When the first Tiger I and Panther were issued to the troops it turned out that with the existing recovery equipment the new AFV could not be recovered easily. There were 2 Sd.Kfz. 9 (Famo 18 ton) necessary for one Panther and even 3 for a Tiger I.
At the end of March 1943 a directive by the Generalinspekteur der deutschen Panzertruppe, Generaloberst Heinz Guderian was issued to convert some Panthers to Bergepanthers. Since the matter was urgent, M.A.N. was instructed on May 10th to convert 10 Panther to Bergepanther.
In the construction plans a 40to winch, a ground spade and an automatic 2cm KwK 38 were already scheduled. The first 12 vehicles were produced in June 1943 and had neither a winch nor a ground spade and no KwK 38. The hull was identical to the Panther D with slight modifications. Instead of the turret the opening received a wooden cover, underneath there was stowage space for a variety of equipment.
Afterwards the vehicle has been further improved on the chassis of the Panther A and equipped underneath. Square plates on the bow intended to push vehicles in conjunction with the recovery timber, a 2 ton jib beam, the winch with ground spade and the 2 cm KwK with the relevant conversions were added. In addition, the driver’s and radio operator’s hatch were removed and a large opening, which could be covered with a tarpaulin was added. There was now space for four people in the bow of the vehicle.
The heart of the Bergepanther was the 40 ton winch, it was a development of M.A.N. from 1940 and was originally built for an amphibious pioneer vehicle from which 4 off were built. The winch was only slightly changed and fitted into the Bergepanther. It was driven by a drive shaft from the main engine. The production of the winch took place at the company Raupach in Gorlitz, and later in Warnsdorf/Sudetenland.
Bergepanther were built in the versions A and G, but about the used hulls no conclusions can be drawn. To increase production of the Ausf G hulls from Ausf A were feed into production. Furthermore the hulls have not been simple conversions of hulls out of the battle tank production. They had an independent design and also different ancillary industry. Among other things, the differences were in the allocation of the internal space. (The main change was the implementation of the revised G ground spade with extended support arms. It made a change in the exhaust system necessary; extended tubes were installed. However, there were also some Bergepanther A with an identical ground spade, so that an assignment is quite difficult)(Meanwhile doubtful! The short ground spade seems to be a single piece just for testing in a preproduction testing). On almost all Ausf.G the mount for the 2cm KwK 38 was missing, but not on all. There were many differences on the two models such as the size of the fuel tanks, the mountings for the tool holders, with or without a jib beam, the length of the exhaust pipes adapted to the various versions of the ground spade. Partial improvements were retrofitted to older Bergepanthers. Both, Ausf A and G series, had vehicles without winch.
A total amount of 347 Bergepanther were produced at MAN, Henschel and Demag. 46 of them without the winch. There was also a “Gerät 549” scheduled; a Bergepanther based on the hull of the Panther Ausf. F.
All things considered the Bergepanther was a successful and reliable design and an integral part of the maintenance companies.