Panther Line Redux


Hitler inspects a mockup of the Pantherturm Pillbox version.



Panther Line

According to Tom Jentz’s book, *Germany’s Panther Tank*, no less than 60 Panthers were shipped to the Leningrad front in November 1943 to serve as immobile pillboxes. Thirty apiece were given to the 9th and 10th Luftwaffe Field Divisions, and of these, ten per division were to be utilized as a reaction force, and they were left mobile; the rest were dug in. I/Pz. Rgt. 29 provided 60 volunteers to help man the runners; the extra crew members for the runners, and the crews for the pillboxes, were to be provided by the Luftwaffe personnel. On December 26th, III. SS-Panzer Korps ordered that the mobile tanks be concentrated into one ad hoc unit, leaving the dug-in vehicles where they were.


First from the book Tragedy of the Faithful by Wilhelm Tieke I arrive at the following.

SSPzAbt. 11 when established was to have Panthers outfitting its first company and the personnel were sent to be trained on the Panther. However there were none available so when the division went to Croatia in September 1943 they were stationed at Samobar and operated PzKpw IVs and StuG IIIs but no Panthers. While in Croatia they also used captured Italian AFVs. In December 1943, still with no Panthers, they were sent to the Leningrad Front.

At the end of 1943 SSPzAbt. 11 arrived at Hungerburg and was given a billeting area there. This city is on the Baltic coast just north of Narwa. It was then moved to Jamburg which is just to the east of Narwa. Now I will quote from the book: “Individual tank crews were issued Panthers that originated in a faulty early-production run and actually did not belong at the front. However, the marked shortage of weapons was already forcing such measures. The Panthers served as strong point at critical areas of the front, where they were dug in. The tankers of SS PzAbt. 11, who had waited in vain for their authorized issue of armored vehicles, went to work and, with the help of SS Instandesetzungs Abt. 11, made individual vehicles operational.”

From this data I then went to the book Germany’s Panther Tank, The Quest for Combat Supremacy by Thomas L. Jentz where I found the following and I quote: “Due to the mechanical unreliability of the Panther and the high rate of Panther losses on the Eastern Front, on 1 November 1943, Hitler ordered that 60 Panthers without motors and transmissions be immediately sent to the Leningrad Front to be dug in opposite the Kronstadter Bay. Between 5 and 25 November 1943, 60 operational Panthers with motors and transmissions were loaded on rail cars at the ordnance depot and shipped to Heeres Gruppe North.

On 30 November 1943, L.Armee Korps reported that the intention was to provide personnel from a Panther-Abteilung to man the 60 Panthers that were attached to the 9. and 10. Luftwaffe-Feld Divisionen. For mutual support, completely immobile Panthers were to be dug in groups of three with 1000 to 1500 meter field of fire to the front and sides. If, for tactical reasons, a single Panther was dug in by itself, it was to be supported by an anti-tank gun and infantry. The 10 most mechanically fit Panthers in each division were to be formed into two platoons of five each and held as a mobile reserve behind the front.

The 1.Abteilung/Panzer Regiment 29, selected to provide 60 personnel [20 commanders, 20 drivers, 15 gunners and 5 radio operators] to man these Panthers, arrived at the front on 19 December 1943. On 26 December 1943 the III. SS-Panzer-Korps ordered that starting 28 December, all mobile panthers were to be concentrated under I. Abteilung/PzRgt 29 as a corps reserve at Alt-Bor. The immobile Panthers and those Panthers dug in as anti-tank guns were to remain attached to the divisions.”

Now when I look at the delivery records of the Panther I cannot find any Panthers being issued to SS Panzer Abt. 11 until February 1945 when they were shipped 10 Panthers. This does not correspond to the information found in the book Tradegy of the Faithful on page 28 as noted above.

Therefore I believe that based on the text in Tragedy of the Faithful then some of these 60 Panthers sent in November were issued to SS PzAbt. 11 in late December 1943 or early January 1944. The number is not known. In Tragedy of the Faithful on page 35 it also notes that several dug in Panther were manned by personnel from SS PzAbt. 11. On page 43 it notes that SSPA 11 helped where it could with its few tanks. It lost its first men at Kaporje on 27 January. On page 55 it notes that SSPA11 broke out of Jamburg without any tanks.

These comments would further support that the initial Panthers used by the unit were part of the 60 Panthers sent in November 1943 and were both immobile and dug in and a few had been made mobile by the workshop unit of the division. It also appears that in February the SSPA11 operated in the defense of Narwa as infantry without tanks.

That about covers the data regarding SSPA 11 from beginning to end. If the Panthers that were initially used were from the 60 then these would have been the 547th through 606th delivered and would have been Ausf Ds because of the description as to their unreliability. Also the several photos of the early Panthers on the book at Narwa show the presence of a drum cupola for the commander indicating an Ausf D.


M113 Part II-APC to IFV


It was the Soviets who introduced the first large-scale employment of the infantry fighting vehicle (IFV).

From the outset, early APCs such as half-tracks carried a variety of weapons, usually machine guns, to enable their occupants to at least defend themselves against potential attackers; these measures were primarily defensive. In general the early APCs had to depend on supporting arms such as tanks and artillery to cover their movements. Fire support by APCs for other APCs was very limited. Even with the 1950s generation of APCs little was changed. What weapons were carried were usually served by crew or infantry squad members having to expose themselves to incoming fire and artillery bursts through an open hatch or cupola to operate whatever weapon was involved. But once that weapon was protected within a turret the potential of what was to become the IFV was realised.

The gun turret was not the only firepower amplifier on the IFV Even before viable gun turrets appeared anti-tank guided weapons (ATGW) or recoilless rifles were often fired from open APC roof hatches. The missiles involved were usually those normally carried by the infantry passengers but with the advent of the IFV more powerful and longer range ATGWs appeared, a typical example from the West being the American wire-guided TOW series.

On the IFV the launchers for such ATGWs were often specialised turrets but the latest generation of IFVs now have their ATGW launchers as adjuncts to gun turrets to provide greater variety of support firepower for the infantry – the specialised ATGW turrets have instead converted some IFV variants into specialised tank killers.

Thus by the late 1970s the APC had become the father to the IFV But even before then, during the 1960s, a series of projects in which APCs assumed combat turrets with cannon-type weapons had appeared.

The old APC thus became less of a personnel carrier and more of a combat vehicle capable of producing its own fire support on the move and of operating in unison with other similarly-armed vehicles to attack or defend objectives.

The number of combat roles for the old infantry carriers began to expand. From being a simple armoured ‘battlefield taxi’ the personnel carrier began to assume patrolling, surveillance and reconnaissance roles plus, as it carried a viable weapon, the ability to engage similar enemy vehicles and remove them and their precious cargoes from the battlefield.

Protection for the occupants and crew expanded to incorporate collective chemical and nuclear warfare protection systems while more consideration was given to protecting vehicle occupants against land mine detonations. The relatively low cost APC had become the far more costly IFV.

IFV Tactics

The space and weight demands of gun turrets means that the number of infantry carried by most IFVs is usually far less than the potential capacity of a dedicated APC. However, the reduced numbers of IFV-borne troops can now more than make their presence felt with greater impact due to their potential firepower.

Modern infantry weapons, such as the small calibre assault rifle and light machine gun, can deliver far greater firepower than past generations of small arms so when this potential is coupled with the main armament of the IFV the result is not just greater combat force but the need to rethink infantry tactics.

Infantry still has to take ground and hold it against attack but the way they do so now has altered. Infantry may still have to dismount from IFVs during the final stages of an attack but they do so close to their objective and with the covering fire of their parent IFVs to support them.

During an approach to an objective IFV troops usually have opportunity to utilise their personal weapons through firing ports in the troop compartment walls or exit points. They can accomplish this effectively as they are usually well provided with vision blocks or other devices to observe what is happening outside the confines of their vehicle.

Once an objective has been taken IFVs can be deployed to provide defensive firepower to add to that provided by the infantry using not just their machine guns or cannon, but the ATGWs which are now an integral part of the armament of any IFV.

One of the current tactical problems for IFV-borne infantry is how to make the best use of all this potential firepower.

Operations no longer involve a headlong rush at an objective and the subsequent dismounted infantry attacks of the APC era. Instead infantry tactics are now very much a matter of firefights, mutual inter-IFV fire and manoeuvre support, and inter-vehicle engagements at long ranges.

It must not be forgotten that IFVs still operate in close proximity to, or in co-operation with, tanks. Thus the old infantry-armour associations and working methods have also come under scrutiny to make the best possible use of their combined shock tactics and firepower.

In a similar manner few armoured operations can take place without artillery support so they too have been drawn into what seem the most routine infantry operations.

The key as always, is inter-communication to an extent that past foot soldiers would not have dared contemplate.

While such situations are familiar to tank crews, much of this is quite novel to the infantry for whom the only solution is a course of thorough retraining and subsequent experimentation to discover how best to go about their tasks in the future.

Campaigns such as that in the Persian Gulf in 1991, during which IFVs were deployed by the West for the first time on any significant scale, could provide only an inkling of how to proceed.

In a similar manner, during the deployment of BMP-1 IFVs in Afghanistan the changed tactical approaches mechanised infantry commanders now have to adopt were highlighted.

The 1994-1995 close-in fighting in Chechenya provided an indication of how the Russian Army failed to heed those indications.

The future for the infantry seems to indicate more time in gunnery and mission simulators as new skills are assimilated and less time spent in pounding around training areas.

Training armoured combat vehicle personnel is becoming increasingly expensive, so electronic simulators are assuming an ever more important role in training for all tasks from driving and gunnery to inter-vehicle fire command and control.

FMC Armored IFV

The Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle (AIFV) grew out of a project to provide the M113 APC with an enclosed weapon station. Private venture development by FMC (now United Defense) resulted, in 1970, in the AIFV which was first procured by the Netherlands. Their original order was for over 2,000 AIFVs, about half of which were manufactured in the Netherlands. Other customers have included Belgium and Turkey both of whom undertook local licence production agreements. Production in Belgium has now ceased but it continues in Turkey where the local requirement is for some 1,700 AIFVs.

The AIFV is basically an M113 APC with a revised hull outline and a turret off-set to the right, just behind the engine compartment, and mounting a 25 mm cannon with a coaxial 7.62 mm MG.

Many AIFVs are armed with a TOW ATGW turret, especially those produced in the Netherlands, where another model is armed only with a 12.7 mm MG over a small cupola. The addition of the turret limits the internal troop accommodation to a maximum of seven who enter via a power-operated ramp at the rear.

Customers, other than those already mentioned, have included the Philippines (where the turret armament is limited to a 12.7 mm MG) and Egypt, the latter purchasing surplus vehicles from the Netherlands.

At one time Pakistan was to produce the AIFV locally but that arrangement is in abeyance. With so many AIFVs being produced at several centres, variants have proliferated to the extent that, for example, Belgian and Netherlands command AIFVs differ. Thus there are several types of AIFV recovery vehicle, armoured ambulance, and so on. There are also AIFV supply vehicles, and mortar carriers or tractors.

Some Turkish AIFVs are fitted with 300 hp diesel engine packs.

A close copy of the AIFV has been produced in Taiwan. The Korean Infantry Fighting Vehicle is visually similar to the AIFV.

Korean IFV

The Korean IFV, or KIFV, (K-200). It is manufactured by Daewoo Heavy Industries and is based on an American FMC private venture design derived from the M113 APC, although a significant number of local innovations have been introduced; FMC were not involved at any stage.

Aluminum armour from the United Kingdom is used for the hull (covered by spaced laminate steel plates) while the power pack, coupled to an American transmission, is German.

The first KIFV examples entered service in 1985, with well over 1,000 units having been manufactured by early 1994. Most have been the IFV version, armed with a pintle-mounted 12.7 mm MG protected by a small open turret behind a shield, plus a 7.62 mm MG over the commander’s cupola.

The rear hull roof is raised to increase internal head room for the seven personnel carried; they are provided with an NBC collective protection system as standard.

A trim vane is stowed on the front glacis as the KIFV is amphibious, being propelled in the water by its tracks.

The KIFV is only one of a family of vehicles on the same base chassis, The others include an air defence vehicle armed with a single 20 mm Vulcan rotary cannon, a recovery vehicle with a prominent recovery crane, an NBC reconnaissance vehicle (which has appeared only in prototype form to date), a command post, an armoured ambulance, two types of mortar carrier (81 mm and 4,2-inch/107 mm), and a tank destroyer carrying a special turret to launch two TOW ATGWs. The latter variant is still at the proposal stage but most of the others are in service with the South Korean armed forces.

More were ordered during 1993 and 1994 by Malaysia for issue to their troops operating with the United Nations forces in the former Yugoslavia.

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