Nightfighting Panthers © 1999 The DesertFox
Some few Panthers were equipped with special infrared devices for night combat. The "Heereswaffenamt" WaPrüf 8, in cooperation with the AEG was dealing with this kind of optical equipment since 1936, but devolopment was discontinued and the decision to further investigate in this area wasn´t made until the Allies gained total airsuperiority in 1943. From now on much energy was invested in the project.
The results of these investigations, which were lead by Ministerialrat Dr.-Ing. H.Gaertner Heereswaffenamt/WaPrüf 8, were, that in 1943 the Wehrmacht equipped some few Panthers with 200-mm infra-red searchlights FG 1250 and a BIWA (Bildwandler - image converter), which converted the infra-red image into a visible reproduction. In the first tests at the armoured forces school at FALLINGBOSTEL (North Germany) near HANNOVER the crews trained to drive and to aim at night. Admittedly the searchlight range wasn´t more than 600 metres, limiting the long range advantage of the excellent KwK42 75mm/L70.
Because of this reason the developers mounted an even greater 600mm searchlight on a halftrack, the Sd.Kfz. 251/20 "UHU", which was intended to be attached to each platoon to enhance the night fighting range of the platoon. Finally the Wehrmacht planned to use a halftrack called FALKE in combination with the vehicles mentioned. This halftrack was intended to be the transporter for a Panzer Grenadier Squad, which was equipped with nightfighting capable Sturmgewehr-44s called VAMPIR. The Wehrmacht codename for this Kampfgruppe consisting of UHU/FALKE/VAMPIR was SPERBER and intended for nightfighting at combat ranges up to 2500 metres.
Starting in September 1944, a limited number of Panthers were to be outfitted with an infrared searchlight and scope mounted on the commander's cupola. The 200 watt screened light, in combination with the infrared receiver/gun sight, had a range of up to 600 meters in clear weather at night. A steel band connected the infrared sight to an internal control for gun elevation.
The following changes were made to a normal Ausf.G to prepare it for mounting the FG 1250 infrared searchlight and scope. A mount was welded on the inner ring for the 12-Uhr-Zeiger that still allowed the free rotation of this ring. A hole for the steel band connecting the infrared scope to the internal elevation control was bored in the turret roof in front of the commander's cupola. An armored guard for this hole was welded to the turret roof. Four base plates for mounting an armored bin were welded on the right side of the hull rear, replacing the Gepaeckkasten (021 St 48399) stowage bin. The stand for the battery and GG 400 electrical generator was mounted inside in the right rear corner of the fighting compartment, replacing the three-round ammunition bin, a section of floor plate and the cover for the rear shock absorber.
Each Panther with an FG 1250 was identified by the letter "F" stamped behind the Fahrgestell Nummer on the serial number plate (not to be confused with the "Panther Ausf.F"). On 7 August 1944, MNH was sent a model of the FG 1250 that was to be installed in the Panther Ausf.G with Fgst.Nr.128520 F. Since it was determined on 8 August 1944 that installation was to be expedited, the model of the FG 1250 was to be mounted in Panther Ausf.G with Fgst.Nr. 128495. On 4 September 1944, MNH reported that, the model of the FG 1250 couldn't be mounted in Fgst.Nr.128495 due to shipping delays, but MNH intended to mount it in Fgst.Nr.128557 (completed on 5 September 1944).
Also, on 7 August 1944, MNH had received directions to install the FG 1250 infrared sighting equipment in accordance with the following schedule: 50 in September, 70 in October, 80 in November, and 100 in December 1944. MNH countered with a proposal to complete all 120 Panther Ausf.G with FG 1250 in October, instead of 50 in September and 70 in October. On 8 August 1944, due to the military situation, OKH rejected the counterproposal and ordered MNH to mount the FG 1250 on the last 50 Panther Ausf.G completed by MNH in September.
On 18 November 1944, MNH noted that based on the latest orders from OKH, FG 1250 were not to be mounted on any Panther completed in November. The Panthers already prepared for installation of the FG 1250 were to be converted back to normal Ausf.G. This included re-mounting the Gepaeckkasten stowage bin on the right hull rear, replacing the stand for the GG 400 with the three-round ammunition bin, and removing the mounts for the FG 1250 in the turret, as well as removing the battery and the high voltage transformer. In this same order, MNH was directed to outfit 30 Panthers with FG 1250 in December.
On 13 December 1944, MNH was informed that they were still expected to mount 30 FG 1250 on Panthers in December 1944. Later, MNH was ordered to outfit all of their Panthers with the FG 1250 starting on 15 January 1945.
Nightfighting Panthers in Action
In summer 1944 the Panthers of 3.Kompanie, 24th Panzerregiment, 116th Panzerdivision, were equipped with UHU on the battle/excercise-area BERGEN, and actually trained the use of the nightfighting concept SPERBER. Hitler planned the mission of this Kompanie to be during the Operation WACHT AM RHEIN (Battle of the Bulge) and actually some squads were tranfered to the western front, but never saw action there.
One SPERBER squad including their Panthers was transfered to STUHLWEISSENBURG (Hungary) in early 1945 with 6th SS-Panzerarmee, intended to support the german counterattack to secure the area of Budapest. The rest of the Kompanie followed, but without nightfighting equipment. In 1945 the Wehrmacht planned to form 5 SPERBER Kompanies, but this concept proved to be illusory. 2 SPERBER squads joined the spontanuous formed Panzerdivision "CLAUSEWITZ", which was formed in spring 1945 on the western front. On 21st of april, these 2 squads ran down an american ambush, which has been set up at the WESER-ELBE-KANAL, and by this ensured the only documented action of the nightfighting concept SPERBER.
In march 1945 the Panzerdivision "MÜNCHEBERG" received one fully equipped Kompanie of 10 SPERBER capable Panthers and one SPERBER capable Panzer Grenadier Kompanie. The Division took part in the last fights during the battle of BERLIN. If this Division used the SPERBER concept isn´t documented.
The armoured forces school at FALLINGBOSTEL developed an even more mature solution called "LÖSUNG B - solution B" to make use of the FG 1250 device. Since the system SPERBER had the critical drawback that only the tankcommander had nightvision and therefore had to direct the driver and the gunner, experiments were made with some Panther As and Ds which were equipped with an infrared-searchlight and image converter for the driver and a periscope for the gunner. This way 3 crewmembers obtained nightfighting ability. In April 1945 some of the solution B equiped Panthers were ordered to the Division "CLAUSEWITZ". In mid april these Panthers saw their only doctumented action near UELZEN, where they destroyed a full platoon equipped with the brandnew british Comet tanks.
Walter J. Spielberger, Hilary L. Doyle "Der Panzer-Kampfwagen Panther und seine Abarten" Motorbuchverlag 5. Auflage 1999
S. Hart, R. Hart "Deutsche Panzer im Zweiten Weltkrieg" Gondrom Verlag 1998
Thomas L. Jentz "Der Panther - Entwicklung, Ausführungen, Varianten, Charakteristische Merkmale, Kampfwert" Podzun-Pallas Verlag 1997
Thomas Anderson and Vicent Wai "ARMOUR AT WAR SERIES 7006 PANTHER" published by Concord
Last update: 07-04-00
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