Wednesday, August 29

Read n' Reviewed: The Research Squad's Panther Project: Volume Two – Engine and Turret

Today we look at what the Research Squad has uncovered in their continuing coverage of the restoration of the Panther A of the Wheatcroft Collection in Volume two of their unfolding story of the restoration of that vehicle. See what is in this larger second volume and what we thought about the book in our review...

Read n' Reviewed: Panther Project Volume Two – Engine and Turret
Authors: Lee Lloyd, Brian Balkwill & Alasdair Johnson
Language: English
No of Photos: 100s colour.
No of Pages: 208
Physical: Softcover, 290 x 210mm, landscape
Price: £38
Product Link on the AFV Modeller Website

References are part of the lifeblood of the modelling scene. They are what interest and inspire us, what captivates the imagination and sometimes what scares the hell out of us. Only once we fully realize how much work is in the making of the machines we are studying is the time that we decide to go that extra mile on our models, or to investigate the machine further. What unites all modellers is the need for thoroughly accurate references, and this is what the people from "The Research Squad" set out to do with their series of books.

The publishers have now released three books that cover German tanks of World War Two - one on the Tiger I "712" Fgst. NR. 250031, from the Aberdeen Tank Musem from top to bottom.
The second book, on the Panther A of the Wheatcroft Museum, is the precursor to the book we are looking at today. That first volume focussed on the restoration with an examination of the interior of the hull, suspension elements, gear train and drive components. 
This is the second book that focusses in on that same vehicle and its restoration. The difference in focus this time is Volume 2 focusses mainly on the engine and turret of the Wheatcroft's Panther A. It is a genuine companion of the first volume, with a similar look and format to the other books from this publisher for those who might be familiar with them.
It is this, the third book in the series and the second on the Wheatcroft's Panther Ausf. A, Fgst.Nr. 158134 in the time period of 2009 to 2018 that I will examine in today's review...

This book in its physical form.
Panther Project Volume Two is a soft cover book in landscape format that is 290 x 210mm and just under a centimetre thick at its spine. The matte finish cover of the book is a swish black with coloured highlights and a picture of the turret of the Zimmerit covered Panter A. The cover is schmick, but it does collect fingerprints a little. No big deal though you grubby handed modellers! The two hundred and eight pages inside are flat bound in the squared spine, and the book does open up to reveal its insides without too much folding and re-folding open and the book closes without any real cracking in the spine.
The book is broken into two opposing styles, the first being ten pages of the history of the vehicle, the personnel that occupied it in the war and how it ended up where it did, as well as a neat little thesis on the merits of what makes an original vehicle original by one of the authors, Brian Balkwill - food for thought. 
The rest of the book, almost two hundred pages, is split into several years or the restoration period, from 2007, 2009, 2013, 2017 & 2018 and the photos and text that accompany them to show you the work, how and why it was conducted in the restoration. There are also about ten pages of references used and technical drawings of some of the parts at the very rear of the book.

OK so that is an overview of what the book looks and feels like, but what is inside? Let's have a look now...

Page by page...
The book gives us a little of the history of how the Panther was sidelined and who crewed it in these first few pages. There is more information at hand now than at the time of the first in this series about this particular tank. Amongst pictures of the two positions of the recovered Panther after the war is some helpful research by some of the biggest names in the business. Doyle, Neeley and another author of a forthcoming book on the IInd Panzer division in Normandy Frederic Deprun. These fellows secured some information, with deduction, and also Deprun's connection to the nephew of the commander of the tank who came up with evidence that identified the quill and feather pen emblem on the tank. The only thing that is unknown about the tank is the exact location that it was abandoned at. 

Some great investigation here left me in good hope for the restoration part of the book that lay ahead.

Just before the major part of the book and restoration, we see pictures of the Panther as it arrived at the Wheatcroft Garages. A (very) recent source of this information was luckilly includes as we see a few pages of the vehicle before it was stripped to be restored. Wiring, some of the traces of the original Zimmerit and the engine and gearbox are all in place in these pictures.

Pre-restoration pictures along with supporting text telling you often what you are looking at is included here over seven pages. Close ups of the corrosion and damage to the fuel tanks, the plumbing, gearbox oil filters and even the inside of the HL 230 Maybach engine block are in stark contrast to what you will see later on in this book. They give the reader an insight into the amount of work that was done on this vehicle and I value their inclusion.

We go from the untouched Panther to the restoration next. Broken up into chapters of time by pictures like this one below, we get this first, larger chapter of the book that covers the period restoration from 2007 to 2009. 
This format follows throughout most of the rest of the book. It is a gallery of large format, sometimes two, often size pictures to a page with text to support these large sharp and perfectly in focus pictures. The text describes what is in the frame, but also most importantly the process that was followed to restore these parts to original or better condition. We see shots of the roadwheels raw and then restored, with new rubber and paint making them look factory fresh.

While we are at it, we see the insides of the Maybach HL 230 after restoration. The engine block ) well two of them, as they were both being restored at the same time) are shown here with technical drawings to accompany them that included showing the addition of copper rings to the cylinder head to avoid blown head gaskets is here. I am seeing lots of parts that look like my old car in this selection of pristine internal engine block pictures with the rocker covers, piston parts, arms, heads, inlet valves and big ends (ohh my) here along with water pumps, fuel cut off valve, the engine generator, magnetos, starter motor and starter pinions amongst many more pictures here. Both shown before refurb and after to show a comparison. a great study with small lettering and data plate stamps caught here in this chapter.

We then go into some of the pictures for 2009 through to 2013. This chapter is about thirty-odd pages  with more of what you had seen already put together, the sixty-year-old Maybach is seen mostly put together here on a testbed frame and we see the pictures with arrows and numbers on each that show us the direction of air, fuel, water and exhaust as it travels through these reconstructed parts. This helps the reader better understand the workings of the engine which is a bonus I had not counted on. Parts of this engine that I would have never recognized are here, all explained and shown off in excellent photographs.

We then take a walk around the mostly (at that time) restored hull, with so much detail in these pictures that can help a modeller or historian understand more about this vehicle. The inclusion of new/old parts is always called out, with the authors noting this whenever there has been a replacement. The hull parts, Zimmerit rear starter hatches and exhausts, tool clamps and holders, along with the restoration and plenty of red oxide shades and cream top colours are present here. 

The (almost beautiful) interior is seen in the light of day without the turret to hide any detail in this part of the book. Panther modellers with full interior kits like Takom, Meng and Ryefield Model will be having conniptions about the detail here, the correct (you bet your ass they are) colours for certain parts like those present here are only before garnered after countless hours of research or guessing, here it is offered up in clear photos, numbered and annotated for simple location and concise text to accompany it. While we are discussing red oxide, we then travel on to the engine compartment, with the parts that drop into there - fans, radiators and a technical diagram of the cooling fans added to the mix.

The fighting compartment is isolated into several pictures from mostly top-down and shown around a line drawing of the panther so you understand the geography of the section you are looking at. Each picture is then discussed with details of what exactly you are seeing and what was done to these parts during this stage of restoration broken down into simple to follow the text. There is more than you can take in on one setting if you are looking at the book seriously. First aid equipment, ammo racks, hooks and latches to keep it all in place have been lovingly restored here and all captured in detail.

The demolition charge to destroy a deserted tank, the newly re-upholstered seats on coiled springs lead on to some of the refurbed stations of the operators of the tank. The driver's station is seen with all of the added tools and controls that he needed to use, the radio operators compartment with his fully operational sets are also covered in some great shots here, like the day they rolled out of the factory.

The "Year of our Lord" 2013 sees the further restoration of this tank, and the pictures start at the exterior of the turret. The Zimmerit covered steel slabs of the turm are shown here to reveal the pattern of anti-magnetic paste. We see the hatches opened up to show the thickness of the turret, with seals in place and the top turret open to show then the insides of the turret in as much detail. The cremeweiss interior is seen fully lit-up and chronicled in photos and text. We get to see the gun mantlet box before the large gun goes into place, something not often seen on restoration shots.

The whole 350 degrees of the internal parts of the turret (so far) are seen from the inside of the top hatches down tot he feet of the turret ring in red oxide. Again we see a diagram with arrows pointing to what part of the turret we are looking at in the pictures. The large turret turning hand mechanism, firing pedals and even under the turret bin is seen in this part of the book. I am shaking my head not believing the detail that: 1. the restoration has seen and 2. the detail here in these photos and text.

Page ninety-one, and the 2017 section of the book sees us with over sixty pages of work done on this Panther as it comes together bit by bit. By now, you are feeling at home seeing detail added to the tank in places we have already visited. The Maybach engines are seen all-but-completed here with Magnetos, the air intake manifold and fuel systems are shown now attached, as are the explanations behind the history of the fires created by poorly fitting fuel connectors in early vehicles, we see a technical diagram showing the incredibly complex spur and timing gear at the engine's flywheel in amongst views from all angles of the engine before the cylinders and spur gears were sealed up. There are twenty-six pages full of pictures and insight into the engine at this stage and the parts around it in this section alone.

The main part of the hull is next for a revisit. Large, full-size pages are here in some places to give you an interrupted picture that is the largest this book can deliver on some of these wide shots. from the front, left, right-hand side and behind the Panther, we see the tank's sharp angles and sharp detail of the restoration in large format shots.  From a low angle, we see under the parts of the tank often obscured by the tracks or camera angles which is helpful for reference.

Not just from below, but above as well! we see the tank's top of the hull at this point of restoration, the top engine grilles and rear cavernous engine bay ready to be filled with the restored engine. The front crew hatches and latches are also shown with details of the installed engine fans and radiators in place in the rear.

Large, close up and detail shots fo the side of the turret betray the patterns of Zimmerit on the restored side surfaces. How someone could reach up here to put a magnetic mine n there I do not know, but that kind of completism sums up this tank, and the restoration needed to make it like new again. the details of this are shown in this section of full picture-to-a-page shots.

 These large format pictures of the turret also include the inside of the armoured mantlet with the mantlet armour taken off the front. here we see the Gun being mounted from the inside and our with optics included in the detail shots as well as the muzzle brake of the gun. All talked through by the authors in detail. 

The last main chapter of the 2018 restoration is next, with over thirty-two pages., with the gun of the tank is examined in detail. In a near, as I can make out complete turret structure, the main gun of the tank is seen from all angles inside the turret, as is the turret co-axial machine gun, both gun mounts and firing mechanisms are shown in exhaustive almost detail (as if that is a bad thing - it isn't) The now-completed turret basket is the last piece of the puzzle to the inside of this tank. I can only think that the engines and final exterior elements need adding to the Panther now. 

The closing sections of this chapter cover some of the more technical aspects of the tank. Pictures and text of the installation of the gearbox into the tank (bring on the crane!) with ample instructions of how to do it on your own Panther are here. Also, the composition of Zimmerit, the anti-magnetic paste applied to the exterior of the tank is discussed in composition, application and the accuracy pattern of the Zimm on this tank is examined.

Penultimately, we see twelve pages of technical drawings of the insides of the Panther. The coloured drawings show the path of the fuel, oil, air, coolant and water as it passes through the tank and the solid hardware of the Panther. Covered here are the roadwheel and torsion bar set up, Hydraulic System, Oil lubricant system, Oil filter, Cold starting system, Cooling system and fan blade set up, the fuel tank and pump configurations the air filter system of the tank and lastly the PTO assembly. 

Many of these just help you better understand what you are looking at in these pages, they all afforded me a great insight into the Panther and provide me with the knowledge of why these tanks go and why they sometimes broke down or stopped working.
The last two pages show a reference section that might help you as much as they did the restorers of this tank, as well as a hint of the future with an M4 Sherman book in the same vein in the works - that will be very popular if it is anything like this.

So that is it. I think you get my feeling towards this book already, a very well written, with second to none photographs of the subject in many phases and in various condition, the extensive care and research that has gone into the work make this, in my eyes at least, the best book of a close up view of the insides of a Panther I have ever read, full stop.

Get it if you have historical, modelling or just an interest in the Panther or in restoring a piece of history. I am still shaking my head at the depth of detail and the smart way that that detail is conveyed here in this book.

Adam Norenberg

Thanks to The Research Squad and AFV Publications for sending this book to me to read and review. We also have volume 1 in this series that we will be reading next to review for you.