Panzer Development as Typified by the Panzerkamphwagen V & VI

            Like the Luftwaffe, Panzertruppen were forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles.  To get around this the Reichwehr ordered Krupp and other companies to manufacture “tractors” for evaluation.  These “tractors” were sent of the secret joint armor school in Russia.  All development had to be done on the sly.  This led to one company designing and producing the chassis of a panzer while another designed and produced the turret.  A third made gun sometimes.  While this did help hide development from the French and British, it made for a complicated system that was never streamline for war production.

The development of panzer concepts was ruled by the concept of blitzkrieg.  While this was a German word, the concept was not solely German.  Guderian read de Gaulle and Liddell-Hart and recognized the truth in their theories.  Therefore the panzers were developed not as support for infantry, but as an armored cavalry fist overwhelm the enemy and to punch through the lines and run like hell.  While the PzKpfw I was developed before the needs of this type warfare were understood, the later PzKpfw IV, V Panther, and VI Tiger were developed to meet Guderian’s ideals.[1]

In the arena of tank or more properly panzer production, Germany definitely held a qualitative edge over British and American built machines for most of the war.  Against the Soviets, the qualitative edge switched back and forth.  The quantitative edge hands down went to the Soviets and the Americans.  During 1941 the total number of British tanks produced was 4841.  Guderian gives the total of German panzers produced the same year as 2875.[2]  Total production of the M-4 Sherman and its various models was in excess of 50,000.[3]

Tank Production

Year

Britain

Soviet Union

United States

Germany

Imports

Medium Tanks

Heavy Tanks

Medium

Heavy

Medium

Heavy

 

1939

9691

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1940

13,991

 

 

 

6

 

 

 

1941

48,411

74,002

3,014

1,353

1,461

 

23,252

 

1942

86,111

45,002

12,553

2,533

14,049

1

35,192

782

1943

74,761

36,502

15,812

684

21,250

35

52,722

6472

1944

46,001

 

14,723[4] 14,773[5]

2,252[6], [7]

13,468

54

77,302

10,022

 

1945

Jan - Jun

1,392

 

18,530 7,430

1,500[8],[9]

6,793

2,374

8232

1122

 

 

Armored Fighting Vehicles Production 1939-45[10]

 

1939

1940

1941

1942

1943

1944

1945

Germany

1359

2200

5200

9200

17300

22100

4400

Soviet Union

 Not Applicable

2794

6590

24446

24089

28963

15419

 

It should be noted that the German medium tanks were the PzKpfw IV and PzKpfw V Panther, while the US mediums were the M-3 Grant/Lee and the M-4 Sherman.  The United States upon the introduction of the M-26 Pershing even out produced Germany in heavy tanks in 1945.  The U. S. medium tank, the M-4 Sherman, was introduced in 1941 and started production at 1000 per month.  By the end of the war, almost 50,000 were produced.  While inferior to the German panzers, it has been said that quantity has its own quality.[11]

With the quality inherent in a design program that began on paper almost twenty years before the panzers fired their first war shots, the German armaments industry should have started the war with the best tanks out there.  This just wasn’t true.  The Panzerkamphwagen I, II, II, and early IV designs were inferior to French and British tanks of the day.  The superiority of Guderian’s tactics made up for the limits of the panzers deployed in the West in 1940.  German industry could not produce a mechanically reliable, cost effective machine that could be produced in large numbers.[12]

From the first meeting of the German Wermacht and the Soviet T-34/76, the entire German military knew it needed a better tank than the current Panzerkamphwagen IV.  By the summer of 1942, the Panzerkamphwagen VI prototype was starting its evaluation.  September 1942 brought the Panzerkamphwagen V prototype to light.  The Panzerkamphwagen V received the name of Panther while the Panzerkamphwagen VI was named Tiger.[13]

All panzers were developed with Hitler’s backing. But in the case of the Panther and Tiger, Hitler’s backing became intrusion.  In these matters, his judgment was erratic and his interference damaging.  An example is his insistence that the development and production be dispersed.  Hitler also insisted that projects such as the 180 ton Maus be pursued, wasting time, effort and much needed material on dead ends.[14]

            Panther deemed not ready for service in March 1943 by Guderian.  Hitler insisted they be included in Operation Citadel.  Of the 250 sent to fight at Kursk in July 1943, 160 either broke down on the way, at the front, or were hit and put out of action the first day of fighting[15].  By the end of the ninth day only 42 were still in action.  The primary malfunction was overheating cause engine fires.[16]  Following this battle General Heinz Guderian said, "...they (Panthers) burnt too easily, the fuel and oil systems were insufficiently protected, and the crews were lost due to lack of training."[17]

            Following the Panther’s poor showing at Kursk, the models fielded were much better.  After the failure of the engine in the first Panthers, a new stronger engine was installed on the rest of the Ausf D Panthers.  The Panther Ausf A was even better.  The Panther’s sloped armor was so much superior that M-4 Shermans could not kill a Panther from the front.  The superior high velocity 75mm gun in the Panther meant that three or four would be killed before a Sherman could get in close enough on the side or in back to make a kill shot.  Of all Panthers destroyed, only 30% were killed by ground combat.  The rest were killed by aircraft.[18]

The Panther, by this time, was falling victim of the Allied combined bombing campaign.  Now that the mechanical short comings had been dealt with, the Panthers were much more likely to blow up than before.  A post war report states “Panther plate was, for the first time, inconsistent and often cracked up badly.”[19]  The conscripted and slave labor force did not help the quality of the armor, either.

To illustrate that, in a report from before the effects of the loss of quality control were felt in the field, Army Ground Command reported:

“According to US Army Ground Forces statistics, destruction of a single Panther was achieved after destruction of 5 M4 Shermans or some 9 T-34s.  To destroy a Panther, a tank destroyer with a three inch (Gun Motor Carriage M10) or 76mm gun (Gun Motor Carriage M18 Hellcat) would have to aim for the side or rear of the turret, the opening through which the hull-mounted machine gun projected, or for the underside of the gun shield (mantlet)." - U.S. Army report prior to September of 1944.[20]

The primary spin-off of the Panther was the Panzerjäger V Jagdpanther.  Built as a tank destroyer or assault gun, the Jagdpanther had an excellent 88mm cannon.  The limited traverse (11 degrees left and right) meant to aim most times meant moving the entire vehicle.  While overall rated as the best tank destroyer of the war, the Jagdpanther was produced in too small a quantity to make any real difference in the outcome of the war.[21]

            The first 6 Tigers did not fare well in their combat debuts.  Four were sent to the fighting outside Leningrad.  Three broke down moving up to the front lines and the Russians put the fourth out of action rather quickly.  Two were sent to Tunisia and were put out of action by shots from a British 6 pounder gun (57mm) shooting at the sides[22]

            The British Mediterranean report on AFVs noted that the Tiger was first off a medium artillery piece on tracks.  It was well suited for defensive use.  Once it began to try Guderian’s mobile warfare, its draw backs became more obvious.  Its 54 ton bulk made it too unwieldy for such maneuver warfare and the same bulk often was too much for the roads and bridges it needed to cross.[23]  In the steppes of Russia, the Tiger even had great difficulties on open ground.[24]

Following the PzKpfw VI Tiger’s combat debut in North Africa, the post war British formal report on Armored Fighting Vehicles (AFVs) in the Mediterranean Theater made two statements particularly derogative of the Tiger tank.  “With the Tiger the Germans lost the priceless quality of reliability … and none of their models have since approached Allied standard.”  While these mechanical difficulties were not near the poor British level, they were so much worse than the German norm that Tiger crews labeled their vehicles ‘furniture vans’.[25]

The size of the Tiger meant that special transport tracks had to be installed to move it by rail.  The outer road wheels and mud flap had to be removed as well.  This meant that once a Tiger arrived and was taken of the train, much maintenance was needed before it could drive off for combat.  The weight of the Tiger ensured that the narrow transportation tracks could not be used of reinforced paved surfaces.[26]

The weight also meant the Tiger (and later Tiger II) could not cross many European bridges, especially in the East.  The Panzerkamphwagen VI Tiger was designed to over come this with wading and snorkeling capability.  The fact that the war had become defensive in nature by the time the Tigers were introduced meant the Tigers could chose where to cross rivers so the snorkels were not built after the first 250 came off the production line.[27]

Due to the heavy weight of the Tiger, it had poor cross country capability.  The soft ground inherit in Russia was especial difficult for heavy vehicles.  The wide tracks helped some while the innovative transmission covered for the weight some what, but not enough.  As late as February of 1945, experienced front line panzer leaders were Henschel begging for a 35 ton tank using existing developments.[28]

A report by Military College of Science, School of Tank Technology in England reviewed the performance of the Tiger in combat and in comparison using captured Tigers.  Some of the high points of the report are: 

“Its size and weight, however, impose certain tactical disadvantages, the cost outstanding being the restriction on transportation due to its width, and its limited radius of action, due to heavy fuel consumption, (stated by the enemy as 2.75 gallons per mile on normal cross-country running).”[29]

“The workmanship appears to be of a high order, and the design has been executed freely from the drawing board, in general unhampered by the utilization of existing components. There are exceptions however and certain points of detail design appear unnecessarily elaborate and costly to manufacture.”

“The transmission and steering units are extremely complicated and undoubtedly costly in man/hours to produce.”[30]

The Russian report was a little more favorable.

 "It is suggested to the Red Army to use such German tanks as StuG III and PzKw IV due to their reliability and availability of spare parts. The new German Panther and Tiger can be used until they broken down without trying to repair them. They have bad engines, transmission and suspension." - Department of Weaponry of the Red Army, late 1944.[31]

The Tiger II, also called King Tiger or Royal Tiger, was designed to have a high parts commonality with the Panther II (which never was produced).  Once production began, Henschel had sixty Tiger IIs in some stage of construction on its assembly lines at any given time.  At peak production rate it took 14 days for one Tiger II.  It weighed approximately 69 tons.[32] 

            The Panzerkamphwagen VI Tiger II was eleven tons heavier than the Tiger yet powered by the same engine.  With a power to weight ratio of 10.1horsepower/ton and a fuel consumption of 500 liters/100km, the Tiger II had a range of around 120km.  Its 88mm gun was in a new larger turret.  The first 50 were built with a Porsche designed turret known to be inferior.  It had a shot trap – an angle on the gun mantel that ricocheted incoming round down into the thinner armor on top of the chassis.  This was installed because the Henschel turret (designed by Krupp) was not ready in time.  This is after production delays caused by the Allied strategic bombing campaign.  The new higher velocity 88mm gun wore out the barrel at such a rate that the gun was replaced with a two piece version that facilitated barrel changes.  A King tiger required an experienced crew to keep it maintained and operating.  By 1945, there were fewer and fewer experienced crews surviving.[33]

            The Jagdpanzer VI JadgTiger tank destroyer carried the biggest gun of all armored vehicles of World War II.  It fielded a 128mm high velocity gun capable of killing any tank of its day in sight.  Kill shots out to 3800 meters were recorded.  The price of this huge killing cannon there was only room for around 40 rounds.  The armor and cannon brought the weight up to 82 tons.  Between the length of the huge 128mm canon and the mass of the vehicle built to wield it, the JagdTiger had no real maneuverability.  Due to Panther production priorities, only 85 were ever made.  Due to its weight and breakdown problems, most JagdTigers were destroyed by their own crews.  When a JagdTiger broke down, it was too heavy to be towed by anything the Germans fielded.[34] 

Tiger Ace Otto Carius complained, "When the assault guns were calibrated in Sennelager, we experienced our first failure. Despite its 82 tons, our Hunting Tiger didn't want to act like we wanted it to. Only its armor was satisfactory, its maneuverability left a lot to be desired. In addition, it was an assault gun. There was no traversing turret, just an enclosed armored housing. Any large traversing of the main gun had to be done by moving the entire vehicle. Because of that, transmission and steering differentials soon broke down. That such a monstrosity had to be constructed in the final phase of the war made no sense at all."[35]

Construction of one Tiger tank took 300,000 man hours.  A Panther took half of that.[36]  The price of a fully equipped Tiger I was 299,800 Reichsmarks.  A Tiger II ran 321,500.  A Panther “only” cost in the 150,000 Reichsmark range.

In the desert, the British averaged loosing two tanks to one German.  In the bocage of Normandy it became three loses for one Tiger destroyed.  During the break out and run across France it often took five Shermans to kill one Tiger, with four of the Shermans being destroyed.[37]

            Following the 6 June assault on Normandy, the Allies built up over 1200 tanks against Rommel’s 500.  This was composed of 152 PzKpfw V Panthers, a company of 45 PzKpfw VI Tigers and the rest PzKpfw IVs.[38]

Between 1943 and the end of the war around 5500 Panther tanks were built.  From 1942 to 1945, 1350 Tiger Is were built.  The Tiger II had a production run of only 489.[39]  As stated before, the M-4 Sherman of the U. S. Army alone accounted for 50,000 Allied tanks produced.  The Soviet T-34 series likewise topped 50,000 produced.  Even for the inferior Sherman, the five to one exchange was affordable.  The Soviet T-34 had an exchange ratio much closer to 1:1 with the Panther and even the Tiger[40].

Statistics for selected models.[41]

Sd.Kfz.

Type:

Production period:

Number produced:

171

PzKpfw V Panther

1942-1945

5976

173

Panzerjager V Jagdpanther

1944-1945

425

181

PzKpfw VI Tiger

1942-1944

1355

182

Tiger II Ausf. B "Konigstiger"

1944-1945

489

186

Jagdpanzer VI Jagdtiger

1944-1945

85

Note: In some cases not all of the chassis were used for tank production, numbers were used for various conversions.

 

The German late war panzer developments were outstanding weapons.  Unfortunately they did not have the quality often associated with German equipment.  Between the constant tinkering with designs and use of non-German labor (conscript and slave), poorer quality machines were fielded than could have been.[42]  Hitler’s insistence that no one firm design and built an entire Panzerkamphwagen made the process much harder and slower than what was needed by Germany.

            In conclusion, even though leaders in the armament industry started planning for mobilization to equip the new German military in the 1920s, the German industry did not break the peace-time work standards (for regular German employees at least) till 1944.  The production schedules, even the realistic ones, were never reached by the end of the war in Europe.  The men responsible for planning and pushing through the re-arming of the German nation, the very ones who built a war machine that strained for war, never fully backed the efforts of their nation to wage war.  The instigators behind the scenes were also instruments of Germany’s defeat.


 

[1] Richard M. Ogorkiewiez, Armor: A History of Mechanized Forces (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1960) 208.

[2] A. J. Smithers Rude Mechanics: An Account of Tank Maturity During the Second World War. (New York: Hippocrene Books 1987) 109.

[3] A. J. Smithers Rude Mechanics: An Account of Tank Maturity During the Second World War. (New York: Hippocrene Books 1987) 110.

[4] Wolfgang Fleischer, Russian Tanks and Armored Vehicles 1917-1945 (Altglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1999) from WWIIVehicle.com (http://www.wwiivehicles.com http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/tables/misc_production_figures.html 10 July 2004)

[5] Tim Bean & Will Fowler  Russian Tanks of World War II Stalin's Armored Might (Motorbooks International 2002) from WWIIVehicle.com (http://www.wwiivehicles.com http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/tables/misc_production_figures.html 10 July 2004)

[6] Tim Bean & Will Fowler  Russian Tanks of World War II Stalin's Armored Might (Motorbooks International 2002) from WWIIVehicle.com (http://www.wwiivehicles.com http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/tables/misc_production_figures.html 10 July 2004)

[7] Wolfgang Fleischer, Russian Tanks and Armored Vehicles 1917-1945 (Altglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1999) from WWIIVehicle.com (http://www.wwiivehicles.com http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/tables/misc_production_figures.html 10 July 2004)

[8] Tim Bean & Will Fowler  Russian Tanks of World War II Stalin's Armored Might (Motorbooks International 2002) from WWIIVehicle.com (http://www.wwiivehicles.com http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/tables/misc_production_figures.html 10 July 2004)

[9] Wolfgang Fleischer, Russian Tanks and Armored Vehicles 1917-1945 (Altglen, PA: Schiffer Military History, 1999) from WWIIVehicle.com (http://www.wwiivehicles.com http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/tables/misc_production_figures.html 10 July 2004)

[10] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzer Statistics (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/prod.htm 5 July 2004)

[11] Richard M. Ogorkiewiez, Armor: A History of Mechanized Forces (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1960) 198.

[12] Brandon Kyle Leniart, World Ward II in Europe (http://www.angelfire.com/ct/ww2europe/index.html, http://www.angelfire.com/ct/ww2europe/germanarmor.html

 6 July, 2004)

[13] A. J. Smithers Rude Mechanics: An Account of Tank Maturity During the Second World War. (New York: Hippocrene Books 1987) 103.

[14] Richard M. Ogorkiewiez, Armor: A History of Mechanized Forces (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1960) 219.

[15] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzerkamphwagen V Panther Sd. Kfz. 171 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/panther.htm 5 July 2004)

[16] WWIIVEHICLES.COM (http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/germany/pzkpfw_v.html 5 July 2004)

[17] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzerkamphwagen V Panther Sd. Kfz. 171 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/panther.htm 5 July 2004)

[18] Brandon Kyle Leniart, World Ward II in Europe http://www.angelfire.com/ct/ww2europe/index.html, http://www.angelfire.com/ct/ww2europe/germanarmor.html 6 July, 2004)

[19] A. J. Smithers Rude Mechanics: An Account of Tank Maturity During the Second World War. (New York: Hippocrene Books 1987) 194.

[20] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzerkamphwagen V Panther Sd. Kfz. 171 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/panther.htm 5 July 2004)

[21] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzerjäger V Jagdpanther Sd. Kfz. 173(www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/pz15.htm 5 July 2004)

[22] WWIIVEHICLES.COM (http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/germany/pzkpfw_vie.html 5 July 2004)

[23] A. J. Smithers Rude Mechanics: An Account of Tank Maturity During the Second World War. (New York: Hippocrene Books 1987) 161.

[24] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzerkamphwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E Sd. Kfz. 181 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/tiger.htm 5 July 2004)

[25] A. J. Smithers Rude Mechanics: An Account of Tank Maturity During the Second World War. (New York: Hippocrene Books 1987) 103.

[26] Brandon Kyle Leniart, World Ward II in Europe (http://www.angelfire.com/ct/ww2europe/index.html, http://www.angelfire.com/ct/ww2europe/germanarmor.html

 6 July, 2004)

[27] Walter J. Speilberger, Panzerkamphwagen VI Tiger I and II “Konigstiger” (Berkeley, California: Feist 1968) 5

[28] Walter J. Speilberger, Panzerkamphwagen VI Tiger I and II “Konigstiger” (Berkeley, California: Feist 1968) 5.

[29] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzerkamphwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E Sd. Kfz. 181 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/tiger.htm 5 July 2004)

[30] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzerkamphwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E Sd. Kfz. 181 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/tiger.htm 5 July 2004)

[31] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzerkamphwagen VI Tiger Ausf. E Sd. Kfz. 181 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/tiger.htm 5 July 2004)

[32] WWIIVEHICLES.COM (http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/germany/pzkpfw_vib.html 5 July 2004)

[33] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzerkamphwagen VI Tiger II Ausf. B Königstiger / King(Royal)Tiger / Tiger II Sd. Kfz. 182 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/pz5.htm 5 July 2004)

[34] George Parada Achtung Panzer: JagdpanzerVI JagdTiger Ausf. B Sd. Kfz. 186 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/pz12.htm 5 July 2004)

[35] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Jagdpanzer VI JagdTiger Ausf. B Sd. Kfz. 186 (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/pz12.htm 5 July 2004)

[36] WWIIVEHICLES.COM (http://www.wwiivehicles.com/html/germany/pzkpfw_vie.html 5 July 2004)

[37] A. J. Smithers Rude Mechanics: An Account of Tank Maturity During the Second World War. (New York: Hippocrene Books 1987) 194.

[38] A. J. Smithers Rude Mechanics: An Account of Tank Maturity During the Second World War. (New York: Hippocrene Books 1987) 194.

[39] Mario Paesani A World of Tanks (http://www.geocities.com/Pentagon/Quarters/1975/ww2tank.htm 5 July 2004)

[40] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzer Statistics (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/prod.htm 5 July 2004)

[41] George Parada Achtung Panzer: Panzer Statistics (www.achtungpanzer.com http://www.achtungpanzer.com/prod.htm 5 July 2004)

[42] Brandon Kyle Leniart, World Ward II in Europe (http://www.angelfire.com/ct/ww2europe/index.html, http://www.angelfire.com/ct/ww2europe/germanarmor.html

 6 July, 2004)