Like the Tiger, the Ferdinand is a weapon that often has some rather incredible kill ratios attributed to it. Personally, I've seen numbers as high as 50:1, but those tend to not be accompanied by any specific references. However, one battle is frequently cited as proof of the Ferdinand's supremacy: the battle near Nikopol, where the tank destroyer's performance was allegedly quite impressive. From The Combat History of German Heavy Anti-Tank Unit 653 in World War II:
"The first defensive fighting at the bridgehead began on 20 November 1943. The villages of Maryevka (20 November 1943) and Katerinovka (23 November 1943) where particularly critical areas in the German defensive line. The Ferdinande had tremendous success during the engagement at Koschasovka/Miropol from 26-27 November 1943. They destroyed 54 Russian tanks: 21 by Leutnant Franz Kretschmer and his crew."
On one hand, a defensive battle is one where the Ferdinand's tough front armour and long range gun would excel. On the other hand, lack of ground taken by the German forces meant that they had no way to count the knocked out enemy tanks, making it a perfect scenario for some classic overclaim.
The first doubt comes from the Germans themselves. For instance, Horst Theiss, an NCO of the 653rd Battalion, remembers the battle a little differently.
"A great achievement occurred on November 24th, 1943, when just 3 Ferdinands deflected an attack of about 70 T-34 tanks. We destroyed 47 enemy vehicles without taking any losses. Lieutenant Kretschmer put in the lion's share of the work for this destruction, and received the Knight's Cross."
Already, the number goes down. If you read the memoirs of Hans Kinschermann, a German machinegunner who fought alongside the Ferdinands, it goes down further still.
"In connection with the Ferdinand, I would like to tell about one event that happened a few days after that, which confirmed their power in battle. We deflected an enemy attack and began a counterattack. We were supported by four assault guns and four Ferdinands. When the enemy vanished in a field of sunflowers and we entered Soviet positions, we were attacked by 22 T-34 tanks. The assault guns and Ferdinands retreated into the ravine behind us and disappeared from sight. They waited until the T-34s reached a favourable distance and opened fire, destroying six enemy vehicles right away. The other Soviet tanks stopped and returned fire. When the anti-tank guns behind us gave another volley, three more T-34 turrets flew into the air, and two more caught fire. The remaining part of the T-34s turned around and moved toward us, keeping a respectable distance. 11 T-34s were, as they thought, a safe distance away. They were mistake, and an incredible thing happened in the next few minutes. The Ferdinands drove out of the ravine to see their targets better. The Soviet tanks lined up along the top of a hill to see us, the infantrymen, better. Four Ferdinands fired almost simultaneously. Two T-34s burst into flames right away. Two successful hits! The enemy tanks retreat, but the Ferdinands keep firing. Another T-34 caught fire, the rest retreat and disappear behind a hill."
Just like that, the 3 Ferdinands claiming 54 T-34s turns into 4 Ferdinands accompanied by 4 StuGs and some number of anti-tank guns. The number of T-34s knocked out decreases from 54 all the way down to 14.
The date itself seems to jump between November 23rd and 24th, so let's take a look at what was happening around Katerinovka at the time.
There is Katerinovka, in the path of the 230th Rifle Division of the 28th Army. Let's see what they were up to.
"320th Rifle Division: replaced the 61st Rifle Division, improved its positions, performed reconnaissance, settled the issues of artillery and tank support."
Looks like the unit sat in place on that day. The documents of the division itself confirm a lack of any kind of sensational clashes of armour.
"November 23rd: the division continues to staunchly hold its line on the right flank, on the left flank it improved its positions and defended against counterattacks. The position of the 986th and 988th Rifle Regiments is unchanged. On the evening of November 22nd, a group from the 990th Rifle Regiment performed a raid and captured an enemy trench. The enemy attempted three counterattacks during the night using up to a company in strength, at 22:15, 23:45, and 24:00. Every attack was deflected. The third attack, up to 1.5-2 companies in strength, forced the 990th Rifle Regiment back to its initial positions. Up to 45 enemy soldiers killed, two heavy machinegun nests and a mortar battery suppressed."
Not quite the impressive turkey shoot claimed by the Germans. No tank casualties were reported by the 28th Army that day at all. It's not surprising, as the army was sitting still, preparing for the offensive that the Germans were allegedly defending against at that very moment.
Let's take a look at the next day, just in case.
"9th Rifle Corps: 230th Rifle Division deflected an enemy counterattack with up to an infantry company in strength, supported by 8 tanks. Having met powerful enemy resistance, it continues fighting at its former location."
One detail matches up: 8 enemy tanks. Could it be the 4 StuGs and 4 Ferdinands? If so, then even Kinschermann's claim of 14 tanks comes up short: the entire 28th Army lost 7 T-34s and 2 KVs that day.
Anyone who is going to claim that it was the 28th Army's neighbour that took the losses will be sorely disappointed. The 5th Shock Army to the 28th Army's right postponed its offensive to November 25th and did not participate in any of this fighting. The offensive that it did eventually carry out was much further to the north, far away from any Ferdinands.
Let's take a look at the less specific reports of effectiveness: November 20th at Maryevka and November 26-27th at Koschasovka/Miropol.
On November 20th, the entire 28th Army had 9 KV tanks knocked out, 1 SU-152 knocked out, and 1 SU-152 burned up. Slightly better, I suppose, but hardly a "tremendous success".
November 26th was less impressive. 2 KV tanks burned up, 3 T-34s. 3 more T-34 tanks were knocked out.
November 27th was the most impressive German performance, with unspecified losses of 25 tanks and SPGs. However, that still comes up way short of the German claim. Even adding up all the Soviet tanks lost in these "great achievements" does not result in the 54 tanks that the 653rd claimed. And remember, the Ferdinands were not alone. The StuGs and towed guns surely claimed their share of the prize. It's hard to blame the 653rd, as they were definitely in need of a victory, even one that only appeared on paper. By the end of November, the battalion was down to just 4 functional Ferdinands. Like with many German victories claimed on the Eastern Front, the entire 656th regiment was withdrawn, never to return.