"Panther" on the Kursk Bulge proved to be a powerful but unreliable armored vehicle.
Of course, this is one of the most famous heavy tankswho participated in the Second World War. The catalyst for the creation of this combat vehicle, not provided for in the Wehrmacht’s tank weapons system, was the Soviet “thirty-four”. Its appearance on the Eastern Front forced the German Ministry of Arms to suspend the work that Henschel had been carrying out on a promising 1937-ton tank since 30.
The company Rheinmetall 18 July 1941, received an order to develop a long-barreled 75-mm gun, capable of penetrating 140-mm armor at a distance of 1000 meters. Daimler-Benz and MAN 25 companies, in turn, were issued orders for an 35-ton tank. The tactical and technical requirements for the new combat vehicle were the following: width - up to 3150 mm, height - 2990 mm, engine power 650-700 l. with armor protection - 40 mm, maximum speed - 55 km / h. Assignment assigned assignment name "Panther".
RELATED TO T-34
The tank, designed by Daimler-Benz, looked very similar to the T-34, but, oddly enough, Hitler liked it. From the Soviet car was completely copied layout with rear-engine compartment and drive wheels. Eight large-diameter road wheels were blocked by two and had leaf springs as an elastic suspension element. Soon, however, a version of the undercarriage with a staggered track roller and torsion bar suspension was developed. It was supposed to use a diesel engine Daimler-Benz MB 507 on the tank.
In early February, 1942, the construction of the prototype began - VK 3002 (DB), and four weeks later, Hitler ordered the Minister of Weapons Speer to issue an order for the first 200 machines to the company. However, the Fuhrer's point of view did not find understanding and support in the Ministry of Armaments, whose experts believed that in front-line conditions, an external resemblance to the T-34 could be the reason for the shelling of the tank with its own artillery. The project of the company MAN, which had a traditional German layout with the front of the transmission and drive wheels, seemed to them more preferable, although it was much more complicated. In fairness it should be noted that during the Second World War, all the fighting sides repeatedly fired at their own tanks, regardless of their degree of similarity with the enemy’s armored vehicles. So the argument against the “brainchild” of Daimler-Benz can be considered largely far-fetched.
13 May 1942, the report of experts on both projects was presented to Hitler: preference was clearly given to the MAN tank.
The constructors of Pz.Kpfw.V (the name “Panther” without mentioning the army index was entered by order of the Fuhrer only from February 27 1944 of the year) were the chief engineer of the tank department of the company MAN P. Wibicke and the engineer G. Knipkamp from the weapons improvement and testing department.
The first serial "Panther" left the factory workshop of MAN 11 January 1943. The tanks of the “zero” series (20 units) received the designation Ausf.A, while they had nothing in common with the same-name machines, which were produced later - from September 1943-th.
A characteristic feature of the first serial "Panther" was the commander's turret with a protrusion-tide on the left side of the tower and a single-chamber pear-shaped muzzle brake gun. The tanks were equipped with engines Maybach HL 210Р45 and had frontal armor 60 mm thick. They were used only in the rear for crew training. Since February 1943, the designation of the machines in this series has changed to Ausf.D. Until now, it is impossible to say exactly why the first large-scale modification of the Panther received the designation D. It is possible that the letters B and C were reserved for other variants.
The Pz.Kpfw.V Ausf.D tanks (this and subsequent modifications had the same index on the Wehrmacht combat vehicle designation system — Sd.Kfz.171) slightly differed from the prototypes and machines of the “zero” series. The changes affected mainly the commander’s turret and the muzzle brake of the gun - they acquired a more familiar “Panther” look. Frontal armor thickness increased to 80 mm. The tanks installed the engine HL 230Р30 and gearbox AK-7-200.
It should be noted that the commander's turret was similar to the Tigris turret on the first-generation 1943 vehicles; it was later replaced with a new one with seven periscopic perimeter surveillance devices and a special ring for installing the MG 34 anti-aircraft machine gun. Mortars NbK 39 were fastened along the sides of the tower to launch smoke grenades of caliber 90 mm.
The armor of the tanks released in the second half of the year was covered with tsimerit, in addition, they were equipped with forgers made of 5-mm armor plates.
Characteristic features of the D-series machines (officially D2) include the absence of a ball mount course machine gun (it was placed inside the tank, inserted into the narrow vertical slot closed by a hinged lid for shooting), and the presence of a round hatch in the left side of the turret for shooting from personal weapons in the sides and aft of the tower. To make up for the losses incurred in the battles near Kursk, a monthly production plan was adopted starting in August 1943 - 250 Panthers! However, in August, only 120 tanks were made - as a result of the Allied bombing aviation MAN factories in Nuremberg and Daimler-Benz in Berlin were badly damaged. It was not possible to fulfill the plan in September (197 vehicles), and only in October 257 tanks left the factory shops.
Since September 1943, the release of the next modification of the Panther began - Ausf.A. A few changes were made: instead of a rather useless yoke in battle conditions, a ball machine for a course machine gun appeared in the front hull sheet developed by Daimler-Benz for its VK 3002 (DB) prototype, eliminated the hatch for ejection of fired sleeves and the weapon slits for firing from personal weapons the sides of the tower, instead of two headlights on the upper front hull sheet mounted only one. The binocular sight was replaced with a monocular TZF 12. The angle of elevation of the tank gun was reduced from 20 ° (as in Ausf.D) to 18 °.
Modification Ausf.G - the most massive of the three (manufactured 3740 tanks) - launched into mass production in March 1944 of the year. The hull side sheets received an angle of inclination of 61 ° (for options D and A - 50 °), the thickness of the side armor increased to 50 mm, and the frontal armor of the tower - to 110 mm, the driver's hatch was removed from the front sheet. Landing hatches machine gunner and the driver began to recline on the hinges to the side, and not move, as in previous versions. Some tanks received a cannon mask with a kind of “skirt” below, which made it impossible to jam the turret when it hit the projectile. On three shots increased ammunition. Changes have been made to the design of the fans, engine louvers, exhaust pipes, etc.
The G-series tanks were planned to be equipped with support rollers without rubber bands, but the complete absence of photographs of combat vehicles with such a chassis suggests that this project remained on paper. A car with non-rubberized ice rinks was built by MAN in September 1944. Some serial "Panthers" had single non-rubber rollers on the last axis.
INNOVATIONS, IMPROVEMENTS, REFINING
The use by the allies of the anti-Hitler coalition in the ever-increasing volumes of aircraft to fight German tanks (especially after the opening of the second front in Europe) reduced the possibility of movement of tank units during the day to almost zero. There was an acute question about equipping tanks with night-vision devices, which AEG had been working on since 1936. As a result, an infrared searchlight-illuminator with a power of 200 W and a surveillance device were installed on the commander's turret of the “Panthers”, which made it possible to inspect the area from a distance of 200 meters. In this case, the driver of such a device did not have and drove the car, guided by the instructions of the commander. To fire at night, a more powerful illuminator was needed.
To do this, an Uhu infrared illuminator with 250 kW power was installed on the Sd.Kfz.20 / 6 semi-tracked armored personnel carrier, which ensured the operation of the night vision device at a distance of 700 meters. The tests were successful, and Leitz-Wetzlar manufactured 800 optics kits for night instruments. In November, 1944 Panthervafe received the Panthers 63, equipped with the world's first serial active night vision devices. Zeiss-Jena developed an even more powerful device that allowed to “see” at a distance of 4 km, but because of the large size of the illuminator - the diameter of 600 mm - the application on the “Panthers” he did not find.
In 1943, the design of the next modification of the Panther, Ausf.F, began to take place, which was significantly different from the previous models. The most important innovation was the tower, called Schmalturm (“narrow” or “cramped tower”), which was less standard and had a different design.
During 1944, several prototypes were manufactured and tested. The design ended only in January of 1945. As a result, the tower’s armor thickness was: forehead - 100 mm, board and stern - 50 mm, roof - 30 mm. There was still an embrasure in the front sheet for the TZF13 telescopic sight. In the final version, frontal armor increased to 120, onboard - to 60, and rooftop - to 40 mm. Installed a new stabilized periscope sight TZF1 and stereoscopic rangefinder company Zeiss. The range finder with a base 1320 mm and 15-fold magnification was located in front of the tower, on the sides of which there were armor caps for its eyepieces. Provided for the installation of a night vision device FG 1250.
The mask of the Saukopfblende type gun (“pig nose”) 120 mm thick was similar to that used on the Tiger II tank.
Innovations have not bypassed the tank armament. And if the gun remained the same and was only upgraded at the Skoda plants (it lost the muzzle brake and received the KwK 44 / 1 index), the MG 34 turret gun was replaced with the MG 42. Instead of a machine gun, the MP 44 machine gun was installed. Installation of weapons in the tower was carried out at the factories Krurr and Skoda. The changes affected not only the tower, but also the hull. The thickness of the roof was increased from 17 to 25 mm, changed the hatches of the driver and gunner-radio operator.
Two new engines were also tested: Deutz Т8М118 with power 700 l. with. (515 kW) and Maybach HL 234 with direct fuel injection and power 850 l. with. (625 kW).
Until the end of the war, not a single prototype appeared in its final form, although it was planned to start mass production in June of 1945. Earlier this year, Daimler-Benz assembled a chassis with a standard tower from Ausf.G. In turn, the “cramped tower” was installed on the Ausf.G chassis and tested in Kummersdorf. True, instead of the standard gun in the turret, they mounted a standard “Panther” KwK 42 cannon with a muzzle brake. In total, eight hulls and two towers were produced for the Panther Ausf.F, but not a single tank of this modification was assembled.
In February, the tactical and technical requirements for the Panther II, suggesting a high degree of unification of the Tiger II and Panther tanks, were developed by 1943. It turned out to be quite easy to carry out, since both types of machines were manufactured at Henschel’s factories.
On the "Panther II" was supposed to use the "cramped tower" and the new building. His frontal armor reached 100, onboard 60, and aft 40 mm. Armament - 88-mm KwK 43 / 2 cannon with a barrel length 71 caliber (elevation angle + 15 °). Since in this case the mass of the tank exceeded 50 tons, the question arose about the new power plant. The options considered were the Maybach HL234, Simmering Sla 16 (720 hp) and MAN / Argus LD 220 (700 hp) engines. In the 1945, the Panther II began designing a new tower with 150-mm frontal armor.
None of the two prototypes (the Armaments Directorate issued an order for them at the end of 1944) was completed. One chassis was brought to a more or less high degree of readiness by installing a tower from Ausf.G. It is interesting to note that in parallel with the design of the Panther II, the E-50 tank was being developed to replace it.
In the process of working on Ausf.F and “Panther II”, Krupp twice offered options for retrofitting the usual “Panther” with a KwK 43 L / 71 cannon with a 88 mm caliber, but to no avail. The Panther 100 75 caliber 1250 gun design with the initial velocity of the XNUMX projectile, m / s, remained on paper.
BAPTISM OF FIRE
The first military units that completed the “Panthers” were the 51 and 52 tank battalions formed in the winter of 1943 of the year based on the 2 battalion of the 33 tank regiment of the 9 tank division and the 1 battalion of the 15 X tank regiment. Tank Division, respectively. Both of these units had great combat experience and well-trained personnel, but many young soldiers and officers who had not fought on the Eastern Front were part of the crews of the Panthers. For their training, Pz.IV tanks were used, and only in May the Panthers 11 were brought to the battalions. The formation ended in June 96 on the 15, when units were brought into the 1943 tank regiment (Panther-Regiment 39).
The baptism of the unit received during the operation "Citadel" - a large summer offensive of the Germans in the Orel-Kursk bulge, better known in our country as the Kursk Bulge. However, in the incomplete month that remained before the start of the operation, the Germans managed to provide training for the Panther crews only at the platoon level. Testing the interaction of units at the level of companies and battalions was not carried out at all and the firing was rare. As a result, in the very first attacks there were errors in the battle building of tanks, problems with the transfer of orders due to poorly organized communications. In addition, the situation was aggravated by mechanical failures and fire engines, which was quite common. For example, on July 3, during a march from the train station to the front line, fires in the engines killed two cars.
On the eve of Operation Citadel, the German command formed the 10-I tank brigade, which included a tank regiment of the Great Germany motorized division and the 39-th tank regiment. The brigade commander was Colonel Decker. But the commander of the tank regiment of the division "Great Germany", Colonel von Strachwitz was not satisfied with this decision, which subsequently had a negative impact on the course of hostilities.
Early in the morning of 5 on July 1943, the German troops launched an offensive. The 8.15 went on the attack and the 10-I tank brigade. In the first echelon, a regiment of the “Great Germany” division was moving, followed by the Panthers of the 39 Tank Regiment. In total, 266 tanks participated in the battle (four Pz.II, 12 Pz.III, 51 Pz.IV, three Tigers, 12 flamethrower tanks and 184 Panthers). The target of the attack was the village Cherkassky: in the defense zone of the Soviet 6 Guards Army was well fortified, the approaches to it were covered with wire barriers and minefields. Despite the stubborn resistance of the 67 and 71 units of the Guards Rifle Divisions and the counterattack of the 245-th separate tank regiment, by evening it was occupied by German troops. The loss of the 39 tank regiment during the day of the battle amounted to the 18 "Panther".
In the following days, the 10-I tank brigade continued its attacks. In the course of these battles, both her regiment and the “Great Germany” division, which accompanied them, suffered serious damage. In addition, on the morning of July 7, before joining the battle, the 39 tank regiment lost six Panthers, again due to the engine fire. By evening, the regiment had only 20 combat-ready "Panthers".
During 9-10 July, the capabilities of the 39-th tank regiment decreased even more. So, by the evening of 10 in July, there were only 10 combat-ready "Panthers" in it, 25 tanks were among the irretrievably lost, 65 were being repaired, and 100 required repairs (of which 56 were broken, and 44 were out of order due to breakdowns ). By the evening of July 11, the Panthers 38 were considered combat-ready, 31 was irretrievably lost, and 131 was in need of repair.
It should be noted that the repair units of the 39 Tank Regiment worked very efficiently, daily returning to the 25 tanks. There was no shortage of spare parts, as they were delivered from Germany by special aircraft. For the evacuation of the "Panther" from the battlefield, the regiment had 19 semi-tracked tractor Famo, soon 14 was added to them. For transportation of one lined "Panther" required three such tractor.
On July 18, the headquarters of the 10 Tank Brigade and the Panther Regiment removed from the Great Germany division and subordinated directly to the headquarters of the 48 Tank Corps. The next day, the 51 Tank Battalion transferred its tanks to the 52 Battalion, and personnel, vehicles and other equipment were loaded into trains and sent to Bryansk, on the northern front of the Kursk Bulge. The 52 Battalion continued to fight as part of the 52 Army Corps, and then the 19 Armored Division. At the end of July, he received a replenishment from the 12 Panthers, who arrived from Germany. In subsequent heavy battles the battalion suffered severe losses. The last "Panther" he lost near Kharkov.
Immediately after the start of the counterattack of our troops in the Belgorod area, a group of officers of the Red Army headquarters of the Red Army conducted a study and survey of Panther tanks, shot down in defensive battles on the Voronezh front. In conclusion, I would like to cite an excerpt from their report:
“The Panther heavy tank is a more powerful tank than the T-34 and KV tanks, and has the advantage of frontal defense and artillery weapons. It should be noted that in the Panther tank the driver’s and radio operator’s viewing openings are closed with lids flush with the front sheet, so the shells ricochet off from them. In the T-34 tank, the upper front leaf is weakened due to the protruding hatch of the driver and the mask of the course machine gun. Hitting projectiles in these places causes the destruction of the upper frontal sheet.
The tactics of the use of tanks "Panther" has the following features:
a) tanks are used in combat mainly along roads or near roads;
b) Panther tanks are not used separately, but as a rule, they are escorted by groups of medium tanks T-III and T-IV;
c) Panther tanks open fire from long distances, using their advantage in artillery armament, trying to prevent our tanks from approaching;
d) during the attack, the Panthers move in one direction, without changing course, trying to use their advantage in frontal defense;
e) during the defense, Pantera tanks operate from ambushes;
f) when the “Panther” is withdrawn, they are reversing to the nearest cover in order to not substitute the sides for artillery fire.
With the departure of the Germans, all the damaged and faulty tanks "Panther" explode. Undermining is made by a special charge transportable on tanks. The charge has a detonator, ignited through the fuse of the cord, the cord ignites a special charge.
75-mm tank gun arr. The 1943 of the year, mounted on the Panther tank, hits our T-34 from long distances 1-1,5 kilometer. "