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Soviet PTRS-41 14.5 mm anti-tank rifle
Japanese Type 97 20 mm anti-tank rifle

An anti-tank rifle is a rifle designed to penetrate the armour of vehicles, particularly tanks. The usefulness of rifles for this purpose ran from the introduction of tanks in World War I into the early Second World War, when they were rendered almost entirely obsolete. Vehicle armour became too thick to be penetrated by rigid projectiles from rifles that could be carried by a single soldier, and anti-tank rifles were replaced with shaped-charge weapons of which the best-known is the bazooka. Similar anti-materiel rifles exist today, such as the Barrett M82.

Contents

History

The tug of war between armour and projectiles had been developing for a long while among naval vessels, since the advent of the Ironclad. It wasn't until soldiers met armored vehicles that the conflict of infantry firearms and armour began. The introduction of armoured cars and tanks resulted in the development of the first anti-tank weapons, among the first of which were high-powered rifles. These had appeared in the 1800s for big-game hunting. The anti-tank rifle would follow the same route: a large bullet with a high velocity and the ability to penetrate armour.

World War I

The first tanks, beginning with the British Mark I launched against the German trenches in World War I, were nearly impregnable to ordinary rifle fire. Most armoured cars were similarly invulnerable, but troops rarely faced armoured cars, as they could not navigate the landscape of trench warfare very well. Though tanks and armoured cars were vulnerable to artillery, mortars, and grenades, infantry was at a significant disadvantage when facing armoured fighting vehicles since they had no effective direct fire weapon.

The first attempt at boosting penetrating power was the so-called 'reversed bullet'. This used the same cartridge and bullet as the regular round, but the bullet was reversed and an increased propelling charge was used. The next development was a special armour-piercing bullet, the K bullet (in German Patrone SmK Kurz 7.92 mm), which could also be fired from the regular infantry rifle. It had an increased propelling charge and a steel core bullet. This had about a 30% chance of penetrating the 8 mm armour of contemporary tanks if it struck the armour at a perpendicular angle.

Both types had their specific advantages and disadvantages: for example, the K bullet was more expensive to produce and therefore was generally only issued to snipers and other advanced marksmen who could use it more effectively; the ordinary infantryman had to make do with reversed bullets, which were far less effective and had to be used in closer proximity to the target (and, therefore, other anti-tank weapons such as grenades, mortars, or artillery were preferred).

In addition, both types of round damaged the rifles due to the higher propellant load and the resulting higher muzzle velocities and pressures: firstly, service life of the rifle barrel was decreased significantly because of the increased wear. Secondly, the higher pressure created in the chamber could jam the bolt, leading to the extractor claw failing to extract the cartridge and only breaking off the cartridge rim, leaving it stuck in the chamber. The strain of firing the increased charge could also burst the chamber of weaker and older rifles, at best destroying the rifle and at worst injuring or killing the rifleman. For these reasons, the K bullet and reversed bullet were not popular with the troops. Nevertheless, it gave the infantry a chance to stop a tank in an emergency, or at least injure or kill some of the crew if a bullet penetrated.

Even as the rounds were introduced, tanks were being designed and built with thicker armour rendering these rounds largely ineffective, though they remained in use against the older designs and armoured cars. The first purposely-designed infantry anti-tank rifle was designed by Germany. This large-calibre rifle was capable of penetrating the armour of the newer generations of tanks and allowed a chance at stopping them. However, other techniques were still preferred[citation needed]. The high recoil of the rifle was very hard on the firer, sometimes breaking the collar bone or dislocating the shoulder. Although the rifle was unique to its role, it was a development of the Mauser rifles and high-powered British sporting rifles that had preceded it. The calibre of roughly 12–13 mm was not unusual either, some 0.50-inch firearms having been fielded in land warfare with the relatively new and more powerful (as compared to black powder) smokeless powders of the era.

During World War I, a half-inch high velocity round was being developed in the US at the same time for use against aircraft. It would be used with the Browning-designed .50 calibre machine gun. This round was based on current US .30-06 calibre infantry ammunition. When word of the German anti-tank shell spread, there was some debate as to if it should be copied and used as a base for the new machine gun cartridge. However, after some analysis, the German ammunition was ruled out, as its performance was inferior to the modified Springfield .30-06 round and was semi-rimmed, making it difficult to feed into an automatic weapon. The Browning M2 .50 cal machine gun would, however, go on to function as an anti-armour machine gun.

World War II

Polish Kb ppanc wz.35 7.92 mm anti-tank rifle used by the Polish Army in defense of Poland (September 1939).

At the start of World War II, most nations had an anti-tank rifle based on a high-velocity, large-calibre round (e.g., the British Boys Anti-tank Rifle). The first combat use of anti tank rifles took place during the Polish Defensive War of 1939. Wz. 35 anti-tank rifle was extensively used by most Polish units. Wz. 35 with 7.92 mm anti-tank rifle ammunition was very effective weapon against all German tanks of the period (the Panzer I, II and III, as well as the Czech-made LT-35 and LT-38).[1] At up to 400 meters it could destroy all lightly-armored vehicles. It could penetrate 15 mm of armor, sloped at 30° at 300 m distance, or 33 mm of armor at 100 m.

Later as armour became thicker on the newer models, the effectiveness of a man-portable rifle lessened. A notable exception was against the light tanks employed by the Japanese in Malaya, where the Boys rifle was used with some success. At first small cannons up to 20mm calibre were used, but the anti-tank role soon required more powerful weapons which were based on the application of chemical energy in the form of the shaped charge anti-tank rifle grenade. To these were added rocket launchers, recoilless rifles such as the Panzerfaust and rocket-propelled grenades and, most notably, the bazooka. Some anti-tank rifles, like the Finnish L-39, were still used by snipers to harass the enemy, like firing phosphorus bullets at tanks' open hatches, or to smoke an enemy sniper out of his position.

The Soviet PTRS-41 and PTRD of World War II vintage were used by North Korean and Chinese forces during the Korean War as they lacked more modern infantry anti-tank weapons.

The weapon is the conceptual ancestor of anti-tank weapons wielded by modern infantry, and both large-calibre sniper rifles and anti-materiel rifles owe some part of their design heritage to it.

Examples

Some examples of anti-tank rifles include:

WWI
WWII
Post Cold War

References

  1. ^ Gwóźdź, Zbigniew; Polskie konstrukcje broni strzeleckiej, Piotr Zarzycki (1993). SIGMA NOT. ISBN 83-85001-69-7. 

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