THE ANTI-TANK WEAPONS OF WORLD WAR 2


With Tanks becoming more commonplace on the battlefield and their ability to pose a threat to both armour and infantry alike, almost every nation started the development of man-portable anti-armour weapons. It was more effective, cheaper and cost little in resources to equip a soldier or platoon with a weapon capable of defeating armour and crippling a tank.

Even if the weapon failed to cause any serious damage, a mobility kill, the act of knocking out a tanks ability to relocate or move, would make it an easier target for a follow up shot. This would also allow the AT crew to relocated to a new location, so they could attack the tank from a more vunerable angle.

Anti-tank crews would normally work in pairs, one would operate the weapon system and the other would carry the ammunition, reload the weapon and provide support for the main operator. While anti-tank weapons were effective, they were limited by range and often very unwieldy.

ANTI-TANK GRENADES.

Anti-Tanks grenades were developed from the need to equip infantry units with light and effective ways to disable or destroy tanks. They came in many shapes and designs, mostly suited to urban combat, where the troops could get close enough to ambush the target armour.

The British No. 68 AT grenade was of a hollow shaped charge design, capable of penetrating 2 inches (52mm) of armour, the grenade was launched from a rifle cup equipped on the Enfield .303 bolt-action service rifle, most effective if it struck the armour plate at 90°.

The British No. 73 AT grenade was the opposite, and relied on explosive percussion, it was packed with 3.5 pounds of explosive charge. While being an Anti-Tank grenade is was rarely used in that intended role, instead the fuse was usually removed and it was used as a demolition charge.

The Nazi Germany army used the Hafthohlladung, also know as the Panzerknacker (Tank-Cracker). The grenade used magnets to attach itself to the hull of the target, this was to insure the optimal angle of 90° when the shaped charge detonated. It could penetrate up to 5.5 inches (140 mm) of Rolled Homogeneous Armour, it was extremely effective in its intended role, if not a little cumbersome.

Other notable AT grenades; British No. 82 AT grenade, Russian RPG 40 and 43 AT grenades.

ANTI-TANK RIFLES.

Anti-Tank rifles were extremely effective at the beginning of the war, able to penetrate and disable most early tanks and secondary, provide a moral boost for infantry on the front lines. However, they soon fell out of effective use, as armour on tanks began to increase during the mid and later stages of the war. They would eventually end up being replaced by far lighter and effective methods, though they continued to see use throughout the war against light armour and soft target vehicles.
The Boys Anti-tank Rifle.
Nazi Germany was the first to introduce what would become known as the anti-tank rifle. The Mauser 13 mm anti-tank rifle was designed during WW1 to combat the increased use of armour plate. Up until that point, the Nazi German army was using what was called the K-bullet. Fired from a standard Mauser infantry rifle, it could defeat up to 12-13mm of armour, but with a low 1 in 3 chance of actually penetrating, this quickly became highly ineffective. After the British introduction of the Mark IV Tank, the Nazi German army quickly needed a method to defeat these new Landships. The high recoil of the rifle was very hard on the shooter, sometimes breaking the collar bones and dislocating the shoulder joint.

In 1934, the British issued a requirement for a portable "light" anti-tank weapon based around an oversized rifle firing a massive, armour-penetrating bullet. The Boys Anti-tank Rifle fired a large 13.9mm cartridge (0.55 inches) and could penetrate 0.9 inches (23.2mm) of armour up to 100 yards, later in the war, an improved tungsten-cored projectile was introduced which had increased penetration characteristics. While the rifle was effective at the start of the war, it was disliked by troops due to its massive recoil and muzzle blast. The British would soon introduce a more effective anti-tank weapon, though they Boys rifle saw extensive use by Finnish troops during the Winter War.

Other notable AT Rifles; Russian Degtyarev PTRD 1941, Polish KB wz 35, Finnish Lahti L-39, Swiss Solothurn S18-100 and Japanese Type 97.

ANTI-TANK ROCKETS.

Anti-Tank rockets soon replaced the heavy and ineffective AT rifles, the development of High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) ammunition allowed these weapons to penetrate armour much more effectively at longer ranges. Countries were quick to adopt these new weapons, as they were simple to produce and cost effective.
The British PIAT AT Lancher
The M1 "Bazooka" is possibly one of the most well known rocked fired anti-tank weapons of the war. The M1 was easy to use, requiring simple maintenance and could be produced in vast numbers. Firing a 2.36 high-explosive anti-tank rocket which could penetrate 3 inches (76 mm) of armour. While effective, the rocked had a few issues that would later be improved, the new M6A3 rocket could penetrate 3.5–4 inches (89–102 mm) of armour plate.

Seeing the effectiveness of the American M1 Bazooka, Nazi Germany developed their own from the captured M1. They became known as the Panzerschreck, a larger 88 mm calibre reusable anti-tank rocket launcher. It could penetrate around 4 inches (100mm) of armour, later in the war an improved rocked was designed that was able to penetrate 6.3 inches (160mm) of armour. The effectiveness of this weapon forced Allied tank crews to come up with resourceful solutions to protect against them - by adding sandbags, welded plate, extra tracks/roadwheels and even thick wood and logs to their tanks.

The British PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) anti-tank grenade launcher, was an alternative method to the rocket and held one tactical quality that made it unique, that fact that it could fire HE and smoke rounds from the same tube. Despite the difficulties in cocking and firing the weapon, it did have several advantages; its barrel did not have to be replaced or require high-grade materials to produce and there was little muzzle blast that could give the users position away. Theoretically able to penetrate approximately 4 inches (100mm) of armour, due to ammunition reliability issues and ability to hit moving targets, it was not well liked by the British and Commonwealth troops.

Other notable AT rockets; German 8.8cm Raketenwerfer 43 Puppchen and Panzerfaust 30/60.

Sources used for technical information: Wikipedia and Militaryfactory.

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