Schwere Panzerjägerabteilung was attached to the 9. SS-Panzerdivision in an effort to relieve Tarnopol. This effort ultimately failed, and the operation was called off. At the end of April the abteilung began a reasonably quiet time of rebuilding and retraining of replacements in Brzezany.

Elefant tank-hunter
Tiger (P) VK 4501 It was during the time in Brzezany that the 653. Schwere Panzerjägerabteilung received and converted the various “special vehicles” that make the unit distinct (apart from the fact that it was one of the only two battalions to receive the Ferdinand/Elefant tank-hunter). Among the special vehicles was a Tiger (P) VK 4501 which had been upgraded with radios and zimmerit to create a command vehicle. 

They also converted a Bergepanther adding a stationary Panzer IV turret, a Bergepanther with a quad 2cm anti-aircraft gun, a T-34 with a quad 2cm anti-aircraft gun, and two T-34 ammunition carriers. The anti-aircraft turrets were built by the battalion’s maintenance unit from half-track armoured plate. The battalion also received four further Elefant tank destroyers with a modified rear hatch which modified the rear hatch to better facilitate the installation and removal of the main armament.

On 13 July 1944, the 1st and 4th Ukrainian Fronts attacked Army Group North Ukraine quickly splitting the 1st and 4th German Panzer Armies. 

Bergepanther with stationary Panzer IV turret
Tiger (P)

The 653. Schwere Panzerjägerabteilung came under assault from several Soviet divisions at Pomeryany and Rohatyn on 14 August 1944. The battalion fought an incessant rearguard action through Lemberg, Kurowice, and Yeziezanka. Unfortunately during this fighting withdrawal, the battalion lost over 60% of its heavy vehicles. Most were not lost to direct enemy action, but rather to the inherent weaknesses of the Elefant design. Its technical complexity resulted in several break downs and other technical failures. The speed of the advance meant that any breakdown often resulted in the vehicle being left behind. 

Many bridges could not support the weight of the immense tank destroyer, and the fuel situation also meant many simply ran out of gasoline and had to be destroyed by their crews.

The Elefants, September to the end
The few remaining Elefant tank-hunters of 653. Schwere Panzerjägerabteilung initially remained with the 17th Army.

T-34 with a quad 2cm anti-aircraft gun

The Elefants were concentrated into the 2nd company, which was later renamed the 614. Schwere Panzerjägerkompanie.  The company later joined the XXXXVIII Panzerkorps under 4th Army command on the eastern front. 

The rest of the 653. Schwere Panzerjägerabteilung returned to Germany where they were refitted with the new Jagdtiger tank-hunters. The Elefants continued to serve on the eastern front. They fought against the Soviet Vistula-Oder Offensive in January 1945.

Briefing

The Elefant saw its last battles in Berlin, with the last two remaining vehicles fighting until captured in May 1945.

In Flames Of War

The linked PDF allows your to field a Schwere Panzerjägerkompanie armed with Elefant jagdpanzer.  Included are all the unusual options from the battalion headquarters.

Elefant Schwere Panzerjägerkompanie (PDF)...

Click here to learn how to model the unique vehicles of the 653. Schwere Panzerjägerabteilung...

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Last Updated On Monday, March 19, 2012 by Wayne at Battlefront