Rare WWII tank ‘worth a fortune’ salvaged from Kielce river after disappearing 78 years ago
A rare tank from World War Two long rumoured to be submerged in a river near Kielce has finally been salvaged after its discovery last month.
Described by the Polish Army Museum as an ‘absolute rarity’ the well-preserved Bergepanther tank features visible traces of Zimmerite, a special compound designed to deter handheld anti-tank grenades which prevented them from being attached to the outer body by strong magnets.
It is now said that the 27-tonne tank could be worth a fortune, with a similar Panther tank fetching around 15 million euros in Germany just two years ago.
Marcin Wilk from the Polish Army Museum said: "This is a very interesting specimen, which was produced in September 1943. The Bergepanther is a much rarer vehicle than the line tank on which it is based."
He added that only a handful of these vehicles were produced and that the sole surviving intact Bergepanther, prior to this recovery, resides in a museum in Saumur, France.
Stories of German heavy armour lost in the Czarna Nida have circulated for decades and go back to 1945, when a ferocious armoured battle unfolded in the Bieleckie Młyny area.
On the morning of January 12, 1945, a great offensive of the Soviet army against German positions began from Sandomierz.
The German counterattack, which involved some 1,400 tanks and self-propelled guns, led to a tank battle, which historians have compared in its ferocity to the Battle of Kursk.
Amid the desperate attempts to cross the Czarna Nida River between Bieleckie Młyny and Kuby Mły, the encircled German army suffered significant losses, leaving behind a trail of armored vehicles.
Over the years, locals perpetuated rumors of a sunken German Panther tank in the river's depths. It was not until 1990 and 2003 that two incomplete Panther tanks were unearthed from the Czarna Nida in the same vicinity, solidifying the enduring myth.
The Bergepanther was a recovery vehicle developed in 1943 to solve the problem of how to recover heavy and medium tanks.
Up till then, the half-track vehicles used for recovery were rarely able to successfully recover a Panther or a Tiger. Towing these heavy beasts with another Tiger or Panther was strictly forbidden as this could lead to the loss of both tanks.
The vehicle was based on the Panther V, its winch was highly effective and its armour meant that it could be used in combat conditions.
In addition to the Bergepanther, the excavation yielded parts from other armoured vehicles, including a Panther IV tank, the turret of a Panther V, a Sturmgeschütz III assault gun, and an armoured tracked vehicle.
The painstaking operation to retrieve the tank from the Czarna Nida River was a collaborative endeavour between the Museum of Military Technology in Warsaw, the military vehicle museum Panzer Farm, and the invaluable support of the POMOST historical and archaeological research group.
Now safely under the guardianship of the Polish Army Museum in Warsaw, the Bergepanther will undergo meticulous cleaning, restoration, and cataloguing.