The German PzKpfw V Panther Tank

When the German Army’s Panzer IV went up against the Russian T-34 in June 1941, they were out classed by the T-34 and a group of weapons specialists were sent to the Russian front to analyse the T-34’s design. With the results, Daimler- Benz (DB) and Maschinenfabrik Augsburg (MAN) were both tasked in providing designs for a 30-ton medium tank by April 1942. The MAN design was accepted in May 1942, which was mainly due to the MAN design, was able to use an existing turret designed by Rheinmetall-Borsig and saving valuable time need to design a new turret with the DB design.

The Panther was an almost identical design to the T-34, carrying many of its successful design characteristics; these were mainly the sloped armour, the wide tracks to make manoeuvring in snow conditions of the Eastern front easier.

In September 1942 the first prototype was tested and accepted into immediate service. Despite delays in production due to the lack of manufacturing equipment of the hull, the first rushed deliveries to the German Army were completed in December but the tank was plagued by reliability problems including fire pouring out of the exhausts from the 700hp, Maybach V-12 petrol engine. Despite these early problems, the tank was very successful and due to its high demand on the Eastern Front, the original production of 250 tanks per month at the MAN plant, was increased to 600 tanks per month in January in 1943, which resulted in production spreading to the Daimler-Benz plant, the Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen-Hannover (MNH) plant and Henschel & Sohn plants, to meet production numbers. Due to allied bombing through out the war, the required production number was never met and only 6,000 in total were built.

The German PzKpfw V Panther Tank Mobility

The German PzKpfw V Panther Tank

The 700hp, Maybach V-12 petrol engine with its seven-speed AK 7-200 synchromesh gearbox, designed by ZF, was fitted with a governor in late 1943 to minimize engine failures by limiting the engine revolutions to 2500 rpm and reducing its power to 600 hp. This reduced the Panthers top speed from 55 km/h to 46 km/h. The Panther had a five-man crew, the driver, radio operator, gunner, loader, and commander.

The German PzKpfw V Panther Tank Firepower

The main gun was a semi-automatic 75mm Rheinmetall-Borsig KwK 42 and could carry 79 rounds of three different types of ammunition, Armour-Piercing Capped Ballistic Capped, (APCBC), High-Explosive (HE) and Armour-Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR). The 75mm cannon on the Panther was one of the most powerful cannons of WWII and had excellent armour-piercing qualities and even had greater success at piercing enemy armour than the Tiger I’s 88mm cannon. The Panther was equipped with two 7.92mm Maschinengewehr 34 (MG-34) for close quarter fighting. One was mounted coaxially with the main cannon and the second was mounted in the front sloping armour and operated by the radio operator. In later upgrades, a mount was attached to the commander’s cupola so a third MG-34 could be mounted for anti-aircraft purposes.

The German PzKpfw V Panther Tank Armour

The armour of the Panther was a thick 80mm homogeneous steel plate sloped back at 55 degrees from the vertical, welded but also interlocked for strength. This made the Panther’s frontal armour almost impenetrable to the Allied and Soviet tanks. The front of the turret was covered by a 100mm thick cast mantlet and made in the shape of a semi-circle. The curved shape of the mantlet meant that it was more likely to deflect incoming shells. But the Panther’s armour did have weaknesses, its side armour was on average 40mm to 50mm thick and had been sacrificed in order to keep the Panther’s weight down, leaving the Panther vulnerable to attacks from the side by Allied and Soviet tank and anti-tank guns.

The Panther took part in the famous Kursk Offensive (Operation Citadel to the Germans), where, due to its initial unreliability, more were lost from mechanical failure than by enemy action.