The Panzerkampfwagen (Pz.Kpfw.) V Sd.Kfz 171 Panther armed with a 75mm KwK 42 L/70 gun was considered one of the best German medium tanks of WWII. The Germans (Hilter) made the mistake of rushing the new Panther in service before numerous teething problems were resolved and the crews were properly prepared. Its combat debut during Operation Zitadelle (AKA the Battle of Kursk) in 1943 became an ignominious disaster.
During Operation Barbarossa in 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and encountered the Soviets new T-34 tank. With its sloped armor it proved to be superior to the German panzers armor at the time. On 25 November 1941, German manufacturers received design guidelines to develop a new medium panzer which would be a response to the Soviet KV-1 and T-34 tanks and to replace the Pz.Kpfw. III and IV. On May 13, 1942, Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg AG (MAN) and Daimler-Benz submitted their design proposals to the Ministry of Armaments and War Production. The MAN design was favored and selected for production.
This is a wooden model of the Daimler-Benz design proposal which look like a T-34 with “wings.”
Research and prototypes was done throughout the summer and fall, and at the end of 1942 MAN delivered their prototype for acceptance trials. The new panzer was designated the Pz.Kpfw. V Sd.Kfz 171 Panther Ausf D (‘Ausf’ is short for Ausführung which literally means ‘execution’ but generally means the make, model or version) and serial production began in January 1943. The prototypes and the first 20 production Panthers built were armed with 75mm gun with a single baffle muzzle break (the same gun used on the Pz.Kpfw. IV Ausf F2) and had a bulge on the left side of the turret for the commander’s cupola. All of these first Panthers were used for trials or sent to training units. None were not used in combat.
This is an early Panther Ausf D on the testing grounds. Note the panel incorporating the front hull hatches is not installed.
In February 1943, production began on a modified Panther Ausf D with a double baffle muzzle break and the bulge on the left side of the turret was eliminated. All the Panthers produced at the beginning of 1943 were equipped with gear allowing them to ford rivers similar to the Tiger tanks. By 12 May 1943, 250 Panthers were planned to be delivered to the army and Hitler insisted that the new Panther must be available for the upcoming Operation Zitadelle. But there were technological difficulties during manufacturing and acceptance of the new Panthers. The complicated binocular turret telescope (TZF) 12 presented manufacturing difficulties. Operation Zitadelle launch date was postponed from 15 May to 25 June and then finally to 5 July 1943.
The first units to receive the new Panthers were Panzer-Abteilung 51 and 52. The 51st was formed with elements from II. Abteilung, Panzer-Regiment 33, 9th Panzer-Division and the 52nd was formed with elements from I. Abteilung, Panzer-Regiment 15, 11th Panzer-Division. Panzer-Regiment 39 was hastily assembled consisting of Panzer-Abteilung 51 and Panzer-Abteilung 52. The crews consisted of very few veterans with combat experience and the command elements were mostly made up of untested reserve officers. The Panther crews were trained at the Grafenwohr center initially using Pz.Kpfw. IVs and later they received the Panthers along with MAN engineers and designers for support. The crews only received training at the zug (platoon) level. Cooperation with the subunits on the kompanie and abteilung level were not covered and only a few live combat exercises were held. During training, the crews were instructed to maintain secrecy about the new Panthers they were training on. They were forbidden from taking photos of themselves with the Panther in the background and they could not keep written notes – they had to memorize everything. After the quick training, the regiment was hurriedly sent by rail to the east without a commander.
Panthers transported on rail flatcars to Panzer-Abteilung 51 and 52. Note the first two Panthers have covers on the gun barrels for protection.
All the Panthers were painted in the overall standard Dunkelgelb camouflage.
Panzer-Regiment 39 was under the command of Panzer-Brigade 10. Panzer-Brigade 10 was attached to the Großdeutschland Panzergrenadier-Division.
Each Kompanie had 4 Zugs (Platoons) with 5 Panthers each and 2 Stab Panthers totaling 22. The Stabskompanies of Panzer-Regiment 39, Panzer-Abteilung 51 and Panzer-Abteilung 51 each had 8 Panthers. There were also 4 Bergepanthers making a total of 204 Panthers of various types in Panzer-Regiment 39.
The insignia of the Panzer-Regiment 39 was a roaring panther head painted on the turret sides and rear armor plates. It was probably not an official insignia since it was not painted on the regimental command panthers. It was painted on all panthers of Panzer-Abteilung 52. The 5th Kompanie was white, the 6th Kompanie was blue, the 7th Kompanie was black and the 8th Kompanie was brown. No insignia was painted on the panthers of Panzer-Abteilung 51 with the exceptions of numbers 121 (red head), 144 (white head) and 434 (black head).
Due to the high numbers of technical failures and engine fires, two Panthers burned en-route between the rail station and the front lines. The fuel mixture did not always combust completely in the cylinders and ended up in the heated exhaust collector and exhaust. The fuel mixture often exploded and sometimes electrical wires caught fire from that. Besides the design flaws, running the engine at high RPMs overheated the engine and caused damage to the drive shaft. One bad flaw of the early Panthers was flames that roared out of the Panther’s exhaust pipes. Signs of possible sabotage were also found. Screws and nuts were found in the fuel tanks of a few Panthers and pieces of metal were found in the transmissions. Orders were given to transfer the Russian Hivies (volunteers serving the Wehrmacht) in the regiment to other sub units.
Panther 121 advancing towards the front. Note the commander scanning the sky with binoculars. The number on the rear of the turret has white outline while the number on turret side has no outline.
Panther 143 advancing forward.
Panzer-Regiment 39 arrived too late at the front to properly ready the crews for action. The commanders and crews were not able to familiarize themselves with map details and conduct field reconnaissance or check communications with adjacent units. Radio silence was strict and radio tuning could only begin after the start of the assault. The panther units had no developed procedures for working within the Abteilung and radio communication between individual panthers were not checked.
Panther 231 in formation.
Panther 3?1 in formation being refueled.
Early in the morning, the German units started the assault across the entire front – Operation Zitadelle. At 0830 hours, after replenishing ammunition stocks and fueling up, the Panzer-Regiment 39 went on the assault. The Großdeutschland Panzer Regiment attacked first followed behind by Panther-Regiment 39. A total of 268 panzers took part in the initial combat (4 Pz.Kpfw. II, 12 Pz.Kpfw. III, 51 Pz.Kpfw. IV, 3 Tigers, 12 Flammpanzer III and 184 Panthers). Two Panther battalions advanced north from their assembly area towards the division’s first-day objective Tscherkasskoje. The Panthers encountered a major obstacle being the 80m wide Berezovyi Ravine. The ravine 1.5 km north of Gertsevka was an impressive anti-tank ditch, filled with water 8–10m wide and 3–4m deep. The ravine itself and the area around it was covered with barbed wire and mines. The Großdeutschland Division decided to seek another crossing site but failed to inform the Panther units. Around 0900 hrs, Panzer-Abteilung 51 approached the ravine and, after some confusion, attempted to cross. Immediately, Panthers were bogged down on the muddy banks of the ravine and some were disabled by anti-tank mines. The two leading kompanies were immobilized at the edge of the ravine and then Soviet artillery showered the area. The transmission on the Panther was too weak to navigate in mud and leaking fuel pumps caused numerous engine fires. Eventually, German Pionieres were able to clear the mines and establish a ford but it was difficult to get the 45-ton Panthers across.
After struggling across the ravine, the Panthers fought off a Soviet counterattack. Ironically, the first Soviet tanks which the new Panthers engaged were not T-34s. The Soviet 245th Separate Tank Regiment attacked the regiment with US-built lend leased M3 Lee tanks. The M3 Lees were no match for the Panthers and 6 of them were knocked out before the remaining withdrew.
The Soviets did not favor the M3 Lee and it was grimly nicknamed “the Grave for Seven Brothers” (in Russian).
The Germans took the village of Tscherkasskoje by the evening with Panzer-Regiment 39 losing 18 Panthers. Hill 232.4 located northeast of Tscherkasskoje was to be taken next but was impossible due to numerous dug in Soviet tanks surrounding the hill. The Panthers halted and waited. The tally for Panzer-Brigade 10 for the day was 6 Soviet tanks, 3 heavy AT guns destroyed and one ground attack plane shot down.
A flight of Ilyushin IL-2s “Sturmovik” flying over the battlefield.
Early in the morning, panzers of Panzer-Brigade 10 (4 Pz.Kpfw. II, 9 Pz.Kpfw. III, 21 Pz.Kpfw. IV, 3 Tigers, 12 Flammpanzer III and 166 Panthers) assembled in combat formations and began the assault in the direction of Lukhanino. The Panthers were on the left with the Großdeutschland Panzer Regiment on the right flank. During the attack, the panzers overcame an anti-tank trench and a large mine field. later, they hit a defensive line where they were halted by Soviet artillery and hidden traps with tanks of the Soviet 3rd Mechanized Corps. The combat losses were 37 Panthers. One Panther which became disoriented was misidentified as a Soviet tank and was knocked out by a Pz.Kfw. IV of Panzer regiment 15, 11th Panzer-Division. The crew was unable to get out and perished in their Panther.
Panther 143 was knocked out by artillery fire. Note the gun barrel was penetrated by a Soviet 45mm AT shell.
The front of Panther 143.
Panther 101 was knocked out by mines. When the Panther was standing on an incline, the opening of the hatch in the commander’s cupola was hindered. That was why the hatch was often left open.
The assault continued in the northern direction. Despite a powerful Soviet defensive, heavy fire from dug in Soviet tanks and AT guns, by the end of the day units of the Panzer-Regiment 39 and the Großdeutschland Division reached the village of Gremychiy.
Near the village of Gremuchiy are two Panzer-Regiment 39 panthers. Panther 432 is on the left and the caption states Panther 101 is on the right in the background.
This is my close up of the supposedly Panther 101 in the above photo. Note the difference of the Panther’s position which do not appear to be the same. Maybe this Panther is number I01.
Behind Panther 432 is a PzBeobWg III Ausf G/H with long 50mm gun probably had number I02 or R02.
This is the view of Panther 432 along the right side of the hull.
The entire day was spent repelling furious counter attacks of the Soviet 1st Guards, 192nd and 200th Tank Brigades. The Panthers and the accompanying Großdeutschland grenadiers took heavy losses. In addition, during the morning before the assault 6 Panthers were lost due to engine fires. Three more were knocked out by AT guns and one by ground attack aircraft. By the evening, 20 operational Panthers remained.
Heavy combat raged as the regiment attacked in the direction of Oboyan, south of Kursk where the Soviet resistance was exceptionally strong. A Panther was hit in the commander’s cupola by an anti-tank gun and the commander luckily survived. The Panther continued the attack with the damaged commander’s cupola with the hatch open. Another Panther was destroyed by a SU-152 ‘Zveroboy’ (“Beast Slayer”) where the Panther’s armor was pierced and the entire crew was killed. Again the Panthers encountered more Soviet M3 Lees. At the range of about 2000 meters (1.2 miles), they were able to hit a few T-34 tanks.
During combat on July 9-10, the combat efficiency of the Panzer-Regiment 39 rapidly declined. Ten Panthers remained operational by the evening of the 10th. Twenty five panzers were totally destroyed, 65 panzers were being repaired and another 100 awaiting repair (of which 56 were hit or had mine damage and 44 had mechanical problems). By the evening of the 11th, there were 38 operational Panthers, 31 destroyed and the remaining 131 requiring various repairs.
Units of Panzer-Brigade 10 were withdrawn from combat and concentrated in the area around hill 260.8 to refit. During the evening, after being informed of the Allies Invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) and fearing further landings in Italy and Southern France, Hitler issued orders to his generals to terminate Operation Zitadelle but the fighting continued.
The Panthers were to assault in the direction of Bienozhovka to secure the flank of the Großdeutschland Division’s attack but the rough terrain and sudden downpours hindered movement and the resupply of fuel and ammunition.
Panther being rearmed from a Ford Maultier “Mule”.
At 0500 hours, an assault began using 6 Pz.Kpfw. III, 24 Pz.Kpfw. IV and 36 Panthers. Over the course of the day, the Germans made little forward gains due to AT fire and a counter attack by Soviet tanks. Due to extensive losses, Panzer-Regiment 3 was subordinated to Panzer-Brigade 10 but was not able to link up because of the operational chaos. It was impossible to continue the assault due to a complete lack of ammunition. In the evening, the brigade had one Pz.Kpfw. I, 23 Pz.Kpfw. IV and 20 Panthers. Three Pz.Kpfw. IV and 6 Panthers were completely destroyed.
The Panther-Regiment 39 repair sections were efficient and managed to repair up to 25 Panthers each day. Spare parts were a problem because they were planned to be flown in directly from Germany by Luftwaffe transports. Nineteen 18 ton (Zgkw Sd.Kfz 9) half tracks were used to retreive damaged Panthers from the battlefield. Later, the regiment received an additional 14 half tracks. Three half tracks were required to tow one damaged Panther.
A damaged Panther waiting for retrieval with towing bars connected to the front hull.
7th Kompanie Panthers at a repair base. Panther 742 covered with foliage in front was recently towed in as it still has towing cables attached.
A Panther missing its running gear in a maintenance section area. Probably it was beyond repair and was stripped for spare parts to repair other less damaged Panthers.
The command of Panzer-Brigade 10 and Panzer-Regiment 39 were detached from the Großdeutschland Division and subordinated directly to the command of the XLVIII Panzer-Korps.
Panzer-Abteilung 51 transferred its surviving Panthers to Panzer-Abteilung 52 and was withdrawn in order to be refitted with new panzers. The men, cars and panzers of Panzer-Abteilung 51 were loaded on trains in Bogodukhowo and transported to Briansk.
Quartermaster of the 4th Panzer Army reported that Panzer-Regiment 39 had 41 operational Panthers, 85 required repairs, 16 Panthers were sent to Germany for total overhaul and 58 Panthers had been destroyed (49 of them during retreat).
Panzer-Abteilung 52 continued fighting as part of LII Armeekorps and later became part of the 19. Panzer-Division. The Abteilung received 12 new Panthers from Germany and incurred heavy losses in the ensuring combat. The last Panthers were destroyed during the fighting for Kharkov.
After arriving in Briansk, Panzer-Abteilung 51 received 96 new panthers from I. Abteilung, Panzer-Regiment 26. Near the end of July, I. Abteilung of Panzer Regiment Großdeutschland was transferred in an emergency, to counter a Soviet assault. Panzer-Abteilung 51 was merged into the panzer regiment of the Großdeutschland Division. The Abteilung’s organization did not change and the camouflage continued to be used. Uniformly painted Dunkelgelb panthers were painted with green stripes using Grün (RAL 6003) paint. The turret numbers were smaller and painted in black without white outline.
All the panthers of Panzer Regiment Großdeutschland carried this walking panther badge.
After unloading of the Panthers from rail flatcars, the subunits of the Großdeutschland Division counterattacked the advancing Soviet units north of Karatschew. The Soviet assault was only stopped after a pitched battle and very high losses. In the evening of August 2, Panzer Regiment Großdeutschland had 26 operational Pz.Kpfw. IV out of the 84 it began with while a third of its 15 Tigers remained. Panther losses were high and neared 2/3 of the machines of which at least 20% were irreparable losses.
Units of the Großdeutschland Division were transferred to the rear and after a brief rest in Briansk, were sent to Akhtyrka.
Units of the Großdeutschland Division (including Panzer-Abteilung 51) went straight back into combat.
After the inception of the Soviet counter offensive in the direction of Byelogrod, officers of the Scientific Research Institute of the Red Army Armored Forces conducted research and analysis of the Panthers knocked out during the defensive fighting on the Voronezh front. The reviews were conducted between 20 to 28 July 1943 in the section of the front along the road between Byelogrod and Oboyan in an area 30 km wide and 35 km deep where 31 destroyed Panthers were studied. A number of the photos came from those studies.
After being inspected, Panthers 521 and 745 were shipped to Moscow to be displayed at the captured equipment exhibit in the Gorky Park of Culture and Recreation. Panther 824 was shipped to the experimental Factory No. 100 in Tschelabynsk while Panthers 535 and 732 were shipped to the proving grounds in Kubinka. Panther 433 was later presented to the British Army and shipped to Great Britain. Panther 441 was subjected to live fire trials using a T-34 tank.
Panther 434 took three 76mm shell hits on the hull side.
The turret escape hatch was blown off by internal explosion. This side view shows the early 16 bolt road wheels.
On the turret rear there are three Soviet 45mm AT shell hits.
On the rear hull is the signature “Iliyn” followed by the date “26 / 7.” It is probably the name of the Soviet technician from the Scientific Research Institute of the Red Army Armored Forces who studied this destroyed Panther.
This is the left front view of Panther 434.
It appears there were two Panthers numbered 445. This Panther 445 of Panzer-Abteilung 51 received mine damaged and was abandoned. Note the damaged road wheel rim beside the crewmen. Panther 445 with mine damage was one of the 31 Panthers studied by the Soviets.
This Panther 445 could been one of the repaired Panthers and was renumbered 445 when it transferred to Panzer Regiment Großdeutschland. It fought and was destroyed in battle around Karatschev and later photographed in August 1943.
This is my close up showing it was destroyed by two shell hits on the turret side and the turret side port cover (used to eject spent shells) was blown off by internal explosion. Barely visible on the lower edge of the turret is the walking panther badge of Panzer Regiment Großdeutschland. Note the difference of the camouflage pattern on the Schürzen (“Aprons” or side skirts).
This is the front view of Panther 445 showing a Tiger I numbered 11 parked behind it. This Panther has two headlights on the front hull and still has one of its smoke grenade launchers on the turret.
Panther 521 soon after captured. Note the headlights were removed from the mounts.
The rear of Panther 521. To the left is the rear of a Soviet M3A1 Stuart tank.
Panther 521 at the war trophy exhibit in Moscow, August 1943. A Ferdinand is parked in the background. Note the positions of the shell hole at the lower edge of the turret and the blast marking beneath the numbers. That indicates the turret was transversed to the left when the shell hit. The blast marking would been lined up with the shell hole.
This is my close up of the shell hole on the hull side of Panther 521 after it was captured.
Panther 521 on display in Gorky Central Park of Culture and Recreation in Moscow, Winter 1943-44.
The rear of Panther 521 on display. The white panther head badge is barely visible on the turret rear.
Panther 632 with additional boxes mounted on the engine deck.
Panther 632 climbing a slope. Note the 2cm Flugabwehrkanone (Flak) 38 in the background.
Panther 745 abandoned by the Germans during the retreat.
Panther 745 at the war trophy exhibit in Moscow, August 1943. Note the Stug III in the background.
This is the left side of Panther 745. A Ferdinand is in the background and a Tiger I is parked on the side other of Panther 745.
Panther 824 was knocked out by Soviet AT fire. Supposedly a 45mm shell penetrated the gun sight on the mantlet.
Left side of Panther 824. Note tow cable attached to the front and the Panther appears to be parked on T-34 tracks.
This is a close up of the turret numbers and the Panther head badge.
Panther 824 at Factory No. 100 in Tschelabynsk. The Soviet unit who captured it wrote their inscription over the turret numbers.
Right side of Panther 824 missing its Schürzen.
Panzer-Regiment 39 Stabskompanie tactical numbers:
• Nachrichtenzug (command platoon): R01, R02 and R03 – 3 Befehlswagen (PzBfWg) Panthers
• Aufklärungzug (Reconnaissance Platoon): R04, R05, R06, R07 and R08 – 5 Panthers
Panther R04 at the beginning of the assault. Note no panther head badge is painted on the turret.
Panther R04 later knocked out by artillery fire. Note the windmill in the background. It is missing its Schürzen and has a ladder leaning on the rear hull indicating repairs were probably attempted before it was abandoned.
The rear of Panther R04. Note the right rear storage compartment is missing.
Panzer-Abteilung 51 Stabskompanie tactical numbers:
• Nachrichtenzug: I01, I02 and I03 – 3 PzBfWg Panthers
• Aufklärungzug: I04, I05, I06, I07 and I08 – 5 Panthers
Panther I01 besides a PzBeobWg III coded R01.
Panther I03 had mine damage and was abandoned. Note the missing road wheels.
Panther I07 on a rail flatcar.
Panzer-Abteilung 52 Stabskompanie standard tactical numbers:
• Nachrichtenzug: II01, II02 and II03 – 3 PzBfWg Panthers
• Aufklärungzug: II04, II05, II06, II07 and II08 – 5 Panthers
There is no photographic evidence.
Some sources state that Panzer-Abteilung 52 Stabskompanie probably did not follow the standard tactical code scheme and believe Panther 914 belonged to the Panzer Abteilung 52 Aufklärungzug. It could have been a ploy to disguise the Stabskompanie panzers. Tactical numbers containing an “0”, “I” or “R” would indicated a command panzer to the enemy.
Panzer-Abteilung 52 Stabskompanie possible tactical numbers:
• Nachrichtenzug: 911, 912 and 913 – 3 PzBfWg Panthers
• Aufklärungzug: 914, 915, 916, 917 and 918 – 5 Panthers
An abandoned Panther in the Kharkov area, August 1943. Note in the background
is a Munitionspanzer auf Fgst Sturmgeschutz Ausf G ammo carrier.
Dragon 6164 Sd.Kfz. 171 Panther D – 2002
(Decals: 445, 521)
ICM 35361 Pz.Kpfw. V Panther, Ausf. D – 2005
(Decals: 212, 512)
Dragon 6299 Sd.Kfz.171 Panther D – 2006
(Decals: R04, 124, 745)
Italeri 6473 Pz.kpfw. V Panther Ausf.D – 2009
Revell 03095 Pz.Kpfw. V Panther Ausf. D – 2013
(Decals: 501, 824)
Tamiya 35345 Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf. D (Sd.Kfz. 171) – 2015
(Decals: 432, 445, 745)
Academy 13503 Pz.Kpfw.V Panther Ausf.D – 2016
(Decals: 521, 745, 824)
Meng Model TS-038 Sd.Kfz.171 Panther Ausf.D – 2018
(Decals: 121, 632)
Tamiya 25182 Pz.Kpfw.V Ausf.D Panther – 2018
(Decals: 432, 445, 745)
Tamiya 32597 German Tank Panther Ausf. D – 2019
(Decals: 432, 445)
Dragon 7494 Sd.Kfz. 171 Panther Ausf.D Early Production – 2012
(Decals: 101, 445, 521, 745, 824)
Zvezda 5010 German Medium Tank Pz.Kpfw. V Panther Ausf.D – 2012
(Decals: 434, 445)
11 thoughts on “Panthers at Kursk 1943”
This is fantastic, so glad I stumbled across this article.
I’m searching for photographic materials of Panther 745 of the 7th Kompanie Pz. Abt. 52 to try and see its configuration pre-capture.
A lot of these early vehicles seem to have a large sheet metal stowage box on the starboard side, was there any reason for some vehicles to be equipped with this, and others not?
A very useful post. Thanks for sharing.
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wonderful article – you should share this on Missing-Lynx maybe? One thing to point out: your photos of R04 are actually of two different tanks, and not the same vehicle. thanks again, Nick
Excellent post Mike. I’ve studied Kursk Panthers for years; the reworkings of the early models lead to a large number of detail differences. There are a few constant details which distinguish them from later ausf. Ds. – no zimmerit (introduced in Sept 43), two headlights, no mg rail on cupola, binocular gunsight in mantlet, communications port on turret LHS. All the other ‘early’ ausf. D features could be present or not i.e. vertical c hooks, rain guards on pistol ports, sheet metal tool stwoage box on RHS, turret smoke dischargers, snorkel cover on rear deck, engine hatch airvents with prongs not grab handles, heat shields on rear stowage boxes and others which I cannot recall right now! I have assembled a Pinterest page with over 200 pictures of vehicles I believe are Kursk examples.
Neil Patrick’s Pinterest Page
Super article! In my opinion, the stories of the men who manned these tanks are as interesting as the battles and the vehicles they fought them in. I’ve seen some research that indicates that the commander of Panther 521 was one Oberfeldwebel Gerhard Brehme. He was a seasoned NCO, and was one of the batch of crew sent back to Grafenwohr to train on their new mounts. His Panthrr, whether it was 521 or not, was hit in its vulnerable side armor . He was severely burned in his tank and later died of his burns a short time later in a Kharkov hospital. In many ways the early Panthers, as formidable as they were, were death traps. The men who fought in them suffered greatly due to their shortcomings.