Ernst Barkmann: Panther Ace

This is Ernst Barkmann. Though he fought for arguably the darkest, most twisted regime in human history he was nonetheless an extremely capable tank commander.

The Germans during World War 2 were arguably history’s greatest villains. Driven by such vile engines as greed, ambition, and weaponized racism, the Nazis envisioned a world subservient to their idealized vision of the Ubermensch. Alas, the non-Aryan majority of the world’s population had a few things to say about that.

It remains to be seen how things ultimately turn out, but for now the Ukrainians are fighting like lions against the invading Russians.

Despite their dark irredeemable ethos, the Nazis during the course of WW2 developed some of the most advanced weapons the world had ever seen. What began as a grand war of conquest ultimately devolved into a desperate struggle for national survival. The prospect of having your lands and your families ravaged by an invading army can be a powerful motivator. As I type these words the Russians are learning that timeless lesson yet again in Ukraine.

The MP44 inspired generations of modern infantry weapons.

The Germans gifted the world with the first examples of the assault rifle, optimized combat submarines, operational jet fighters, and surface-to-surface ballistic missiles. While German military innovations have shaped the world for seventy years, in no place has the Nazi martial mythos been more profoundly manifest than in their tanks. The German Panther and Tiger tanks struck fear in the hearts of Allied servicemen wherever they fought. While much of this stemmed from propaganda and wartime rumors, the Panzerkampfwagen Mk V and VI were undeniably revolutionary combat vehicles.

This is me dressed as a Waffen SS soldier. There goes my political career…

My wife once told me that any political aspirations I might once have had went out the window the first time a photograph was published of me wearing a Waffen SS uniform. I do indeed maintain both an SS uniform as well as that of a wartime German fallschirmjager in my writing closet. I use this kit as props for my literary efforts. I am, however, living proof that you can admire a nation’s military acumen and sundry martial accouterments while still harboring the requisite disdain for their dark politics and twisted worldview. Just as well, the American political Left would be rendered frankly apoplectic by a Will Dabbs Presidency anyway.

The Waffen SS was a strange offshoot of Hitler’s original personal bodyguard.

The Waffen SS or Armed SS was a curious army within an army during World War 2. SS stood for Schutzstaffel, and it was originally imagined as Hitler’s personal bodyguard. By the end of the war, the Waffen SS had consumed 900,000 troops divided into 38 combat divisions. However, particularly toward the end, some of these divisions were more like Kampfgruppen or small battlegroups. They were divisions in name only.

For all their moral failings, the Waffen SS rocked some undeniably cool uniforms.

While the Waffen SS has been rightfully reviled for committing battlefield atrocities, they were some seriously snappy dressers. SS troops pioneered the use of camouflage uniforms, and the black mufti of the SS panzer corps just strikes a visceral chord. Ever on the prowl for outstanding Nazi soldiers to use to inspire the folks back home, Joseph Goebbels and his propaganda machine made good use of dashing young SS panzer officers. One of his favorites was Oberscharfuhrer Ernst Barkmann.

Background

Ernst Barkmann joined the Waffen SS as soon as he was able.

Ernst Barkmann was born in 1919 in Kisdorf in Holstein and was raised on a family farm. In 1936 Barkmann volunteered for the SS-Standarte Germania. At the ripe age of 17, Ernst Barkmann was an SS trooper.

Ernst Barkmann served his country in uniform from the very beginning of World War 2 until the very end.
The Panther tank was envisioned as one of Hitler’s super weapons.

Barkmann invaded Poland with the 9th Kompanie as a machine gunner and was wounded. Two years later he was wounded again during Operation Barbarossa near Dnieprpetrowsk and awarded the Iron Cross (Second Class). After he recovered he did a brief stint as an instructor before volunteering for service with the 2d SS Panzer Division Das Reich. While manning a Panzerkampfwagen Mk III, Barkmann fought during the Battle of Kharkov in early 1943, earning the Iron Cross (First Class) for his efforts. By the middle of 1943, Barkmann had transferred into one of Hitler’s new wunderwaffe or wonder weapons. 

Ernst Barkmann found a home in the cupola of a Mk V Panther.

Barkmann’s new mount was the Panzerkampfwagen Mk V Panther. This highly advanced German medium tank was designed to be the answer to the ubiquitous Russian T34. Sporting a high-velocity, long-barreled, tank-killing 75mm gun along with unrivaled speed and maneuverability, the Panther was hoped to be able to sweep the battlefield of Russian armor. Reality, as is so often the case, was a different beast entirely.

The Fight

The 2d SS Panzer Division Das Reich was one of the most powerful combat formations on the WW2 battlefield. These are Mk VI Tiger I tanks of Das Reich on the move in Russia.

By early 1944 it had become apparent that the Allies were planning an amphibious invasion of France. Barkmann and his 2d SS Panzer Division were therefore transferred from the Eastern Front to the Bordeaux area of Southern France to await the invasion. Immediately after the invasion on June 6, 1944, Das Reich advanced to St. Lo to contest the advance of the American 9th and 30th Infantry Divisions along with the 3d Armored Division. The stage was set for a simply epic scrap.

The Panther was one of the most capable tanks of the war, but it was expensive and time-consuming to build.

What follows is drawn from several sources, some of which include the Waffen SS itself. Combat on such a scale as this is the most frenetic of human pursuits, so the details are frequently tainted by the fog of war. Add to this that the Germans were desperate for heroes, and you have the recipe for exaggeration. However, historical records show that American forces did indeed burn through Sherman tanks at a simply breathtaking clip. Regardless of the specifics, Ernst Barkmann and his Panther crew comprised an undeniably effective tank-killing machine.

The German tank recovery and maintenance system did an admirable job of keeping their complex armored vehicles in the fight despite battle damage.

Barkmann knocked out his first American Sherman on July 8. Four days later he eliminated two more and damaged a third. During this engagement Barkmann’s Mk V was set ablaze but later recovered. After a stint in the Division workshop, his Panther was ready for action yet again.

The Sherman was designed as an infantry support tank. Particularly with its short-barreled M3 75mm gun, it was a suboptimal tool in the tank-versus-tank role.

On July 14th Barkmann was tasked with recovering four other Panthers that had been cut off behind Allied lines. He succeeded in this chore and added another three Shermans to his tally. Two weeks later Barkmann’s tank had been hit by Allied fighter-bombers and repaired yet again. Now cut off from his Kompanie near Le Lorey, he was informed by retreating Wehrmacht troops of a column of fifteen American Shermans approaching along with sundry support vehicles. Alone and unsupported by other armor, Barkmann backed his Panther into a heavy copse of oak trees and waited.

The Allied forces lost Sherman tanks by the thousands, but we had them to lose.

During the subsequent engagement, Barkmann destroyed the two lead tanks along with a fuel truck before all hell broke loose. The Americans attempted to maneuver around the burning hulks only to be holed by the German’s vicious high-velocity 75mm gun. The bloodied Americans retreated and called in tactical air support to neutralize the rampaging Panther. In the air attack, Barkmann’s tank was damaged and two crew members were wounded. When two more Shermans advanced to administer the coup de grace he destroyed them both. 

The high velocity 75mm and 88mm guns on late-war German tanks just ate up American Shermans.

By the time the dust cleared Ernst Barkmann had destroyed nine Shermans and a variety of support vehicles. Historians have come to refer to this engagement as “Barkmann’s Corner.” For his performance during this battle as well as some audacious action over the following two days, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross.

The Tank

This is the Panzerkampfwagen Mk V Panther maintained by the Bovington Tank Museum in Southern England. This particular example never saw action. It was actually built up from components in the captured German factory immediately after the war.

The Panther was rushed into service in mid-1943 before its teething troubles had been fully explored. Powered by the same 690-horsepower Maybach V12 petrol engine that drove the Tiger I, the Panther was designed from the outset to be fast and maneuverable. However, at 45 tons, the Panther was markedly heavier than Allied medium tanks.

The Bovington Tank Museum doesn’t have many rails or ropes. You can get right up to all these classic armored vehicles. After all, they’re tanks. It’s not like you can tear them up.
The Panther carried a crew of five.

The Panther supported a five-man crew and was well-equipped for combat. The electrically-fired 75mm Kampfwagenkanone 42 L/70 high-velocity gun launched a 10.5-pound armor-piercing, composite rigid projectile at 3,700 feet per second that were capable of penetrating 194mm of steel armor plate at a 30-degree angle of incidence. Combat loadout was 79 rounds of main gun ammunition. Alongside the 75mm gun, the Panther also carried two MG34 belt-fed machineguns and 5,100 rounds of linked ammunition.

The elegant interleaved road wheels were legendarily difficult to service. Enough frozen Russian mud would immobile the tank.

The Panther’s ZF AK 7-200 transmission incorporated seven forward gears and one reverse. The tank’s radically advanced double torsion bar, interleaved road wheels provided an unrivaled smooth ride and subsequent stable gun platform but were notoriously difficult to maintain. You had to remove two healthy wheels in the front to get to a single damaged wheel in the back . Despite its prodigious weight, the Panther had a maximum speed of 34 miles per hour and a road range of 160 miles.

The Panther’s turret always seemed a bit small given the ample size of the gun.

Though I have seen a Panther up close I have never been inside of one. It seems to me like the turret would be terribly cramped given the immense size of the gun’s breech. Despite its well-documented reliability problems, the Panther was indeed one of the most capable tanks of the war.

The Rest of the Story

When it worked the Panther was a devastating weapon.

SS-Oberscharfuhrer Barkmann fought with distinction during the Ardennes Offensive that we came to know as the Battle of the Bulge. At one point, overwhelmed by American armored vehicles, Barkmann’s Panther was rammed by an Allied Sherman. The Panther’s engine stalled and the turret jammed, but Barkmann nonetheless destroyed the attacking Sherman before successfully restarting his engine and making his escape. On Christmas Day 1944 Barkmann was badly wounded yet again.

Here we see Ernst Barkmann in the company of the notorious SS Panzer officer Joachim Peiper after the war. Peiper led the German panzer assault during the Battle of the Bulge.

By March of 1945, Barkmann had recovered sufficiently to rejoin his unit fighting the Russians on the Eastern Front. Overwhelmed by the sheer weight of numbers, Barkmann’s SS panzers gave ground reluctantly. By April of 1945, Barkmann and his crew were fighting near Vienna, Austria. There Barkmann’s Panther was inadvertently hit by friendly fire, and he was wounded yet again. Soon thereafter his Panther was irreparably disabled and destroyed by its own crew. SS-Oberscharfuhrer Ernst Barkmann was able to make his way to the British lines where he surrendered.

After the war Ernst Barkmann spent his life as a public servant.

Ernst Barkmann earned the Panzer Assault Badge for fifty successful armored engagements with the enemy. Barkmann and his crew were ultimately credited with destroying some 82 Allied tanks, 136 armored fighting vehicles, and 43 antitank guns. He eventually returned to Kisdorf where he lived out his days as fire chief and later Burgermeister. Ernst Barkmann died in 2009 at age 89. Despite the horrors inflicted upon the world by the Nazi regime, Barkmann was indeed an undeniably effective tank commander. Special thanks to www.worldwarsupply.com for the cool replica gear used in our reenactor photos.

***Buy and Sell on GunsAmerica! All Local Sales are FREE!***

About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 26 comments… add one }
  • Jake S July 27, 2022, 9:47 pm

    We need to continue to study history so we don’t relive it. (learned that in freshman ROTC). We also need to realize we (Americans) are capable of the same atrocities.

  • Karly July 19, 2022, 9:27 am

    Always enjoy reading your articles because they show a lot of details. You surely do your homework. Should you ever decide to publish your articles in book form, count me in as a purchaser.

  • Kent July 18, 2022, 5:48 pm

    The fact that his 5 man crew in 1 panther tank killed or wounded 82 Sherman tank crews tells it all. That is 410 allied tankers killed or wounded. That to me is outrageous, The marines and their Shermans had a much easier time against the Japanese in the Pacific, as they had no effective anti tank guns available capable of defeating the mediocre Sherman and their devastating flame tanks.

  • Kent July 18, 2022, 5:40 pm

    Thanks for another great article Doc, It is ludicrous to me as a former marine corp tanker, that our folks never saw the urgency of increasing the velocity of the 75mm Sherman main gun until the war was nearly over. They dismissively allowed the unchallenged US air superiority to become the defacto tank killers for american tank crews. But had they not defeated the Luftwaffe by D day, the history written in the blood of allied tank crews would have been horrific. It is disgraceful to me. The formula for kinetic energy is 1/2 the mass of the projectile times the square of the velocity of the projectile, meaning that for every 100 fps you increase velocity you get an exponential increase in kinetic energy on target. The vel of their 75 mm kinetric AT round at 3,700 fps is stunning. Our depleted uranium AT round in the 90 mm M48A3 tank was 4,000 fps. Both rounds are non explosive, they simply transfer kinetic energy into instantaneous flash heat at the point of impact and the projectile rides a sprue of molten steel thru the armor into the tank interior. Even without penetration, there is what is called spalling inside the tank, which is molten slivers of steel from the tank interior armor adjacent to the impact that fly around inside the tank and kill crew and set off ammo and hydraulic oils and fuel.

  • scott July 18, 2022, 11:42 am

    In your first paragraph, is this a typo?? – “uber mensch. Alas” Did you mean to say über alles or Ubermensch??

  • Jvic July 18, 2022, 11:20 am

    Why do some people feel the need to politicize everything.
    It’s a well documented historical article.
    GEEEZ!!!

  • Brett Collier Salamon July 18, 2022, 11:18 am

    Another great article, thank you Dr.
    I would vote for you for president. Hell, I’d vote for my dog for president, she would be better than the brain-dead occupier we have now, but you would be a lot better than my dog, and you as president sounds good to me.

  • Matt July 18, 2022, 10:35 am

    It is rather ironic that many of the iconic weapons of WWll came from countries that threw the world into WWll.
    But because of these destructive and cutting-edge weapons, we used to advance mankind in our
    the space program and atomic energy development.

    Now that the US is at the front of weapon design will we be designing future weapons that will start WWlll?
    History might be repeating itself in a twisted fate of our demise.

  • Kevin Standfield July 18, 2022, 10:13 am

    Excellent article and research. Keep up the great historical articles.

  • Frank July 18, 2022, 9:50 am

    For all the absolutely amazing feats of American industrial might (air superiority fighters, long range bombers, battleships and flat-tops), I’ve always wondered why we didn’t produce a “better” tank during the war. It’s true, we churned out Shermans in the tens of thousands… but that was likely little comfort to those who crewed them in the European theater. They were decidedly handicapped in both armor and weaponry. The high velocity guns mounted on the tank destroyer versions could take on German armor… but then they had to run like hell as they (tank destroyers) had much less plate than the ordinary Shermans.

    • Scotty July 18, 2022, 2:28 pm

      America had a better tanks, better than the Sherman, Tiger, Panther, etc.. they eventually led up to the one called the Pershing. Instead of being rapidly introduced these better tanks were repeatedly delayed by General McNair due to his personal ideas about how tanks should be used. Not many Perishing’s made it into the war but by all accounts it was effective against the German medium and heavy tanks. It went on to be effective against T34-85’s in the Korean War as well.

      • Jake July 19, 2022, 9:54 am

        There was only one company or perhaps just a platoon of M-26 Pershings that made it into combat in the Spring of 1945. There is film of an M-26 chasing a Panther in a German city that has been on documentaries. There is a book that was highlighted in The American Rifleman about this small group of Pershings and their crews and infantry support. My Dad was a Pershing commander in the Reserves in the 50’s.

  • Art July 18, 2022, 9:13 am

    Never have soldiers fought so well. Never did they fight for such a bad cause.

    • Kane July 19, 2022, 10:41 pm

      Yeah, look at the great world that was built after the US “won” 2 World Wars. Never mind that Dwight David Eisenhower was a war criminal who ran death camps along the Rhine River or how the US violated the Nuremburg “principles” throughout that Stalin sucking years where DDE was the top bananna. Get over the virtue signaling and take a good look around.

  • AK July 18, 2022, 8:52 am

    Dr. Dabbs, you are an admirable example of a life well-lived.

  • Michael D Dougherty July 18, 2022, 8:48 am

    Dr. Dabbs thank you for this article and having the courage to recognize an amazing fighting man albeit fighting for our enemies at the time.

  • Fal Phil July 18, 2022, 8:18 am

    “The Germans during World War 2 were arguably history’s greatest villains. ”

    I would argue that point. We know about the Aztecs, the Mongol hordes, the Ottomans, Soviet Union under Stalin, China under Mao, Pol Pot. It would be very hard to rank them on the villain scale. In fact, when it comes to the raw number of non-combatant murders, both Stalin and Mao make Hitler look like an amateur.

  • Fedel July 18, 2022, 6:58 am

    Thanks for the interesting article. Unfortunately horrors were not exclusive to WWII Germany. Stalin and Mao did worse – and to their own people. The British burning over100k civilians alive in Dresden and then Segregationist Democrat (party that spawned the KKK) Truman evaporating in a few minutes all the women and children in two Japanese cities while the island country had almost zero resources to continue fighting, was perhaps THE biggest crime of that war.

    • Clint W. July 18, 2022, 11:50 am

      The Brits did not burn 100,000 alive in Dresden a popular myth to make the Allies look as ruthless as the Germans. The actual number was closer to 25,000 based on research of Dresden’s records and actual dead and missing from those lists. To question this type of warfare, one only has to consider what the German population allowed to happen, what the Japanese military did to Nanking and their WW II prisoners, and what might be considered a proper punishment in the destruction of German cities and the nukes on Japan. But the Russians in WW II used Ukrainian Police because they were ruthless, and hunted down Jews just as intensely as the Germans, and the Chinese have killed off millions under the Communist rule, and people dissapear daily in that country. A blind eye is still turned towards the Russians and Chinese, but the Axis powers got what they deserved, anybody still wringing their hands over it is wasting their life.

      • Kane July 19, 2022, 10:51 pm

        The British Empire has plundered and destabalized almost every square inch of the planet and now the globalists in the US have grabbed the baton.

        Find a hot spot and trace in back, chances are you will see the Union Jack.

    • Mike P July 18, 2022, 2:45 pm

      Disagree re. the Truman comment. The Japanese Emperor refused several Allied overtures to surrender leaving Truman no choice but to drop two A-bombs to finally force surrender.

      The alternative was an Allied land invasion that would have probably included my father resulting in American casualties in the hundreds of thousands.

      Starting a war has consequences and those consequences are usually suffered by innocent civilians.

    • AK July 18, 2022, 4:25 pm

      Crap. The atomic bombings were a *gift* to Japan and the Allies, saving three million Japanese and one million Allied dead – not casualties – dead – that would have resulted from Operation Cornet, the invasion of the Home Islands. Prevented the unspeakable brutality of a situation with US soldiers having to shoot/stab/incinerate hordes of children brainwashed to try and spear invaders with sharpened bamboo stakes. Even after the second Nagasaki bombing, it took the Emperor to break the deadlock between those who wanted to end the wear and the suicidal fanatics who wanted to sacrifice every man, woman and child to the bloodthirsty god of their perverted culture.

      Tell that to Professor Purple-Hair at the State U of Woke, next time you meet him/her/it for Kool Aid and Oreos.

  • Chuck Cochran July 18, 2022, 3:44 am

    Thank you Doctor, for a well written piece on the Panther Mk. V and one of its less well known commanders, Ernst Barkmann. I can only imagine the horror Sherman crews must have felt when they met up with a Mk. V, and the team effort it took to take one out.
    I enjoyed reading this and look forward to future articles from you on WW 2.

  • Rokurota July 15, 2022, 11:56 am

    Dr. Dabbs, thank you for another amazing and informative story. Those of us with brains know you can appreciate and even admire the technology and brilliance of individuals within a regime without endorsing the regime.

    One note, as I’ve seen this a few times in your writing—you refer to Ukraine as The Ukraine. I have been told that Ukrainians prefer the former. The reasoning is convoluted, but apparently *the* Ukraine is a Russian construction that is meant to diminish its national sovereignty. I know that’s not your intention. Here’s an article about it: https://lexicide.com/index.php/2019/12/02/ukraine-or-the-ukraine.

    • Will Dabbs July 16, 2022, 7:20 am

      Rokurota, thanks sincerely for the kind words and especially the Ukraine insights. I obviously didn’t know that. I’ll make the changes here and adjust accordingly going forward.

    • Fedel July 18, 2022, 7:14 am

      Rokurota, that’s good information. I think that referring to all 1933-45 Germans by the country’s ruling party name or Nazis is far worse than adding a The to Ukraine. We always hear Nazi bombers, Nazi V2 rocket etc. We never hear Democrat M4 Shermans or Democrat Boeing B-29s. Surely, the propaganda did not start or end with Goebbel’s.

Leave a Comment

Send this to a friend