Cuckoo

 

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Under new command,

“Cuckoo”, a Panther G in British service

By T.J.M. Schers, The Netherlands

Published originally in “De Tank” Issue 103, August 1993.

Translated by Rob Plas, notes in text by the author  

All trough the history of warfare, soldiers always knew how to make good use of captured equipment. Clothing, food, and inevitably, weapons.  The latter were especially attractive if they were easier to obtain and of better quality then the ones issued to troops originally. Using the enemy’s weapons did mean on the other hand that ammunition and spare parts were sometimes hard to get, and in the case of vehicles, one had to be careful not to be shot by friendly forces.  

During World War II the German forces made extensive use of captured equipment. (1)  This started directly after invading Czechoslovakia and it also took place in France, Belgium and The Netherlands. I am referring to vehicles like the LT vz.38 Skoda, later used by the German 7th and 8th armoured divisions, the French Char B1bis, the Somua S-35 and the Renault R-35. [The Germans made good use of some DAF M38 armoured cars, captured in The Netherlands during the Blitzkrieg in 1940, and transported to the USSR, and deployed in the fights against the soviet partisans {RP}]
           
The Russian T-34 tank was used a lot by the German forces, usually with very large white Balkenkreuz markings to prevent being shot by their own comrades. In North Africa also, British and American equipment and vehicles were used by the German forces, often to compensate for the huge shortages of material.

Also in the ETO, German forces made good use of captured vehicles, a very well known example being the use of American vehicles by Otto Skorzeny’s 150th armoured brigade during the Ardennes offensive. (2)
           
Although not as often as their counterparts, the allied forces also used captured vehicles. First they had good, reliable resources and resupply, and more than enough armoured vehicles of their own. Second the almost impossible to get spare parts and ammunition played a role in this. Last but not least, the bigger chance to get shot by the own troops was also not an encouraging thought.
Some of the vehicles that did see action under allied flag were Sdkfz 250 and 251’s, as well as a battery of 3 - 88mm Flak 18 Anti-Tank guns, in the southern county of Limburg, The Netherlands. (3)
            There was very little deployment of tanks and tank destroyers. Known is the use of a Stug III by American soldiers from the 104th Infantry Div. (4)  It is therefore worth noticing that the extended use of a Pzkpfw V Panther Ausf G must be considered as a rare event. This Panther was captured and used by the British 6th Guards Tank Brigade, and often photographed. This Panther can be a very interesting subject in scale. (5)

  Cuckoo with his new owners.

History

In the aftermath of the failed Arnhem offensive the British 6th Guards Tank Brigade was engaged in heavy fighting to gain control of the small Dutch village called Overloon. It was during these fierce battles that tankers of the 4th Armoured Battalion - Coldstream Guards, one of the 2 tank battalions in the brigade, entered a large barn, only to find a Panther tank of the PanzerAbteiling 2, Panzer Brigade 107. This Panther was in running order and quickly put to work in the staff units of the brigade. The use of this captured vehicle was a unique event, so it appears more than once in the official history of the brigade. (6)

After some adjustments were made to the appearance of the vehicle (more about that later) this Panther was used to help the artillery barrage on the Geijsteren castle, just north of Venlo, on the Meuse River. The tank was christened “Cuckoo”, which seems to be an appropriate name for such a strange “bird”


Cuckoo is in the back of this column of Churchill tanks, normally a sight like this would cause panic amongst the british crews.

In the artillery bombardment on the castle, Cuckoo proved to be a worthy newcomer. After an infantry attack at the castle failed, the decision was made to bombard the castle with artillery. This barrage proved to be not very successful, as the relatively small target was hard to hit with artillery. The 75mm tank guns and 6-pounders were more accurate, but too light to do real impressive damage to the thick walls of the castle.  
 
The Panther tank on the other hand did an outstanding job: “ The 95mms were a great success, but “Cuckoo”, [………], did best of all, hurling its shells through selected windows with unfailing precision.”  
Later, during operation “Blackcock” (In an area to the south of Venlo) Cuckoo was deployed again, now to join in on an attack on the German town called Waldenrath. Cuckoo preformed very well again, it’s mobility was especially noticeable.

The historian wrote; “The road conditions were abominable all day, but whereas the Churchill’s and the Crocodiles, with no ice bars, slid into ditches at every possible opportunity, “Cuckoo” the Panther, eight tons heavier, trundled merrily along with no difficulty at all.”

 The next theatre of operations for the 6th Guards Tank Brigade,and the Panther was during operation "Veritable", better known as the battles for the Reichswald. Here Cuckoo's career ended in a sorry way. When heading towards the east of Kleve in Germany the fuel pump broke down, and due to lack of a spare pump the tank had to be abandoned.   


 A colour impression made by Øyvind Leonsen after reading the original version of this document.

Cuckoo originally belonged to the German Panzerbrigade 107, a unit that only saw action in the Dutch county of Limburg, and the eastern part of Noord Brabant. (Roughly the area between Eindhoven, Venlo and Roermond, in the south east of The Netherlands. [RP])  
After retreating behind the River Meuse (Maas) the remains of this brigade became the base where around the new 25th Panzergenadier Div. was formed.  
For references about the appearance and deployment of the Panther tanks in this unit I would like to recommend the articles I wrote on the subject, and that were published in the MIP, the magazine of the Dutch chapter of the IPMS (7)  
 
This unit mainly consisted of Panther Ausf G tanks, the earliest version. These tanks (and this includes Cuckoo) were not yet supplied with the so-called “chin” on the gunmantlet (Geänderter Walzenblende in verstärkter Abweisserleiste) nor the raised air inlet fan cover on the left hand site of the engine deck.  Pictures of the tanks in this unit show them in an overall sand yellow base coat, or in a “cloud shaped” 3-colour scheme. The photographs also depict a 3-digit number on all (?) tanks, combined with a black cross.   


The left hand side turret, also by Øyvind Leonsen

 Camouflage and markings

It is not clear if, and how this Panther in British service was camouflaged, but from the original pictures it is clear that Cuckoo was painted in a single colour. Which colour is not absolutely sure.  The original dark yellow (Dunkelgelb) was acceptable, presuming that nobody bothered to completely repaint the vehicle, but as there are no signs of digits and/or crosses on the tank, nor visible proof of any local shade variations, which would most certain be visible if these were covered with fresh paint, it can be assumed that Cuckoo was repainted overall in the same shade (Khaki Drab) as the Churchill’s in the unit. This would explain the lack of German markings, and a paint job like that wouldn’t be a problem at all for the brigade’s workshop units. When comparing the shades of grey on the original black and white prints I can’t see any significant differences in tone. I therefore support the idea of Cuckoo being repainted, before put to work for it’s new owners. (8)  (Repainting captured vehicles was a common practice in World War II; even civilian cars got that treatment [RP])

 If we let the subject of repainting rest, the first thing that was changed in the appearance of Cuckoo was applying a large white 5-pointed star in a white circle, the allied (air)recognition sign. (Often this sign was not used, or hidden, because enemy gunners used the star as a bulls-eye for easy aiming) The star was applied to both sides of the turret. The remaining markings related to the vehicles position in the British organisation: unit number, vehicle number and the name Cuckoo. The Unit serial number used by the Coldstream Guards was 153. This number was applied to the toolbox on the right hand side at the rear of the tank in white paint. Normally this number was painted on a background that consisted of a green field with a horizontal white band below it. This to show that the brigade was part of the second British Army corps.
I didn’t find any proof of these markings on Cuckoo. The tank was named Cuckoo, and this name was painted on both lower sides of the turret, in white or another light colour. On the picture the tone looks a little darker than the white star. (9)  
“Cuckoo” wasn’t just made up; all vehicles in the staff unit had bird names. The CO’s tank was named Eagle, his warrant officer’s tank named Seagull. The ACV (Armoured Command Vehicle of 2nd I/C (second in Command)  was called Vulture, while the troop commander drove Owl.  (10)
    Cuckoo was deployed to the bombardment of Geijsteren castle looking like described above. During operation "Blackcock"  in January 1945, the roads and fields were covered with a thick blanket of fresh snow, so the unit’s vehicles were camouflaged to cope with that.


Cuckoo3.JPG (27376 bytes)
            Cuckoo in a hastily applied snow camouflage scheme  

Some of the units Churchill tanks were covered with white sheets; Cuckoo received a rough coat of white chalk. On the picture you can see this, the hull seems to have got a even coat of white, whilst the turret received some broad white bands on the forward half it. Clearly visible on the original print is the side of the gun mantled, which was still in its original colour.  On it’s next battles during operation "Veritable", Cuckoo is back in green again, only the serial numbers on the back seems to have disappeared totally.  

T.J.M. Schers, 1993
You can contact Theo if you are interested in this subject of captured vehicles
You can send him an E-mail

Notes In text:

(1) For a long time “beutepanzer” were more or less ignored but recently more literature about this subject has become available. Look for: W. Regenberg en H. Scheibert, Beutepanzer unterm Balkenkreuz: Franzosischer Kampfpanzer (Waffen Arsenal bd 121), and RussicheBeutepanzer (Waffen Arsenal Bd116) both by Friedberg 1990; Beute farzeuge und -Panzer der Wehrmacht, (Militaärfarzeuge Bd 12) Walter Spielberger. 

(2) See: B. Perret, The PzKpfw. V Panther (Vanguard 21) London 1981, colourplate G2 and page 37-39 London 1981 

 (3) Photographs in J. Piekalkiwitz, Die 8,8 Flak im Erdkampf-einzets; Stuttgart 1978

(4) Photograph in W. Auerbach, Last of the Panzers, German Tanks 1944-45 (Tanks Illustrated 9) Polish, 1984, Picture 66

  (5) In Italy the 145 RAC also captured and used a Panther tank, named DESERTER!  Perret, PzKpfw V, p34. 

(6)  P. Forbes, 6th Guards Tank Brigade: The story of Guardsmen in Churchill tanks, London, z.j. The historian's quotes are from this book 

(7)  T. Schers, Panthers in Nederland: 107e Pz.Brigade in N. Brabant en Limburg, herfst 1944, MIP 13 1984, pp 16-18 and 32-36, Panthers in Nederland, een vervolg, MIP 20, 1991 pp 107-109 

(8)  B. Perrett, PzKpfw. V, Colour plate, G1. He believes Cuckoo has a dark yellow background (“Factory Yellow”), the original colour. 

(9)  Perret, PzKpfw. V, page 37, yellow as main colour. 

 (10) B. Perrett, The Churchill tank (Vanguard 13, London 1980) Colour plate E1 and E2: Churchills of the 6th Armoured Brigade, Normandy.

Cuckoo in scale:

ccoo9.jpg (53001 bytes)

  Øyvind Leonsen got really excited after reading this article some time ago and mailed me these pics of Cuckoo in 1/35 scale.

ccoo12.jpg (63578 bytes)