Friday 10 June 2016

World of Tanks History Section: Taming the Panthers

On January 26th, 1944, the second day of the Korsun-Shevchenkovo Offensive, the contours of the pocket in which Army Group Center would be caught in were already being drawn on the map. The German response was a powerful counterattack in the zone of the Soviet 2nd Ukrainian Front. If it was successful, P. Rotmistrov's 5th Guards Tank army would be encircled instead of the Germans.

In this battle on the snowy fields of the Ukraine, shiny new Panthers from the 1st battalion of the 26th tank regiment were supposed to be the ace up the German sleeve. Even though the unit only entered battle on January 28th, its adventures started much earlier, on the way to the USSR.

Gremlins from the Kremlin

76 Panthers under the command of Major Glesgen were loaded on a train in France. Judging by what happened next, the tanks were attacked by "gremlins from the Kremlin" from the Warner Brothers cartoon. On screen, they gnawed at Hitler's airplane, but it seems that in real life they settled for tanks from the 1st battalion.

On the next day, right on the train, one of the Panthers' engines caught fire. The fire could not be put out, and the tank became the battalion's first irreparable loss. The further the tanks went eastward, the harder the "gremlins" bit into the fragile Aryan tanks. By January 27th, after two weeks in reserve, the amount of combat capable tanks in the battalion decreased to 63.

The battalion received orders to move out, but the supernatural powers would not leave them alone. Another Panther's engine caught fire, again with a fatal outcome. Four crews reported various breakdowns. Another tank fell through a bridge. With considerable effort from the repair crews, 61 Panthers were ready for battle on January 28th.

While the Panthers were driving to the front, the situation kept getting worse.

Panthers Through the Eye of a Needle

On January 25th, the Germans managed to cut off the 20th Corps from the 5th Guards Tank Army from its supply lines. At the same time, the enemy was encircled around Kapitanovka. A strike team commanded by Major Sievers (15-19 Panthers and motorized infantry) broke through to the defenders, but got stuck itself. As a result, multiple layers of German and Soviet forces formed at Kapitanovka. The same situation occurred at Sandomierz a few months later, where the Germans grimly joked: "We're in a ring, they're in a ring, let's see what this all will bring".

On January 27th, the 18th Corps arrived to help the 20th restore its supply lines. It numbered 68 T-34s, one SU-85 tank destroyer, and 23 Lend-Lease Valentines. The corps was even reinforced with infantry and artillery. By the time the battle ended in the evening, the unit was battered, but managed to hold a shaky equilibrium in the front.

By this time, the Glesgen's battalion of Panthers, tormented by the "gremlins", arrived at the front lines.

Against T-34s and especially Valentines, 61 Panthers could have been a weighty argument. But first, they had to break through to their encircled comrades. If they could do that, then Glesgen's Panthers could become a cliff upon which any Soviet tide would break.

At 6:00 on January 28th, 1944, the Panthers arranged themselves for battle and moved out. Oddly, German command did not arrange for infantry or artillery support. The idea was that the tanks would casually drive until they reached their allies. This did not happen.

The Germans ended up between the villages of Tishkova and Pisarevka, where they were caught in a crossfire of Soviet guns. Tanks from the 170th Brigade of the 18th Corps also pulled up, advancing in that region and taking the German tanks for a counterattack. The result of the battle was 29 lost T-34s and 8 Valentines, plus the Soviet anti-tank battery. By Soviet sources, the Germans lost 20 Panthers, plus one was captured intact.

That morning, battalion commander Glesgen was killed. One of his company commanders burned to death in his tank, another received shrapnel wounds. Captain Meier took command of the battalion, but was almost immediately displaced by Colonel Busing from the Grossdeutschland division. He was dissatisfied with his tanks, and for a good reason. Until now, his cats walked by themselves and 35 working tanks were left out of 61. Of course, many of those tanks could be repaired, but first the territory where the Panthers were abandoned had to be cleared of Soviet forces.

Management Trouble

The next attack was done by the book.

At about 15:00, artillery, aircraft, and rocket launchers worked over Soviet positions in Pisarevka. Then the Panthers set out with orders to capture height 209.4 and wait for infantry that would support their offensive. However, as soon as the tanks moved out, they came under fire from anti-tank weapons. The German infantry didn't support the attack.

Colonel Busing was not deterred by this failure. On the contrary, he began organizing the next attack, threatening his subordinates with a court martial if they act so lazily again. Meanwhile, the short winter day came to an end, and the Panthers lost the advantage of their long-range, gun, becoming easy prey for Soviet infantrymen with anti-tank grenades.

Busing did not cancel the order to attack. At dusk, the Panthers finally reached the hill, only to discover that, standing atop it, they make perfect targets for Soviet anti-tank guns. Communication with Busing broke off. When "Soviet infantry and anti-tank guns began to slip into our ranks", Captain Meier took command once more and ordered a retreat, if only to move still working tanks away from the beacons the burning Panthers created. When communications were re-established, Busing ordered the Panthers to return to the hull, where the new commander of the 1st battalion was killed.

The overall results of January 28th, 1944, were not in favour of the Germans. The only thing they achieved was inflicting noticeable losses on the 18th Tank Corps, but that was little consolation. A poorly organized attack with no infantry support or coordination once again confirmed that tanks can achieve very little on their own. 17 Panthers remained in the battalion out of the initial 61. Immediately after battle, 20 tanks were written off. When some of the knocked out Panthers were evacuated, the results could be evaluated as follows: 10 Panthers were lost irreparably, and 34 more needed repairs, including from mechanical breakdowns.

The concentrated fist that could have changed the outcome of the situation ceased to exist. To make matters worse, the 20th Corps reunited with its colleagues from the 1st Ukrainian Front. The Korsun pocket was closed.

Original article available here.


  1. Reminds me of those stories of the brand new Panthers showing up for Kursk battles... then catching fire because they drove up a slightly too steep hill!

    1. Too-porous fuel lines (leading to gasoline vapour build-up) plus poorly ventilated engine compartement, wasn't it?