Panther tanks were some of the most effective and advanced tanks developed by Nazi Germany in World War II. The tank was developed in response to the Germans encountering the Soviet T-34 tank, which in 1941 and 1942 outclassed the then available German tanks, the Panzer IIIs and Panzer IVs. The Panther tank was considered by many to be the best medium tank in the Second World War, combining good mobility with effective frontal sloping armour and a lethal anti-tank gun.
A completely new medium tank design, the Panther was the result of a rapid development program meant to reestablish tank parity on the Eastern Front. Although initial work started in 1938, it wasn't until the superior T-34 and KV series tanks demonstrated the need for a new tank capable of fighting them on equal terms. Two competing designs were submitted by Daimler-Benz and MAN, with the contract eventually awarded to the latter. The prototype was completed in September 1942, with the first Panthers rolling off the assembly line in January 1943.
The Panther was conceived in order to counter the Soviet T-34 and to replace the Panzer III and Panzer IV. Nevertheless, it served alongside the Panzer IV and the heavier Tiger I until the end of the war. It is considered one of the best tanks of World War II for its excellent firepower and protection, although its reliability was less impressive due to the tank being rushed in service. Indeed, many early Panthers broke down on their way to the battlefield and mechanical reliability would continue to plague the vehicle until the end of the war.
The characteristics of the Panther was such that the Allies classified the Panther as a heavy tank, while the German designers considered it a medium tank. Mistakenly thought to be only available in little numbers in France, the big cat was not considered to be a real threat to the Americans, and as a result the US Army did not adequately equip their tanks and tank destroyers with guns capable of facing the panther head-on. They preferred to rely on their mainstay Sherman tank, as it had performed well in earlier engagements and introducing a new Sherman variant would complicate logistics (another problem was that the American 76 mm gun was not as effective against soft targets as the 75 mm was). This decision soon proved to be a mistake, as Panthers were produced in much bigger numbers than first anticipated, and Shermans with 76 mm guns had to be hurriedly brought in. The British were better prepared for fighting the Panther, as they readily had 17-pdrs and Fireflies available in the first months after the Normandy invasion.
On the Eastern Front, the Panther's initial performance was abysmal. Operation Zitadelle at Kursk was delayed by two months in order to deploy the first batch of 200 Panthers, allowing the Soviet Union to prepare an intricate system of defenses in depth. Mechanical failures also resulted in a fraction of them being actually committed, which contributed to the dismal failure of the Nazi offensive and forever crippled their ability to conduct strategic offensives. However, once the teething problems were resolved, the Panther became a respectable adversary: Its excellent options and powerful gun enabled it to fight Soviet tanks even while outnumbered and seemingly outgunned.
- January – September 1943
The Panther Ausf. D was the first variant of the Panther. While it mounted the powerful 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 and offered a respectable 80mm of frontal armor, it was an immature design plagued by mechanical failures and teething problems. 842 Ausf. Ds were produced before production switched to the mature Panther A.
The D is available as:
- Panther D (SD2): The basic variant of the tank.
- Panther D Füh.: a platoon commander's tank
- Aufk. Panther D (SD2): a recon tank variant
- July 1943- May 1944
The Panther Ausf. A was introduced in August 1943 and represented a significant improvement over Panther D. Numerous tweaks and modifications were introduced, including a more reliable cooling system, upgraded turret, and overall significantly improved reliability. 2 200 Ausf. As were produced before production switched to the final and most powerful variant of the tank, Panther G
Ironically, when it came to formulating a response, the Soviets responded by simply upgunning their T-34s to use 85mm guns, bridging the firepower gap cheaply and efficiently. .
The A is available as:
- Panther A (SD2): The basic variant.
- Panther A Füh.: a platoon commander's tank
- Panther A Füh. Nicolussi-Leck: ace units
- Bef. Panther A (SD2): a battalion commander's tank
- September 1943 – May 1945
The Panther Ausf. G was introduced in March 1944. It was the most powerful variant of the Panther, featuring a revised hull, a modified turret that eliminated the shot trap present in earlier models, and modified hatches for the entire crew. Over 2 900 Panther Gs were produced, making it the most numerous Panther variant in German service, respected by friend and foe alike.
Ironically, when it came to formulating a response, the Soviets responded by simply upgunning their T-34s to use 85mm guns, bridging the firepower gap cheaply and efficiently.
The G is available as:
- Panther G (SD2): The basic variant.
- Panther G Füh.: a platoon commander's tank
Jagdpanther or Panzerjäger für 8.8cm PaK43 auf Fgst Panther I, was in essence a Panther G chassis modified to fit the Pak 43 gun, and was produced in small numbers during the last years of Nazi Germany. Ordered in 1942, design was completed in 1943 and production started in January 1944. By the end of the war, only over 400 Jagdpanthers were produced in total, as German industrial power was waning under continual Allied bombing raids.
Those that were completed distinguished themselves on the battlefield as a formidable foe, with excellent firepower provided by the 8.8 cm PaK 43/3 L/71 gun, a thickly armored casemate, mechanical reliability, and excellent weight to power ratio.
The hunting panther is available as:
An armored recovery vehicle, Panzer-Bergegerät (Panther I) (Sd.Kfz.179), equipped for field service, towing, and other engineering duties. A total of 347 were built or converted by Henschel, MAN and Demag.
The recovery Panther is available as: