Saturday, February 22, 2014

Achtung - Panzer!

Panzerkampfwagen V
On the 22nd of June, 1941, three German Army Groups invaded the Soviet Union.

On the 23rd of June, the Germans encountered the Soviet T-34.


The T-34 had superior armament, superior sloped armor and superior mobility to everything currently in use by the Panzerwaffe

To say that this armored fighting vehicle sent shockwaves through the German military is something of an overstatement. Were the Germans surprised that the Soviets could produce such an excellent tank? Yes. Were the Germans overly concerned? No, not really. At least not at first. After all, many of the tanks fielded by the French in 1940 were superior to what the Germans had. But the big difference was that the Germans knew how to use their tanks, whereas (with some exceptions) the French did not.

So far, the invasion of Russia had been wildly successful. The Red Air Force had been destroyed on the ground and already large numbers of Soviet prisoners were being rounded up. It seemed as if the Red Army would crumble, as so many others had, before the might of the Wehrmacht.

But there were some who recognized that the T-34 did pose a significant threat.
At the insistence of General Heinz Guderian*, a special Panzerkommission was dispatched to the Eastern Front to assess the T-34. Among the features of the Soviet tank considered most significant were the sloping armor, which gave much improved shot deflection and also increased the effective armor thickness against penetration, the wide track, which improved mobility over soft ground, and the 76.2 mm gun, which had good armor penetration and fired an effective high explosive round. Daimler-Benz (DB) and Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg AG (MAN) were given the task of designing a new 30- to 35-ton tank, designated VK30.02, by April 1942 (apparently in time to be shown to Hitler for his birthday).
Panther Cutaway View

The Panther had many teething pains and was prematurely introduced at the battle of Kursk in 1943. Hitler had actually delayed the start of this offensive (Operation Citadel) until sufficient Panthers had been produced to bulk up the Panzer divisions. The Panthers suffered many mechanical failures and the delay in the start of the offensive gave the Red Army ample time to prepare. It was the last major German on the Eastern Front. From then on it was a steady Soviet advance to Berlin, and the end of the war.

Nevertheless, the Panther was feared. It was extremely mobile and it's 7.5 cm KwK 42 L/70 main armament was essentially just as effective as the more famous 8.8 cm cannon which equipped the Tiger tanks. (Which I covered here. Which I just noticed is missing the accompanying video. I'll have to fix that! Update: The video has been restored. Whew!)

In the West, many an Allied tanker claimed to have been attacked by Tiger tanks. In many cases the heat of battle may have caused them to see Tigers, when it may have been the lesser PzKw IV (which later versions also had a very effective 7.5 cm gun). But in many cases, that may have been a Panther out there. Lurking in the shadows...

I have seen these next two Panthers, both during my trip to the Ardennes on 17 December 1998. That trip deserves its own blog post. (I have to start writing this stuff down!)

2nd SS Panther disabled and abandoned during the Battle of the Bulge
Grandmenil, Belgium

Panther disabled and abandoned during the Battle of the Bulge
Houffalize, Belgium

Panther on the Eastern Front
(Note the zimmerit coating, this was a non-magnetic coating used as a defense against magnetic anti-tank mines.)

Zimmerit as applied to a Jagdtiger

Panther on an Italian road

12th SS Panther in Normandy

While the Panther was formidable, it was not indestructible!

Knocked out Panther, Normandy

Knocked out Panther, Eastern Front
(Just the way Juvat likes his enemy tanks!)

Knocked out Panther, Köln

The Panther. Arguably the best tank of WWII.

* Whose 1937 book has the same title as this post. Simply translated it means "Attention - Tank". Guderian's book was on the application of motorized warfare. It argued for the use of tanks and motorized support vehicles in mobile warfare, later known as Blitzkrieg tactics. The ideas presented in the book heavily influenced the military actions of Germany during the Second World War.


  1. "(I have to start writing this stuff down!)"

    I was gonna do that.
    Then I found out there are those who will remember for me.

  2. Aberdeen had a tank field that was in a word, awesome. I remember a Tiger that was probably used for testing an anti-tank gun, big old grove in the glacis but no penetration that I could see. I found it impressive that will my forearm would easily fit in the groove, the armor was much deeper than the groove was wide. You are on a roll this week, Sarge. Thanks.

    1. Aberdeen is a place I need to get to. Maybe this year.

      (Thanks for the compliment, I needed something to distract me from all the Ortiz contract talk!)

  3. Oh, if I only had a Panther or two...or a dozen. Heck, with even one, I could take over this county that I live in, since they have nothing to stop one. I could rule as a benevolent dictator--it would be great.


    Back in reality, the tanks at Aberdeen are being moved out, one by one, to a new museum at Ft. Lee, Virginia that will house them all indoors. Better protected for sure, but no more wandering over to them and touching them, I'll bet. Supposedly, 80%+ have been moved already.

    1. I had no idea they were moving all those tanks. In a way that sucks. I'm sure having them indoors will protect them better. But still...

  4. Not an armor guy but my Dad was for a time on the M-48 in the Montana National Guard. He said the T-34 was the best tank of WW2 for the theater it was in. He also said the German 88 was over rated and that our 90 was far superior.

    1. Interesting opinion. The 90mm gun which came out on the Pershing (very late in the war) was a good gun. But there is no way that the 88 was "over-rated". That particular weapon proved itself on multiple battlefields.

    2. To include the air battlefield. It was an outstanding AAA weapon, and I HATE AAA!

      Thank you for the pictures of properly outfitted bad guy tanks.

    3. The German WWII 88mm dual purpose cannon. A classic.

      Glad to oblige on the tanks sans turrets.


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