The German Panther tank used in World War II was easily one of the most dreaded machines the Allies encountered on the European battlefields.
It was used to great, horrific effect on both the Western and Eastern Fronts from 1943 until 1945, when the war ended. It was considered one of the best tanks ever made, by both the men who made it and the men who fought against it.
The Panther came in three separate types: the D, A, and G. Each time the German military designed a new version, they made it better.
Adolf Hitler himself was closely involved in the design and decision making for the Panther tank, insisting on a heavier gun and that more armor be added. These features caused the tank’s weight to balloon from 30 tons to a whopping 50 tons.
Surprisingly, their weight did not hamper their speed. When pressed, a Panther could hit 28.5 mph (46 kph). As a result, the tank’s speed, gun, and armor made it a formidable foe on any terrain.
One German tank commander alone, Ernst Barkmann, claimed 80 kills for himself with a Panther during the war.
The tank was first used in 1943, in Kursk. It supplanted the Tiger tank, which had been the Germans’ mainstay tank until that point.
After their successful debut, Panthers were a common sight during the conflict. Of the approximately 725 tanks used by the Germans on the Eastern Front, 552 were Panthers.
400 Panthers were also involved at the Battle of the Bulge, in late 1944 and early 1945 in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg.
At some moments during the war, the tanks were captured by Germany’s enemies. Polish resistance fighters took control of two Panthers during the Warsaw Uprising, and turned the powerful weapons against their tormentors. When the tanks finally ran out of fuel, the men simply set them ablaze and let them burn.
On the Russian front, several Panthers were seized by Soviet soldiers and turned on the Nazis on the battlefield. But when the tanks broke down, the Soviets deemed them too complex to repair in the heat of battle and abandoned them.
The Americans seized a prototype for a new model of Panther in 1943 and studied it, but decided not to use the design to build a similar one of their own.
The Nazis used the tanks at the Battle of the Bulge not only to do damage, but also to try to trick the Allies.
Five Panthers had extra plates and were camouflage colored to fool the Allies into thinking they were their own M10 tank destroyers. This allowed the tanks to get closer before the Allies realized they were German.
The Panther was such a successful weapon that a total of 6,000 of them were manufactured during the war. Surprisingly, nine more were made by the British, beginning in 1945, who wanted to understand what they were fighting.
Two of those are still owned by the British military and are operational even today. Other Panthers are on display in museums around the world.
Life inside a Panther could be cramped and claustrophobic, according to tank expert Nicolas Moran. He gives a guided tour of the inside of this tank on YouTube, in the clip “World of Tanks: Get Inside Panther.”
It is easy, today, to look at at a Panther and admire how well-designed and how advanced it was for its time. But more important, perhaps, is that we should remember all the lives, and the men destroyed, by a weapon designed in part by Adolf Hitler.