Wednesday, February 12, 2020


Note: I've been years working on a book about anti-tank rifles that may never be published. Long, sad friggin' story. Boo-hoo. Anyway, I thought I would start editing some of the chapters and sharing them here so that people who are interested in the subject can find the information and at least someone will read them.

 Anti-tank Rifles
True anti-tank rifles were a short-lived weapon system that lasted only about 25 years from their first appearance to obsolescence. They were the first attempt at giving the individual infantryman a man-portable means of defending himself against armored vehicles when the tank was still a frightening new but relatively primitive weapon.
            World War I saw the bloody stalemate of trench warfare, in which both sides sent an entire generation of young men to be helplessly slaughtered. Again and again, hidebound military leaders sent their infantrymen “over the top”, where they made futile charges, slogging through churned up mud, snared by endless strands of barbed wire, all the while being subjected the lash of machine guns, explosive artillery shells, and rifle fire. The Battle of the Somme in July of 1916 saw the British Army lose some 60,000 casualties in a single day. Many thought that modern weapons had made the defense too powerful for offense to overcome. In an effort to somehow break this brutal stalemate, a few more imaginative British officers and designers developed the tank.
            A vehicle was needed that could crawl over the barbed wire entanglements, shell craters, and trenches of the gruesome battlefields while being protected against the streams of small arms fire and shrapnel which continued to mow down the flesh and blood infantrymen like wheat. Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty at the time, was instrumental in helping to pave the way for the tank. Initially part of the Royal Navy, the experimental new armored vehicles were at first labeled “landships”. In an effort to keep the new weapon a secret, the first tanks were shipped hidden beneath tarps under the guise of “water tanks”, and the name stuck forever more.
            The most common British fighting tank of World War I, with over 1,200 of the vehicles manufactured, was the Mk IV tank, a huge rhomboid-shaped machine whose caterpillar tracks ran completely around the exterior sides of the hull. The Mk IV came in two types, the Male, armed with two quick firing 6-pounder (57mm) cannons firing high explosive shells and four .303-caliber machine guns, and the Female, armed entirely with six .303 machine guns. Both had 8-man crews (including two drivers on the early models until a better gearbox was incorporated), armor thicknesses of between 6 and 12 millimeters, and a weight of 27 to 29 tons. A 105-horsepower straight 6-cylinder gasoline engine could only propel the Mk IV’s along at a maximum speed of 4 miles per hour under ideal conditions, but they were purposely designed to move no faster than a walking infantryman.

The British Mk IV tank, this one the Male model with two 6-pounder cannon, was slow and primitive but still seemingly unstoppable to German infantrymen facing it for the first time.

The first tanks were far from perfect. As with most new technology, they were very prone to breakdowns. They lacked the range to go very far on a full tank of gasoline (the Mk IV had a range of only 35 miles) and were ponderously slow. Up until the adoption of the Mk V, British tanks required two separate gearboxes, one for the motor and one for the tracks; thus it took a total of four men…two drivers and two gearsmen…just to “drive” the tank. The temperature inside the poorly ventilated armored shell quickly became sweltering and the air was choking from engine exhaust fumes and cordite smoke from the weapons firing. The din of machinery, guns and movement was deafening, making communication between the crew members difficult if not impossible. As primitive as they were, these first tanks still offered a way to finally break open the deadlock of trench warfare and restore mobility to the battlefield.
 Tanks made their first big splash during the Battle of Cambrai in November of 1917. An astonishing number of around 450 British Mk IV tanks participated in the battle, the first use of massed armor in a combined arms operation with infantry and artillery in history. The tanks that didn’t break down proved to be very successful, especially in their psychological impact. They induced a feeling of helpless terror among some of the defending German infantrymen as their rifle and machine gun bullets made no impression on the steel behemoths which rolled right over the tops of their trenches. In some cases, soldiers simply fled in the face of attacking tanks over-running them, with even entire companies breaking and panicking in a few of the first encounters.
British Captain Richard Haigh described, with poetic license, the seeming invincibility the tank at first represented:
“TANKS! To the uninitiated…the name conjures up a picture of an iron monster, breathing fire and exhaling bullets and shells, hurling itself against the enemy unassailable by man and impervious to the most deadly engines of war; sublime, indeed, in its expression of indomitable power and resolution.”[i]

Initially, the tank seemed like an unstoppable behemoth and had a great psychological effect on the German infantrymen who were defenseless against it.

In the beginning, with their combination of sheer novelty and seeming invulnerability, tanks did indeed have a terrifying effect upon some enemy soldiers and the very real potential to break the trench stalemate wide open. Many Entende generals, however, viewed the new weapons as toys, novelties or as untried technology that had yet to prove its worth. Particularly at Cambrai, the high command had so little faith in the ability of the tank that they had failed to prepare the men and supplies necessary to exploit and follow up a mass breakthrough should the new weapon succeed. In other battles, unfamiliar commanders diluted the strength and striking power of the tanks by sending them forward in small, widely dispersed driblets, or using them on completely inappropriate terrain which made them almost helpless. A precious opportunity to accelerate the end of the war was wasted as the Imperial German Army quickly closed the gaps the tanks had created and soon began developing means of combating them in the field, and trench warfare dragged on.
            The British High Command had also tipped its hand by using the secret weapon in a small dribble at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in September of 1916. This alerted the Germans to the existence of the tank and its capabilities and the best military and technical minds of the day were soon hard at work developing counter-measures which could stop the battlefield behemoths.
            The German infantrymen always had their rifles and machine guns, of course, so the Imperial German Army’s leadership, who had shown a surprising ability to shift tactics in the middle of a war, trained their troops to use them against tanks. A French report in The Revue Militare Francaise of 1923 stated that German riflemen and machine gunners, while training behind the front lines, were instructed to shoot at the vision ports of the tanks, to the point of actual live fire practice at life-size diagrams of tanks painted on wood showing the exact location of the vision slits. In some cases, training included shooting at towed, moving life-size tank mock-ups. Frontline units sent a handful of men to such training when available, to bring the lessons and techniques back to their comrades in the trenches.
            This had at least some effect against the tanks, perhaps more than the Germans realized. Small arms projectiles hitting around the tank view ports resulted in “bullet splash”, which consisted of red-hot chips of armor flakes, lead fragments and bits of copper bullet jackets. One British tanker described the bullets impacting around the view ports and striking steel, “like a giant Catharine wheel”, a type of firework which produced a dazzling display of sparks and colored flame as it spun.
            A US Army study on tank warfare from 1933 still stressed the effectiveness of bullet splash. “Bullets striking armor will shatter, and, if the point of impact is within two inches of the opening, portions of the bullet will enter. Bullet splash was very bad on all World War tanks that used the open eye slits and had poor closures at the armor joints, doors, pistol ports, turret races, etc. Men who were burned by the particles of hot lead when observing through the open slits were loathe to use them again, especially when the eye slit was under fire. Many men were blinded and some were killed by bullet fragments entering the tank in this manner. The use of small arms ammunition against open eye slits and poorly made or warped doors severely handicaps the crew and is a worth-while means of defense against tanks.”[i]
In the now endless see-saw battle between tanks and anti-tank weapons, the tank crewmen were soon issued special helmets, goggles, and chain-mail masks to help counter this danger.

British tank crewmen in WWI had to wear these chain mail “Splatter Masks” to protect themselves against bullet and steel fragments and popped rivet heads resulting from German small arms fire aimed deliberately at their vision slits.

Early tanks were also constructed with armor that was riveted together. With the sheer number of bullets thrown at the vehicles and the sheer number of rivets used to bolt the tank armor together, chance indicated that some of these rivets would naturally be struck or narrowly missed. When they were, the rivet head on the interior of the armor sometimes popped off and ricocheted around the inside of the tank like a bullet. Still, this was not something which could be consistently counted upon and ordinary infantry rifles and machine guns provided really only an annoyance against the tanks.
The Germans’ next attempt to give the infantry some defense against tanks was the Patrone SmK Kurz round, often known as the “K Bullet”. Loaded in the standard 7.92x57mm cartridge both the Model ‘98 Mauser bolt-action service rifle and the Maxim machine guns were chambered for, the K Bullet consisted of a hardened, pointed tool steel core under the conventional gilding full metal jacket used with lead-core ball rounds. These AP bullets were actually fairly effective at piercing the armour of the early Mark I tanks, which consisted largely of 8 mm (0.31 in) plates. Increasing the armour around the fighting compartment to 12 mm on the Mark IV (the Mark II and III were only used as transitional training vehicles) greatly reduced the effectiveness of the K bullet. These projectiles now had to be used at short ranges of less than 100 meters and even then had, at best, perhaps a one-in-three chance of actually penetrating a Mark IV’s thicker hide. Even with penetration of the armour, rifle-caliber bullets seldom retained enough energy to do injury to the tank’s crewmen or damage its internal machinery afterwards.
For the most part the tanks remained invulnerable to what the infantry could throw at them from stand-off ranges. Only artillery guns could stop tanks at a distance, but artillery pieces brought far enough forward into the battle zone to engage tanks with direct fire were in turn extremely vulnerable to quick destruction at the hands of Entende artillery, small arms fire and armor.
            At the dawn of anti-tank warfare, there were essentially only two means of destroying tanks; a large blast from a considerable amount of high explosives in the form of artillery shells, grenade bundles or satchel charges or the use of guns that utilized solid projectiles and kinetic energy to pierce the armor.
            Until the advent of the directed shaped-charge HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead used in weapons such as the American bazooka, German Panzerfaust, and British PIAT, dedicated anti-tank guns had to rely almost entirely upon kinetic energy. Thus the standard armor piercing (AP) projectile was constructed from the hardest possible material, usually a hardened type of tool steel with high carbon content prior to the use of tungsten. This projectile derived its kinetic energy from both mass and velocity, but of the two, the second was by far the most crucial. While doubling the weight of the projectile also doubles its kinetic energy, doubling the velocity quadruples that figure. In a man-portable infantry weapon system, however, these factors needed to be balanced against both weight and recoil.
Enter the anti-tank rifle, the Mauser 13.2 mm Tank Abwehr Gewehr Model 18, often shorted by the troops to the more manageable mouthful of T-Gewehr. Manufactured by Mauser Oberdorf am Neckar and introduced in February of 1918, the Tank-Gewehr was essentially a gigantic version of the standard M98 Mauser bolt-action rifle. Showing the same flexibility industrially that they showed tactically, the Germans had this weapon in field service less than nine months after the first British tanks had appeared on the battlefield. This was the weapon that started it all, and almost all succeeding models followed its basic pattern to one degree or another.

The sheer size of the Mauser Model 1918 Tank-Gewehr is immediately noticeable. Here it is compared to the standard British .303-inch SMLE service rifle.

The cartridge used in the T-Gewehr was actually developed before the weapon itself was. In October of 1917, the Imperial German Army’s Rifle Testing Committee (G.P.K.) was tasked with developing a large caliber machine gun suitable for both anti-tank and anti-aircraft use and to have it ready by the spring of 1918. The G.P.K. could not develop the heavy machine gun within that time frame, but suggested, as a rather stop-gap measure, that in the meantime an anti-tank rifle in the same caliber could be produced relatively quickly. It was desired to get the rifle into the hands of the troops as soon as possible due to serious problems tanks were causing for the Imperial German Army at the front.
Initially, the choices for the new cartridge included 13-mm and 15-mm, with the former being chosen in a semi-rimmed case in December of 1917. The Polte munitions concern in Magdeburg was tasked with the round’s development and progress was rapid. The first tests were underway by mid-January, 1918, development was finalized by March of that year, and the first production ammunition began to come off the assembly line in April. 

The 13.2x92SR Hartkernpatrone cartridge for the Tank-Gewehr (right) compared to the standard British .303-inch rifle cartridge.

This round was the Mauser 13.2x92SR, also known as the 13.2mm TuF for Tank und Flieger (Tank and Aircraft), because of the round’s intended dual anti-tank/anti-aircraft role. The Germans sought the best compromise and balance between performance and weight by using a large (for small arms) caliber 13.2 mm (0.515-inch) bullet fired at high velocity by a potent propellant charge contained within a large semi-rimmed case. In size, it was similar to the later American Browning .50-caliber (12.7mm) heavy machine gun cartridge. The T-Gewehr’s bottlenecked 13.2x92mm cartridge case was 3.6 inches (91.5 mm) long and held a 200-grain (13 g) powder charge to fire a 794-grain (51.48 g) bullet at a muzzle velocity of 3,000 fps (914 m/s).

Cross section of the 13.2x92SR cartridge. The bullet featured a hardened penetrator core (F) encased in lead (G) inside a full metal jacket of copper-plated sheet iron. The jacket and lead was necessary to keep the hard penetrator from contacting and thus ruining the steel barrel’s rifling.

The 13.2mm bullet itself contained in the center a Hartkern (hard core) tool steel armor penetrator two inches (51.5 mm) long and weighing some 402-grains (26 g). German prisoners of war told of viewing demonstrations showing that, when striking at a flat 90-degree angle, the bullet could penetrate some 25mm (1in) of armour plate at 200 meters. Since early tanks such as the British Mk V had, at the thickest, only about 14mm (0.55in) of armour, the 13x92SR Mauser could indeed a punch holes in them with relative ease from fairly straight angles.
More detailed official Imperial German Army testing of the weapon against “special steel plates of the highest quality” revealed the following penetration values at various ranges. These figures were also derived from the ideal 90-degree angle of impact with the target, often called “normal attack”.

Range (Meters)
Penetration (mm)

A brief note about how armor penetration figures are arrived at is in order. Maximum penetration is naturally achieved when the projectile strikes as close as possible to a pure right angle, or 90-degrees, to the armour. Under battlefield conditions, however, there are so many variables involved from the weapon’s and target’s positions alone that a perfect 90-degree strike is virtually impossible to obtain, even on tanks with straight vertical armour, rendering such penetration figures largely irrelevant beyond the theoretical.
The further an AP projectile’s angle of impact is from 90-degrees, the less penetration it achieves. At extremely shallow, glancing angles, even the performance of the modern shaped-charge HEAT warhead is nearly negated; the concentrated blast essentially splatters across the surface of the armour rather than penetrating it. British Army Ordnance, testing a captured T-Gewehr, reported that the projectile, striking at 90-degrees, could easily penetrate a piece of 12 mm armour plate at a range of 120 yards. When impacting at a 45-degree angle, however, it failed to pierce a 7 mm armour plate at 60 yards.
As many anti-tank rifles fired relatively small projectiles, it should also be noted that merely being able to punch a small hole through a tank’s armour did little good. An AP projectile needed to penetrate a vehicle’s armour while still retaining enough mass and velocity to do bodily harm to the crewmen inside or to inflict physical damage upon unprotected interior mechanical components. Collectively known as “under armor” effects, this goal, especially with the WWI and many inter-war tanks, could also be produced by spalling. In this phenomenon, an AP projectile’s impact upon the tank’s armour has a shattering effect that causes flakes and chunks of the armor itself to separate from the inner face of the plate and splatter the interior of the vehicle with high velocity steel fragments capable of causing injury, death and damage.

WWI tank armor was eventually standardized with armoured plate steel, which was carbonized by heating the steel in the presence of carbon for long periods, producing thin “face-hardened” exterior surfaces over a more malleable and shock resistant core. On average, such armour was usually hardened to around 450 on the Brinnell Hardness Scale for steel. Unfortunately for the tank crews, the hardened faces had a tendency to splinter and break away from the surface when impacted by a projectile of sufficient size and force. In addition, due to the manner in which tanks were assembled, heavy impacts against such armour, even if the projectile failed to penetrate, could cause the plate itself to ripple or buckle which, in turn, could cause some of the rivets holding it together to pop or burst, sending the heads flying around the interior of the tank.

Mauser Tank-Gewehr Model 1918
13x92SR Mauser

Method of operation
Manual bolt action

39lb (17.69kg)

Overall length
66.13in (1680mm)

38.69in (17.69kg)


Waffenfabrik Mauser AG

As the delivery system for such projectiles, the T-Gewehr had a 4-groove right hand twist rifled barrel a little over three feet in length, giving the weapon an overall length of five and a half feet (1.7m) and an unloaded weight of exactly 39 pounds (17.7kg). A single-shot manually-operated turn-bolt action, in outward appearance the Model 1918 was quite simple, resembling hardly more than the standard ’98 Mauser infantry rifle “on steroids”, complete with the wooden stock. This stock did feature a full pistol grip around the trigger guard since the wrist of the stock on this massive weapon was too thick for a man’s hand to grasp.
The outward appearance was deceiving, for internally the bolt system was closer to that of the earlier Mauser Model 1888 “Commission Rifle” than to the WWI-standard Gewehr 98. Due to the considerably greater chamber pressure produced by the large 13.2mm cartridge, whereas standard caliber Mauser rifles had two locking lugs on the front of the bolt the T-Gewehr had four, a pair on both the front and the rear of the bolt. It also had three gas relief ports near the front of the bolt and a reinforced cup in the rear bolt shroud as safety features to protect the rifleman in the event of a rupture or detonation of the cartridge.
Since a 39-pound rifle could hardly be fired without support, a simple folding bipod with spiked feet, the same one already in use on the Maxim MG 08/15 light machine gun, was mounted on the bottom of the T-Gewehr’s stock forearm. A beefy mounting plate with a circular hole in the middle was attached to the bottom of the rifle’s barrel band. The bipod attached to this, held on by a simple spring-loaded latch, and the rifle could be traversed right or left on the bipod to lead moving targets. The mounting plate was also compatible with the Maxim MG 08/15 tripod if so desired. Since the MG 08/15 bipod was constructed for lightness and ease of manufacture from folded and pressed sheet metal, the narrow feet had a tendency to sink into mud under the weight of the T-Gewehr so a sturdier bipod with welded tubular steel legs and large diameter circular feet was later introduced specifically for the M-1918.

The heavy Tank-Gewehr tended to sink into the mud when used with the pressed sheet metal bipod of the Maxim MG-08/15 light machine gun so an improved tubular steel bipod with larger feet was introduced.

The very first production run of approximately three hundred T-Gewehrs had a shorter but heavier (due to its thick diameter) 33.9-inch (861 mm) barrel mounting a standard Model 1898 Mauser rifle rear sight, which was calibrated for the 7.92-mm rifle cartridge. This first Kurz (Short) model gave way to the standard production M-1918 with the longer but thinner 37.8-inch (960 mm) barrel and a dedicated rear sight with a V-notch blade mounted on an adjustable sliding scale graduated from 100 to 500 meters to match the trajectory of the 13-mm cartridge. Later, for ease of manufacture, a single fixed rear sight was fitted, both used with an inverted V-shaped front pyramid sight. Considering the flat trajectory of the bullet and the engagement ranges at which the weapon was intended to be used, these fixed sights were in no way a handicap. Maximum range was usually given as 500 meters, but gunners were told to wait until a tank was within 300 meters or less before engaging it to ensure sufficient armor penetration.

A Canadian Army crew of a Male Mk IV tank inspect the weapon that was used against them.

There was no means of taming the recoil of this powerful rifle, however, and the kick the shooter received upon firing it was utterly brutal. The T-Gewehr did not have a muzzle brake nor any other form of recoil reduction, not even padding over the conventional steel buttplate on the stock. A rifle with extremely heavy recoil must be held tightly to the shoulder to prevent injury; those who did not know this and fired an M1918 held loosely ran the risk of a dislocated shoulder or even a cracked collarbone. Other complaints from men who fired the beast included headaches, nausea, temporary deafness, and neck pain. Some German anti-tank riflemen reported being physically jarred backwards a few inches with each shot when firing the T-Gewehr in the prone position. Consider that some American Doughboys of the era complained about the recoil of the .30/06-caliber Model 1903 Springfield service rifle, which generated approximately 16 foot-pounds of kinetic energy in its “kick.” By comparison, the T-Gewehr’s generated recoil was approximately 58.5 foot-pounds.
So feared was the recoil of this weapon that there was no large rush of volunteers to become anti-tank riflemen. With typical frontline gallows humor, a joke quickly spread amongst German infantrymen that the T-Gewehr could only be fired twice, once for each shoulder.  One British officer observed of the T-Gewehr: “Its chief disadvantage was that the German soldier would not use it; not only was he not trained to do so, but he was afraid of its kick, and still more afraid of the tanks themselves. It is doubtful if 1 per cent. of the anti-tank rifles captured in our tank attacks had ever been fired at all.”[i]
Nor does weight endear any weapon to the average infantryman, who is always carrying quite enough weight without adding a forty pound weapon. The large volume of propellant burned with every shot also led to rapid barrel heating and this, coupled with the bone-jarring recoil, meant that an individual could fire no more than twenty rounds through a T-Gewehr at any one time.
Despite this, lacking any other infantry-portable anti-tank weapon, the Waffenfabrik Mauser at Oberndorf am Neckar began to manufacture the Model 1918 as rapidly as possible to get the weapons into the hands of the troops at the front. In July of 1918, the Imperial German Army was struggling to equip each front-line rifle regiment with two Tank-Gewehrs. When the new Mauser assembly line reached full production, it was cranking out an impressive 300 anti-tank rifles per day. By the end of the war on November 11th, 1918 Mauser had managed to turn out a total of around 16,000 anti-tank rifles.
Entende forces seem to have unknowingly encountered the T-Gewehr for the very first time on April 7, 1918. In response to the widespread German use of the armour-piercing “K” rifle and machine gun bullets, the French Army had modified its Schneider CA1 tanks. The original 11 mm thick armour was retained but, on the front and sides of the hull, additional 5.4 mm armour plates were added, with a 4 mm space between the two, making them impervious to “K” bullets and perhaps the first use of spaced armour. On this date, however, two CA1 Schneiders returned from battle perforated with holes measuring from 15 to 18 mm in diameter punched through both the inner and outer armor. It was not until French infantry captured an example of an actual T-Gewehr some days later that this mystery was solved. In early August, French FT-17 light tanks supporting an infantry attack had two tanks disabled, a commander killed, and four drivers wounded, all attributed to anti-tank rifle fire.

New Zealand infantrymen examine a captured Tank-Gewehr. The pistol grip was necessary because a man’s hand could not fit around the wrist of the stock.

In August of 1918, British military intelligence published the content of a captured provisional Imperial German Army document entitled Instructions in the Use of the Anti-Tank Rifle.
“Each anti-tank rifle is served by two men, a rifleman and a reserve rifleman (ammunition carrier). The rifleman carries and handles the weapon, and is primarily responsible for it. He carries a cartridge pouch holding 20 rounds on his left hip and a tool bag on his belt. The reserve rifleman carried two cartridge pouches each containing 20 rounds, one on either hip. He also carries a box of 72 rounds, either slung or in his hand. Both riflemen carry, in addition, assault kit, pistol and bayonet.
“On the move, the bipod remains attached to the rifle, which, like the light machine gun, is either carried on the shoulder or on the right hip suspended from a sling.
“The riflemen must be picked men, powerful, resolute, and cool: they must also be skilled marksmen.
“The employment of anti-tank rifles in squads, each of about three rifles or of a single rifle, depends on the tactical situation and on the ground. Their employment in conjunction with machine guns using armor-piercing ammunition is still more effective.”[i]
When it came to Entende tank crews on the receiving end of the T-Gewehr, Colonel Conrad S. Babcock (Infantry Journal, Volume 20, P399) considered the German ATR effective, “This huge rifle, weighing about 45 pounds, fires a blunt-nosed 45-caliber armour-piercing bullet, and at anything under 100 yards will puncture the big British tank and retain sufficient force to kill the personnel in the tank or injure the machinery. In one instance I saw where a bullet had passed through the side of the tank, through the exhaust pipe, the engine cover, and then made an appreciable dent in the farther sponson. In this action, however, no tanks were reported as having been put out of action by this rifle, but it is a formidable arm if employed in large numbers.”[ii]
One British tank crew took considerable punishment from German AT rifle on August 23, 1918:
“[2/Lt] Bell's tank had not proceeded very far before a bullet struck the right-hand sponson severely wounding the gunner. He immediately jumped out and nothing more was ever seen of him afterwards. Several more bullets struck the tank and two more gunners were hit. The anti-tank rifle was spotted by the man who had taken the 6-pdr gunner's place. He immediately layed the gun and fired, blowing the rifleman and all his gear to smithereens. [Another AT rifle bullet] penetrated the cast-iron cylinder of the water jacket pouring out boiling hot steam.
“Another pierced the front cab and wounded the Hotchkiss gunners. There were now only three effective men in the crew; the engine would be too hot to run, so Bell started to return. Armour-piercing bullets still struck and penetrated the tank but so far the driver had escaped. After about 150 yards the engine seized up...”[iii]

 German infantry waiting to fire the massive M1918 Mauser Tank-Gewehr.

When used by a good marksman and/or a man brawny enough to handle the monster weapon’s brutal recoil, the T-Gewehr could do considerable damage to early tanks. Upon the entry of the United States into the war in 1917, a US Army officer in the fledgling American Tank Corps (which was equipped entirely with borrowed French and British-made tanks) observed what the AP bullet of the T-Gewehr was capable of.
[i]2“One of these ripped its way through the 17 mm. armor of the gun turret, through the 3 mm. steel headshield, through the gunner’s lower jaw, and out the other side. And he lives to tell the tale.”
The same source also provided an example of how unsuccessful the anti-tank rifle could be, even against the small, light 2-man French-made Renault FT-17 tank.
[ii]“One brave Boche stood squarely in the center of Main Street, Varennes, as one of the little monsters came whiffing into town, burbling as it came. Every one else had fled, as well they might, for to see a tank bearing down on you is as demoralizing an experience as would be the sudden appearance of a dinosaur on Main Street.
“This lone hero stood with his anti-tank rifle ready for action, easing its weight and kick by a feather pillow stuffed in at his shoulders. He stood his ground. The tank did not stop. For a few moments, Varennes was full of flying feathers.”
The T-Gewehr was never intended to destroy a tank with a single shot. It was a given that multiple shots would be necessary to eventually inflict casualties among the crew or damage interior machinery. With this requirement, the slow rate of fire of a single-shot weapon was a handicap. Mauser did experiment with the upgrade of an external metal 5-round magazine to increase rapidity of fire as well as a spring-loaded buttplate designed to reduce felt recoil, but neither of these experiments were incorporated into production models before the end of the war.
After the war, the U.S. Army Infantry School at Fort Benning evaluated the T-Gewehr thusly: “These rifles would have undoubtedly been more effective if they had been more widely employed, but the recoil was so heavy that the German soldiers did not like to use them. Many were captured by the British and American troops and several of the British accounts say that it is doubtful if more than a small percentage of these were ever fired. Although these rifles are generally classified as failures it is interesting to note that there were many instances in which British tanks were penetrated by their bullets. One account states that during an attack on August 25th one tank had five of the crew wounded by antitank rifle bullets.”[iii]
Statistically speaking, they were very few Entende tanks that were ever destroyed solely by anti-tank rifle fire. From the German defenders’ point of view, however, a tank did not necessarily have to be completely demolished. If the tank was merely disabled (now called a “mobility kill”), or if multiple members of the crew were injured or killed, the tank was still effectively taken out of action for the duration of that battle. Simply having a weapon they knew could penetrate enemy tanks was a morale booster for the German infantrymen. Having observed the effects of a large-caliber steel-cored projectile smashing through their armour and/or knowing that another one could do so at any moment also had a psychological effect on Entende tank crews as well. In the grand scheme of things, however, the anti-tank rifle did little to alter the course of the conflict. It is hard to argue with Heinz Guderian’s later assessment that the weapon had proven to be largely ineffective.
Although thousands of Mauser T-Gewehrs were simply destroyed after the war, thousands more were studied and evaluated by the victors of WWI and other nations as well. Nationalist China acquired an unknown quantity of M-1918s and ammunition from FN Herstal, and these soldiers on through the Second Sino-Japanese War. A handful showed up during the Spanish Civil War but few, if any, soldiered on into the Second World War. The WWII Soviet Shokolov was essentially a copy of the T-Gewehr chambered for the existing Russian 12.7mm HMG round, but it was only a stop-gap weapon hastily utilized until better, more powerful anti-tank rifles could be manufactured in sufficient numbers. Finland purchased a hundred of these weapons and 4,800 rounds of ammunition from the British. They tested these weapons and experimented with re-chambering at least one T-Gewehr to fire their own improved 13x118B heavy machine gun cartridge, but none of these weapons were used in combat. In addition to the recoil generated by the unadorned muzzle,  the Finns also particularly noted that the muzzle blast, flash and smoke was excessive and could be expected to easily give away the firing position.
Between the two World Wars, with the notable exceptions of France and the United States, every major military power as well as most minor ones developed and armed their infantry with various types of anti-tank rifles. By the 1930’s, the anti-tank rifle was a fairly widespread weapon. In the early days of WWII, prior to the widespread use of weapons that utilized the shaped-charge HEAT warhead to defeat armour explosively, anti-tank weapons still had to rely solely upon kinetic energy to penetrate armour, so the anti-tank rifle remained the only man-portable anti-armour weapon the infantry possessed. Such anti-tank rifles represented cutting edge technology and tactics in 1939, and were actually effective against many of the light tanks of the inter-war era. Only two short years later, by the end of 1941, the needs of combat had accelerated rapid advances in tank technology and armour which had rendered the vast majority of anti-tank rifles all but useless against modern tanks. By 1942, with the exception of the Soviet Union and their particularly powerful weapons, the anti-tank rifle had out-lived its usefulness and was rapidly disappearing from the battlefield.

[ii] Woollcott, Alexander. The Command is Forward; Tales of the AEF. New York: The Century Co, 1919, p 161.
[iii] Woollcott, p 161.

[i] General Headquarters, American Expeditionary Force, Summary of Information Bulletin, No. 99, July, 1918, p 944.
[ii] Babcock, Col. Colin S., “The Australian-American Tank Action at Hamel, July 4, 1918” Infantry Journal, Volume 20, United States Infantry Association, p 399.

[iii] Campbell, Christy. Band of Brigands: The First Men in Tanks, London, Harper Perennial, 2008, p 186.


[i] Fuller, John Frederick. Tanks in the Great War, 1914-1918. p 263.

[i] Jones, MAJ Ralph E. The Fighting Tanks Since 1916. Washington D.C., National Service Publishing Co.,1933, pp 259-260.

[i] Haig, Richard. Life in a Tank. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1918, pp.1-2.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Given your description of the recoil generated from such a rifle, I would have to think very hard on how to avoid shooting it. The body can only receive so much pain before something breaks - literally.

Thanks for the post !