Panther is the common name of a medium tank deployed by Nazi Germany in World War II from
mid-1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It was intended as a counter to the
Soviet T-34, and as a replacement for the Panzer III and Panzer IV. While never replacing
the latter, it served alongside it and the heavier Tiger tanks until the end of the war.
The Panther's excellent combination of firepower, mobility, and protection served as a benchmark
for other nations' late war and post-war tank designs, and it is regarded as one of the
best tanks of World War II. Until 1944, it was designated as the Panzerkampfwagen
V Panther and had the ordnance inventory designation of Sd.Kfz. 171. On 27 February 1944, Hitler
ordered that the Roman numeral V be deleted from the designation.
The Panther tank was a compromise of various requirements. While having essentially the
same engine as the Tiger I tank, it had better frontal armor, better gun penetration, was
lighter and thus faster, and could traverse rough terrain better than the Tigers. The
tradeoff was weaker side armor. The Panther proved to be deadly in open country and long
range engagements, but vulnerable in close-quarters combat. Also, the 75mm gun fired a slightly
smaller shell than the Tiger's 88mm gun, providing less high explosive firepower against
infantry. The Panther was also far cheaper to produce
than the Tiger tanks, and only slightly more expensive than the Panzer IV, as its design
came to fruition when the Reich Ministry of Armament and War Production was making great
efforts to increase war production. Key elements of the Panther design, such as its armor,
transmission, and final drive, were compromises made specifically to improve production rates
and address Germany's war shortages, whereas other over-engineered elements such as its
highly compact engine and its complex suspension system remained. The result was that Panther
tank production was far higher than what was possible for the Tiger tanks, but not much
higher than what had been accomplished with the Panzer IV. At the same time, the simplified
final drive became the single major cause of breakdowns of the Panther tank, and was
a problem that was never corrected. The Panther tank arrived in 1943 at a crucial
phase in World War II for Germany. Rushed into combat at the Battle of Kursk with un-corrected
teething problems, which resulted in breakdowns and other equipment failures, the Panther
tank would thereafter only be fighting outnumbered in Germany's steady retreat against the Allies
for the remainder of World War II. Its success as a battlefield weapon was thus hampered
by Germany's generally declining position in the war, with the loss of airpower protection
by the Luftwaffe, the loss of fuel and training space, and the declining quality of tank crews.
Nevertheless, the Panther tank commanded respect from the Allies, and its combat capabilities
led directly to the introduction of heavier Allied tanks such as the Soviet IS-2 and the
American M26 Pershing into the war and the development of the formidable British Centurion
Tank, even though it appeared too late to participate in World War II.
Development and production Design
The Panther was a direct response to the Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks. First encountered on
23 June 1941, the T-34 outclassed the existing models of the Panzer III and IV. At the insistence
of General Heinz Guderian, a special Panzerkommision was dispatched to the Eastern Front to assess
the T-34. Among the features of the Soviet tank considered most significant were the
sloping armor, which gave much improved shot deflection and also increased the effective
armor thickness against penetration, the wide track, which improved mobility over soft ground,
and the 76.2mm gun, which had good armor penetration and fired an effective high explosive
round. Daimler-Benz and Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nrnberg AG were given the task of designing a new
30- to 35-ton tank, designated VK30.02, by April 1942.
The DB design resembled the T-34 in hull and turret form. DB's proposal used a leaf spring
suspension, in contrast to the T-34s coil spring suspension. The leaf spring suspension
lay outside of the hull. Subsequently, the hull was more narrow, offering a smaller turret
ring. Thus, the DB turret was necessarily smaller than that of the MAN design. The main
advantages of the leaf springs over a torsion bar suspension were lower hull silhouette
and a simpler shock damping design. Like the T-34, the DB design had a rear drive sprocket
and a forward situated turret, but unlike the T-34, the DB design had the preferred
three-man turret crew: commander, gunner, and loader. As the planned L/70 75mm gun
was much larger than the T-34's, mounting it in the Daimler-Benz turret was difficult.
Plans to address the space limitations by reducing the turret crew to two men were considered,
but were eventually discarded as experience had shown this to be a less effective arrangement.
The MAN design embodied more conventional German thinking with the transmission and
drive sprocket in the front and a centrally mounted turret. It had a gasoline engine and
eight torsion-bar suspension axles per side. Because of the torsion bar suspension and
the drive shaft running under the turret basket, the MAN Panther was higher and had a wider
hull than the DB design. The Henschel firm's design concepts for their Tiger I tank's suspension/drive
components, using its characteristic Schachtellaufwerk-format large, overlapping, interleaved road wheels
with a "slack-track" using no return rollers for the upper run of track were repeated with
the MAN design for the Panther. These large, rubber-rimmed steel wheels added to the protection
of the hull from a lateral penetrating shot. The two designs were reviewed over a period
from January through March 1942. Reichminister Todt, and later, his replacement Albert Speer,
both recommended the DB design to Hitler because of its several advantages over the initial
MAN design. However, at the final submission, MAN improved their design, having learned
from the DB proposal, and a review by a special commission appointed by Hitler in May 1942
ended up selecting the MAN design. Hitler approved this decision after reviewing it
overnight. One of the principal reasons given for this decision was that the MAN design
used an existing turret designed by Rheinmetall-Borsig, while the DB design would have required a
brand new turret to be designed and produced, substantially delaying the commencement of
production. Albert Speer recounts in his autobiography
Inside the Third Reich
Since the Tiger had originally been designed to weigh fifty tons but as a result of Hitler's
demands had gone up to seventy five tons, we decided to develop a new thirty ton tank
whose very name, Panther, was to signify greater agility. Though light in weight, its motor
was to be the same as the Tiger's, which meant it could develop superior speed. But in the
course of a year Hitler once again insisted on clapping so much armor on it, as well as
larger guns, that it ultimately reached forty eight tons, the original weight of the Tiger.
Production The MAN design also had better fording ability,
easier gun servicing and higher mobility due to better suspension, wider tracks, and a
bigger fuel tank. A mild steel prototype was produced by September 1942 and, after testing
at Kummersdorf, was officially accepted. It was put into immediate production. The start
of production was delayed, however, mainly because there were too few specialized machine
tools needed for the machining of the hull. Finished tanks were produced in December and
suffered from reliability problems as a result of this haste. The demand for this tank was
so high that the manufacturing was soon expanded beyond MAN to include Daimler-Benz, Maschinenfabrik
Niedersachsen Hanover and Henschel & Sohn in Kassel.
The initial production target was 250 tanks per month at MAN plant Nuremberg. This was
increased to 600 per month in January 1943. Despite determined efforts, this figure was
never reached due to disruption by Allied bombing, manufacturing bottlenecks, and other
difficulties. Production in 1943 averaged 148 per month. In 1944, it averaged 315 a
month, peaking with 380 in July and ending around the end of March 1945, with at least
6,000 built in total. Front-line combat strength peaked on 1 September 1944 at 2,304 tanks,
but that same month a record number of 692 tanks were reported lost.
Allied bombing was first directed at the common chokepoint for both Panther and Tiger production,
the Maybach engine plant. This was bombed the night of 27/28 April 1944 and production
was shut down for five months. A second manufacturer factory had already been planned, the Auto
Union Siegmar plant, and this came online in May 1944. Targeting of Panther factories
began with a bombing raid on the DB plant on 6 August 1944, and again on the night of
23/24 August. MAN was struck on 10 September, 3 October and 19 October 1944, and then again
on 3 January and 20/21 February 1945. MNH was not attacked until 14 and 28 March 1945.
In addition to interfering with tank production goals, the bombing forced a steep drop in
the production of spare parts. Spare parts as a percentage of tank production dropped
from 2530 percent in 1943, to 8 percent in the fall of 1944. This only compounded
the problems with reliability and the numbers of operational Panthers, as tanks in the field
had to be cannibalized for parts. Production figures
The Panther was the third most produced German armored fighting vehicle, after the Sturmgeschtz
III assault gun/tank destroyer at 9,408 units, and the Panzer IV tank at 8,298 units.
Cost One source has cited the cost of a Panther
tank as 117,100 Reichmarks. This compared with 82,500 RM for the StuG III, 96,163 RM
for the Panzer III, 103,462 RM for the Panzer IV, and 250,800 RM for the Tiger I. These
figures did not include the cost of the armament and radio. In terms of Reichmarks per ton,
therefore, the Panther tank was one of the most cost-effective of the German armored
fighting vehicles of World War II. Using conscript labour on the production lines greatly reduced
costs but also greatly reduced reliability. French army studies in 1947 found that many
Panthers had been sabotaged in production. However, these cost figures should be understood
in the context of the time period in which the various armored fighting vehicles were
first designed, as the Germans increasingly strove for designs and production methods
that would allow for higher production rates, and thus steadily reduced the cost of their
armored fighting vehicles. For example, another source has cited the total cost of the early
production Tiger I in 19421943 to be as high as 800,000 RM.
The process of streamlining the production of German armored fighting vehicles first
began after Speer became Reichminister in early 1942, and steadily accelerated through
1944; production of the Panther tank thus coincided with this period of increased manufacturing
efficiency. At the beginning of the war, German armored fighting vehicle manufacturers had
employed labor-intensive and costly manufacturing methods unsuitable for the needs of mass production;
even with streamlined production methods, Germany never approached the efficiency of
Allied manufacturing during World War II. Design characteristics
The weight of the production model was increased to 45 metric tons from the original plans
for a 35 ton tank. Hitler had personally reviewed the final designs and insisted on an increase
in the thickness of the frontal armor - the front glacis plate was increased from 60mm
to 80mm and the turret front plate was increased from 80mm to 100mm.
The Panther was rushed into combat before all of its teething problems had been corrected.
Reliability was considerably improved over time, and the Panther did prove to be a very
effective fighting vehicle; however, some design flaws, such as its weak final drive
units, were never corrected due to various shortages in German war production.
The crew comprised five members: driver, radio operator, gunner, loader, and commander.
Engine The first 250 Panthers were powered by a Maybach
HL 210 P30 engine, V-12 gasoline engine which delivered 650 metric hp at 3,000 rpm and had
three simple air filters. Starting in May 1943, the Panthers were built using the 700
PS/3000rpm, 23.1litre Maybach HL 230 P30 V-12 gasoline engine. To save aluminum, the
light alloy block used in the HL 210 was replaced by a cast iron block. Two multistage "cyclone"
air filters were used to automate some of the dust removal process. In practice, due
to the use of low-quality gasoline, the engine power output was reduced. With a capacity
of 190 US gallons of fuel, a fully fueled Panther could travel 97130km on roads
and 6480km cross country. The HL 230 P30 engine was a very compact design,
which kept the space between the cylinder walls to a minimum. The crankshaft was composed
of seven discs, each with an outer race of roller bearings, and a crankshaft pin between
each disc. To reduce the length of the engine further, by one-half a cylinder diameter,
the two banks of 6 cylinders of the V-12 were not offset - the "big ends" of the connecting
rods of each cylinder pair in the "V" where they mated with the crankpin were thus at
the same spot with respect to the engine block's length rather than offset; this required a
"fork and blade" matched pair of conrods for each transversely-oriented pair of cylinders.
Usually, "V"-form engines have their transversely-paired cylinders' conrods' "big ends" simply placed
side by side on the crankpin, with their transverse pairs of cylinders offset to match. This compact
arrangement with the connecting rods was the source of considerable teething problems early
on. Blown head gaskets were another problem, which was corrected with improved seals in
September 1943. Improved bearings were introduced in November 1943 to replace the faulty ones
that had failed frequently. An engine governor was also added in November 1943 that reduced
the maximum engine speed to 2500rpm. An eighth crankshaft bearing was added beginning
in January 1944 to help reduce motor failures. The engine compartment space was designed
to be watertight so that the Panther could be submerged and cross waterways. The result
was that the engine compartment was poorly ventilated and prone to overheating. The fuel
connectors in the early models were non-insulated, leading to leakage of fuel fumes into the
engine compartment. This led to many engine fires in the early Panthers. Additional ventilation
was added to draw off these gasses, which mitigated but did not completely solve the
problem of engine fires. Other measures taken to reduce this problem included improving
the coolant circulation inside the motor and adding a reinforced membrane spring to the
fuel pump. The Panther had a solid firewall separating the engine compartment and the
fighting compartment to keep engine fires from spreading.
The engine became more reliable over time. A French assessment of their stock of captured
Normandy Panther A's in 1947 concluded that the engine had an average life of 1,000km
and maximum life of 1,500km. Suspension
The suspension consisted of front drive sprockets, rear idlers and eight double-interleaved rubber-rimmed
steel road wheels on each side in the so-called Schachtellaufwerk design, very similar
to the Tiger I's own road wheel arrangement, pioneered for large-scale production German
full-track Armoured fighting vehicles in 1942 suspended on a dual torsion bar suspension.
The dual torsion bar system, designed by Professor Ernst Lehr, allowed for a wide travel stroke
and rapid oscillations with high reliability, thus allowing for relatively high speed travel
by this heavy tank over undulating terrain. However, the extra space required for the
bars running across the length of the bottom of the hull, below the turret basket, increased
the overall height of the tank and also prevented any chance for a provision for an escape hatch
in the hull bottom. When damaged by mines, the torsion bars often required a welding
torch for removal. The Panther's suspension was complicated to
manufacture and the Schachtellaufwerk interleaved road wheel system made replacing inner road
wheels time consuming. The interleaved wheels also had a tendency to become clogged with
mud, rocks and ice, and could freeze solid overnight in the harsh winter weather that
followed the autumn rasputitsa mud season of the Eastern Front. Shell damage could also
cause the road wheels to jam together and become extremely difficult to separate. Interleaved
wheels had long been standard on all German half-tracks. The extra wheels did provide
better flotation and stability, and also provided more armor protection for the thin hull sides
than smaller wheels or non-interleaved wheel systems, but the complexity meant that no
other country ever adopted this design for their tanks. In September 1944, and again
in March/April 1945, M.A.N. built a limited number of Panther tanks with overlapping,
non-interleaved steel-rimmed roadwheels originally designed for the Tiger II and late series
Tiger I tanks. Steel-rimmed roadwheels were introduced from chassis number 121052 due
to raw material constraints. From November 1944 through February 1945,
a conversion process began to use sleeve bearings in the Panther tank, as there was a shortage
of ball bearings. The sleeve bearings were primarily used in the running gear; plans
were also made to convert the transmission to sleeve bearings, but were not carried out
as production of Panther tanks came to an end.
Steering and transmission
Steering was accomplished through a seven-speed AK 7-200 synchromesh gearbox, designed by
Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen, and a MAN single radius steering system, operated by steering
levers. Each gear had a fixed radius of turning, ranging from five meters for 1st gear up to
80 meters for 7th gear. The driver was expected to judge the sharpness of a turn ahead of
time and shift into the appropriate gear to turn the tank. The driver could also engage
the brakes on one side to force a sharper turn. This manual steering was a much simplified
design, compared to the more sophisticated dual-radius hydraulically controlled steering
system of the Tiger tanks. The AK 7-200 transmission was also capable
of pivot turns, but this method of turning could accelerate failures of the final drive.
Throughout its career, the weakest parts were its final drive units. The problems were from
a combination of factors. The original MAN proposal had called for the Panther to have
an epicyclic gearing system in the final drive, similar to that used in the Tiger I. However,
Germany at the time suffered from a shortage of gear-cutting machine tools and, unlike
the Tiger tanks, the Panther was intended to be produced in large numbers. To achieve
the goal of higher production rates, numerous simplifications were made to the design and
its manufacture. This process was aggressively pushed forward, sometimes against the wishes
of designers and army officers, by the Chief Director of Armament and War Production, Karl-Otto
Saur. Consequently, the final drive was changed to a double spur system. Although much simpler
to produce, the double spur gears had inherently higher internal impact and stress loads, making
them prone to failure under the high torque requirements of the heavy Panther tank. Furthermore,
high quality steel intended for double spur system was not available for mass production,
and was replaced by 37MnSi5 tempered steel, which was unsuitable for high-stress gear.
In contrast, both the Tiger II and the US M4 Sherman tank had double helical in their
final drives, a system that reduced internal stress loads and was less complex than planetary
geartrains. Compounding these problems was the fact that
the final drive's housing and gear mountings were too weak because of the type of steel
used and/or the tight space allotted for the final drive. The final gear mountings deformed
easily under the high torque and stress loads, pushing the gears out of alignment and resulting
in failure. Due to the weakness of the final drives their average fatigue life was only
150km. In Normandy, about half of the abandoned Panthers were found by the French to have
broken final drives. The final gear housing was eventually replaced with a stronger one,
while the final gear problem was never solved. Plans were made to replace the final drive,
either with a version of the original epicyclic gears planned by MAN, or with the final drive
of the Tiger II. These plans were intertwined with the planning for the Panther II, which
never came to fruition because the Panzer Commission deemed that a temporary drop in
production of the Panther due to a merger of Tiger II and Panther II would be unacceptable.
It was estimated that building the epicyclic gear final drive would have required 2.2 times
more machining work than double spur gears, and this would have affected manufacturing
output. Most of the shortcomings were considered acceptable
once design flaws were rectified. Due to the mechanical unreliability of the final gear,
the Panther had to be driven with care, a characteristic shared with the Tiger tanks
as well as Jagdtigers. Long road marches would result in a significant number of losses due
to breakdowns, and so the German Army had to ship the tanks by rail as close to the
battlefield as possible. Armor
Initial production Panthers had a face-hardened glacis plate, but as armor-piercing capped
rounds became the standard in all armies, this requirement was deleted on 30 March 1943.
By August 1943, Panthers were being built only with a homogeneous steel glacis plate.
The front hull had 80mm of armor angled at 55 degrees from the vertical, welded but
also interlocked for strength. The combination of well-sloped and thick armor meant that
few Allied or Soviet weapons could penetrate this part of the tank.
The armor for the side hull and superstructure was much thinner. The thinner side armor was
necessary to keep the overall weight within reasonable bounds, but it made the Panther
vulnerable to attacks from the side by most Allied and Soviet tank and anti-tank guns.
German tactical doctrine for the use of the Panther thus emphasized the importance of
flank protection. Five millimeter thick skirt armor, known as Schrzen, intended to provide
protection for the lower side hull from Soviet anti-tank rifle fire was fitted on the hull
side. Zimmerit coating against magnetic mines started to be applied at the factory on late
Ausf D models beginning in September 1943; an order for field units to apply Zimmerit
to older versions of the Panther was issued in November 1943. In September 1944, orders
to stop all application of Zimmerit were issued, based on false rumors that hits on the Zimmerit
had caused vehicle fires.
Panther crews were aware of the weak side armor and made unauthorized augmentations
by hanging track links or spare roadwheels onto the turret and/or the hull sides. The
rear hull top armor was only 16mm thick, and had two radiator fans and four air intake
louvres over the engine compartment that were vulnerable to strafing by aircraft.
As the war progressed, Germany was forced to reduce or no longer use certain critical
alloy materials in the production of armor plate, such as nickel, tungsten, molybdenum,
and manganese; this resulted in lower impact resistance levels compared to earlier armor.
Manganese from mines in the Ukraine became unavailable when the German Army lost control
of this territory in February 1944. Allied bombers struck the Knabe mine in Norway and
stopped a key source of molybdenum; other supplies from Finland and Japan were also
cut off. The loss of molybdenum, and its replacement with other substitutes to maintain hardness,
as well as a general loss of quality control resulted in an increased brittleness in German
armor plate, which developed a tendency to fracture when struck with a shell. Testing
by U.S. Army officers in August 1944 in Isigny, France showed catastrophic cracking of the
armor plate on two out of three Panthers examined. Armament
The main gun was a 7.5cm Rheinmetall-Borsig KwK 42 with semi-automatic shell ejection
and a supply of 79 rounds. The main gun used three different types of ammunition: APCBC-HE,
HE and APCR, the last of which was usually in short supply. While it was of only average
caliber for its time, the Panther's gun was one of the most powerful tank guns of World
War II, due to the large propellant charge and the long barrel, which gave it a very
high muzzle velocity and excellent armor-piercing qualities. The flat trajectory also made hitting
targets much easier, since accuracy was less sensitive to range and increased the chance
of hitting a moving target, though these same attributes made the gun a poor fire-support
weapon using HE ammo. The Panther's 75mm gun had more penetrating power than the main
gun of the Tiger I heavy tank, the 8.8 cm KwK 36 L/56, although the larger 88mm projectile
might inflict more damage if it did penetrate. The tank typically had two MG 34 machine guns
of a specific version designed for use in armored combat vehicles featuring an armored
barrel sleeve. An MG 34 machine gun was located co-axially with the main gun on the gun mantlet;
an identical MG 34 was located on the glacis plate and fired by the radio operator. Initial
Ausf. D and early Ausf. A models used a "letterbox" flap enclosing its underlying thin, vertical
arrowslit-like aperture, through which the machine gun was fired. In later Ausf A and
all Ausf G models, a ball mount in the glacis plate with a K.Z.F.2 machine gun sight was
installed for the hull machine gun. Turret
The front of the turret was a curved 100mm thick cast armor mantlet. Its transverse-cylindrical
shape meant that it was more likely to deflect shells, but the lower section created a shot
trap. If a non-penetrating hit bounced downwards off its lower section, it could penetrate
the thin forward hull roof armor, and plunge down into the front hull compartment. Penetrations
of this nature could have catastrophic results, since the compartment housed the driver and
radio operator sitting along both sides of the massive gearbox and steering unit. Even
worse, four magazines containing main gun ammunition were located between the driver/radio
operator seats and the turret, directly underneath the gun mantlet when the turret was facing
forward. From September 1944, a slightly redesigned
mantlet with a flattened and much thicker lower "chin" design started to be fitted to
Panther Ausf G models, the chin being intended to prevent such deflections. Conversion to
the "chin" design was gradual, and Panthers continued to be produced to the end of the
war with the rounded gun mantlet. In most cases the Panther's gun mantlet could
not be penetrated by the M4s 75mm gun, the T-34s 76.2mm gun, or the T-34-85s 85mm
gun. But it could be penetrated by well-aimed shots at 100m by the 76mm M1A1 gun used
on certain models of the M4, at 500m by the Soviet A-19 122mm gun on the IS-2 and
at 2,300m by the British Ordnance QF 17 pounder using APDS ammunition. The side turret
armor of 45mm was vulnerable to penetration at long range by almost all Allied tank guns,
including the M4's 75mm gun which could penetrate it at 1,500m. These were the main
reasons for continued work on a redesigned Panther turret, the Schmalturm.
The Ausf A model introduced a new cast armor commander's cupola, replacing the more difficult
to manufacture forged cupola. It featured a steel hoop to which a third MG 34 or either
the coaxial or the bow machine gun could be mounted for use in the anti-aircraft role,
though it was rare for this to be used in actual combat situations.
The first Panthers had a hydraulic motor that could traverse the turret at a maximum rate
of one complete revolution in one minute, independent of engine speed. This slow speed
was improved in the Ausf A model with a hydraulic traverse that varied with engine speed; one
full turn taking 46 seconds at an engine speed of 1,000 rpm but only 15 seconds if the engine
was running at 3,000 rpm. This arrangement was a slight weakness, as traversing the Panther's
turret rapidly onto a target required close coordination between the gunner and driver,
who had to run the engine to maximum speed. By comparison, the turret of the M4 Sherman
turret traversed at up to 360 degrees in 15 seconds and was independent of engine speed,
which gave it an advantage over the Panther in close-quarters combat. As usual for tanks
of the period, a hand traverse wheel was provided for the Panther gunner to make fine adjustment
of his aim. Ammunition storage
Ammunition storage for the main gun was a weak point. All the ammunition for the main
armament was stored in the hull, with a significant amount stored in the sponsons. In the Ausf
D and A models, 18 rounds were stored next to the turret on each side, for a total of
36 rounds. In the Ausf G, which had deeper sponsons, 24 rounds were stored on each side
of the turret, for a total of 48 rounds. In all models, four rounds were also stored in
the left sponson between the driver and the turret. An additional 36 rounds were stored
inside the hull of the Ausf D and A models - 27 in the forward hull compartment directly
underneath the mantlet. In the Ausf G, the hull ammunition storage was reduced to 27
rounds total, with 18 rounds in the forward hull compartment. For all models, three rounds
were kept under the turntable of the turret. The thin side armor could be penetrated at
combat ranges by many Allied tank guns, and this meant that the Panther was vulnerable
to catastrophic ammunition fires if hit from the sides.
The loader was stationed in the right side of the turret. With the turret facing forward,
he had access only to the right sponson and hull ammunition, and so these served as the
main ready-ammunition bins. Combat use
Panthers were supplied to form Panzer Abteilung 51 on 9 January, and then Pz.Abt. 52 on 6
February 1943. The first production Panther tanks were plagued
with mechanical problems. The engine was dangerously prone to overheating and suffered from connecting
rod or bearing failures. Gasoline leaks from the fuel pump or carburetor, as well as motor
oil leaks from gaskets easily produced fires in the engine compartment; several were destroyed
in such fires. Transmission and final drive breakdowns were the most common and difficult
to repair. A large list of other problems were detected in these early Panthers, and
so from April through May 1943 all Panthers were shipped to Falkensee and Nuernburg for
a major rebuilding program. This did not correct all of the problems, so a second program was
started at Grafenwoehr and Erlangen in June 1943.
The Panther tank was seen as a necessary component of the upcoming Operation Zitadelle, and the
attack was delayed several times because of their mechanical problems, with the eventual
start date of the battle only six days after the last Panthers had been delivered to the
front. This resulted in major problems in Panther units during the Battle of Kursk,
as tactical training at the unit level, coordination by radio, and driver training were all seriously
deficient. It was not until 2329 June 1943 that a
total of 200 rebuilt Panthers were finally issued to Panther Regiment von Lauchert, of
the XLVIII Panzer Corps. Two were immediately lost due to motor fires upon disembarking
from the trains. By 5 July, when the Battle of Kursk started, there were only 184 operational
Panthers. Within two days, this had dropped to 40. On 17 July 1943 after Hitler had ordered
a stop to the German offensive, Gen. Heinz Guderian sent in the following preliminary
assessment of the Panthers:
Due to enemy action and mechanical breakdowns, the combat strength sank rapidly during the
first few days. By the evening of 10 July there were only 10 operational Panthers in
the front line. 25 Panthers had been lost as total writeoffs. 100 Panthers were in need
of repair. 60 percent of the mechanical breakdowns could be easily repaired. Approximately 40
Panthers had already been repaired and were on the way to the front. About 25 still had
not been recovered by the repair service ... On the evening of 11 July, 38 Panthers were operational,
31 were total write-offs and 131 were in need of repair. A slow increase in the combat strength
is observable. The large number of losses by hits attests to the heavy fighting.
During Zitadelle the Panthers claimed 267 destroyed tanks.
A later report on 20 July 1943 showed 41 Panthers as operational, 85 as repairable, 16 severely
damaged and needing repair in Germany, 56 burnt out, and two that had been destroyed
by motor fires. However, before the Germans ended their offensive
at Kursk, the Soviets began their counteroffensive, and succeeded in pushing the Germans back
into a steady retreat. Thus, a report on 11 August 1943 showed that the numbers of total
write-offs in Panthers swelled to 156, with only 9 operational. The German Army was forced
into a fighting retreat and increasingly lost Panthers in combat as well as from abandoning
and destroying damaged vehicles. The Panther demonstrated its capacity to destroy
any Soviet AFV from long distance during the Battle of Kursk, and had a very high overall
kill ratio. However, it comprised less than seven percent of the estimated 2,4002,700
total AFVs deployed by the Germans in this battle, and its effectiveness was limited
by its mechanical problems and the in-depth layered defense system of the Soviets at Kursk.
Its greatest historical role in the battle may have been a highly negative oneits
contribution to the decisions to delay the original start of Operation Zitadelle for
a total of two months, time which the Soviets used to build up an enormous concentration
of minefields, anti-tank guns, trenches and artillery defenses.
After the losses of the Battle of Kursk, the German Army went into a permanent state of
retreat against the Red Army. The numbers of Panthers were slowly re-built on the Eastern
Front, and the operational percentage increased as its reliability was improved. In March
1944, Guderian reported: "Almost all the bugs have been worked out," although many units
continued to report significant mechanical problems, especially with the final drive.
The greatly outnumbered Panthers came to be used as mobile reserves to fight off major
attacks. The highest total number of operational Panthers
on the Eastern Front was achieved in September 1944, when some 522 were listed as operational
out of a total of 728. Throughout the rest of the war, Germany continued to keep the
great majority of Panther forces on the Eastern Front, where the situation progressively worsened
for the Germans. The last recorded status, on 15 March 1945, listed 740 on the Eastern
Front with 361 operational. By this time the Red Army had entered East Prussia and was
advancing through Poland. In August 1944, Panthers were deployed in
Warsaw during the uprising as mobile artillery and troop support. At least two of them were
captured in the early days of the conflict and used in actions against Germans, including
the liberation of Gsiwka concentration camp on 5 August, when the soldiers of "Wacek"
platoon used the captured Panther to destroy the bunkers and watchtowers of the camp. Most
of the Germans in the camp were killed; the insurgents had lost two people and liberated
almost 350 people. After several days they were immobilized due to the lack of fuel and
batteries and were set ablaze to prevent them from being re-captured by the German forces.
Western Front - France
At the time of the invasion of Normandy, there were initially only two Panther-equipped Panzer
regiments in the Western Front, with a total of 156 Panthers between them. From June through
August 1944, an additional seven Panther regiments were sent into France, reaching a maximum
strength of 432 in a status report dated 30 July 1944.
The majority of German panzer forces in Normandy six and a half divisions, were drawn into
the fighting around the town of Caen. Here, they checked the Anglo-Canadian forces of
the 21st Army Group. The numerous battles to secure the town became collectively known
as the Battle of Caen. While there were sectors of heavy bocage around Caen, there were also
many open fields which allowed the Panther to engage the attacking enemy armor at long
range. Conversely, by the time of the Normandy Campaign, British Divisional Anti-tank Regiments
were well equipped with the excellent 17 pounder gun, making it equally as perilous for Panthers
to attack across these same fields. The British had begun converting regular M4 Shermans to
carry the 17 pounder gun prior to the D-day landings, and while limited numbers meant
that during Normandy not more than one Sherman in four were of the Firefly variant, the lethality
of its gun against German armor made them priority targets for German gunners.
US forces in the meantime, facing one and a half German panzer divisions, mainly the
Panzer Lehr Division, struggled in the heavy, low-lying bocage terrain west of Caen. Against
the M4 Shermans of the Allied tank forces during this time, the Panther tank proved
to be most effective when fighting in open country and shooting at long rangeits combination
of superior armor and firepower allowed it to engage at distances from which the Shermans
could not respond. However, the Panther struggled in the bocage country of Normandy, and was
vulnerable to side and close-in attacks in the built-up areas of cities and small towns.
The commander of the Panzer Lehr Division, Gen. Fritz Bayerlein, reported on the difficulties
experienced by the Panther tank in the fighting in Normandy:
While the PzKpfw IV could still be used to advantage, the PzKpfw V [Panther] proved ill
adapted to the terrain. The Sherman because of its maneuverability and height was good
... [the Panther was] poorly suited for hedgerow terrain because of its width. Long gun barrel
and width of tank reduce maneuverability in village and forest fighting. It is very front-heavy
and therefore quickly wears out the front final drives, made of low-grade steel. High
silhouette. Very sensitive power-train requiring well-trained drivers. Weak side armor; tank
top vulnerable to fighter-bombers. Fuel lines of porous material that allow gasoline fumes
to escape into the tank interior causing a grave fire hazard. Absence of vision slits
makes defense against close attack impossible.
Through September and October, a series of new Panzerbrigades equipped with Panther tanks
were sent into France to try to stop the Allied advance with counterattacks. This culminated
in the Battle of Arracourt, in which the mostly Panther-equipped German forces suffered heavy
losses fighting against the 4th Armored Division of Patton's 3rd Army, which were still primarily
equipped with 75mm M4 Sherman tanks and yet came away from the battle with only a
few losses. The Panther units were newly formed, poorly trained, and tactically disorganized;
most units ended up stumbling into ambush situations against seasoned U.S. tank crews.
Western Front - Ardennes Offensive
A status report on 15 December 1944 listed an all-time high of 471 Panthers assigned
to the Western Front, with 336 operational. This was one day before the start of the Battle
of the Bulge; 400 of the tanks assigned to the Western Front were in units sent into
the offensive. The Panther once again demonstrated its prowess
in open country, where it could shoot its victims at long range with near-impunity,
and its vulnerability in the close-in fighting of the small towns of the Ardennes, where
they suffered heavy losses. A status report on January 15, 1945 showed only 97 operational
Panthers left in the units involved in the operation, out of 282 still in their possession.
Total write-offs were listed as 198.
The Operation Greif commando mission included five Panthers assigned to Panzerbrigade 150,
disguised to look like M10 Tank Destroyers by welding on additional plates, applying
US-style camouflage paint and markings. This was carried out as part of a larger operation
that involved soldiers disguised as Americans and other activities. The disguised Panthers
were detected and destroyed. In February 1945, eight Panzer divisions with
a total of 271 Panthers were transferred from the West to the Eastern Front. Only five Panther
battalions remained in the west. One of the top German Panther commanders was
SS-Oberscharfhrer Ernst Barkmann of the 2nd SS-Panzer Regiment "Das Reich". By the
end of the war, he had some 80 tank kills claimed.
From 1943, Panther turrets were mounted in fixed fortifications; some were normal production
models, but most were made specifically for the task, with additional roof armor to withstand
artillery. Two types of turret emplacements were used; and. They housed ammunition storage
and fighting compartment along with crew quarters. A total of 182 of these were installed in
the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall and West Wall, 48 in the Gothic Line and Hitler
Line, 36 on the Eastern Front, and two for training and experimentation, for a total
of 268 installations by March 1945. They proved to be costly to attack, and difficult to destroy.
Battalion organization From September 1943, one Panzer battalion
with 96 Panthers comprised the Panzer regiment of a Panzer-Division 43.
Battalion Command Communication Platoon - 3 Befehlswagen
Panther SdKfz.267/268 Reconnaissance Platoon - 5 Panther
1st Company - 22 Panther Company Command - 2 Panther
1st Platoon - 5 Panther 2nd Platoon - 5 Panther
3rd Platoon - 5 Panther 4th Platoon - 5 Panther
2nd Company - 22 Panther 3rd Company - 22 Panther
4th Company - 22 Panther Service Platoon - 2 Bergepanther SdKfz.179
From 3 August 1944, the new Panzer-Division 44 organisation called for a Panzer division
to consist of one Panzer regiment with two Panzer battalions one of 96 Panzer IVs
and one of 96 Panthers. Actual strengths tended to differ, and became far lower after losses.
The Allied response Soviet
The appearance of the Panther on the Eastern Front led to another step in the ongoing arms
race between the Germans and Soviets to produce AFVs with ever greater armor and firepower.
The Tiger I and Panther tanks were German responses to encountering the T-34 in 1941.
Soviet firing tests against a captured Tiger in April 1943 showed that the T-34's 76mm
gun could not penetrate the front of the Tiger I at all, and the side only at very close
range. An existing Soviet 85mm antiaircraft gun, the 52-K, was found to be very effective
against the frontal armor of the Tiger I, and so a derivative of the 52-K 85mm gun
was developed for the T-34. The Soviets thus had already embarked on the 85mm gun upgrade
path before encountering the Panther tank at the Battle of Kursk.
After much development work, the first T-34-85 tanks entered combat in March 1944. The production
version of the T-34's new 85mm gun proved to be ineffective against the Panther's frontal
armor, meaning the Soviet tank had to flank the Panther to destroy it, while the Panther's
main gun could penetrate the T-34 at long range from any angle. Although the T-34-85
tank was not quite the equal of the Panther, it was much better than the 76.2mm-armed
versions and made up for its quality shortcomings by being produced in greater quantities than
the Panther. New self-propelled anti-tank vehicles based on the T-34 hull, such as the
SU-85 and SU-100, were also developed. A German Army study dated 5 October 1944 showed that
the Panther could easily penetrate the turret of the T-34-85 from the front at ranges up
to 2000m, and the frontal hull armor at 3000m, whereas from the front, the T-34-85
could only penetrate the non-mantlet part of the Panther turret at 500m. From the
side, the two were nearly equivalent as both tanks could penetrate the other from long
range. The Battle of Kursk convinced the Soviets
of the need for even greater firepower. A Soviet analysis of the battle in August 1943
showed that a Corps artillery piece, the A-19 122 mm gun, had done well against the German
AFVs in that battle, and so development work on the 122mm equipped IS-2 began in late
1943. First encounters with hostile enemy tanks revealed that the 122mm BR-471 armor
piercing shell could only punch through the Panther's frontal armor at a range of 600700
meters. The early results of the IS-2's combat employment which were confirmed by firing
tests in Kurbinka 1944 compelled the designers to seek innovate solutions. German testing
at Kummersdorf showed that the 122mm gun could not penetrate the glacis plate of the
Panther at all at 30 degrees, could penetrate the nose at 100 m and the turret mantlet of
the Panther at ranges up to 600 m. The Panther's 75mm gun could penetrate the front of the
IS-2's turret at over 1000m, the drivers front plate at 1000m and the hull nose at
1000m. From the side, the Panther was more vulnerable than the IS-2. Thus the two tanks,
while nearly identical in weight, had quite different combat strengths and weaknesses.
The Panther carried much more ammunition and had a faster firing cycle than the IS-2, which
was a lower and more compact design; the IS-2's D25T 122mm gun used a two piece ammunition
which slowed its firing cycle to 1.5-2 rounds per minute on average.
American and British
The response of the Western Allies to the Panther was confused. The Western Allies were
aware of the Panther and had access to technical details through the Soviets, but there was
a difference in the American and British camps as to the significance of the tank. After
taking two years to catch up with German tank design in Africa, the British were wary of
falling behind yet again. They had developed the excellent 17-pounder anti-tank gun, but
had no vehicle that could fit this large gun into its turret. For its part, the U.S. Army
did not believe the Panther would be a significant problem, and did not foresee their armored
forces having to fight pitched engagements against the Panther. The Panther was not seen
in combat by the Western Allies until early 1944 at Anzio in Italy, where Panthers were
employed in small numbers. Until just before D-Day, the Panther was thought to be another
heavy tank that would not be built in large numbers.
Shortly before D-Day, Allied intelligence reported that large numbers of Panthers were
being used in the panzer divisions, and an attempt was made to investigate Panther production.
Using a statistical analysis of the serial numbers on the road wheels on two captured
tanks, U.S. intelligence estimated Panther production for February 1944 to be 270 units,
much greater than what had been anticipated. This indicated the Panther would be encountered
in much larger numbers than had previously been thought. In the planning for the Battle
of Normandy, the U.S. Army expected to face a handful of German heavy tanks alongside
large numbers of Panzer IVs. At this point it was too late to prepare to face the Panther.
As it turned out, 38% of the German tanks in Normandy were Panthers, whose frontal armor
could not be penetrated by the 75mm guns of the US M4 Sherman.
The British were more astute in their recognition of the danger posed by the increasing armour
strength of German tanks. Work on a more powerful anti-tank gun had started in 1941, and the
tanks to use it in 1942. When these programmes were delayed, a stop-gap solution was found.
The 17-pdr could through modifications be fitted to a Sherman, and orders for this Sherman
Firefly were placed in 1943. By the time of the Normandy invasion 340 Sherman Fireflies
were available to the Commonwealth armoured divisions. The British lobbied for American
production lines to be modified to produce Fireflies, just as they had been modified
to manufacture the American P-51 fighter with the British Merlin engine, but these suggestions
were ignored by the U.S. Army, in part due to the poor performance of British tank designs
in North Africa. There were also 200 interim Challenger tanks with the 17-pounder and other
improved tank designs under development. British and Commonwealth tank units in Normandy were
initially equipped at the rate of one Firefly in a troop with three Shermans or Cromwells.
This ratio increased until, by the end of the war, half of the British Shermans were
Fireflies. The Comet with a gun similar to the 17-pounder had also replaced the 75mm
gun Sherman in some British units. The 17-pounder with APCBC shot was more or less equivalent
in performance to the Panther's 75mm gun, but superior with APDS shot.
At the time, U.S. armor doctrine was dominated by the head of Army Ground Forces, Gen. Lesley
McNair, an artilleryman by trade, who believed that tanks should concentrate on infantry
support and exploitation roles, and avoid enemy tanks, leaving them to be dealt with
by the tank destroyer force, which were a mix of towed anti-tank guns and lightly armored
armored fighting vehicles with open top turrets with 3-inch, 76mm or later, 90mm guns.
This doctrine led to a lack of urgency in the U.S. Army to upgrade the armor and firepower
of the M4 Sherman tank, which had previously done well against the most common German tanks
- Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs - in Africa and Italy. As with the Soviets, the German adoption
of thicker armor and the 7.5 cm KwK 40 in their standard armored fighting vehicles prompted
the U.S. Army to develop the more powerful 76mm version of the M4 Sherman tank in April
1944. Development of a heavier tank, the M26 Pershing, was delayed mainly by McNair's insistence
on "battle need" and emphasis on producing only reliable, well-tested weapons, a reflection
of America's 3,000 mile supply line to Europe. An AGF policy statement of November 1943 concluded
The recommendation of a limited proportion of tanks carrying a 90mm gun is not concurred
in for the following reasons: The M4 tank has been hailed widely as the best tank of
the battlefield today....There appears to be no fear on the part of our forces of the
German Mark VI tank. There can be no basis for the T26 tank other than the conception
of a tank-vs.-tank duel-which is believed to be unsound and unnecessary. Both British
and American battle experience has demonstrated that the antitank gun in suitable numbers
is the master of the tank....There has been no indication that the 76mm antitank gun is
inadequate against German Mark VI tank.
U.S. awareness of the inadequacies of their tanks grew only slowly. All U.S. M4 Shermans
that landed in Normandy in June 1944 had the 75mm gun. The 75mm M4 gun could not penetrate
the Panther from the front at all, although it could penetrate various parts of the Panther
from the side at ranges from 400 to 2,600m. The 76mm gun could also not penetrate the
front hull armor of the Panther, but could penetrate the Panther turret mantlet at very
close range. In August 1944, the HVAP 76mm round was introduced to improve the performance
of the 76mm M4 Shermans. With a tungsten core, this round could still not penetrate
the Panther glacis plate, but could punch through the Panther mantlet at 800 to 1,000yd,
instead of the usual 100 yards for the normal 76mm round. However, tungsten production
shortages meant that this round was always in short supply, with only a few rounds available
per tank, and some M4 Sherman units never received any.
Whereas Sherman tanks used a high flash powder, making it easier for German tankers to spot
them, German tanks used a low flash powder, making it harder for Allied crews to spot
them. Shermans, even though they were around 15 tons lighter than Panthers, had worse cross
country mobility due to their narrower tracks. A US corporal said:
"I saw where some MkV tanks crossed a muddy field without sinking the tracks over five
inches, where we in the M4 started across the same field the same day and bogged down."
The 90mm M36 tank destroyer was introduced in September 1944; the 90mm round also proved
to have difficulty penetrating the Panther's glacis plate, and it was not until an HVAP
version of the round was developed that it could effectively penetrate it from combat
range. It was very effective against the Panther's front turret and from the side, however.
The high U.S. tank losses in the Battle of the Bulge against a force largely of Panther
tanks brought about a clamor for better armor and firepower. At General Eisenhower's request,
only 76mm gun-armed M4 Shermans were shipped to Europe for the remainder of the war. Small
numbers of the M26 Pershing were also rushed into combat in late February 1945. A dramatic
newsreel film was recorded by a U.S. Signal Corps cameraman of an M26 stalking and then
blowing up a Panther in the city of Cologne, after the Panther had knocked out two M4 Shermans.
Production of Panther tanks and other German tanks dropped off sharply after January 1945,
and eight of the Panther regiments still on the Western Front were transferred to the
Eastern Front in February 1945. The result was that for the rest of the war during 1945,
the greatest threats to the tanks of the Western Allies were no longer German tanks, but infantry
anti-tank weapons such as the Panzerschreck and Panzerfaust, and infantry anti-tank guns
such as the ubiquitous 7.5 cm Pak 40, and self-propelled anti-tank guns such as the
Marder, StuG III, StuG IV, and Jagdpanzer. A German Army status report dated 15 March
1945 showed 117 Panthers left in the entire Western Front, of which only 49 were operational.
Further development Panther II
The early impetus for upgrading the Panther came from the concern of Hitler and others
that it lacked sufficient armor. Hitler had already insisted on an increase in its armor
once, early in its design process in 1942. Discussions involving Hitler in January 1943
called further increased armor; initially referred to as Panther 2. This upgrade increased
the thickness of the glacis plate to 100mm, the side armor to 60mm, and the top armor
to 30mm. Production of the Panther 2 was slated to begin in September 1943.
In a meeting on 10 February 1943, further design changes were proposed - including changes
to the steering gears and final drives. Another meeting on 17 February 1943 focused on sharing
and standardizing parts between the Tiger II tank and the Panther 2, such as the transmission,
all-steel roadwheels, and running gear. Additional meetings in February began to outline the
various components, including a suggestion to use the 88mm L/71 KwK 43 gun, however
it was ultimately decided to use the 75mm KwK 42 L/70. In March 1943, MAN indicated
that the first prototype would be completed by August 1943. A number of engines were under
consideration, among them the new Maybach HL 234 fuel-injected engine and the GT 101
gas turbine. Thus, plans to replace the original Panther
design with the Panther II were already underway before the first Panther had even seen combat.
But from May to June 1943, work on the Panther II ceased as the focus was shifted to expanding
production of the original Panther tank. It is not clear if there was ever an official
cancellation - this may have been because the Panther II upgrade pathway was originally
started at Hitler's insistence. The direction that the design was headed would not have
been consistent with Germany's need for a mass-produced tank, which was the goal of
the Reich Ministry of Armament and War Production. One Panther II chassis was completed and eventually
captured by the U.S.; it is now on display at the Patton Museum in Fort Knox. An Ausf
G turret is mounted on this chassis. Panther Ausf. F
After the Panther II project died, a more limited upgrade of the Panther was planned,
centered around a re-designed turret. The Ausf F variant was slated for production in
April 1945, but the war ended these plans. The earliest known redesign of the turret
was dated 7 November 1943 and featured a narrow gun mantlet behind a 120mm thick turret
front plate. Another design drawing by Rheinmetall dated 1 March 1944 reduced the width of the
turret front even further; this was the Turm-Panther. Several experimental Schmaltrme were built
in 1944 with modified versions of the 75mm KwK 42 L/70, which were given the designation
of KwK 44/1. A few were captured and shipped back to the U.S. and Britain. One badly damaged
vehicle is on display at the Bovington Tank Museum. It had been used as a post-war range
target until its historical significance was recognised.
The Schmalturm had a much narrower front face of 120mm armor sloped at 20 degrees; side
turret armor was increased to 60mm from 45mm; roof turret armor increased to 40mm
from 16mm; and a bell shaped gun mantlet similar to that of the Tiger II was used.
This increased armor protection also had a slight weight saving due to the overall smaller
size of the turret. The Panther Ausf F would have had the Schmalturm,
with its better ballistic protection, and an extended front hull roof which was slightly
thicker. The Ausf F's Schmalturm was to have a built-in stereoscopic rangefinder and lower
weight than the original turrets. A number of Ausf F hulls were built at Daimler-Benz
and Ruhrstahl-Hattingen steelworks; however there is no evidence that any completed Ausf
F saw service before the end of the war. Proposals to equip the Schmalturm with the
88mm KwK 43 L/71 were made from January through March 1945. These would have likely equipped
future German tanks but none were built, as the war ended.
E-50 The E series of tanks E-25, E-50, E-75,
E-100 - was proposed to further streamline production with an even greater sharing of
common parts and simplification of design. In this scheme, the Panther tank would have
evolved into the E-50. A conical spring system was proposed to replace the complex and costly
dual torsion bar system. The Schmalturm would have been used, likely with a variant of the
88mm L/71 gun. Derived vehicles
Jagdpanther - heavy tank destroyer with the 88mm L/71
Befehlspanzer Panther - command tank with additional radio equipment
Beobachtungspanzer Panther - observation tank for artillery spotters; dummy gun; armed with
only two MG 34 Bergepanther - armored recovery vehicle
Flakpanzer Coelian - anti-aircraft tank project, planned to be armed with twin Flak 43 37mm
AA guns in an armored turret Postwar and foreign use
Although a technologically sophisticated vehicle for its time, the Panther's design had a very
limited influence on postwar tank development. The French postwar AMX 50 tank prototype was
directly and significantly influenced by it, but never entered series production. The French
did produce a modified version of the Panther's 75mm KwK 42 L/70 gun, as the 75mm DEFA
and CN75-50 gun. This equipped the first iteration of the AMX 13 light tank as well as the Panhard
EBR armored car, and was also used by the Israeli M50 Super Sherman. In his comparison
of the Panther with the Soviet T-34-76, military historian Steve Zaloga argued that it could
be regarded as an early precursor to the modern main battle tank; a class of tanks that did
not appear until some twenty years after the war.
The Panther itself also saw some limited use outside the German military, both before and
During the war, the Red Army employed a number of captured Panthers. These were repainted
with prominent Soviet emblems and tactical markings to avoid friendly fire incidents.
The Red Army still used a few Panthers as late as spring 1945. Unlike captured Panzer
IVs and Stugs the Soviets generally only used Panthers and Tigers that had been captured
intact and used them until they broke down, as they were too complex and difficult to
transport for repair. Panzer IVs and Stugs, on the other hand, were so numerous in terms
of spare parts and easy to repair that they could be used over a much longer period in
combat conditions. During MarchApril 1945 Bulgaria received
15 Panthers of various makes from captured and overhauled Soviet stocks; they only saw
limited service use. They were dug down, with automotive components removed, as pillboxes
along the Bulgarian-Turkish border as early as the late 1940s. The final fate of these
pillbox Panthers is unknown, but sources indicate that they were replaced and scrapped in the
1950s. In May 1946, Romania received 13 Panther tanks
from the USSR. They were initially used by the 1st Armored Brigade, but in 1947 the equipment
was ceded to the Soviet-organized "Tudor Vladimirescu Division" which was transformed from a volunteer
infantry division into an armored one. The Panther tank was officially known as T-5 in
the army inventory. These tanks were in poor shape and remained in service until about
1950, by which time the Romanian Army had received T34-85 tanks. All of the tanks were
scrapped by 1954. The tanks were different models: Ausf A, Ausf D and Ausf G. They were
shown to the public in 1948, during the 1st of May parade in Bucharest, painted with Romanian
markings. Until 1950, the T-5 was the heaviest tank available to the Romanian Army.
One captured vehicle also saw service with the British Coldstream Guards for some time.
Japan reportedly bought a single Panther Ausf. D for reverse engineering purposes in 1943.
However the tank apparently never made it to Japan. The Panther's sloped armor and turret
design nevertheless influenced the design of Japan's last wartime tank prototypes; the
medium Type 4 Chi-To and heavy Type 5 Chi-Ri. After the war, France was able to recover
enough operable vehicles and components to equip the French Army's 503e Rgiment de
Chars de Combat with a force of fifty Panthers. These remained in service until about 1950,
by which time they had all been replaced by French-built ARL 44 heavy tanks.
In 1946, Sweden sent a delegation to France to examine surviving specimens of German military
vehicles. During their visit, the delegates found a few surviving Panthers and had one
shipped to Sweden for further testing and evaluation. Testing continued until 1961.
The tank is currently on display in the Deutsches Panzermuseum in Munster.
The last 'production' Panthers were produced at the factory by German staff just after
the end of World War II under the supervision of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers
using available components. A complete Panther and a complete Jagdpanther produced this way
were shipped back to Britain for post-war trials. Both vehicles are now at the Bovington
Tank Museum, Dorset, with brass plates on them, explaining their history.
1947 French assessment The French army used captured Panther tanks
from 1944-1947 making it the longest operator of the vehicles. They were used by the 501st
and 503rd Tank Regiments. In 1947 the French War Ministry, wrote an evaluation of them
entitled Le Panther 1947. While noting that the tank was a great gun platform with extraordinary
range it was mechanically fragile which severely limited its use. The overall assessment was
that it was not a strategic tank because of its high rate of breakdown.
Some of the highlights were that the gunsight was extraordinarily clear out to 3,000m,
the wide vehicle provided a stable firing platform, and that the 7.5cm cannon could
hit targets consistently out to 2,000m. The negatives outweighed the positives however.
One was that the gunner was limited only to his gunsight for vision making him operationally
blind. That meant that when the commander found a target it took 2030 seconds for
the gunner to line up his sights and fire. This was far longer than contemporary tanks
such as the Sherman. One major factor in the survivability of a tank was getting off the
first shot. For the Panther it was at a decided disadvantage at that.
The major drawback of the vehicle however was its mechanical unreliability. The Panther
was built to last for 5,000km, but many of the parts did not survive that long. The
tracks and running gear had a life of 20003000km. The engine on average only lasted 1,000km.
Most importantly the final drive only had a life of 150km. Half of the Panthers found
in Normandy were abandoned due to their final drives breaking down. For that reason the
Germans tried to move the Panthers by train as much as possible even for small journeys
of 25km. The French paper put into question the claim
that the Panther tank was one of the best of World War II. It was well suited for the
defensive battles that the Germans found themselves in from 1944-45 where its thick frontal armor
and long range gun could be put to good use. However it was not well suited for close range
engagements because the gunner took so long in acquiring his target after the commander
identified it. More importantly, its mechanical drawbacks meant that it could not carry out
any sustained offensive operations like the German Panzer IV, the Russian T-34, the American
Sherman or the British Cromwell. Gallery
Surviving vehicles In working order.
Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, USA. Ausf. A
Muse des Blinds, France. Ausf. A Deutsches Panzermuseum, Munster, Germany.
Ausf. A Command Tank Wehrtechnische Studiensammlung, Koblenz, Germany.
Ausf. G. Completed after the war in the Panther factory under supervision by UK REME engineers,
used for tests Friedrich Christian Flick Private Collection,
Germany. Ausf. G. Completed after the war in the Panther factory under supervision by
UK REME engineers, used for tests Kubinka Tank Museum, Russia. Ausf.G
Not running, more or less complete. Wilhelmina park, Breda, The Netherlands. The
only known complete surviving Ausf. D. This tank was donated by the Polish 1st Armored
Division after liberating Breda. It was restored in 20042005 for static display by Kevin
Wheatcroft in exchange for automotive components. Panzermuseum Thun, Thun, Switzerland. Advertised
as an Ausf. D/G hybrid, with a D hull and G turret. There are many questions surrounding
this vehicle. The turret has a replacement sheet metal mantlet, vaguely resembling a
late Ausf. G mantlet, with no ports for gunners sight or coaxial MG. The pistol port on the
turret rear indicates an Ausf. An or early Ausf G. The hull with the "letterbox" MG slot
indicates an Ausf. D or early Ausf. A. The turret and hull numbers could help identify
the correct model designation for the hybrid but neither of the numbers have been made
public. The Wheatcroft Collection, private collector,
UK. The collection has three Panthers, one being restored. Early Ausf. A.
Canadian War Museum. In January 2008 a partially restored Panther Ausf. A was put on display.
It had been donated to the museum from CFB Borden, which acquired it following V-E celebrations
in May 1945. It had spent two years in restoration prior to being put on public display.
Rex & Rod Cadman Collection, UK. Ausf. A Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum, Sinsheim,
Germany. Ausf. A Muse des Blinds, Saumur, France. Ausf.
A, Ausf. G Mourmelon-le-Grand, France. Ausf. A
Bovington Tank Museum, UK. Ausf. G. Completed after the war in the Panther factory under
supervision by UK REME engineers, used for tests.
Houffalize in the Ardennes region of Belgium. A Panther Ausf. G can be found in the village.
It fell into the river during the Battle of the Bulge and was later retrieved as a memorial.
The National War and Resistance Museum, Overloon, in the Netherlands, has an Ausf. G that was
knocked out by a PIAT projectile during the battle of Overloon.
U.S. Army's National Armor & Cavalry Museum, Fort Benning, GA, USA, collection consists
of the following 4 Panthers: Pz V Ausf. A; Pz V Ausf. G; Pz V Ausf. G with
chin; & Panther II. Several of these were part of the Ordnance collection that was at
Aberdeen, MD Wrecks.
Sinsheim Auto & Technik Museum, Sinsheim, Germany. Ausf. A
Overlord Museum, Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Ausf. A. Will be cosmetically restored and
displayed in the new museum in a diorama representing a field repair unit of the Wehrmacht, along
with a Strabo Fries gantry. Kevin Wheatcroft, private collector, UK. Two
Ausf. A, one to be restored and one to be restored to Ausf. D
Grandmenil, Belgium. Ausf. G Celles, Houyet, Belgium. Ausf. G
Detailed specifications Armor
All angles from horizontal. Hull front, lower: 60mm at 35; upper:
80mm at 35 Hull side, lower: 40mm at 90; upper: 40mm
at 50; Ausf. G: 50mm at 60 Hull rear: 40mm at 60
Turret front: 80mm at 78; Ausf. A: 110mm at 78; Ausf. G: 100mm at 80
Turret side: 45mm at 65 Turret rear: 45mm at 65
Turret, top: 16mm at 5; Ausf. G: 30mm at 5
Gun mantlet: 100mm rounded See also
External links Littlefield Panther
AFV Database Panther, and Panther II at Achtung Panzer!
Panthers survivors - A PDF file presenting the Panther tanks
1943 US Intelligence Report on Panther Tank A photo-slide show of the Panther tank
Pantherfiebel: A manual for the panther tank Panther II tank photos @ 5 Star General site
Tank duel at the cologne cathedral Pershing vs. Panther