The MAN design also had better fording ability, easier gun servicing and higher mobility due to better suspension, wider tracks, and a bigger fuel tank. A mild steel prototype was produced by September 1942 and, after testing at Kummersdorf, was officially accepted. It was put into immediate production. The start of production was delayed, however, mainly because there were too few specialized machine tools needed for the machining of the hull. Finished tanks were produced in December and suffered from reliability problems as a result of this haste. The demand for this tank was so high that the manufacturing was soon expanded beyond MAN to include Daimler-Benz, Maschinenfabrik Niedersachsen-Hannover (MNH) and Henschel & Sohn in Kassel.
The initial production target was 250 tanks per month at MAN. This was increased to 600 per month in January 1943. Despite determined efforts, this figure was never reached due to disruption by Allied bombing, manufacturing bottlenecks, and other difficulties. Production in 1943 averaged 148 per month. In 1944, it averaged 315 a month (3,777 having been built that year), peaking with 380 in July and ending around the end of March 1945, with at least 6,000 built in total. Front-line combat strength peaked on 1 September 1944 at 2,304 tanks, but that same month a record number of 692 tanks were reported lost.
Allied bombing was first directed at the common chokepoint for both Panther and Tiger production, the Maybach engine plant. This was bombed the night of 27/28 April 1944 and production was shut down for five months. A second plant had already been planned, the Auto-Union plant at Siegmar, and this came online in May 1944. Targeting of Panther factories began with a bombing raid on the DB plant on 6 August 1944, and again on the night of 23/24 August. MAN was struck on 10 September, 3 October and 19 October 1944, and then again on 3 January and 20/21 February 1945. MNH was not attacked until 14 and 28 March 1945.
In addition to interfering with tank production goals, the bombing forced a steep drop in the production of spare parts. Spare parts as a percentage of tank production dropped from 25–30 percent in 1943, to 8 percent in the fall of 1944. This only compounded the problems with reliability and numbers of operational Panthers, as tanks in the field had to be cannibalized for parts.
One source has cited the cost of a Panther tank as 117,100 Reichmarks (RM). This compared with 82,500 RM for the StuG III, 96,163 RM for the Panzer III, 103,462 RM for the Panzer IV, and 250,800 RM for the Tiger I. These figures did not include the cost of the armament and radio. In terms of Reichmarks per ton, therefore, the Panther tank was one of the most cost-effective of the German AFV's of World War II. However, these cost figures should be understood in the context of the time period in which the various AFVs were first designed, as the Germans increasingly strove for designs and production methods that would allow for higher production rates, and thus steadily reduced the cost of their AFVs. For example, another source has cited the total cost of the early production Tiger I in 1942–1943 to be as high as 800,000 RM.
The process of streamlining the production of German AFVs first began after Speer became Reichminister in early 1942, and steadily accelerated through 1944; production of the Panther tank thus coincided with this period of increased manufacturing efficiency. German AFV manufacturers at the start of World War II utilized only heavily labor-intensive and costly manufacturing methods unsuitable for the needs of mass production; even with streamlined production methods, Germany never approached the efficiency of Allied manufacturing during World War II.
The first 250 Panthers were powered by a Maybach HL 210 P30 engine, V-12 gasoline engine which delivered 650 metric hp at 3,000 rpm and had three simple air filters. Starting in May 1943, the Panthers were built using the 700 PS (690 hp, 515 kW)/3000 rpm, 23.1 litre Maybach HL 230 P30 V-12 gasoline engine. The light alloy block used in the HL 210 was replaced by a cast iron block to save aluminum. Two multistage "cyclone" air filters were used to automate some of the dust removal process. In practice the engine power output was reduced due to the use of low quality gasoline. With a capacity of 190 US gallons of fuel, a Panther could operate 60–80 mi (97–130 km) on roads and 40–50 mi (64–80 km) cross country
The HL 230 P30 engine was a very compact design, which kept the space between the cylinder walls to a minimum. The crankshaft was composed of seven discs, each with an outer race of roller bearings, and a crankshaft pin between each disc. To reduce the length of the engine further, by one half a cylinder diameter, the two banks of 6 cylinders of the V-12 were not offset - the center points of the connecting rods of each cylinder pair in the "V" where they joined the crankshaft pin were thus at the same spot rather than offset; to accommodate this arrangement, one connecting rod in the pair of cylinders was forked and fit around the other "solid" connecting rod at the crankshaft pin. (A more typical "V" engine would have had offset cylinder banks and each pair of connecting rods would have fit simply side by side on the crankshaft pin). This compact arrangement with the connecting rods was the source of considerable teething problems early on. Blown head gaskets were another problem, which was corrected with improved seals in September 1943. Improved bearings were introduced in November 1943 to replace the faulty ones that had failed frequently. An engine governor was also added in November 1943 that reduced the maximum engine speed to 2500 rpm. An eighth crankshaft bearing was added beginning in January 1944 to help reduce motor failures.
The engine compartment space was designed to be watertight so that the Panther could be submerged and cross waterways. The result was that the engine compartment was poorly ventilated and prone to overheating. The fuel connectors in the early models were non-insulated, leading to leakage of fuel fumes into the engine compartment. This led to many engine fires in the early Panthers. Additional ventilation was added to draw off these gasses, which mitigated but did not completely solve the problem of engine fires. Other measures taken to reduce this problem included improving the coolant circulation inside the motor and adding a reinforced membrane spring to the fuel pump. The Panther had a solid firewall separating the engine compartment and the fighting compartment to keep engine fires from spreading.
The engine became more reliable over time. A French assessment of their stock of captured Panthers in 1947 concluded that the engine had an average life of 1,000 km (620 mi) and maximum life of 1,500 km (930 mi).
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