Panther D

Germany’s most successful tank by Tony Dill

A brief look at the gestation of the Panther will surprisingly reveal that work had started as early as 1938 on a successor to the Panzer III and Panzer IV series of tanks. The Panther was not as popular as myth has it, a knee-jerk reaction to the rather surprising appearance to the Germans of the T-34 and KV1 during the initial period of Operation Barbarossa.

  Daimler-Benz received the first detailed contact in October 1939, but their insistence on using a leaf spring suspension, whereas a torsion bar suspension was required, lead to the contract being switched to Krupp who fell into the same trap. At this point, MAN was involved and they favoured a torsion bar suspension, which was in line with the authorities thinking.

  By the time that the frontline troops did encounter the Russian T-34 and KV series of tanks, during Barbarossa, vocal demands were made for a tank capable of defeating them. At this point Krupp was dropped from the competition and it was left to Daimler Benz and MAN to slug it out, with Hitler settling the issue by deciding on the MAN design.

  Operationally, the Panther first saw action at Kursk during Operation Citadel. Panzer Abteilung 51 and 52 were formed with four companies each. However, earlier during the training and build up period it became obvious to all that the new ‘wonder weapon’ possessed serious flaws and all the Panthers issued were returned to the factories for modifications and repairs. Weak points proved to be the motor, transmission and road wheels. After repairs or, rather modifications had been carried out, the Panthers were returned to their regiments and were soon to see their first combat at Kursk. The continual delays caused, amongst other factors, the problems with the new Panthers, were to lead to the defeat of Operation Citadel.

 

Zvezda PzKpf V Panther D

 

This kit was announced in the latter quarter of 2014 and really took me by surprise, but while thrilled, part of me was wary as memories of dire experiences with older Zvezda kits remained deep within my subconscious. I had heard good things about their T-90, but not having built one, I had nothing to base my expectations on. A friend built their Tiger when it was released and frankly, I was horrified at the warped ill-fitting monstrosity he found in his box. To his credit he whipped it into shape, but not what I expected. Soon I heard mutterings of, ‘early short-shot moulds…..” Quality control?

  However, initial reports of the Panther were so much more positive and I am such a hopeless Panther fanatic that the build had to take place. Fate was beckoning.

  Generally the kit was good, but in certain places, it had me cursing my Irish forbears who had the audacity to come to this continent where my father would one day meet a beautiful Afrikaans girl. But that is another tale. Join me for the up and down ride of the Zvezda Panther D instead.

  The box is done in Zvezda’s current style with a sturdy top opening box sheathed within a far flimsier outer part bearing the art work, with CAD pictures of the completed model.

 

The lower hull

Zvezda would have you start with the turret interior and if you examine the instructions, you will see that an intricate and fairly complete interior is provided. The detail extends right down to the turret basket and various fittings inside the turret, but I decided to forgo that part of the build as I had other ideas for the finish and I skipped ahead to the chassis.

  Looking at the pictures you will note that Zvezda use a tannish coloured plastic which is similar to Tamiya. I actually like it, as it is easy to work with as well as being easy on the eye. So I jumped ahead to the lower hull which in most cases is where the build commences.

  At first my heart skipped a beat when I saw the hole in the middle of the lower hull. Motorization holes, I thought, with thoughts of kits from an older generation racing to the fore. But no! The hole proved to have a delightfully detailed cover that fitted perfectly. It seemed to me odd that all the other covers were moulded solid and this one was separate.

At this point I switched to assembling the sprockets and idlers and besides being of very high quality and detail, it could also be seen in the idlers which were of a layered assembly

  Following more or less a standard method of assembly, I carried on with the running gear. The detail is lovely, and simply up there with the ‘Best of the Rest’. I completed the bump stops, which are made from two delicate separate parts that went together without any fuss.

  I have also added the front sections on either side and found that despite the fit being solid and tight, a definite join line was visible. I have not filled up the join line as it will be masked by the cast transmission casings and the weathering that I will apply.

  In the one photo, that Zvezda have supplied the upper/lower frontal hull join as an interlocking cut-out as per the real machine, which makes for a highly realistic join. While assembly of the running gear is carried out, it will become plain that no torsion bar detail is supplied within the hull.

  The Early Panther D’s only had 16 securing bolts on the running wheels and when repeated, failures arose in these and a factory modification lead to an upgraded wheel with 32 bolts. Both options are supplied in the kit but not enough for either option to completely use either option, so a nice mixed up finish is obtained.

  To prove that I am flying in the face of convention, or at least in the way that Zvezda's instructions see it, I have yet again omitted to follow the instructions and instead of doing the wheels (as I want to paint them separately), I have jumped a few steps and added the rear hull plate and the hull above the track runs as well as the pannier sections. Zvezda provide the latter as one large interlocking section that is cross braced and adds stability to the whole hull.There is cut-out where the glacis goes, which is supplied and at first I thought this to be rather strange but then I figured it out. By doing this, the option of producing an Ausf A as a follow-up kit is made simpler.

 

The running gear

At this point my attention shifted to the running gear and once again I deviated from my normal practice of simply assembling the entire set of wheels, sprockets idlers and tracks all as an entity and then painting and weathering much as I had adopted many years ago. Now I would pre-paint the wheels, etc. and weather them as separate entities and then bring all together on the model before assembling the upper hull onto the lower. The painted and weathered lower hull would be masked for final painting.

  I sprayed the inner steel portions with Tamiya Dark Tan, then brush painted the rubber tyres with Vallejo Dark Rubber from their Panzer Aces set which I find gives a nice dark grey shade. For the first time I used Vallejo Pigments. The problem I face is that my supply of MIG pigments are rapidly dwindling and neither, they nor AK supplies are available here in Cape Town, while Vallejo are. I used layers of ochre and earth applied over each other randomly to get a variation in tonal quality, applying the Vallejo Fixer first as is my custom and allowing the pigments to wick into it. However, something was not right, or I messed up somewhere, as the fixer seemed to take forever to dry. I tried putting the model in some weak sunlight and even used a hairdryer to try to cure the pigments. All to no avail and I started doing some more research and it was soon made clear that the Vallejo Fixer was the longer curing option. Not what I needed.

  Vallejo recommends using their matt medium for quicker setting times and I switched to this. Instant success and I was once more back on course after some soul searching and cursing myself for not doing proper research on the new product I was using. Once I had moved past the stage of shooting myself in the foot, I must admit that I was happy with this new (to me) product and it seems to achieve a look I was unable to achieve previously, with the MIG products. At this point, I started on the tracks and you are given two sections of fixed lengths of track per side and you then have to assemble the rest of the run from separate links.

  With careful assembly you can get articulating links as per the real thing and a most delightful sag. I must point out to you that Zvezda does not make this clear to you at all. However after the links and lengths were removed from the sprue, I figured out that with careful assembly that you would  them to articulate and to this purpose I carried out assembly with Tamiya’s Ultra-Thin Cement.

  Next I sprayed the assembled track runs with Vallejo Track Primer and the inner freshly buffed areas where the wheels would run with Vallejo Gunmetal. Moving on, after drying the same mix of pigments as used on the lower hull were worked into the outer running surfaces. However wanting a slightly more ground in muddy look, I turned to Tamiya’s Textured Paint applying a mixture of Earth and Grass effect. After a bit of manipulation I was happy with the total lower track and hull look and as I assembled the tracks on either side I realised, it looked good.

  I now moved onto the point where Zvezda would have me start in the first place.

 

Turret

The barrel assembled very well, a little rub down with a sanding stick of the seam line and it's OK. If you even notice the small peg on the muzzle brake (Probably the fixing bolt) and wondered if it goes upper or bottom side. Well it goes on the upper side. I did find that the barrel was a bit loose fitting in its locating hole. I found that a quick solution is to shim it up, with little scrap wedges cut from styrene placed at regular intervals, until it sits firmly in its housing

  As mentioned earlier although a comprehensive interior was given in the kit, I decided not to fit it in my model and only assembled the outer shell. However looking at the instructions and all the parts included on the sprue, once assembled it’s all there inside the turret. You get the usual gun breech, seat for commander and gunner as well as various fittings like fans that fit onto the inner part of the turret.

  Clear mouldings are provided for the various periscopes and even the turret basket is there. The hatch at the rear of the turret is able to open and close

  A neat set of smoke dischargers were supplied together with the relevant smoke candles to fit in the tube. I left mine out as I like the look of the open tubes. The edges are commendably thin, if a trifle flared. Various lifting hooks and grab handles are supplied.

 

The upper hull and various fittings

At this point everything was coming together fast and it was looking like a Panther. This point being proved, when I test fitted the two hull sections and the turret.

  The upper and lower hulls clicked together as Zvezda’s system of interlocking cut-outs proved successful. Zvezda do supply the hull skirts and hangers, but frankly they looked over scale to me in styrene.

  So what was I to do, scratch build them? Quite frankly this was a viable option, but one I was a bit loth to venture down. I have always liked the look of the D and A series Panthers with their sloping panniers at the rear of the hull, so I made the decision to leave them off.

  Further the hatches, handles, gun cleaning rod bin, exhausts, rear bins as well as all the exterior fittings were added without any trouble at all.

  Eduard screen went on the engine deck intakes, and then the spare track hangers were fitted. I decided to add only two sets of two links on either side leaving the rear station open.

  One of the most iconic views of these early Panthers have always been period photos showing them fitted with extra road wheels. They were usually hung from the rear of the hull or even the turret. This of course being due to the weakness in the early road wheels, as the mounting bolts proved too weak.   This caused the unfortunate habit of shearing their mounting bolts under violent and sudden manoeuvring.

  Fortunately I have in my possession a set of two resin spare Panther made by Ultracast that are a delight to the eye, and they were duly fixed on the spare track mounting.

  By now the basic build was done and I turned my attention to my favourite aspect of modelling – painting and weathering.

 

Painting and weathering

As you will have noted from the photos, a large amount of this model was painted as I built it. This is  new approach to me that I tried out here for the first time.

After my usual priming with Tamiya Fine Grey Surface Primer, I decanted a rattle can of Tamiya Light Tan TS-46 and airbrushed the model with my trusty old Badger 150. Next step was to mix up a mixture of the Light Tan and Dessert Yellow and post shade into the nooks and crannies.

After waiting a suitable time (my suitable time normally means 24 hours) for the paint to completely cure, I applied small dots of AK RAIN STREAKING MEDIUM to the tops of vertical or slanting surfaces. Next I took a broad, flat brush lightly wetted in turpentine, and employing a downwards motion, dragged the medium towards the lower regions. This feathered the medium creating a variety of lighter streaks. To create a contrast I used Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber oils again placing strategic little spots in between the lighter ones. Again the same technique was used to drag and feather, creating the darker streaks I desired.

  Now, leave in a dust free container for everything to cure

  A few days later I returned to Panther and generally it was starting to assume the assume the shape I desired. Now bearing in mind that this is not a Kursk Panther, but rather a combat veteran in August 1943, I felt that a reasonable degree of weathering could take place without overdoing it. The secret is, knowing when to stop.

  Using a fine sable brush as well as a sponge, I added selective chips and scratches, being careful not to overdo it. Dark washes followed using the two oil paints mentioned earlier. Next MIG Gunmetal pigment was carefully rubbed with an ear bud in areas of extreme wear.

  Equipment, I paint using a method I first employed many years ago. The metal area is painted with matt black, acrylic or enamel makes no difference. Leave to dry overnight, then drybrush with silver toned down with a touch of brown. I then paint the wooden handles stocks with a sand/light buff acrylic. Leave to dry, and then apply a coat of burnt sienna oil. Wait overnight, take a broad, fan brush, lightly wet with turpentine and drag over the oil. This will dissolve part of the oil which has not fully cured at this point, leaving a noticeable tonal variation which resembles the grain. Now leave for three days, step away, do not touch, go build another model, whatever…

  When you again approach this part of the build use Tamiya Clear Orange, Clear Yellow, or just plain Clear varnish, depending on the final tone you wish to achieve, and coat the previous work. The periscopes and sighting glass was painted with a product new to me, Alclad Armoured Glass.

Decals were sourced from the Dragon Panther Ausf D and represented vehicle 455 as it appeared at Karachev in August 1943. Just a simple vehicle number and balken kreuz.

 

Rounding off

To add a feeling of life and perspective I decided to add some figures and odds and ends to the Panther.

The crewman in the turret hatch is a Dragon figure that I had lying around, I image from a SS Panzer Crew set. AS to the 2 figures having a mini conference on the hull, the chap with the steel helmet is a Bronco resin casting that came with their Hotchkiss H39 Command tank, and the perhaps senior officer in the greatcoat is a Wolf figure. Both were used as they came without modification and were a joy to paint.

On the Panther, I added a bicycle on the engine deck, as I wanted a casual cluttered look. Tamiya contributed this item, again from the spares box. The tow cable was also another Dragon contribution, a delightful braided wire thing much more realistic than the plastic items you so often find.

I have already mentioned the Ultracast resin spare wheels in the engine deck, so to round them off I made little brackets to anchor them in place.  I painted these in Tamiya German Red Primer as well as the one idler at the left rear.

  At this point I called everything done.

 

References:

Germany’s Panther Tank. The Quest for Combat Supremacy : Thomas Jentz and Hilary Doyle

Encyclopaedia of German Tanks of World War Two : Peter Chamberlain and Hilary Doyle