As with the German tanks that came before it, the Soviets gave the Panther an index derived from the German index, but with the awkward PzKpfw. V (try writing that on a Cyrillic typewriter) replaced with a much more easily palatable T-5. As with the other tanks, the index was sometimes written Type 5, T-V (or T-У, when the V character wasn’t available). The tank was also commonly known by the Russian word for Panther: Pantera (Пантера).
Following the revelation of the T-5 premium tank, this article is going to take a look at the Panther as viewed and used by the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army during WWII.
Officially, the Panther was not particularly beloved by the Red Army. 4th Tank Army commander Lieutenant-General Lelyushenko wrote to GABTU KA:
“At this time, I do not think it reasonable to create units from captured Panther tanks.
The tanks are difficult to use and repair. There are no spare parts, which complicates service. In order to fuel them, a constant supply of high quality aircraft gasoline is needed.
Futhermore, the army does not have ammunition for the model 1942 75 mm tank gun in sufficient quantities, as ammunition from the model 1940 gun is unusable in the Panther tank. I recommend the T-4 type tank as more suitable for covert operations, as it is simpler in use and maintenance, and widely used in the German army.”
Ironically, the 4th Tank Army was the only one that CAMD RF contains records for gathering any Panther tanks for the formation of a captured tank unit, according to M. Svirin’s research.
Scientists, engineers, and military analysts did not see anything exceptionally interesting in the Panther either. The information compendium titled “New types of German tanks and assault guns, part 1: Tanks” assembled after Kursk dedicated only 19 pages to the newfound Panther tanks, 29 of which were examined by the commission. In comparison, the 9 PzKpfw. III Ausf. M tanks took up 47 pages. Combat reports on the tanks were devoid of the typical fluff about “heroic actions of the defenders”, and are rather bland in comparison to what you would see written about a Tiger or a Ferdinand. (M. Svirin, “Pantera” PzKpfw V, Exprint, 1995)
Now that we’re past all the boring paperwork stuff, let’s get to the good part: combat use!
The above is one of the few photographs of Soviet-used Panthers. The insignia that can be seen in the rear of the turret indicates that they are assigned to the 8th Guards Tank Corps, likely in the 62nd Guards Heavy Tank Regiment.
Yuri Pasholok posted a document stating the condition of the 51st Independent Motorcycle Regiment as of July 5th, 1944. The regiment, aside from domestic and Lend-Lease vehicles, is in possession of 5 Tiger tanks (1 needing repairs) and 2 Panther tanks, “in working order, following by railroad”. The Panther’s poor reliability was known to the Soviets. 150 km of final drive lifetime on average meant that the tanks had to be handled carefully.
However, Soviet mechanics, with the aid of “a sizeable mallet and some kind of mother” (c), managed to get a Panther to drive through 600 km worth of marches, including battles, after which it caught fire and died. The regiment was in a perfect position to solve the problems with supplying Panthers that were stated above: since they were composed entirely of Valentine tanks, they had access to all the gasoline in the world, and capturing a second Panther left them with a source of parts and ammunition a typical unit would not have.
A brief manual on the operation of a Panther was published in 1944. It is available (in Russian, of course) here. I won’t translate it here, but it may, perhaps, be the subject of another article. The presence of a manual did not indicate frequent use, since new manuals were issued for PzIIIs and Pz38(t)s in that same year.
Most Panthers ended up dragged off to trophy collection points, then salvage yards. An idea came up to solve the lack of armament by re-arming them with 85 mm guns, but the idea didn’t go very far before the end of the war.
There is one myth that I would like to do away with, the idea that Panthers were given as rewards to tankers for excellent performance. There are several problems with that statement. First of all, Panthers used German radios, which communicate on a different frequency. The ace tank crew would be left unable to communicate with their other tanks (which is why captured tanks are always formed together into one unit). Second, even if the radio station is replaced, no ace is important enough to cart around high octane gasoline and special parts shipments just for one crew. Finally, veteran memoirs illustrate just one use of captured Panthers: as last ditch resorts, used only when no other tank is available. Compare the above Panthers to something like captured PzIIIs and PzIVs; the insignia is neatly applied with stencils, as opposed to hastily scrawled freehand.
With a surplus of its own tanks, the Soviet Union had no use for Panthers post-war. They ended up being recycled or sent to museums. A number of functional Panthers exist on the territory of the former Soviet Union to this very day.