By 1944, the fate of the Großdeutsches Reich (English: ´Greater German Reich´), more colloquially known as Nazi Germany, started becoming clearer and it was certainly not in the favor of the Germans. However, the German nation was not ready to surrender. As a result, the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther, one of the armored staples of the Wehrmacht at the time, continued to see development and upgrades until Germany’s eventual defeat in May of 1945.
While the 7.5cm Kw.K.42 L/70 main gun on the Pz.Kpfw. V Panther was a formidable tank gun capable of engaging any armored vehicle the Allies were able to field at the time, it was felt that the gun lacked enough future-proofing. In retrospect, these sentiments may not have been completely unjustified seeing as how vehicles developed by the Soviet Union near the end of the Second World War, like the T-54 and the IS-3, managed to be frontally resistant to the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 as mounted on the Panzerkampfwagen Tiger Ausf.B. Other vehicles, such as the United States’ Heavy Tank T32 and Heavy Tank T32E1, could also be theoretically frontally resistant to most of Germany’s anti-tank arsenal.
This IS-2 Mod.1944 was tested against the 8.8cm PaK.43 L/71 and 7.5cm Kw.K.42 L/70. The upper hull was impervious to the 7.5cm at any ranges while the 8.8cm could defeat it at 450 m, making it a great example as to the difference that an 8.8cm could have made in a real combat situation. Source: warspot.ru
During mid to late 1944, the firm of Daimler-Benz was in the midst of developing the Schmalturm (English: ‘narrow turret’), a replacement for the regular Rheinmetall-designed Panther turret. The Schmalturm was supposed to be used on the Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F. Considering that the Schmalturm was set to replace the original Rheinmetall turret and presumably Krupp thought that turret would be more accepting of a larger gun, Krupp designed an up-gunned version of the Schmalturm with a minimal amount of modifications. Krupp´s drawing Hln-130 (also referred to as Hln-B130), called ‘8.8cm L/71 I, Panther, schmal’ in at least one of the drawings, shows the Schmalturm mounting a modified version of the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 dating back to October 18, 1944.
Hln-130 modified to show major components of the turret. The red outline shows the armor structure, turret ring in orange, cupola in purple, bulbous turret extension in yellow, 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 gun breech in brown, and 8,8cm round in green.
The gun was able to be accommodated by creating an armored bulbous extension at the front of the turret. The trunnions on the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71´s gun carriage were moved 350 mm rearwards along the length of the gun, or the gun itself was moved 350mm forwards on the trunnions depending on how one wants to interpret it. The new gun mantlet was entirely different compared to the pot-shaped mantlet used on the regular Schmalturm. The installation of this new, larger gun compromised internal space and would mean that the loader would have a tough time loading rounds into the breech due to the limited amount of space between the gun breech and the rear of the turret. The round had to be loaded at an angle going upwards from the base of the turret, where there was enough room to squeeze in the round to the breech. One further modification was that the aperture for the main gun differed from the regular Schmalturm, although the apertures for the gunsight and machine gun were to remain identical.
Krupp´s Hln-E142 drawing, called ´Pz.Kpfw. “Panther” mit 8.8cm L/71 (Kw.K.43)´, dating back to November 17, 1944, shows the turret from drawing Hln-130 or the Schmalturm mounting the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 mounted onto a regular Panzerkampfwagen V Panther chassis. Here it is revealed that the gun has a depression angle of -8 and elevation angle of +15. The whole length of the vehicle with the turret and gun facing forward is 9,250 mm (9.25 m) with the length from the very front of the chassis to the end of the gun being 2,650 mm (2.65 m) and the vehicle (excluding gun) being 6,600 mm (6.60 m) long. On December 4, 1944, Wa Prüf 6, the department of the Waffenamt in charge of the development of armored and motorized vehicles, awarded Krupp a development contract.
Drawing Hln-E142 showing Krupp’s proposal for mounting an 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 onto a Pz.Kpfw. V Panther chassis. Source: Yuri Pasholok
Krupp was curious about Wa Prüf 6’s opinions on some of the aspects of the proposal and whether further development was worthy of advancing forward. Krupp asked Wa Prüf 6 these three following questions, which are taken verbatim from Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy.
- Is there sufficient space for the loader?
- Is the shape of the armored cover in the turret front plate acceptable?
- Is relocating the center of balance about 200 mm forward plus a weight increase of 900 kg bearable?
For the first question, Krupp proposed mounting a wooden model of the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 onto a “Panther turret” in order to test the loading of the main gun. For the third question, Krupp proposed a test turret with the load being off-center. Wa Prüf 6’s exact responses are not known.
For the sake of brevity, Schmalturm mounting the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 on a Panzerkampfwagen V Panther will be referred to as ‘Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm’ although it is important to note that this is not an official name and used here solely for clarity.
Renditions of Krupp’s Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm proposal. Source: Doyle and Jentz
Daimler-Benz Joins In
A meeting by the Entwicklungskommission Panzer (English: ‘Tank Development Commission’) was held on January 23, 1945, in which Colonel Holzäuer from Wa Prüf 6 reported that development of the Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm project was to be completed by Daimler-Benz. In addition, a wooden model is said to have been completed. Earlier, on December 12, 1944, Daimler-Benz had displayed a wooden model of the vehicle, but it is not known if it was the same wooden model Colonel Holzäuer reported or an unknown previous iteration.
The turret ring of the Daimler-Benz Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm was to be enlarged by 100 mm, making it 1,750 mm compared to the turret ring on the regular Rheinmetall-designed turret on the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther (Ausf.D to G), which was 1,650 mm. In doing so it gained a single tonne of weight. It also carried 56 rounds for the main gun.
On February 20, 1945, Krupp and Daimler-Benz representatives, Wa Prüf 6, and Wa Prüf 4 (a sister department to Wa Prüf 6 in charge of the development of artillery) held a meeting comparing both Daimler-Benz and Krupp’s Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm designs. One large difference was the gun itself. Daimler-Benz used a ‘8.8cm Kw.K.’ with the recoil cylinders installed underneath the gun and the turret ring widened by 100 mm, while Krupp opted to use, for the most part, a regular 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 with repositioned trunnions in a mostly unchanged Schmalturm turret as mentioned earlier. Wa Prüf 6 recognized that Krupp’s design was an expedient one meant to save time, however, their representatives did not much appreciate the idea.
In the end, it was proposed that Daimler-Benz and Krupp would work together on a project involving the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 with relocated trunnions and a larger turret ring with Daimler-Benz tackling the turret and Krupp the gun, unsurprisingly. This would have lead to the creation of a more complex project, but also combine the best elements of both designs and create additional space inside the turret.
On February 27, 1945, it was decided by Wa Prüf 6 that Daimler-Benz would continue development of the Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm and was slated to produce a soft steel prototype of the turret to the specifications listed. Some of the specifications listed below reflect Krupp’s Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm design which might indicate their involvement.
- Needed to depress -8 degrees and elevate 15 degrees, which Krupp’s design was able to achieve.
- The turret ring diameter was to be enlarged to 1,750 mm which was designed to give the loader more room to do his duties. Daimler-Benz’s previous design had already accomplished this.
- The vehicle had to use only the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 as its main gun. The bore evacuation cylinder was to be placed in the middle of the recoil cylinders above the gun.
- The trunnions were relocated and the muzzle brake was removed similar to Krupp’s Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm.
- Interestingly, the trunnions were to be located on the “forward edge” of the turret front plate, implying that it lacked any turret front extension like Krupp’s design.
- The turret front was to have a “smooth armor plate” with the apertures being as small as possible but including an aperture for the main gun, presumably with the coaxial machine gun included. It is not clear if the turret was to be equipped with a telescopic gunsight or a coaxial machine gun
- Mounting the S.Z.F.2 or S.Z.F.3 stabilized gunsight was to be considered.
- The turret traverse gear and the cupola were to stay the same as on the regular Schmalturm.
- The design was to use either a 1.32 m or 1.65 m stereoscopic rangefinder. It should be noted that the regular Schmalturm could already mount a 1.32 m stereoscopic rangefinder.
- The turret was to feature ready racks which would make ammunition easily accessible.
- Emphasis was placed on a low turret height.
- Lastly, the rear turret plate was to be sloped instead of “upright” as it was on the first wooden model of the Daimler-Benz Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm. The wooden model might be the one showed off on December 12, 1944, but this is just speculation.
Krupp’s Return and Wa Prüf 6’s Variant
Krupp appears to have returned to the project under the request of Colonel Crohn from Wa Prüf 6 on March 8, 1945. They were to design an “armor shell” of the Pz.Kpfw. Panther Ausf.F turret (otherwise known as a Schmalturm) mounting the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 by March 12, 1945. Speculatively, considering that they were given four days to design, it might be the case that they simply took their previous design, such as like Hln-130 or a similar iteration around the same time, and adapted it to the existing Schmalturm design of the time.
On March 14, 1945, during a discussion of further developing the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther in the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen, the Waffenamt is said to have done an excellent job designing the ‘8.8cm Kw.K. L/71’ onto a Panzerkampfwagen V Panther, with Wa Prüf 6 being thanked specifically. If the Waffenamt’s ‘8.8cm Panther’ was to be put into production, existing Panthers that received major overhauls would also be subject to mounting a turret with the 8.8cm. A ‘Versuchs-Panther’ or a prototype of the 8.8cm Panther was to be built out of soft steel and completed by early June. Mass production was to begin in the last quarter of 1945 if the “necessary support” was given.
This significantly improved vehicle with the new turret and increased firepower would weigh just one tonne more than the “current Panther”. Armor was to protect the rangefinder and it featured a stabilized gun sight “about the same as the Panther-Schmalturm”. Fifteen rounds were to be stored and be accessible in the turret and fifty to fifty-four more rounds were to be stored in the hull, meaning a total of 65 to 69 rounds could be carried.
Wa Prüf 6 was requested by the Generalinspekteur der Panzertruppen on March 14, 1945, to build a Versuchs-Panther mounting an 8.8cm Kw.K. L/71 based off the wooden model Daimler-Benz had shown off on December 12, 1944. The turret was to be made out of soft steel and the superstructure of the hull was to be modified in an unspecified way. Wa Prüf 6 was to complete the Versuchs-Panther quickly and display the vehicle on time.
Albert Speer, who was the Reich Minister of the Reichsministerium für Bewaffnung und Munition (English: ‘Reich Ministry of Armaments and Munitions’), requested on March 23, 1945, a display of a Panther armed with an 8.8cm Kw.K. gun, along with other weaponry, to be viewed by Adolf Hitler some time in mid-April. Hitler, however, was never able to see the vehicle as it was never built.
Daimler-Benz representatives were interrogated by the Allies after the Second World War had ended. They claimed that they had made plans to mount the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 onto a Schmalturm equipped with a stabilized gun sight with the project still being early in development. A wooden mockup of the project apparently existed up to June of 1945, three months after the German defeat, but after that it was lost to time.
The Panther-Schmalturm-8.8cm isn’t one homogenous project as it is sometimes depicted. It is a series of unrelated and related projects from various different firms and organizations. In the end, arming the Panzerkampfwagen V Panther with an 8.8cm L/71 in a Schmalturm became little more than a fantasy. The war was nearing its end when actual progress was made and such a turret would have made no difference to the outcome of the war. Krupp’s proposal though would have been the most feasible when compared to the design from Wa Prüf 6 and Daimler-Benz’, since it was simply a regular Schmalturm with the 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 stuffed inside. The Panzerkampfwagen Panther Ausf.F was already placed into production and at least two mostly finished Schmalturms were made by the end of the war, one of which was captured and analyzed by the United States and the other captured and analyzed by the United Kingdom before ending up as a range target. However, there would have been issues with this design. Along with the bigger gun, the design was, in general, worse ergonomically for the crew and the cramped interior would have hampered the crews’ ability to carry out their tasks. There is no real surprise as to why Wa Prüf 6 was not fond of this design.
On the other hand, it is rather difficult to judge the Daimler-Benz or Wa Prüf 6 designs as very little is actually known. It appears, though, that the Daimler-Benz design would have required significant changes to an already existing design (Schmalturm) which would cause even further delays. In the case of Wa Prüf 6’s design, not only was the design of the turret changed, but existing Panthers would have to have their turret rings widened by 100 mm which would cause even more significant delays.
Despite the technical challenges of fitting an 8.8cm L/71 gun into a space smaller than that which had previously accommodated a 7.5cm gun, all designs managed to come up with workable solutions. Undoubtedly, had the final design for the compromise Schmalturm come to fruition, it would have made the new Panther a more powerful vehicle on the battlefield with a smaller silhouette, smaller profile, more firepower and improved protection, but at the expense of the crew ergonomics in the turret and their ability to carry out their tasks.
Jentz, T.L. 1995. Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy. 1st ed. Atglen, Pennsylvania: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
Jentz, T.L. & Doyle, H.L. 2001. Panther Tracts No. 20-1: Paper Panzers.1st ed. Boyds, Maryland: Panzer Tracts
Specifications for Krupp’s 8.8cm Schmalturm turret
|Crew||3 (commander, loader, and gunner)|
|Armament||8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71|
-8/+15 gun elevation
|Armor||Armor: Presumably identical to Schmalturm with the exception of the mantlet and bulbous turret extension|
Turret front: 120 mm (20 degrees)
Turret sides and rear: 60 mm (25 degrees)
Roof: 40 mm (horizontally flat)
|For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index|
Krupp’s proposal for mounting an 8.8cm Kw.K.43 L/71 onto a Pz.Kpfw. V Panther chassis according to drawing Hln-E142. Illustration by Andrei “Octo10” Kirushkin. Funded by our Patreon campaign.