Nightfighting Panthers in Action
In summer 1944 the Panthers of 3.Kompanie, 24th Panzerregiment, 116th Panzerdivision, were equipped with UHU on the battle/excercise-area BERGEN, and actually trained the use of the nightfighting concept SPERBER. Hitler planned the mission of this Kompanie to be during the Operation WACHT AM RHEIN (Battle of the Bulge) and actually some squads were tranfered to the western front, but never saw action there.
One SPERBER squad including their Panthers was transfered to STUHLWEISSENBURG (Hungary) in early 1945 with 6th SS-Panzerarmee, intended to support the german counterattack to secure the area of Budapest. The rest of the Kompanie followed, but without nightfighting equipment. In 1945 the Wehrmacht planned to form 5 SPERBER Kompanies, but this concept proved to be illusory. 2 SPERBER squads joined the spontanuous formed Panzerdivision "CLAUSEWITZ", which was formed in spring 1945 on the western front. On 21st of april, these 2 squads ran down an american ambush, which has been set up at the WESER-ELBE-KANAL, and by this ensured the only documented action of the nightfighting concept SPERBER.
In march 1945 the Panzerdivision "MÜNCHEBERG" received one fully equipped Kompanie of 10 SPERBER capable Panthers and one SPERBER capable Panzer Grenadier Kompanie. The Division took part in the last fights during the battle of BERLIN. If this Division used the SPERBER concept isn´t documented.
The armoured forces school at FALLINGBOSTEL developed an even more mature solution called "LÖSUNG B - solution B" to make use of the FG 1250 device. Since the system SPERBER had the critical drawback that only the tankcommander had nightvision and therefore had to direct the driver and the gunner, experiments were made with some Panther As and Ds which were equipped with an infrared-searchlight and image converter for the driver and a periscope for the gunner. This way 3 crewmembers obtained nightfighting ability. In April 1945 some of the solution B equiped Panthers were ordered to the Division "CLAUSEWITZ". In mid april these Panthers saw their only doctumented action near UELZEN, where they destroyed a full platoon equipped with the brandnew british Comet tanks.
Specific Features: The Vampir was not the first German Infrared System, but by the end of the war in 1945 it was the most compact and advanced system they had. The technology itself dates back to around the start of the war, when engineers developed the first infrared rangefinder for German light anti-tank artillery. This was improved and some heavier direct-fire artillery was equipped with it as well. By 1944 the Germans had developed a version flexible enough to be mounted on the Panther tank (Germany's most technologically advanced and complex tank) and by the last year of the war were ready to issue the man-portable Vampir system.
The Vampir system consisted of a "black" spot light, one component of its active infrared system, fixed atop the impressive StG-44 assault rifle. Below this infrared light was a range finder that could detect the light emitted by the IR lamp. Since this light was invisible to anyone not equipped with the system it gave a massive edge over relying on flashlights and flares for illumination. The system mounted on the gun was linked by insulated wire to a heavy battery pack and simple control box that the soldier wore in place of his normal gear. Think of it as a very crude analog to today's "OICW" system being developed by the United States. It could transform a normal soldier it one capable of fighting in complete darkness, be it a cave or a moonless night, without revealing his position.
There is dispute over whether or not the Vampir was actually issued to combat soldiers. Some reports claim it was given to special units of the Waffen-SS for testing, others claim it was issued to crews of the similarly equipped Panther tanks (although this seems unlikely due to the unit's bulk). My theory is that what few units were combat-ready were probably issued to the ultra-elite commandos of commanders like Otto Skorzeny and perhaps in the final defense of Berlin. Chances are we will never know the exact truth as no photographs exist of troops utilizing the weapons in the field, but the system was proven to work.
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