PANTHER D gallery 1

After the first encounters with Soviet T-34s and KV-1s, General Heinz Guderian requested with the utmost urgency the development of a new tank that was superior to Soviet models. Although the studies for replacement of the Pz.III and Pz.IV began in 1938, it was not until this moment when the project of a new tank was definitively promoted. Until now, the Wehrmacht had been satisfied with the capacities of their tanks in service.
The encounter with the Soviet T-34 and KV-1 on the battlefield was an unpleasant surprise for the Germans. Although, there was an anecdote that could have put them on the track that Soviets had something prepared. Hitler ordered in spring 1941 to show a Soviet military delegation the last German tanks, which happened. That was when Soviet delegates, insisted strongly that they did not believe that these models were the most advanced within the Wehrmacht. So much insistence led the German Ordnance Office to think that the Soviets had superior models to the Germans, but nothing was done about it.
After requirements demanded by the German Armament Ministry, Daimler Benz presented a prototype (VK 30.02 DB) that was practically a copy of the Soviet T-34. This vehicle had a turret mounted on the front of the hull, a rear mounted diesel engine, leaf spring suspension and all steel roadwheels. However MAN presented a “totally German” design (VK 30.02 MAN) with a rear mounted petrol engine, the turret mounted in the center of the hull, and eight torsion-bar suspension axles per side, being only the sloped armor similar to that of the T-34 tank.
Daimler-Benz’s prototype was more adjusted to the requirements in terms of weight and engine type, since Hitler considered that it should have a diesel type, but in the end it was MAN with its complex and more advanced design who won the competition. The MAN model weighed 45 tons, 50% more than required, it was larger and mounted a much more complex suspension, but perhaps that desire for the greatness of the German High Command was in its favor.
The prototypes were tested from January to March 1942 and finally it was recommended to Hitler that Daimler-Benz’s design should be chosen. This was announced on March 5, but later, in May, Hitler changed his decision in favor of the MAN prototype. The reason for this change was that this model would use an existing turret type previously developed by Rheinmetall-Borsig for the VK 45.01 (H) prototype, which would accelerate its entry into service. In addition it would incorporate the same engine that was going to be installed in the Tiger tank, also in development on those dates.
The VK 3002 MAN pilot model was completed in September 1942 and after a few successful tests began its production in December under designation “Panzerkampfwagen V Panther (Sd.Kfz.171)“. Finally, the series model mounted the new 75mm gun KwK-42 L/70 instead of the 75mm L/48 type, and was equipped with a muzzle brake. The first Panther tanks left the production line in February 1943, and were designated as “Panther Ausf D“. In April the production stopped and those produced until that date were sent to the manufacturer to make important modifications.
Demand for Panther tanks forced its production to be shared between MAN, Daimler-Benz, MNH (subsidiary of Hanomag) and Henschel. The speed with which the first Panther D was built led to the first tanks delivered suffering serious damage and mechanical problems. In addition, the first 20 vehicles were different from the rest. For example, in the glacis plate, which was 60mm thick instead of the 80mm of the rest of the series.
Other differences on the first 20 Panther D were that they had a 21-liter engine, clutch and brake steering and a large bulge on the left side of the turret for the cuppola. These features were replaced in the rest of the production with the installation of a 23-liter engine, the cuppola was installed inboard to eliminate the bulge and a new transmission with epicyclic steering significantly improved the maneuverability of the vehicle.
The internal layout of Panther D was conventional, with the driver and radio operator at the front, the combat chamber in the center with the gunner, loader, and commander located inside the turret and the engine compartment in the rear of the vehicle.
The first 250 Panther D had the 650 hp Maybach HL 210 P30 V-12 petrol engine, but in May 1943 this engine was replaced by the 700 hp Maybach HL 230 P30 V-12. Unfortunately, the engine suffered constant damage at first, especially overheating, being installed in a waterproof compartment but with very little ventilation, which made the fuel connectors melt. This caused gas leaks that ended up producing fires in the engine.
The Panther D reached a maximum speed of about 45 km/h and was quite agile for its 45 tons, although due to the use of gasoline of lower octane, the engine did not reach its maximum power. It had an internal tank of 730 liters that allowed it to travel about 200 km by road, reducing by half in abrupt terrain.
The undercarriage was of the “Schachtellaufwerk” type, quite difficult to maintain on the battlefield. Consisted of eight pairs of large roadwheels sprung on torsion bars, a front drive sprocket and a rear idler on each side. This suspension was effective to maintain good speeds in rough terrain, but could be easily blocked by mud or rocks.  If any of the wheels were twisted, blocked the whole system making the repair really complicated.
The protection was increased after find that it was one of the weak points in the prototype. The glacis plate thickness increased from 60 to 80mm and the front of the turret and gun mantlet reached 100mm in thickness. At the beginning, these tanks had a face-hardened glacis plate, but from August 1943 it was installed homogeneous steel glacis plate. Thanks to its 55º of inclination gave them an excellent protection against allied 57, 75, 76 and 85mm caliber anti-tank guns.
The main armament was the Rheinmetall-Borsig 7.5 cm KwK 42 (L/70) anti-tank gun. This gun was fired electrically and the breech was semi-automatic, ejecting the empty shell casing previously fired and remaining down to allow the loading of a new projectile. The tank carried seventy-nine 75mm rounds and more than 5,000 of 7.92mm.
The KwK-42 gun had three different types of ammunition, the APCBC-HE (Armor Piercing Capped Ballistic Cap High Explosive) “Panzergranate 39/42” (Pzgr.39/42), the APCR (Armor Piercing Composite Rigid) “Panzergranate 40” (Hk) (Pzgr.40/42) and the HE (High Explosive) “Sprenggranate 42” (Sprgr.42).
The KwK-42 L/70 gun was an excellent weapon with great penetration capacity at great distances despite being only 75mm in caliber. With APCBC-HE (Pzgr.39/42) round could penetrate 112mm of armor at 1km, 99mm at 1.5km and 89mm at 2km. And with APCR (Pzgr.40/42) round could penetrate 149mm at 1 km, 127mm at 1.5 km and 106mm at 2 km distance, enough to destroy almost any Allied tank even at the end of the war.
The armament was completed with a coaxial 7.92mm MG-34 machine gun, and another was carried inside the hull. This weapon could be fired through a narrow port covered by a flap located in the glacis plate or to be use in AA role from the commander’s cuppola. Also installed were six 90mm smoke dischargers, three on each side of the turret.
The turret had a hydraulic motor for its traverse and a hand wheel to adjust the aim and turn the turret in case of emergency. A full turn of the turret took 1 minute, and did not depend on the speed of the engine. This system was considered too slow and was replaced by another one more effective in the A and G tank variants.
In the last manufactured Panther D the commander’s cuppola was replaced by a new one and the smoke dischargers were dismantled. This elements were replaced by a bomb thrower that was installed on the roof of the turret. They were also given a skirt armor to protect the upper part of the tracks and Zimmerit antimagnetic paste was applied to protect them from magnetic mines.
The first Panther D tanks were framed with the 51st and 52nd Panzerabteilungen Batallions in May 1943. These two units being the first to fight with the Panther tanks during the Battle of Kursk in July 1943. Their premiere in combat was not at all spectacular, since many were put out of action due to mechanical breakdowns, fires in their engines and manufacturing defects instead by enemy fire.
In the Battle of Kursk, (Operation Zitadelle), 200 Panther D took part in the combats, unfortunately with not very good results. Some of them were put out of action even before the battle began. At the beginning, on July 5, there were about 180 Panther tanks available, but at the end of the first week of combat there were only 40 operational Panthers.
After just over a month of fighting during the Battle of Kursk, about 80% of the Panther D tanks had been lost. Despite these catastrophic figures, the Panther proved that it was an excellent weapon in combat, claiming more than 250 destroyed tanks, mostly from long distance.
After the Battle of Kursk, the mechanical problems were solved to a large extent and the Panther became the best tank in service within the German Army. It was deployed mainly in the Eastern Front, where it always fought surpassed by the number of Soviet vehicles and in withdrawal conditions. After Operation Zitadelle, the surviving Panther Ds were sent to Italy, where they would face the Allies until the end of the War.
850 Panther D were built from January to September 1943. Most of them served with the 51st and the 52nd independent Panzerabteilungen, the 23rd and the 26th independent Panzer Regiments and with the Panzer Regiments of Das Reich and Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler SS Divisions.
Unfortunately for Werhmacht, the Panther D arrived at a time when the Allies had begun to take the initiative in the War. These tanks usually fought in retreat, which prevented them from fully exploiting their combat capabilities. Instead of being used as spearhead, they were usually relegated to a mobile reserve to contain enemy penetrations.


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