Review: Dragon 1/35th scale SdKfz 171 Panzerkampfwagen V "Panther" Ausf D

by Peter Battle


Development of the Panther Tank:

The Blitzkrieg campaign demonstrated to the world the superiority of the German armoured vehicles of the time. The continued successes of the German Panzertruppen in the following years left the German Army comfortable in its view that no other country could produce any vehicle equal to its own equipment. It therefore came as a shock when, in October 1941, the Russians fielded their T34 tank against the Germans for the first time. Finally the forces of Germany faced a tank that was able to out perform the best the Fatherland had to offer.


In response to the urgent calls of the front line Panzertruppen for a weapon that could best the T34, the Herreswaffenant, on 25 November 1941, commissioned Daimler-Benz and MAN to produce designs of a vehicle weighing 35 tons and capable of beating the T34. The project was given the designation VK3002. The subsequent MAN design was eventually chosen as the winner and, following a short development life for such a vehicle, tank production then commenced in November 1942.


The debut action of this new vehicle, now designated SdKfz 171 Panzerkampfwagen V Ausf D, was to participate in the planned offensive in the Kursk Salient then code named ‘Operation Zitadelle (Citadel)’. This battle would prove to be the largest tank vs. tank battle of the Second World War.


By end of June 1943 some 240 Panther tanks had joined the German Forces at the Eastern front, ready to take part in Zitadelle. The battle commenced on 7 July 1943, and ironically, chronic engine overheating and transmission problems saw that only 40 serviceable Panthers remained at the end of that first day of the battle - a very significant loss to the German forces. Whilst both sides lost huge numbers of armoured vehicles during the following days of the offensive, general opinion is that the huge losses in tanks sustained by Germany early in the battle was the turning point in the battle and of the war on the eastern front. Germany was never able to recover from the loss of so many of its tanks during Operation Zitadelle.


The Ausf D had initially proved unreliable, but later redesigns of vehicle components and the developments of the Ausf A and Ausf G versions (the Panther did not follow normal alphabetical order version numbers) remedied the teething problems faced by the initial Panther Ausf D crews. These subsequent models proved to be very robust and capable vehicles. So much so, that the Panther is now regarded by many as the best Tank of World War 2.


Overview of the Dragon kit:

Dragon has followed up their earlier Panther Ausf A version with this welcome offering. Opening the box you are faced with the same 9 sprues in the standard light gray plastic associated with this manufacturer (4 sprues of which are the individual track links), the vehicle Hull and two pressed plastic sheets for the schurtzen plates, as per the earlier Ausf A kit. One further Sprue (J) is included for the parts particular to the D version.


Unfortunately, whilst the box art depicts a vehicle with the forward fender extensions, Dragon has not provided these it the kit. Nor have they included tow cables or track changing cables, a common omission with this manufacturer. There are no internal details and, unless the cupola hatch is to be closed, some internal detailing will be required here as, even with a figure in place, the lack of internal vision block detail can be seen. Never the less, these items can all be sourced as aftermarket or scratch built if desired.


Initial inspection showed that my example suffered from some sink marks on some parts, but all in all the detail is quite crisp and flash free. The individual track links are of the correct early pattern, but suffer from ejector pin marks (four per link!) and have solid guidehorns, not the correct hollow type. Aftermarket tracks are available if filling/sanding pin marks and drilling out almost 400 guidehorns (two per link plus spares) is not your thing.


The inclusion of the pressed schurtzen sheets in a flexible plastic is a novel idea, but the skirts in the review sample were curved and even when removed from the sheet and heated they were still difficult to straighten. Most builders will probably look to aftermarket items to replace these.


Instructions are of computer enhanced photographs of the kit and its components, in lieu of the more common line drawings seen in most other brands of kits. The kit decals provide items for two units, 52 nd Battalion, 39 th Panzer Regiment and the 51 st Panzer Battalion, both attached to the Grossdeutschland Division that saw action in the Kursk Battle - hence the "Kursk" designation of the Kit. Anyone choosing to build one of the 2 nd SS ‘Das Reich’ Panther D’s that saw action in the Kursk Salient will need to source decals elsewhere.


Inspection of the kit, kit instructions and comparison to reference material has revealed the sad truth that, whilst the kit has most of the major outward appearances of the Early Ausf D, by virtue of the common usage of some sprues from the Ausf A kit you are unable to build an accurate Ausf D, either Early or Late, out of the box. With only a little work, a late D can be made up (although the inclusion of extra parts on Sprue J may indicate Dragon intend to release a late model D at some time in the future) or with aftermarket parts and/or some more difficult work, a true Kursk version can still be made.


To make the early (Kursk) version Ausf D you will need to:


(Since commencing this build MIG Productions have released a fine set of resin radiator inlets to rectify this major kit fault).


To make the late version Ausf D with round radiator intakes you will need to:


Construction aspects:

Construction commences with the assembly of the inner pair of road wheels, Drive sprockets and idlers. All nicely moulded and certainly look the part when assembled. The outer road wheels are also nicely moulded with the outer road wheels having detail on both faces. Dragon has moulded the torsion bars to the hull, so anyone wishing to depict the vehicle on uneven ground will need to modify the kit accordingly.


Dragon has provided the often missed rear hangers for the stowage boxes for the rear hull plate however, these are overly thick, as are the bottom ones moulded on the boxes themselves, and should be thinned or replaced with metal strip. The exhaust pipe bracket has been moulded as to fit in a cut out on the pipes themselves. Test fitting proved a snug fit, and with some trimming, the part can be reduced to an acceptable thickness. The kit’s jack mounts are designed to slip behind the exhaust cover to provide a strong bond for what are delicate parts. The real mounts were bolted to the outside of the plate. They are barely noticeable so only diehards will look to replace these.


Proceeding to the front hull, Dragon provides a nicely rendered mounting bracket with vision block to allow the modeller to have the drivers cover on the glacis plate open but the MG cover has no bracket detail. Nicely detailed separate periscopes and their covers are also provided. The driver’s and Radio operator’s hatches are moulded separately, with a well detailed 2 part interior that will be lost if the hatches are glued closed. The hatch retaining clamp is in 3 parts and a pieces of thin wire for the release handle and spring is all that is required to improve this piece.


The gun cradle is very nicely detailed and comes as an unlocked piece. Care is required as the instructions are not clear on how to fit the side parts. Reference to detail pics will be required to ensure the modeller gets this right. The retaining chain can be cut off and replaced with a separate piece provided by Dragon if the vehicle is to be depicted with the main gun locked down. The cradle only needs a retaining pin and fine chain to improve the look.


The under hull sponson bottoms and part fenders are moulded in one item, with small triangular vertical end pieces to be used to fit the end of the sponson to the upper hull. Dragon recommends that these be fitted to the upper hull, with the whole upper hull assembly later being fitted to the lower hull. Somewhat dubious about this, and having heard of people having problems here, I elected to fit the sponson sides and bottoms to the lower hull, which worked fine for me.


Tool racks and pioneer tools are well represented, so much so that the kit ones were used. The spare track mounts are a little thick and most will probably replace these but with careful sanding these could be presentable. No retaining pins are provided, but the correct pins and clips can be obtained from aftermarket PE sets.


Rear hatch on the turret has inside detail with a fairly chunky hinge mechanism. As there is no internal detail, most will choose to glue the hatch closed. The cupola itself is made up of 6 separate pieces, but some filling will be required where the middle vision port sections (parts J13 and J14) are joined, and care needs to be taken to ensure the correct shape of the vision port openings are retained. A choice of communication hatch and pistol ports with or without rain guards are provided for the turret. The smoke discharger cable fitting has been moulded integral to the turret roof, but the appropriate cables and connectors from these tubes to the bottoms of the smoke units are not provided.


Dragon has provided 4 air intake covers of 2 different types due to duplication of Sprue D. One set has spokes radiating straight out from the centre; the other has spokes angled out in a ‘vortex’ shape. As stated above, neither is correct, but even for the late type D the instruction to use one cover of each type would be incorrect. The correct ones are asymmetrical vortex for early D and symmetrical straight spoke for late D.


Summary:

The main fault in the kit is the inaccurate air intakes, but as such a prominent feature, it simply cannot be overlooked. There are plenty of references available to ensure Dragon got this right, but we can only assume that they chose to ignore them. Apart from that, the kit is considered to be of excellent quality for the price, and as a basis for a Panther Ausf D, certainly worth adding to the collection.


Main Reference sources:


The finished model can be seen in the Gallery - Webmaster