- CHAPTER 8 -
A burnt out Panther Ausf. G at the Battle of the Bulge, which has been penetrated in the sponson.
A status report on 15th December, 1944 listed a record high of 471 Panthers deployed the Western Front, with 336 operational accounting for a healthy 71 per cent of the available force. This was one day before the start of the Battle of the Bulge; 400 of the tanks assigned to the Western Front were in units detailed for the offensive.
During the Battle Of The Bulge The Panther once again demonstrated its prowess in open country, where it could destroy its victims at long range with near-impunity. The reverse side of the coin was once again in evidence as the vulnerability of the Panther in the close-in fighting of the small towns of the Ardennes, was cruelly exposed and there were consequently very heavy losses. A status report on January 15, 1945 showed only 97 operational Panthers left in the units involved in the operation, out of 282 still in their possession. Total write-offs were listed as 198.
The Operation Greif commando mission included five Panthers assigned to Panzerbrigade 150, disguised to look like M10 tank Destroyers by welding on additional plates, applying US-style camouflage paint and markings. This was carried out as part of a larger operation that involved soldiers disguised as Americans and other activities. The disguised Panthers were detected and destroyed and their story was reported in the US intelligence magazine Tactical and Technical Trends No. 57, April 1945.
Panther disguised as an M10 Tank Destroyer.
THE CONTEMPORARY VIEW NUMBER 3
GERMANS DISGUISE PANTHERS CLEVERLY IMITATE M10 GUN CARRIAGE
Investigation of four German Panther tanks knocked out in the Malmedy area in the December breakthrough in Belgium revealed that the tanks were carefully and cleverly disguised as U.S. M10 gun motor carriages.
After inspecting the tanks and realizing the amount of time, work, and materials involved in order to imitate the appearance of the M10, Ordnance intelligence investigators expressed the opinion that these disguised tanks, used in the proper tactical situation and at the proper time, would have caused considerable damage.
Because the false vehicle numbers of the tanks knocked out were B-4, B-5, B-7, and B-10, investigators concluded that at least ten similarly disguised tanks might have been in action.
Inside the one tank which was not blown up too badly to be inspected were found items of U.S. clothing such as a helmet, overcoat, and leggings. To heighten the deception, U.S. stars were painted on both sides and also on the top of the turret, the entire tank was painted O.D., and U.S. unit markings were painted on the false bow and rear.
In disguising the Panther the distinctive cupola was removed from the turret and two semicircular hatch covers were hinged in its place to the turret top in order to cover the opening. In addition, it was necessary to remove extra water cans, gas cans, the rammer staff container, and other external accessories.
The tank then was camouflaged or disguised with sheet metal, that used on the turret and upper bow being three twenty-seconds of an inch thick and that on time sides of the hull being nine sixty-fourths of an inch thick. The lower part of the false bow was thicker, possibly made of double plates. To accomplish the deceptive modifications, which pointed to at least fourth or fifth echelon alterations, the work probably was done by maintenance units rather than at a factory. The work probably was divided into four sections: turret, bow, rear, and sides.
Top view of Panther tank disguised as U.S. M10 gun carriage, showing hatch covers used in place of cupola.
The turret was disguised by using five pieces of sheet metal, two of which were cut to resemble the distinctive sides of the M10 turret and then were flanged on the edges, bent to shape, and stiffened with small angle iron. The gun shield was carefully formed from another sheet to the exact shape of the M10 shield, and a hole was made to the right of the gun hole in the shield for the co-axial M.G. 34, a hole which does not exist in the M10 shield. Two pieces of sheet metal made up the rear of the turret, one representing the bottom slant surface of the rear and one representing the counterweight. The pieces representing the sides and rear were joined together and braced with angle iron, and the whole was attached to the turret. The false gun shield was attached to the Panther gun shield, and all the lifting rings, brackets, extra-armour studs, etc., found on the M10 turret were carefully duplicated and welded to the false turret.
Left front view with turret reversed. Note false final-drive housing at bottom of bow and false side apron.
Approximately four pieces of sheet metal, shaped to imitate as closely as possible the contours of the M10 bow, made up the false bow, necessary because the Panther bow is bulkier than the M10. The false bottom was shaped to give the characteristic appearance of the front drive sprocket housing of the M10, and the top was shaped carefully and various component pieces attached to the front of the tank. All the brackets, lifting rings, towing devises, etc., of the M10 bow were also imitated. A square opening was cut in the false bow to permit the use of the bow M.G. 34, but a removable cover attached with a small chain was made for this opening.
Front view showing plate over machine-gun opening, false lifting rings and brackets, and markings.
FALSE REAR AND SIDES
The false rear was made of sheet metal. It was a faithful duplicate of the M10 rear except for two holes to permit the twin exhaust elbows of the Panther to protrude.
An attempt was made to imitate the skirting armour of the M10 which appears to hang lower than the side armour of the Panther and is bevelled in at the bottom. A long flat strip of sheet metal was attached to the sides parallel to the ground, and a vertical sheet strip was attached at right angles to this strip to give the appearance of low skirting armour.
Rear view showing false tail plate. Note exhausts and dummy fittings.
Features which aid in recognizing disguised Panthers and which cannot be camouflaged easily are:
1. The distinctive Panther bogie suspension.
(The M18 motor gun carriage now has a somewhat similar suspension.)
2. The muzzle brake on the 7.5 cm Kw.K. 42.
3. The wide and distinctive track of the Panther tank.
In February 1945, eight Panzer divisions with a total of 271 Panthers were transferred from the West to the Eastern Front. Only five Panther battalions remained in the west.
One of the top German Panther commanders was SS-Oberscharführer Ernst Barkmann of the 2nd SS-Panzer Regiment “Das Reich”. By the end of the war, he had some 80 tank kills claimed.