The Panther Manual: The Pantherfibel

The crew of the Panther comprised five members: a driver, a radio operator (who also operated the bow machine gun), a gunner who aimed and fired the main gun and co-axial machine gun , a gun loader, and a commander.

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The five man crew of the Panther tank photographed here in Italy in August 1944.

The crews selected for duty on the Panther were selected among the very best that could be found. Due to the high number of teething issues the Panther required extremely sympathetic handling by knowledgeable crews, but by 1943 the process of identifying and training crews was becoming increasingly difficult. Maintaining and fighting the Panther demanded a great deal of specialist knowledge, both theoretical and practical, which required long hours of class room study as well as, ideally, months familiarisation and training on the Panther itself. However, the declining war situation and a shortage of training machines dictated that the time and resources which would normally be allocated to crew training were seriously curtailed.

One successful element of the training programme was the introduction Pantherfibel an illustrated crew manual which followed the style of the highly successful Tiger I crew training manual, the Tigerfibel. Surviving copies of the The Pantherfibel provide a fascinating primary source insight into the world of the men of the Panzertruppen who crewed the Panther and extensive use has been made of the Pantherfibel throughout this book.

The man responsible for the evolution of the Pantherfibel was Oberstleutnant Hans Christern, head of training for the Inspectorate of the Panzerwaffe based at Paderborn. Christern was an experienced tank commander who could provide proof to his own practical experience by dint of his the possession of the Knight’s Cross awarded to him for bravery in the field.

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Hans Christern.

With the introduction of the Tiger I (Ausf H) in late 1942 Christern found himself faced with the need to rapidly instruct crews in the operation of a very different type of vehicle. Like the Panther this tank had to be handled very differently on the battlefield like the Panther it needed far more care and attention than any other machine so far delivered to the Panzerwaffe. The Tigerfibel therefore dealt with the same set of issues which were encountered with the later introduction of the Panther.

Faced with a rapidly declining war situation everything needed to be done in a hurry. Christern therefore decided it would help to move matters along if he were to replace the usual dusty tank instruction manual with a special training booklet for Tiger I students which was simple yet memorable. The end result was certainly a success on both counts. The simplistic but effective style recalled a children’s school book. It was therefore given the name Tigerfibel, which means Tiger primer. This booklet was assigned the official publication number of D656/27

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The Red Army menace is characterised as a ravenous bird of prey in this page from the Pantherfibel which cautions the men of the Panzertruppen to be constantly vigilant.

The task of actually writing the Tigerfibel was assigned to Leutnant Josef von Glatter-Goetz. Glatter-Goetz took the assignment to heart and gave serious consideration to the need to impart such a large amount of information quickly and make it stick in the minds of bored young tank men. He therefore developed the idea of writing a humorous and highly risqué manual that would hold fast in the memories of the young men training on the Tiger I. To do this he used humorous and risque cartoon illustrations along with slang and the everyday situations which it was hoped the target audience would identify with.

The illustrations in the Tigerfibel were completed by two serving soldiers named Obergrenadier Gessinger and Unteroffizier Wagner. This wide range of images included the usual technical drawings and photographs supplemeted by a range of cartoons. Wherever possible the cartoons featured an attractive and curvaceous blonde named Elvira. She was depicted naked as often as possible and somewhat predictably was the romantic target for the affections of a Tiger crewman who gets the girl in the end.

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The introductory page from the Pantherfibel which offered the crew the opportunity to learn with ease.

The Tigerfibel also contains some short verses and rhyming couplets which do not lend themselves readily to an exact translation from German and English.

Both The Tigerfibel and the later Pantherfibel (published on 1st July 1944) included vital information concerning basic maintenance requirements and peculiarities, and in addition covered a wide range of additional subjects. There was important advice on gunnery and ammunition drill as well as a comprehensive run down the type of enemy targets likely to be encountered. In addition came advice on driving techniques, winter conditions, fuel conservation, how to deal with enemy infantry at close quarters, anti-tank mines, target spotting and a host of additional information.

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A Panther tank commander surveys the surrouding area on the eastern front in the summer of 1944.

Although it was quite unconventional when compared to any other manual hitherto produced and was somewhat racy by straight laced Third Reich standards, the Tigerfibel was actually authorized by Guderian himself and it proved to be very effective training aid. The Pantherfibel, which followed a year later was again personally authorised by Guderian, however it is the product of a far more sober environment and presents a much less saucy publication which reined in the gratuitous cartoon nudity in preference for some rather twee rhyming couplets which obviously don’t have the same instant appeal to the common soldier. The Pantherfibel nonetheless featured good black and white photos and diagrammatic representations of the various Allied tanks which the Panther crew could be expected to encounter in the field. Another particularly interesting feature is the graphic cloverleaf demonstration of the range the Panther could be penetrated by or itself penetrate enemy tanks such as the Sherman M4 or T-34 or KV1.

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The radio duty of the Commander from the Pantherfibel.

In addition to the advice on fighting and maintaining the machine the Pantherfibel also affords a fascinating insight into the deteriorating supply situation in the form of exhortations to conserve ammunition and to overrun targets rather than use precious shells. Both the Tigerfibel and the Pantherfibel are also noteworthy for the fact that, despite Guderian’s strong Nazi sympathies, no Nazi iconography appears anywhere in either the Tigerfibel or the Pantherfibel.

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