From the Editor: German “Cats” Influential?

This article was originally the very first post on the “Tank and AFV Blog” published back in November of 2012.   This is a slightly edited version.  

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Royal TigerOne thing I was thinking about lately is how many times I have read books or internet posts that describe the late war German tanks, particularly the Panther and the Tiger 2 as having a great deal of influence on post-war tank design.  The more I have thought about this, the less I agree with it.  In fact, I would argue that the Panther and Tiger 2 were pretty much developmental dead ends with few aspects of their design being adopted in post war vehicles.   These two vehicles were influential  only in the very general sense that they raised the bar in terms of what a medium or a heavy tank could weigh.  Their existence prompted the allied countries to develop heavier vehicles with the appropriate armor and firepower to match the late war German “cats”, but they did not actually borrow many design features from them. 

To prove my point, let’s look at the particular design features of “the cats” (Panther and Tiger).  The layout of the tanks was very conventional, with three men in the turret and two in the hull.  This was pretty much the norm for most WW2 tanks.  Post war designs trended toward the elimination of the second hull crewman, the Russians doing this first with the IS2 design and the Americans and British following suit later with the M-48 and Centurion.  So we can see, the “cats” were not ahead of their time in this regard.  From an automotive standpoint, the cats were quite conventional as well, with a gasoline engine mounted in the rear and the transmission in front.  This layout configuration was quite common,  the USA used it in the M3-M4 line of medium tanks and the M2-M5 line of light tanks and so did the Italians, the Japanese and the Czechs.  The British and Russians had already figured out the advantages of having a rear mounted transmission and made that standard on most of their models. The Russians and the Japanese had made the move to diesel engines for tanks before the war started.  Diesel engines with rear mounted transmissions would become the norm in most post-war tank designs, two features absent on the Panther and Tiger.

In regards to suspension, the cats did feature torsion bars, which would become the most popular form of suspension for tanks in the post war era.  However, torsion bars were not unique to these vehicles.  The Germans had already fielded thousands of Panzer and Stug III’s which had torsion bar suspensions.  The Russians had torsion bars in the KV 1 which appeared in 1940.  By 1944 the US had made the switch to torsion bars with the introduction of the M-26 Pershing, M-18 tank destroyer and the M-24 Chaffee light tank.  So we can see that the use of torsion bars on the cats was not a novel design feature.  The one feature unique to the cats that no one copied for a production vehicle after the war was their system of overlapping road wheels.  The German system of overlapping road wheels may have provided for a comfortable ride, but they also made maintenance difficult, added extra weight to the vehicle, and had the tendency to get clogged with snow and mud in cold weather conditions.  The only post war tank designs that  revisited the idea of overlapping or interleaved road wheels was the AM-50 French design of the immediate post war era.  It never went into production.

In terms of firepower, the Panther and Tiger 2 featured very high velocity cannons of either 75 or 88mm in bore with a length to bore ratio around 70.  This ratio is significantly higher than that of most postwar tank designs that have ranged mostly in the 40-60 range.  German armor piercing ammunition was not fundamentally different from the allies, both sides primarily relying on solid shot capped armor piercing rounds (German rounds sometimes had a small explosive charge which western allied rounds did not.)  The most innovative German tank cannon design was the “squeeze bore” barrel which tapered down to a smaller diameter at the muzzle of the cannon.  The squeeze bore gun required rounds made from tungsten steel which was in short supply, so it was not used in significant numbers on any German AFV.  The real advance in armor piercing ammunition came from the British who invented the discarding sabot round for their 6 and 17 pounder guns.  The discarding sabot has gone on to become the primary kinetic penetrating round used in most post war tanks guns.  In that regard, it’s safe to say the British 17 pounder was a more influential design than the Kwk 42 of the Panther or the Kwk 43 of the Tiger 2.

Interestingly, the only country who’s AFV designs show a degree of influence from the Panther and Tiger 2 were the first generation post war tanks from France.  In the immediate post war period, France operated a battalion of captured Panthers, so these vehicles most likely provided inspiration for French postwar tank designers trying to make up for lost ground.  The main cannon on the French AMX 13 light tank has been described as “a copy”, or at least inspired by the Panther’s Kwk 42.  The French  AMX 50 has a hull shape and road wheels that are very reminiscent of the Panther and Tiger 2, although it does not feature a front mounted transmission.

The Panther and the King Tiger tanks set new standards for firepower and armor protection when they were introduced in 1943 and 1944.  That is not in dispute, nor is the fact that these tanks forced the Western Allies to reevaluate their own designs to counter the powerful German vehicles.  In that sense, yes, the Panther and King Tiger were influential.  However, these two vehicles were in many ways conventional German designs of their era. Many of the aspects of their designs did not become common in post war designs, and some particular features, such as overlapping road wheels, were never used in post war production vehicles at all.  Therefore, I think it is safe to say that late war German tank designs, while impressive for their power and size, were not so much the forebears of post war tank design but more of an offshoot (and dead end) on the evolutionary tank design tree.

 

Comments

  1. Good points.

    Like

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