WW II German Infantry Anti-Tank Weapons
Page 6: Tank Rifles


The idea of the Wehrmacht behind the Panzerbüchse ("tank rifle") was to give the infantry integral limited anti-tank capability against light tanks without having to wait for the tank hunter units to relieve them. However, the concept of the Tank Rifle was quite out of date for the tanks of WW II; the unsatisfactory performance of the tank rifles due to the spectacular successes hitherto went hardly noticed until the battle for Moscow in 1941 where the the weapon's proved themselves practically useless against the soviet tanks. Reportedly, many Panzerbüchsen were thrown away by the frustrated soldiers. Even earlier the weapons themselves were for a variety of resons not very popular among the troops, not the least of the reasons was that collar-bone fractures among the gunners were all too common.

Tank Rifle Ammunition 

The success or failure of a tank rifle is largely depending on the ammunition it uses. Large caliber rifles that used high energy hardened projectiles - anti-tank rifles - had already been developed and used during WW I where tanks appeared on the battlefield for the first time in history. The first german tank rifle used then was the so-called T-Gewehr ("T-Rifle", T for tank).

During the 1930ies the company Rheinmetall used this weapon's ammuntion as a basis for the development of new tank rifle ammunition. Set into the old T-Gewehr casing was a 7.9mm projectile instead of the original 13mm. The complete cartridge weighed 84 g, the bullet weighed 14.6 g (as compared to the original bullet's 52g!) and had a steel core. The amount of gunpowder was increased to 14.9g; all this changed the V0 from the original 780m/s to now over 1,150m/s.
tank rifle cartridgesThis new ammunition was called Patrone 318, the full official designation was Patrone 318 SmK-Rs- L'spur or Patrone 318 SmKH -Rs-L'spur, whereas "Patrone" means "cartridge", 318 was an inversion of 813 that stood for an 8mm bullet in a 13mm casing; SmK meant "Spitzgeschoss mit Kern" ("pointed bullet with core"), SmKH = "Spitzgeschoss mit Kern (Hart)" ("pointed bullet with core (hard)") meant the same projectile that featured a hardened steel core (some sources report a tungsten-carbide core but this seems wrong), Rs stood for "Reizstoff" ("irritant agent") because the projectile also contained a small amount of tear gas, L'spur for "Leuchtspur" ("bright trace" = "tracer") indicating the bullet had a small tracer in its rear. At a typical Vo of slightly over 1,200m/s the projectile penetrated 30mm of steel at a range of 100m and still up to 25mm at 300m (both at 0° slope) and was accepted as the standard anti-tank rifle ammunition to be used by all weapons of that type. The irritant agent in the projectile was a ridiculous idea that envisioned to make the crew of the hit target leave their vehicle or otherwise impair them to a degree of battleunworthiness; however, the tear gas pellet in the projectile was so little that the irritant agent was never noticed by enemy crews; in fact, it wasn't discovered by the allies until after captured ammunition was examined.
Production of the Patrone 318 ran until August 1942; overall, 9.417 Mio. cartridges were produced. Compared to the tank kills the same explanation as that given in connection with the Panzerfaust can be applied: many of these were not shot at tanks but at a variety of other targets.

The cartridge used for the PzB 35(p) was the Panzerbüchsenpatrone P 35 7,92 x 107. It weighed 62.6g which includes the 10.4g of powder; the projectile (which lacked a steel core) weighed 14.5g (other sources: 12.8g). total cartridge length 132mm, case length w/o projectile 107mm. When fired from the PzB 35(p) the projectile had a Vo of 1,275 m/s which equates to an Eo of 11,786 Joule.

The russian tank rifles PTRD-1941 and PTRS-1941, which were also used by the germans as the PzB 783(r) and PzB 784(r) respectively, used the russian M 41 cartridge that was later improved to the heavy machine gun and tank rifle cartridge M 41/44 14.5 x 114. The latter cartridge was also used by the KPV 14.5mm heavy machine gun (which made it a reasonably effective AT weapon against lightly armored vehicles) towards the end of the war. The cartridge is still in production today as a heavy machine gun ammunition. It has a caliber of 14.5mm; different projectiles were available ranging from the armor-piercing steel core to armor piercing incediary and explosive projectiles. The armor-piercing projectile weighed 63.4g, the whole cartridge weighs 198.5g incl. 28.8g of powder charge. Total length of the cartridge is 155.5mm; at a typical Vo of 1000m/s this ammunition has an initial energy of 31,700 Joule. It penetrated 40mm of armor at 100m; 35mm at 300m; 30mm at 500m; an AT rifle with this ammunition could still penetrate a light AFV's armor of 15mm at ranges of 1.5km, if the gunner was able to hit a lightly armored target at that distance.

Panzerbüchse 38
The first weapon to use this new ammunition was the Panzerbüchse 38 ("Tank Rifle"), often abbreviated as PzB 38, conceived by Dipl.-Ing. (certified engineer) B. Brauer and built by the Gustloff-Werke in Suhl. It was a manually loaded single shot weapon with moving barrel. When fired, the barrel recoiled about 9cm, which opened the breech and expelled the spent cartridge. The breech block was then arrested in the rear position, leabing an opening for the gunner to manually insert a new cartridge. The gunner then released the cocked breech with a lever at the grip. breech and barrel then glide forward again and the trigger is cocked. The weapon is ready to fire again. This rather complicated mechansim was reportedly prone to jamming if the system got dirty in field use.
The weapon uses the bipod found on the MG 34; the shoulder plate is rubber-cushioned and can be folded to the right for ease of transportation. Although manufactered with pressed steel parts that were spot-welded, still because of the complicated vertical block breech mechanism it was difficult to manufacture and only the small number of 1408 PzB 38 was built from 1939 to 1940 at the company Gustloff Co. Waffenfabrik in Suhl; 62 of these weapons had been used by the german troops in the invasion of Poland 1939. As soon as the successor PzB 39 was available immediately production was switched over to the new type. The weapon had an overall length of 161.5 cm (129cm with the stock folded for transportation) and a barrel (4 grooves rs) length of 108.5 cm. Total weight (incl. bipod and carrying sling) 16.2 kg, weight of barrel (incl muzzle brake) 6.14kg; Vo using the Patrone 318 was 1,210m/s which made for a penetration of 30mm at 100m.

Panzerbüchse 39PzB39
The next development, onto which production was immediately switched, was the Panzerbüchse 39 or PzB 39, an improvement made by the company Gustloff on their PzB 38. It too featured a vertical breech block mechanism. It retained the barrel of the PzB 38 and had an only slightly increased overall length of 162.0 cm; weight was reduced to 12.6 kg. It's performance data was basically the same as that of the PzB 38. To increase the practical rate of fire, two cartridge-holding cases containing 10 rounds each could be attached to both sides of the weapon near the breech - these were not magazines feeding the weapon, they simply enabled the gunner to extract the cartridges (that he still had to manually insert into the gun) from the conveniently placed magazines. 568 PzB 39 were used by the german army in the invasion of Poland; two years later, at the beginning of the war against russia, 25,298 PzB 39 were in use by german troops; total production form March 1940 to November 1941, when production ceased, was 39,232 rifles.
Technical data: overall length: 162cm; barrel length 108.5cm; total weight (incl. bipod and carrying sling but no magazines) 12.6kg; weight empty 11.6kg; total weight of magazine (loaded) 1.09kg; weight magazine (empty) 0.25kg; practical rate of fire: 10 shots/min. Ammunition: Patrone 318; Vo 1,210 m/s; armor penetration 30mm/100m.

Later in the war the german tank rifles PzB 38 and PzB 39 were withdrawn from frontservice (the penetrating power of AT rifles did not suffice for the new tanks); Starting 1942, the PzB 39 were rebuilt with a shortened barrel (59cm) and an affixed Schiessbecher ("firing cup" = rifle grenade launching attachment) as grenade rifles with the designation Granatbüchse Modell 39 ("grenade rifle model 39") and proved useful in that role.

Panzerbüchse 35(p) / PzB 770(p)

PzB 35(r) - Maroszek WZ 35

The polish Maroszek WZ 35 had been conceived and developed by Lt.Col. T. Felsztyn and the engineer Jósef Maroszek in the early 1930ies. First trials in late 1935 proved unsuccessful, because the extremely stressed barrel endured only about 20 shots. After intensive research and testing an almost perfect relation between ammunition characteristics and barrel construction was reached. The new weapon had a life expectancy of 300 shots. It was integrated into the army in November 1935, simulated battles showed a more than satisfying performance as an anti-tank rifle.
However, the rifle was considered so important that a strict veil of secrecy was put over the whole project, and the delivery crates - containig one Maroszek WZ 35, three replacement barrels and three full ammo magazines - were sealed with the strict order that the seal was only to be broken under direct orders of the defense minister. Until July 1938 only a very restricted and select group of people (again under strict nondisclosure - orders) - mostly military commanders of different command levels - was shown the weapon. The result was that in many cases the soldiers that were to use it didn't even see the weapon before WW II started with the german invasion of poland! Due to all this, this reasonably performing weapon saw only very limited use in the polish war against the attacking germans; many polish soldiers ended the short german invasion of Poland still ignorant of the weapon!
The germans captured considerable numbers of these weapons still unissued in the armories and storages; it received the german designation Panzerbüchse 35(p) ("Tank Rifle", the suffix "p" for "polnisch") - abbreviated as PzB 35(p) - but was also called Panzerbüchse 770(p) and was issued to german troops. Some of the weapons were also given to and employed by italian troops. At least 630 of these polish tank rifles were incorporated into the Wehrmacht and used in the war against the French in 1940
The PzB 35(p) was a single shot weapon with a magazine for three rounds. It can easily be recognized by the lack of a pistol grip which is rather uncommon for tank rifles. The barrel had 6 grooves / right spin and was very long and thin. After 300 shots it had to be changed, which could be accomplished rather quick and uncomplicated with a special key. The well-designed muzzle brake absorbed 65% of the recoil forces and the recoil of the weapon was contrary to other tank rifles only slightly stronger than that of a regular infantry rifle. Because the ammunition for this weapon had no hardened core but relied on the high velocity of the bullet, penetration performance dropped significantly at ranges beyond 300m; the lack of a hard core in the projectile (weight: 12.8g) this weapon fires is widely regarded as the foremost drawback of this weapon. The high velocity of the bullet made for an extremely staright flight path, therefore sights at a range of 300m were used. The weapon comes complete with a bipod but can be used without it. Penetration performance is rated at 22mm of armor at 50m and 15mm at 100m (both at 60° impact angle), which sufficed for the successfull engagement of lightly armored vehicles early in the war, but like other tank rifles the weapon was practically useless against tanks after 1940.
Other data: caliber 7.92mm; Vo : 1,280m/s; length 176cm; barrel length 120cm; weight w/o ammo 9.5kg (10kg with bipod). practical rate of fire: 6 rounds per minute. (click here for info on the ammunition)

PzB 783(r)

Even more widely used by the Wehrmacht were the two main types of (captured) russian tank rifles which proved to be more effective than their german counterparts, the PzB 38 and PzB 39. They both used the M41 14.5mm ammunition (look at the comparing sketch above) whose bullet had a weight of 64g, carried a steel core of 39g and penetrated roughly 30mm of armor at a range of 500m, or 40mm at 100m.

The first russian AT rifle to be discussed here, the PTRD-41, was given the german designation PzB 783(r) (r for "russisch").
Although the russians after many different constructions had decided upon a design by N. Rukavishnikov as their standard tank rifle in 1938, the military leadership eventually overestimated the strength of the german tanks at that time and considered the weapon useless. When a tank rifle was needed fast in july 1941, the well-designed weapon was considered not suitable for the neccessary mass-production. Several weapons under the common designation Tank Rifle Model 1939 proved unsatisfactorily. A few days after the german attack on the soviet union, the famous engineers W.A. Degtjarjov and S.G.Simonov were given the order to immediately design a new tank rifle. Degtjarjov's design resulted in the single-shot PTRD-41, Simonov's design led to the PTRS-42. Mass production was begun immediately on August 29th 1941. The new tank rifles came in time in numbers to make a considerable contribution to the AT defense in the battle of Moscow.
PzB 783(r) - russian PTRD-40 tank rifleThe PTRD-41 showed itself considerably more powerful and effective than the german tank rifles. Therefore, any captured russian AT rifles were immediately used by the germans, where it received the official foreign-weapon designation Panzerbüchse 783(r) or simply PzB 783(r). When soon the tank armor was increased, especially at the front, the weapons could still be effectively used in concentrated fire at flanks, rear and the observation slits of the tanks. When these tank rifles eventually could not be used effectively anymore against the newer, even heavier armored tanks from 1943 on, the weapon was increasingly used to good effect against other targets, such as the lightly armored vehicles that operated together with the tanks, against machine gun nest, sometimes even against bunkers or aircraft.
The single-shot weapon has a moving barrel that recoils about 6.5cm, which lessens much of the recoil forces. Another third of the recoil is absorbed by the large one-chamber muzzle break, the remaining force is decreased by the padded stock. The weapon had a changeable sighting system that could be positioned to account for ranges between 400m and 1000m as well as for deviations in the hit group. Practical effective range was 200m - 400m. The weapon featured a carrying handle and came with a bipod; it is crew served by a two-man team, a gunner/loader and a target designator/tracker (according to theory the latter was to keep track of the target while the gunner was to insert the new cartridge). Main advantages were the sturdy, uncomplicated (= suited to mass production) design which ensured functioning even after sustained usage. The weapon reportedly also had good accuracy and was considered to be rather practical (even more so than the PTRS). A main disadvantage was the excessively loud firing noise.
Production numbers are sketchy, however the following data fragments hint at the total production: number of issued functional weapons in red army units 1.Jan.42: 8,116; 1.June 42: 65,365; 1.Jan.43: 118,563; 1.Jan.44: 142,861; total production 1941: 17,668; t.p.1942: 184,800; Production ceased in January 1945 and the number of weapons in army use was reduced to 40,000. The number of weapons captured and used by the germans is unclear.
Other technical data: overall length: 202cm; barrel length 135.0 cm; total weight 16.3 kg loaded incl. bipod (1.00kg); caliber 14.5mm; V0 of 1010m/s; practical rate of fire: 5-10 shots/min. Armor Penetration: 40mm/100m; 30mm/500m.

PzB 784(r)

The PTRS-41, also called simply the PTRS or, under german designation PzB 784(r), was the other weapon that resulted out of the urgent design orders issued by the red army shortly after the country was attacked in June 1941 (see PTRD/PzB 783(r)). The team lead by Sergej Gavrilovich Simonov designed a more complicated semi-automatic weapon that used the same 14.5mm ammunition as the PTRD. PzB 783(r) russian PTRS-41 tank rifleThe PTRS is gas-pressure operated, the explosion gases are extracted from the barrel at about mid-length and push back the breech, cocking the firing pin and expelling the spent cartridge. The spring then returns the breech to the forward position with a new cartridge; the weapon is ready to fire again. The weapon has a 5-shot magazine; to load the magazine, the gunner pushes down the magazine and inserts a new cartridhge clip into the magazine from the top. When the magazine is pushed back in the first round is located in the breech-path in front of the chamber. It is also possible to reload single cartridges into the weapon from above. The weapon comes complete with a bipod (featuring comparably large feet) that can be folded backwards. The sights are adjustable from 100m to 1,500m. the rifle stock is wooden and features a padded shoulder rest; recoil is reported to be reasonably low. The weapon is served by a two-man team, the weapon is carried in the field by holding it at the barreland the stock.
The weapon reportedly was reasonably accurate and benefitted from the good penetration capability of the M41 14.5mm ammunition. Thedecrease in Vo and therefore armor penetration caused by the gas-operating mechanism and the shorter barrel length (compared to the PTRD) is neglectable. The main disadvantages were the frequent jams. The weapon was not working well under cold winter conditions; also, the small gas-extracting holes in the barrel tended to clog up. At extremely cold temperatures the automatic cartridge feed mechanism couldbe trusted to fail; reportedly the gunners solved this by using it as a manually loaded single-shot weapon under such circumstances. Still, the weapon was considered a very good and useful tank rifle design both by the russians and by their german enemy. The germans immediately used all captured PTRS-41 for their own forces under the designation Panzerbüchse 784(r) or PzB 784(r) resp.
Another main disadvantage was the comparatively tedious and expensive production of this weapon. Therefore much fewer of these were built in comparison to it's comrade, the simple PTRD. Again production figures are sketchy: reportedly, total production for 1941 was 77 rifles, the t.p. for 1942 then increased to 63,308. Production of the PTRS ceased in January 1945.
Technical data: Overall length 211cm (other sources: 214cm), barrel length 121.5 cm (other sources: 122.7cm); V0 at 995 m/s (other sources 1,005 m/s); total weight (empty but incl. bipod): 20.9kg (other sources 20.8kg). Practical rate of fire 15 rounds per minute.

Panzerbüchse Boys

Panzerbüchse Boys Mk.1The british Boys AT rifle named after the leader of the development team, Captain Boys, was introduced into british service in November 1937. The germans captured a considerable number of these weapons at Dunkerque in 1940. Because this british tank rifle was of spectacularly poor performance, it had a penetration of only 12mm at 100m and 10mm at 500m (however the weapon's practical usage ended at 300m max.), the germans outright considered it as useless for anti-tank warfare (as did many british soldiers having to use the weapon) but nevertheless incorporated the weapons for use against machine-gun emplacements. Technical data: Ammunition: .55 Boys (13.9mmx100mm G), Vo=760m/s; Total length: 162cm; barrel length 915mm; total weight (empty) 16.3kg; magazine capacity 5 rounds; practical rate of fire 6-8 rpm.

Tank Rifle Developments
The germans were quite unsatisfied with the performance of their PzB 38 and PzB 39 tank rifles. It was obvious that other tank rifles were to be produced if this weapon type was to have any practical use. Several projects were undertaken in 1940 by several companies, all using the Patrone 318. The Waffenfabrik Carl walther in Zella-Mehlis built the Modell 40 / PzB 40 W, a semiautomatic weapon with a magazine for 8 rounds; the Modell 41 built by the Mauser Werke AG in Oberndorf, another semi-automatic weapon with a capacity of 8 rounds, gas-operated; the Modell 42 / PzB 40 G and Modell 44 by the Gustloff - Werke that had built the PzB 38 and PzB 39; the semi-automatic Modell 43 / PzB 40 K by the company Heinrich Krieghoff in Suhl that featured an 8-round magazine inserted from the left. However, although in general being heavier than the original tank rifle all of these developments showed the same performance and characteristics of the PzB 39 they were supposed to replace, the only notable improvement being the use of an 8-shot magazine on some semi-automatic prototypes. Therefore, none of these went further than prototype stage.
It was apparent that future tank rifles would need a different ammunition, they especially needed to have a bigger caliber. The czech company in Brno developed the PzB 244 with a caliber of 13mm. The weapon's bureau of the army however now insisted on 15mm for the planned PzB 42. All suggested weapons for this project were rejected due to unsatisfactory penetration performance.
With the employment of larger calibers and more powerful cartridges the new weapons had to use smaller and bigger mounts just like AT guns. Therefore, the PzB18-1100, S 18-100 and the actually produced s PzB 41 featuring a tapered barrel funneling the caliber from 28mm to 20mm (penetration performance 60mm at 100m and 25mm/1,000m), are to be considered light AT guns and shall not be discussed within the elimited scope of the Panzerfaust Page. The large caliber aircraft machine guns used in the ground role are discussed above under their appropriate category.
A last development that shall see mentioning here although it utilized a mount is the 2cm-Erdkampfgerät, a heavy machine gun with a caliber of 20mm. It was developed from the ubiquitous 2cm FlaK 38 anti-aircraft weapon. Production was projected to start in April 1944 but only 12 were ever built. The most interesting aspect is that this wepaon was to fire a specially developed 6.6 cm over-caliber shaped charge round much like a rifle grenade. Regardless of it's slow speed of 105 m/s the hollow charge would have penetrated 120mm of armor.

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© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 created by M.Hofbauer August 29th 1998; document ver. 1.4 mod 150102
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