During World War Two, the German war machine created some of the largest and most powerful tank designs of that time.
Nonetheless, a design that is often incorrectly cited as being one of these is the ‘Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71’ (Eng: Panther II with 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71). Featured prominently in popular video games such as ‘World of Tanks‘- published by Wargaming – and War Thunder – published by Gaijin, the Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 has been fooling not only video gamers, but, for decades, many historians too.
The Real Panther II
The Panther II’s origins can be traced back to 1942. There were concerns that the Panther I did not have sufficient armor for protection against the anti-tank weapons that would be encountered on the Eastern Front in 1943. Of particular concern were Russian 14.5 mm anti-tank rifles, as they could penetrate the flat 40 mm lower hull sides of the Panther I at close ranges. These concerns lead to the development of a new Panther design, the Panther II, featuring a single piece 100 mm frontal plate and 60 mm side armor.
At a meeting in Nuremberg on 10th February 1943, the chief design engineer of Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg (MAN), Dr. Wiebecke, stated that the current Panther design (the Panther I) did not meet specifications derived from experience on the Eastern Front. Therefore, the Panther I would be thoroughly redesigned and incorporate components from the Tiger, such as the final drives. The suspension and turret would also be redesigned and modified. This newly designed Panther was to be the Panther II. A week later, on the 17th, it was decided that the VK45.03(H) Tiger III (later redesignated as Tiger II) would become standardized along with the Panther II.
The Panther II would meet its end in May 1943, largely at the hands of 5.5 mm armored plates called ‘Schürzen’ (Eng: Skirts). Schürzen were fitted on the sides of German Panzers in order to provide protection against Soviet anti-tank rifles and these would be fitted onto the Panther I in April 1943. As Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle put it in their book Panther Germany’s Quest for Combat Supremacy, “the invention of Schürzen saved the Panther I. If the Panther I hadn’t been able to cope with anti-tank rifles, production would have been converted to the Panther II.”
With the fitting of Schürzen onto the Panther I, there was no longer much need for the Panther II and further development and work was largely ended. While no versuchs turm (Eng: experimental turret) for the Panther II was ever completed, a single versuchs Panther II hull was completed by MAN in Nuremberg. After the war, without access to supporting documents, when questioned if any Panther II were ever used in combat, MAN stated: Two experimental Panther 2 were ordered, although only one experimental chassis was completed. It is possible that this single experimental chassis could have been employed in combat.
As for the fate of this single versuchs Panther II hull, after the war, it was shipped to Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, USA without a turret, just test weight rings. With these test weights still in place, the Panther II was sent to Detroit, Michigan, USA for testing, after which it was shipped back to Aberdeen Proving Ground where a turret from a Panther Ausf.G (Serial Number 121447) was mounted on the vehicle. The Panther II was then given to the Patton Museum in Fort Knox, Kentucky, USA. At the Patton Museum, the Panther II underwent a restoration which involved switching out the turret from Panther Ausf.G 121447 with that of Panther Ausf.G 121455. As of now, the Panther II is located at Fort Benning, Georgia, USA with the turret from Panther Ausf.G 12455.
The Real Panther mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71
In a meeting on 23rd January 1945, Oberst (Eng: Colonel) Holzäuer of Wa Pruef 6 reported that development of a Panther mounting the 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 gun in a heavily modified Schmalturm was to be accomplished by Daimler Benz.
The Schmalturm (Eng: Narrow Turret) was a narrow turret design by Daimler Benz for the Panther Ausf.F designed to increase armor protection, provide a smaller target, and eliminate the shot trap of the previous curved mantlet design of the Panther.
Daimler Benz’s design called for a turret ring that was 100 mm larger than the current Panther turret ring to allow for the 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 gun to fit. Ammunition stowage in this Panther would also decrease to 56 rounds due to the larger size of the 8.8 cm rounds as compared to the smaller 7.5 cm rounds. A wooden mock-up of the Daimler Benz design had been completed.
Krupp had previously drawn a sketch (drawing number Hln-130 dated 18th October 1944) of the 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 gun mounted in a Panther Schmalturm with as little modifications as possible, the most notable of which was the moving of the trunnions for the 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 gun back 350 mm, meaning the gun was moved forward 350 mm. This would allow for the 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 gun to fit in the turret. Krupp had been awarded a contract by Wa Pruef 6 to develop this design further on 4th December 1944.
At a meeting on 20th February 1945 Wa Pruef 6, Wa Pruef 4 (a sister department to Wa Pruef 6 in charge of the development of artillery), Daimler Benz, and Krupp compared both Daimler Benz’s and Krupp’s 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 Schmalturm proposals. It was decided that a new proposal was to be developed that featured design aspects from both Daimler Benz’s proposal, such as increasing the turret ring diameter, and Krupp’s proposal, such as relocating the trunnions. Daimler Benz was put in charge of developing the turret and Krupp was put in charge of the gun.
However, by the war’s end, all that was completed was a wooden mock-up which was still located at the Daimler Benz assembly plant in August 1945.
The Fake Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71
The Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 was born out of a mistake made by the German tank historian, Walter J. Spielberger.
In a report on the previously mentioned 10th February 1943 meeting, it was stated how experience on the Eastern Front had shown that the Panther I did not have sufficiently thick armor. Seeing how the Panther I had yet to make its famous debut at Kursk in July 1943, Walter J. Spielberger had thought that the report was misdated and should have read 10th February 1944. Missing crucial documents that had yet to be discovered, Walter J. Spielberger then made the assumption that the Panther II project was still very much active into early 1945 despite its cancelation in May 1943. This would lead him in making the claim that the Panther II project was linked with the Panther mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 project, ergo the Panther II was meant to mount the 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 in a Schmalturm.
While there was a Panther II turret design in a Rheinmetall Borsig drawing (drawing H-Sk A 86176 dated 7th November 1943,) which showed a 7.92 mm M.G. 42 machine gun mount in a Panther II turret with a schmale blendenausführung (Eng: narrow gun mantlet model), this was completely separate from the Daimler Benz Schmalturm design for the Panther Ausf.F or the Daimler Benz Schmalturm design for the Panther mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 for that matter. Also of note was that this turret design came months AFTER the cancelation of the Panther II project in May 1943.
The Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 was essentially impossible, as the Panther II project was killed off in May 1943, whilst the earliest known drawing for a Panther fitted with an 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 gun is Krupp’s drawing (drawing number Hln-130) which was from 18th October 1944.
The Myth Spreads
Despite correcting his mistake in the 1999 edition of his book Panther and Its Variants, Spielberger’s Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 was still being touted as fact by some historians, for example, Thomas Anderson in his book Panther. The Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 would further spread as a result of numerous modeling companies producing models of it, such as DRAGON, as well as its inclusion in the popular tank video games World of Tanks and War Thunder.
While having parts from very real German tank designs, the Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 is ultimately fake. This beast of a Panther tank was merely the result of a misunderstanding of a single sentence, not of any actual German design efforts. Despite the lack of evidence supporting its existence and its subsequent removal from further editions by Walter Spielberger, the one behind the Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71, the Panther II mit L/71 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 has been propagated repeatedly in media and literature.
Also, despite repeated attempts to clear this myth, its continued presence in games such as World of Tanks and War Thunder, in certain books, and in the shape of modeling kits that present it as fact will ensure that this fake will live for years to come.
The fake Panther II mit 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71. Note that the turret used in this iteration would not have been capable of fitting the 8.8 cm Kw.K. 43 L/71 gun as no modifications have been made to it, such as relocating the trunnions or increasing the turret ring diameter. Illustration produced by Andrei Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon campaign.
Panther and Its Variants by Walter J. Spielberger.
Panzer Tracts No. 5-4 Panzerkampfwagen Panther II and Panther Ausfuehrung F by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle.
Panzer Tracts No. 20-1 Paper Panzers by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary L. Doyle.
Germany’s Panther Tank The Quest for Combat Supremacy by Thomas L. Jentz and Hilary Doyle.
Thomas Anderson, Panther, Osprey Publishing