Categories
Cold War Yugoslav AT weapons WW2 British AT Weapons WW2 German AT Weapons WW2 Italian AT Weapon WW2 Japanese AT Weapons

Sticky and Magnetic Anti-Tank Weapons

Infantry taking on tanks is a real challenge. Infantrymen are, after all, mainly equipped with weapons primarily intended for killing enemy infantry. Anti-tank guns are large, cumbersome, and heavy and so, right from the first days of the tank in WWI, the goal has been to produce a man-portable anti-tank weapon. One of the first, the Mauser Panzergewehr M1918 was little more than a scaled-up rifle designed to defeat relatively modest armor. More anti-tank rifles followed in the decades afterward up to the first years of WW2, but they all suffered from the same drawbacks. The rifles were so large and heavy they would take at least one (often two) men to carry without being able to carry the usual accouterments of infantry work. On top of this, the performance was relatively modest. Only thinly armored vehicles were vulnerable and anything with armor about 30 mm thick was relatively impervious to them.

Smaller devices, the sort of device which could be issued to a standard soldier making him capable of knocking out a standard enemy tank were, and still are, the gold standard for infantry anti-tank weapons. Grenades, small explosive devices, were useful but were primarily to spray fragments over an area to target infantry. Their effect was relatively limited against armored vehicles unless you could get the explosives in direct contact with the tank and one way to do this was to make the explosive ‘stick’ to the vehicle. Tanks, being made of steel, lent themselves to an obvious thought, why not make the explosive charge magnetic?

Here, there are two distinguishing elements: throwing and placing. Grenades, as throwing weapons, are advantageous for the soldier as they permit the user to maintain a distance from the target. The smaller and lighter (to a point) the grenade, the further it can be thrown. This also means that the features of an effective grenade against armor are also challenged. The size of the charge used is inherently going to be small with larger charges being harder to throw and therefore of shorter range. The next is accuracy, the further an item being thrown, the lesser the chance of hitting the target. Of course, a smaller grenade is also easier to carry and deploy.

A charge, on the other hand, such as an attachable mine, has to be placed on the target. This allows for the significant advantage of a large charge, shaped if possible to optimize anti-armor performance, but which would not lend itself to being thrown. A further advantage of the placed charge is also the obvious one, it guarantees a ‘hit’ because it does not have to be thrown and risk hitting and bouncing off the target. The disadvantages are equally obvious; the man has to expose himself to enemy fire to place the charge, has to be uncomfortably close to the enemy tank, and they are also larger and heavier than a grenade to contain enough explosives to do effective damage, meaning fewer of them can be carried.

All of the various attempts to develop either a hand-placed charge or thrown charge suffered from these problems and none adequately managed to overcome them.

Development

Such a relatively simple idea, though, was far easier to imagine than it was to turn into a functional weapon. Some experience in the area could be drawn from naval warfare. There, a magnetically attached charge had been developed by the British as a means of sabotaging enemy ships: the Limpet mine. A relatively small explosive device, adhering to the steel of a ship’s hull could burst a seam or plate and cause enough damage to put it out of action until it was patched. The power of the charge was magnified if it was placed below the waterline, as the pressure of the water helped to magnify the explosive power of the charge and, obviously, a hole above the waterline was less useful at crippling a ship.

Britain

For the British, the work on the underwater anti-ship charges found its way both in style and name to a land weapon. The ‘Clam’, as it was called, originally came with a light steel body (Mk.I), later replaced with a Bakelite (plastic) body (Mk.II) with four small iron magnets, one in each corner. Resembling a large bar of chocolate, this charge contained a modest charge of just 227 grams of explosive. This charge was a 50:50 mix of Cyclonite and T.N.T. or 55% T.N.T. with 45% Tetryl. Although the device was magnetic, the charge was not shaped nor specifically designed for breaching armor plate. The utility of the mine was for sabotage. Enemy infrastructure, vehicles, railway lines, and storage tanks made excellent targets for this mine. The ‘Clam’ was able to breach just 25 mm of armor, offering little compared to far simpler anti-tank weapons such as the No.82 ‘Gammon’ bomb or No.73 Grenade, aka the ‘Thermos Bomb’. Both of these were weapons that could be thrown from a safe distance, exploded on impact, and were far simpler to make.


The British No. 82 and No. 73 Anti-Tank Grenades. British Explosive Ordnance, 1946

The ‘Clam’, therefore, found a role in sabotage, where it was very effective. Large quantities were produced in Britain and shipped to the Soviet Union for exactly that purpose.

The British ‘Clam’ and Limpet Magnetic charges. The circular Limpet (Mk.III) used a ring of magnets in a flexible fitting allowing for fitting to a contoured surface and capable of breaching 60 mm of steel plate. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The most famous, or infamous, Anti-Tank Grenade is probably the British ‘sticky bomb’. Although not magnetic, the ‘sticky bomb’, officially known as the ‘No.74 S.T. Mk.1 HE’, was constructed from a glass sphere containing 567 grams of nitro-glycerine and covered with a stockinette fabric to which an adhesive was applied. Once the protective steel shells around the grenade had been removed, it could be thrown at an enemy tank. When the bulbous glass ball at the end struck the tank, it would break causing the nitro-glycerine inside to ‘cow-pat’ on the armor and remain stuck there by the glued stockinet until it was detonated. The weapon was not a success, but was also made in large numbers and saw service in North Africa and Italy against German and Italian forces.

The No.74 S.T. Mk.1 HE ‘Sticky Bomb’. Source: British Explosive Ordnance, 1946

Video of a British No.74 Grenade being demonstrated rather badly by American forces in Italy 1944. The thrower did not manage to break the glass bulb, resulting in it falling off before it exploded.

German Weapons

Probably, the most famous magnetic anti-tank device was the German Hafthohlladung (handheld hollow charge). These came in different sizes, although the most common weighed in at 3 kg. This Hafthohlladung mine used three large magnetic feet to adhere to the armor of a vehicle. Each permanent horseshoe-shaped magnetic foot, made from Alnico-type alloy (VDR.546) had an adhesion strength of 6.8 kg-equivalent, meaning over 20 kg of force-equivalent would have to be used to remove a well-adhered mine and also that only a single foot was needed to ‘stick’ the mine to a steel surface. The 3 kg Hafthohlladung contained a simple 1.5 kg shaped charge consisting of PETN/Wax.

A still from a German wartime training film showing the correct method of use of a Hafthohlladung mine against the side of a Soviet T-34 tank. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Placed by hand on the target, the position of the magnets ensured that the shaped charge, when detonated, would strike the armor perpendicularly and at an optimal stand-off distance to maximize its anti-armor potential. According to British tests in 1943, the 3 kg charge could perforate up to 110 mm of I.T. 80 D armor plate or 20 inches of concrete, meaning that it could defeat any Allied tank then in service almost regardless of where it might be placed.

A later, and slightly heavier model of this mine weighing 3.5 kg contained up to 1.7 kg of 40% FpO2 and 60% Hexogen explosive which was capable of defeating over 140 mm of armor. A post-war British report stated that versions of this type of grenade were known in 2, 3, 5, 8, and even 10 kg versions.


3.5 kg bell-shaped variant of the Hafthohlladung, and (right) alongside the conical 3 kg Hafthohlladung. This version used the projectile from the Panzerfaust 30. Source: lexpev.nl

A German soldier in spring 1944 prepares himself for the run out of cover to place a Hafthohlladung on a target either during training or on the Eastern Front. Such a run from cover exposed the user to enemy fire. Source: Bundesarchiv.
An extremely nervous-looking German soldier making a mess of applying a Hafthohlladung against the suspension of a captured French Renault R35 during training. Considering the mine is capable of piercing the armor at any place, it is wholly unclear what he is trying to achieve. Source: Wikimedia Commons

An even larger version of the Hafthohlladung was made for the German Luftwaffe, known as the Panzerhandmine (P.H.M.), or sometimes as the Haft-H (L) ‘Hafthohlladung-Luftwaffe’. This device had the appearance of a small wine bottle with the base cut off to make room for six small magnets. Larger than the Hafthohlladung, the P.H.M.3 still had to be applied by hand.


German Panzerhandmine. Source: TM9-1985-2 German Explosive Ordnance and Intelligence Bulletin May 1945

A small, spiked steel ring was fixed to the bottom of the magnets so that the charge could be stabbed onto a wooden surface too. In order to fasten to a steel surface, all that was required was the removal of this ring. First appearing in about 1942, the P.M.H.3 (a 3 kg version) contained a shaped charge made from 1.06 kg of T.N.T. or a 50:50 Cyclonite/T.N.T. mix. Against a steel target, this charge was sufficient to pierce up to 130 mm, making it a very serious threat against a tank. A 4 kg version (P.H.M.4) was also developed with a performance of up to 150 mm, although details are very limited.

A Hafthohlladung being attached to the back of a tank after having passed over the trench. Showing a Russian soldier, this image illustrates a far safer means of attaching the mine to a tank, obviating the need to stand alongside the vehicle. Even so, the soldier needs a heart of steel to be this close and is still exposed to enemy troops following the tank. Source: Fedoseyev via survincity


German ‘sticky’ shaped charge – the Panzerhandmine S.S.. Details of this version are scarce. Source: Tech. Report No.2/46

A variant of this mine also had a sticky ‘foot’ with different mixtures of explosive compositions. The sticky versions had the advantage of being able to stick to any solid surface regardless of whether it was magnetic or not. In this way, it was emulating the British idea of an adhesive-impregnated fabric behind a thin steel cover. Containing a 205 gram filling of 50% RDX and 50 % TNT, the entire charge weighed just 418 grams, just over a pound. Able to penetrate an I.T. 80 homogenous steel plate 125 mm thick, this small mine was a very effective weapon in terms of penetration although how many were made or used is unknown. A further variation of this grenade allowed it to be thrown, relying on the stickiness to attach to the armor with an instant fuse and small streamer behind to ensure it landed sticky-side down. No other details are known.

Thrown version of the hollow charge German sticky grenade. Source: and Tech. Report No.2/46

Another variation for a hand-placed sticky charge from the Germans was more complex than just an adhesive-impregnated fabric. This version featured the same sort of thin protective cover but with the detonator as part of the sticky process. Here, once the detonator was pulled, it would create an exothermic reaction melting the plastic on the face to make it ‘sticky’. It was, at this point ‘live’, so had to be applied or discarded as it would then blow up. No known use of this particular device or live examples are known.

German handheld Haftmine featured a usual self-melting element allowing it to stick to any hard surface regardless of whether it was magnetic or not. Source: Federoff & Sheffield

One further German magnetic charge was the 3 kg Gebalte Ledung (Eng: Concentrated charge) demolition charge which was little more than a large box with magnetic panels on each side. The interior was filled with cubes of explosives and had the additional advantage of being throwable. Even if the magnets failed to adhere to the steel of the tank, the 3 kg charge was sufficient to cause a lot of damage and possibly cripple the vehicle. However, as it was not a shaped charge, the anti-armor performance was relatively poor. Even so, it was more than capable of knocking out the Soviet T-34 and capable of sticking on the target even when thrown, but few other details were known.

German 3 kg demolition slab ‘Geballte Ladung’ with magnetic plates at each end, fitted with the B.Z.39. Friction Igniter. Source: Department of Tank Design

Many of these German shaped charge devices were made by the firm of Krümmel Fabrik, Dynamite AG which, after a lot of trials, found that the best mix for shaped charges was the explosive Cyclotol which was made up of 60% Cyclonite and 40 % T.N.T. with other mixtures producing less efficient results. Under ideal conditions, they found that a 3 kg shaped charge with this explosive could penetrate up to 250 mm of armor, although ideal conditions were rarely to be found on the battlefield. Either way and despite numerous attempts at both magnetic and ‘sticky’ anti-tank weapons, the Germans did not deploy them in significant numbers. One British report of late 1944 even confirmed that they had, to that point, yet to confirm that even a single Allied tank had been knocked out by a magnetic mine, the far bigger threat being the German ‘bazooka’, the Panzerfaust.

Japan

The Japanese, like the Germans and to a lesser extent, the British, had experimented with magnetic anti-tank weapons. Unlike both of them though, Japan was successful. The primary magnetic anti-tank weapon was the deceptively simple Model 99 Hakobakurai ‘Turtle’ mine. Reminiscent in shape to a turtle with four magnets sticking out like feet and the detonator looking like the head, this canvas-covered circular mine was a potent threat to Allied tanks in the Pacific theater of operations.


Japanese Type 99 Hakobakurai anti-tank mine. Source: TM9-1985-4

Appearing on the battlefield from 1943 onwards, the Hakobakurai weighed just over 1.2 kg and was filled with 0.74 kg of cast blocks of Cyclonite/T.N.T. arranged in a circle. Placed against thin points of armor or on the hatch of a tank, this mine, when detonated, could penetrate 20 mm of steel plate. With one mine on top of another, this could be increased to 30 mm, although, depending on the armor it was on, it could cause damage to a plate thicker than that.

The mine was not a shaped charge and 20 or even 30 mm of armor penetration was not much use against anything but the lightest of Allied tanks deployed against the Japanese, such as the M3 Stuart, unless they were placed in a vulnerable spot such as underneath, on the rear, or over a hatch. However, British testing and examination of these mines reported that, although the penetration was poor, just 20 mm, the shockwave from the blast could scab off the inner face of an armor plate up to 50 mm thick, although the penetration was still limited by it not being a shaped charge. The result also did not include vehicles designed with an inner ‘skin’ either, but the results were still substantial, as it meant that all of the Allied tanks used in the Pacific theatre were vulnerable to these mines depending on where they were placed.

A further development of it, known as the ‘Kyuchake Bakurai’, was rumored and capable of being thrown up to 10 yards (9.1 m), although as of October 1944, no examples were known to have been found.

The Japanese had, from about May 1942, obtained shaped charge technology from the Germans and the results were first recorded by the Americans following combat in New Guinea in August 1944. Here, they reported finding a Japanese shaped charge weapon shaped like a bottle and fitted with a magnetized base, very similar in description of the German Panzerhandmine. As of October 1944 though, the British, aware of this weapon, still had not encountered any:

“Although there are no details of Japanese hollow charge magnetic grenade it is highly probable that such weapons will be encountered soon”
D.T.D. Report M.6411A/4 No.1, October 1944

Scab blasted off from the inside of a 1 ½” (38 mm) thick armor plate by a Japanese Model 99 Hakobakurai ‘Turtle’ mine. Source: Department of Tank Design
Scarring on the outside (left) of a 2” (51 mm) thick armor plate and partially detached scab on the inside (right) caused by the detonation of at least 1 Model 99 mine. Note that the blast has dented the armor and the shape of the individual blocks can even be made out. The gaps between the blocks acted like miniature shaped charges causing these deep scars. Source: Department of Tank Design

Italy

The Kingdom of Italy, perhaps contrary to common ‘knowledge’, also made use of two devices of note. The first of these was a close copy of the British No.74 S.T. Mk.1 HE grenade reproduced from examples captured from the British in North Africa. The Italian version, known as the Model 42 grenade, was manufactured in limited numbers by the firms of Breda and OTO but, importantly, was not sticky. The Italians simply copied the large spherical explosive charge and omitted the not-so-reliable sticky stockinette and glass bulb part of the design. One important note on a heavy grenade like this is the range, just 10-15 meters at best.


The 1 kg Model 42 Grenade contained 574 grams of plastic explosive but was not sticky, it simply emulated the shape of the British No.74. Source: Talpo.it

Although the Model 42 was neither sticky nor magnetic, the Italians did develop probably the most advanced man-portable magnetic anti-tank weapon of all. Here though, there is very little to go off. Just a single photograph is known of the device consisting of a small battery pack and charge on a simple frame. The mine is relatively small, perhaps only 30 cm wide and appears to consist of a bell-shaped central charge, almost certainly a shaped charge with a rectangular battery and two large electromagnets on the ends of the steel frame. Certainly, this would have some advantages as it would not be magnetic all the time, unlike the German Hafthohlladung. It was simply placed on a tank and the switch was flicked to activate the battery and the powerful electro-magnets would hold the charge in place until it detonated. At least one prototype was made in 1943 but, with the collapse of Italy in September 1943, all development is believed to have ceased.

The experimental Italian electromagnetic anti-tank mine. Source: Cappellano and Pignato

Yugoslavia

Perhaps even more obscure than the Italian work on the subject of magnetic weapons is a single known Yugoslavian example. Known as the Mina Prilepka Probojna (Eng: Mine Sticking Puncturing), it was developed after the war and was intended for disabling non-combat and light combat vehicles rather than main battle tanks. It could also be deployed in the manner of the ‘Clam’ for sabotage purposes on infrastructure and consisted of a cylinder with a cone on top containing a 270-gram Hexotol shaped charge and was capable of piercing up to 100 mm of armor plate. Packed 20 to a crate, the MPP was a potent small mine but there is little information available on it in general outside of a small manual of arms. How many were made and whether it was ever used or not is not known.


The Post-War Yugoslavian Mina Prilepka Probojna magnetic mine. Source: Yugoslavian Arms Manual (unknown)

Conclusion

None of the attempts to produce a smaller anti-tank explosive weapon using either sticky or magnetic principles were shown to be effective. The magnetic charges required the soldier to be often suicidally close to the enemy tank. The sticky-option permitted the chance to be further away and possibly have the grenade hopefully strike the vehicle where the charge could perforate the armor. Many other ideas for hand-thrown anti-tank weapons were fielded by various armies in WW2 and thereafter, such as an attempt at a top attack hollow charge similar to that German Panzerhandmine S.S., but none were particularly successful. A short-range, inconsistent effect and a huge question over accuracy were not the reasons these devices do not appear in today’s army’s arsenals though. The answer is that far simpler, more reliable, and more effective systems became available. The German Panzerfaust had, by the end of the war, reached a level of performance where a soldier could be up to 250 meters from a target and perforate up to 200 mm of armor. The modern rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) really embodies this change in military thought for anti-armor weapons and appears in multiple forms for decades, providing an enormous punch for the average soldier against armor.


Examples of when the attack with a magnetic mine has failed. Here wedged into the screen over an air intake (left), and attached to the Schurzen (right) on a StuG III Ausf. G of 2nd Assault Gun Detachment, Bulgarian Army, after combat in Yugoslavia, October 1944. Source: Matev

References

Hills, A. (2020). British Zimmerit: Anti-Magnetic and Camouflage Coatings 1944-1947. FWD Publishing, USA
British Explosive Ordnance, US Department of the Army. June 1946
Federoff, B. & Sheffield, O. (1975). Encyclopedia of Explosives and Related Items Volume 7. US Army Research and Development Command, New Jersey, USA
Fedoseyev, S. Infantry against tanks. Arms and Armour Magazine retrieved from http://survincity.com/2011/11/hand-held-antitank-grenade-since-the-second-world/
Hafthohlladung https://www.lexpev.nl/grenades/europe/germany/hafthohlladung33kilo.html
Technical and Tactical Trends Bulletin No.59, 7th March 1944
TM9-1985-2. (1953). German Explosive Ordnance
Matev, K. (2014). The Armoured Forces of the Bulgarian Army 1936-45. Helion and Company.
Cappellano, F., & Pignato, N. (2008). Andare Contro I Carri Armati. Gaspari Editore
Department of Tank Design. (1944). The Protection of AFVs from Magnetic Grenades
Grenades, mines and boobytraps, retrieved from www.lexpev.nl/grendades/europe/germany/panzerhandmine3magnetic.html
Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana. (1944). Istruzione sulle Bombe a Mano E Loro Impiego
Armaments Design Department. (1946). Technical Report No.2/46 Part N.: German Ammunition – A Survey of Wartime Development – Grenades.

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.