Panther, the Big Cat is Heading Down Under

Mark Barnes shares exclusive images of the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum’s Panther Ausf A. The meticulous restoration carried out by Axis Track Services is underlined by the fascinating images provided by the company.

We’ve lived through some difficult times these past few months and there has been very little to cheer. I’ve spent a lot of time working from home during the UK’s lockdown and the thought of an away day from the confines of my house seemed increasingly illusive.

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

Happily, there was a chink of light amid the gloom when I received an invitation from Bruce Crompton to inspect the Panther Ausf A tank the team at Axis Track Services have been restoring for the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum to join the growing collection at Cairns in Queensland.

I was genuinely excited at the prospect of the unique opportunity to snap the tank exclusively for War History Online.

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

 

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

The Panther as seen during preparations for the War & Peace Show back in 2010.

This is a tank many enthusiasts will know well from past visits to the War & Peace Show at Beltring in England where the vehicle was often seen amidst displays of German weapons and equipment. The tank was a non-runner and missing quite a number of fittings, but it was still a huge draw for anyone wanting to see a Panther out in the open air.

I had snapped the tank on a number of occasions and those shots offer an interesting comparison with how it looks now. I was one of thousands who saw the running Panther Ausf D displayed by the Musée des Blindes at Saumur that was the star of the show at Bovington’s Tankfest in 2019.

As much as the tank from France was a welcome sight, it is painted in authentic post war French colours and I really wanted to see one with German markings.

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

 

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

The tank doesn’t appear to leave a lot of room to manoeuvre in the workshop!

It was raining steadily as I arrived at the home of Axis Track Services to be met Bruce, who seemed as irrepressible as ever. He was clearly immensely pleased with how the Panther had turned out, but was already looking ahead to future adventures.

Production of a new season of Combat Dealers is in the offing and he has plenty of projects filling his time. The tank, itself, sat in the workshop where engineers Nick and Phil spent four years restoring it back to full glory. Phil estimated they had spent 14,000 hours on the job.

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

These images supplied by Axis Track Services give an appreciation of the ground-up restoration carried out by Nick and Phil. The original tracks have already gone to Australia for use on another project.

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

 

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

A combination of restored parts and fittings or newly fabricated replacements go into an immensely complicated machine.

 

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

 

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

 

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

 

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

I’m sure you will have all seen the stunning film of the Panther made by my colleague Craig Bowman. His footage shows clearly what an amazing finish ‘the twins’ have achieved.

The thing that hits home is the sheer height of the tank, I stood on a ladder set up for us to view the hull and turret and I was surprised how small the hatches are for the crew. There was so much more detail to take in.

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

 

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

 

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

 

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

These interiors show the quality and complexity of the work involved.

© Axis Track Services
© Axis Track Services

The restored turret goes back on.

 

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

 

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

 

 

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

The word we are looking for is “wow!”

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

 

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

 

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

 

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

Some of the details.

A break in the downpour presented an opportunity for Nick to carefully reverse the tank out of the workshop for Craig and I to film it. The tank looked even more impressive in daylight. When I think back to its days at the Hop Farm, it seems incredible these are one and the same vehicle.

We spent time getting our images and there was fun to be had when Craig sent up a drone to look down on the scene. A few more snaps and it was time to put the tank away, again. The really heavy rain only started during the drive home, but I was still buzzing and didn’t care.

Huge thanks go to Bruce Crompton along with Nick, Phil and Max at Axis Track Services for a day I will not forget in a hurry. Thanks also to the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum.

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

 

© Mark Barnes Photography
© Mark Barnes Photography

A last look as the tank squeezed back into the workshop before the rain got going, again.

The Panther is due to begin its long journey from England to Australia before the end of the summer. If you’re lucky enough to be able to visit the Australian Armour & Artillery Museum at Cairns, especially for a future AusArmourFest, you will get to see a genuine thing of beauty and I, for one, will be extremely jealous of you. Check out the museum website and social media:

ausarmour.com
https://www.facebook.com/ausarmour/

Remember to keep up with the work of Bruce and the Axis Track Services team:

https://www.axistrackservices.com/
https://www.facebook.com/axistrack/
https://www.facebook.com/brucecromptoncollection/

The Panther pictured at the War & Peace Show: Copyright Mark Barnes 2010. Post restoration images of the Panther: Copyright Mark Barnes 2020. Panther restoration in progress images: Copyright Axis Track Services 2020.