The Panther was not as thickly armoured, nor as heavily armed, as tanks such as the Tiger but was probably a much more balanced design. It was one of the fastest German tanks, highly manoeuvrable and equipped with an accurate gun. Its worst defect was a propensity to catch fire if the engine backfired.
The Model G was the last main production variant of Panther and our exhibit was one of a group built, under British control, at the end of the war. These were tested in Britain and Germany and may have contributed to the design of the British Centurion.
This Panther was found partly completed on the production lines after the German surrender and was finished by REME troops. It has features characteristic of the Ausf G, including increased armour, a one-piece side plate and hinged hatches in the hull.
The camouflage scheme issimilar to that used on Panthers leaving the factory in the last months of the war. A basic undercoat of red with other colours rapidly applied. It was seen on Panthers of 5th Battalion, 25th Panzer Grenadier Division on the Eastern Front in February 1945.
Precise Name: Panzerkampfwagen V Aus G
Other Name: SdKfz 171, VK3002, Panther I, Pz Kpfw Panther (Aus G)
The Panzerkampfwagen V or Panther was the best German tank of World War II and possibly the best medium tank fielded by any of the combatants in World War II. The other contender for the accolade of best tank is the Soviet T34, earlier versions of which inspired some aspects of the design of the Panther.
The Soviet T34/76 and KV tanks were a complete surprise to the Germans when they encountered them in July 1941 during the invasion of the Soviet Union. They were superior to any tanks that the Germans had in service and the German troops were soon demanding a new tank to counter them.
A special Panzer Commission was sent to the eastern front in November 1941 to gather information. After the Commission reported Daimler Benz and MAN were asked to design a new medium tank. MAN eventually won the design competition and the first prototype appeared in September 1942. Hitler decreed that the new tank, named Panther, had to be ready for service by the end of May 1943 so that it could participate in the offensive against the Soviet Army planned for the summer of 1943, Operation Zitadelle. As a result its’ development was rushed and the first production version, the Ausfuhrung D, suffered from many teething problems. These included failures of the wheel rims, problems with the transmission and a tendency for the engine to catch fire.
The Panther Aus D made its’ combat debut at the Battle of Kursk in July 1943, the largest tank battle in history. Many early model Panthers were lost because of mechanical failure rather than by enemy action.
The Panther hull was welded and had sloping, thick, armour. The upper part of the hull front was 6cms thick, the turret front 8cms thick. This armour was capable of resisting the projectiles fired by most allied tank guns when it entered service. The hull was carried on eight pairs of large road wheels on each side, attached to torsion bars and riding on broad tracks like the T34. The transmission and drive sprockets were at the front of the hull and the Maybach petrol engine was in the rear.
The Panther mounted a long, high velocity, accurate 7.5cm gun, the KwK42. This gun was 70 calibres long and had a muzzle velocity of 1,120 metres/sec. It could penetrate 14.9cm of armour plate sloping at 30 degrees at a range of 1,000 metres. The front armour of the principle United States tank of this period, the Sherman, (see E1955. 32) was just over 5cms thick; the Soviet T34/76 had 4.5cms on the hull front and 6.5cms on the turret front (see E1952.44). The gun was complemented by excellent optics.
Eight hundred and fifty Panther Aus D were produced before an improved tank, confusingly called the Aus A, superseded it in September 1943! The Aus A had an extensively modified turret with a cast commander’s cupola, a ball mount for the bow machine gun in place of a letter box flap and many changes to improve reliability. The Aus A became the main combat tank of the Wehrmacht and 2,000 were built between August 1943 and May 1944. They served on the Eastern front, in Italy and in Normandy following the Anglo American invasion in June 1944.
The Panther Aus A was in turn replaced by the Panther Aus G in the spring of 1944, (the Aus F was a projected model that never entered production). The Aus G had further changes to improve reliability, thicker armour, a simplified hull structure and a modified gun mantlet that was intended to eliminate a shot trap. It was the last production variant and 3,126 were made by MAN, Daimler Benz and MNH between March 1944 and April 1945, bringing total production of Panther gun tanks to 5,976 vehicles. The Panther Aus G was the first tank to use infrared night vision aids in combat, albeit on a small scale. The commander’s cupola was fitted with an infrared sight while illumination was provided by an infrared search light mounted on a special version of the SdKfz 251 half track, called the Uhu (Owl).
The Panther Aus B and C were ‘paper’ projects that were never built, while only prototypes were made of the Aus F.
The Tank Museum’s Panther is a rather unusual Aus G; unusual because it is one of a small batch completed in the MNH factory by British REME troops for the British Army immediately after the end of the war in Europe. These were extensively tested in Britain and Germany. The results of the trials may have influenced the development of the British Centurion tank.
Panthers were modified as command tanks and artillery observation vehicles. The chassis was used as the basis of an armoured recovery vehicle, the Bergepanther, a tank destroyer, the Jagdpanther, armed with a lethal 8.8cm gun (see E1951.24) and a prototype anti-aircraft tank, the Flakpanzer Coelian. Finally a greatly improved tank, the Panther II, was under development at the end of the war. The only surviving prototype is now in the Patton Museum Fort Knox in the U.S.A.The 4th Battalion, The Coldstream Guards, captured an intact Panther Aus G in Holland in the autumn of 1944. Painted with large white Allied recognition stars and named ‘Cuckoo’ the tank was used in action against its’ former owners. The Coldstreams were especially impressed with the hitting power and accuracy of the 7.5cm gun and with the quality of the Panther’s optics, thought to be far superior to any found in a British or American tank.The Panther was not as heavily armed or armoured as the Tiger I and II. It was a better balanced design, highly manoeuvrable, fast, well armoured and equipped with a powerful gun. Its’ main defects were a tendency for the engine to catch fire and a degree of unreliability, necessitating frequent and skilled maintenance and careful driving. It should be noted that the first British tank to compare favourably with the Panther was the Centurion (see E1951.34), which entered service in 1946, three years later than the Panther!Summary text by Mike Garth V1.0
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