The first Panthers

  • [48.PzK PzAbt 52 “512”]
  • Unternehmen Zitadelle. Tomarovka, around Kursk, Russia. July 5-16th 1943

When Germans lose a battle, they tend to blame this on their equipment – after all, they’re the best soldiers in the world so it couldn’t be their fault. The fact that their best troops were already dead after four years of fighting apparently didn’t matter. So when they found themselves with an enormous post-Stalingrad bulge in their lines, they felt that a) they needed to do something about it and b) new equipment was needed. Actually, several OKH officers wondered why attacking on the eastern front was a good idea in the first place. They meant to pull off the same trick as in WW1: build a massive defensive line and leave the attacking business to the Russians. Someone, however, managed to convince Hitler that being passive just wouldn’t do. And the latter, being terribly fond of new toys, chose to wait until the Tiger and Panther tanks were ready for deployment.

Well, I suppose the result is known. Had the Germans launched their offensive a few months earlier – with all available Pz IV’s – they might have won. Maybe even won the war in the east. Not that it would have done them any good – their Gröfaz was a paranoid nutcase.

But we’re talking panzer and the model 5 is just… well, it’s a tank. A good one, looking nice to boot. Perhaps a bit over-engineered, as with many German machines, perhaps missing a few important gadgets (diesel engine, gyroscopic gun mounts, drive gears…) but still a good one. Hitler wanted them for Kursk. And he got them, two hundred in all. Of which more than half broke down on their way to the battlefield. The rest, by the way, broke down on the battlefield which is even less appealing.

With exceptions, ofcourse: some were destroyed by the Russians. This one, commanded by Oberfeldwebel Gerhard Brehme, was hit in the left fuel tank after which it blew up, severely burning the crew. His driver, name of Moltke (true German) died in his seat but Gerhard managed to crawl out to relative (and short-lived) safety before he died in Kriegslazarett 610 in Charkov, Russia.

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