Earlier this year Meng released their Panther Ausf. D kit to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Kursk. The battle of Kursk was the last large German offensive on the eastern front.
After a catastrophic move eastwards toward the Caucasus and the following surrender of Paulus’ 6th Army at Stalingrad in January 1943, the Wehrmacht came hurdling back towards the Dnieper in the west. What followed was the rapid loss of the cities Kursk, Rostov and Kharkov in February 1943. After a swift response by Von Manstein, the city of Kharkov was, however, retaken just a day after its capture by the Soviets. A similar offensive would need to eliminate a large Soviet salient around the city of Kursk which was left there after Soviet counter-attacks. Not unlike the offensive near Kharkov the Wehrmacht it was planned to apply Blitzkrieg tactics to quickly encircle Soviet troops using a pincer movement and force a surrender. This offensive would be given the name Zitadelle. Operation Zitadelle was massively delayed due to Hitlers requirements that new Wunder Waffe like the Panther tank and the Ferdinand tank destroyer should join the battle. In the mean time, Soviet leadership had not been idle; it was quite apparent to General Zhukov that a German counter-attack was on its way at Kursk. Elaborate defence networks consisting of mutually supporting positions were constructed and large minefields were put in place. The Soviet defences were designed to slow down German advances, negating any of the benefits of their Blitz tactics. The German high command was not aware of the major Soviet troop movements and the construction of deep defensive lines. In contrast, the Soviets learned many details of the offensive that was to come.
After the launch of the offensive on 5 July, German Army group Centre was quickly grind to a halt in the north, whereas Army group south made minimal progress in the south. Although German troops were on a slow but steady advance, the breakthrough that Manstein and Model so hoped for would fail to materialise. In the end, all the German effort would be for nothing and Red Army’s numerical superiority proofed insurmountable. In the south, the II. SS Panzer Corps was halted near Prokhorovka on the 12th. Having now lost all of its momentum the German offensive was now dead in the water. Disaster struck when Allied troops prepared the invasion of Sicily and manpower from the Kursk salient was much needed in Italy. Subsequently, the northern offensive was cancelled by Hitler whereas the southern was kept ‘alive’ under pressure of Von Manstein. There was, however, no hope for a breakthrough and the German units could only play a defensive role until the final cancellation of the southern offensive on the 23rd. The Soviets, realising that the German troops had lost all of their offensive power launched a massive counter-attack. The German forces were overwhelmed by the Soviet counter-blow which would eventually drive the Wehrmacht out of Russia. 
The Panthers at Kursk
The Panthers deployed during Operation Zitadelle were organised in two battalions (Abt, 51 and 52) each made up of four companies. The 52nd and 51st battalion arrived at the area of operations by rail on 30 June and 1 July respectively. Both battalions were part of Regiment ‘Lauchert’ which itself belonged to the 4th Panzer Army. According to the organisational diagrams (Gliederung and K.St.N. documents) both battalions would have an official strength of 96 Panthers each. It is reported, however, that some 184 Panthers were operational at the start of the battle with about 6 reported as total write-offs due to engine fires. At the start of the offensive the regiment was attached to the Panzer Grenadier Division GroßDeutschland commanded by Hörnlein. 
The box art shows a Panther of the 51st Panzer Abteilung at Kursk. The kit (product no. TS-038) comes with some PE for the side skirts, vent grilles and smoke grenade mountings. As a nice bonus metal wiring is supplied to create realistic tow cables. There are plenty of options on the way in the form of tool bracket variety, headlight placement, road wheel and sprocket version etc. There is even an alternative style for the sprocket hub caps! The manual is not always clear about the possibilities and sometimes lists wrong parts. It is a shame that the kit does limit the choice production data somewhat by not including the wooden ‘box’ typically mounted on – very – early Panthers (see image below). Of course, some scratch building can overcome this ‘problem’.
I’ve chosen to build this kit to represent a late May to early June 1943 Panther assembled at M.A.N. this would feature a sledgehammer mounted on the side (instead of the wooden structure), still has both headlights and newer style sprockets. The building process was a pleasure and everything fits together well. Minimal filling is required, especially around the commander’s cupola or else you’ll end up with an ugly seem in the middle of it. A point of critique are the tracks. Each link consists of three parts: the link and two guide-horns. This makes for a very long-winded process of track building as each side of the tank needs some 87 links. The end result is very good looking though.
The kit comes with a leaflet listing four different colour profiles; two of which represent Panthers during the battle of the Kursk. It is unfortunate that the option as represented in the box art – Panther no. 121 belonging to the 51st Abteilung- does not include the historically correct decal for the Panther head. This should have been a white outline instead of an entirely black head. I’ve seen some photos of what I believe are Panthers of the 2nd Kompanie that do not feature any Panther head markings, so I decided to mix up the numbers and instead create Panther no. 211.
Below is the current state of the model. Admittedly, it needs some weathering, but I’ll leave that for another time.