Wednesday 24 December 2014

World of Tanks History Section: Kitten with Long Claws

The medium member of the German cat family, the Panther, entered service in 1943. The best adjective to describe it would be "controversial". This tank was complicated, expensive, and picky in use, especially during its early production. However, anyone that went up against a Panther in battle would not have described it as an easy opponent. This is why improvements to the Panther were being made until 1945 and the complete collapse of German economy.

Initially, the Panther's gun was a high velocity 7.5 cm piece, which confidently penetrated Allied vehicles at ranges of 2000 meters. In early 1945, Colonel Holtzhauer from the department of armoured vehicles and motorization reported that Daimler-Benz developed a Panther variant armed with the 8.8 cm KwK 43 gun, the same gun as on the King Tiger, one of the most menacing guns of WWII.

Narrow Turret for a Big Caliber

In 1945, Germany planned to begin production of a new Panther variant, Ausf. F. For this version, Daimler-Benz engineers designed a new turret, the Schmalturm (narrow turret) that had a number of advantages: it was cheaper to make, better armoured, and had a smaller front plate. The gun mantlet took the shape of a truncated cone, which reduced the chances of ricochet into the thin roof, improving the safety of the driver.

Despite having 120 mm of front armour, the narrow turret was 100 kg lighter than its predecessor. The decreased dimensions did not make the insides much more cramped. The new design was technologically simpler, as it took about 30-40% less time to make it.

The project mounting an 8.8 cm gun in the Panther used this new turret, slightly modified. Even with this massive weapon, the vehicle was only a ton heavier than a regular Panther. Engineers had to widen the turret ring to let the crew handle long and heavy shells in the fighting compartment.

Aside from Daimler-Benz, another industry giant was working on installing an 8.8 cm gun in the Panther: Krupp. After comparing the two projects, the department of armoured vehicles and motorization determined that Daimler-Benz should complete their turret and Krupp should work on the cannon.

What Was Finished

1945 was agony for the Third Reich. Common sense would suggest that there would be no way to begin production of new types of tanks. German industry, shaken by Allied bombings and working on a starvation diet could barely manage with vehicles that were already in production.

There was no chance that the Panther with an 8.8 cm gun could have seen combat. So many changes were needed that the turret remained a wooden mockup until May of 1945. In August of 1945, it was found in a Daimler-Benz assembly plant.

The Panther with a larger gun was left buried in the ruins of the Third Reich. It was hard to say what effect it would have had in battle if it was produced, for example, in late 1944. One thing can be said for certain: it would not have helped Germany win the war.

Original article available here.

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