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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
Dutch AT guns Hungarian AT Weapons Swiss AT guns WW2 German AT Weapons WW2 Italian AT Weapon

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.

Tanks Encyclopedia Magazine, #3

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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