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- German authorities are trying to figure out what to do with a tank seized in 2015.
- The World War II-era tank, a Panther, was owned by a retiree and stashed in his basement.
- Only 12 Panthers exist in the world, and a U.S. museum reportedly wants to buy it.
A court in Germany is determining the best way to dispose of one of the rarest pieces of military history in the world. German authorities seized the Panther medium tank in 2015 from a pensioner who bought the vehicle as scrap and hid it in his basement. The tank, one of just 12 left in the world, is almost certainly worth millions of dollars.
Now, authorities are trying to untangle what is actually a fairly complex legal case, according to the BBC. At some point in the past, the unnamed German citizen allegedly purchased the 45-ton tank, along with a towed 88-millimeter anti-tank/anti-aircraft gun and a torpedo, and stored it away.
Journalists and locals watch in July 2015 as the Panther tank is hauled away by a Bergepanzer armored recovery vehicle.
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The German Army Panzerkampfwagen V “Panther” medium tank was one of the most technologically advanced tanks of World War II. The Panther was armed with one 75-millimeter Kw.K.42 L/70 main gun and two 7.92-millimeter machine guns. The tank used sloped steel armor, which gave it a sleek appearance, and interleaved road wheels.
While the Panther was a fantastic tank on technical grounds, in reality, its performance was severely hampered by engine breakdowns, mechanical issues, and low-quality steel armor in wartime.
A German Army Panzer V “Panther” tank passes through a village in Italy, 1944. This Panther is either the D or G version, due to the presence of a cement-based anti-mine coating.
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Nazi Germany built 6,000 Panthers of all types, but today, only a dozen remain and only half of those are in working condition. In 2014, a Panzer IV tank, the predecessor of the Panther, was sold for $2.5 million. The Panther is larger, more powerful, and more famous, so depending on whether or not a collector could get it running again, this seized tank could fetch at least $3 million in a sale. A U.S. museum has expressed interest in buying the tank.
That could mean quite a windfall for the tank’s owner, who faces fines of up to $590,000 for violating Germany’s War Weapons Control Act. The act “regulates the manufacture, sale, and transport of weapons of war,” per the BBC, but the defendant’s lawyers argue the tank and other seized weapons were demilitarized and are no longer dangerous.
“Demilling” militaria, from handguns to tanks, typically involves rendering them incapable of firing. This includes plugging a tank gun barrel with concrete, for example, or removing the breech mechanism.
The Bergepanzer 3 armored recovery vehicle that hauled away the Panther tank, 2015. You can also see the towed 88-millimeter anti-tank/anti-aircraft gun. Allied tankers dreaded the “88” during World War II due to its long range and superior armor penetration capability.
When authorities seized the tank in 2015, they needed a German Army Bergepanzer 3 armored recovery vehicle to haul it away. The Bergepanzer 3’s role on the battlefield is to recover disabled tanks for repair, yet it was unlikely its developers ever foresaw it would someday recover another German tank from another German Army, from a war fought 70 years ago.