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Panther Breakdowns In January 1944

Tank losses for 1st Battalion, 26th Panzer Regiment January 1944

The 1st Battalion of the German 26th Panzer Regiment (I./Pz.Rgt. 26) did not fight with its parent division (the 26th Panzer Division), which was engaged in Italy. Instead, the I./Pz.Rgt. 26 was waiting for its Panthers to arrive. The first shipments were sent in August and Panthers continued to trickle in during the autumn, allowing the battalion to start training.

Instead of joining its parent division, the battalion was sent to the Ukraine, where its first action would take place in January 1944.

At first the battalion was attached to the Grossdeutschland Division, but when Soviet forces broke through northeast of Slatopol, as part of the Korsun-Shevchenkovsky operation, the battalion was sent to counterattack. The inexperienced battalion would be committed to action without infantry or artillery support, to fight a very confused battle on 28-29 January.

During its 75 kilometer march to the Slatopol area, the battalion lost a number of tanks due to mechanical problems. One Panther caught fire in the engine room and was completely destroyed. This is reminiscent of the Panthers at Kursk and as the first Panthers had been shipped to the battalion in August 1943, it may well have had several Panthers of the model D, which took part in Operation Zitadelle. Also, one of the two Bergepanthers caught fire, but it could be extinguished by the crew. The vehicle would however be out of action and sorely missed the following days.

Five other Panthers were damaged during the march, with the following problems: final drive leak, idler wheel bearing, radiator, fuel pump and also one drove off a bridge and was difficult to recover.

During the fighting 28-29 January, five Panthers were complete losses due to AT round hits that caused the tanks to catch fire. Another five had been hit by AT rounds that caused damage to the tracks or other components that rendered the tanks immobile. It was decided to blow them up, as they were in positions where they could not be recovered quickly. Finally, one Panther fallen down a steep slope during the night and could also not be recovered. It was attempted to blow it up, but that failed.

In addition, there were 24 Panthers that suffered serious mechanical breakdowns and which were put on trains to be repaired. In many cases, the engine main connecting rod bearings had been damaged. These 24 Panthers were put on train and sent away for repairs. Interestingly, even three Panthers written off as complete losses were put on trains. I can only speculate why, but perhaps the Germans wanted to make use of the raw materials.

The repair and recovery services had worked hard and carried out 118 repairs during the five last days of January.

On 31 January, the battalion had 30 combat ready Panthers, while 8 remained in the workshops. 24 had been sent away by train and 13 had been written off (in addition to the twelve mentioned above, one Panther had caught fire when loading on train in France).

The I./Pz.Rgt. 26 was sent into action with many vehicles that suffered from mechanical shortcomings. In addition, it was established that most of them had been replenished with fuel that was substandard and this may have been the cause of many of the defect engines that were sent away on train. To make matters worse, the battalion was sent into action without infantry and artillery support and without any proper reconnaissance of the battlefield.

All of this shows up in the outcome. It is also clear that the inability to recover tanks was a major factor causing complete write-offs. Five Panthers were direct losses due to enemy fire. Another five were damaged by enemy fire, but not recovered and thus became complete write-offs. Also, one Panther was completely lost due to an accident on the battlefield, but it seems that it would have been returned to service, had it been possible to recover it. Again, it is clear that command of the battlefield (or lack of it) played a significant role for irrevocable losses.

All data is taken from Anlage 25, Kriegstagebuch 2, I./Pz.Rgt. 26, BA-MA RH 39/599). The report is very detailed and shows all losses, with the individual turret numbers given.

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