The German Tiger tank has gotten most of the publicity over the years, but experts generally rank the Panther as the Wehrmacht’s best tank— perhaps even the single best tank design to come out of World War Two. The Panther suffered many of the usual problems and flaws of German AFVs, including being underpowered and saddled with a transmission that often broke down. Yet no one would argue that its KwK 42 L/70 75mm gun was among the deadliest on the battlefield. The KwK 42’s high muzzle velocity could punch through any opponent’s armor, and was actually deadlier than the famed “88” of the Tiger I.
Initially developed as a counter to the Soviet T-34, the Panther had the same sloped armor, but an improved gun and heavier armament. It shared the same Maybach HL230 V-12 engine as the Tiger I, an engine that was too light for the tank’s weight (and an even bigger disaster for the Tiger). Production was shared by Daimler-Benz and Maschinenfabrik Augsburg-Nürnberg AG (MAN) after the latter’s design was chosen over D-B’s more innovative one, with Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen-Hannover (MNH) having a third of the work.
The Panther went through three major versions: D, A and G in that order, as well as a Panzerjäger
variant and minor variations like a Bergepanther
designed to retrieve knocked-out tanks. Hence, the Panther has been a favorite of modelers since the end of WW2. It’s not surprising, then, that Canfora Design & Publishing has released a new book for Panther modelers.
What’s quite surprising is the rather unusual format—
Most books about AFVs are split into two categories: reference books about the vehicle, with some mix of historical vs. modern photos from surviving examples. The other usual option is a “how to” book focused on kit-building, weathering, camouflage, etc. Canfora has come up with a delightful hybrid that combines the two.
The soft-cover book is comprised of 144 pages filled with photographs of models, historical maps and historical photographs. Each chapter is organized around a build by a “Who’s Who” of modeling:
Roger Hurkmans, Lester Plaskitt, Darren Gawle, Mirko Baryerl, Roddy MacDougall, Toni Canfora (the publisher), Brian Murdoch, Gunnar Jansson, Markus Eriksson and Phil Stutcinskas.
Additionally, there is a chapter on relics found on the battlefield, and one of some archaeology performed on the paint schemes of several Panther Schürzen
that may change your mind about painting conventions in late war Wehtmacht vehicles.
When I first received the book, I was skeptical it could be anything more than a gimmick. The concept grew out of a “Clash of the Titans” group build by modeling superstars like Roddy MacDougall who had intended on seeing what they could do with the Panther Ausf. G. But the project quickly came to include all major versions. The result turned out to be a treasure trove of information, modeling techniques and superb mini-dioramas to inspire and challenge us, as well as history to ground the kits in the real events that inspired them.
The Panther has been released in a variety of kits, most notably by Dragon Models (the base kits for all of the builds in the book); both Tamiya and Italeri Panthers are still available, especially those by the former. And there are probably more AM resin and PE sets out there than I could count, with new ones reportedly in the wings. So the modeler’s interests will be met from the book’s build tips.
The accounts of how the base kits were improved by after-market upgrades and plenty of sweat are inspiring. The information is all first-rate, as you’d expect from a group so distinguished. No one stints in providing details, the kind of generosity that still amazes me about this hobby. The exact kit, the after-market upgrades, the brand names for all the pieces and tidbits are spelled-out, leaving nothing obscure. The dioramas themselves are scoped out, too; for example, I learned about using sheet rock for building walls (cheap, readily available and easy to sculpt).
But aside from the usual “how-to’s” and the like, what really makes this book stand out is its grounding in history. I’m just so tired of kits with vehicle paint and decal schemes that say “unidentified unit, Eastern Front.” Instead these modeling superstars have researched real tanks that form the basis for their builds, working from specific photos of real tanks, often going to nearly absurd lengths to track down the actual place where the historical photo was taken, photos usually of wrecked or abandoned hulks.
The result is a series of vignettes that read like small chapters telling the story of World War Two’s insane final months. The Panther was a brilliant design, but came too late and in too few numbers to help the Wehrmacht and the Nazi Reich avoid their just fate. However, we should not forget these tanks were manned by real people who experienced events we can often only surmise or guess-at nearly seven decades later. The writer/modelers have often visited the specific places where these tanks ended their fighting days, and have constructed dioramas that bring those stories to life.
The book has few faults, other than some sloppy proofreading. I also found some of the text obscure at times, with “insider” references that were frankly annoying. For example, one section refers to the Wehrmacht’s defense of the Oranienbaum Kessel
(“Oranienbaum Pocket”), the name for the German position outside Leningrad during the Battle of Narva. While Kessel
is the correct German term, in English we use “pocket,” so unless you know the Battle of Narva well, it’s difficult even to look up the term. Since the audience for the book is English-speaking, I would have preferred this and other instances of un-translated German terms were avoided— “H.Gr. Nord” instead of “Army Group North” or at least Heeresgruppe Nord
. I suspect it’s just that the book was published in Sweden, and so the writers for the most part are not native English speakers. Still, it creates more work for the hobbyist audience than I think is warranted. None of this is fatal, just something that could be improved on.
I am constantly surprised at the struggle to get modelers to spend money on research books; most hobbyists prefer instead to put together another kit, often out-of-the-box or with some canned decal sets. Finding a book that gives the reader both a sound historical backing, as well as useful how-to techniques by some of the world’s top model builders seems like a real winner to me. If you can’t find inspiration from these mini dios, then you might want to think about getting into another hobby. I suspect you’ll be a better modeler when you’ve finished the book. I feel as though I am.
And the true measure of the success or failure of the book is its ability to motivate readers to create better models. Although I have built the Panther D
and have the G, A and Jadgpanther in my stash, when I finished Panther
, I immediately wanted to go out and add the steel wheels version, and even the G with Zimmerit. I guess that proves the book is doing its job.