Ian Baxter, H*tl*r’s Panther Tank Battalions 1943-1945 (Pen & Sword, 2020)
In 1943, a new panzer joined the German fight against the Soviet Union, just in time they hoped to stem the rising enemy tide. The Panther with its sloping sides and front became one of the iconic tanks of WWII, performing sterling service despite its persistent mechanical problems. In H*tl*r’s Panther Tank Battalions 1943-1945, expert Ian Baxter takes us with the Panthers into battle.
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The Panthers debuted at the greatest tank battle at Kursk in July 1943. Some did not make it into action because of mechanical problems, many more were rendered inoperative in the maelstrom that was Kursk. The rest performed well against the Soviet T-34s The Panther had proved its value as a weapon, but as a functioning vehicle it left much to be desired. Baxter switches the action to Italy where the terrain limited tank warfare, but the small contingent of Panthers still proved their worth, particularly in defence. We return to the deteriorating Eastern Front in 1944 where the Panthers were used as mobile reserves and in rescue operations. They performed well again, racking up kills, and by then the Panther had undergone many variants trying to fix their problems. Panthers saw action on the western front too when that opened after D-Day in June 1944. By August, 432 Panthers had been pitched into the fight for France. However, Allied air power proved a major problem, and replacement Panther units were poorly trained and disorganized. Few Panthers made it out intact. Their last hurrah was in the Ardennes Offensive, but ultimately here too they were decimated. That situation was echoed on the Eastern Front. Baxter concludes that the Panther had been introduced into the war too late despite being a deadly adversary for the Allies.
While I disagree with Baxter’s conclusion, I still enjoyed his book very much. He describes the actions and organization of the Panther units in a straightforward and readable text and his captions for the abundant photographs add considerably to their value. As for the photographs, they are a nicely balanced selection of Panthers in various situations across the theatres, along with their supporting vehicles – Panther modelers will not be short of inspiration. All in all, this is a solid addition to the Images of War series and a good read for German armour buffs.