[Lone Sentry: German Antitank Weapons]
  [Lone Sentry: Photographs, Documents and Research on World War II]
Home Page  |  Site Map  |  What's New  |  Search  |  Contact Us

"German Antitank Weapons" from Intelligence Bulletin, November 1944

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover, November 1944]   The following is an article from the November 1944 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin on German antitank weapons of World War II. The report covers all types of antitank weapons used by the German military in WWII including traditional antitank guns, antiaircraft guns, self-propelled guns, and infantry weapons such as the Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


German antitank weapons are divided into several classes. The main class comprises guns built specifically for antitank missions and falls into three groups—guns of conventional German design, guns built with tapered-bore tubes, and captured antitank weapons.

The orthodox German guns in the first group are designed to achieve armor penetration at maximum ranges by using relatively heavy projectiles with high velocities. The first such gun was the 37-mm Rheinmetall (the 3.7-cm Pak). This was too limited in power at the time of the Battle of France (1940), and was superseded by the 50-mm 5-cm Pak 38. This 50-mm weapon is gradually being replaced, in turn, by the 75-mm 7.5-cm Pak 40, which is the standard German antitank gun of today. Since the Pak 40 is capable of penetrating 4.43 inches of armor at 500 yards, it is considered an adequate weapon. These three guns all have similar basic features: split tubular trails, a low silhouette, and a large shield. All have been kept as light as possible to increase tactical mobility. The 50-mm and the 75-mm guns employ muzzle brakes to reduce recoil and thus permit lighter carriages. In 1944 another gun, the 88-mm 8.8-cm Pak 43/41, was added to this group. Although this gun is extremely powerful (it penetrates 4.4 inches of armor at 2,500 yards), its great weight on its split-trail, two-wheeled carriage somewhat reduces its mobility. Another version of this gun—the 8.8-cm Pak 43—mounts the same tube, but on a carriage like that of the well-known 88-mm antiaircraft guns of the Flak 18 and 36 types.

[German antitank guns of the normal type: the 3.7-cm Pak, 5-cm Pak 38, and 7.5-cm Pak 40.]
German antitank guns of the normal type. At the left is the 3.7-cm Pak; at the right, the 5-cm Pak 38; in the rear, the 7.5-cm Pak 40.

The guns in the tapered-bore group are intended to have greater mobility than conventional guns capable of achieving identical armor penetration. Tapered-bore guns seek to achieve penetration at short ranges, using light projectiles fired at very high muzzle velocities. Tungsten, which is becoming increasingly difficult for the Germans to obtain, is necessary in the manufacture of projectiles for these guns; also, the performance of the guns in combat has been a disappointment to the Germans. All three of the tapered-bore guns bear the same date of standardization—1941. First to be introduced was the very light 28/20-mm gun 2.8-cm s.Pz.B. 41. So light that it can easily be manhandled by one gunner, the 28/20 has been used by mountain troops, who can break it up into loads and climb with it, and also has been used in an airborne version. It has been issued extensively to armored and motorized infantry as a rifle company antitank weapon. The next larger tapered-bore gun, the 42/28-mm 4.2-cm Pak 41, is mounted on a modified 3.7-cm Pak carriage; this weapon also has been used by mountain troops. The largest is the 75/55-mm 7.5-cm Pak 41. The 75/55 has a most unusual carriage. There is no axle; instead, the wheels are secured to the thick shield, with the gun trunnioning on the shield as well. This gun has not been issued in large quantities.

[The tapered-bore 28/20-mm gun, s.Pz.B. 41.]
The tapered-bore 28/20-mm gun, s.Pz.B. 41.

[The airborne 28/20-mm antitank gun.]
The airborne 28/20-mm antitank gun.

[The tapered-bore 42/28-mm 4.2-cm Pak resembles the 3.7-cm Pak]
The tapered-bore 42/28-mm 4.2-cm Pak (right) resembles the 3.7.cm Pak (left).

[The 75/55-mm tapered bore 7.5-cm Pak 41.]
The 75/55-mm tapered bore 7.5-cm Pak 41.

The group of captured antitank weapons includes a number of types that the German Army had seized in the course of its conquests. Most of these guns had been designed and built before 1940. The Germans have used them as stop-gap weapons, substituting them for the better matériel that German factories have not been able to produce in sufficient quantity. For example, extensive use is made of the French Model 1937 47-mm gun (4.7-Pak 181 (f)), which has an effective range of only 550 yards. However, there are two really useful and efficient weapons that the Germans have put to considerable use. One is the Soviet 76.2-mm Model 1936 field gun, which the Red Army designed with an eye to using it for antitank and even antiaircraft purposes. The Germans have found this high-velocity gun valuable, and have modified it by adding a double shield and, sometimes, a muzzle brake. Although it is an alternate weapon with the 75-mm Pak 40 and the 88-mm antitank guns in the German Army, the Soviets have found it too heavy and badly balanced, and have issued what they consider superior antitank and field guns to replace it. Another foreign gun favored by the German is the famous 75-mm Schneider field gun, Model 1897. Many of these have been captured from various European countries, especially from France. The Germans have modified the 75-mm Schneider by fitting it with a large muzzle brake and by putting the gun on their own 50-mm antitank gun carriage. They call the result the 7.5-cm Pak 97/38. Since the French 75 lacks muzzle velocity, it cannot be regarded as a satisfactory modern antitank gun.

[The French Model 1937 47-mm Gun.]
The French Model 1937 47-mm Gun.

[Non-German guns: French 75, Russian Model 1936, Russian 76.2-mm Model 1939]
Two non-German guns that the German Army uses in an antitank role are shown at the left and right. At the left is the French 75 fitted with a muzzle brake and mounted on the Pak 38 carriage. At the right is the Russian Model 1936 field gun rebuilt as the 7.62-cm Pak 36 (r). The gun in the center is the gun with which the Russians intended to replace the Model 1936; it is known as the 76.2-mm Model 1939 field gun. The Germans have fitted it with a muzzle brake, and although they class it as a field gun, they also use it in an antitank role.

A second and highly important class of antitank weapons consists of antiaircraft guns employed in an antitank role. The high velocity of antiaircraft guns makes them suitable for antitank missions, and, since 1940, German designers have paid special attention to the possibility that any German antiaircraft gun may be used as a dual-purpose weapon. The smaller guns—the 20-mm 2-cm Flak 30 and 38, and the 37-mm 3.7-cm Flak 18 and 36—are now of little value in an antitank role because of their lack of power. They remain effective against lightly armored vehicles, and against the vision slits, ports, and optical apparatus of larger tanks. The newer 50-mm 5-cm Flak 41, which resembles the 37's, is not much more effective. The 88‑mm guns are notorious for their effectiveness against tanks of all sizes. These guns include the Flak 18 series (that is, the Flak 18, 36, and 37) and the Flak 41. Those in the Flak 18 series have mobile cruciform carriages with four outriggers, and are capable of effective fire with heavy projectiles at great ranges. They differ in minor details only. The Flak 41 is a somewhat similar weapon, but much more powerful, having a greatly increased muzzle velocity. Introduced in 1942, it is similar to the 8.8-cm Pak 43/41 in that its great weight renders it less mobile than would seem desirable. Fitted with a large shield, it was designed with greater consideration for antitank fire than were the guns in the Flak 18 series. The latter, as a matter of fact, usually are fitted with a special carriage and shield when they are to function primarily in an antitank role. This carriage permits a limited field of forward fire from the wheels without the necessity of emplacing the gun. A Soviet gun—the 85-mm Model 1939—has been fitted with an 88-mm liner, and is now in German service as the 8.5/8.8-cm Flak 30(r). This gun bears a general resemblance to those in the Flak 18 series, and gives a similar performance.

[The 20-mm antiaircraft gun, 2-cm Flak 38.]
The 20-mm antiaircraft gun, 2-cm Flak 38.

[The 8.8-cm Flak 36 emplaced in Russia.]
The 8.8-cm Flak 36, emplaced (in Russia). When this gun is off its carriage, as shown here, it can fire against aircraft. However, the Germans fit it with a shield when they intend to use it primarily against tanks.

[An 8.8-cm Flak 41 emplaced in Italy.]
An 8.8-cm Flak 41 emplaced (in Italy).

It is notable that, in the case of most of the guns mentioned, the Germans have made every effort to cut down on weight so as to gain tactical mobility. While the use of light metals and lighter carriages through employment of recoil-reducing muzzle brakes has been general, there has been a recent tendency to retain mobility but to increase muzzle velocity by reducing the gun-tube safety factor. This appears to have been done even in the case of such heavy weapons as the 88-mm Pak 43/41 and the Flak 41. The tendency has been especially noticeable in German adaptations of such captured weapons as the Soviet Model 1939 antiaircraft gun and the Soviet Model 1936 field gun, the chambers of which have been altered to take more powerful charges.

Another important class of antitank weapons is composed of the self-propelled antitank guns, or tank destroyers. These generally comprise modern antitank guns mounted on lightly armored tank chassis. Typical of the best of this class are the Rhinoceros (an 88 mounted on a modified tank chassis made of Pz.Kpfw. III and Pz.Kpfw. IV parts), the 75-mm 7.5-cm Pak 40 (Sf), and the 76.2-mm 7.62-cm Pak 36(r) (Sf) on the Panzerjäger II (or Marder II) chassis or the Panzerjäger 38, (or Marder III) chassis. (The terms Marder II and III refer to highly modified tank chassis of the Pz.Kpfw. II and Pz.Kpfw. 38(t), with engines moved forward so that gunners can stand on the floor of the hull. Panzerjäger is a general term referring to all highly modified chassis for German tank destroyers.) Such changes give the vehicles a lower silhouette. They represent an advance from the period 1941-42, when the Germans quickly mounted any sort of antitank weapon on any sort of chassis. Since many of the latter types of self-propelled guns are in use today, it may be said that there are as many types of German self-propelled antitank guns as there are possible combinations of guns and chassis.

[The 88-mm tank destroyer Rhinoceros (Nashorn, Hornisse).]
The 88-mm tank destroyer Rhinoceros.

[A 75-mm tank destroyer on a modified chassis—7.5-cm Pak 40 (Sf.) auf Pz. Jäg. 38 (Marder III).]
A 75-mm tank destroyer on a modified chassis—7.5-cm Pak 40 (Sf.) auf Pz. Jäg. 38 (Marder III).

[A 75-mm tank destroyer on a modified chassis—7.5-cm Pak 40 (Sf.) auf Pz. Jäg. II (Marder II).]
A 75-mm tank destroyer on a modified chassis—7.5-cm Pak 40 (Sf.) auf Pz. Jäg. II (Marder II).

[76-mm tank destroyer on an unmodified chassis—7.62-cm Pak 36 (r) auf Pz. Kpfw. 38 (t).]
76-mm tank destroyer on an unmodified chassis—7.62-cm Pak 36 (r) auf Pz. Kpfw. 38 (t).

One of the latest and most powerful tank destroyers is the Jagdpanther, or Panzerjäger Panther. This weapon is an 88-mm gun of late design on a Panther tank chassis, suitably modified. The gun is so well armored that there is actually hard to distinguish the Jagdpanther from an assault gun.

[The 88-mm tank destroyer Jagdpanther.]
The 88-mm tank destroyer Jagdpanther.

German assault guns now must be listed as a class of available antitank weapons, although their primary mission is direct infantry support. The most common type of assault gun is the long 75-mm gun with muzzle brake, mounted on a Pz.Kpfw. III chassis. This type is known as the 7.5-cm Sturmgeschütz 40. A big assault gun formerly called the "Ferdinand," but now known as the "Elephant," mounts an 88. It is thought that production of this heavy 70-ton vehicle may have been discontinued. German assault guns of the types mentioned have guns mounted in low armored boxes, instead of in turrets. Fire is only to the front, with very limited traverse. Armor is weak on the rear and top.

[A side view of the widely used 75-mm assault gun, 7.5-cm Stu. G. 40. (Stug III)]
A side view of the widely used 75-mm assault gun, 7.5-cm Stu. G. 40.

[A top view of the 7.5-cm Stu. G. 40. (Stug III)]
A top view of the 7.5-cm Stu. G. 40. This is a slightly earlier model than the one shown in the preceding photograph. Removable anti-bazooka/antitank grenade plates are in place.

German development of the hollow-charge shell, which began as early as 1938, has permitted employment of all low-velocity infantry howitzers and field artillery in emergency antitank roles. The principle of the hollow charge is well known. Low-velocity weapons merely have to throw their hollow-charge projectiles against an armor surface. On striking the armor, the light streamlined cap of the shell is crushed. The explosive then exerts a concentrated force against a small area of the armor. The concentrated blast which results is intended to effect a penetration of the tank armor.

Hollow-charge shells have been furnished for standard infantry guns and artillery of German divisions of all types—in particular, the 75-mm and 150-mm infantry howitzers, the 105-mm and 150-mm field howitzers, and the 105-mm guns.

Since many antitank guns of obsolete models still are in service, the Germans have introduced the stick bomb, another development of the hollow charge, in an effort to make the most of such equipment. Stick bombs consist of very large charges mounted on a spigot. The spigot is inserted in the gun muzzle, and the whole is propelled by firing a special blank round. Stick bombs are furnished for the 3.7-cm Pak, 15-cm s. I.G. 33, and the French Model 1937 47-mm antitank gun. Such bombs have short range and limited accuracy. The French 47, for instance, fires its stick bomb at ranges of from 200 to 275 yards only.

A most important class of antitank weapons was almost completely neglected until Germany invaded the Soviets. Only then, apparently, did the German High Command become seriously interested in the effectiveness of close-combat antitank weapons and techniques. The Germans were in such a hurry to introduce this type of warfare that the first German manuals on the subject hardly bothered to change the Soviet drawings that they copied. As a result, German soldiers studying antitank close combat were treated to illustrations which showed Soviet troops successfully demolishing Pz.Kpfw. I's with all varieties of close-combat weapons.

Prior to the Russian campaign, the Germans had issued a company antitank weapon—the 7.9-mm antitank rifle. But after the Russian campaign had got under way, the Germans began to convert this weapon into a grenade launcher which could fire hollow-charge antitank grenades.

[The antitank rifle modified into a grenade discharger.]
The antitank rifle modified into a grenade discharger.

Readers of the Intelligence Bulletin already are familiar with the simpler devices used in close antitank combat—Molotov cocktails, bottles of phosphorus, sliding and hand-thrown mines, magnetic hollow charges, sticky bombs, and weapons of a similar nature. Readers also are familiar with such weapons as the antitank hollow-charge grenade which can be launched from the standard rifle, and with the signal pistol fitted to fire hollow charges. However, the non-recoil weapons of the bazooka type—a most important group—have not yet been discussed.

Of this group the first weapon to be adopted was a frank copy of the bazooka. The larger German version is called the 8.8-cm Raketenpanzerbüchse 43, or Ofenrohr (stovepipe) for short. Sometimes it is called the Panzerschreck—(tank terror). The Ofenrohr fires an 88-mm hollow-charge projectile weighing 7 pounds. The maximum range is about 165 yards. The Ofenrohr is clumsier than the bazooka, and is reputed to be less accurate.

[The Ofenrohr with the projectile used in it and in the Püppchen. (Panzerschreck)]
The Ofenrohr, with the projectile used in it and in the Püppchen.

The Püppchen ("Dolly"), a carriage-mounted rocket launcher with breechblock also fires the 88-mm rocket. Although the Püppchen has wheels, the gun can be fired from little sleighs to achieve a very low silhouette. While the Püppchen, has a range of 770 yards, is very lightly built, and is likely to smash up when towed by motor vehicles.

[The Püppchen.]
The Püppchen.

The great majority of the non-recoil weapons are devices known as Panzerfaust. There are three of these—the little Panzerfaust klein 30 (formerly the Faustpatrone I), the Panzerfaust 30 (formerly the Faustpatrone II), and the Panzerfaust 60. The little Panzerfaust is called Gretchen for short, while the 30 is known simply as Panzerfäuste. The tubes are similar, and have a sight and firing mechanism. They are 1 3/4 inches in diameter and 2 feet, 7 1/2 inches long. The projectiles are very large hollow charges. The charge for the Gretchen weighs 3 pounds, 4 ounces; that for the Panzerfaust weighs 6 pounds 14 ounces. Each is mounted on a wooden tail rod fitted with spring-steel vanes. These vanes wrap around the rod when the rod is inserted in the muzzle of the launching tube, and spring out to guide the projectile after firing. The tubes are expendable, and contain the propelling charge fired by percussion. The range is very limited, and is indicated by the designation (30 means 30 meters range, or 33 yards; 60, 66 yards). The operator must take cover after discharging a projectile. Also, he must wear a helmet as protection against a rain of fragments and debris, keep his eyes closed, and keep the front edge of his helmet against the ground. The jet of flame to the rear is fatal up to 10 feet; the operator must take this into account when firing, and make sure that no walls or other obstacles will block the jet. The tubes are held under the right arm. The left hand supports the front of the tube, while the right hand is free to pull out the safety pin, cock the striker, and press the release button. Sighting is effected by aligning the top of the sight and the top edge of the projectile. To date, all the Panzerfäuste have proved dangerous to the user. It is believed that every effort will be made to improve them—especially with regard to increasing the range. Armor penetration is good; the Germans claim as much as 7.9 inches for the Panzerfaust 30. It is estimated that actual penetration is around 6 inches.

[The Panzerfaust 30 with sight raised and projectile shown separately. The projectile vanes are extended.]
The Panzerfaust 30, with sight raised and projectile shown separately. The projectile vanes are extended.

[A U. S. soldier demonstrates the Panzerfaust klein 30.]
A U. S. soldier demonstrates the Panzerfaust klein 30.

Since Allied airpower has curtailed the mobility of German antitank guns, the Germans have been compelled to place great stress on the Ofenrohr and the Faustpatrone. Large quantities of these have been issued. The Ofenrohr is chiefly a regimental antitank company weapon, but the Faustpatronne is furnished on a generous scale to each rifle company. Reports from the field indicate that the Faustpatrone has been especially well liked by German soldiers.

An even more recent development is the Panzerwurfmine. This is a hand-thrown hollow charge; it is similar in size and shape to the Faustpatrone projectiles, except that its vanes are made of cloth.

[Three Panzerwurfmine with vanes folded.]
Three Panzerwurfmine, with vanes folded.

[Demonstration throwing of the Panzerwurfmine.]
Demonstration throwing of the Panzerwurfmine.

1 In Intelligence Bulletin, Vol. III, No. 2, p. 19, lines 9 and 10 should read ". . . . the Germans have a new 88-mm (3.46-inch) tank gun, the Kw.K. 43 . . . ."

Glossary of German Terms

Elefant (Elephant) -- an 88-mm gun mounted on the Panzerjäger Tiger P (a highly modified Tiger tank chassis). This was formerly known as the Ferdinand.

(f) -- a French weapon officially adopted by the German forces. The letter follows the weapon designation.

Faustpatrone -- obsolete name for a Panzerfaust.

Flak (Flugabwehrkanone) -- antiaircraft, or antiaircraft gun.

Gr.B. (Granatbüchse) -- a special rifle for launching antitank grenades.

Jagdpanther -- an 88-mm antitank gun mounted on the Panzerjäger Panther (a highly modified Panther tank chassis).

Marder (Marten) -- name of a bird, used to designate three types of tank destroyer (Panzerjäger) chassis:

Marten I -- the Panzerjäger Lr.S. chassis, which is a highly modified French Lorraine tractor chassis.

Marten II -- the Panzerjäger II chassis, which is a highly modified Pz.Kpfw. II chassis.

Marten III -- the Panzerjäger 38 chassis, which is a highly modified Pz.Kpfw. 38(t) chassis.

These chassis when designated Marten mount either the 75-mm Pak 40 or the 76.2-mm Pak 36 (r).

Nashorn (Rhinoceros) -- an 88-mm antitank gun mounted on the Panzerjäger III/IV, and formerly known as the Hornisse (Hornet). (The Panzerjäger III/IV is a highly modified chassis made from parts of the Pz.Kpfw. III and IV.)

Pak (Panzerabwehrkanone) -- antitank, or antitank gun. (Panzerjägerkanone is the new word for antitank guns, but the abbreviation still is Pak.)

Panzerfaust -- a recoilless, one-man antitank grenade launcher. At one time Panzerfaust referred only to one model of launcher.

Pz.B. (Panzerbüchse) -- antitank rifle; if preceded by the letter "s", a heavy anti-tank rifle.

Pz.Jäg (Panzerjäger) -- (1) Antitank and tank destroyer (new term).
(2) A chassis of some vehicle highly modified in order to mount an anti-tank gun.

Pz.Kpfw. (formerly Pz.Kw.) (Panzerkampfwagen) -- tank.

(r) -- a Soviet (Russian) weapon officially adopted by the German forces. The letter follows the weapon designation.

R.Pz.B. (Raketen-Paazerbüchse) -- a rocket launcher of the bazooka type.

s.I.G. (Schweres Infanteriegeschütz) -- a heavy infantry cannon.

Stu.G. (Sturmgeschütz) -- an assault gun (refers to complete unit of gun and carriage).

(t) -- a Czechoslovakian weapon officially adopted by the German forces. The letter follows the weapon designation.


[Back] Back to Articles by Subject | Intel Bulletin by Issue | T&TT by Issue | Home Page

LONE SENTRY | Home Page | Site Map | What's New | Search | Contact Us