Why is this photo of the PzKpfw VI Tiger (P) and Pz.Kpfw.V Panther tanks unique?
An average person who sees this picture will not notice anything unusual in this photo. There are two German tanks on the railway platform – PzKpfw VI Tiger (P) and Pz.Kpfw.V Panther. But behind this picture there is an amazing story of the war, which is described below.
German tanks – monsters
A lot of similar photos from the World War II, in which the Germans transfer equipment by rail, have been preserved in the archives. But this military photo seems ordinary only at first glance. The tanks in the photo belong to the Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653, the 653rd heavy tank destroyer battalion.
This battalion is known for the fact that it was armed with heavy self-propelled artillery installations “Ferdinand”, which, as you know, were created on the basis of the tank known to us as the PzKpfw VI Tiger (P).
This happened after Ferdinand Porsche lost in the competition to his more successful rival Erwin Aders, and the Pz.Kpfw.VI Tiger Ausf.H1 tank, which was produced by the “Henschel” company, was adopted.
By the time the leadership of the Third Reich made the decision to put into service the Pz.Kpfw.VI by Erwin Aders, the chassis and turrets were already ready for the Porsche tank.
So it was decided to install successful tank turrets produced by Aders on the “Tigers”, and the chassis of the tanks went to create a heavy assault gun named after its creator – “Ferdinand”.
So, what do we see in the photo?
The first tank on the platform is the PzKpfw VI Tiger (P). This is the only “Porsche” Tiger ever to have fought.
It is not surprising that the heavy tank was transferred to the 653rd Heavy Tank Destroyer Battalion. This is due to the fact that, like Ferdinand, it had an electric transmission. For other units that had tanks with a completely different propulsion unit, its repair and maintenance would be a real headache.
The Tiger (P) VK 4501 entered the Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653 and performed the task of the command vehicle.
But even more curious is the second tank on the platform. It is a hybrid of the Panther tank and the T-IV. Indeed, in the photo we see a tank with a Pz.Kpfw.V Panther hull and a Pz.Kpfw IV German medium tank turret.
This is the Bergepanther mit aufgesetztem Pzkpfw IV (H) turm als Befehlspanzer, which means the “Bergepanther” Command Tank with the Pzkpfw IV (H) turret, and it existed in a single copy. For those who don’t know, we will explain that the Bergepanther is an armored recovery vehicle based on the German heavy tank “Panther”.
There are no documentary sources explaining the appearance of this machine. According to some reports, the T-IV turret was installed on the Bergepanther hull at the manufacturing plant.
However, the more probable version we see is that the command tank “Bergepanther” was born in the repair unit of the Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653. There is nothing unusual in this. It was in the 653rd heavy anti-tank battalion that the repairmen made another interesting sample. This is a quad 20mm anti-aircraft gun mounted on the base of the T-34 tank. But this is a task no less difficult than the creation of a commanding “Bergepanther”.
What is Bergepanther
What is Bergepanther mit aufgesetztem Pzkpfw IV (H) turm als Befehlspanzer? This is a combination of the first SdKfz 179 Bergepanther, with the turret of the T-IV tank installed.
There was nothing difficult in installing this turret on the hull of the Panther tank. Of course, these tanks have different turret widths, but the fact is that the turret is simply installed on the Bergepanther hull and is tightly welded to it. It didn’t even have the ability to rotate. The main goal of installing a turret from a T4 tank on a Panther tank was to protect the crew from shrapnel.
Moreover, the command tank had no cannon! The gun was just a dummy, and the absence of a breech made it possible to increase the working space in the turret of the tank, which made it possible to install a more powerful radio station and a small table for working with maps and documents.
So the SdKfz 179 Bergepanther became a command tank with a very long name – Bergepanther mit aufgesetztem Pzkpfw IV (H) turm als Befehlspanzer.
Information about the further fate of these machines is very scarce. It is known that:
- On April 2, 1944, three companies of the Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653 were sent to the Eastern Front.
- On April 6, the battalion arrived in the town of Berezhany in the Ternopil region and was sent to reinforce the 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen”, which was tasked with recapturing the city of Ternopil.
This operation failed, and at the end of April the battalion was taken to rest and for replenishment in Berezhany.
It was during this period that the Tiger (P) VK 4501 tanks appeared in the battalion, as well as the Bergepanther mit aufgesetztem Pzkpfw IV (H) turm als Befehlspanzer and the Flakpanzer T-34 747 (r) anti-aircraft gun, created on the basis of the T-34 tank.
From mid-August 1944, Schwere Panzerjäger-Abteilung 653 fought incessant rearguard battles in the Lvov area. In these battles, the battalion lost more than 60% of its equipment and weapons.
Apparently, then the Tiger (P) and the command tank “Bergepanther” were lost, since in the future they are never mentioned anywhere, which means that this is where their war story ends.
The photo you see is the only one where you can see these unique tanks together.