General Heinz Guderian requested a commission to report on the Soviet T-34 towards the end
of 1941. Daimler-Benz and MAN (Maschinenfabrik Augsberg-Nürnberg) both designed and
produced prototypes of a new German tank in the 30-ton class. In a very short time, the two
VK.3002 prototype models were prepared for Hitler's birthday on 20 April 1942. The Daimler
model was like a double of the T-34, including the installation of a diesel engine, the MB
507. There was some honest concern of misidentification on the battlefield. While the two
prototypes were being produced and examined, Hitler had decreed that the projected 75mm
L/48 gun should be substituted by the L/70 then being built by Rheinmetall-Borsig. As it
turned out it was found that the Daimler turret could not house the longer gun. For that
reason, in addition suspicion about the reliability of the untested diesel engine, and
fears about misidentification convinced Armaments Minister Albert Speer to recommend the
acceptation of the MAN design, whose turret was based upon the one of the Tiger prototypes
and large enough to mount the longer gun. The 75mm L/70 had a better armor-piercing ability
than the Tiger's 88mm L/56 in spite of firing a smaller and lighter projectile.
The modified MAN design was ready by September 1942. However, it already far surpassed the original 30-ton requirement, partly due to the longer gun and heavier turret, and partly for Hitler's order to increase frontal armor from 60mm (as on the T-34) to 80mm. The first production model was designated the PzKpfw V Ausf D. It weighed 44 tons, and the original engine, the Maybach HL 210, had to be replaced by the more powerful HL 230 P30 due to the extra weight. Torsion bar suspension, overlapping roadwheels and wide tracks gave the tank better cross-country performance than any previous German design. (The wide tracks were another feature taken from the T-34.)
The appearance of the PzKpfw V was very different from those of all previous German tanks. The glacis plate, hull and turret sides and rear were all well sloped to deflect enemy shots. Thus although its armor was thinner than that of the Tiger, it was just as effective. At normal combat ranges the armor could not be penetrated by any Allied tank until the appearance of the Soviet JS series in 1944.
The production of the Ausf D began in January 1943, and 534 were eventually manufactured. However, Guderian called the PzKpfw V "our problem child" due to its numerous teething mechanical problems. The first 300 vehicles had to be recalled to the factory for changes in April. Most problems were solved quite easily but the PzKpfw V's gearbox was its weakest spot. Also a specialized armor engineer and recovery vehicle had to be produced for the PzKpfw V, since it took two 18-ton half-tracks to two it. The recovery vehicle was known as the Bergepanther.
Battle experience brought modifications and they were incorporated in the Ausf A. The 1,768 Ausf A produced had thicker turret armor, improved suspension and ball-mounted machine-gun instead of a "letter box" flap, and episcopes in the commander's cupola. As a result the combat weight increased. Further changes were made to the Ausf G, which appeared in March 1944, including improvements to the transmission, extra armor onto the upper hull, episcope for the driver, and increased ammunition stowage from 79 to 82 rounds. Before the war's end 3,740 Ausf Gs were produced (The name "Panther" was officially accepted in 22 February 1944 after a direct personal order from Hitler.)
The Panther was probably the best Germany tank of the war, proving itself better then the T-34 even when it was equipped with an 85mm gun, and far superior to any British or American tank. Command vehicles with smaller ammunition stowage and extra radio equipment, and artillery observation vehicles with dummy wooden guns were also built. A projected Panther II Ausf F with an 88mm gun never got past the prototype period.
|Click on one of the thumbnails below to view the full picture.|
|Technical data and/or diagram of Panzerkampfwagen V Panther.|
|PzKpfw VD in an interesting camouflage of red/brown or dark green over its basic yellow paint finish.|
|Officers confer beside a PzKpfw VA. Seated centrally, wearing the officer's field cap, is Oberst Langkeit, commander of the Panzer Regiment Grossdeutschland.|
|PzKpfw VA of an unidentified unit in Italy.|
|PzKpfw VAs, said to belong to the Hermann Göring Division, in Italy.|
|A Panther burns after being hit by British anti-tank weapons.|
|Another image of the Panther.|
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