Panther is the common name of a medium tank deployed by Nazi Germany in World War II from mid-1943 to the end of the European war in 1945. It was intended as a counter to the Russian T-34 and as a replacement for the Panzer III and Panzer IV. While never replacing the latter, it served alongside it and the heavier Tiger tanks until the end of the war. The Panther’s excellent combination of firepower, mobility, and protection served as a benchmark for other nations’ late war and post-war tank designs, and it is regarded as one of the best tanks of World War II.
- Type – Medium Panzer.
- Service History – 1943–1947.
- Wars – World War II.
- Production History –
- Designer – MAN AG.
- Designed – 1942.
- Manufacturer – MAN, Daimler-Benz, MNH.
- Unit Cost –
- 117,100 Reichmarks – Without weapons, optics, or radio.
- 176,100 Reichmarks – Combat ready.
- Production –
- 1943–1945 – German Military.
- 1946- 49 – Postwar for the British Army.
- Number Built – About 6,000.
- Specifications –
- Mass – 44.8 tonnes – 44.1 long tons; 49.4 short tons.
- Length –
- 6.87 meters – 22 ft 6 in.
- 8.66 meters – 28 ft 5 in – With Gun Forward.
- Width –
- 3.27 meters – 10 ft 9 in.
- 3.42 meters – 11 ft 3 in – With side skirts.
- Height – 2.99 m – 9 ft 10 in.
- Crew – 5 – Driver, Radio-Operator/Hull Machine Gunner, Commander, Gunner, Loader.
- Armor – 16-100 mm
- Main Armament –
- 1 × 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 with 79 rounds.
- Secondary Armament –
- 2 × 7.92 mm MG 34 machine guns with 5,100 rounds.
- Engine – V-12 petrol Maybach HL230 P30.
- 700 PS – 690 hp, 515 kW.
- Power/Weight – 15.39 PS – 11.5 kW/tonne – 13.77 hp/ton.
- Transmission – ZF AK 7-200. 7 forward 1 reverse.
- Suspension – Double torsion bar, interleaved road wheels.
- Fuel Capacity – 720 liters – 160 imp gal; 190 US gal.
- Operational Range –
- Road: 200 km – 120 miles.
- Cross-Country: 100 km – 62 miles.
- Speed –
- 55 km/h – 34 mph – First models.
- 46 km/h – 29 mph – Later models.
Until 1944, it was designated as the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther and had the ordnance inventory designation of Sd. Kfz. 171. On 27 February 1944, Hitler ordered that the Roman numeral V be deleted from the designation.
The Panther tank was a compromise of various requirements. While having essentially the same engine as the Tiger I tank, it had better frontal armor including the benefit of sloped armor, increasing effective armor depth, better gun penetration, was lighter and thus faster, and could traverse rough terrain better than the Tigers. The tradeoff was weaker side armor. The Panther proved to be deadly in the open country and long-range engagements, but vulnerable in close-quarters combat. Also, the 75 mm gun fired a slightly smaller shell than the Tiger’s 88 mm gun, providing less high explosive firepower against infantry.
The Panther was also far cheaper to produce than the Tiger tanks, and only slightly more expensive than the Panzer IV, as its design came to fruition when the Reich Ministry of Armament and War Production was making great efforts to increase war production. Key elements of the Panther design, such as its armor, transmission, and final drive, were compromises made specifically to improve production rates and address Germany’s war shortages, whereas other elements such as its highly compact engine and its complex suspension system remained with their elegant but complicated engineering. The result was that Panther tank production was far higher than what was possible for the Tiger tanks but not much higher than what had been accomplished with the Panzer IV. At the same time, the simplified final drive became the single major cause of breakdowns of the Panther tank and was a problem that was never corrected.
The Panther tank arrived in 1943 at a crucial phase in World War II for Germany. Rushed into combat at the Battle of Kursk with un-corrected teething problems, which resulted in breakdowns and other equipment failures, the Panther tank would thereafter only be fighting outnumbered in Germany’s steady retreat against the Allies for the remainder of World War II. Its success as a battlefield weapon was thus hampered by Germany’s generally declining position in the war, with the loss of airpower protection by the Luftwaffe, the loss of fuel and training space, and the declining quality of tank crews. Nevertheless, the Panther tank commanded respect from the Allies, and its combat capabilities led directly to the introduction of heavier Allied tanks such as the Soviet IS-2 and the American M26 Pershing into the war.
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Modern Day Photos
Panther from Breda, Netherlands
Panther 222 – Oorlogsmuseum Museum – Overloon, Netherlands
Panther at the Grandmenil Crossroads, Belgium
Houffalize Panther – Belgium
During the von Rundstedt attack, the Germans abandoned many vehicles along the road. The Panther Mark V tank belonged to the 116th Panzer Division, this one invaded Houffalize on December 19th, 1944.
Off Color Photos
Black and White Photos
Paintings and Art
The Panther was born out of a project that started in 1938 to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks. The initial requirements of the VK 20 series called for a fully tracked vehicle weighing 20 tonnes and design proposals by Krupp, Daimler Benz, and MAN ensued. These designs were abandoned and Krupp dropped out of the competition entirely as the requirements increased to a vehicle weighing 30 tonnes, a direct reaction to the encounters with the Soviet T-34 and KV-1 tanks and against the advice of Wa Pruef 6. The T-34 outclassed the existing models of the Panzer III and IV. At the insistence of General Heinz Guderian, a special tank commission was created to assess the T-34. Among the features of the Soviet tank considered most significant were the sloping armor, which gave much-improved shot deflection and also increased the effective armor thickness against penetration, the wide track, which improved mobility over soft ground, and the 76.2 mm (3 in) gun, which had good armor penetration and fired an effective high explosive round. Daimler-Benz (DB), which designed the successful Panzer III and StuG III, and Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg AG (MAN) were given the task of designing a new 30- to 35-tonne tank, designated VK 30.02, by April 1942.
The VK 30.02(DB) design resembled the T-34 in its hull and turret and was also to be powered by a diesel engine. It was driven from the rear-drive sprocket with the turret situated forward. The incorporation of a diesel engine promised increased operational range, reduced flammability and allowed for more efficient use of petroleum reserves. Hitler himself considered a diesel engine imperative for the new tank. DB’s proposal used an external leaf spring suspension, in contrast to the MAN proposal of twin torsion bars. Wa Pruef 6’s opinion was that the leaf spring suspension was a disadvantage and that using torsion bars would allow greater internal hull width. It also opposed the rear drive because of the potential for track fouling. Daimler Benz still preferred the leaf springs over a torsion bar suspension as it resulted in a silhouette about 200 mm (7.9 in) shorter and rendered complex shock absorbers unnecessary. The employment of a rear-drive provided additional crew space and also allowed for a better slope on the front hull, which was considered important in preventing penetration by armor-piercing shells.
The MAN design embodied a more conventional configuration, with the transmission and drive sprocket in the front and a centrally mounted turret. It had a petrol engine and eight torsion-bar suspension axles per side. Because of the torsion bar suspension and the drive shaft running under the turret basket, the MAN Panther was higher and had a wider hull than the DB design. The Henschel firm’s design concepts for their Tiger I tank suspension/drive components, using its characteristic Schachtellaufwerk format – large, overlapping, interleaved road wheels with a slack-track using no return rollers for the upper run of track, also features shared with almost all German military half-track designs since the late 1930s were repeated with the MAN design for the Panther. These multiple large, rubber-rimmed steel wheels distributed ground pressure more evenly across the track. The MAN proposal also complemented Rheinmetall’s already designed turret modified from that of the VK 45.01 (H) and used a virtually identical Maybach V12 engine to the Tiger I heavy tank’s Maybach HL230 powerplant model.
The two designs were reviewed from January to March 1942. Reichminister Todt, and later, his replacement Albert Speer, both recommended the DB design to Hitler because of its advantages over the initial MAN design. At the final submission, MAN refined its design, having learned from the DB proposal apparently through a leak by a former employee in the Wa Pruef 6, senior engineer Heinrich Ernst Kniepkamp and others. On 5 March 1942, Albert Speer reported that Hitler considered the Daimler-Benz design to be superior to MAN’s design. A review by a special commission appointed by Hitler in May 1942 selected the MAN design. Hitler approved this decision after reviewing it overnight. One of the principal reasons given for this decision was that the MAN design used an existing turret designed by Rheinmetall-Borsig, while the DB design would have required a brand new turret and engine to be designed and produced, delaying the commencement of production. This time-saving measure compromised the subsequent development of the design
Albert Speer recounts in his autobiography Inside the Third Reich:
‘Since the Tiger had originally been designed to weigh fifty tons but as a result of Hitler’s demands had gone up to fifty-seven tons, we decided to develop a new thirty-ton tank whose very name, Panther, was to signify greater agility. Though light in weight, its motor was to be the same as the Tiger’s, which meant it could develop superior speed. But in the course of a year, Hitler once again insisted on clapping so much armor on it, as well as larger guns, that it ultimately reached forty-eight tons, the original weight of the Tiger.
The weight of the production model was increased to 45 tonnes from the original plans for a 35-tonne tank. Hitler was briefed thoroughly on the comparison between the MAN and DB designs in the report by Guderian’s tank commission. Armour protection appeared to be inadequate, while the motor mounted on the rear appeared to him correct. He agreed that the “decisive factor was the possibility of quickly getting the tank into production”. On 15 May 1942, Oberst Fichtner informed MAN that Hitler had decided in favor of the MAN Panther and ordered series production. The upper glacis plate was to be increased from 60 mm (2.4 in) to 80 mm (3.1 in). Hitler demanded that an increase to 100 mm (3.9 in) should be attempted and that at least all vertical surfaces were to be 100 mm (3.9 in). The turret front plate was increased from 80 mm (3.1 in) to 100 mm (3.9 in).
The Panther was rushed into combat before all of its teething problems had been corrected. Reliability was considerably improved over time, and the Panther proved to be a very effective fighting vehicle, but some design flaws, such as its weak final drive units, were never corrected.
The crew had five members:
- Radio operator who also fired the bow machine gun.
The Panther had 5 crew members, the commander, gunner, loader, driver and radio operator. The commander, loader and gunner were in the turret, While the driver and radio operator were in the hull of the vehicle. The driver sat always on the front-left side of the tank and next to him was the tank’s machine gunner whose job it was to operate the radio.
The first 250 Panthers were powered by a Maybach HL 210 P30 V-12 petrol engine, which delivered 650 metric hp at 3,000 rpm and had three simple air filters. Starting in May 1943, Panthers were built using the 700 metric horsepower (690 hp, 515 kW) at 3,000 rpm, 23.1 liter Maybach HL 230 P30 V-12 petrol engine. To save aluminum, the light-alloy block used in the HL 210 was replaced by a cast-iron block. Two multistage cyclone air filters were used to improve dust removal. Due to the use of low-grade petrol, the engine power output was reduced. With a capacity of 730 liters (160 imperial gallons; 190 US gallons) of fuel, a fully fuelled Panther’s range was 200 km (120 mi) on surfaced roads and 100 km (62 mi) cross country.
The HL 230 P30 engine was a very compact tunnel crankcase design, and it kept the space between the cylinder walls to a minimum. The crankshaft was composed of seven discs or main journals, each with an outer race of roller bearings, and a crankshaft pin between each disc. To reduce the length of the engine by an inch or so, and reduce unbalanced rocking moment caused by a normal offset-Vee type engine, the two banks of 6 cylinders of the V-12 were not offset – the big ends of the connecting rods of each cylinder pair in the V where they mated with the crankpin were thus at the same spot with respect to the engine block’s length rather than offset. This required a fork and blade matched pair of connecting rods for each transversely oriented pair of cylinders. Usually, V-form engines have their transversely paired cylinders connecting rods big ends simply placed side by side on the crankpin, with their transverse pairs of cylinders offset slightly to allow the connecting rod big ends to attach side by side while still being in the cylinder bore centerline. This compact arrangement with the connecting rods was the source of considerable problems initially. Blown head gaskets were another problem, which was corrected with improved seals in September 1943. Improved bearings were introduced in November 1943. An engine governor was also added in November 1943 that reduced the maximum engine speed to 2,500 rpm. An eighth crankshaft bearing was added beginning in January 1944 to reduce motor failures.
The engine compartment was designed to be watertight so that the Panther could ford water obstacles; however, this made the engine compartment poorly ventilated and prone to overheating. The fuel connectors in early Panthers were not insulated, leading to the leakage of fuel fumes into the engine compartment, which caused engine fires. Additional ventilation was added to draw off these gases, which only partly solved the problem of engine fires. Other measures taken to reduce this problem included improving the coolant circulation inside the motor and adding a reinforced membrane spring to the fuel pump. Despite the risks of fire, the fighting compartment was relatively safe due to a solid firewall that separated it from the engine compartment.
Engine reliability improved over time. A French assessment in 1947 of their stock of captured Normandy Panther A tanks concluded that the engine had an average life of 1,000 km (620 mi) and a maximum life of 1,500 km (930 mi).
Steering and Transmission
Steering was accomplished through a seven-speed AK 7-200 synchromesh gearbox, designed by Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen (ZF), and a MAN single radius steering system, operated by steering levers. Each gear had a fixed radius of turning, ranging from 5 m (16 ft) for 1st gear up to 80 m (260 ft) for 7th gear. The driver was expected to judge the sharpness of a turn ahead of time and shift into the appropriate gear to turn the tank. The driver could also engage the brakes on one side to force a sharper turn. This manual steering was a much-simplified design, compared to the sophisticated dual-radius hydraulically controlled steering system of the Tiger tanks.
The AK 7-200 transmission was also capable of pivot turns, but tests showed this was possible only when the ground resistance on both tracks was the same. This high-torque method of turning could cause failures of the final drive.
The overstressed transmission system resulted in the third gear being stripped prematurely in its service life. This problem was compounded by alloy shortages which made gears more brittle and prone to failure. This led to the complicated task of accessing the transmission which was fully enclosed by the Panther’s frontal armor. In order to access the final drive, the entire driver’s compartment and transmission had to be disassembled and lifted out. This is sharply contrasted with accessing the Sherman transmission which only required the armor cover to be unbolted in the front.
The Panther’s main weakness was its final drive unit. The problems stemmed from several factors. The original MAN proposal had called for the Panther to have an epicyclic gearing (planetary) system in the final drive, similar to that used in the Tiger I. Germany suffered from a shortage of gear-cutting machine tools and, unlike the Tiger, the Panther was intended to be mass-produced. To achieve the goal of higher production rates, numerous simplifications were made to the design and its manufacture. This process was aggressively pushed forward, sometimes against the wishes of designers and army officers, by the Chief Director of Armament and War Production, Karl-Otto Saur who worked under, and later succeeded, Reichminister Speer. Consequently, the final drive was changed to a double spur system. Although much simpler to produce, the double spur gears had an inherently higher internal impact and stress loads, making them prone to failure under the high torque requirements of the heavy Panther tank. Because of the significant numbers of breakdowns, the Wehrmacht was forced to move the Panther and Tiger I tanks by rail throughout 1943. The tanks could not participate in major motor movements of more than 100 km (62 mi) without adversely affecting unit strengths due to breakdowns.
Initial production Panthers had a face-hardened glacis plate being the main front hull armor piece, but as armor-piercing capped rounds became the standard in all armies thus defeating the benefits of face-hardening which caused uncapped rounds to shatter, this requirement was deleted in March 1943. By August 1943, Panthers were being built only with a homogeneous steel glacis plate. The front hull had 80 mm (3.1 in) of armor angled at 55 degrees from the vertical, welded but also interlocked with the side and bottom plates for strength. The combination of moderately thick and well-sloped armor meant that heavy Allied weapons, such as the Soviet 122 mm A-19, 100 mm BS-3, and US 90 mm M3 were needed to assure penetration of the upper glacis at all combat ranges.
The armor for the side hull and superstructure (the side sponsons) was much thinner at 40–50 mm (1.6–2.0 in). The thinner side armor was necessary to reduce the weight, but it made the Panther vulnerable to hits from the side by all Allied tanks and anti-tank guns. German tactical doctrine for the use of the Panther emphasized the importance of flank protection. 5 mm (0.20 in) thick spaced armor, known as Schürzen, intended to provide protection for the lower side hull from Soviet anti-tank rifle fire, was fitted on the hull side. Zimmerit coating against magnetic mines started to be applied at the factory on late Ausf D models beginning in September 1943. An order for field units to apply Zimmerit to older versions of the Panther was issued in November 1943. In September 1944, orders to stop all application of Zimmerit were issued, based on false rumors that hits on the Zimmerit had caused vehicle fires.
Panther crews were aware of the weak side armor and made augmentations by hanging track links or spare roadwheels onto the turret and/or the hull sides. The rear hull top armor was only 16 mm (0.63 in) thick and had two radiator fans and four air intake louvers over the engine compartment that were vulnerable to strafing by aircraft.
As the war progressed, Germany was forced to reduce or eliminate critical alloying metals in the production of armor plates, such as nickel, tungsten, and molybdenum. This resulted in lower impact resistance levels compared to earlier armor. In 1943, Allied bombers struck and severely damaged the Knaben mine in Norway, eliminating a key source of molybdenum and supplies from Finland and Japan were also cut off. The loss of molybdenum and its replacement with other substitutes to maintain hardness, as well as a general loss of quality control, resulted in an increased brittleness in the German armor plate, which developed a tendency to fracture when struck with a shell. Testing by U.S. Army officers in August 1944 in Isigny, France showed catastrophic cracking of the armor plate on two out of three Panthers examined.
The front of the turret was a curved 100 mm (3.9 in) thick cast armor mantlet. Its transverse-cylindrical shape meant that it was more likely to deflect shells, but the lower section created a shot trap. If a non-penetrating hit bounced downwards off its lower section, it could penetrate the thin forward hull roof armor, and plunge down into the front hull compartment. Penetrations of this nature could have catastrophic results since the compartment housed the driver and radio operator sitting along both sides of the massive gearbox and steering unit. Also, four magazines containing main gun ammunition were located between the driver/radio operator seats and the turret, directly underneath the gun mantlet when the turret was facing forward.
From September 1944, a slightly redesigned mantlet with a flattened and much thicker lower chin design started to be fitted to Panther Ausf G models, the chin being intended to prevent such deflections. Conversion to the chin design was gradual, and Panthers continued to be produced to the end of the war with the rounded gun mantlet.
The Ausf A model introduced a new cast armor commander’s cupola, replacing the forged cupola. It featured a steel hoop to which a third MG 34 or either the coaxial or the bow machine gun could be mounted for use in the anti-aircraft role.
The first Panthers (Ausf D) had a hydraulic motor that could traverse the turret at a maximum rate of one complete revolution per minute, independent of engine speed. This was improved in the Ausf A model with a hydraulic traverse powered by the engine. One full turn took 46 seconds at an engine speed of 1,000 rpm but only 15 seconds if the engine was running at 3,000 rpm. This arrangement was a weakness, as traversing the Panther’s turret rapidly onto a target required close coordination between the gunner and driver, who had to run the engine to maximum speed. By comparison, the M4 Sherman’s electrically or electro-hydraulically traversed turret rotated at up to 360 degrees in 15 seconds and was independent of engine speed, which gave it an advantage over the Panther in close-quarters combat. A hand traverse wheel was provided for the Panther gunner to make a fine adjustment of his aim.
The suspension consisted of front-drive sprockets, rear idlers and eight double-interleaved rubber-rimmed steel road wheels on each side in the so-called Schachtellaufwerk design, suspended on a dual torsion bar suspension. The dual torsion bar system, designed by Professor Ernst Lehr, allowed for a wide travel stroke and rapid oscillations with high reliability, thus allowing for relatively high-speed travel over undulating terrain. The extra space required for the bars running across the length of the bottom of the hull, below the turret basket, increased the overall height of the tank. When damaged by mines, the torsion bars often required a welding torch for removal.
The Panther’s suspension was overengineered and the Schachtellaufwerk interleaved road wheel system made replacing inner road wheels time consuming though it could operate with missing or broken wheels. The interleaved wheels also had a tendency to become clogged with mud, rocks, and ice, and could freeze solid overnight in the harsh winter weather that followed the autumn rasputitsa mud season on the Eastern Front. Shell damage could cause the road wheels to jam together and become difficult to separate. Interleaved wheels had long been standard on all German half-tracks. The extra wheels did provide better flotation and stability, and also provided more armor protection for the thin hull sides than smaller wheels or non-interleaved wheel systems, but the complexity meant that no other country ever adopted this design for their tanks. In September 1944, and again in March/April 1945, M.A.N. built a limited number of Panthers with overlapping, non-interleaved steel-rimmed 80 cm diameter roadwheels originally designed for Henschel’s Tiger II and late series Tiger I Ausf. E tanks. These steel-rimmed roadwheels were introduced from chassis number 121052 due to raw material shortages.
From November 1944 through February 1945, a conversion process began to use sleeve bearings in the Panther tank, as there was a shortage of ball bearings. The sleeve bearings were primarily used in the running gear. Plans were also made to convert the transmission to sleeve bearings but were not carried out due to the ending of Panther production.
The main gun was a Rheinmetall-Borsig 7.5 cm KwK 42 (L/70) with semi-automatic shell ejection and a supply of 79 rounds with 82 on Ausf. G model. The main gun used three different types of ammunition: APCBC-HE (Pzgr. 39/42), HE (Sprgr. 42), and APCR (Pzgr. 40/42), the last of which was usually in short supply. While it was of a caliber common on Allied tanks, the Panther’s gun was the most powerful of World War II, due to the large propellant charge and the long barrel, which gave it a very high muzzle velocity and excellent armor-piercing qualities among Allied tank guns of a similar caliber, none had equivalent muzzle energy. Only the British Sherman Firefly conversion’s Ordnance QF 17-pounder gun, of 3 inch (76.2mm) caliber, and a 55 caliber long (L/55) barrel, with its availability to fire APDS shot had more potential armor perforation power but was considerably less accurate owing to disturbances caused by the separation of shot and sabot and at a cost of less severe damage inside the target after perforation of the armor. The flat trajectory and accuracy of the full bore ammunition also made hitting targets much easier, since accuracy was less sensitive to errors in range estimation and increased the chance of hitting a moving target. The Panther’s 75 mm gun had more penetrating power than the main gun of the Tiger I heavy tank, the 8.8 cm KwK 36 L/56, although the larger 88 mm projectile might inflict more damage if it did penetrate. The 75mm HE round was inferior to the 88mm HE round used for infantry support but was on par with most other 75mm HE rounds used by other tanks and assault guns.
The tank typically had two MG 34 armored fighting vehicle variant machine guns featuring an armored barrel sleeve. An MG 34 machine gun was located co-axially with the main gun on the gun mantlet; an identical MG 34 was located on the glacis plate and fired by the radio operator. Initial Ausf. D and early Ausf. A models used a letterbox flap enclosing its underlying thin, vertical arrows lit-like aperture, through which the machine gun was fired. In later Ausf. A and all Ausf. G models starting in late November-early December 1943, a ball mount in the glacis plate with a K.Z.F.2 machine gun sight was installed for the hull machine gun.
Initial Ausf. D were equipped with the Nebelwurfgerät with the later Ausf. A and Ausf. G receiving the Nahverteidigungswaffe.
Ammunition storage for the main gun was a weak point. All the ammunition for the main armament was stored in the hull, with a significant amount stored in the sponsons. In the Ausf D and A models, 18 rounds were stored next to the turret on each side, for a total of 36 rounds. In the Ausf G, which had deeper sponsons, 24 rounds were stored on each side of the turret, for a total of 48 rounds. In all models, four rounds were also stored in the left sponson between the driver and the turret. An additional 36 rounds were stored inside the hull of the Ausf D and A models with 27 in the forward hull compartment directly underneath the mantlet. In the Ausf G, the hull ammunition storage was reduced to 27 rounds total with 18 rounds in the forward hull compartment. For all models, three rounds were kept under the turntable of the turret. The stowage of 52 rounds of ammunition in the side sponsons made this area the most vulnerable point on the Panther since penetration here usually led to catastrophic ammunition fires.
The loader was stationed in the right side of the turret. With the turret facing forward, he had access only to the right sponson and hull ammunition, and so these served as the main ready-ammunition bins.
The early impetus for upgrading the Panther came from the concern of Hitler and others that it lacked sufficient armor. Hitler had already insisted on an increase in its armor once, early in its design process in 1942. Discussions involving Hitler in January 1943 called for further increased armor. Initially referred to as the Panther 2 in which it became the Panther II after April 1943. This upgrade increased the thickness of the glacis plate to 100 mm (3.9 in), the side armor to 60 mm (2.4 in), and the top armor to 30 mm (1.2 in). Production of the Panther 2 was slated to begin in September 1943.
On 10 February 1943, Dr. Wiebecke, Chief Design Engineer for MAN, suggested thoroughly redesigning the Panther II and incorporating Tiger components such as the steering gears, final drive, entire suspension, and turret based on Eastern Front experience. Total weight would increase to more than 50 metric tons. Another meeting on 17 February 1943 focused on sharing and standardizing parts between the Tiger II tank and the Panther II, such as the transmission, all-steel eighty-centimeter diameter roadwheels with only overlapping and not interleaved as the original Schachtellaufwerk roadwheel design used, and running gear. Additional meetings in February began to outline the various components, including a suggestion to adopt the King Tiger’s hard-hitting 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71 gun, but it was ultimately decided to continue the use of the production Panther’s 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 gun. In March 1943, MAN indicated that the first prototype would be completed by August 1943. A number of engines were under consideration, among them the new Maybach HL 234 fuel-injected engine with 900 hp operated by 8-speed hydraulic transmission and the BMW 003 aviation turbojet-derived, GT 101 turboshaft powerplant, planned to be of some 1,150 shaft horsepower output and weighing only some 450 kg (992 lb) without its transmission, only some 38% of the weight of the Panther’s standard Maybach HL230 V-12 gasoline-fueled piston engine.
Thus, plans to replace the original Panther design with the Panther II were already underway before the first Panther had even seen combat. But from May to June 1943, work on the Panther II ceased as the focus was shifted to expanding production of the original Panther tank. It is not clear if there was ever an official cancellation. This may have been because the Panther II upgrade pathway was originally started at Hitler’s insistence. The direction that the design was headed would not have been consistent with Germany’s need for a mass-produced tank, which was the goal of the Reich Ministry of Armament and War Production.
One Panther II chassis was completed and eventually captured by the U.S. It is now on display at the Patton Museum in Fort Knox. An Ausf G turret is mounted on this chassis.
Panther Ausf. F
After the Panther II project died, a more limited upgrade of the Panther was planned, centered around a re-designed turret. The Ausf F variant was intended for production in April 1945, but the end of the war ended these plans.
The earliest known redesign of the turret was dated 7 November 1943 and featured a narrow gun mantlet behind a 120 mm (4.7 in) thick turret front plate. Another design drawing by Rheinmetall dated 1 March 1944 reduced the width of the turret front even further. This was the Turm-Panther (Schmale Blende) (Panther with narrow gun mantlet). Several experimental Schmaltürme (narrow turrets) were built in 1944 with modified versions of the production Panther’s 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 standard gun, which were given the designation of KwK 44/1. A few were captured and shipped back to the U.S. and Britain. One badly damaged turret is on display at the Bovington Tank Museum. It had been used as a post-war range target until its historical significance was recognized.
The Schmalturm had a much narrower front face of 120 mm (4.7 in) armor sloped at 20 degrees. The side turret armor was increased to 60 mm (2.4 in) from 45 mm (1.8 in), roof turret armor increased to 40 mm (1.6 in) from 16 mm (0.63 in), and a bell-shaped gun mantlet similar to that of the Tiger II was used. This increased armor protection also had a slight weight saving due to the overall smaller size of the turret.
The Panther Ausf F would have had the Schmalturm, with its better ballistic protection, and an extended front hull roof which was slightly thicker. The Ausf F’s Schmalturm was to have a built-in stereoscopic rangefinder using twin matching armored blisters, one on each turret side, much like the Americans’ post-war M47 Patton tank and lower weight than the original turrets. A number of Ausf F hulls were built at Daimler-Benz and Ruhrstahl-Hattingen steelworks. There is no evidence that any completed Ausf F saw service before the end of the war.
Proposals to equip the Schmalturm with the 8.8 cm KwK 43 L/71 were made from January to March 1945. These would have likely equipped future German tanks but none were built, as the war ended.
The E series of experimental tanks being the E-10, E-25, E-50, E-75, E-100 in which the numbers designated their weight class, was proposed to further streamline production with an even greater sharing of common parts and simplification of design. In this scheme, the Panther tank would have been replaced by the E-50. A Belleville washer-based, hull side-mount suspension system was proposed to replace the complex and costly dual torsion bar system. The Schmalturm would have been used, likely with a variant of the 8.8 cm L/71 gun.
- Jagdpanther – Heavy Jagdpanzer-style casemate-hulled tank destroyer with the 8.8 cm L/71.
- Befehlspanzer Panther – Command tank with additional radio equipment.
- Beobachtungspanzer Panther – Artillery observation tank with a dummy gun and armed with only two MG 34
- Bergepanther – Armored recovery vehicle.
- Flakpanzer Coelian – Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun project, planned to be armed with twin Flak 43 37 mm AA guns in an armored turret.
A mild steel prototype of the MAN design was produced by September 1942 and, after testing at Kummersdorf, was officially accepted. It was put into immediate production. The start of production was delayed, mainly because of a shortage of specialized machine tools needed for the machining of the hull. Finished tanks were produced in December and suffered from reliability problems as a result. The demand for this tank was so high that the manufacturing was soon expanded beyond MAN to include Daimler-Benz (Berlin-Marienfelde, former DMG plant), Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen Hanover (MNH, a subsidiary of Eisenwerk Wülfel/Hanomag) and the Tiger I’s original designer, Henschel & Sohn in Kassel.
The initial production target was 250 tanks per month at the MAN plant at Nuremberg. This was increased to 600 per month in January 1943. Despite determined efforts, this figure was never reached due to disruption by Allied bombing, and manufacturing and resource bottlenecks. Production in 1943 averaged 148 per month. In 1944, it averaged 315 a month with 3,777 having been built that year, peaking with 380 in July and ending around the end of March 1945, with at least 6,000 built-in total. Front-line combat strength peaked on 1 September 1944 at 2,304 tanks, but that same month a record number of 692 tanks were reported lost.
The Allies directed bombing at the common chokepoint for both Panther and Tiger production: the Maybach engine plant. This was bombed the night of 27/28 April 1944 and production halted for five months. A second factory had already been planned, the Auto Union Siegmar plant (the former Wanderer car factory), and this came online in May 1944. The targeting of Panther factories began with a bombing raid on the DB plant on 6 August 1944, and again on the night of 23/24 August. MAN was struck on 10 September, 3 October and 19 October 1944, and then again on 3 January and 20/21 February 1945. MNH was not attacked until 14 and 28 March 1945.
In addition to interfering with tank production goals, the bombing forced a steep drop in the production of spare parts, which as a percentage of tank production dropped from 25–30 percent in 1943 to 8 percent in late 1944. This compounded the problems with reliability and with the numbers of operational Panthers, as tanks in the field had to be cannibalized for parts.
The Panther was the third most-produced German armored fighting vehicle, after the Sturmgeschütz III assault gun/tank destroyer at 9,408 units, and the Panzer IV tank at 8,298 units.
The cost of a Panther tank has been given as 117,100 Reichmarks (RM). This compared with 82,500 RM for the StuG III, 96,163 RM for the Panzer III, 103,462 RM for the Panzer IV, and 250,800 RM for the Tiger I. These figures did not include the cost of the armament and radio. Using slave labor on the production lines greatly reduced costs, but also greatly increased the risk of sabotage. French army studies in 1947 found that many Panthers had been sabotaged during production. The Germans increasingly strove for production methods that would allow higher production rates and lower costs. By comparison, the total cost of the early production Tiger I in 1942–1943 has been stated to be as high as 800,000 RM.
The process of streamlining the production of German armored fighting vehicles first began after Speer became Reichminister in early 1942, and steadily accelerated through to 1944. The production of the Panther tank coincided with this period of increased manufacturing efficiency. At the beginning of the war, German armored fighting vehicle manufacturers had employed labor-intensive and costly manufacturing methods unsuitable for the needs of mass production; even with streamlined production methods, Germany never approached the efficiency of Allied manufacturing during World War II.
The first Panthers saw combat at Kursk in Summer 1943, revealing reliability issues beyond that typically expected for a new weapon system. This was improved through 1943. The Panther’s operational rate went from 16 percent at the end of July 1943 to 37 percent by December 1943.
An improved version being the Panther Ausf. A entered production in August 1943. This received improvements from the Panther Ausf. D, including a better turret with a new commander’s cupola and increased turret traverse speed. More improvements began to have an effect on the combat-ready rate of the tanks deployed on the Eastern Front, which increased from 37 percent in February, to 50 percent in April, and 78 percent by the end of May 1944.
General Heinz Guderian reported on 5 March 1944:
The frontline reports said service life of the tank’s engine had increased up from 700 to 1,000km [435 to 621 miles]. Plus, the same Panther tank-equipped units reported that failures regarding final drive, transmission, and steering gears were within a suitable range.
He further noted a specific instance of mechanical reliability:
From 6 March to 15 April 1944, the 1.Abteilung/Panzerregiment 2 (1st Battalion, 2nd Panzer Regiment) reported a distance of between 1500 km to 1800 km. Four of their seven Panthers was still combat ready without any transmission or engine failure.
On 22 April 1944, the same battalion reported how a good driver and commander can improve reliability:
This kept in mind, the battalion reported PzKpfw V Chassis No. 154338, Engine No. 8322046 reading 1,878km with driver Obergrefeiter Gablewski, 4.Kp/PzRgt 2. The vehicle was still totally operational. All items were in great condition but the tracks. The consumption of the engine has been 10ltr per 100km. The vehicle was still operating with its first engine and transmission.
After that report from the units, the Inspector General of Armored Troops acknowledged this in a report, at 1944.05.06.: Der Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen -Leitender Kraftfahrzeugoffizer- Bb Nr. 3177/44:
The report confirms the opinion that thanks to the continuous improvement of its components, the life of the Panther tank has increased. The average lifespan of a Panther can now be roughly equal to that of a Panzer IV with around 1,500 – 2,000 kilometers between two major repair and maintenance processes.
And, gearboxes also have a longer life. Even so, in several cases, at approximately 1500 km, the gear has broken down and the boxes have had to be replaced.
An example of Panther reliability appeared in the June 1944 edition of Nachrichtenblatt der Panzertruppen (Armoured Troops Bulletin), from a Panther-recovery tank driver’s report:
Unteroffizier Krause of a Panther workshop platoon has driven his Panther recovery tank – Chassis No. 212132 – 4,200km until 3 May 1944 without any need to replace any parts. About 1,000km of this was made towing another Panther tank. The vehicle and engine are still in great condition and operational.
On 28 June 1944, Guderian reported:
Regarding the experiences in opposing the Allied landing in Normandy: The Panzer IV, Panzer V Panther, and Panzer VI Tiger have proven to be successful. The Panther is inclined to catch fire quickly. The lifetime of the Panther’s engines (1400 to 1500 km) is much higher than the Panther’s final drives. A solution to the final drive teething is immediately needed.
In September and October 1944, a number of modifications were fitted into the final drives as countermeasures to the reported problems including worn gear teeth, parts, bearings, and insufficient lubrication.
From 1943, Panther turrets were mounted in fixed fortifications. Some were normal production models, but most were made specifically for the task, with additional roof armor to withstand artillery fire.
Two types of turret emplacements were used:
- Pantherturm III – Betonsockel — Concrete base.
- Pantherturm I – Stahluntersatz — Steel sub-base.
They housed an ammunition storage and fighting compartment along with crew quarters. A total of 182 of these were installed in the fortifications of the Atlantic Wall and Siegfried Line (Westwall), 48 in the Gothic Line, and Hitler Line, 36 on the Eastern Front, and two for training and experimentation, for a total of 268 installations by March 1945. They proved to be costly to attack, and difficult to destroy.
From September 1943, one Panzer battalion with 96 Panthers constituted the Panzer regiment of a Panzer-Division 43.
- Battalion Command – Composed of Communication and Reconnaissance platoons.
- Communication Platoon – 3 × Befehlswagen Panther Sd.Kfz. 267/268.
- Reconnaissance Platoon – 5 × Panther.
- 1st Company – 22 × Panther –
- Company Command – 2 × Panther.
- 1st Platoon – 5 × Panther.
- 2nd Platoon – 5 × Panther.
- 3rd Platoon – 5 × Panther.
- 4th Platoon – 5 × Panther.
- 2nd Company – 22 × Panther – Composed as 1st Company.
- 3rd Company – 22 × Panther – Composed as 1st Company.
- 4th Company – 22 × Panther – Composed as 1st Company.
- Service Platoon – 2 × Bergepanther Sd.Kfz. 179.
From 3 August 1944, the new Panzer-Division 44 organisation called for a Panzer division to consist of one Panzer regiment with two Panzer battalions – one of 96 Panzer IVs and one of 96 Panthers. Actual strengths tended to differ and became far lower after losses.
The first Panthers were supplied to form Panzer Abteilung 51 (Tank Battalion 51) on 9 January, and then Panzer Abteilung 52 on 6 February 1943.
The first production Panther tanks were plagued with mechanical problems. The engine was dangerously prone to overheat and suffered from connecting rod or bearing failures. Petrol leaks from the fuel pump or carburetor, as well as motor oil leaks from gaskets, produced fires in the engine compartment; which resulted in the total writeoff of three Panthers due to fires. Transmission and final drive breakdowns were the most common and difficult to repair. A large list of other problems were detected in these early Panthers and so from April through May 1943. All Panthers were shipped to Falkensee and Nürnberg for a major rebuilding program. This did not correct all of the problems, so a second program was started at Grafenwoehr and Erlangen in June 1943. Reliability improved with the Ausf. A and later G of the Panther, with availability rates going from an average of 37% by the end of 1943 to an average of 54% in 1944. By mid-1944, the Panther was at its peak performance and widely regarded as the most formidable tank on the battlefield.
The Panther tank was seen as a necessary component of Operation Citadel, and the attack was delayed several times because of their mechanical problems and to receive more Panthers, with the eventual start date of the battle only six days after the last Panthers had been delivered to the front. This resulted in major problems in Panther units during the Battle of Kursk, as tactical training at the unit level, coordination by radio, and driver training were all seriously deficient.
It was not until 23–29 June 1943 that a total of 200 rebuilt Panthers were finally issued to Panther Regiment von Lauchert, of the XLVIII Panzer Corps (4 Panzer Army). Two were immediately lost due to motor fires on disembarking from the trains. By 5 July, when the Battle of Kursk started, there were only 184 operational Panthers. Within two days, this had dropped to 40. On 17 July 1943, after Hitler had ordered a stop to the German offensive, Gen. Heinz Guderian sent in the following preliminary assessment of the Panthers:
Due to enemy action and mechanical breakdowns, the combat strength sank rapidly during the first few days. By the evening of 10 July, there were only 10 operational Panthers in the front line. 25 Panthers had been lost as total writeoffs in which 23 were hit and burnt and two had caught fire during the approach march. 100 Panthers were in need of repair due to 56 were damaged by hits and mines and 44 by mechanical breakdown. 60 percent of the mechanical breakdowns could be easily repaired. Approximately 40 Panthers had already been repaired and were on the way to the front. About 25 still had not been recovered by the repair service … On the evening of 11 July, 38 Panthers were operational, 31 were total write-offs and 131 were in need of repair. A slow increase in combat strength is observable. A large number of losses by hits (81 Panthers up to 10 July) attests to the heavy fighting.
During Zitadelle the Panthers claimed 267 destroyed tanks.
A later report on 20 July 1943 showed 41 Panthers as operational, 85 as repairable, 16 severely damaged and needing repair in Germany, 56 burnt out because of enemy action, and two destroyed by motor fires.
Before the Germans ended their offensive at Kursk, the Soviets began their counteroffensive and succeeded in pushing the Germans back into a steady retreat. Thus, a report on 11 August 1943 showed that the number of total write-offs in Panthers swelled to 156, with only 9 operational. The German Army was forced into a fighting retreat, and increasingly lost Panthers in combat as well as from abandoning and destroying damaged vehicles.
The Panther demonstrated its capacity to destroy any Soviet armored fighting vehicle from long distance during the Battle of Kursk and had a very high overall kill ratio. It constituted less than seven percent of the estimated 2,400–2,700 total armored fighting vehicles deployed by the Germans in this battle, and its effectiveness was limited by its mechanical problems and the in-depth layered defense system of the Soviets at Kursk. Its greatest historical role in the battle may have been a highly negative one. The Panther had a contribution to the decisions to delay the original start of Operation Zitadelle for a total of two months, time which the Soviets used to build up an enormous concentration of minefields, anti-tank guns, trenches, and artillery defenses.
After the losses of the Battle of Kursk, the German Army went into a permanent state of retreat from the Red Army. The numbers of Panthers were slowly built up again on the Eastern Front, and the operational percentage increased as reliability improved. In March 1944 Guderian reported: “Almost all the bugs have been worked out”, although many units continued to report significant mechanical problems, especially with the final drive. The greatly outnumbered Panthers came to be used as mobile reserves to fight off major attacks.
The highest total number of operational Panthers on the Eastern Front was achieved in September 1944, when some 522 were listed as operational out of a total of 728. Throughout the rest of the war, Germany continued to keep the great majority of Panther forces on the Eastern Front, where the situation progressively worsened for them. The last recorded status, on 15 March 1945, listed 740 on the Eastern Front, of which 361 were operational. By this time the Red Army had entered East Prussia and was advancing through Poland.
In August 1944, Panthers were deployed during the Warsaw Uprising as mobile artillery and troop support. At least two of them were captured in the early days of the conflict and used in actions against the Germans, including the liberation of the Gęsiówka concentration camp on 5 August when the soldiers of Wacek platoon used the captured Panther named Magda to destroy the bunkers and watchtowers of the camp. Most of the Germans in the camp were killed, and the insurgents had lost two people and liberated almost 350 people. After several days, the captured tanks were immobilized due to the lack of fuel and batteries and were set ablaze to prevent them from being recaptured.
At the time of the invasion of Normandy in June 1944, there were initially only two Panther-equipped Panzer regiments in the Western Front, with a total of 156 Panthers between them. From June through August 1944, an additional seven Panther regiments were sent into France, reaching a maximum strength of 432 in a status report dated 30 July 1944.
The majority of the German tank forces in Normandy being six and a half divisions were drawn into fighting the Anglo-Canadian forces of the 21st Army Group around the town of Caen. The numerous operations undertaken to secure the town became collectively known as the Battle of Caen. While there were areas of heavy wooded bocage around Caen, most of the terrain was open fields which allowed the Panther to engage the attacking enemy armor at long range with its combination of superior armor and firepower allowed it to engage at distances from which the Shermans could not respond. Conversely, by the time of the Normandy Campaign, British divisional Anti-tank Regiments were well equipped with the excellent 17-pounder gun, and some US-supplied M10 tank destroyers had their 3-inch gun replaced with the 17pdr (giving the 17pdr SP Achilles), making it equally as perilous for Panthers to attack across these same fields. The British had begun converting regular M4 Shermans to carry the 17-pounder gun (nicknamed Firefly) prior to the D-Day landings. While limited numbers meant that during Normandy usually not more than one Sherman in each troop of four tanks was a Firefly variant, the lethality of the gun against German armor made them priority targets for German gunners.
In the meantime, U.S. forces, facing one and a half German panzer divisions, mainly the Panzer Lehr Division, struggled in the heavy, low-lying bocage terrain west of Caen. Like the Sherman. the Panther struggled in the bocage country of Normandy and was vulnerable to side and close-in attacks in the built-up areas of cities and small towns.
The commander of the Panzer Lehr Division, Gen. Fritz Bayerlein, reported on the difficulties experienced by the Panther tank in the fighting in Normandy:
While the PzKpfw IV could still be used to advantage, the PzKpfw V [Panther] proved ill-adapted to the terrain. The Sherman because of its maneuverability and height was good … [the Panther was] poorly suited for hedgerow terrain because of its width. Long gun barrel and width of tank reduce maneuverability in village and forest fighting. It is very front-heavy and therefore quickly wears out the front final drives, made of low-grade steel. High silhouette. Very sensitive power-train requiring well-trained drivers. Weakside armor; tank top vulnerable to fighter-bombers. Fuel lines of porous material that allow gasoline fumes to escape into the tank interior causing a grave fire hazard. Absence of vision slits makes defense against close attack impossible.
Bayerlein still appreciated the Panther’s virtues when used in the right conditions, writing “An ideal vehicle for tank battles and infantry support. The best tank in existence for its weight”.
Through September and October, a series of new Panzerbrigades equipped with Panther tanks were sent into France to try to stop the Allied advance with counter-attacks. This culminated in the tank battles around Arracourt from 18–29 September 1944, in which the mostly Panther-equipped German forces suffered heavy losses fighting against the 4th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army, which were still primarily equipped with 75 mm M4 Sherman tanks and yet came away from the battle with few losses. The Panther units were newly formed, poorly trained and tactically disorganized and most units ended up stumbling into ambushes against seasoned U.S. tank crews.
A status report on 15 December 1944 listed an all-time high of 471 Panthers assigned to the Western Front, with 336 operational which was 71 percent of the Panthers. This was one day before the start of the Battle of the Bulge. 400 of the panzers assigned to the Western Front were in units sent into the offensive.
The Panther once again demonstrated its prowess in open country, where it could hit its targets at long range with near-impunity, and its vulnerability in the close-in fighting of the small towns of the Ardennes, where they suffered heavy losses. A status report on 15 January 1945 showed only 97 operational Panthers left in the units involved in the operation, out of 282 still in their possession. Total write-offs were listed as 198.
The Operation Greif commando mission included five Panthers assigned to Panzerbrigade 150, disguised to look like M10 Tank Destroyers by welding on additional plates, applying US-style camouflage paint and markings. This was carried out as part of a larger operation that involved soldiers disguised as Americans to attack US troops from the rear. The disguised Panthers were detected and destroyed.
In February 1945, eight Panzer divisions with a total of 271 Panthers were transferred from the West to the Eastern Front. Only five Panther battalions remained in the west.
One of the top German Panther commanders was SS-Oberscharführer Ernst Barkmann of the 2nd SS-Panzer Regiment Das Reich. By the end of the war, he had some 80 tank kills claimed.
Although a technologically sophisticated vehicle, the Panther’s design had a very limited influence on postwar tank development. The French postwar AMX 50 tank prototype was indirectly influenced by it through the Entwicklung series but never entered series production. It is claimed that the Panther was arguably a forebear to the modern main battle tank.
The Panther itself also saw some limited use outside the German military, both before and after 1945.