HMMS Panther was laid down on September 14 1911 to a Brazilian design as Rio de Janeiro. While the ship was still under construction the Brazilian government realised that they could not afford the battleship and it was sold on December 28 1913 while still on the stocks to the Turkish government. The ship's completion was delayed until after the outbreak of the First World War and it was requisitioned by the British government for the British Navy and entered service as HMS Agincourt. The British Navy regarded the ship as lightly protected and armed in comparison to their new battleships; although Agincourt had a main battery of 14 guns they were of only 12 inch caliber. The British Navy still had other ships with 12 inch guns but by 1914 they had been supplanted by ships with 13.5 inch and 15 inch guns. Agincourt was present at the battle of Jutland but it appeared that the reasoning behind her design -a large battery of guns to secure hits- was flawed as she failed to register a single hit despite firing nearly 300 shells.
After the Armistice she was offered back to the Brazilian government and then to other South American governments without success. She was eventually purchased by the Malacian government for little more than her scrap value shortly before the cut-off date set by the Washington Naval Conference. During the 1920s she underwent a number of minor changes, having some of the 6 inch guns removed and a variety of lighter deck guns fitted, various models of 4 inch AA guns and a few 5.5 inch -the latter are believed to have come from the British Battlecruiser Hood. In 1928 she underwent a major refit; she was fitted with oil-fuelled boilers and an improvement to her underwater protection. Her midship turrets ('Wednesday' & 'Thursday' -C & D in our nomenclature) were removed to compensate, it was believed, for the extra weight. In 1938 she underwent another major refit comparable to that carried out on the British ships Queen Elizabeth and Renown. The five remaining 12 inch turrets were removed and replaced with twin 14 inch turrets of the type used in B position on the British King George V class. Although it had been intended to fit eight twin 5.25 inch DP turrets in place of the secondary armament, the shortage of these meant that ten twin 4.5 inch mountings were fitted along with the associated directors. A number of eight-barrelled 2pdr (40mm) were also fitted. The boilers were replaced with more efficient small-tube units as were the steam turbines which more than compensated for the incorporation of anti-torpedo blisters and improved horizontal armour.
Malacia entered the war on the day of the Torch landings in North Africa.. Aside from providing ground troops in the Italian campaign their navy provided convoy escorts and surface raider patrols; Panther was often used for the latter and was instrumental in the location and sinking of Kondor 3 (Operation Lancer -see USN report 5647 of 1943). After the defeat of Germany plans were made for Panther to be incorporated into a task force in the Pacific theater (despite USN reservations because of her low maximum speed) but this was still in the planning stage at the Japanese surrender. It is not clear what modifications the Malacian Navy had intended but it is believed that the seaplane hangars were to be removed and replaced by structure providing more small caliber AA guns.
In 1948 Panther was placed into reserve, and was not reactivated until 1955. After a refit in which some of her steam plant was replaced with diesel engines (in order to improve her fuel efficiency) major improvements were made to her anti-aircraft outfit. The 4.5 inch turrets were replaced with auto-loading twin 3 inch turrets, and the 2pdr mounts were replaced with twin or quad 40mm Bofors guns and she returned to service as the Malacian Navy's flagship.
In the late 1960s she again went into refit and most of her remaining steam plant was replaced with a mix of diesel and gas turbine plant. A pair of twin auto-loading 6 inch turrets (the British N5 model) were fitted ammidships, E (Friday) turret was removed and replaced with a deck structure supporting a Seaslug launcher and associated guidance radar (Type 901M), with a second above the bridge. Type 984 3-D radar was fitted along with type 965 air search and 992Q target tracking. The entry of the Seaslug system was no less protracted than its introduction in the British Navy even though the Mark 2 version was adopted, and Panther did not finish working up until 1971. During some of her final trials she demonstrated that she could engage two targets simultaneously and by using her ready-use magazines she could engage a surviving target or a further target. Although the Seaslug system was often derided -particularly when compared with Terrier and Talos- it should be noted that when fully worked up Panther recorded a 20% physical strike rate against a wide range of targets which was similar to the British Navy's experience. Unusually no short-range missile system was fitted as the Malacian Navy preferred quick-firing guns. Trials were carried out throughout the 1970s with alternative guns of 30mm to 40mm caliber, and it appeared that the Malacian Navy was about to adopt the manually operated single Rarden gun on a stabilised mount. However, the British Navy's experience in re-taking the Falkland Islands had a major effect on Malacian thinking and Panther took part in further trials until a stabilised mount was designed which carried Oerlikon KCB 30mm cannon which can be aimed and fired automatically or manually.
During the 1990s various plans were put forward to replace the Seaslug system with Seadart, but this was never done. Various programs were initiated to improve Seaslug's performance; virtually all the electronics were replaced with modern modules, and a larger blast warhead was introduced for low-level engagements. In the mid 1990s it was noticed that test missiles were being fired with what appeared to be the tracking flare modules fitted to the wings but no flares were observed. Further investigation established that these were interferometry aerials designed by the Experimental Radio Department of the Royal Science University. These enable the missile to either home onto jamming sources or operate in SARH mode -presumably using the radar beam as the illuminator.
In conclusion Panther remains a powerful and effective unit; her 14 inch guns have full remote power control and, judging by the frequency of practice shoots, Malacian industry appears to have retained the necessary expertise in the manufacture of the various types of shells. The upgraded Seaslug system provides her with a good air defence backed up by the 3 inch guns; she has no equivalent to Phalanx and the multiple 30mm mounts are an unknown factor. Panther has no anti-submarine weapons but does normally sail with ex-British Leander Class frigates which provide the required protection.
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Last updatated 1 October 2012.
Copyright SR Jenkins, February 2012.