In 1941 the most powerful tank m service with the German army was the PzKpfw IV, infrequently a match for the new Soviet T-34 tank, which appeared in small numbers on the Eastern Front in that year. Work on a successor to the PzKpfw IV had started as far back as 1937, but progress had been slow because of changing requirements. In 1941 Henschel and Porsche had each completed prototypes of new tanks in the 30/35-tonne class designated the VK 3001(H) and VK 3001(P) respectively. These were not placed in production, and further development resulted in the Tiger (VK 4501), Late in 1941 a requirement was issued for a new tank with a long barrelled 75-mm (2.95-in) gun, well-sloped armour for maximum protection within the weight limit of the vehicle, and larger wheels for improved mobility. To meet this requirement Daimler-Benz submitted the VK 3002(DB) while MAN submitted the VK 3002(MAN). The former design was a virtual copy of the T-34 but the MAN design was accepted. The first prototypes of the new tank, called the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther (SdKfz 171) were completed in September 1942, with the first production models coming from the MAN factory just two months later. At the same time Daimler-Benz started tooling up for production of the Panther, and in 1943 Henschel and Niedersachen were also brought into the programme together with hundreds of sub-contractors. It was planned to produce 600 Panthers per month, but Allied bombing meant that maximum production ever achieved was about 330 vehicles per month. By early 1945 just over 4,800 Panthers had been built.
The Panther was rushed into production without proper trials, and numerous faults soon became apparent: indeed, in the type's early days more Panthers were lost to mechanical failure than to enemy action, and consequently the crew's confidence in the vehicle rapidly dwindled. The vehicle first saw action on the Eastern Front during July 1943 during the Kursk battles, and from then on it was used on all fronts. Once the mechanical problems had been overcome confidence in the tank soon built up again, and many consider the Panther to be the best all round German tank of World War II. In the immediate post-war period the French army used a number of Panther tanks until more modern tanks were available.
First production models were of the PzKpfw V Ausf A type, and were really pre-prodution vehicles; the PzKpfw V Ausf B and PzKpfw Ausf C were never placed in production. Later models were the PzKpfw V Ausf D followed for some reason by another PzKpfw V Ausf A, which was widely used in Normandy, and finally by the PzKpfw V Ausf G. Variants of the Panther included an observation post vehicle (Beobachtungspanzer Panther), ARV, Jagdpanther tank destroyer, and command vehicle (Befehlspanzer Panther), while some were disguised to resemble MIO tank detroyers during the Battle of the Bulge.
Main armament of the Panther was a long barrelled 75-mm (2.95-in) gun for which 79 rounds of ammunition were carried. Mounted co-axial with the main armament was a 7,92-mm (0.31in) MG34 machine-gun, while a similar weapon was mounted in the hull front and another on the turret roof for antiaircraft defence.
Specification PzKpfw V Panther Ausf A Crew: 4 Weight: 45500 kg (100,310 lb) Dimensions: length (including armament) 8.86 m (29 ft 0,75 in); length (hull) 6.88 m (22 ft 7 in); width3.43 m (11 ft 3 in); height 3.10 m (10 ft 2 in) Powerplant: one Maybach HL 230 P 30 12-cylinder diesel engine developing 700 hp (522 kW) Performance: maximum road speed 46 km/h (29 mph); maximum road range 177 km (110 miles); fording 1.70 m (5 ft 7 in); gradient 60 per cent; vertical obstacle 0.91 m (3 ft 0 in); trench 1.91m (6 ft 3 in)