The Wehrmacht began World War II with an impressive fleet of light and medium tanks. By the beginning of World War II, the Reich army relied mainly on medium tanks "Pz. Kpfw III" and "Pz. Kpfw IV". However, the first year of the war on the eastern front showed that the existing models of "triplets" and "fours" are not effective enough against the Soviet medium and heavy tanks T-34 and KV-1. Then Germany rushed to modernize the existing models, and also "unexpectedly" remembered that even before the start of the war, MAN and Krupp had interesting developments on new-generation tanks.
The project of replacing "triplets" and "fours" in the armored forces of the Third Reich was started back in 1938. However, until the outbreak of World War II, the development of new models did not go any further. Leading German engineering companies took part in the project: Daimler AG, Krupp, MAN. The introduction of new tanks was hampered by both the military themselves, who were completely satisfied with the capabilities of the existing machines, and the development departments, which for a long time could not solve a number of serious problems with the design of the chassis for fundamentally new machines. The German designers managed to bring the chassis to mind only in 1941, when intense battles were already going on on the Soviet-German front.
In the fall of 1941, against the background of more frequent reports from the front about the insufficient effectiveness of "triplets" and "fours" against the Soviet KV-1 and T-34-76, a special commission was formed. It included the best designers and engineers of Nazi Germany. As a result of the work of this body, each of the engineering companies presented their own projects of new tanks. As a result, the MAN prototype with the Rheinmetall AG cannon won the competition. It was from this prototype that the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther medium tank was born in 1942.
Note: according to the Soviet and Russian classification "Panther" is a heavy tank, according to the German classification of the times of the Reich "Panther" - a medium tank. In the end, they don't argue about concepts, they agree on concepts.
The serial production of "Panther" was launched in January 1943. 5 German engineering concerns were engaged in the assembly of tanks. In total, 136 related enterprises were involved in the production of the machine. The tank was very technologically advanced and complex, and therefore its production was just as complex and ramified. During 1943-1945, the Germans collected about 6 thousand tanks. Production peaked in July 1944, when 380 of these machines were assembled at once. At the same time, since 1944, the quality of tanks gradually began to decline due to the depletion of Germany's resources and Allied air operations (strategic bombing of German cities began in the spring of 1943).
Nevertheless, even the most "crooked" versions of the "Panther" of the final stage of the war were extremely serious opponents on the battlefield. For its time, "Panther" was one of the most high-tech tanks in the world, surpassing in most parameters both the tanks of the Soviet Union and the tanks of the Allied countries. The German "Panther" had an impressive reservation: forehead top 80/55 (millimeters per degrees), side top 50/30, stern top 40/30. For comparison, the T-34-85 tanks had a 45/60 forehead, and the IS-2 tanks had a 120/60 forehead. The armor of the German vehicle was rolled steel, homogeneous with medium hardness.
The Panther was driven by a 12-cylinder carburetor V-shaped Maybach HL 230 engine with liquid cooling. The output of the power unit was 700 hp. On the highway, "Panther" easily accelerated to 46, and at its peak to 55 km / h. On rough terrain, the tank could go at a speed of 25-35 km / h. For comparison, the T-34-85 went on rough terrain at a speed of 24-30 km / h, and the IS-2 accelerated in the field to only 15 km / h. The suspension of the Teutonic creation was torsion bar. The German cat ate strictly gasoline.
The Panther's greatest strength was its cannon, the 75 mm Kampfwagenkanone 42 tank weapon developed and manufactured by Rheinmetall AG. This gun allowed the tank crew to fire 5-8 rounds per minute. The maximum (theoretical) firing range was 10 km, although the actual firing range rarely exceeded 1.5-2 km. The initial muzzle velocity of the projectile reached 936 m / s. The large length of the cannon and the significant mass of the projectiles fired made it possible to achieve high firing accuracy. At the same time, the Panther cannon was superior in its armor-piercing effect to the cannons installed on the Tiger tanks.
It can be said with all confidence and responsibility that at the time of 1943 the Panther cannon had the best striking qualities, significantly surpassing all tank guns of the USSR, USA and Great Britain in terms of fire parameters. Moreover, in the camp of the anti-Hitler coalition at that time there were no tanks capable with 100% probability of withstanding a shot from the "Panther" even in the frontal armor. All this, coupled with powerful armor, made the German cat an extremely serious enemy and, in fact, an alpha predator on the fields of tank battles. However, the situation changed radically already in 1944, when new types of equipment, as well as new types of ammunition, appeared on the battlefields of the USSR and the Allies. The Soviet IS-2 and SU-85, the American M26 Pershing and the M36 Jackson were superior to the Panther in firepower.
Ultimately, "Panther" turned out to be an extremely interesting, but also very controversial project. The tank combined high combat characteristics with extreme operational unreliability, excellent frontal armor with extremely dubious side armor, excellent cannon and optics with an unreliable chassis. In conditions of fuel shortage and time constraints, the Germans relied not on a mass, but on an "elite" car. The Panther concept had its pros and cons for both the army and the German economy. At the same time, the tank had a huge modernization potential. On the basis of the Panther platform, many other vehicles were created: several self-propelled guns, engineering tanks and, of course, the famous Royal Tiger.
If you want to know even more interesting things, then you should read about IS-2: a frightening machine, recognized as the best tank in the USSR during World War II.