Although the gas turbine is a fairly old invention it does not appear to have been considered for tanks until about 1945, when the first prototype – on a Jagdtiger – was developed. Contrary to popular belief the first experimental installation of a gas turbine engine in a tank took place in Austria in 1945.
The particular gas turbine was designed by the German engineer Alfred Muller with the work being done by the Nibelungenwerke in Austria, part of the group managed by Ferdinand Porsche. Although much of the work concentrated on producing a gas turbine power unit for the Panther tank, the only working prototype ever built appeared on a Jagdtiger self-propelled gun.
Oddly perhaps the prototype appeared on one of the Henschel Jagdtigers with the lateral torsion bar suspension and not the rarer Porsche version with short longitudinal torsion bars, like our exhibit. The turbine, which Porsche styled their Type 305, was a single shaft axial-flow unit to Alfred Muller’s design which was installed longitudinally in the tank’s engine compartment, but one of the problems they encountered initially was the very size of the unit when compared with a conventional engine.
The gas turbine drove forwards and downwards through a system of reduction gears into the tanks regular transmission system, it was calculated to deliver around 900 to 1,000hp which was a considerable advance over the 600hp of a Maybach V12 as normally fitted to the tank. However it also had its disadvantages.
In order to remain unseen from the air, where Allied aircraft with Tank Busting capability dominated the skies, much of the testing of new vehicles took place in forested areas where they could not be seen and the exhaust system from the gas turbine tank rose upwards from the rear of the vehicle. The exhaust from the gas turbine emerged at 650 degrees which, according to witnesses set fire to the trees around it.
Although it was a brilliant, indeed a remarkable piece of engineering, it came too late to be of any practical use to the Third Reich. In any case the country was already desperately short of fuel and gas turbines delivering this kind of power are notoriously thirsty. The projected gas turbine Panther tank never even completed before the war ended.
Find out more about the Jagdtiger here.