Monday, March 23, 2015

PANTHER VULNERABILITY?!

"An excellent book dealing with the tank battles of Normandy is 'The Panzers and the Battle of Normandy, 5 June to 20 July 1944' by Georges Bernage (2000, Editions Heimdal, ISBN: 2 84048 135 It gives a day by day breakdown of the tank engagements. One of these is the near destruction of the 3rd Company of the 12th SS Pz Regt. on the 9th of June. 12 Panthers of this unit were attacking towards Norrrey-en-Bessin, when they were surprised by Canadian Shermans. These were nine replacement tanks which were been brought up from the beaches by 'C' Sqn of the 25th Armored Delivery Regiment (The Elgin Regt), under the command of Maj. Tweedale. They included one Firefly commanded by Lieutenant G. Henry. I think that Trooper Chapman was his gunner.

First, they dropped off the infantry reinforcements that they were carrying , at the RHQ of the Regina Rifles in Bretteville-L' Orgueilleuse. Then they drove southwards out of the town, where they saw the Panthers approaching through the cornfield. The Canadians KO'd all five Panthers of III Section and two of the three Panthers of II Section. The third tank of II Section was not hit, however the commander, who was standing with his upper body out of the turret, was cut in two by a shell. One tank of I Section was damaged by a PIAT from the Regina Rifles. From this book and others, I get the impression that the performance of the Panther in the field was not what one would expect by only looking at its specifications.

At the end of Bernage's book there is a copy of a report written by Colonel-General Guderian, General Inspector of Panzer Troops. It was presented ot Hitler on 28 June, 1944. In the section headed 'Technical details' it reads in part:

'a.) The Marks IV, V and VI tanks have performed well, but the Panther catches fire very quickly and in an astonishing way. The engine life of the Panther (1400 - 1500 km) is far higher than that of their transmissions. A speedy solution is necessary.'

Georges Bernage attributes this to a build up of fuel vapours. However, Herbert Walter in his book 'The 12th SS Panzer Division - HJ- A Pictorial History' (1989 Schiffer Publishing Ltd, ISBN 0-88740- 166-X) writes; 'On June 14 the sad satistics were added up: 18 dead and 33 injured. Only four tanks were still usable. These were turned over to other units and the Third Company was withdrawn for reassignment. The fact that the Panther could catch fire quickly was attributed to the hydraulic fluid in the steering system. A few days later a Panther caught fire immediately from a hit on its bow plate that did not break through the armor at all.'

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