No group of tanks has captured the attention of popular culture greater than the panzers of the German Army in World War II. My earliest memories of them* are from watching the movie Battle of the Bulge when I was 5 years old (*I would later learn that the panzers used in the movie were actually American made M47 Patton tanks). They seemed invincible, and indeed a memorable Sgt. Guffy (Telly Savalas) informs the audience after scoring a direct hit:
It's like hitting them with tennis balls
And if you didn't believe Sgt. Guffy, how about Oddball (Donald Sutherland) from Kelly's Heroes:
The only way I got to keep them Tigers busy is to LET THEM SHOOT HOLES IN ME!
(-: INSERT YOUR NON-COPYRIGHTED IMAGINARY PHOTO HERE :-)
The prevalence of panzer-interest is also found within the world of scale modeling. Panzers, and particularly the Tiger, have always been the most popular subject within the armor genre. One common refrain amongst modelers is that they will end up making as many Tiger kits as there were actual Tiger tanks! While this joke is meant to highlight how many different Tiger kits get churned out by the manufactures, it also hints at something else: just how few Tiger tanks there actually were! And indeed, the panzers as a whole were dwarfed in quantity when compared to their American and Russian tank numbers.
So I am curious, what is it about the panzers?
Modeler that I am, the best way for me to explore this topic is to, well, build it!
Extraordinary speed of evolution
There is a lot that I want to learn and understand about the panzers. For starters, tank design in the years prior to and including World War II was a period of extraordinary evolution. The first panzer, the Panzer I, entered service in 1934. It weighed approximately 5 tons and had a primary armament of 2 machine guns. By 1944, the King Tiger entered service with an impressive 70 ton weight and 88mm gun! What a world of difference in only 10 years.
Impressive as this evolution was, nations don't devote resources, especially during the years leading up to or during wartime, for the sake of "product improvement". There has to be a need. I want to know what those needs were and how they came to be.
And I'll go and say it: the panzers have attained mythical status. So fact or fiction? Are Sgt. Guffy and Oddball speaking from a place of truth, or is that movie drama turned to "11". Thus, I want to know how the panzers stacked up against their peers and how they fared in combat.
What I will be building
So far I have collected a good number of kits for this project and I have chosen Ausführungs reflective of the earlier production versions of each panzer. Abbreviated "Ausf", Ausführung means "model or version" in German. For example, the Panzer III started off with a 37mm KwK 35 L/45 and by the time the Ausf. N was introduced, the gun was increased to a 75mm KwK 37 L/24. Some panzers, like the Panzer IV, end their runs featuring new guns and extensive side-skirt armor additions called "schürzen".
I am hoping that by starting towards the beginnings of a panzer's production run, I can get a cleaner sense of the initial design philosophy. Furthermore, at some later stage in this project, I may want to explore how an individual panzer evolved by building its subsequent Ausfs.
Spoiled for choice and seeking recommendations
Notably absent from my collection is a Panther and a King Tiger, but this is nothing to worry about, right? In recent years, modelers have been utterly spoiled by the kits being released. 2018 was even deemed "year of the Panther" in some modeling circles after a number of new-tool releases!
The trouble as I now see it is: "how to best balance time spent building and what modeling treats are worth the expense?"
Things like metal tank barrels, photoetch exhaust screens, individual workable track links have all become commonplace. Some manufacturers have even brought to market kits that feature full interiors that make for truly beautiful cutaway displays. To be sure, this trouble that I write of, is a wonderful trouble to have. Put simply, I have been paralyzed by choice.
So I ask you, loyal readers, what kits do you suggest for my Panther and King Tiger builds?
The panzers, prominent in pop culture, offer a rich set of vehicles for modelers to toil with. I am hoping that by building all of them I can hone my modeler skills and learn a thing or two about World War II tank design in general. Like my other series centered around building the modern US Navy fleet, this is going to be a long-term project and I will bounce around between various genres to maintain my sanity.
Well, now that you have an idea of the things to come here at igluemodels.com, it's about time to open the tank factory!
Thanks for reading,
Cover image from the German Federal Archives via Wikimedia Commons.
Contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org or on IG @igluemodels