The German Panther was the best medium tank of the war. It combined good speed, an excellent main gun, and sloped armour. Built to counter the Soviet T-34, the Panther’s design held up against every Allied tank until the end of the war. In Flames of War, the Panther is one of the most potent weapons a German player can bring to the tabletop. The mere presence of these tanks can completely frustrate your opponents battleplan. Used properly, even a handful of Panthers can lock down an entire area. As powerful as these tanks are, they can be tricky to master. This article will look at how Panthers can be used in FoW.
Strengths: In my opinion, of the many positive attributes of the Panther, the most important one is its frontal armour. Of all the vehicals in FoW, only the King Tiger and Elephant exceed the Panther’s frontal armour value of 10. The only other combat vehical that can match this is the Soviet IS-2. While at first glance this seems like only a slight improvement over the Tiger’s frontal armour of 9, in reality that one point makes a huge difference in the actual game. A quick discussion with my brother (a British player) will reveal the significance of 1 more point of frontal armour. His best anti-tank gun is the 17 pounder, which he has a plethora of. Whether mounted in Sherman “Fireflys”, M-10 tank destroyers or as a towed anti-tank gun, the 17 pdr is arguably the best Western Allied or Soviet AT gun. He has destroyed far more Tigers with this weapon than Panthers. Even at over 16″, a Tiger requires a roll of 4+ to bounce the shot while a Panther bounces on a 3+. Saving 66% of your throwing saves as compared to only 50% is a big deal when playing with costly tanks such as these. At 16″ and under, Tigers are at a decisive disadvantage to the 17 pdr. If fighting other Panthers, IS-2s or ISU-122s, again your armour of 10 gives you a fighting chance (especially over 16″) to at least glance the shot wheras most tanks would just take an immediate penetrating hit. Survival is key on a FoW battlefield. Even if your units are not accomplishing much, by being alive can they affect the game. The Panther is one of the best units at this. I have had games where a Panther platoon did very little, but it ended up winning me my game because my opponent simply could not get around them.
The Panther tank mounted the high velocitly 7.5 cm KwK 42 gun. In game this weapon is given an impressive AT value of 14. Besides the PaK 88 (AT16), the Panther’s gun has the highest AT value of a RoF2 weapon. Even at range, every other medium tank doesnt stand a chance if hit by the long barrel 7.5cm gun. This gun, combined with frontal armour 10 make the Panther the best all around tank killer in the game. It has the firepower and armour to go toe-to-toe with the enemy “heavies”, whilst your opponent’s medium tanks cant hurt the Panther and cant stop its shots. Entire Sherman companies well equiped with 17 pds. have fallen to as few as 5 Panthers. Panther platoons should be used to seek out and eliminate any enemy tanks, giving the German player armour superiority on the battlefield. A hull mounted and co-axial MG are also provided on the tank, giving it a fair anti-infantry capability as well.
Despite being such a well armoured and physically big vehical, the Panther is still considered a medium tank. As such it retains a 12″ move over cross-country terrain in FoW. This is a powerful tool for a German player. Being able to freely move such a powerful tank puts tremendous pressure on opponents. Combined with German stormtrooper moves, a Panther platoon can traverse large swaths of the board in very little time. It also makes German counterstrokes very deadly. A Panther platoon can spend the majority of a game stationary and shooting but if the opportunity arises, they can quickly spring into an attack and be on an enemy objective before he can react. At that late point in the game there may be little your opponent can do to stop frontal armour 10 vehicals if the attack comes from an unexpected direction. The Panther also has Wide Tracks, meaning that cutting through terrain can be a viable option. Nothing is more of a point suck than a bogged down Panther so that extra roll of 4+ can be a real game saver.
Weaknesses: Despite all the glowing compliments I just heaped upon this tank, one factor over all must be accounted for. Cost…………………….Cost, Cost, Cost, Cost and Cost. Simply put, a Panther platoon is one of the most expensive (if not THE most expensive) units any army can field in FoW. For a minimum platoon of three, 560 pts must be spent. For a full platoon of five, 940 pts! In your average game that is more than half your points! Panthers might be easy tanks to use, but they do not make list making easy. Figuring out the right balance of forces when your sinking up to a third of your points into a single platoon can be a real challange. Compounding this is the fact that usually only panzergrenaiders have access to Panthers, so points are a premium all around. Most Panther tank companies are incredibly hamstrung in my opinion by the requirement to take a 2iC tank. Sinking 190 pts into a tank thats not part of a platoon really hurts. The only viable Panther list is the Schwere Panzerregiment Bäke pdf. http://www.flamesofwar.com/hobby.aspx?art_id=1114 Thankfully this list only requires you to take one command tank and Bäke himself is a useful hero upgrade. The SS-Panzer Companies from Earth and Steel also only require a single command tank and in addition give the company commander a useful Tiger Ace Skill. However, there are few units more grimace inducing than SS-Panthers. A full platoon will only cost a German player the bargain basement cost of 1060 pts!!!! I cant stress how important this cost issue is. If a German player doesnt plan the rest of his list wisely, he will find his Panthers isolated and overrun by superior numbers of enemy platoons.
While the Panther’s frontal armour is sterling, the rest of it is average. A Top armour rating of 1 leaves the Panther vulnerable to artillery termplates and airpower while its Side armour only comes in at 5. Enemy tanks or guns that manage to get side shots have a real chance of knocking out a Panther. Positional facing of Panthers is extreamly important and the stormtrooper role is essential for this. Before ending each turn, a German player should take an extra moment to make sure that his Panthers are faced to give his opponent the least chance possible at getting a side shot. Relating to side armour value is the Panthers role in the assault step. To be brief, its role should be as small as possible. Anti-tank guns and squad based infantry AT weapons represent a terrible danger to Panthers as it allows them to bypass the tanks formidable frontal armour. To make matters worse Panthers do not have schürzen. So while a much cheaper Panzer IV has a 50% chance of ignoring a bazooka or PIAT hit, a Panther has to roll a 6 to bounce the shot. An assault should only be launched as a last resort or against a critical objective to end the game. To top it all off, a Panther does not have Protected Ammo, meaning a German player has to rely on a single roll to get his crew back into their tank.
Panthers are best when they have enemy tanks to shoot at. When those are not taken or cant be killed directly, the Panther really suffers. Since its assault capability is limited, direct fire against enemy gun teams is its only real supporting role. While this is useful given its near invulnerability to most AT guns, its not exactly a cost-effective role for the tank. Similarly, units like Churchill Crocodiles are a nightmare for German players taking Panthers (or anything!!!!). With their frontal armour of 13 they cant be killed head on and their flame throwers make flanking them difficult. I once had an entire Panther company halted dead in its tracks on a No Retreat Mission by 3 Crocodiles sitting on the objective. Even if targets are limited, a German player must give his Panthers something to do, or else they are just burning a huge hole in his list, points wise.
In conclusion the Panther is an awesome tank that performs and looks great on the tabletop. The key to using them is to ensure that the list doesnt sacrifice too much for the Panthers. My favorite way to use them is to take 3 in a panzergrenadier company. This way they provide solid anti-tank but dont eat up too many points leaving room for other support options. I like to take a combined-arms approach to list building and panzergrenadiers backed up with Panthers and mechanized rocket arty is usually pretty solid against everyone.