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The Last Panther in Pomerania

by Rhodes Williams

IR Solutions

Nachtsichtgeraten or Infrared night-vision devices is another subject which easily could occupy a lengthy monograph. For the purposes of this article I will again attempt brevity. Germany began research on IR gear in the 30's of which there were two designations: Infrarotstrahlung or IR and Ultrarotstrahlung or UR, the obsolete name for IR. AG and Zeiss (or is it AEG and Leitz, it depends on who translated the text?) were the most senior developers of this equipment and in early 1942 the ZG 1221 solution was tested on a Pak 40 AT gun. With the ever-increasing air superiority of the Allies making daytime travel nearly impossible for panzer units, a great emphasis was placed on the speeding up of the development of the infra-red devices to be used by the Panzertruppe. General Guderian suggested an IR gun sight created for the 75mm Pak ought to be further developed for the Panther as well. A variation of the ZG1221 known as the ZG1221k was fitted to the commander's cupola of Panther turrets by way of a mount installed in the commander's hatchway. The headlamp gave the commander the ability to see ahead of the vehicle approximately 100 meters. By most accounts the range was inadequate and led to the development of an IR observation vehicle known as the "Uhu". Based on a Sd.Kfz.251/20 a 60cm searchlight was mounted in the fighting compartment. During operations one observation vehicle was assigned to a Panther unit comprising five tanks. The visibility range of the infra-red viewer mounted on the Panther was increased to 700 meters through the capability of the Uhu searchlight.

It should be added that by no means were these the only night-vision solutions being developed. In fact, the most common IR set seen in kit form, such as included in Tamiya's Panther G is a Bildwandler type FG1250 sighting device or Solution A. The FG1250 connected a metal band to the internal gun elevation indicator via an opening in the turret
roof just in front of the commander's cupola.

Minor alterations were made to the Panther G to accommodate this solution. A battery stand and electric generator were mounted in the right rear of the crew compartment by removing the three round ammunition bin stowed there. Also, the right rear external stowage bin was replaced with an armored bin for the FG1250 auxiliary equipment.

The disadvantage of Solution A was that it offered only night-vision ability to the commander. A three unit UR-gear set was retained for the Ausf. G as well. Known as Solution B, this is the device seen on the Shanghai Dragon Panther G kit. The commander's IR equipment was improved by mounting the set up seen on the Sd.Kfz. 251/21 "Falke". This mounted a complete IR solution containing the 30cm IR searchlight, Image converter and an MG 42 or MG 34. Although the triple Bildwandler looks complicated, according to Waldemar Trojca's Panther, volume 2: "The detachment of he UR-set was very simple and quick: undoing two thumbscrews and disconnecting two cables took no more than a minute."

MNH were ordered to convert 50 Panthers in September, 70 in October, 80 in November and 100 in December of 1944. In November, MNH received orders to not convert any more Panthers. However, a month later, they received new orders requesting 30 more IR equipped Panthers.

Did they see action remains a constant source of controversy. In Culver & Feist's excellent reference Panther in Detail on page 138 is the following text: "In early 1945, one Panther (Ausf. A) fitted with 'Uhu' and 'Biwa' was ordered to the front at Stuhlweissenburg in Hungary. It was accompanied most probably by a Sd.Kfz. 251 fitted with 60cm 'Uhu' IR searchlight and a Sd.Kfz. 251 'Falke' support vehicle. It is reported that the 'Uhu'/'Biwa' combination worked successfully." Thomas Jentz in his epic discourse given on the Panther at Armor Modeling and Preservation Society's (AMPS) first national convention mentioned he was at work on another book on the Panther, including new details on IR gear and its use on the Eastern Front.

AEG, RPF and Letiz also produced a Zielgeraet or active night-vision device for the Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle. The ZG 1229 Vampir weighed in at 2.25 kilograms (about 5 lbs.) and was fitted with lugs on the StG 44 at C.G. Haenel at Suhl, the weapons production facility. The grenadier carrying this monster was known as a Nachtjager and carrying this rifle must have been no joy. As well as the sight and spotlight, there was a 13.5 kilogram (about 30 lbs.) wooden cased battery for the Scheinwerfer, and a second battery fitted inside a gas mask container to power the Bildwandler. This was all strapped to a Traggestell 39 (pack frame 39). In Waldemar Trojca's Panther, volume 2, Vampir gear was: "First used in combat in February 1945". However, he later goes on to say: "Small arms infrared device introduction must have taken place in early 1944. Both my late grandfather, Gerhard Sarnes, and one of the ex-soldiers that I interviewed, did recall Eastern Front snipers shooting at night with the aid of 'peculiar non-shinning torches coupled with enormous optical sights' mounted on their rifles. Similar infrared gear was fitted both to MG34 and MG42 machine guns." So there remains a good deal of mystery surrounding these late-war weapons.

With this plethora of information I began the constructing of the three Solution B "Bildwandler" IR sets. The gear included in the Dragon Panther G kit are mounted in three positions as opposed to the Tamiya "Sperberber", Solution A gear which was mounted only at the commander's position and was without a MG-42 machine gun.

I began by adding some details to the driver and gunners scopes in the form of Royal Model "Buckles" (#085) and Aber "Wingnuts" (#35 A26). I also added Evergreen "Strip Styrene .020x.156" (#127) to beef up the IR mounts and tossed in a few Grandt Line Ho Scale "3 inch Nuts and Flat Steel Washers". The commander's position I had to rethink. The Dragon set up had the mounting of the commander's IR inside the cupola leaving almost no room for the commander. It didn't seem logical. The Cromwell "Vampire" version, seen built up in the book "Panther Fibel" shows the commander's IR solution mounted on the AA machine gun ring. Works for me. I did a bit of scratchbuilding Using the Aber machine gun mount, a bit of brass wire, Evergreen strip, Aber wingnuts and Royal model fasteners-viola! End of the construction.

*Since the completion of this project I purchased Waldemar Trojca's Panther, volumes 1 and 2, which uncovered new details regarding IR equipment previously unknown. This both clarified and muddied the issue and showed several inaccuracies in my construction.


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