German Anti-Tank Rifles – Panzerbüchse
by George Parada
With the first appearance of tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles arose the need for infantry anti-tank weapons. Late in World War I, Germans introduced heavy anti-tank rifle – 13.35mm Mauser Tank Gewehr Model 1918 based on 7.92mm Mauser Model 98 rifle. The new rifle was able to penetrate 26mm of armour at 100m and approximately 10mm at 200m. Mauser produced some 15800 but they didn’t prove to be successful being heavy (approx. 18kg) and having very strong recoil. In addition to model 1918 rifle, Germans tested 13.35mm MG18 heavy machine gun. It was not until 1930s, when development of infantry anti-tank weaponry started again.
The two main anti-tank rifles used by the German Army were 7.92mm Panzerbüchse (PzB) model 38 by Rheinmetall-Borsig and model 39 by Gustloff Werke. Only 1600 PzB 38 were produced from 1939 to 1940, as the weapon was too complex and expensive. Lighter PzB 39 was mass produced (some 39232) and was widely used on all fronts. PzB 38 weighted 16.2kg, while PzB 39 only 12.6kg. Both anti-tank rifles had similar characteristics – muzzle velocity of 1210mps (PzB 38) vs. 1265mps (PzB 39) and length of 1.615m (PzB 38) vs. 1.620m (PzB 39). Both rifles were single shot weapons and fired the same ammunition (steel core and from 1940, tungsten core). The original bullets had hardened steel core and tiny capsule of tear gas. The idea behind the capsule was that once the bullet entered the armored vehicle it would disperse and force the crew to leave the vehicle. It didn’t work as only the core penetrated and capsule was left outside.PzB 38 and 39 were able to penetrate 25mm of armour at 60 degrees at 300m and 30mm at 100m. It was planned that each infantry division will have 81 rifles but it varied from unit to unit. PzB 38 remained in service in the early war years, while PzB 39 remained in limited use until 1943/44. Majority of PzB 39 anti-tank rifles was converted to grenade launchers – Granatbüchse Model 39 (GrB 39).GrB 39 was a PzB 39 converted to take the standard rifle attachment grenade launcher (Schiessbecher) able to fire standard hollow-charge anti-tank or anti-personnel grenade.
In September of 1939, German Army had only 62 PzB 38 and 568 PzB 39 anti-tank rifles in service. In July of 1941, there were some 25298 PzB 39 anti-tank rifles in service with the German Army. Other German made anti-rifle was PzB 40k, which was a 7.92mm weapon utilizing MG34 machine gun components. It was developed by Krieghoff.Another anti-tank rifle was Czechoslovak ZB from Brno – MPzB 41 developed upon order from Waffen SS. In addition to their own rifles, Germans used some 630 captured Polish 7.92mm kb.Ur.wz.35 (also known as Maroszek wz.35) designated by the Germans as Panzerbüchse 770(p) or PzB 35(p), which were better than their German counterparts. Along with Polish anti-tank rifles, Germans used captured Soviet 14.5mm PTRD-41 (Degtyarev) designated as Panzerabwehrbüchse 783(r) and 14.5mm PTRS-41 (Simonov) designated as Panzerabwehrbüchse 784(r). Captured examples of Soviet anti-tank rifles were still in use by the Germans as late as 1943. Also number of British .55in Boys Mark I anti-tank rifles was captured at Dunkirk in 1940 by the Germans and designated as 13,9mm Panzerabwehrbüchse 782(e). Another anti-tank rifle used by the Germans was Swiss Solothurn 7.92mm MSS 41, but it was used in small numbers.
Overall, anti-tank rifles represented pre-war concept of fighting armoured fighting vehicles, which were rather lightly armoured. It became evident that once "armour race" started, anti-tank rifles quickly became obsolete and could only be used as short- range anti-tank infantry weapons.