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.

  5. Panthers, fine tanks indeed. The cutaway drawing is neat, but nothing beats seeing an actual real tank which has been partially cut away. The Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Grounds had a cutaway Panther back when G. Burling Jarrett was running it in a huge industrial style Building 314.

    Jarrett was quite a character, and asset to the Army. Small Arms Review magazine did a couple of articles on him. (Show these to your spouse if ever accused of collecting too much stuff yourself...)

    Around 1961, a neighbor knew I was interested in military miniatures and military history at the time, and invited me to go along when he visited Jarrett who was a friend of his. An experience and honor never to be forgotten. The small arms collection adorning his office, and densely arrayed along a 100 yard long upper level walkway rivaled today's Springfield Armory or the NRA museum in scope, quality and quantity. The tanks in the museum (not counting the famous "mile of tanks" displayed in the median of the main entrance road to the base) were mind boggling. Being the early 1960s, the focus was obviously WW2 and earlier armor with one (or more) of everything. Several of the tanks had been cut away to show interior details, very useful as instructional tools as Aberdeen was home of the Ordnance School. I am sure that one of the cutaways was a Panther with the left side of the turret and some of the left side of the hull cut away. One of them being the Panther which I adored.

    Alas, in the (hawk, spit) McNamara days of misplaced priorities from knowing the cost of everything and value of nothing, the Army closed the museum in 1967. Fortunately, a private group, the Ordnance Museum Foundation, was able to raise enough money for a new building to house many of the smaller items, and all the tanks were moved outdoors in a large park, where the elements soon destroyed all the original paint and began rusting things. At some point the cutaway sections were covered up, protecting the innards from most damage, but making them useless for educational purposes. Around the same time, Army fears over potential theft resulted in welding shut most of the small arms in the museum rendering the useless for historical study. Seeing these after having enjoyed the original location was as depressing as it was infuriating. That was 50 years ago and I shudder to think what they look like today. But, here is a series of detailed photos of Panthers in the field at Aberdeen, with the cutaways easy to see on images 8 and 11 of the series:

    Because of the 2005 round of base closures, the Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen finally closed in 2010 and most (if not all) of the artifacts were hauled away to Ft. Lee. (I chatted with the guy overseeing the movement of the railway guns, quite a task after being immobile for decades.) Apparently Ft. Lee currently only has "Anzio Annie" and a US M1895 12" railway gun, the T12 23,000 pound bomb, M2 Bradley, M6 heavy tank, a Pershing system and a 1939 armor recovery vehicle on outside display for the public. Any future reopening of the Ordnance Museum relocated to Ft. Lee is dependent on funding, specifically military construction (MILCON) which is always underfunded, and this project seems to have slipped further and further down the priority list. THey do have some interesting stuff on their facebook page:

    So, go visit your favorite tanks in museums which have them. Sarge needs to get up to the Collings Foundation in Hudson, MA where they have a special Panther - T34 exhibit. Looks like only open Friday thru Sundays, starting April 19th. We expect a full report!

    John Blackshoe


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