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Mar 2, 2013

Panzer V Panther in Czechoslovak service

Hello everyone, I will skip the introduction here. Those who have not read it and don't want to miss anything should probably read the part 1 of this article - about the Panzer IV in Czechoslovak service.

There aren't many pictures of Czechoslovak Panthers available. Not the Panthers directly anyway. Their early history is similiar to the one of Panzer IV. Basically, the Czechoslovak army pressed captured German vehicles into service. Amongst those were (apart from the more numerous Panzer IVs) also some Panthers. The first batch of 50 Panthers (of unknown version) was gained from the Soviet army captured vehicle depot in Michalovce. In parallel, as mentioned in the Panzer IV article, a program was launched to salvage knodcked out and damaged vehicles, found all over Czechoslovakia. The effort took until summer 1947, when 80 more Panthers (65 of them deemed repairable) were brought to Milovice near Přelouč to the detached tank staging ground for the company 1. Automobilová Zbrojovka Přelouč (1AZ) to refit.

By the end of 1947, first Panther was repaired by 1AZ and transferred to the local tank driving school. However, the Panther was by then considered very difficult to repair and the repair contract was transferred to other companies with necessery experience and capacity.

Basically, by that point the ministry of defense (MNO) decided to take the best 40 pieces and repaired them. However, the whole process went very slowly, partially for bureaucratic and partially for technical reasons (while the Panzer IV was simple enough, the Panther was a completely different beast). In the beginning of 1949 the repairs were finally underway, with ČKD and Škoda cooperating on them. The original 39 Panther Ausf.G pieces were later joined by 5 more. By the end of 1949, repairs were underway on 22 vehicles. 5 of them were transferred to the army that year, but the further 17 stayed in the tank repair plants in various states of repair. Originally, all the vehicles were supposed to be finished until the end of 1949, but the companies were tasked to work on other projects too, the vehicle also proved difficult to repair and so a new plan was accepted: first 22 pieces were supposed to be ready in 1950 and the other 22 in 1951/1952. However, by 1952, the T-34/85 production was already underway and in the end, only 32 vehicles were completely repaired before the whole contract got cancelled in early 1952.

The Panthers were never really accepted into active service, they went straight to the "untouchable reserves" of last resort. These reserves were supposed to be opened only if the republic was under direct attack. Upon storing, the vehicles were apparently redesignated to T-42/75 N (although some controversy regarding this redesignation still remains). By 1.4.1952, 17 Panthers were stored in Dědice near Vyškov with the other vehicles stored on other places. In 1955, 15 Panthers were taken out of the reserve and reworked into VT-42 tanks (Czechoslovak indigenous attempt to create a Bergepanther).
In the end, most Panthers were gradually converted that way. In 1958, 7 VT-42 vehicles and 15 heavy tractors (apparently Panthers with turrets but removed armament), based on the Panther hull were still in active service. They were phased out in 1959. Some of them were sold to the Czechoslovak railways, where they served as snowploughs/tractors.
One was allegedly converted to a bulldozer and used on a farm. This particular Panther also had its Maybach engine removed and replaced with the Soviet V-2 one from the T-34 tank.
It's worth noting that a few real Panthers were used in the 1955 Czech movie called "Tanková brigáda" (that's where the initial picture is from). Some were also used as practice targets for gun tests and at least one was completely destroyed during test firing of captured German 128mm FlaK.

Along with the Ausf.G Panthers, 16 Bergepanthers (Ausf.A, D and G) were captured too (originally the army requested 20 Bergepanthers, but only 16 were found all over the country). In September 1946, one was tested by the army with the ministry of defence representatives present. The tests were successful. However, of 16 Bergepanthers, only 14 were later deemed repairable. By January 1949, an agreement was reached as to how the repairs and modifications of them were to proceed (in ČKD). The modifications inclued addutional armor-plated covers for driver and radioman periscopes. The hull machinegun was to be removed. The aforementioned vehicles were then repaired until November 1949. Additionally, further three regular Ausf.A Panthers were requested to be transformed into Bergepanthers by the army - this was done by May 1950. The army wanted to convert further 8 Panthers into Bergepanthers, but this plan was scrapped because the amounts of combat tanks in service were still low.
The Bergepanthers served during the 50's - they were used for training and also for civillian duty (at least one helped during floods). They were phased out in 1960 because the remaining machines were totally worn out.

Czechoslovak Bergepanther:

Peter Turza - Tanky nemeckého pôvodu vo výzbroji čs. armády 1945-1959.

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