The Panther: a British view – part 2

As promised, here is the walk-around of Bovington’s Panther tank. According to the plaque welded to glacis, this was the 8th vehicle to be completed at the Laatzen factory under command of 823rd REME workshop. If you are interested in a comprehensive history of the post-war Panthers completed under supervision of the the British Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) have at the first part of this series.

The last Panther to leave the M.N.H. assembly plant during the war is Fgstl.Nr. (chassis number) 129106 ​[1]​. Bovington’s Panther carries Fgst.Nr. 129113 and is marked as the 8th REME vehicle. Notably, the Panther at the Wehrtechnische Studiensammlung in Koblenz is Fgst.Nr. 1291141 and the 6th REME vehicle. This goes to indicate that the REME Panthers were assembled in no particular order.

The REME Panthers have all characteristics of very late war production Panthers. In this post I will elaborate on some of these distinguishing features using the Panther at Bovington as an example. Let’s dive right in:

Infrared equipment

Starting in September 1944, a number of Panthers was ordered to be equipped for use night-time use. Readying a Panther for night operations meant the implementation of a variety of modifications. The heart of the infrared solution as designed for use on the Panther tank is the infrared gun sight: Fahr- und Zielgerät 1250 or F.G. 1250. This device consisted of a platform mounting an infrared image converter (Bildwandler or Biwa) and a 20 cm searchlight screened with an I.R. filter disc. The infrared device was mounted in the commander’s cupola where it attaches to the azimuth indicator ring. A Maschinensatz GG 400 generator installed in the crew compartment would supply current to the Bildwandler ​[1], [2]​.

The platform on which both the image converter and searchlight are mounted can be traversed 360° by releasing an interlocking pin securing the platform in the 12 o’clock position. Additionally, the platform is able to tilt horizontally. Using this infrared sight the commander could acquire targets up to 400 meters in an illuminated arc of about 8°. Alternatively, a diffusing filter could be used which allowed for 100 meters sight in a much wider arc of about 30° ​[1]​.

In this system, the gunner is essentially going blind and entirely depends on the commander to guide him precisely onto target. To control gun elevation, an intricate system was created. A so called “elevation control device” was fitted to the turret roof. This device consists of two spring loaded rollers each holding a length of a 15 mm wide steel band. One band is connected to the gun cradle, the other band exits through the turret roof just in front of the cupola and is connected to a handle. To set the gun elevation the commander would connect the steel band to a segment plate on the infrared device. Once the gunner depressed or elevated the gun to match the elevation of the infrared device, an indicator lamp on the control device would light up. ​[3]​

The preparation of Panthers for night-time operations was a precarious process and orders by the Waffenamt demanding Panthers to be delivered with I.R. gear were often countermanded soon after they were issued ​[2]​. Eventually, it was decided to assemble Panthers sporting a baseline of features and mountings for I.R. equipment allowing rapid conversion to a night combat capable vehicle if desired ​[1]​. The Tank Museum’s tank has not been fully equipped for night combat, but is a typical example of a partially I.R. prepared Panther like they were assembled at M.N.H. during the war.

One of the distinguishable features are two rectangular mounting plates welded to the right side of the mantlet. These plates allow the installation of a bracket with a universal Bosch headlight socket which could be populated by an additional I.R. transmitter.

Looking at top of the turret, we find some more peculiar features. One of these is a U-shape armoured guard just in front of the cupola. The armoured guard would act as a splash guard around the hole in the turret roof through which the steel band for the elevation control device was connected between to the F.G. 1250. Additionally, there is a small rectangular table positioned in the middle of the turret roof. This rectangular base is for mounting an anti-magnetic compass (Orterkompaßstand) to facilitate navigation overnight ​[4], [5]​.

Armoured cover for elevation band (directly under sighting vane). Directly left from this is the Orterkompaßstand

Gepäckkaste

This Panther sports an alternative style of stowage bins with vertical reinforcement ribs stamped into the bins, instead of the usual diagonal “X”-shaped ribs. There is next to no documentation about this bin design, except for original design plans for the Panther Ausf. D which show similar bins with vertical ribs. Reportedly, this style of bins was installed by M.N.H. intermittently starting in August or September 1944 ​[2]​, but up to now I have never seen period photographs of Panthers with a set of these bins2. This vertically ribbed bin is more commonly found on Jagdpanthers.

To prepare the Panther for I.R. usage, the right-hand side stowage bin could be removed and replaced with an armoured specimen. The armoured bin was used to store away part of the I.R. equipment when not in use – mainly some of the bracketry. The very sensitive image converter which was kept inside the turret ​[3]​. In contrast to the standard stowage bin, which is attached using a metal frame mounted to the top and bottom of the pannier, the armoured variant was mounted to four studs welded directly to the armour plate. These studs are also present on this Panther, although they are mostly obscured by the stowage bin itself.

In April 1945, a number of night fighting “Biwa” Panthers assembled by Daimler-Benz were delivered to 1./Pz.Rgt 29 (Pz.Div. “Müncheberg”) ​[6]​. One of these, number 122, was photographed in Berlin after it participated in the Spandau breakout ​[7]​. The photographs below show some of the I.R. equipment on this Panther.

Turret overview

On top of the turret the absence of a ring on the commander’s copula for mounting the Fliegerbeschussgerät is noticeable. M.N.H. was ordered to stop welding the ring to the cupola as of January 1945 pending a redesigned mount which would also accommodate a new version of the F.G. 1250. Another feature not present on this Panther is the external handle normally welded to the top of the commander’s hatch. Around the turret there are three clamps to attach poison gas detection panels, Lost Erkennungstafeln.

Camouflage

In 2008 the vehicle received a new ‘researched’ camouflage pattern presumably depicting a Panther “(…) leaving the factory in the last months of the war. A basic undercoat of red with other colours rapidly applied” ​[8]​. At the time, it was believed that this order resulted in Panther’s painted leaving large parts of the red oxide primer visible. Nowadays, the interpretation of this order is that there was no single primer colour that covers all of the vehicle. Instead, camouflage colours would be immediately applied to the primer preventing any double painting of areas – and thus saving paint. These claims are backed up by MacDougall and Block, they state that (at least for Panthers assembled at M·A·N) “there is no evidence of vehicles being delivered to the troops with raw steel components or in plain red primer that was devoid of any secondary camouflage” ​[2]​. This renders the current camouflage pattern of the Panther in Bovington spurious. A popular World War Two themed first-person shooter has wrongly assumed this camouflage as being authentic and introduced it into their game under the name “Captain Hadlow” camouflage3.

From October 1944 on, M.N.H. vehicles featured a scheme of alternating bands of red and green running diagonally across the vehicle ​[2]​. Additionally, dark yellow lines ran across both the green and red bands at a slightly different angle. After November 1944 the diagonal bands became straighter and straighter and ultimately looked as if a ruler was used as guide. In this later scheme the yellow lines served as demarcation between the red and green bands.

The original paint job for the REME produced Panthers most likely consisted of dark green (RAL 6003) without any camouflage component to it. Although this vehicle has had its fair share of repaints (there have at least been four repaints prior to the application of the current scheme 4) I believe that some of the original dark green paint might still be present around the running gear.

Running gear

The all-metal Gleitschuh (skid shoe) was a replacement for the small rubber return roller which prevented the tracks folding in on itself when reversing. From October 1944 onwards, M.N.H. and M·A·N starting fitting the new self cleaning Leitrad (idler wheel). The diameter increased from 600 to 665 mm.

Engine deck

On the engine deck we find the typical fan tower of the Warmluftbeheizung (crew compartment heater) which was introduced in October 1944. Using pie-shaped covers, the amount of warm air redirected into the fighting compartment could be controlled ​[8]​. You will find that 18 of the original 36 bolt holes have been plugged shut as per request of the Waffenamt in January 1945 ​[2]​. If you came here looking for information on the Flammenvernichter, check out this article.

That’s it for this time. I’ll leave you off with some more detail shots. Enjoy!

References

  1. [1]
    F. Köhler, Panther – Meilenstein der Panzertechnik. Scheider Armour Research, 2014.
  2. [2]
    R. MacDougall and M. Block, Panther: external appearance & design changes. Abteilung 502, 2016.
  3. [3]
    “German Infra Red Equipment as fitted on the Panther Tank,” 21 Army Group Technical Intelligence, 17, Jul. 1945.
  4. [4]
    E. Eberl, “Orterkompass (navigator compass) ,” Panther1944, 03-Feb-2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.panther1944.de/index.php/en/sdkfz-171-pzkpfwg-panther/technik/orterkompass. [Accessed: 13-Oct-2018]
  5. [5]
    J. -, “Orterkompass en el Panther Ausf. G,” Panther Ausführung G , 03-Jan-2015. [Online]. Available: http://panther-ausfuehrung-g.blogspot.com/2015/01/orterkompass-en-el-panther-ausf-g.html. [Accessed: 13-Oct-2018]
  6. [6]
    Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppe, “Zuführungsliste Panther,” , Apr. 1945 [Online]. Available: http://www.panther1944.de/index.php/de/sdkfz-171-pzkpfwg-panther/truppenteile/panther-zuweisungslisten/panther-zuweisungsliste-1945
  7. [7]
    L. Archer, R. Kraska, and M. Lippert, Panzers in Berlin 1945. Panzerwrecks, 2019.
  8. [8]
    T. L. Jentz, Germany’s Panther Tank. Schiffer Pub Limited, 1995.
  9. [9]
    M. Solar, P. Dolezal, and V. Kos, AFV Photo Album: Vol. 1 . Canfora Grafisk Form, 2011.