Self-propelled tank destroyers constituted an essential component of the Third Reich’s armoured arm. Vehicles, which were especially useful in defensive warfare, in which the German army found itself after losing strategic initiative on the Eastern Front in the summer 1943 and following the Allied landing in Italy and France, with time began to effectively compete in armoured sub-units with classic tanks. One of the largest vehicles of that type was Jagdpanther Sd.Kfz. 173, based on the chassis of the famous Panther tank.
Origins of the design
The need of adopting a tracked chassis for the battle-proven 88mm anti-armour gun was first signalled in Germany in mid 1942. On August 3, the work on a new tracked tank destroyer with enclosed crew compartment started at Heeres Waffenamt Waffenprüfung 6. The task of preparing design sketches was entrusted to engineers of the Fried-Krupp Grusonwerk AG company in Essen. Shortly, the concept of mounting a long-barrelled 8.8cm Panzerabwehrkanone on a specially prepared chassis of a standard Panzerkampfwagen IV medium tank emerged. It was designated Panzerselbstfahrlafette IVc.
Analysis of the armament as well as the suspension and steering of the aforementioned vehicle resulted in a conclusion that the resulting design of the fighting vehicle could be mechanically ineffective on the battlefield. It was caused mainly by the substantial weight of the main armament and the suggested thickness of the superstructure armour, which came up to 100mm. Therefore, it was necessary to find another kind of chassis. Finally, the one of the new German medium tank Panzerkampfwagen V Panther was selected, as it was considered more durable. On September 15, 1942, during the meeting at the head office of the Reich’s Ministry of Armaments and War Production (Reichsministerium für Rüstung und Kriegsproduktion) the technical documentation was handed over by the engineers from Essen to the team of Stuttgart based company Daimler-Benz AG. Its engineers undertook to continue further development of the design.
On October 2, 1942, an official directive was issued concerning the construction of the tank destroyer based on the chassis of the Pz.Kpfw. V. The design was to be completed within less than 3 months, and the series production was scheduled to begin in July of the following year. Although the designers managed to fulfil the first condition, the work on actual design of the base tank was delayed and so was the analysis of the blueprints, which took place in Berlin on March 6, 1943. All that caused the date of the assembly to be postponed. On May 1, the outline of the specifications was published, which presented basic features of the vehicle: armour of up to 100mm (three days later the figure was adjusted to 80mm), main armament composed of an 88mm gun, supplemented by 7.92mm machine gun.
A wooden mock-up of the new machine was ready in October. On the twentieth day of the month, it was presented to Adolf Hitler along with the mock-ups of the Panzerkampfwagen VI Tiger II and the Jagdpanzer VI. On November 15, Führer received first photographs of the first prototype, which, according to Walter Spielberger, caused a burst of enthusiasm. The vehicle, in its full glory, was presented to him on December 16. Shortly, it received two designations: Sturmgeschütz für 8,8 cm StuK 43 auf Fahrgestell Panther I and Panzerjäger für 8,8 cm StuK 43 auf Fahrgestell Panther I. The name under which the vehicle is well-known nowadays – Jagdpanther, was officially given by Hitler on February 27, 1944.
Initially, the fighting vehicles were to be assembled at factory No. 40 in Berlin-Marienfelde, which belonged to the Daimler-Benz AG company. As the production of the Jagdpanther was being implemented, the other vehicles for the Panzerwaffe had already been manufactured there. Already on April 25, 1944, a decision was made to move the production of the tank destroyer to Mühlenbau und Industrie AG (MIAG) in Braunschweig. It was there that the first prototypes (serial numbers: V101 and V102) were built in October and November on the chassis delivered by the Brandenburgische Eisenwerk Kirchmörser steelworks in Brandenburg on Havel armed with a 8,8 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 43/3 manufactured by the factory in Lippstadt, which was part of the Dortmund-Hörder Hüttenverein company.
The production started in January 1944. In November, due to the fact that since the summer Braunschweig was under the ever-increasing threat of Allied aerial bombardments (between June and October the work was repeatedly disrupted due to air raid threats), the Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen Hannover (MNH) in Hannover began completing the vehicles, and a month later the same task was also given to the Maschinenbau und Bahnbedarf AG (MBA) factory in Potsdam. The assembly lasted until the beginning of April 1945 and a total of 419 vehicles were manufactured: 270 in Braunschewig, 112 in Hannover and 37 in Potsdam. The production reached its apogee shortly before the Wehrmacht launched its offensive in the Ardennes.