Many tank experts believe the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther had the finest tank design of World War II, in spite of its lack of agility. More than 5,500 were built before the end of World War II.
Following the fall of Kiev in September 1941, an offensive in the direction of Orel was begun by the II Panzer Army on September 30, 1941. The 4th Panzer Division was part of the II Panzer Army, and on October 6 it was pushing hard on the Russian town of Mzensk when it was attacked on its flank and badly shot up.
The Soviet T-34 Medium Tank had made its first appearance in the war. In his diary German General Heinz Guderian noted, "This was the first occasion on which the apparent superiority of the Russian T-34 to our tanks became plainly apparent . . . the rapid advance on Tula which we had planned had therefore to be abandoned for the moment."
The appearance of the T-34 galvanized the General Staff and Nazi German military planners as few other incidents had done.
The Chancellery granted almost immediate priority, and by January 1942 detailed specifications had been drawn up for a new medium tank armed with a heavy gun, yet fast enough to deal with the new Soviet T-34, as well as the KV-1 heavy tank, which had also made an appearance.
By April, designs were finalized and the first production tanks appeared.
Dubbed the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther (military designation, SdKfz 171), its hull construction was little different from the Panzerkampfwagen IV, except in size. It was given a well-sloped turret and massive mantlet (armor surrounding the barrel of the main gun where it leaves the turret) through which the long-barrel 75mm gun protruded.
The new tank was powered by a Maybach 700-horsepower gasoline engine and had a range of 110 miles. Frontal armor was nearly 5 inches thick.
The long gun fired an armor-piercing shell at a velocity of 3,068 feet per second, and it could penetrate 4.75 inches of armor plate sloped 30° from a distance of 1,094 yards.
The Panther could knock out any tank in the Allied inventory until almost the end of the war, including the Soviet T-34, KV-1, and JS-1 tanks.
To learn about modifications to the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther, continue on to the next page.
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