Early version of the PzKpfw V Panther, which was, presumably, the best balanced tank
of the Second World War, and the wisest response against the Soviet T-34. Entering service some months after the Tiger,
the Panther featured sloped and thinner armor plates, in resemblance to the Soviet tanks that it had to fight. The
cannon was the L/70 75-millimeter, of excellent armor-piercing capabilities, and the mobility of the tank had been notably
increased in comparison with that of the Tiger, thanks to a lower weight (43 tonnes versus the 56 tonnes of the Tiger).
However, the Panther had comparatively weak side armor that the Tiger almost doubled.
Later versions of the PzKpfw V Panther had to substantially increase the thickness of the armor;
the front armor which had 60-millimeter in thickness in the original version, reached 120-millimeter in the last versions. The original
version of the Panther would be able to match the top speed of the T-34 (55 km/h) but the increasing weight in the later
versions reduced maximum speed to 46 km/h, which was still quite above the 38 km/h that the Tiger could reach. One small
change can be seen in the illustrations: the later version has the driver's vision hatch suppressed, supposedly to avoid
a weak point in the front armor.
Clearly seen, the PzKpfw VI Tiger II design resembles much more that of the Panther than that
of the Tiger, which indicates that the Germans were aware of the flaws of the original design. The Tiger II improved
protection and firepower in comparison with its predecessor, but mechanical reliability remained a problem (if it did
not get worse), being this the worst defect attributable to this tank. The weight of the new tank was close to 70
tonnes and the power of the engine was deemed insufficient, even if the Tiger II could reach a top speed similar to that
of its predecessor. The new L/71 88-millimeter cannon was an elongated version of that mounted in the Tiger I, thus providing
increased range and armor piercing capabilities. And the armor plates, even if they were sloped, were even thicker than
those of the Tiger I.
Many conjectures, created by WW2 historians and enthusiasts, lie around the figure of the
PzKpfw VI Tiger II. The fact is that those discussions are of no much use today,
no matter who is more or less right. Leaving apart that, some facts can be stated:
The bad alloys used in the late German tanks gave bad reputation to these, but this was not a design flaw, just a
result of the adverse circumstances of the moment. Also injustified are the voices claiming that this was a slow,
clunky tank, for the performance attainable by the Tiger II was adequate for its class, even equiparable to that of
its main adversary, the Soviet IS-2, which weighed 20 tonnes less. Featuring thicker armor, the Tiger II would be a
more protective design, at least if the steel were of similar quality in both tanks. In addition, the 122-millimeter cannon
of the IS-2 was in that time of a caliber clearly excessive for anti-tank role, being slow to reload and greatly
reducing the amount of projectiles carried.
The truth is that the advantage of the Soviet Armed Forces was based in overwhelming numbers, and although many of the
Soviet designs showed notable or excellent qualities, in general terms they were not decisively superior to the German
The T-34 and the KV-1 were a bitter surprise for the German armored forces that invaded the
Soviet Union in 1941. Built with sloped armor and rounded shapes, the design of the T-34 was truly innovative on that time
and it would serve as the reference point for the subsequent Soviet tanks and the concept of main battle tank applied during
the early years of the Cold War. The Diesel engine was less prone to fire and allowed a much higher operational range,
albeit its higher noise signature was a disadvantage. The illustration shows the early version T-34-76
armed with a short-barreled 76-millimeter cannon.
With the arrival of the new German heavy tanks, the armament of the original T-34 soon became
inefficient against the increasingly thicker armor plates. A new 85-millimeter cannon, longer than that of 76-millimeter, was assigned to
the T-34 tanks of newer production. The turret was replaced by a new design which allowed to house the new cannon and
some more space for the crew, albeit comfort remained as one of the weakest aspects of Soviet tanks. Although the new gun
was not so capable, in ballistic terms, as those mounted in the heavy German tanks, the T-34-85
performed very well, to the point that it remained in use in many armies during many years after the war (and some
exemplars still served after the dismembering of the Soviet Union which marks the end of the Cold War).