German medium tank Pz.Kpfw.T-VG Panther. Weight: 45t. Crew: 5. Armament: 1x75, 2mg. Shield: hull front - 80mm, sides - 50mm, turret - 110mm. Engine: Maybach HL230P30, 700hp. Max. speed: 50km/h. Range: 200km.


German tank destroyer Sd.Kfz.173 Jagdpanther (Panzerjäger-V). Weight: 46t. Crew: 5. Armament: 1x88, 1mg. Shield: hull front - 80mm, sides - 50mm. Engine: Maybach HL230P30, 700hp. Max. speed: 50km/h. Range: 160km.


Soviet heavy tank IS-3. Weight: 47t. Crew: 4. Armament: 1x122, 2mg. Shield: hull front -120mm, sides - 90mm. Engine: Diesel V-11IS, 520hp. Max. speed: 40km/h. Range: 200km.



When the German command planned the offensive on the Kursk Salient in the summer of 1943, it attached a lot of hopes to the new tanks: heavy Pz.Kpfw.T-VI Tiger and medium Pz.Kpfw.T-V Panther.

Panther, in principle, had been thought as an imitation of the Soviet T-34. Originally, German commanders with frontline experience proposed to copy the Soviet tank, but it turned out that Germany did not possess adequate technologies. On 25 November 1941 the Ministry of Armaments placed orders with Daimler-Benz and MAN companies for the prototype of a tank with armour and armament superior to T-34. Daimler-Benz had proposed a tank closely resembling T-34 by shape and arrangement, with the engine and traction wheels placed in the rear. Nevertheless, more successful was the MAN's project with the traditional German arrangement: engine in the rear, and traction wheels and transmission in the front. It allowed to move the turret closer to the rear and fit it with a long-barrel gun. Each road wheel had individual torsion-beam suspension.

The MAN's project was tested in September 1942. After all necessary alterations, in January 1943 it went to mass production simultaneously by several companies. There the haste in design had manifested itself in a variety of "infantile disorders": first Panthers more often broke down in result of various failures than from the enemy shells. Starting of August 1943 the Ausf. A model introduced a new cast armor commander's cupola, glacis machine gun in a ball-mount, and improved chassis. In March 1944 they were replaced by the model Ausf. G with a slightly modified design of the hull (with thicker armour). Observation instruments had been moved to the top of the driver's compartment, and the tanks of the last models used the same wheels as on the Tigers. Panthers also had the same engines as the Tigers. Altogether, there were produced about 6 thousand tanks.

Constructors, who designed the Panther, had to meet the following requirements: to ensure efficient use of powerful weaponry and the crew's comfort. Armour-piercing projectiles of its 75mm gun of 70 calibers length (the initial velocity of 1,120mpsec) from the distance of 1,000m was piercing armour plates up to 160mm thick. A relatively small calibre of the gun enabled a high practical rate of fire and increased allowance of ammunition (81 unitary shells on T-VG). The turret with a solid turret ring turned round through hydraulic drive. To reduce contamination of the fighting compartment with propellant gases there was provided a device for blowing compressed air through the gun barrel after firing. Transmission allowed turns with different radii depending on the gear, as well as fast turning around, while making tracks move in opposite directions. Hydraulic brake control made the driver's work easier. Interleaved wheels distributed the load on tracks evenly, but were vulnerable to frozen mud getting in-between and stalling the motion.

Panther, the best German tank, and one of the best tanks of the Second World War, was a dangerous opponent. Neither the British, nor the Americans were able to oppose it with an equivalent machine. The disadvantages of the Panther were the complexity of production, difficulties of maintenance, and relatively low technical reliability. Its chassis had been used since the end of 1943 to build tank-destroyers Sd.Kfz.173 Jagdpanther; a total of 392 vehicles was produced.

To accommodate a 88mm-calibre gun, the glacis plate and sloped sides of the Jagdpanther were extended up into an integral, turretless fixed casemate as part of the main hull itself to provide a roomy interior to facilitate crew's operation. Its armour-piercing projectiles were able to penetrate armour plates up to 200mm from 1,000m distance. It was the best gun-carrier in the German army, and one of the best ones of the Second World War.

As a response to the introduction of new German tanks, the Soviet armoured forces received in 1944 new powerful machines - medium tank T-34-85 and heavy tank IS-2. But the Soviet constructors did not dwell on achievements; with the experience of combat deployment of the IS-2 in mind, the construction bureau of Nikolay Dukhov and Mikhail Balzhi conducted works on even more powerful heavy tank. They paid special attention to strengthening of the armour protection. Thus, at the end of 1944 appeared the heavy tank IS-3, whose hull had a completely new form and was entirely welded as opposed to IS-2. Its armour plates were mounted under high angles of slopping, and the lower side faces of the hull were beveled. The thickness of the front plates remained the same as that of the IS-2, while the side plates became thicker. Also thicker became the armour of the turret, which acquired hemispherical shape. Those structural innovations helped to improve significantly the resistance to the armour-piercing shells without significant increase of the mass of the tank.

The IS-3 was fitted with same 122mm gun as its predecessor, but the fire control system was improved: the crew commander had his own, independent from the gunner's, turret horizontal traverse mechanism. That reduced the time of aiming the gun at the target detected by the commander. Ammunition was the same as that of the IS-2: 28 rounds of separate load. And the anti-aircraft DShK machine-gun could be manned by either the loader, or the commander. Absence of the commander's cupola, as well as smaller clearance allowed to reduce the height of the tank by 30cm as compared to the IS-2. Driver's seat was placed on the axis of the hull. The troops started to receive IS-3s since the beginning of 1945. Parallel production of the IS-2s and IS-3s was going on without decrease in the output of the former.

IS-3 did not take part in fighting in Europe. It was the last Soviet tank commissioned for the Red Army during the Second World War. After the war it had long been considered a model in the design of heavy tanks. Even as far back as 1956, it was considered one of the most powerful tanks of that time, and though it was a little heavier than the American M48 Patton medium tank, it mounted a more powerful 122mm gun. American constructors copied it in the design of the M103 heavy tank, and the British - in the development of the heavy tank FV-214 Conqueror.