The DesertFox: Panzer: The PANTHER

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PANTHER Development


Versuchs-Panther (FgstNr. V2 completed by MAN in the fall of 1942) was outfitted with a turret. The 7,5 cm KwK42 L/70 still had the ball muzzle brake invented for the 7,5 cm KwK40 L/43 in the PzKpfw.IV Ausf.F2


PANTHER Development

Development of an improved replacement for the PzKpfw IV medium tank had proceeded at a slow pace, since the PzKpfw IV had proven to be a reliable and versatile design. Despite fairly high losses during certain stages of the Polish and French campaigns, the Germans were relatively satisfied with the PzKpfw II, III, and IV. Though certain pre-war incidents should have warned them that the Soviet Union was preparing a new and heavy armoured force, the German military leaders disregarded these warnings. One such incident took place during the spring of 1941 when Hitler specifically ordered that a Russian military commision be shown the latest development in tank designs. After viewing the Panzer IV the Russians refused to believe this was the latest and heaviest German tank and were so insistent that the German Ordnance Officer concluded that the Russians must already posess better and heavier tanks.

The attack on the Soviet Union ran into the KV-1 heavy tank and the T-34/76 medium tank, completely new types which soon proved to be a most serious threat to the German plans for "Operation Barbarossa". Only lack of numbers and poor tactics reduced the deadly effectiveness of these two fine Russian tanks.

General Guderian urgently requested a study commission to come up with a new advanced tank as soon as possible to restore German superiority, even went so far as to suggest that the T-34 be copied as soon as possible. Out of this critical situation came two new German tanks: the Tiger I and the Panther. In late 1941, the German Armament Ministry let out contracts with Daimler Benz and MAN for designs for a 30-35 ton medium tank, with sloped armor of 40-60mm thickness, a 7,5cm L/48 main weapon, and 55 kph top speed.


The Prototypes

The Daimler Benz proposal was radical, with its close copying of the T-34 layout, rear mounted diesel engine , all steel roadwheels, and leaf spring suspension. In retrospect, it probably could have been developed more fully than the MAN design.

The MAN design was a purely German type with only the sloped armor copied from the T-34. The turret was set back on the hull to reduce the increased overhang of the newly specified longer L/70 gun and muzzle brake. The engineering development was extremely sophisticated, with torsion bar suspension, a gasoline engine in the rear and the transmission and final drives in front. The vehicle, the VK 3002 (MAN), was much larger than the T-34 and the Daimler Benz derivative, and proved to be considerably heavier than the specified weight. Nonetheless, perhaps largely because of national pride, the MAN design was accepted, even though Hitler preferred the Daimler Benz design, but switched his mind after the first technical review in May 1942. The decisive factor was the need to get the tanks into production as quickly as possible, and the Daimler Benz design required the design of a completely new turett, whereas the MAN Panther could be equipped with an existing Rheinmetall design. A preliminary order for 200 Daimler Benz vehicles was cancelled.

The two prototype VK 3001 (D) with diesel engines which were already being assembled by Daimler Benz were to be completed for experimental purposes. MAN completed two Versuchspanther (experimental Panther chassis) close to the dates ordered, namely August and September. Meanwhile orders had been placed for production of 1000 Panthers, the first of which was already available in January 1943. This was a amazingly short development period.

The VK 3002 (MAN) pilot model was completed in September 1942, and tests were successful enough that the vehicle was ordered into production immediately with the highest priority. Designated PzKpfw V "Panther", SdKfz 171, the first production models were finished in November, 1942 by MAN, and Daimler Benz, MNH, and Henschel also tooled up to produce the Panther in 1943.


Design Evolution of the Panther series

The Daimler Benz Prototype


Wooden model of the design proposed by Daimler-Benz as their VK 30.01 (D). The shape of the hull and the rear drive closely resembles the russian T 34 design which Daimler-Benz studied and copied. Daimler-Benz created this turret design for mounting the 7,5 cm KwK42 gun.


The MAN Prototype


MAN included drawing No. Tu 16901 of the "VK 30.02 (M) mit Rhm-Turm 7,5 KwK" dated 2 May 1942 as part of their written proposal. The special commission considered this design to be superior to the Daimler-Benz proposal and recommended that the MAN design be accepted for production.

Problems

The haste of development and production led to numerous problems and breakdowns among Panthers during "Operation Zitadelle", the Battle of Kursk, in July 1943. More Panther D´s were put out of action by engine fires and other mechanical defects and failures than were destroyed by Soviet armor or guns. These fine machines were thrown almost uselessly into battle before they were fully battle ready.

Development continued rapidly and gradually most of the bugs were worked out, though a problem with failure of the rim bolts on the dished roadwheels persisted until the end of the war. Various mechanical and detail features of the different versions of the Panther are pointed out in the following sections and can be better understood when the feature described can be seen at the same time.


The Production Model
One of the first five Ausf.D Panthers that was assembled by MAN in Nürnberg in January/February 1943. It has the original stowage arrangements for the tools, no rain guards, and no brackets for mounting Schuerzen.

Despite its complexity and rather high manufacturing cost, the Panther was a very successful design and is considered by many ordnance experts to be the finest medium tank used in World War II. Later during the war relative complexity and gasoline engine were disadvantages, yet production continued well into 1945, and the vehicle gave an excellent account of itself right up to the end.

An unofficial rule of thumb in the U.S. Army was that it took five Shermans to knock out a single Panther. The Germans built nearly 6000 Panther tanks, the U.S. built 52000 Shermans.

The Panther emerged as one of the most significant tank designs in history. Large numbers were captured and tested, and Panthers were used by the French Army until the 1950´s, perhaps the most eloquent testimony to the capabilities of this fine combat vehicle.



The DesertFox: Panzer: The Panther

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