The German title of this kit translates as Armoured Recovery Panther with PzKpfw. IV Turret, and, as many will be aware, this was a one-off field modification carried out by s.Pz.Abt.653. There seem to be very few photographs of the original, the best one I could find being reproduced at the end of this review, and it is certainly a curiosity.
Let’s start with that photo: note the twin headlamps and the widely spaced rim bolts on the road wheels, which, if we study better photos of early Panthers, we can be sure total up to 16 per wheel. These two features indicate that the vehicle used by s.Pz.Abt.653 was an Ausf D, probably manufactured before or during June 1943. After July, the right hand lamp was deleted, and the 16 bolt road wheels were reinforced with 16 alternating rivets; by August the wheels were being manufactured with 24 bolts instead.
The Bergepanther used was therefore one of the very first batch of twelve produced by MAN between May and June, and these, according to Tom Jentz, were simply normal Panther chassis with the addition of a wooden compartment in place of the usual turret. Later Bergepanthers were manufactured with specifically designed additions such as the rear spade, additional steel superstructure, a winch, lifting derrick and cable couplings welded to the front and rear plates.
So let’s see how Dragon went about their own field conversion.
The box is pretty big for a 1/72 tank kit, and it needs to be to contain four Panther sprues as well as two Pz.Kpfw. IV sprues. At least it is meant to contain all of that, but for some reason my sample wasn’t complete:
- Sprue A is from the Panther Ausf D kits, Early (7494) and Late (7506).
- Sprue B is the hull from the same kits; this was missing from my box.
- Sprue C is the side skirts sprue from the same kits; also missing.
- Sprue D is the wheels from the Panther D Late Production kit (7506) – the ones with 24 rim bolts, rather than the 16 bolts of the Early Production kit.
- Sprue C (blue) is the turret base and gun from the PzKpfw. IV Ausf H w/Schurzen kit (7494).
- Sprue D (blue) is the turret and skirt armour from the same PzKpfw. IV kit.
As well as the normal Panther DS tracks, there is a small sheet of decals featuring the battalion insignia; obviously there is only one finishing scheme possible.
As I had recently done an in-box review of the Panther D Late Production kit, I was fortunate in having the two missing sprues available to take from that kit, and so I could proceed with the build.
The Panther D Early kit was the subject of Jan Etal’s review
in September 2012, and he paid considerable attention to the moulding quality, sprue gates, and level of detail, and of course the basic Panther kit here is identical. The inner set of road wheels fit snugly on to the axles (photo 18) and these are followed by the two rows of interconnected wheels; this combination means that it is easy to ensure the first three rows are perfectly aligned, and the final outer row therefore have a straight foundation to engage with, so no problems there.
The hull location holes for the final drive housing had to be enlarged a little to allow these components to sit flush (photo 23), and there was a little flash present on one of the sprockets (photo 24). I might have pushed the first run of road wheels on a little too far, as I found some clash between the sprockets and the adjacent inner road wheel (arrowed in photo 25). The instructions do show this inner row of wheels being attached before the sprocket, but perhaps it would be better to do it the other way around, and so ensure that the wheel sits centrally between the two rows of sprocket teeth. Tracks were the right length to allow authentic looking sag to be introduced. I didn’t really like the way the schürzen attach to the hull – the mounts look over sized and the contact points are a bit vague. In the photo just one side is tacked on, so it could be removed again for painting.
The instructions require a few modifications to be done to the PzKpfw IV turret, and this is where it becomes something like a kit conversion rather than a straight kit build. Mounting holes for the turret bin need to be filled in as this part isn’t fitted, and what I think is a blanking plate for the planned, but not fitted, close defence weapon is shown as being (optionally) removed from the turret roof (photo 28). Most of the rear sheet of the turret schürzen (photo 29) also has to be removed, leaving just the front portions (photos 31 and 32). I lined up the schürzen mounting brackets on the turret using an overhead photo as a guide (photo 30) and added the plates once the cement on the brackets was set (photo 33).
Somewhat to my surprise the turret fits on to the Panther turret mount exactly, I think I’d assumed they’d be different diameters that would require some adaptor, so I’m not sure if some modification has been done to the turret base, but I think not. The turret needs to be glued on with the gun pointing dead ahead, as on this hybrid vehicle it was non-rotating, and since the gun barrel travel lock isn’t used, the gun would be elevated to place it in a stowed position (photo 39).
As for the minor details: the tools are a halfway house, not moulded to the body, but not separate pieces either, instead they are moulded as a cluster; detail is good, but there’s a lot of attachment points to clean up. The brackets for the track links are similarly well detailed, but very awkward to clean up as there are attachment points sitting right on top of small details – see photo 37. Headlamps are delicately moulded and detailed, but vague as to attachment, and it’s a similar story with the lifting hooks that attach to the crew hatch plate.
So the kit works OK from the build point of view, but going back to the earlier observations on the photo of the real thing, there seem to me to be a few odd accuracy issues. Both headlamps are visible in the photo, so why do the instructions show the left had mounting indentation as needing to be filled in? Possibly this is simply because this part of the instructions has been lifted from the Dragon Late D, rather than from the Early. There’s also the issue with the wheels, where the 24 bolt Late D wheels have been used rather than the 16 bolt wheels from the Early D kit, as the photo seems to show. The instructions ask for the front hinged portion of the track guards to be added, while in the photo these are clearly not in use; the same goes for the gun cleaning equipment tube (part A34 to be mounted on the side) which is not apparent in the photo. Something that is
clearly visible on the photo is the spare track links mounted on the rack devoted to that purpose on the rear of the hull side, but as we have seen before in these Dragon Panther kits, spare track links are not included; bizarrely the non-existent spare track links do
make an appearance in the painting guide (Photo 17), including the instruction that they should be painted Steel! Finally, of course, there’s no mesh for the rear deck. Note that the box art follows the wartime photo slightly more accurately in that it shows the 16 bolt wheels and the short track guards (and spare links), though it does still show only one headlamp…
The instructions, then, need to be read in conjunction with the reference photo, and then with the parts provided it is easy enough to correct some of these errors – but not all (photo 41).
This is an interesting one-off vehicle that certainly creates an unusual looking addition to what is becoming a large Dragon braille Panther family. Previously one would have needed to buy the two source kits separately, at almost double the cost, so for a slightly higher price than is normal for an ArmorPro range kit, you get this unique hybrid, as well as a number of parts for the spares box. As I have described, detail quality is good, and the fit of the larger components is excellent; some of the smaller parts though have limited or vague attachment points – the headlamps for example just kind of float in a tiny indentation on the hull surface with nothing definite to align them to, and the lifting hooks on the hull hatch plate need their locating pegs removed in order to sit flush. This is one of the areas that contrast greatly with Zvezda’s recent Ausf D Panther, which has such well-designed small details that components such as the lamps can be attached to the hull at the correct angle with no glue at all. That kit also has separately moulded tools, spare track links and tow cables.
My observations regarding the kit’s accuracy compared with the reference photo make me wonder what went on in terms of research when the kit was designed. The correct 16 bolt wheels could easily have been taken from the Ausf D Early kit; for all I know that may be the case normally, as obviously there was some hitch with the packaging of my sample, with its two missing sprues, so perhaps I ended up with the wrong wheels as well! I hope I haven’t come over as too picky on this accuracy question, but since there was only one of these vehicles in existence there really isn’t scope for the introduction of any variation.
I was quite surprised to see that in the 1/35 scale Dragon range, as in the 1/72 range, there is also only this same Bergepanther variant, with no “straight” Bergepanther kit yet available; as we have seen, this is an easier model to produce as it requires no additional parts to be created. From the markings on the rear plate that look like they would be in the right place for mounting the big rear spade (photo 38), I assume that a “proper” 1/72 Bergepanther complete with all its other specialist equipment, will eventually materialise.
Thomas L Jentz Germany’s Panther Tank: The Quest for Combat Supremacy
Thomas L Jentz and Hilary Doyle Panther Variants 1942-45
Thomas L Jentz and Hilary Doyle Panzerkampfwagen IV Ausf.G, H and J 1942-45
Review of Dragon Panther Ausf.D Early Production
Review of Dragon Panther Ausf.D Late Production
Review of Zvezda Panther Ausf.D