German Panther Tank
Panzer V Panther (continuation)
It was not until September 1944 that the U.S. Army fielded a tank destroyer that could take out a Panther tank at other than close range. This vehicle was the full-tracked M-36 armed with a turret-mounted version of the army's 90-mm antiaircraft gun. Until the M-36 entered service, it fell upon the crews of older generations of American tank destroyers to fight it out with German Panther tanks. A U.S. Army report issued prior to September 1944 stated: "To destroy a Panther, a tank destroyer with a three inch [M-10] or 76-mm gun [M-18] would have to aim for the side or rear of the turret, the opening through which the hull-mounted machine gun projected, or for the underside of the gun shield [mantlet]."
One has to wonder how the Panther, which was first produced in late 1942, could prove so superior to American tanks and most tank destroyers as late as 1945. Part of the answer lies in the fact that the Panther design was based on German experience fighting on the eastern front, where large and frequent tank battles had been raging for years. The gun-armor race between German and Soviet tank designers had been conducted at a feverish pace since early 1942. It resulted in the progressive advent of tanks with thicker armor and ever larger and more powerful guns.
It was the introduction of the Soviet army's well-designed and extremely capable T-34 medium tank (originally armed with a 76-mm main gun and later upgraded to an 85-mm main gun) that inspired the design of the German Panther tank.
Many historians, as well as postwar tank designers and engineers, describe the T-34 tank as embodying the perfect balance of firepower, mobility, and protection. Despite its many excellent features, the T-34 tank had shortcomings that the Germans were able to exploit in battle. However, the T-34 was far superior to the German Panzer III and IV medium tanks that were the mainstay of the panzer divisions in 1941 and 1942.
In contrast to the armored box-like construction of the German tanks designed before 1941, the T-34 had a well-sloped armor arrangement that greatly heightened its resistance to German antitank rounds. This feature would be copied in the design of the Panther tank as well as other German tanks and tank destroyers after 1942.
The Panther in many ways followed the conventional design features, such as crew layout and gasoline engine, of earlier German tanks. The Panther designers, however, became more daring and copied the unique design features of the T-34, including its well-sloped armor arrangement and the large individually-sprung road wheels with high wheel travel (which improved the vehicle's cross-country speed). The Panther tank suspension system consisted of eight double-interleaved road wheels on each side of the hull connected by twin independent torsion bars. As with all other German tanks it had front sprockets and rear idlers.
The Soviet army supplied the British and American armies with information on the Panther as early as July 1943. This was shortly after the German military deployed the first production batch of Panthers during the well-known Kursk offensive in July 1943, which resulted in the biggest tank battles of World War II.
A British wartime report dated October 10, 1943, based on Soviet army intelligence, describes the hull design of the Panther tank: "Russian influence is very noticeable in the design of the hull which resembles that of the Russian T-34. In both the T-34 and Panther, the plates are similarly sloped so as to present the most difficult angle of attack."
Like other German tanks, the Panther would be progressively improved during its production run. As new versions came off the assembly line, they would be given different designations consistent with standard German military practice. The first preproduction prototype Panther tank, built by MAN, started tests in November of 1942.
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