Infantry anti-tank weapons: the good, bad and ugly.

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BarnOwlLover

Staff Sergeant
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Nov 3, 2022
Mansfield, Ohio, USA
I know that during World War II, the best ways to take out most AFVs involved either other AFVs, aircraft, or artillery. But I'm wondering about members' thoughts on infantry-based anti-tank weapons, be it grenades, anti-tank rifles, rocket launchers and spigot mortars (such as the PIAT). What was at least passively effective, what was a dud, what had some advantages and what had disadvantages? And also the were and when stuff was or wasn't effective.
 
Manually delivered magnetic anti-tank mines probably high on the list of duds. But the Germans did have to adopt countermeasures (Zimmerit), so the threat was real.
 
One of my favorites to study (though they often didn't work at serious anti-tank weapons after 1940, if that at times) was anti-tank rifles. Such as the Germans firing a HV 7.92mm bullet that had a CS gas capsule in it (which often fell off outside the tank it hit, even if the round did manage to penetrate the hull or turret), the SS41 that the SS reportedly sourced from ZB Brno (as the SS weren't high up on the Wehrmacht's armaments priorities, to put it lightly), and some that were basically mini-artillery, like the Solothurn 20mm anti-tank rifles.

These were often ineffective against medium and heavy tanks after 1940 or so (Italy and Japan being excepted to at least an extent), but some light tanks and other lighter AFVs could be damaged to crippled by them if the rounds hit in the right places.
 
One of my favorites to study (though they often didn't work at serious anti-tank weapons after 1940, if that at times) was anti-tank rifles. Such as the Germans firing a HV 7.92mm bullet that had a CS gas capsule in it (which often fell off outside the tank it hit, even if the round did manage to penetrate the hull or turret), the SS41 that the SS reportedly sourced from ZB Brno (as the SS weren't high up on the Wehrmacht's armaments priorities, to put it lightly), and some that were basically mini-artillery, like the Solothurn 20mm anti-tank rifles.

These were often ineffective against medium and heavy tanks after 1940 or so (Italy and Japan being excepted to at least an extent), but some light tanks and other lighter AFVs could be damaged to crippled by them if the rounds hit in the right places.
The soviets used anti tank rifles to good use.
 
I know that during World War II, the best ways to take out most AFVs involved either other AFVs, aircraft, or artillery. But I'm wondering about members' thoughts on infantry-based anti-tank weapons, be it grenades, anti-tank rifles, rocket launchers and spigot mortars (such as the PIAT). What was at least passively effective, what was a dud, what had some advantages and what had disadvantages? And also the were and when stuff was or wasn't effective.

Interesting question!

About Infantry Based Anti Tank Weapons, and Tactics, respectively, I recommend you watching the YouTube Channel "Military History Visualized" and his second channel, "Military History Not Visualized". Several good videos about this subject.

The general effectiveness of different weapons was based on train and the tactics used. In urban / city areas, close quarter methods, like AT grenades or Cocktail Molotov were useful... Meanwhile in open areas, long range weapons, like ATR / Rocket Launchers were used more often.

Regarding countries like USSR that used both "heavier" AT weapons in vast quantities, the AT riflemen were used mostly in Defence, while Rocket launchers were frontline troopers. There was a topic in Axis history . com that had some good info about their tactics and toe, I used to make several missions based on those info for myself in Men of War GEM Editor.

Advantages were these weapons were cheaper, lighter than Tanks or planes. They were easier to transport, needed less training and crew.

Disadvantages? Low calibre, low velocity, low range.
 
The soviets used anti tank rifles to good use.
Yes. The AT rifles were enough of a threat that the Germans installed the 'skirts' (schürzen) on their tanks. Shaped charges e.g. bazookas, were not the reason for these skirts, at least not initially, as the Soviets did not have these until later. The ability of the Soviet AT rifles to penetrate the sides of the Pzkw III's and IV's, when carefully aimed, was the initial reason.
 
Soviet PTRS AT rifles could also get through the sides of the lower hull and rear section of Panthers - usually from
100 metres or less. The side skirts on the Panther were fitted to stop them.

2lbers and Soviet 45mm guns could get through from further away.

Sticky bombs were produced by Britain but weren't overly reliable.

Magnetic mines were made using a hollow charge - the smallest German type could go straight through 110mm of armour.
The main problem was they had to placed by hand which was very hazardous for the placer. Many countries developed
these types but they were not used a lot.

The advent of the handheld projectile launcher gave troops a much safer way to tackle vehicles whilst still being highly
effective.
 
Though it wasn't fielded in World War II, the M20 "Super Bazooka" was used in Korea and should've easily dealt with the T-34s it was used against. Of course, there were reports of the rockets just bouncing off of the front of them. This was because of the sloped glacius armor on the front of the T-34 (which influenced such features on, for example, the Panther and King Tiger, and several subsequent tank types). And that angled armor didn't allow the detonator fuse to make enough purchase before the rocket was deflected to detonate

Not only does sloped armor increase it's apparent thickness, the angle can deflect shots. It should be noted that the stats for most anti-tank rifles and other weapons tend to assume flat 90 degree hits.

Also as far as using HMGs and cannons on aircraft on tanks, the upper armor on most tanks was relatively thin compared to frontal or even side armor. Which is why P-47s with .50s and Typhoons with 20mms could blast though the upper armor on several German tanks even late in the war. This also influenced the use of modified 37mm flak cannons on anti-tank versions of the Stuka. And that's why the A-10 was developed after Vietnam with that 30mm GAU-8 Gatling gun.

Obviously, though, fighter or attack aircraft aren't infantry weapons, though...
 
Well, though it was better than the .55 Boys AT rifle, it still had harsh recoil, was a pain to recock (it was supposed to do this automatically, but didn't always do so), and was only really effective at about a 100 yards or meters, though supposedly intended to be effective to 3 times that range.
 
A Canadian army report put the PIAT and Bren as the most effective infantry weapons used by them. This was because the PIAT was fired
by a charge like a mortar so there was no back blast to immediately give away a firing position. This allowed the PIAT to also be fired from
confined spaces such as buildings. The PIAT was also very capable when it came to killing enemy armour.

The Panzerfaust was harder to aim and had around the same range as the PIAT but was one shot and throw. If you wanted five shots available
you had to cart five Panzerfausts.

The bazooka was considered inadequate even by 1944 as penetration capability was poor.

The 88mm Panzerschrek was developed after inspection of captured bazookas and proved to be the most potent of all these types.

The British army kept the PIAT until the super bazooka became available. Funnily enough the super bazooka was developed from captured Panzerschreks
which were developed form captured bazookas. Patent lawyers would have a field day with that now.
 
The Boys was out of date by the time the war got into full swing but was still issued. In Italy patrols would go out
with a Boys and would 'lose' them on the way. How you lose a 5 foot long, 36 pound rifle is a mystery that may never
solved.

Commandoes used them until the end of the war as they were handy for blowing holes in walls.
 
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I myself can't get over the Germans developing anti-tank rifle rounds that had tear gas/CS gas capsules in them. These often broke or fell off the rounds when they hit anything and were just as much, if not more of a liability for infantry trying to disable the tank by close assault as anyone inside the tank. And that's when the round did any damage to the intended target.
 
I myself can't get over the Germans developing anti-tank rifle rounds that had tear gas/CS gas capsules in them. These often broke or fell off the rounds when they hit anything and were just as much, if not more of a liability for infantry trying to disable the tank by close assault as anyone inside the tank. And that's when the round did any damage to the intended target.
It has been noted by one writer than the British only discovered the CS capsule when they broke down the ammunition for test/inspection. The size of the capsule was described as being about the size of an aspirin tablet. Even if it got inside the tank, the change in atmosphere from the normal engine smells and powder smoke from the guns (many tanks had vent fan) meant the CS went unnoticed. The German AT rifles used a 7.9mm bullet.

It penetrated OK but the effects were a bit on low side.
to kill a tank you have hit it, fairly easy with an AT rifle at few hundred yds/meters.
Once you hit it you have to penetrate the armor.
Once you penetrate the armor you have kill/wound the crew, set fire to something, damage something important, and if you just barely penetrate the armor the ability to damage much is pretty low. You do have some of the metal that used to occupy the hole flying around the tank. however for perspective, a 2pdr gun moves 25 times as much material from the plate as a 7.9mm bullet will. An anti-tank rifle many may have get multiple penetrations to actually kill the tank or force it's abandonment.

The Soviet 14.5mm was about the most powerful non 20mm AT rifle there was and the 20mm ones were closer to 100lbs if not more, lugging them around was lot harder.

The shaped charge stuff had a few problems, basically at given stage of development the penetration of the charge was in direct proportion to it's diameter. In later designs that remained true but the ratio of diameter to pentation changed.
For effects behind armor you needed a fair degree of over penetration. If your warhead just penetrates 80mm of armor and you hit a piece of 70mm armor just right you only get a very small hole
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you may get the effect of a cutting torch flashing into the protected compartment (crew or engine) for just a moment of time. Against a thinner plate you a larger hole, more "stuff" blown back into the compartment and more heat/flame inside the compartment.

British were so impressed (sarcasm) by shaped charge projectiles that they pretty much stopped using them after WW II and used HESH projectiles instead for the next 30-40 years (or longer)
 
The Polish 1935 anti tank rifle (basically an enlarged Mauser bolt action rifle that fired a 7.92x107mm DS round) didn't rely on penetration to do damage, but instead relied on spallation to do damage. Basically relying on the bullet impact to knock loose metal shards to bounce around in the tank. This worked on early war tanks, and impressed the Germans who made a 7.92x94mm version for their own AT rifles and also made 7.92mm DS for captured Polish rifles.

And the Germans seemed to be fans of AT rifle ranging from 7.92mm to 20mm (the latter being basically, depending on your POV, mini-artillery, or semi-auto autocannons) until 1941, when a lot of their anti-tanks weapons (including some artillery) was made ineffective or marginal against the Soviet T-34 medium tank and the KV heavy tanks.
 
Another interesting AT device was the letterbox charge developed for German troops. As earlier tanks tended to
have an open slot for the driver it was decided a thin rectangular package with a charge in it could be handy.

The 'delivery' method was just the same as posting a letter. The only drawback was the drivers slot was generally
at the front of the vehicle where the guns and tracks are coming straight at the 'deliverer'. For obvious reasons, it
wasn't massively popular.
 

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