- For the Steel Division II unit see SD2:Panther D
Panther D is a medium German tank fielded by the Germans from mid-1943 onwards. 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. It can penetrate the front armour of nearly all Allied tanks it encounters in long-range engagements, the only exception being the Sherman Jumbo. While the ‘big cats’ are usually only fielded in phase C, the Panther D is a notable exception to this rule and can be deployed in phase B, making it a formidable foe to counter.
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.
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.
Each Panzer Division should have one Abteilung with Panther and the other with Panzer IV.
The Panther D's armor is slightly thinner than the other Panther variants it possesses a slightly less accurate gun, but makes up for this due to it being available from phase B onward. Its powerful gun allows it to destroy nearly any vehicle it encounters, while its 13 frontal armor ensures reliable protection from a wide range of Allied anti-tank units. The player, however, must be careful at all times as to not expose the sides of the panther as they can be very easily penetrated.
The Panther D (and other variants) should be mainly employed in long-range engagements against enemy armor on open grounds. Its gun is less effective against soft targets such as infantry and anti-tank guns.