Panther in the Ardennes

Discussion in 'WW2 General' started by Soren, Jan 9, 2009.

  1. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    The Panthers belonged to 4. Kompanie, SS-Pz.Rgt.2, which, under the command of SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Pohl, led the divisional attack. SS-Oberscharfuehrer Ernst Barkmann, commander of Panther '401', provides this account of his panzer's advance into American-held territory:

    'We reached the enemy-occupied crossroads coming from a south-westerly direction, drove on in a double column, and from all our tanks guns brought coordinated fire to bear on the recognisable enemy positions with highexplosive shells. After this surprise bombardment there was hardly any further reaction from the enemy.

    'SS-Hauptscharfuehrer Frauscher reported by radio that he was pulling away in order to reach the Manhay road which was to be attacked. While turning off the road, the leading tank in his section received a direct hit and remained out of action. The second Panther was likewise hit. The section was at a standstill. The commander urged us by radio to continue the attack. I was anxious about my comrade Frauscher and his crew.

    'To clarify the situation, I sent a brief message to the company commander to say I had decided to pull away, in accordance with what he surely wanted.
    Without waiting for his reply, we moved on. Making better use of the terrain than its predecessor, Panther 401 reached the road without interference. We crossed over it, and immediately turned in the direction of the enemy. No firing! Using the higher contours of the road both for observation and cover, we went slowly on, parallel with it so as to reach the leading tank which had got stuck and give it protective fire. We couldn't find Frauscher's tank. I learnt by radio that it had changed its position and moved forward again. So we went on under the protection of the high-lying road and after a long time reached the edge of the woods. Under the moonlight shadows of tall pine-trees, we penetrated into the woods along the roadway.

    'Fifty metres away, on the right, there was a tank which had moved in, with its commander standing in the turret, and which was apparently waiting for me. Frauscher! I moved up to the tank on its left-hand side. As soon as both turrets were on a level with each other, I gave orders to stop and turn off the motor and started to speak. But in a flash my opposite number disappeared inside the turret and the hatches clanged shut. My neighbour's driver's hatch lifted and then was lowered again. I noticed a winecoloured panel light. But the Panther had a green one. Then I knew that the tank alongside us was an American Sherman.

    'Headphones on, I shouted on the tank intercom: "Gunner! The tank alongside is an enemy one. Fire at it". Within seconds, the tank turret turned to the right and the long gun barrel banged against the turret of the Sherman. Gunner to commander: "Can't fire - turret traverse stuck". The driver, SS-Rottenfuehrer Grundmeyer, had been listening and, without any order being given, he started up the motor and pulled back a few yards. Whereupon SS-Unterscharfuehrer Poggendorf, the gunner, loosed off the Panzergranate into the middle of the rear of the enemy tank at a distance of a few yards. I was still standing in the tank turret. A blue flame sprang out from the circular hole in the rear of the Sherman. As I took cover inside the turret 1 heard the detonation.

    'We moved on past the burning tank. From a clearing in the forest on the right two more enemy tanks came at us. We fired immediately. The first one gave out black smoke and came no further. The second one likewise came to a halt.

    'No radio contact could be made with the company. We went on nevertheless, supposing that Frauscher's tank had been hit in front of us, and that the enemy tanks which had just been shot up were lying in wait on the edge of the forest and were now trying to make contact with their own units in their rear. But we had become more careful now.

    'As everything remained quiet, we still moved on and on. The forest was getting light. Then suddenly there was a wide area in front of us that was clear of trees - a real forest meadow. The road ran around it in a large S-shaped curve and disappeared into a downward slope between the trees on the opposite side.

    'I caught my breath. In the open grassy area in front of us I counted nine enemy tanks close beside each other. They all had the muzzles of their guns pointing threateningly at our tanks which till then had been moving unsuspectingly directly towards them. Our driver Grundmeyer recognised the danger. He was really taken aback. Standing still or retreating would be suicidal. Only bluff could still save us. So it was a question of escaping in a forwards direction. And the commander's orders to the driver were:"Move on ahead without reducing speed". Perhaps we would succeed in passing around them without being recognised because they were thinking that we were their own tanks. We advanced along the bend, showing them the full length of our sides and with nine turrets threatening us. Their gunners really had us in the bag. But not a shot was fired. As soon as we were on their flank and I could pick out the backs of all the enemy tanks drawn up behind each other, I called a halt. We had the best firing position and in fact had only one enemy tank to deal with. All the rest were blocking each other's field of fire. I let the turret swing round to 3 o'clock (to the right) so as to let the gunner get the targets in his sights. And then I couldn't believe my eyes. Those Ami crews jumped out, rushed headlong from their tanks, and charged into the shelter of part of the forest that lay behind them.


    Part 2 follows below:
     
  2. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    'This changed the situation for us once again. I knew now that Frauscher's tank was behind me, was aware of the company's combat plans, and had come to grips with an adversary who, in nightfighting at least, was inexperienced and could be thrown into confusion. We had to make use of this advantage in the context of the entire operation. Radio contact with the company was still unobtainable. 'All on my own I decided to have the turret turned to 12 o'clock (to the line of advance) and gave the order: "Tanks forward!" We would have been happy to knock out the enemy tanks but this would have alerted the whole enemy front. Also, our friend Frauscher who followed us took care of that. According to his report, the tanks were kept busy once again. He bagged all nine of them.

    'We moved on towards Manhay. The forest closed in on us again. Singly at first, then in groups and columns, there were American infantry pulling out on to the road from the right side of the forest. For reasons I couldn't understand, the enemy was disengaging. We were moving through the middle of them without taking any special care. My crew, and especially my driver, needed some clarification regarding the situation in which we found ourselves. My young troops were very tensed up indeed, but wonderfully calm, as always in such dangerous situations. The American soldiers were avoiding us, jumping to one side, cursing and threatening us, but they didn't recognise us as German tanks, though I was standing upright out of the cupola and looking down at them. Beneath the squares of the pattern of the camouflage netting their steel helmets were shining in the moonlight. Their faces were haggard. Then the dawn broke over the forest. Suddenly, there were houses on the left and right of the road. We had reached Manhay. So as to continue unrecognised, we increased our speed.

    The buildings became denser. There were tanks and lorries which had arrived at the house and signs of activity in front of a lighted cafe - surely a staff headquarters. Scurrying soldiers enlivened the picture. We drove right through the middle of them - with them even making room to let us through.

    'Then we found ourselves at the crossroads. The left-hand road led through Grandmenil to Erezee, the objective for the company's attack. From this direction, three Sherman tanks rolled forwards at us. I refrained from turning aside, and continued to drive straight on over the crossroads towards Liege Anything to get out of the village! And then turn round at some point so as to join up with the attacking company again, or at least get back into its area of radio contact. That was what we were trying to do. Till then, not a single shot had been fired - either by the enemy or by us. To start an exchange of fire would have been mad and would have doomed us. The danger had not yet been staved off; it was just beginning. On our right, in the direction of the crossroads, there was one enemy tank behind another and all Shermans of the worst type. And always in groups of nine or twelve, behind each other in company formation. In the gaps between them there were jeeps - company commander vehicles. The crews had sat down and were smoking and chatting near their tanks. There was one enemy company after another, all in rows. I gave up trying to count them but estimate the number of tanks at eighty or more.

    'We had no choice left, we had to get past them. The American soldiers jumped aside. Before long they recognised us as German, but not until we were already past them. Behind us motors were whirring and tank turrets turning but thank God that one tank was blocking the view and field of fire of another one. I had egg hand-grenades distributed in case we had to abandon the tank, lit up a smoke generator, and let it roll over the rear on to the road. Thick smoke was screening us from behind. The situation was becoming increasingly unpleasant.

    'My gun loader Karl Keller pulled me gently down out of the cupola in which 1 had till then been standing exposed, and turned up the collar of my camouflage jacket. Pointing to my Knight's Cross, he said, "It shines too much in the moonlight....'He had been watching me the whole time from the dark fighting compartment below, and had judged what was happening outside from the expression on my face. His MG position had rows of machine gun belts with tracer bullets hanging beside each other in it.

    'The gunner was pressing his face against the optical gunsight, thus having the possibility to see at least something through the narrow field it offered. His hand was grasping the lever operating the turret traverse mechanism.

    'The driver suddenly said: "There's a car coming at us from in front". My head went outside again. It was true. There was a jeep moving along towards us. And there was a man who must have been an officer standing in it and frantically waving a signal disc. "He´s trying to stop us", I thought.

    "He's been ordering us to do that for a long time already as he approached. Is the man a hero or a maniac?" Then the driver was given the order: "Run the jeep over!" My driver acknowledged it. The jeep driver reacted, realised that his situation was critical, stopped, and accelerated in reverse. A wild chase began. The officer stopped signalling. Yard by yard the distance narrowed. Then there was a crash. Our right track had caught the jeep and overrun it. The occupants tried to jump off.

    [....]

    'Our Panther was thrown off the road by the impact and came to rest with all its weight against the nearest Sherman. I was flung halfway out of the turret. My headphones rolled away over the roof of the turret and were left dangling. My cap remained as a memento for those outside. Our engine stalled. Our big rumbler had ended up with its righthand driving sprocket embedded in the tracks of the enemy tank and stuck fast. After a moment of shock, all hell broke loose outside. Bullets from infantry weapons were zipping round my ears and forced me to take cover in the turret. The driver vainly tried to make the motor's starter work. I fished up the indispensable headgear - microphone and headphones - from over the edge of the turret and considered all the possible ways in which we could save ourselves. But was there still any way out?

    'Leaving the tank or defending ourselves with our turret weapons would in fact lead to the same result - either death or capture. So I had an urgent word with the driver. He was obviously concentrating on his job. The batteries were recharging themselves. After a few misfires, the engine came to life. We all breathed freely again. "Move backwards!" Slowly and carefully, and without the track coming adrift, the Panther disengaged itself from the Sherman and swung out on to the road. The smoke pouring from a smoke generator scared the Amis away. "Move forward!" Under cover of the smoke we moved on again. All along the level road we went past tanks and still more tanks, columns of trucks, supply vehicles including two halftracks, trucks belonging to a medical unit with a bus for operations, until we at last reached open country. The houses of Manhay lay behind us. The way to Liege lay open for us. Where I now longed to be was up with the spearheads of my company with my tank unit behind them.

    'As 1 noticed that there were vehicles following us, the gunner swung the turret to 6 o'clock and as we moved along loosed off high-explosive shells back in their direction and into the village. After about 300 metres, I halted our '401', had the engine switched off, and listened to the sounds coming out of the night. 'From Manhay were coming the sounds of motors and the noise of tanks on the move. We had thrown the Americans into total confusion at their assembly point. In the distance, I could hear the sounds of fighting.

    'Enemy vehicles were following us again, including a Sherman, but we shot them up with accurate shell-fire. Burning vehicles were blocking the road for the others. A couple of hundred metres further on, we repeated the exercise. As we then changed course again towards the north, we left the road and, on a bend, found a well hidden firing position with a good view of the road. Here I stopped to let my crew get down. They stood around my turret gulping in the air. I looked at their grinning faces. Everything had worked out alright again.

    'As the sounds of fighting came nearer, we heard the ringing crack of the Panther guns. It was like music to our ears. The company was attacking Manhay. The radio operator was tuning his frequency adjuster. "German Tiger! German Tigers!", we heard. "Help!, help!", coming through on some enemy channel in our combat area. So our Panzer Vs were being taken for Tiger tanks, though there was not a single one of these in action on this sector of the front.

    'The enemy was under severe pressure and was carrying out a mass disengagement, westwards towards Grandmenil and in a north-easterly direction towards Vaux-Chavanne. We scattered the enemy vehicles pressing us with our guns and many of these vehicles drove off the road into open country and got stuck in the snow.

    'Manhay was taken by our troops in a relatively short time and our '401' had played a part in this. The way to Liege lay open before us. We followed the advance on Grandmenil from the sounds of the fighting, then left our firing position and moved slowly back to Manhay past burning vehicles. There was not a German tank to meet us at the entrance to the village. Instead there were hemmed-in and abandoned American tanks and vehicles. The Sherman tanks which had capitulated were standing in the front gardens, between and behind the houses. We counted twenty of them.'




    On December 31st SS-Hauptscharfuehrer Frauscher, the 3rd Platoon leader in the forefront of the attack against Manhay and Grandmenil, was awarded the Knight's Cross for his part in the attack.
     
  3. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    I'd read an account similar about a Panther that got loose behind the lines during the Bulge. Except this guys kept going for a while. I am not sure what the final outcome was for him but he ended up way behind the Allied lines.

    Very similar and very good story.

    Thanks for posting.
     
  4. walle

    walle New Member

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    Interesting, one thing that caught my attention was when he wrote “the Shermans of the worst kind”, my guess would be that those would have been the British Fire Flies.
     
  5. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    You're most welcome Timshatz. I believe I've heard about the story you're talking about as-well, I'll go look for it.

    PS: I wonder what went through the mind of those guys in the Jeep when being chased by the Panther! Yikes!
     
  6. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    I think he meant the other way round, the ordinary M4's. Either way it doesn't matter.
     
  7. walle

    walle New Member

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    You may very well be right in your assertion but seeing that the British Fire Flies carried a heavier punch I’ll have to stick with mine (assuming I understood his wordings right), but you’re right, it doesn’t matter, yet I found it interesting.

    As a side note: I know that the Germans fielded some tanks using night vision for evolution purposes (during that battle), I don’t know how it panned out though.


    //Eric
     
  8. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    Brits didn't get into the Bulge until the 2nd Panzer (maybe SS, not sure) made it almost to the Meuse River. Then it was 30 Corp they ran into. So, it probably wasn't them as the German Armor ran out of gas just when it got to that point.

    Don't believe the US was using Fireflys but I could be wrong.

    He may be talking about 76MM Shermans. I believe they started coming into operation in late summer. So the time would work. It looked a lot like a Firefly with a long barrelled gun and muzzle break. Also, unlike the 75MM Sherman, it could put a round through the front armor of the Panther but only at relatively close ranges (less than 400 yards). Flank shots were prefered (probably by just about everyone, regardless of nationality).
     
  9. timshatz

    timshatz Active Member

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    I don't know about the zero (officer) but I figure the enlisted guy driving was wondering what kind of bs situation that knucklehead with the baton had gotten him into.

    That and why doesn't this thing have a second gear in reverse.
     
  10. walle

    walle New Member

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    Thanks timshatz, I didn't know that the Americans didn't use the Firefly which I suppose (as you pointed out) leaves us with the 76mm Shermans.


    Cheers


    //Eric
     
  11. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    The way I understand the phrase "The very worst of Shermans" he means litterally that, the M4 which was the weakest and most numerous version of the Sherman. But it could also be the other way round, just my interpretation :)
     
  12. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    :lol:
     
  13. walle

    walle New Member

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    Quick conducted research seems to have confirmed you interpretation, time for a coffee and a rest.
     
  14. GrauGeist

    GrauGeist Well-Known Member

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    Great story, Soren, thanks for posting it!

    Might want to mention that the standard M4 Sherman carried a 75 m/m that barely held it's own against the later Panzer armor, but the M4 equipped with the 76 m/m packed a considerable punch and was very capable of killing a Panther, especially at close ranges.

    I think the 76 m/m was distinguished by it's longer barrel and muzzle brake.
     
  15. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    The 75mm L/34 gun of the M4A3 was extremely inadequate against german armour and could only defeat a Tiger or Panther with flanking shots at very close range, less than 100m in the case of the Tiger.

    The EasyEight Shermans equipped with the long 76mm gun were more deadly, but they still couldn't hurt a Tiger from the front. They could penetrate the Panthers gun mantlet out to 300m, and the sides at pretty long range (1500y), but there was no hope against the front lower hull or glacis plate. Even the 17 pdr, by far the best AT gun fielded by the Allies during the war, would need to be within 300m if it was at all to have hope of punching a hole in the Panther's glacis plate. By contrast the Panther could knock out Sherman FireFly EasyEight frontally way past 2,500m.
     
  16. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    Hello Soren
    Quote:” Even the 17 pdr, by far the best AT gun fielded by the Allies during the war, would need to be within 300m if it was at all to have hope of punching a hole in the Panther's glacis plate.”

    Once again, not as simple as that, from below, point (6), from over 600m 3 out of 5 17pdr SABOTs fired penetrated and of those the both fair hits on the glacis penetrated in one test. And 17 pdr APCBC cannot be depended upon to penetrate the glacis plate in one fair hit on average quality plate but had a reasonable chance to first crack and then penetrate if it could hit on same area twice from rather short distance. And it was always better to aim middle of mantlet or to the nose plate of Panther.


    Extracks from U.S. Army Firing Test No.3
    U.S. Army Firing Tests conducted August 1944 by 12th U.S. Army Group at Isigny, France.


    b. Wide variation was found in the quality of glacis plate on the three tanks. Tank No.2 (hereafter referred to as the "best plate") sustained 30 hits as ranges from 600 to 200 yards without cracking. Tanks Nos.1 and 3 (hereafter referred to as "average plate") cracked after relatively few hits. All conclusions are, therefore, based solely on the relative performance of rounds fired at a single plate. Comparisons are not made between rounds fired at different plates. Also, the performance of any ammunition in this test cannot be considered a criterion as to the range at which it will penetrate the front plate of a Panther tank... [last few words of sentence are illegible].
    d. A penetration was defined as occuring only when the projectile passed completely through the plate. Only fair hits were considered in determining penetrations. Rounds striking edges of the plate, welds and junctions of the plate, and cracks in the plate were not fair hits.
    c. Penetration
    (1) At 600 yards, 17pdr APCBC penetrated the lower nose of tank No.1 (average plate), while 76mm HVAP failed to penetrate.
    (2) At 400 yards, one round out of four fair hits of 17pdr SABOT penetrated the glacis of tank No.2 (best plate). This was the only penetration of this plate by a fair hit with any of the ammunitions (including 76mm HVAP w/17pdr APBC propellant, 76mm HVAP w/17pdr SABOT propellant) at ranges 200 yards and over.

    (3) At 400 yards, one round out of one fair hit with 17pdr APCBC and one round out of one hit with 17pdr SABOT penetrated the lower nose of tank No.2 (best plate). Both rounds of 76mm APC, M62 failed to penetrate, and one round of 76mm HVAP penetrated while the second round failed to penetrate. Two rounds out of two hits of 76mm HVAP w/17pdr SABOT propellant also penetrated.

    (4) At 200 yards one fair hit with each of the standard ammunitions failed to penetrate the glacis of tank No.2 (best plate). The relative depths of the partial penetrations at this range were as follows:
    (a) 17pdr APCBC - 2"
    (b) 17pdr SABOT - 1 7/8"
    (c) 76mm HVAP - 1 5/16"
    (d) 76mm APC, M62 - 1"

    (5) At 200 yards firing at the glacis of tank No.3 (average plate) one round out of four fair hits with 76mm HVAP penetrated, this round, after partially penetrating, ...[illegible word]... and penetrated the plate ...[illegible word]... . One round of 17pdr SABOT penetrated and one round failed to penetrate at this range. One fair hit with 17pdr APCBC failed to penetrate, but cracked the plate. The second round striking within 6" of the first round penetrated.

    (6) In contrast to the results obtained in this teast with 17pdr SABOT, in firing conducted by First U.S. Army at Balleroy on 10 July 44, 5 rounds were fired at the front plate of a Panther tank at 700 yards. Examination of pictures of this firing indicates that the first round struck the mantlet, the second between the track and the nose plate, the third at the junction of the nose and glacis and penetrated. The fourth and fifth were fair hits on the glacis and both penetrated. The conflict between these results and those obtained by the board is expalined by Col. A. G. Cole, Deputy Director of Artillery, Ministry of Supply. Col. Cole witnessed part of the test and states that the ammunition lot furnished the board had not been proof fired. He further states that, in his opinion, the lot is of sub-standard manufacture and if proof fired would not have been accepted.

    (7) 76mm APC, M62 fair hits which failed to penetrate caused no cracking of the plate of average quality. 76mm HVAP, 17pdr SABOT, and 17pdr APCBC caused cracking in varying degrees. In general, 17pdr APCBC caused greater damage to the plate than 17pdr SABOT or 76mm HVAP.
    5. Findings
    a. The 17pdr SABOT fired in this test has penetrating power equal or slightly better than that of the 17pdr APCBC and the 76mm HVAP, T4. It is, however, definitely inferior to these ammunitions because of its inaccuracy. The board invites attention to the fact that its findings and conclusions apply only to the ammunition furnished it and may not apply to good quality 17pdr SABOT.
    d. The 17pdr APCBC is more effective against the front of a Panther tank than is the 76mm HVAP, T4. Its margin of superiority is not great. Neither one can be depended upon to penetrate the glacis plate in one fair hit on average quality plate.

    Juha
     
  17. Soren

    Soren Banned

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    APDS ammunition was a very rare commodity and inaccurate beyon acceptability. Thus the APCBC was the prefered AP ammunition, and it would have to be within 300m to at all have a chance of penetrating the Panther's glacis.
     
  18. Juha

    Juha Well-Known Member

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    Soren
    Quote:"APDS ammunition was a very rare commodity "

    Have you any figures, to my understanding, based on limited info, the basic load of Fireflies from autumn 44 onwards was.

    A.P.C.B.C.__________60%
    A.P.D.S.____________6%
    H.E. ______________34%

    Quote: "inaccurate beyon acceptability"

    Based on what? The raport of Isigny test which I gave extracts earlier, and I already gave also this one:
    "The conflict between these results and those obtained by the board is expalined by Col. A. G. Cole, Deputy Director of Artillery, Ministry of Supply. Col. Cole witnessed part of the test and states that the ammunition lot furnished the board had not been proof fired. He further states that, in his opinion, the lot is of sub-standard manufacture and if proof fired would not have been accepted."

    Also from same extract, already gven "in firing conducted by First U.S. Army at Balleroy on 10 July 44, 5 rounds were fired at the front plate of a Panther tank at 700 yards. Examination of pictures of this firing indicates that the first round struck the mantlet, the second between the track and the nose plate, the third at the junction of the nose and glacis and penetrated. The fourth and fifth were fair hits on the glacis and both penetrated." IMHO not hopelessly bad accuracy but of course APCBC was definitely more accurate.

    Juha
     
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