After the first German experiences with the newer Soviet tanks like the T-34 or the Kliment Voroshilov tank during Operation Barbarossa, the need for a Panzerjäger capable of destroying these more heavily armoured tanks became clear.
In February 1942, the Alkett (Altmärkische Kettenwerke GmbH) arms firm of Berlin designed a tank destroyer using their recently developed Geschützwagen III/IV which as its name indicated used components of both the Panzer III and Panzer IV tank. The 8,8 cm Panzerabwehrkanone 43/1 L/71 (or shortly Pak 43/1), a long-barreled anti-tank gun more known as the main armament of the Tiger II, was mounted on the rear of the chassis complete with its gun shield and an open-topped superstructure was built up around the gun to give the crew some protection. The gun had the same traverse and elevation as if it had been on its carriage: 15° to either side and between -5° to +15° elevation. To accommodate the long and heavy gun, the hull had to be lengthened and the engine moved from the rear to the centre of the chassis. The amount of armour provided for the crew compartment was limited. The shielding provided was adequate to protect the crew from blast and small arms, but not armour piercing rounds. Thus like the Marder series weapons, the vehicle was not intended to engage in tank fights, but to provide mobility to an excellent anti-tank gun.
This model was presented for approval to Adolf Hitler in October 1942 and entered production in early 1943. It had numerous official designations, such as 8,8 cm Pak 43 (L/71) auf Fahrgestell Panzerkampfwagen III/IV (Sf) or 8,8cm Pak43 (L/71) auf Geschützwagen III/IV (Sd. Kfz. 164), though it was also known as the Panzerjäger Hornisse (in English "Tank-hunter Hornet")
During the first half of 1943, a new model of the Hornisse was introduced into production. This model altered the driver's front armour plate, along with other minor differences. This model and its predecessor, the few early production vehicles, were almost indistinguishable. It was renamed Nashorn by Hitler in 1944.
Total production of the Nashorn amounted to some 494 vehicles, most of which were built in 1943. In January 1944 Hitler favored production of a newer tank destroyer, the Jagdpanzer IV, which had a much lower silhouette, thicker frontal armor (60 mm frontal plate), and an effective though less powerful 7.5 cm gun. Though still primarily an ambush weapon, this vehicle was better built for armoured engagements. Production of the Nashorn did continue into 1945, though at a slow pace.
There are two Nashorns on display in military museums: at the United States Army Ordnance Museum and at the Kubinka Tank Museum.