Categories
AT weapons Swiss AT guns

Solothurn S 18-1000

Switzerland (1939)
Anti-Tank Rifle – around 1,000 produced

The Solothurn S 18-1000 was a Swiss-built 20 mm Anti-Tank rifle which was an upgraded version of the earlier S 18-100. It saw service in both the Axis and Allied forces and was deployed in many theatres of operations through the war. Despite its weight and size, it was appreciated by the troops that used it.

An S 18-154. Source: Sa Kuva

Design and Development

When the Treaty of Versaille was signed on 28th June 1919, the once magnificent German arms industry found itself under considerable restrictions. One of these restrictions was on the development of large caliber weapons capable of taking out tanks, similar to the TankGewehr M1918 developed by Mauser during the First World War.
To bypass these restrictions, Rheinmetall set up a subsidiary in Switzerland in 1929, Waffenfabrik Solothurn. This meant that German engineers could design, test and build weapons without the worry of the victorious Allied powers faulting on Germany for not holding to the Versailles Treaty. In 1930, they had developed the 20×138mmB cartridge or ‘Short Solothurn’, which was one of the most powerful 20 mm rounds in existence at the time and remained in use until the early 1950s. Soon after the development of the 20 mm cartridge, the Solothurn ST-5 anti-aircraft gun was produced and, from here, Solothurn started a journey that saw the development of many weapons, all using the 20 mm Solothurn round. The first foray into anti-tank weapons was the 2 cm Tankbuchse S 5-100 in 1932, which was an offshoot of the ST-5 and was impractical for its intended use, which meant it was not fully developed. In 1933, development started on a more practical anti-tank weapon, the S 18-100. This 44 kg, bull-pup, hard-hitting gun was placed on the export market in 1934 and was soon picked up by Italy, Hungary, and the Netherlands to name but a few.
It was decided in the late 1930s that the S 18-100 series needed a more substantial upgrade (previously the S18-100 saw minor improvements in the S 18-150, S 18-154 and S 18-500). Using the improved 20×138mmB cartridge, also known as the ‘Long Solothurn’, and adding a longer barrel, a ‘harmonica’ style muzzle break, improved action and some other minor modifications, a newer, more hard-hitting version of the Solothurn was created. The weapon worked on a short recoil system, meaning that the barrel moved slightly backward when fired. Because of the large recoil spring, it required a ratchet crank in order to pull the bolt back to set it up for operations. Once the bolt was pulled back, a magazine could then be loaded. When fired, the barrel recoiled, moving the attached rotary bolt and unlocking the bolt which then ejected the spent casing. The bolt is then driven forward by the large spring, loading a fresh cartridge from the magazine. Like many anti-tank rifles of the time, it came with an integrated bipod, which allowed for some recoil absorption, and a single adjustable monopod to the rear just ahead of the cushioned butt plate. These modifications increased the weight from a substantial 45 kg to a hefty 53 kg and saw Solothurn develop the SO9 carriage for it. This was a simple two-wheeled carriage which had space for two ammunition boxes and allowed for free traverse. It also had the ability to change the elevation through a screw. The split trails could be flipped forward and locked together to allow the gun team to move the gun with ease to a new position.

A brochure picture of a Swiss soldier firing an S 18-1000 on the SO 9 carriage. Source:- Axishistory
During Solothurn’s trials in 1939, it performed quite respectfully. The much improved ‘Long Solothurn’ round coupled with the 144.78mm (57 inch) long barrel gave it a muzzle velocity of 910 m/s and could penetrate 35 mm of armor plate at 300 meters.

On the Market

After trials, Solothurn approved the S 18-1000 for production. The design of the weapon, alongside its impressive performance, saw it gain a lot of attraction on the international market.

A fully kitted out S 18-1000. Source:- MurphyAuctions
The first nation to acquire the S 18-1000 for service was the Swiss Army, which placed an initial order for 60. These were designated Tankbüchse Solo 40 and were delivered in the first quarter of 1940. Another 33 were ordered as the Swiss Army was impressed by its capabilities, bringing the total in Swiss use to 93. One rifle was installed to the prototype Type 41 Patrol Boat Uri.
The Netherlands had bought six S 18-15 in 1937 for trials but rejected them upon seeing the initial results for the S18-1000. A definitive order for 662 S18-1000s was placed in late 1938, divided as 340 for the Royal Netherlands Army (Koninklijke Landmacht) and 322 for the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army (Koninklijk Nederlands Indisch Leger; KNIL). By the time of the German invasion in May 1940, 125 Dutch Army and 72 KNIL rifles had been delivered.
The Italians also looked at the S 18-1000 after rejecting the S 18-100 in 1934. They placed initial orders in 1939 for trials and the first pieces arrived in early 1940 being designated Carabina “S”. At the conclusion of the trials, the Italian Royal Army (Regio Esercito) wanted to equip every infantry battalion with 6 pieces. It is unknown how many were delivered to the Italians, but it is thought to be around 578 of the estimated 1,131 required. The main reason for the lack of deliveries was that Switzerland was placing restrictions on the exportation of war materials to any belligerent nation in 1940.
With Europe being engulfed by war, Sweden started to look towards protecting itself. In 1940, it made inquiries to purchase 480 S 18-1000s. These were approved as Sweden was a neutral country and thus not subjected to Switzerland’s restrictions. Using balance of trade payments with Germany for steel, the rifles arrived between 1940-1941 and were designated 20 mm pansarvärnskanon m/1939.
Hungary had purchased the S 18-100 in 1935 and were producing their own licensed variant, the 36M 20mm Nehézpuska. After the Slovak–Hungarian War, they realized that the 36M was in need of upgrading and purchased around 50 (sources vary) of the new S 18-1000 in early 1940, but as restrictions became tighter, they were unable to purchase more and so production continued on the 36M until 1943.
The US Army had concluded in the mid-1930s that the .50 M2 Heavy Barrel (HB) machine gun would be adopted as the official light anti-tank gun and general vehicle-mounted machine gun. However, observations made during the Spanish Civil War suggested that the .50 might not be sufficient in future conflicts as an anti-tank weapon, so work was put towards creating an anti-tank gun, the 37 mm Gun M3. While the infantry branch championed such a move, the cavalry branch and US Marine Corps still expressed interest in a light anti-mechanization weapon. To this end, the Ordnance Department ordered two S 18-100 rifles in 1939, along with 2,000 rounds of ammunition for trails by the Infantry and Cavalry Boards at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. The results of the trials were unsatisfactory, but as the trials were coming to a close, the S 18-1000 was ready, and so, an example was obtained for testing. Arriving in April 1940, it performed better than its predecessor and was passed on for further trials by both the Infantry and Cavalry boards. The S 18-1000 was seen as superior in performance to the M2 machine gun, so an order was placed with Solothurn for a further 50 models with 50,000 rounds of ammunition which would be standardized as the 20 mm Automatic Gun T3. During negotiations with Solothurn though, things turned difficult. This was down to Solothurn’s parent company – Rheinmetall – specifically forbidding the sale of Solothurn’s anti-tank rifles to any country without its approval, and so, the acquisition was abandoned.

A picture showing the US Army trial of the Solothurn at Aberdeen Proving Ground on 9 April 1940. Source: Reddit
Finland was attempting to modernize its military inventory in the run-up to the Winter War of November 1939. As part of this, one S 18-1000 was purchased by the Puolustusministeriö (Ministry of Defence) in August 1939 (one of the first models as it had the serial number of 4 stamped upon it) for testing. Unfortunately, though, any chance of purchasing more was rendered difficult due to the Soviet-German Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which saw Germany restrict arms shipments to Finland through its territory.

Swedish presentation of the Solothurn S18-1000 (or 20 mm pkvan m/39) with characteristics

Solothurn at War

When the German military crossed the Polish border on the morning of 1st September 1939, the nations of Europe realized that another great war was unavoidable. The armies mobilized against the threats and so the Solothurn S 18-1000 was to be put to the test.
After Poland fell to the joint German-Soviet invasion, the world expected a bloodbath in the West between the Anglo-French alliance and Germany, but outside a few skirmishes on the border nothing occurred for eight months in what became known as the ‘Phoney War’.
It is not known if the single S 18-1000 that Finland acquired before the outbreak of the Winter War was ever issued to combat troops and so it is thought that the S 18-1000s baptism of fire occurred during the German invasion of the Netherlands. The Germans launched their offensive against the Western allies on the morning of 10th May 1940. The 4th Panzer Division was given orders to secure the strategically important Dutch city of Maastricht. The city contained vital bridges over the Maas River, as well as sat to the north of the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael. The Dutch had been on alert since 7th May and troops had been deployed to areas the General Staff felt were vital to the German line of attack. Sergeant Van der Sande was in command of an anti-tank rifle section containing two S 18-1000s and was ordered to deploy his weapons near the two bridges of Wilhelminabrug and Sint Servaasbrug and delay any German advance. At 05:15 on the morning of the 10th May, the first German vehicles were spotted by der Sande’s section and the two anti-tank gunners, Rietveld and Plusjé, prepared their weapons. The order to fire was given and within minutes 2 armored cars were out of action and a third was severely crippled. The Germans reacted by bringing up a 37 mm anti-tank gun and firing at the defensive position forcing the surviving Dutchmen to retreat across the river. The action helped delay the German vanguard enough that the two bridges were blown at 06:00.
Sergeant Sande and his men were not the only group of Dutchmen with Solothurns that were doing their part to delay the advance. A kilometer north of the Wilhelminabrug Bridge was the railway bridge and another strategic objective for the Germans. A platoon of 35 Dutch soldiers, with a pair of Solothurns, held their position against a mainly infantry assault. Soon the lieutenant ordered a withdrawal across the bridge and within moments the bridge was blown. However, the action did not stop there. The German infantry force soon received reinforcements and attempted to secure the bridge in order to effect repairs. Two armored cars attempted to cross the river but were destroyed by the Solothurns. A Panzer I was also disabled as it went to the edge of the riverbank to provide suppressive fire. The fighting became intense and more armor was brought forward, including a handful of Panzerjäger I tank destroyers (two were subsequently knocked out by the anti-tank rifles) and soon the Dutch found themselves overwhelmed. The Battle of Maastricht ended in the early afternoon with a ceasefire, but despite the Dutch loosing, their bravery and the hard-hitting power of the Solothurns accounted for several German AFVs.
The German Army is known to have acquired a number of Solothurn S-18 rifles, including the 1000 model, and deployed them alongside their own anti-tank rifles. What is not know is exactly how many or their exact deployment. The table of organization and equipment for a German Infantry division in 1940 put the complement of ATRs at 108 per Infantry Division with each of the 36 Rifle Companies containing an anti-tank rifle section of 3 rifles, the most numerous being the Panzerbüchse 39. Against the main French tanks, Hotchkiss H35 and Renault R35, any anti-tank rifle would be effectively useless except at extremely close ranges.

An S 18-1000 mounted on an Sd.Kfz. 250. Source: Reddit

A propaganda picture of Italian Bersaglieri manning a “36M Fucile Contracarro da 20-mm Solothurn” in the North African desert. Source: Axishistory
The next known usages of the Solothurn S 18-1000 was by the Italians in the Desert Campaign. Italy received its first batch of 100 Solothurn S 18-1000s in late 1940 and immediately shipped them to their troops serving in the African desert. It was intended to arm every Italian division with an anti-tank company that contained 3 platoons of 4 Solothurns each, but this was not possible, so the S 18-1000s were given to elite units like the Bersaglieri (an Italian light infantry unit) and Compagnie Auto-Avio-Sahariane (Auto-Saharan Companies, long range desert units). More Solothurns started to arrive at the end of 1941/early 1942 and were assigned on the basis of 9 per Bersaglieri to fit in with their intended role as light infantry. The hard-hitting power, coupled with their small silhouette, meant that the weapon could be effectively used against the Commonwealth forces and their lightly armored tanks such as the Light Tank Mk.VI and Cruiser Mk.IV. The weapon also became popular with the Compagnie Auto-Avio-Sahariane, or Auto-Saharan Companies, which were the Italian version of the British Long Range Desert Group (LRDG). When the Camionetta Desertica SPA-Viberti AS.42 arrived in September 1942, several were equipped with the S 18-1000 to help in the company’s mission of hunting down the LRDG. In this role, the S 18-1000 succeeded, as the LRDG operated in similarly open-topped and lightly armored four-wheel vehicles.

An AS.42 somewhere in the Libyan desert, 1942. Source:- tapatalk.com
Another Italian use of the S 18-1000 that is often forgotten is the L3 cc (controcarro or anti-tank). Using the Carro Veloce L3/35 light tank as a base, the twin 8mm Bredas were replaced with the Solothurn. An exact number of how many were produced is not known, but it was not many and they arrived in Libya in late 1942. They performed adequately in the Axis retreat through Africa and some participated in the famous Battle of Kasserine Pass.

An abandoned L3 cc. Source:- tapatalk.com
As the weapon was deployed to Italian frontline units in Africa, it was inevitable that some would fall into the hands of the Commonwealth forces they were fighting against. The Australian 2/2nd Anti-Tank Regiment had one of its reserve batteries equipped with a number of captured Solothurns during the Syria–Lebanon Campaign. How widespread it was among other Commonwealth units is not known, but it can be speculated that several Solothurns would have been repurposed.
It is also alleged that some S 18-1000s of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army fell into the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army who found them more reliable and effective than their own Type 97 anti-tank rifle and used them until they ran out of ammunition.

End of Life

With the rifle weighing 53.5 kg/118 lb empty (54.7 kg/120.6 lb with 10 round magazine attached), as well as the increasing amount of armor being put onto AFV, it meant that the Solothurn was losing its place on the battlefield. As the war raged on the Solothurn was seen less and less and it is believed that the last combat uses of the S 18-1000 were by Italian forces of the National Republican Army as they fought frantically against the Allied advance. A select fire version was produced in 1942, designated the S 18-1100 ‘Universalwaffe’ (universal weapon) and was sold with a specialized AA mount (SO 11) to be able to engage aircraft, as well as the SO 9 carriage for use against AFVs. Not many, a few hundred, of these were produced until production was stopped at the end of 1942/early 1943.

The S 18-1100 on the SO 11 carriage from a Solothurn brochure. Source:- Axishistory
After the war, hundreds of S 18-1000s were put into the lucrative US gun market where they were sold off to gun collectors and enthusiasts. Today it is a rare find but there is still a number of them in the hands of collectors and occasionally they may be found upon the firing ranges.

A post-war advert with an embellished background of the S18-1000. Source:- 2cm flak

Conclusion

Anti-Tank Rifles are often confused with Anti-Tank Guns, both in nomenclature and usage. ATRs are designed to allow the standard infantry unit to disable armored fighting vehicles and work in conjunction with other weapons, like dedicated anti-tank guns. When ATRs were developed during the interwar period, they were effective if albeit bulky but they offered a cheap and more mobile alternative than anti-tank artillery.
The Solothurn S 18-1000 could be called the pinnacle of anti-tank rifles. The ‘Long Solothurn’ round allowed it to keep up with armored development until 1942 but it quickly dropped off when the Allies started to deploy vehicles like the M3 Grant/Lee and M4 Sherman medium tanks in large numbers. The two biggest drawbacks to the S 18-1000 were its weight and its complicated system which meant that misuse or lack of attention could damage the weapon easily. With the heavy deployment of shaped charges and rocket-propelled grenades in 1943, the infantry now had a more effective and lightweight anti-tank weapon that was more viable than the ATRs of the previous few years. The Solothurn, along with its brothers, were forced in obsolescence and became curiosities.

Sources

Zaloga, Steven. The Anti-Tank Rifle, Osprey Publishing, 2018
Weeks, John. Men Against Tanks: History of Anti-tank Warfare, David & Charles, 1975
Axishistory.com
Forgottenweapons.com



Illustration of the Solothurn S 18-1000 made by Yuvnashva Sharma. Funded by our Patreon campaign.

Categories
AT weapons WW2 British AT Weapons

Rifle, Anti-Tank, .55in, Boys "Boys Anti-Tank Rifle"

United Kingdom (1934)
Antitank Rifle – 114,081 Built

The Boys Anti-Tank Rifle was part of Britain’s interwar development of weapons designed to take on tanks. While the artillery got the 2 pounder, a cheaper, lighter alternative was needed for the Infantry to help deal with tanks and other armored vehicles. Out of this necessity came the Rifle, Anti-Tank, .55in, Boys.

A Boys Mk.1. Source: Wikimedia

Design and Development

The British Army had shown interest in an anti-tank rifle during the First World War, mainly that designed by famous gun designer Philip Thomas Godsal. However, due to the lack of a German tank threat, with those that did appear easily dealt with by artillery or other means, no further development past prototype stage was taken.
In 1934, the Small Arms Committee started a programme for an anti-tank rifle to be used at platoon level with the ability to penetrate 16mm of armor at 100 yards (91 meters). The work was led by Captain Henry C. Boys, Assistant Superintendent of Design at the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield. The team looked at the Polish Karabin przeciwpancerny wzór 35 anti-tank rifle and used its design as inspiration for their own project.
From this influence they built, like many other anti-tank rifles of the time, a large-scale bolt action rifle. It was designed to take a modified .50 BMG cartridge but, after initial trials, the bullet was increased to a .55 calibre. However, unlike many of its counterparts, it was fed from a top loading magazine with the spent cases being ejected down. Due to this, the sights were put onto the left-hand side. To help reduce the effect of recoil, a circular muzzle break with three slots on its circumference at sixty degree spacing was added. The whole barrel and receiver were mounted on a slide that pushed against a large spring when the weapon was fired. There was also a walnut cheek-piece and the butt was curved and padded to allow for better control of the weapon. It was also mounted onto a unique looking T-shaped monopod that allowed for a stable firing platform.

A British soldier on Salisbury Plain, 1939. You can see the unique Boys monopod. Source: Imperial War Museum
To give it a high velocity in order to penetrate armor, the barrel was 910mm long and had 7 grooves. This allowed the weapon to achieve a velocity of 802 meters per second, and was highly accurate up to a range of 300 yards (274 meters).
The prototype was given the name ‘Stanchion’ and it was tested in early 1936, the original .50 BMG modified cartridge being described as having “a disappointing armor-piercing performance”. This led Captain Boys to redesign the round, increasing it to .55 caliber. The bullet was 926 gr. hardened steel core bullet with a lead sleeve and a steel jacket. This was then placed into a .50 BMG case that had an enlarged neck for the .55 round and a belt added near the base to stop it from being chambered into .50 caliber weapons. This allowed for a penetration performance of 23.2 mm of armor at 100 yards, this was a significant increase over the specifications of the initial requirements. The trials continued throughout 1936 and in November 1937 the ‘Stanchion’ was accepted for service. Unfortunately, Captain Boys died only days before and so the rifle was renamed Boys in his honor.

Close up of the sight and muzzle break on the Mk 1 Boys. Source: Wikimedia

Modifications and Upgrades

It was soon noticed that the .55 Boys cartridge was insufficient to the task and a redesign was ordered. The team reduced the weight of the bullet itself and increased the propellant, making a lighter but faster bullet. This was adopted into service as the Mk.II bullet in June 1939 and the Mk.I bullet was declared obsolete in December of that year. In 1942, an Armoured Piercing Composite Rigid (APCR) was developed after British engineers had examined captured German 7.92×94mm Patronen. It used a tungsten carbide core with an aluminum jacket. This design improved muzzle velocity to 944 m/s and allowed it to penetrate 20mm at 300 yards, but due to the development and deployment of more effective anti-tank weapons, like the PIAT, this cartridge was never officially adopted.

A Boys mk.II cartridge (left) versus a .50 BMG cartridge. Source: Wikimedia
It wasn’t just the cartridge that went through upgrades but the rifle itself.
Due to the outbreak of war, the need for the Boys AT rifle was increased and soon the Canadian company, John Inglis and Company, was producing the Boys (alongside the many other weapons it was producing for the Commonwealth war effort). It was during the production here that the engineer team took it upon themselves to make some modifications. The most noticeable is the muzzle brake, often referred to as the harmonica. It was a rectangular block with the rear-ward slanting gas vents directed horizontally either side. It has been theorized that it came about as a result of US Army testing with the Solothurn S 18-1000. This helped with the recoil but more importantly, it reduced the amount of debris that was thrown up (the original muzzle brake pushed the blast downwards as well as upwards and to the sides), thus not giving away the position of the gun. The other advantage was it was of simple design and didn’t require a lot of maintenance, unlike the original brake, that needed dissembling and oiling when not in use. Another modification was the replacement of the monopod with a Bren gun bipod, which helped with production. It also received much simpler fixed sights and the butt padding was reinforced with rubber. These modifications were designated Mk 1* and were officially adopted in 1942, with new rifles being made to this specification, and some original marks being upgraded.

A Mk 1* Boys. Notice the muzzle brake and bipod. Source: acant.org.au
In mid-1942, in order to give Airborne forces some hard-hitting firepower, a lighter and shorter version of the Boys was developed. It used the Mk 1* as a base but shortened the barrel to only 762 mm and got rid of the muzzle break. However, this had the negative effect of increased report and recoil, also less penetration. Numerous parts were made from aluminum to help save on weight. The tradeoff was that these pieces were softer and thus more prone to bending and breaking. The butt padding was also filled with feathers and the bipod was made of lighter metals. There is also conflicting evidence that it was squeeze-bore, using a necked down .55 calibre case for a .303 calibre armor piercing bullet. This was to help save on weight for the airborne troops but still give a high velocity and armor penetration, however, this is countered by some reports stating that the round was solely designed as a training device, as this allowed the Boys to be used on all standard .303 ranges. Very few were produced and the project was canceled in 1943 when the Boys was declared obsolete.
Besides these three official models of the Boys, there were also experiments and other modifications taken. Two Boys Mk Is were produced in a 13.2 calibre (the same calibre as the Tankgewehr of 1918). It has been suggested that this was part of an experiment to give bombers like the Lancaster a hard-hitting defensive gun against frontally-armored German fighters. However, this has been argued against due to the impracticality of having a single-shot gun for aircraft defense. Ian Skennerton mentions in his book, “The Lee-Enfield Story”, that a smoothbore 13.2mm Boys was tested in mid-1945 and it is theorised that it was for testing a sabot round.
Another interesting modification came about during the US Army’s sniping trials. Taking the Canadian produced Mk 1*, it was converted to fire .50 BMG, the barrel was replaced with a M2 Browning barrel and a telescopic sight was fitted. It was reported that this gave it extreme accuracy at over 1,000 yards (914 meters) and some were even issued to combat units.
By the end of 1943, when the weapon ceased production, a total of 114,081 Boys of all marks had been produced.

Baptism of Fire – In Finnish Service

The Boys would see its baptism of fire with Finland during the 1939-40 Russo-Finnish Winter War. During the closing weeks of 1939, the Soviet Union’s invasion of Finland shocked the world and many gave the Finns only a few weeks before they capitulated. Despite the overwhelming odds, the dogged defence of the Finns had stalled the Soviet advance and allowed for military aid to reach the frontlines. Finland was lacking in many modern arms, including anti-tank weaponry and asked any nation for help. The United Kingdom offered to donate 100 of its Boys to the Finnish cause. These arrived in January 1940 and 30 were given to the Swedish Volunteer Corps and the other 70 deployed on the Karelian Isthmus. The weapon was extremely effective at penetrating the armor of the Soviet BT and T-26 tanks but the Finns found that they needed to aim for the crew positions in order to get the best use out of the gun. Out of the 100 in service, only 6 were lost in combat.

Two Swedish Volunteers in early 1940 in Finland carrying Mk 1 Boys. Source:Wikimedia
During the Interim Peace (1940-41), the Finns acquired another 100 Boys from the British and bought 200 more from the Germans (who had captured a large amount from retreating forces during the Battle of France). Given the official designation 14mm pst kiv/37 (Panssarintorjuntakivääri) it was issued at a rate of 4 guns per company and were used throughout the Finnish forces until being replaced by the Lahti L-39. During this part of the war, the Boys had lost its edge and due to the upgrading of Soviet tanks it was now essentially ineffective as an anti-tank weapon and was soon issued to coastal troops or even put into storage. The Finns did find that the gun was good at engaging bunkers and other hardpoints at long range but, due to the muzzle flash, the manuals stressed the need to fire and move. These guns were kept on the official reserve lists until 1956 when the vast majority were sold off to the United States.

British and Commonwealth Service

The Boys was adopted into service by the British Army in 1937 as a Platoon level anti-tank weapon. Soon afterwards it was decided that it would be deployed as a section level weapon. However, by the outbreak of war, the Rifle platoons still only had one Boys per Platoon but the Mechanised Platoons had 4 per platoon, mounted in Universal Carriers.
The British forces employed over 58,000 of the Boys during the Second World War. During the early campaigns, like Norway and France, the Boys performed adequately against the thinly armored Panzer I, II and IIIs. The first German tanks knocked out by British troops were by a Boys during the Norwegian campaign. Sergeant Major John Sheppard of the 1/5th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment (TA) was deployed near the village of Tretten to help protect the right flank when three German Panzers approached his position. Taking up the Platoon’s Boys, which he had never used before, Sheppard fired three rounds into each tank, knocking out two of them and making the rest third retreat. For his actions that day, which helped keep the right flank of the British position solid, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Soldiers of the Rifle Brigade exercising with a Boys in 1939 before the outbreak of war. Source:Imperial War Museum
However, the Boys didn’t garner much favour with the troops, mainly due to its weight (weighing 16kg unloaded, it was roughly the same as a Vickers Machine Gun) and because of its frightful recoil. Anti-tank rifles work by hitting critical parts of the tank which are thus disabled. They do not have any explosive filler to destroy a tank through explosive like anti-tank guns. This meant a tank could take several hits before stopping (if it stopped at all), thus demoralising troops. During the evacuation of Dunkirk, the heavy rifle was left in large numbers upon the beaches.
During the reorganisation in 1941, the Boys was issued at 1 per section for Rifle platoons. Many were mounted on the Universal Carrier in a primitive form of tank destroyer (despite regulations stating that all weapons should be dismounted from the Carrier before use). The weapon also saw mounting upon the Morris CS9 Light Armored Car and Morris Light Reconnaissance Car, Chevrolet WB, the Lanchester 4×2 and 6×4 armored cars, the Humber Light Reconnaissance Car, Marmon-Herrington MKII Armoured Car, and even the World War I-vintage Rolls Royce Armoured Cars.

A Univeral Carrier armed with a Boys. This carrier is painted to represent an ‘enemy’ tank during an anti-invasion exercise in the South of England, 15 June 1941. Source: Imperial War Museum

A pair of Humber Mk III Light Reconnaissance Cars. These vehicles were armed with Bren Guns and Boys Anti-Tank Rifle. Source: Imperial War Museum

Source: DesertRats.com
It was also given to the reformed armies of the Governments in Exile, like Poland, to give them some form of anti-tank protection. These exiled armies were organised along similar lines to the British Army and so the Boys saw issue at platoon level and in similar fashion to the British, it would be replaced in 1943-44 by other more effective infantry mobile anti-tank weapons.

Members of the Polish Armed Forces in the West manning an improvised Armoured Train in Scotland, 1941. These trains were armed with a 6 pounder gun, two Boys anti-tank rifles and six Bren machine guns. Source: Imperial War Museum
The next action for the Boys with the British was during the North African desert fighting. It fared very well against the Italian tanks. Only against the Fiat M13/40, with its 30mm frontal armor, did it struggle. However, the poor tactical handling of the Italian forces meant that it wasn’t really an issue. The Germans had learned the lessons from their 1940 campaigns and had uparmored their Panzers in order to combat the Allied anti-tank capabilities. In the aftermath of Operation Crusader, the British forces conducted a study in which they concluded that no Boys had successfully engaged a tank.
It was the ineffectiveness against newer tanks that saw the Boys being utilised in other roles by the British. For example it was used against fortified positions, especially during the closing stages of the Desert Campaign and the Dieppe Raid. It was declared obsolete by the the end of 1943 and the new platoon level anti-tank weapon would be the PIAT. But the Boys would continue to be kept in the companies of the army for use in an anti-material role.
While its usefulness on the European Front was waning, on the Far Eastern front it remained relevant. Japanese armor was relatively light (the Type 95 had a top thickness of 16mm and the Type 97 30mm) and so easily fell prey to the Boys. The first Japanese tank disabled by Commonwealth forces was a Type 95 Ha-Go at Ahioma in August 1942. Australian forces had used their Boys to bring the tank to a halt and force a surrender. The men of the 1/14th Punjabi Regiment, British Indian Army used their Boys to knock out several Japanese tanks and blunt the assault against their positions in Malaya 1942.

Other usage


A German soldier with a Boys anti-tank Rifle. Source: Axishistory
As mentioned above, the Germans had acquired a large amount of Boys rifles from the retreating British forces in France 1940. These were then redistributed to Static units and other lower tier units for defensive and training works. It was designated the 13,9 mm Panzerabwehrbüchse 782(englisch).

A German-produced pamphlet on the Boys
The United States received 771 Boys Mk.1* from Canada. Some of these were used in the sniper trials as mentioned above. Others were given to the newly formed Ranger battalions, 20 per battalion, but there is no record of their deployment in combat. US Marine Corps “Raiders” used the Boys on their special operations in the Pacific. The most famous use came during the Raid on Makin Island. Two flying boats attempted to land on the lagoon with reinforcements for the Japanese garrison there only to find themselves under fire from a pair of Boys. One was set on fire soon after landing, the other attempted to take off but was so riddled with Boys rounds that no sooner had it left the water than it plunged back in, breaking up. One of the last uses of the Boys came from the Americans.

Members of the United States Marine Corps Raiders manning a Boys during a training exercise in 1943. Source: ibiblio.org
The Soviets received 3,200 of the Boys through the Lend Lease programme. The vast majority of these were deployed with the Universal Carrier and were seen as a vehicle armament, used for engaging hardpoints and soft-skinned vehicles rather than a dedicated anti-tank weapon (they employed their own anti-tank rifles for that). They were also sent to fronts where tanks were less common, like Murmansk, and also to training units. In the run-up to the 1943 Summer campaign, the Soviets requested ‘no less than 500 Universal APCs with a 13.5mm Boys AT rifle.’ Generally, the weapon was much liked by the Soviet soldier, it was seen as more reliable and effective than their own PTRD-41.

A Universal Carrier armed with a Boys in Soviet service. Source: WarThunder Forums
Another user of the Boys was the Republic of China. 6,129 Mk.1* were sent as part of the aid from the Allies in 1942/43. The Chinese utilised the rifle to good effect in ambushes, as showed by the Special Anti-Tank Company of the 85th Army, which used their Boys to knock out two Japanese tanks, and force the rest of the column to retreat in Zhong Yangdian, April 1945. However, they disliked the weight and preferred the more versatile American Bazooka. This meant many of those Boys sent were never used on the frontline. Some of these fell into the hands of the Communist Chinese forces in the ensuing Chinese Civil War, but it is unclear if they were used.

A group of Chinese Nationalist Soldiers practicing with a Boys Anti-Tank rifle. Source: Twitter
Portugal also bought some Boys from Britain during the early stages of the war to help with their shortage of anti-tank weaponry. However, the vast majority didn’t get out of storage due to lack of need and reports of poor performance. Some were sent to Portuguese possessions, such as Macau, in case Japan didn’t respect their neutrality.
An unspecified number of Boys were supplied to the Philippines for their resistance against the Japanese occupation. These saw use similar to how the Chinese deployed them, in ambush positions to take out the thin-skinned Japanese tanks. After the liberation of the Philippines, these rifles were then used during the Hukbalahap Rebellion and by Filipino forces in the Korean War.

Post-WWII use

During the Korean War, the United States Army saw there was a need for a long-range, heavy calibre rifle and Ralph Walker of Selma Alabama converted several Boys to .50 using M2 barrels (similar to their sniper trials during the Second World War) and attaching telescopic sights to them. These were then given to special sniper teams to effectively engaged Chinese and North Korean forces up to 1100 yards away (1005 meters).
Some of these Communist Chinese Boys are suspected to have been sold to Congolese rebels during the Congo Crisis in 1964-65. However, how many and how they were used is indeterminable. Same goes for the Italians during the Second World War, who had acquired an unknown number during the early stages of the Desert Campaign but how they were utilised is not known. There are reports of the Boys having been supplied to members of the Hellenic Army during the initial stages of the Italian invasion of Greece, with some still being in service during the Greek Civil War.
Some were also sold to the Republic of Ireland to help supplement their military forces during the Second World War (known as the Emergency) but, like many other smaller forces, their distribution is unknown. In connection to the Irish Boys, the Official Irish Republican Army is known to have possessed one which they used during an attack on HMS Brave Borderer in September 1965, causing severe damage to one of its turbines.

Irish troops unpacking a Boys Anti-Tank Rifle. Source: Forgotten Weapons
A small, unknown amount was also in use by Jewish Insurgents and later by Israeli Forces in the post-war years.

Israeli troops with a Boys preparing for Operation Horev, 1949. Source: Wikimedia

Performance

The Boys has somewhat of a mixed reputation. Within popular history culture, it is normally maligned as a useless deadweight upon the infantryman. Within academic circles, it is highlighted to have been useful but was obsolete by the time the war was underway. Both sides have valid points to their arguments.
The Boys was noted for its ferocious recoil, with many British soldiers complaining of headaches, bruised or even broken shoulders. This isn’t uncommon though for large caliber anti-tank rifles of the time and it was noted by official papers that the majority of these injuries could be avoided if the individual held the weapon in the correct manner. The dangerous noise level emitted from the gun was recognised by those higher up and regulations stipulated that the weapon must not be fired without ear protection (the first weapon of the British army with mandatory ear protection). Despite this, it still earned a horrible reputation, earning many nicknames like ‘Elephant Gun’ or ‘Charlie the Bastard’. The penetration certainly wasn’t poor. With a muzzle velocity of 884 m/s, the Boys was able to penetrate up to 23.2mm of armor at 100 yards. However, this was the lowest penetration compared to its contemporaries.
During the Winter War, the weapon was at its most effective. The light skinned T-26s and BT-7 tanks which made up the bulk of the Soviet tank arm were vulnerable to the Boys even at ranges up to 400 meters. Finnish tactics stressed the stalling of Soviet columns upon the sparse road networks on the Russo-Finnish border and using ambush tactics with hit and run to cripple the invaders. The long range and heavy punch of the Boys allowed this. Even during the more conventional warfare on the Karelian Isthmus, the Boys performed well as a long-range sniping weapon, being accurate up to long ranges.
During the British Campaigns of 1940, it was effective against the Panzer Is and IIs, as well as all the lightly armored half-tracks and scout cars used by the German forces. The occasional stories of Boys being useless against German tanks (often either embellishments or half-truths when against Panzer IIIs and IVs) spread far and wide and created a sense of panic and uselessness that was exacerbated by the general confusion and panic of the French Campaign. Even in the Desert, it was able to combat the Italian and majority of German forces until the upgraded Panzer IIIs and IVs appeared.

A Boys Mk1* in its packed and stripped down form. Source:DesertRats.com
The biggest issues with the Boys came from its heavyweight, despite being designated as a man-portable weapon, it weighed as much as a Vickers Machine Gun. It wasn’t uncommon for the Boys to be passed unto the new guy or platoon miscreant and it almost always is seen being marched between two men. It was this weight that meant it needed to be in a prepared position and thus didn’t suit the more mobile, fluid nature of the modern battlefield. It was mainly down to this reason why it was one of the first weapons to be abandoned during a retreat and why specialist groups like the Long Range Desert Patrol and the Special Air Service replaced it with other weapons (like the M2 Browning) as soon as possible.
Another issue came from the misunderstanding of its deployment. As it was designated ‘Anti-Tank’, the common soldier and officer alike expected it to perform in a similar fashion to a 2 pounder, that is, destroying a tank. The Boys was meant to work in conjunction with other weapons to allow the infantry platoon to combat armor. Its primary purpose was to incapacitate an armored vehicle so it may be dealt with by more specialised anti-tank weapons or even infantry borne explosives. However, the word of an infantryman travels fast within the British army and it wasn’t long that those who returned from France had whipped up such a reputation about the Boys that the Commanders were forced to act. Numerous pamphlets were issued explaining the correct handling and deployment of the weapon, like aiming for tracks, vision ports, gripping the rear handle and pushing into the shoulder. There is also a famous example of combating this rumor. Disney was commissioned by the Canadian Directorate of Military Training, the Canadian Department of National Defence and the National Film Board of Canada to produce an animated and live action educational film on the proper use and handling of the Boys. The end scene states “a rifle is like a woman, treat her right and she will never let you down”. It also didn’t help that most of the ranges within the UK were not capable of handling the Boys and so training with it was limited.

A still from the Disney film, ‘Crack That Tank’ commissioned by Canada to help dismiss the rumours about the Boys. Source: Rifleman.orh.uk
Due to the constant upgrading of Axis tanks in face of more superior and widespread Allied anti-tank weaponry (especially those for the infantryman like the Bazooka and PIAT), the Boys was left behind. This didn’t mean it wasn’t useful though. It was still kept in Divisional inventory until the end of the war. It found uses like long range sniping, anti-fortification and convoy ambushing. This was especially appreciated during the Italian campaign, where Italian and German strong points could effectively hold off much larger forces. The Boys was able to penetrate sandbags and even rocks in order to negate the Axis advantage. Tests conducted in early 1940 showed that the Boys could penetrate up to 355mm of concrete and 254mm of sandbags.
While the Boys gained a much-undeserved reputation, when one looks at its combat records, it speaks for itself. It was a weapon that could, when in the right hands, perform well. As one Australian says after a battle in the desert, “The Italians counterattacked with nine tanks and hundreds of infantrymen. Private O.Z. Neall knocked out three Italian tanks with his Boyes anti-tank rifle, a feat that astounded everyone —the Boyes rifle was noted for its uselessness.”

An American propaganda poster showing a British ‘Tommy’ with a Boys slung over his shoulder. Source:Rifleman.org.uk

Specifications

Caliber .0.5507 in. (13.99 mm)
Barrel Lenght 36 in. (910 mm); Airborne: 30 in. (762 mm)
Overall Lenght 5 ft 2 in (1.575 m); Airborne: 4 feet 8 inches (1.427 m)
Weight, unloaded 13lb (16.3 kg)
Practical Rate of Fire 10 rounds per minute
Muzzle velocity Mk I: 747 m/s (2,450.1 ft/s); Mk II: 884 m/s (2,899.5 ft/s)
Effective firing range 23.2mm penetration at 90° 100 yards (91 m); 18.8mm penetration at 90° 500 yards (460 m)
Feed system 5-round detachable box magazine
Action repeater, cylinder lock (bolt action)

Links & Resources

Rifleman.org.uk
Jaegerplatoon- AT Rifles
Zaloga, Steven J. , The Anti-Tank Rifle, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018
Weeks, John S. , Men against tanks: a history of anti-tank warfare, Mason/Charter, 1975
War Office, Boys Anti Tank Rifle Mark I, Aldershot Gale and Polden Limited, 1944
War Office, Small Arms Training Volume I, Pamphlet No. 5 Anti-Tank Rifle 1942


The Boys Anti-Tank Rifle. Illustration by Yuvnashva Sharma funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Categories
AT weapons WW2 Italian AT Weapon

60mm Lanciabombe

Italian armour ww2 Kingdom of Italy (1943-45)
Experimental Anti-Tank Weapon – 1 Built

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Sketch plan of prototype anti-tank weapon. Source: Report 311

Desperate Times

When nations have their backs against the wall and are facing a fight for their existence, there tends to be an abundance of rather unusual weapons. Some of the weapons developed by the Home Guard in Great Britain in the Second World War, like the Northover projector, are good examples of this. Italy, with a long tradition of firearms manufacture, was no different and already had extensive experience with grenade firing and small mortars. In 1943 though, their mainland had been invaded by the Allies as they had already lost control of the island of Sicily. Tank production was in a poor state and the Allies’ superiority with tanks left a very bleak outlook for the Kingdom of Italy in the War. An expedient anti-tank weapon was called for.
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Carcano Model 91/24 T.S. The exact variant used is not known. Source: candrsenal.com

Development

The call for this expedient and simple anti-tank weapon came from the Ministry for War prior to the armistice of the 8th September 1943. It was to combine parts from a mortar and a carbine fitted together to form a rather crude, very large caliber gun firing a shaped charge shell. The Italians had already produced a production model carbine with an attached grenade launcher which used a bullet capture system as far back as 1928. This was along very similar lines to the new requested weapon and may have served as some of the inspiration behind it. The Technical Section of the Ministry for War had already made some preliminary experiments prior to September 1943 and the results were promising.
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Model 1928 Tromboncino grenade launcher (both with bolt in carbine and with bolt in grenade launcher) based on the Model 91/28 carbine. Source: modernfirearms.net
The weapon was given the go-ahead but, by the time of the armistice, only a single experimental prototype had actually been constructed, although performance trials were underway by September 1943.
With just this one prototype constructed by the time of the armistice, the unidentified Italian officer in charge of the project hid the weapon and all of the paperwork associated with it, to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Germans.
When the Allies entered Rome in June 1944 this hidden secret weapon and associated paperwork was removed from its hiding place and taken by the Italian officer to the US Army G-2 Headquarters in Rome (APO 794).
The weapon was examined by Major Russell Fisher and the design was closely discussed between him and the Italian officer who even offered to demonstrate the weapon, as he claimed to have fired the weapon many times, from a standing position without difficulty. This offer though was not carried out.
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Compact CEMSA 63.5mm L25.5 mortar which may have been the origin of the barrel. This weapon could throw a 2kg shell well over 300m. Source: CEMSA

Design of the Weapon

The experimental model was, like most prototypes, rather crude. It was made by means of a redundant 60mm mortar tube and a cut down stock from a carbine fastened together. The 60mm shell was propelled from the barrel by means of a black powder cartridge inserted into the breech of the carbine under the barrel.
The drawings do not appear to show any variation from the original magazine or firing mechanism of the Model 91 rifle and therefore it is believed it would use the same 6.5x52mm cartridge.
Upon a pull of the trigger, this blank round was fired in the manner of a normal bullet except that the explosive gases upon leaving the very short barrel, instead of propelling a bullet, were directed into a large expansion chamber under the mortar barrel and then directed to the mortar round. Just like the smaller Brixia mortar, this weapon was fired by means of a magazine fed blank cartridge and a rapid rate of fire would be able to be obtained. Reloading would be by the simple means of putting a new shell into the barrel at the muzzle and then cycling the bolt action of the rifle to chamber a new blank cartridge. The rifle had a six-round clip inside and, assuming these blank rounds simply replaced the old live rounds, only shells would have to be loaded for the first six rounds.

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Rifle calibre blank cartridge containing the 1.9 grams of ballistite propellant. Source: Report 311

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Example of the type of blank initiator round used. This example is for the 45mm Brixia mortar. Source: not known

Propulsion System

The expanding gasses released from the combustion of the 1.9 grams of ballistite in the blank cartridge were directed into the expansion chamber. This chamber was connected by two short barrels backward (towards the firer) and into the breach of the 60mm mortar tube. This unusual mechanism had the disadvantage that not all of the propulsive force of the black powder charge was directed to the mortar round. A lot of energy was lost. It had a significant advantage, however, that the pressure rise in the barrel was very even, permitting a consistent rise in pressure for the propulsion of the shell. The interview with the Italian officer yielded information that, over the course of its short development, various expansion chamber sizes were tested out in order to achieve the required balance in the pressure gradient within the weapon.

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Detail of gas porting system to move gas from expansion chamber to the rear of the barrel. Source: Report 311


Illustration of the 60mm Lanciabombe by Andrei “Octo” Kirushkin and paid for with funds from our Patreon campaign.

Recoil Management

Recoil was managed in two ways. The first was a very simple spring loaded mechanism in the buttstock of the weapon cushioning the shoulder of the firer. The second part of the recoil management was more complicated, far too complicated for a weapon meant to be an expedient design. This system consisted of a slide onto which the main barrel was mounted. This slide permitted the barrel to move backward and this motion was dampened by means of a spring.
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Details of sprung shoulder pad as part of recoil management. Source: Report 311

The Shell

The shell itself was very similar to the rather small 45mm Brixia mortar shell and was a short shell just under 30cm long with a rounded nose. The explosive body containing the charge was attached to an aluminum tail section with eight fins approximately 12cm long. This 60mm round weighed just 0.85kg and contained 370 grams of T4 (trimethyl trinitro amine). The explosives were arranged around an inner cone made from steel and a hollow front section. The rounded nose was a simple cap made from steel. The charge was detonated upon striking a hard target by means of an instantaneous fuze in the base of the projectile. This was the same type of fuze used in the Brixia mortar, although work on an armor-piercing shell for the Brixia was discontinued by 1941. The fuze would therefore almost certainly be of an all-aluminum construction like the Brixia M.1939 fuze.
The propelling gases could throw this small shell accurately out to a range of 80 meters in a flat trajectory and when fired in a high arc a maximum bombarding range of 250 meters. Armor penetration was by means of the shaped charge and was found to be able to defeat up to 70mm of armor on a test target consisting of plates of 30 and 40mm thick armor.
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60mm hollow charge shell. Source: Report 311

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60mm HEAT round for the weapon. Source: Modified by author to illustrate explosive filler

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Cross section of the 45mm Brixia shell showing fize system. Source: US Military Manual of enemy ammunition

Conclusion

The weapon never reached production status and the war had already progressed well past the point where even if it had been in mass production it would have made any effective difference. The war for the Axis was lost and this weapon was just one of innumerable lost prototypes and projects. It had no effect on the war but was a novel solution to the problem of a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon. The current location of this weapon handed to the Americans in 1944 is not known.
Specifications:
Calibre: 60mm
Length:
Weight: 7.8kg (unloaded)
Weight of shell: 0.85kg
Weight of explosives: 0.37kg
Anti-armor performance: 70mm
Range: up to 250 meters
Muzzle velocity: 60m/s

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Report 311 ‘Italian Anti-Tank Shoulder Weapon’, Major R. Fisher, US Army, Department of Commerce, 5th December 1944
Andare Contro i Carri Armati, Cappellano and Pignato
https://candrsenal.com
CEMSA 63.5mm Mortar Manual
War Office Pamphlet No.4 Handbook of Enemy Ammunition 1940
Unnamed US Military Manual on enemy ammunition circa 1942
Modern Firearms.net https://modernfirearms.net/en/grenade-launchers/italy-grenade-launchers/tromboncino-m28-eng/

Forgotten Weapons video of the Modello 1928 Tromboncino Grenade Launcher

Categories
AT weapons WWI German AT Guns

Mauser Tankgewehr M1918

German Empire (1918)
Anti-Tank Rifle – about 16,000 produced

In September 1916, the British unveiled their new weapon to the world – The Tank – which, while slow and mechanically unreliable, sent shockwaves through the ranks of the German military.
The first solution saw the Spitzgeschoss mit Kern, more commonly called the K Bullet, being issued in larger quantities. Originally, these steel core armored piercing bullets had been issued so that frontline units could tackle enemy pillboxes and armored bullet shields, but now they were turned against the British and French metal beasts that now stormed towards their trenches.
There is also debate in regards to the use of reverse bullets. As the name states, the bullet was in the casing backwards. This allowed a little more propellant and the theory was the blunt end wouldn’t break apart against the tank’s armor but cause it to distort and send spalling into the compartment. They weren’t always effective, could damage the rifle and once the British started upgrading, the bullet became useless.

The move towards anti-tank weapons

The Battles of Messines and Cambrai in 1917 saw mass deployments of the British Mark IV tank, which had improved armor protection over the Mk I. It soon became apparent that the K bullet was no longer effective in combating the armored fist of the Allies. Tanks were also not the only problem but the advancement of the airplane, from simple reconnaissance aircraft to better fighters and bombers, meant that there was a need for a large calibre weapon to deal with both.
In October 1917, the German Gewehr-Prüfungskommission (Rifle Testing Commission or G.P.K.) issued a directive to develop a machine gun chambered with a large calibre cartridge able to combat both tanks and aircraft. However, it would take a long time to develop both a suitable cartridge and a working machine gun. So, a suggestion was made to develop a rifle to help test the new ammunition as a stop-gap measure, which the Commission accepted. They then approached the Mauser company in November 1917 to develop such a rifle. At first, Mauser was having trouble deciding between a range of calibres from 13mm to 15mm. The decision was soon made for them by the Polte ammunition factory in Magdeburg. Polte had developed a 13.2mm hardened steel core round. The total length for this cartridge was 92mm and the case was semi-rimmed.
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Size comparison between the standard British .303 round (left) with the 13.2mm Tank und Flieger used in the Tankgewehr. Source: National Library of Scotland
To assist Mauser, a design officer was set up in Oberndorf am Neckar, and together they worked on developing the rifle which would become known as the Tankgewehr M1918.

Development

At this stage in the war, Germany was under increased economic strain and, as such, resources were rationed. To help give the project some speed, the German General Staff gave it the same resource priority rating as submarines. The decision was made to essentially upscale a Mauser 98 and, by January 1918, the first prototype was produced. On the 10th of May 1918, the gun was ready for full production. So, in only seven months a complete development project had taken place for not only a new type of firearm, but for the ammunition as well. By the end of the war, the Oberndorf am Neckar factory was producing 300 rifles per day and a total of about 16,000 were produced.
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Example of the Tankgewehr with bolt closed (above) and open (below), using the more commonly issued MG 08/15 bipod. Source: defencehorizon
As mentioned earlier, the Tankgewehr was essentially an upscaled Mauser Gewehr 98. However, there were some differences between this and the Gewehr 98. The first was that the stock was two piece rather than one piece. This was due to the manufacturing process but there are rare examples of one piece stocks. The second is the pistol grip. Because the weapon was so large, it would be not only uncomfortable but also impractical to have the user hold the gun in a traditional rifle style. The other differences are not so apparent. For example, the bolt, while being the standard Mauser action, was more akin to the Gewehr 88 rather than the 98 version. Also, because of the immense 13.2mm cartridge, the bolt required some additional safety features. It had three gas relief ports at the front of the bolt, as well as a reinforced cup area at the back of the bolt. This was intended to vent any high pressure gas away from the user in the event of a cartridge rupture or detonation. The bolt also featured four locking lugs, two at the rear and two at the front, instead of the traditional Mauser two at the front and one at the rear set up. The sight was scaled from 100 metres to 500 metres in 100 metres increments instead of the Gewehr 98’s 200 metres to 2,000 metres. This indicates the effective range against armored vehicles.
The first 300 or so models had a shorter but thicker 86.1 cm long barrel, weighing in at 16.6 kg unloaded and without bipod. These first 300 rifles also used standard Gewehr 98 2,000 meter sight and were known as ‘Kurz’. The rest of the models had a longer, but lighter 96 cm long barrel and the relatively light weight of 15.7 kg unloaded and without bipod.
Originally, the bipod was just the MG 08/15 bipod. This was made from bent sheet metal but this was found to be inadequate to the task and so a specially designed welded tube steel angled bipod was created. This meant that instead of having the gun sink into the mud and needing to be reset after each shot, it could fire a couple of rounds before needing to be realigned. The advantage to having the same mounting plate as the MG08/15 was it could essentially go wherever the MG went.
The overall development and setup cost was around ℳ700,000 Marks and each individual rifle cost ℳ1,000 Marks to produce.
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A Tankgewehr mounted on an MG08/15 cart being looked on by Canadian soldiers during the advance East of Arras. September 1918. Source: Canadian Archives
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Arras, September 1918 – Captured Guns. You can see a couple T-Gewehrs propped up Source: Canadian Archives
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Amiens August 1918 – Canadian troops examine captured rifle. Source Canadian national archives

TankGewehr1918
Tank Gewehr 1918 Illustration by Tanks Encyclopedia’s David Bocquelet

Active Service

The guns were issued at a rate of 2 or 3 per Regiment and the first ones were assigned to the areas most likely to face tanks (thanks to reconnaissance or intelligence). A special anti-tank group was created and attached to the Regimental HQ. Each gun would be crewed by two men, the gunner and the loader/spotter. Together, they would typically carry 132 rounds split between three 20 round leather bags and a 72 round box. These men were chosen for their bravery as well as their stature, to allow for more effective use of the weapon. When a tank attack was in progress, the 2 or 3 guns would then be sent to the main line of resistance and wait until the tank was within 300 metres or so to engage.
The Tankgewehr was not a one-shot kill weapon but was meant to be used in conjunction with other Tankgewehrs, as well as machine guns and riflemen using K-bullets. The Tankgewehr operators were taught to fire at the areas of the tank that contained either crew members or vital equipment like the fuel tank or engine. The German General Staff published a 3 page illustrated leaflet based upon several tests they conducted titled, “Merkblatt für Tankbekämpfung : (Kleiner englischer Tank)”. In it, it advised that the Tankgewehr guns fire at the machine gunners, drivers or fuel tank placements in order to render the tank inoperable and defenseless to grenade-wielding anti-tank teams.
However, the Tankgewehr didn’t need to penetrate in order to achieve its goal. Tanks of 1918 were built from riveted armored plates and hitting them with enough force could cause buckling, rivets to pop, as well as spalling. These things could cause damage to components and crew members alike and force the tank to stop or at least slow down, making it easier to be targeted by more powerful weapons.

A splatter mask issued to tank crews to help minimise damage from spalling and shrapnel. Source: Royal Armoury Museum, Leeds
The weapon was also installed in a handful of captured Mark IV Female tanks. To give the tank more hitting power against other tanks, BAKP 20 worked out a method to mount the Tankgewher in either the sponsons or bow MG mounts. An unknown number were issued in late Autumn 1918.
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This photo was taken at B.A.K.P.20 and shows the installation of a T-Gewehr in the ball mount of the bow machine gun of a Mark IV tank. The installation was held in place by large springs and could easily and quickly be removed to enable a Lewis gun to be remounted to attack infantry targets rather than enemy tanks. Source: Rainer Strasheim Collection Tankograd Beute-tanks
When the war was over, the Treaty of Versailles forbid Germany from owning the rifle. This saw thousands destroyed but many thousands were sent to various nations as part of reparations (for example, the Belgians received a few thousand). The Republic of China purchased several from FN Herstal as T18, these were used during the Warlord time and so even appeared during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Many nations sent the Tankgewehr to their research and development departments and soon other Anti-Tank rifles started to appear in the 1920’s that looked similar to the Tankgewehr. A very good example is the Swedish Pansarvärnsgevär m/21 and the Polish Karabin przeciwpancerny wzór 35 is a prime example of this copying.

Performance

The Tankgewehr wasn’t the first use of large calibre rifles on the Battlefields of World War One, as many nations put civilian produced ‘Elephant guns’ on the front lines to help combat sniper shields and pillboxes. It also wasn’t the first large calibre weapon deployed against tanks, as the Germans pushed trench mortars firing at a flat trajectory or field guns into an anti-tank role. But it was the first purpose-built large calibre weapon designed specifically to combat tanks.
The rifle fired an armor-piercing steel-cored bullet weighing 51.5 g at 780 m/s. This 13.2mm Tank und Flieger round could penetrate 15mm of armored plate at 300 metres. Also, even if it failed to penetrate, the impact could create spalling and damage inside the tank.
The Tankgewehr wasn’t a game changer on the battlefield but it did have an impact on a tactical level. There were several after action reports that credit the Tankgewehr with injuring or killing crew members and making the tank combat ineffective. It allowed the Germans to create Anti-Tank groups that could work together and thus help stall an enemy advance.
While the Tankgewehr was deployed on the frontlines and was the first Anti-Tank Rifle, we need to remember that it was a stop-gap measure until the MG 18 TuF was in full production. It also had a few downsides, like the lack of any recoil management, the unpadded stock and lack of a muzzle break meant the full force of every shot went through the user. This lead to a joke that you could fire the Tankgewehr twice per man, one for each shoulder. The reality was that users complained of headaches, temporary deafness, nausea, stiff neck and bruising/dislocated shoulders. Also, the single shot system meant that it had a slow rate of fire, put at around 10 rpm for a well trained crew.
Despite everything, it was a pioneer in a new form a warfare that arose out of the muddy trenches of the Western Front and would go on to inspire many other similar designs that can be still seen today in our Anti-Material rifles.
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Tankgewehr M1918 with the purpose built bipod. Source: Imperial War Museum

Specifications

– Caliber: 13.2mm
– Barrel length: 960mm
– Overall length: 16910 mm
– Weight in firing position: 18.5 kg (with the purpose built Tankgewehr bipod)
– Height when in firing position: 260 mm
– Width: 80 mm
– Practical ROF: 10 r.p.m.
– Muzzle velocity: 780 m/s
– Max. Range: 500 m
– Practical range: 300 m

Links, Resources & Further Reading

“Im Zeichen des „Tankdrachen“. Die Kriegführung an der Westfront 1916-1918 im Spannungsverhältnis zwischen Einsatz eines neuartigen Kriegsmittels der Alliierten und deutschen Bemühungen um seine Bekämpfung”
by Alexander Fasse
Iron Fist: Classic Armoured Warfare Case Studies by Bryan Perrett
On royalarmouries.org
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Comparison between the Tankgewehr (left) and the British standard firearm, the SMLE. Source: National Library of Scotland

Categories
AT weapons WW2 German AT Weapons

7.5 cm PaK 40

Germany (1942-45)
Standard AT gun – Approx. 20,000 built

Backbone of the German Anti-Tank Corps

The Wehrmacht was always trying to stay ahead of the arms race that had developed in the 1930s. Whilst the 3.7cm Pak 36 anti-tank gun had acquitted itself very well during the Spanish Civil War, it was thought that an upgraded version was needed in order to stay ahead of the gun-armor spiral. Rheinmetall-Borsig AG was asked to improve upon their original design. What they came up with was the 5cm Pak 38 with a L/60 barrel (a barrel 60 calibers in length), which met approval for production in 1939. However, soon after the factories geared up for production, the German military became aware of newer tank designs by the Soviets (thanks in part to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) and therefore ordered an upgunning of the Pak 38.

The Design

Originally, Rheinmetall wanted to just change the barrel of the previous Pak 38 but, because the Luftwaffe was given priority for lightweight alloys, the design also needed to be changed. As a result, a new carriage was developed using all steel construction.The gun’s traditional split trail was supported by torsion springs and, like the Pak 38, a third wheel could be attached to the trail spades for easier manhandling. For ease of production and economic use of resources, the curved gun shield of the Pak 38 was dropped and replaced with a more angular twin plate shield.
The gun was equipped with a L/46 barrel with a larger double-baffled muzzle brake. The gun mechanism was of the ‘horizontal sliding breech block semi-automatic variety’” which allowed for a more rapid rate of fire, as the previous shell was expanded and the breach was left open for the next shot. Because of the weight and size, the gun was seen as a motorized piece and was equipped with solid rubber tires which allowed it to take the harsh punishment of the frontlines. If the need arose, it could be used in an indirect fire role.


Photos: Wikimedia Commons
The above pictures are of a horizontal sliding semi-automatic breech block. The operating handle is pulled to the opening position, this pushed the block to the side (to the right in the case of the PaK 40) and then a shell is pushed into the breach. The operating handle is then pushed to close the breach and make the gun ready to fire. The layer of the gun would then press the trigger on his elevating handwheel triggering the gun. The recoil would then reopen and eject the spent shell casing and recock the mechanism. This then allows for a new shell to be pushed into the breach, which would then close automatically without the need to touch the operating handle.
The sights were the standard ZF 3 x 8 (3 x magnification, 8-degree field of view) that equipped Anti-Tank (AT) guns of the German military, but it was an improvement over the earlier ZF 3 x 8’s (as used on Pak 38’s) in that it had an upgraded reticule which allowed for better leading of targets, and better degrees of accuracy.
Overall, the cost was 12,000 Reichmarks (RM) per unit (approximately $48,940 in 2017), which was a significant leap over the 8,000 RM (approximately $32,625 in 2017) of the Pak 38. It also required 2200 man hours and 6 months production time per unit.

On the Frontlines

Originally, the Pak 36 and 38 were performing adequately enough that the Pak 40 project was not seen as a necessity. However, once Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the Soviet Union) began and the German military encountered the heavily armored KV-1 and steeply angular T-34, the Pak 38 struggled to penetrate except at point blank ranges. The Pak 40 was speedily pushed into high gear and the first pre-production models were ready in November 1941. These initial models proved their worth on the Eastern Front and approval was given for production. By the end of 1942, over 1,300 Pak 40s were on the frontlines. It was decided in 1943 to make it the standard AT gun in German service. It was so successful that by the end of the war about 23,000 had been produced and supplied to over 9 countries.

PaK 40 and crew in action in France, 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv
The vast majority of PaK 40’s (about 20,000) served within the German military. It saw action first on the Eastern Front, where its high-velocity armor-piercing shells easily penetrated most Soviet armor encountered. By the beginning of 1943, the PaK 40 had become the core of the Wehrmacht anti-tank arm. It saw service on all fronts that Germany was fighting, from North Africa and Italy, from France to the Eastern Front.
Finland received 210 PaK 40’s in 1943-1944. They were used to replace the existing obsolete AT guns in their inventory (like the 37mm Bofors) and were assigned at a divisional level. It was put to effective use on the Karelian Isthmus during the Soviet Summer Offensive of 1944, where it could be dug in and ranged to previously designated killing zones. The Finnish military kept the gun in service until 1986.

Finnish PaK 40 on the Summa front, 1944. Photo: SA Kuva
Other German allies such as Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary also received small numbers of the Pak 40 guns but these were of limited use as the tides of war had turned against them and they soon found themselves surrendering before they could press any numbers of the gun into service.
The Soviet Red Army was also impressed by the performance of the PaK 40 and would often put captured versions directly into service.
In 1955 the USSR sent a small number of captured PaK 40s to North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese Army used them in a coastal defense role at the Red River Corridor until they were retired in 1972.

Specifications:

– Caliber: 75 mm
– Barrel length: L/46 or 3.45 m
– Rifling: 32 grooves, right-hand increasing twist, 1/24 to 1/18.
– Weight in firing position: 1,425 kilograms (the US M5 was 2,210kg, the British 17 pounder was 3,034kg and the Soviet ZiS-3 was 1,116kg)
– Height: 1.25 metres (the US M5 was 1.62m, the British 17 pounder was 1.6m and the Soviet ZiS-3 was 1.37m)
– Length with the carriage: 6.2 metres
– Length: 3.70 metres
– Width: 2.0 metres
– Traverse: 65°
– Elevation: -5° to + 22°
– Max, ROF: 14 r.p.m.
– Effective firing range: 1.8 km
– Maximum indirect firing range: 7.678 km (HE shell)

Penetration Figures

Heereswaffenamt documents give the following statistics for the penetration values of the PaK 40 (all against 60-degree angle):-

Pzgr. 39

– 100 metres = 99mm
– 500 metres = 91mm
– 1000 metres = 81mm

Pzgr. 40

– 100 metres = 126mm
– 500 metres = 108mm
– 1000 metres = 87mm


The standard 7.5 cm PaK 40 on its towed mount.

7.5cm PaK 40 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO)

The Sdkfz. 234/4 “PaK-wagon” mounting the 7.5 cm PaK.

The Sd.Kfz.251/22 7.5cm PaK 40 L/46 auf Mittlerer Schützenpanzerwagen.
These illustrations are by Tank Encylopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Performance

The PaK 40 remained relevant until the end of the war, being able to pierce the armor of almost any Allied tank. Its standard ammunition was the Panzergranate 39 (PzGr. 39) Armored Piercing, Capped, Ballistic Cap (APCBC) which fired at a velocity of 790 m/s, and was capable of penetrating the armor of the Soviet KV-1 tank at 500 meters. It also had the Panzergranate 40 (PzGr. 40) Armor Piercing, Composite Rigid (APCR) shell which had a tungsten core with a muzzle velocity of 990 m/s but these became more scarce as the sources of tungsten dried up.
The gun would be crewed by 5 men, but if the situation required, the entire gun could be operated by just a single soldier. The rate of fire by a trained crew was 14 rounds per minute but on average the rate of fire was a respectable 11 rpm. Each gun would form one part of a platoon (3 guns) which in turn would form one part of a battery (3 platoons). These would be motorized, towed by Sd.Kfz.7, 8 or 11’s, and supported by a signals and HQ platoons, and would be assigned at a divisional level for command and control. The normal distribution would see each platoon being attached to one of the division’s three infantry regiments.

Dug-in and camouflaged PaK 40 with a full crew in Italy 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv
The introduction of the PaK 40 meant that the tactics of the Panzerjäger needed to be changed. Originally, the small size and mobility of the anti-tank guns allowed them to be near the front lines and their small size and lower silhouette meant they were easier to camouflage and harder to spot. The PaK 40’s 1.25 metre height made it harder to conceal and the heavyweight meant that moving it without the aid of a vehicle was laborious and slow. This forced the PaK 40 to be deployed further away from the front lines and thus be less effective in a defensive role, and it also meant it was more at risk of flanking once an enemy force broke through as it would be unsupported.
Despite all the advantages of the PaK 40, one of the biggest disadvantages was its weight, weighing in at 1,425 kilograms. This made any kind of manhandling impossible and the net result of this was many guns and crews were lost as the enemy advanced, for example, the Finns had lost 60 of their 210 guns by the end of the Soviet Summer offensive of 1944. This meant that each gun had to carefully put into position, dug in and then supported by infantry and have its tractors nearby so a quick getaway could follow if and when needed.
It remained, though, at the forefront of German defense as the Allies swept into Germany. Its lower profile in comparison to its contemporaries, coupled with the advantages of the defender, allowed it to cause many casualties amongst the armored corps of the advancing Allied forces.

The Spin-Offs

The PaK 40 was seen as such a success that it saw itself turned into a tank gun, both in an unmodified and modified form. The modified form was given the designation 7.5 cm KwK 40 (7.5cm Kampfwagenkanone 40) or 7.5cm StuK 40 (7.5cm Sturmkanone 40) depending on if it was mounted into a tank or an assault gun respectively. The modification also saw its barrel length either cut down to 43 calibers or lengthened to 48 calibers.The L43 version was put into the first 120 Sturmgeschütz III Ausf.F as well as the Panzer IV from the Ausf.F2 to the first 1,200 models of the Ausf. G. The L48 version was then used on all the remaining StuG III’s, as well as all the StuG IVs. It also equipped all remaining later variants of the Panzer IV.

A Panzer IV Ausf. J of 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitlerjugend” in Belgium 1943. Photo: Bundesarchiv
It was also used in a slightly modified form on the Marder series of tank hunters. These were a solution to the issues of mobility and anti-tank performance currently lacking in the Wehrmacht. The Marder I used the captured French Lorraine 37L tractor, the Marder II used the obsolete Panzer II chassis and the Marder III was based upon the Czech Panzer 38(t). All these designs were very simple conversions to make, essentially placing the Pak 40 onto the chassis and building the fighting compartment around it. Some modification occurred, as in the PaK 40 armed Marder II’s that had a modified shield. The increased mobility allowed the Marders to keep up with Panzer units or be rushed from reserve to where they were needed. Despite having flaws, like a cramped fighting compartment, high silhouette, and limited gun traverse, these interim tank destroyers performed very well against their opponents.
During the later stages of the war, many experimental or ad-hoc anti-tank designs were produced. One of the more ‘standard’ designs was the 7.5cm PaK 40 L/46 auf Mittlerer Schützenpanzerwagen. This took the Sd.Kfz.251 half-track and bolted the PaK 40 to the top of it. In this configuration, it could take 22 rounds and gave some much needed anti-tank capability to divisional reconnaissance units. Despite being favored by those at the top (Hitler gave his approval and priority for the design in late 1944), it did suffer from being now too heavy and that the recoil of the gun was too powerful for the chassis. This meant that whilst it could sit in prearranged positions, take a shot and scoot, it was also susceptible to mechanical failure caused by the firing.
Probably the strangest use of the PaK 40 was the 7.5cm Pak 40 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO). This strange little vehicle highlighted the desperate need by the German High Command for mobile anti-tank guns. The RSO was occasionally used as a prime mover for the PaK 40 and experiments were conducted to house the PaK within the vehicle itself and unload it to a position but this idea was soon scrapped due to various issues. In 1943, it was considered making a permanent fixture of the PaK 40 on a 360-degree mount and, coupled with the cross-country performance of the tractor, this made for a mobile and hard-hitting AT platform. It did see deployment on the Eastern Front in early 1944 but it did not garner a great reputation and earned the nickname of “Rollender Sarg Ost”, a play on the RSO abbreviation. It translates to “rolling coffin east”.
As mention in a previous section, Hungary was one of the countries to acquire the gun. Hungary bought the production license of the PaK 40, who would have produced the gun under the name of ‘7,5 cm 40 M. páncéltörő ágyú’. Only a handful of prototypes were manufactured before the end of the Second World War, however. Two of these were used as the main armaments of the 43M. Turán III medium tank and 44M. Zrínyi I assault gun prototypes.

Armored Vehicles Equipped With the PaK 40

7.5cm PaK 40 auf Raupenschlepper Ost (RSO)
– 7.5cm PaK 40 L/46 auf Mittlerer Schützenpanzerwagen
– 7.5cm PaK 40 (Sf) auf Geschützwagen FCM (f)
_ 7.5cm PaK 40/1 (Sf) auf Geschutzwagen 39H (f)
Jagdpanzer IV
Marder I auf Geschutzwagen Lorraine Schlepper (f)
Marder II Sd.Kfz.131
– Marder III Sd.Kfz. 138
Panzerkampfwagen IV (Ausf. F2 onwards)
Sd.Kfz.234/4
Sturmgeschütz III (Ausf. F onwards)
Sturmgeschütz IV

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Panzerjäger vs KV-1 Eastern Front 1941-43 by Robert Forczyk: Osprey Publishing
Volume 1 Number 11 Intelligence Bulletin July 1943 Military Intelligence Service War Department Section V pg 38- 41
German Artillery at War 1939-45 Volume 1 by Frank De Sisto: Concord Publications
Panzerjäger German Anti-Tank Battalions of World War II by W. Davis: Almark Publishing Co. Ltd.
On Jaegerplatoon.net
On Panzerworld.comOn wwiiafterwwii

Categories
AT weapons WW2 Swedish AT Weapons

37mm Bofors Anti-Tank Gun

Sweden (1935)
Anti-tank gun

The origins to the 37mm Bofors come from 1921 when the Bofors company put together a prototype anti-tank gun for trails. By using Krupp designs, they worked upon producing an Anti-Tank gun in several calibers (37mm, 47mm, 75mm), however, they didn’t get much interest and the project was shelved.
In 1931 the Royal Swedish Arms Commission then issued a directive for a 37mm anti-tank gun that could deliver a 700g projectile at 800 m/s. Bofors experimented with the design and concluded that the gun would have to weigh 800kg to be effective enough. This was soon negated when Harald Jentzen, Swedish Arms Chief of Ordnance, and his team came up with a new perforated muzzle brake. Bofors applied the brake to the gun and managed to produce a prototype in 1932 weighing only 370kg.




The initial trials were promising, the gun could penetrate 20mm of RHA at 1000 meters at 30 degrees. It could also be broken down into 11 separate pieces allowing for transportation by pack mules, sledges or even the gun crew themselves. The barrel was the heaviest piece at 43kg with the other pieces typically being 30kg. The only drawback the trials revealed was the slow rate of fire but this was soon solved by adding a special tensioning rack to the actuator spring and thereby allow the gun to become semi-automatic (i.e. the breach opened and ejected the shell casing after firing).
The final design was a monobloc barrel on a split tail carriage with metal framed rubber wheels mounted on suspension to allow towing by vehicles and protected by a 5mm thick shield with a lower folding plate. The required time for the gun to be brought into action was no more than 30 seconds. The product was put into development in 1934.
Like its British cousin, the QF 2 Pounder AT gun, it was also employed as the main tank gun in various designs like the Finnish Vickers 6 ton, the Polish 7TP and Swedish Stridsvagn L-60.

A Finnish produced Bofors. Notice the straight lined gun shield.

Active Service

The first Bofors to be brought into service was in the Netherlands, which bought 12 in 1935 and soon after many other countries in Europe bought it and the license, including Poland, Finland, Britain, and Denmark.
The Netherlands took the first 12 and then ordered another 24 and put them all on their armored cars. The Swedish produced Landsverk L180s and L181s and the home produced M39 Pantserwagen. A handful of M39s were deployed against the German invasion in 1940 and engaged in skirmishes with the invaders. They were later used by the Germans in France and on the Leningrad Front.
Spanish Republicans seem to have bought between 20-30 Bofors during the Civil War to help boost their anti-tank capability. This was the first combat action of the Bofors and it acquitted itself very well against the mixed Nationalist armored forces of Panzer Is, T-26s and CV.33s.
Poland bought 300 guns, designated wz.36, from Sweden from 1936 to 1939. They also acquired the license to build the gun in Poland, of which over a 1,000 were built by the SMPzA (Stowarzyszenie Mechaników Polskich z Ameryki) company. When the Germans invaded in September 1939, the Poles had more than 1,200 guns on their lists. They were used to great effect against the invading German panzers, especially at the Battle of Mokra, where the gun accounted for dozens of German tanks and thus helped secure a Polish victory.
SMPzA also produced a turreted model, designated wz.37, which was placed on the 7TP JW and the 9TP and 10TP prototypes. The 7TP JW equipped the 1st and 2nd Light Tank Battalions and were mobilized at the outbreak of war. These units were used as a mobile reserve, helping to bolster the defenses of the Polish units and covering the withdrawal to other positions. They did perform well against their German counterparts but were not in any number to influence the outcome of the war. During the Piotrków assault, the 2nd Light Tank Battalion claimed several German tanks for only the loss of two of theirs but overall the assault failed and the tanks were pulled back. Most of the tanks were either destroyed or scuttled by the time of the Warsaw Defence and the remaining 22 tanks (out of original 108) were formed into two companies and used as a shoring up and counter attacking unit. By the end of the war, only around 40 remained.
Finland was the country that cemented the reputation of the Bofors guns. After trials, the Bofors was accepted as the new standard anti-tank gun of the Finnish military in October 1938. The license was bought and two factories were set up with an initial order of 156 guns. Fifty more were ordered from Sweden between 1938 and 1939. However, because of problems with setting up the factories and delivering, Finland only had 98 guns when the Soviet Union invaded in November 1939 (this was very far from the number originally envisioned of 2 guns per battalion). Finland acquired another 124 (some coming from Sweden, the rest being produced in Finland) during the course of the conflict but lost 60 in the war. However, the gun performed very well against the Soviet tanks, especially the lighter armored T-26s and BTs. When Finland joined Germany in the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (called the ‘Continuation War’ in Finland) the Bofors was starting to struggle against the newer Soviet tanks and was soon being replaced by more powerful guns. Finland kept them in service though as infantry support guns until 1986 thanks to its portability, high rate of fire and good high explosive round.
Denmark adopted the Bofors in 1937 and acquired the license to produce their own version; the 37mm Fodfolkskanon m1937. One was deployed against the German invasion in April 1940 where it performed bravely, disabling 3 tanks before its crew was incapacitated.
Romania bought 556 former Polish guns from their new German Allies at the end of 1940. Most of these saw service with Romanian units during Operation Barbarossa where they were soon relegated to infantry support guns in the face of superior Soviet Armour like the T-34 and KV-1. Most were lost during the Romanian retreat in 1943.
Sweden didn’t adopt the gun until 1937, as the 37 mm Infanterikanon m/34 and the 37 mm Pansarvärnskanon m/38, as their main anti-tank weapon and equipped every infantry battalion with a 2 gun anti-tank platoon. They also donated and sold over 100 guns to Finland during the Winter War (7 guns were brought by the Svenska frivilligkåren, Swedish Volunteer Corps when they arrived in early 1940). They also acquired 13 Finnish made Bofors in late 1940, which they designated 37 mm pansarvärnskanon m/38 F. They also employed it as a tank gun, 37 mm Kanon m/38 Stridsvagn, which became the standard armament for the Stridsvagn L-60S\III and S\V light tanks and the Stridsvagn m/41.
The United Kingdom also used the Bofors thanks to an acquisition by the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Government from Sweden. After Dunkirk, the British were lacking their main anti-tank gun, the 2 Pounder, and the British mainland stripped many from their operational units abroad (including those in the Western Desert). To make up for this shortfall, the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan Government offered up their Bofors to the Desert Forces, where they became Ordnance Q.F. 37 mm Mk 1, and were mainly employed by 3rd and 106th Royal Horse Artillery Regiments. They were mainly deployed ’portee’ by British trucks and were very effective throughout the Desert campaign.
The Soviet Union also utilized captured versions of the Bofors, thanks to their invasion of Poland. Most of them were taken into depots in the rear of the Soviet lines only to be ’dusted’ off and brought into frontline use due to the heavy losses in the early stages of Operation Barbarossa.


Illustration of the Bofors 37 mm by David Bocquelet

The sole Danish Bofors that saw action during the Invasion of Denmark, 9th of April 1940, two of the crew were later killed.
British Bofors of the 3rd RHA on parade in 1941.

Performance

When the 37mm Bofors first graced the world scene in the mid-30s, it was one of the best anti-tank guns in existence. It could penetrate the armor of almost any tank currently in service. It was also designed for motorization, which allowed it to be better utilized by motorized units rather than some of its contemporaries. However, it could still be towed by horse (the Finnish often employed a one-horse limber for their guns) and in dire circumstances, it could be pulled/pushed by pure manpower. The unofficial longest range record for taking out a tank with this gun occurred during the Battle of Taipale in 1940 when the 7th AT-detachment destroyed a T-37A that was crossing over the ice of Lake Ladoga at a range of 1,700 meters.
It was well loved by those who used it, thanks to its high rate of fire and good ammunition. Even once it had become obsolete as an anti-tank gun in late 1941/early 1942, it still performed very well as an Infantry support gun being used to great effect against defensive positions and infantry formations.

Specifications

Caliber: 37mm
Barrel length: 45 Cal. or 1 736 mm (incl. muzzle brake)
Weight in firing position: 370 kg
Height of barrel in firing position: 625 mm
Gun height: 1 030 mm
Width: 1 090 mm
Traverse: 26°
Elevation: – 10° , + 25°
Max. ROF: 30 r.p.m.
Practical ROF: 12 r.p.m.
Muzzle velocity: 830 m/s
Max. range: 4.5 km
Max. practical range vs. tank: 0.9 km
Max. practical range vs. inf.position:1.5 km
The Finnish Army manual gives the following statistics for the penetration values of the 37mm Bofors (all against 60-degree angle):-
300 metres = 40mm penetration
500 metres = 33mm penetration
1000 metres = 18mm penetration

An anti-tank platoon crossing Lake Kiiskisenjärvi in August 1941. Photo: SA Kuva

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Finland at War: The Winter War 1939-40 – Vesa Nenye, Peter Munter & Toni Wirtanen
British and American Artillery of World War Two – Ian V Hogg
On jeagerplatoon.net

Categories
AT weapons WW2 Japanese AT Weapons

Type 97 Autocannon

20mm Antitank Rifle
Imperial Japanese Army – 500 built.

Design and active history :

The lack of Japanese antitank weapons is a well documented historical fact. However, many AT weapons types were conceived and manufactured, ranging from converted AA guns as antitank, to smaller infantry types like this one : The Type 97 Kyuunana-shiki jidouho. It was basically a scaled-up heavy machine-gun developed in 1937 by the imperial arsenal, firing 20mm ammunition. The muzzle velocity was sufficient against most lightly armored objectives and vehicles, like M3 and M5 light tanks on the rear or sides and most British light tanks. However medium allied tanks proved immune to this. Technically it was gas operated, full automatic only weapon, using two gas pistons located below the barrel.
Firing was from open bolt position, in full automatic mode, and to reduce the violent recoil, the barrel was buffeted by a large spring and the head fitted with a muzzle brake. Feeding was for top-mounted 7-rounds detachable box magazines. The Type 97 was probably one of the heaviest AT infantry rifle ever built, and came with a pair of U-shaped carrying handles. It could be also mounted and protected by its own 8mm thick armored shield, but was usually carried and operated by a crew of three, posted while using a bipod, elevated and firmly planted in the ground using the third butt adjustable monopod. The type 97 served later as a technical basis for the development of the Ho-1 and Ho-3 AA guns. Read more about the 97 Japanese AT rifle.

Type97 AT Rifle
Type 97 AT Rifle, fitted with a tripod and fired in a crouched position.

Technical data :

  • Weight & Dimensions: Weight unloaded 50 kg; Length 2100 mm (Barrel 1250mm)
  • Performances: Muzzle Velocity: 750 m/s (2,460 ft/s) Penetration 30mm/250m; Rate of Fire: 12 rpm
  • Ammo: Caliber 20×125; 7-rounds magasine.
Categories
AT weapons WW2 British AT Weapons

Ordance QF 2 Pounder

Standard AT gun – UK.
About 12,000 built 1936-44.

The main British Antitank gun

From 1935, the Ordnance QF 2-pounder was the staple Anti-Tank weapon used by the British Army, throughout the Empire. It only started to be replaced in 1942 as the 6-Pounder became available. However, its history was unusual for the time. It began as a specially designed gun for a tank, the Cruiser Mk.I, and as such, had to be compact, light, and fast to reload. At a time of budgetary cuts, the Director of Artillery chose it in 1934 also as the main AT gun for the infantry, mainly for standardization purposes. The three-legged mount construction was attributed to Woolwich Arsenal.

General Conception :

Vickers won the contract for Ordnance QF 2-pounder Mark IX on Carriage Mark I, and a few prototypes were assembled and tested in 1936-37. The carriage was innovative, with a combination of small road wheels and legs, one of which, at the rear was also used as a towing tail, and the two on the front, shorter, were folded up for transport. When deployed, the wheels were lifted up and the three legs platform formed a strong support on all types of grounds, also allowing the mount a 360 degree traverse.
A second Mk.II carriage, simplified for mass production, included fully removable road wheels. Both the caliber and rate of fire of the 2-Pdr (a 40mm caliber) outperformed the German Pak 36 and similar 37mm guns in foreign armies. However, it was bigger, taller, heavier and thus easier to hit and slower to deploy. Also no HE round was never provisioned for it, despite such round was studied in 1940 but never materialized int production.

The QF 2-Pdr in action

The Ordnance 2 Pounder found itself the only AT gun of the British army from 1939 to 1942 at least, when the 6-Pdr was introduced on the frontline. It saw action for most of the war in many theaters of operations with the Commonwealth armies, in France, Italy, Norway, North Africa, Eastern Africa, India, the Eastern Indies, and New guinea, not only as a standard infantry AT gun, but mounted on a variety of vehicles.
However in North Africa against up-armoured Panzer III and IV it proved useless but only at short range on vulnerable spots, and the situation would come to worsen over time. However, it was found adequate on the southern Pacific and eastern Indies against weekly protected Japanese tanks. Whoolwich’s only began to replace it by the spring of 1942. Both the range and efficiency of the ammunition used were improved in the meantime.
One improvement made to the gun was the adoption of the Little John Adapter on 2-Pounder Tank Guns. This adapter worked on the Squeeze Bore principal and fired a special APCNR (Armor-Piercing Composite Non-Rigid) high-velocity shell. It almost doubled the armor piercing capability of the weapon and would see service until the end of the war on vehicles such as the Daimler Armored Car.

AFVS Equipped with a 2 Pounder

The High-Explosive Controversy

It has long been thought that the 2-Pounder gun was never equipped with High-Explosive (HE) shells, this is not the case however. HE was available to the 2-Pounder gun, but British military thinking was that firing Explosive Shells was the job of the Artillery. As such, towed 2-Pounder crews deployed by the Royal Artillery were equipped with HE ammunition, but Tanks, designed for infantry support such as the Matilda II, were not equipped with them.
The 2-pounder actually had two types of exploding shell produced for it, namely the 1934 – 1937 pattern APHE shell and the HE fragmentation shell. The shell weighed 1.87 Pounds and used the Hotchkiss base fuse Mark IV. The shell is a blunt-nosed serrated cylinder made of cast iron designed to strike the ground and pitch back into the air then explode, scattering fragments into enemy infantry and animals such as horses.
This shell was used by tanks of the BEF in France 1940 but although available in North Africa, was out of favor with crews preferring to stock their ammo racks with AP ammunition. However, anti-tank units always carried a supply for deterring infantry assaults against them.
The 1934 -1937 pattern APHE shell was produced before trials of the 2 Pounder gun took place but failed to meet the War Department’s specifications of being able to have a 70% (7 in 10) probability of penetrating 14mm. of vertical face hardened rolled homogeneous armor plate (Vickers “Vibrax” at a range of 500 yards.
In tests the Hotchkiss Mark.IV. base mounted fuse either fell out in the barrel during firing or fell out when the shell hit the test target despite the actual unexploded shell actually penetrating. In other instances, when the fuse stated in the shell would explode with no or partial penetration.
Because of this, the British Army elected to dispense with APHE ammunition from 1937 to the present day. Maximum penetration was 48mm. at 100 yards versus vertical FHRHA as live APHE and 59mm. at 100 yards versus vertical FHRHA fired inert/unfilled. 562,000 were produced between 1934 and 1937, none were fired in combat or even issued. Instead, stocks were used up on firing ranges in the UK for training and issued to home defense anti-tank units during 1940 after Dunkirk.
Information Provided by A. Reid, a former employee of The Tank Museum, Bovington

P2-pdr AT gun
The standard 1939 2-pounder was the main infantry antitank weapon in service with the BEF in may-june 1940.
A 2 Pounder Anti-tank Gun Carrier
A 2 Pounder Anti-tank Gun Carrier (Universal Carrier) used by Australian forces in North Africa, 1941.
Chevrolet 32 CWT 2pdr portee
Chevrolet 30 CWT (WA/WB) 2pdr portee, the same type used by the LRDG in North Africa. This was a widespread solution, also declined on the Morris 15 cwt truck, CMP Ford F30 or Chevrolet C30, until the US-supplied lend-lease M10 tank hunter made them obsolete.

A British Army illustration of the 2 Pounder gun.

A Royal Artillery towed 2 Pounder gun, in service in North Africa. Source: – militaryfactory.com

Ammunitions :

    • AP/T Mk.I : (Armour Piercing, Tracer) total weight: 2.04 kgs, Muzzle velocity: 792 m/s. – Arm. Penetration 457m (500yds) 37mm
    • APHV/T : (with increased charge). total weight: 2.04 kg Muzzle velocity: 853 m/s – Arm. Penetration 457m (500yds) 54mm
    • AP/CNR : (Armour-piercing, composite non-rigid*), 1.9 kg?, muzzle velocity 1280 m/s (Mk.II 1189 m/s)- Arm. Penetration 457m (500yds) 53.5mm

*Using Littlejohn adaptator

Characteristics :

  • Weight (full gear): 814 kgs (1790 ibs)
  • Dimensions (L* overall) : 2m/2,08m L50/L52 (6.10/6.70 fts)
  • Crew : 3-5 : Commander, gunner, loader, suppliers/servants
  • Shell : 2-pdr (40mm) 40×304 mm (1.57in)
  • Elevation/Traverse : -13° +15°/360°
  • Rate of fire : 22 rpm
  • Muzzle velocity : 792 m/s (2,600 ft/s) with AP shot
  • Effective range : 915m (1000 yds)
  • Max range : 1000m (1093 yds)

*barrel only. Around 3m total with the three-legs platform carriage.

Links & Resources:

The 2-pdr on Wikipedia
Osprey Publishing, New vanguard #98, British Anti-Tank Artillery 1939-45

Categories
AT weapons WW2 Soviet AT Weapons

PTRD-41

14.5 mm AT rifle – Soviet Army
about 5000 built.

Design and history :

By 1940 the Russian Army possessed no AT rifle whatsoever. When meeting the Polish armed with the wz.35, a simple lengthened 7.9mm rifle, they found a weapon that had capabilities against their armored cars and thinly armored tanks. Many were captured, and Soviet engineer Vasily Degtyaryov developed a custom-built rifle copying its lock and bolt-action mechanism, as well as some featured of the German Panzerbüchse 38. When the war broke off with Germany in July 1941, he was ordered to produce thousands of them in a record time. The design was even more simplified for the task, and an unknown quantity was delivered to the Red Army. What is certain is this weapon was the most current Soviet antitank weapon in service.
The design was simple indeed, it was strictly utilitarian and made with few pieces in order to be cheap and fast to produce with few skills. A single, 1.35 m (6.4 in) barrel tube recoiled within the stock itself, opened the breech and ejected the cartridge on the move. Then the user introduced a new cartridge, and secure the lock by pushing the bolt, like in any standard rifle. There was no magazine. The user handled the rifle through two pistol grip and the recoil was absorbed partially by a simple muzzle brake and the shoulder stock. There was also a carrying handle for transport, placed on the balance point -the gun weighted 17 kgs (38 lbs). It was held in place by two folded legs.
The PTRD fired a 14.5mm x 14mm round, either steel or tungsten. The practical range was 550 yards, but due to the poor quality of the sightings (front post and rear notch) and the lack of training, this was much reduced in practice. Performances were good, however, with a 3300 ft/sec muzzle velocity. The PTRD-41 could punch through a slightly sloped 35mm armor at 100 m and even 40mm with the tungsten core ammo.
The PTRD-41 was found effective against many German tanks (namely the Panzer I, II, and Panzer 35(t) and Panzer 38(t)) and all armored cars in 1941-42. But it was completely ineffective against Panzer III and IV and later models. As a tactical change, users were ordered to fire on vision slits, but it required extreme accuracy and a lot of luck. Plus the blast created a lot of smoke, troubling the vision for the next shot, as well as revealing the position of the user.
The gun was withdrawn from service in 1943 but found use in partisan warfare (fighting against second-grade or captured armored vehicles) and house-to-house combat as it could pierce a wall. In the meantime, the PTRS-41 designed by Simonov replaced the PTRD, as it was less complicated and had better performances. Germans captured and reused also scores of them as the Panzerzbwehrbuchse 783(r). The PTRD managed to survive and was taken into action by North Korean and Chinese forces in Korea. It is probably still in the inventory or many armies today.

PTRD 41
The standard PTRD-41, with its legs unfolded.A German Soldier loading a captured PTRD

Technical data :

  • Weight & Dimensions: Weight unloaded 17.3 kg; Length 2020 mm (Barrel 1350mm)
  • Performances : Muzzle Velocity : 1114 m/s (3655 ft/s) Penetration 25mm/500m; Practical range 3000m, max range 10 000m. Rate of Fire : 5-6 rpm
  • Ammo : Caliber 14.5mm x 140mm; Hardened steel or Tungsten core. No magazine.
Categories
AT weapons WW2 German AT Weapons

3.7 cm PaK 36

Standard AT gun – Germany.
About 12 000 built 1936-41.

The main Wehrmacht infantry gun

The Panzerabwehrkanone was the first german mass-produced AT gun. It was derived from a long line of 3.7cm (1.45in) horse-drawn guns, beginning with a 1925 specification from the waffenamt. The 3.7 cm Pak L/45 designed by Rheinmetall was largely produced from 1928, but had several obsolescent characteristics in 1933, including spoked wooden wheels. Modified along a new specification for a towed gun for motorized infantry units, it was designed as the 3.7 cm Pak 35/36 with magnesium alloy wheels with pneumatic tires. It was also made more compact and light, although enhancing its high velocity capabilities. Replacements began in 1934, and the baptism of fire occured in 1936 in Spain, with nationalist forces and lather the legion condor.
Improved as the PAK 36, it was then largely produced, derived as the KwK 36 L/45 for tanks, mainly the Panzer III. It was the main antitank gun of Germany prior to ww2, and was also largely exported, copied and built under licence by countries like China, Finland, Estonia, and was also largely distributed among the Reich satellites, namely Romania and Slovakia. The Russian 37mm Anti-Tank Gun M1930 (1-K) design based based on the first version of the Pak 36, and the Hungarian 40mm 40M was rebarreled with a 40mm Bofors.

General Conception

The PAK 36 (for Panzerabwehrkanone model 1936) was a compact gun, 45 calibers, with just 327kgs (720 ib) in combat configuration, which allowed a crew of three to operate and move it quickly. Its main features were its large wheels and sloped shield, and good performance against armor ranging from 20 to 64mm (at short range – 100m). In fact, best performances were obtained against 22mm armors at a 1000m range, which was a relative “secure” range for the crews against tanks. See more in the characteristics.

Ammunition

  • Pzgr (Panzergranat) 36 : Projectile weight: 0,685 kg, Muzzle velocity: 745 m/s.
  • Pzgr 40 : Tungsten core, bigger charge, small production. Projectile weight: 0,368 kg Muzzle velocity: 1,020 m/s
  • Stgr 41 : Large Shaped charge (2.42 Kgs TNT), small range. 8.6 kg (19 lb) – 73.9 cm (2 ft 5.1 in) x 160 mm (6.3 in).

Operational history

The Rheinmetall Pak 36 was affected to all infantry divisions inside the Wehrmacht. It was largely available when the war began, and proced lethal in Poland, although experiencing difficulties against the well-armoured glacis of the polish French-built Hotchkiss H35 and the sloped armor of the 7TP. But in France, its limits came clearly into view, to the point that its own crews -as the enemy- famously dubbed them the “door-knockers devices” (Heeresanklopfgerät). There were barely efficient against many French infantry tanks, and particularly the B1 bis and the British Matilda II, which proved completely immune to this gun. In Russia, the Pak 36 did well against most of the Russian armor, including the largely available BTs and T-26, and only at short range on weak points against the T-28 and T-35. However, it was once again proven completely useless against the sloped armor of the T-34 and the impregnable KV-1.
A new munition has been introduced after the French campaign to improve its capabilities, the Panzergränat 40. It was a hollow charge with a Tungsten core, and bigger charge, which allowed greater range and better penetrating power, but was in limited supply. However, it was only by the introduction of the Stielgränat 41 by 1943, that the Pak 36 regain some real antitank capabilities against the most heavily protected tanks, although sacrificing the range. This heavy projectile was fitted on the muzzle, just like infantry rifle grenades.
Production of this model ceased in 1941. It was replaced by the more capable Pak 40 and Pak 41, but was available in such large provisions that it served with nearly all infantry units until 1944, on all fronts, from Africa to Europe and Asia.

Pak 36
The Panzerabwehrkanone model 36, standard infantry gun of the german army 1937-42.
Kettenkrad Pak 36
Kettenkrad towing the Pak 36, 24th Infantry Division (army group center), Vitebsk sector, Russia, june 1942.
Pak 36
A PAK 36 with Stielgränat 41, Belgium (operation Wacht am Rhein), december 1944.

Characteristics :

  • Weight : Travel/combat : 450/327 kgs
  • Dimensions (L*-w-h) : 1,66 x 1,65 x 1,17 cm
  • Crew : 2 : commander and loader (but 3 for moving)
  • Shell : Pzg-36 37×249 mm. R Cal. 37 mm (1.45 in)
  • Elevation/Traverse : -5° +25°/60°
  • Rate of fire : 13 rpm
  • Muzzle velocity : 762 m/s (2,500 ft/s)
  • Effective range : 300m (328 yds)
  • Max range : 5484m (5997 yds)

*barrel only. Around 2.80m total with legs.

German infantry training with a PAK 36 in the north of France by 1944 (Bundesarchiv).
< A PAK 36 fitted with a StielGranat 41, only introduced by 1943, first seen in Fallschirmjäger units. Due to the livery of the gun, it could have been used in Tunisia, but there are more chances of a non-accurate reconstitution… The Stiergränat was equipped with two fuses, and could deliver 2.42kgs of TNT through a hollow charge, a crushing blow against any armor, up to 180mm, at the expense of the range, 300m at best.

Links :

The Pak 36 on Wikipedia