Whenever reading on military technology, it’s always important to put published characteristics into perspective. Simple numbers don’t mean everything, one has to understand the operational issues around the technology. Always read more than numbers. Look for reports and stories from the men inside the machines. Most important, understand what are the numbers that really matter in actual use.
“While the T-34’s armor protection and firepower advantages had largely disappeared by 1943, its superior mobility was clearly demonstrated when 5th Guards Tank Army was able to move its T-34s 300kms on their own tracks to the front between July 7-9 and still had about 90 percent of its tanks operational. No Panther unit could ever have moved this distance without losing most of its tanks to mechanical breakdowns.
In terms of statistical comparison, the Panther Ausf. D did appear to have equal or better mobility vs the T-34, having lower ground pressure and better road speed. However, in reality, the Panther could only move faster than the T-34 once it reached seventh gear, which was unlikely to occur under combat conditions. In tactical driving using third gear, the Panther was considerably slower than the T-34, being able to achieve only 13kph versus 29kph. Certainly, one of the biggest problems with the Panther Ausf. D and A models was the fuel-guzzling character of its Maybach HL230 engine, which required almost double the amount of fuel to go 1km as a Pz IV and nearly four times as much as a T-34. As the Wehrmacht began to run seriously short of fuel in late 1943, the Panther’s poor fuel efficiency would further degrade its operational and tactical mobility”.
(from Panther vs T-34: Ukraine 1943, by Robert Forczyk)
Forczyk’s book is pretty critical of the whole Panther project, which shouldn’t surprise anyone that has a read at least a little on “the best medium tank of ww2” as it is often called. Relatively fast – on paper – and armed with the deadly 75mm Kwk 42 gun, the Panther commands respect and is to be honest one of my favorites. As always, numbers tell only half the story when not put into context, and we can see the Panther was not what Guderian expected when he asked for a tank with better or equal mobility to the T-34!
“The engine of the Panzer is a weapon just as the main-gun” – gen. Heinz Guderian, father of the Panzer force