Development of this weapon was inspired by the early 1943 capture of american M9A1 Bazookas in the african campaign (Tunisia; other sources: captured lend-lease bazookas from the Eastern Front). To increase its basic potential it was decided outright to use a weapon caliber of 8.8cm (3.46 in.) instead of the Bazooka's 6cm (2.36 in.). It was designated Raketen-Panzerbüchse ("Rocket Tank Rifle") and officially abbreviated RPzB but commonly referred to as Panzerschreck ("Tank Terror"), among the troops it was also known simply as the Ofenrohr ("stove pipe").
The major differences to the Panzerfaust were the size and the fact that the Panzerschreck by design was to be a reloading weapon, preferrably crew served by trained and dedicated two-man AT teams (gunner and loader), while the Panzerfaust was a single-use, disposable close range one-man weapon for use by everybody. Also, the Panzerschrecks firing mechanism was electric (like that of the Bazooka), while the Panzerfaust used a percussion ignition much like the cartridges of a normal gun.
The firing tube of the original Panzerschreck model, the Raketenpanzerbüchse 43, was164cm (65 in.) long and weighed 9.25kg (20.4 lb) (empty). The projectile used was the RPzB.Gr. 4322 (Raketenpanzerbüchsen-Granate / "Rocket Tank Rifle Round") that carried a shaped charge of 660g (23.3oz.) and weighed 3.30kg (7.27 lb.) there was a Sommer ("summer") (used in temperatures between -5° to +50° Celsius) and a Winter ("winter") (used in temperatures of -40° to +30° Celsius) version of the RPzB.Gr.4322 that accounted for the different thermic conditions. The projectile's flight path was stabilized by a sheet metal stabilizer ring at the rear of its shaft looking quite similar to those used on aircraft bombs. The propellant continued to burn even after it left the tube for another 2m (6.5 ft.), the projectile had then reached its velocity of 105m/s (345 fps). The first Panzerschreck model was built only in small numbers.
Because of the lack of protection for the gunner against the propellant particles the weapon was quite unpopular at first. Use of the weapon by front troops did not increase significantly until an ad-hoc remedy for the problem was found by giving the gunner an improvised protection composed of a fireproof poncho and a gas mask (with the filter removed). In early November 1943 the suggestion for a protective shield, submitted by a frontline soldier, Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) Riechers of Panzer-Jäger Abteilung (Tank Hunter Detachment) 229, was implemented into the weapon's design.
This protective shield measured 36 x 47cm (14 x 18.5 in.), set into the shield was a small mica (a clear mineral) window. It is the most obvious visible difference between the original RPzB.43 and it's successor model, the RPzB.54, since immediately all new RPzB.54 were produced with the new protective shield. This shield also gave the weapon, which was technically a recoilless design, a "recoil" in form of a nasty kickback from the projectile's rocket engine's backblast against which the shield protected the gunner.
Production of the Panzerschreck had changed to this successor model
in October 1943. The new Raketenpanzerbüchse 54 weighed 11kg
(24.2 lb.)(empty). It was also modified to fire the newly developed RPzB.Gr.4992
which with a modificaton of the propellant had a better practical range
(usually cited at 180m). This ammunition too came in a summer and a winter
version.The armor penetration of both RPzB.Gr. 4322 and 4992
230mm (9 in.), at a 60° impact angle this figure was reduced to 160mm
(6.3 in.). The ammunition was transported in a carrying frame holding 5
rounds, the wooden supply crates contained 2 rounds.
Initial orders called for 382,000 RPzB.54 to be produced. This order was later reduced, and by July 1944 production ceased with a total number of 289,151 delivered. The process of equipping the fighting forces with Panzerschrecks progressed quite slow, in 1943 comparably few reached frontline units. By January 1944 21,141 had been issued to combat units, while another 39,526 lay unused in the armories. Panzerschreck weapons were produced by the following companies: Enzinger Union in Pfeddersheim, Gebrüder Scheffler in Berlin, HASAG in Meuselwitz, Jäckel in Freistadt, Fa. Kronprinz in Solingen and Fa. Schricker in Fürth-Vach.
The next model was the RPzB.54/1. Changes were the reduction of tube length to now135cm (53.1 in.), which among other changes led to a reduced weight of 9.5kg (21 lb.). The ignition system was changed: the contact pin to the missile was changed to a contact ring. Also the sights were redesigned and improved. Although the weapon officially entered service at the 20th December of 1944, the first order for this new weapon wasn't given before early 1945, and of the requested 48,000 only 25,744 had actually been delivered until the end of the war. The launch tube of this last model had an expected life span of 200 shots.
The original Panzerschreck model RPzB 43 cost 70 RM (Reichsmark) per launch tube (w/o ammo) (for comparison, even the smallest pre-war AT gun, the 3.7 cm PaK 35/36 (hopelessly useless by 1944), cost 5730 RM !). 10 work hours were needed for the completion of one weapon.
Reportedly there also existed a shortened variant of the RPzB 54 with a tube length of only 107cm; this however seems unlikely and I didn't find further information on this yet.
A last improvement of the sighting was the development of the so-called
("cover aiming device") which allowed for an aiming out of concealement,
therefore protecting the operator. An order of 100,000 of these was placed
as late as February 1945.
Another development was the attempt to save resources by manufacturing the Panzerschreck tube out of impregnated pressed cardboard. Although the idea worked - weight was reduced by 2kg (4.4 lb) and 5.5kg (12 lb) precious metal were saved - it did not enter mass production before the war ended.
There was also a special anti-aircraft munition called Fliegerschreck ("airplane terror") in development that was to be fired from the Panzerschreck. The new ammunition used a new warhead that was simply fitted to the regular Panzerschreck ammunition. The new warhead was 17.4cm long and had (naturally) a diameter of 8.8cm, it contained an explosive charge of Nitropenta that was to distribute 144 small incendiary submunitions. The new ammunition came together with a new aiming device, a simplified round bead like the ones used on AA - machineguns, that could be attached to the Panzerschreck for it's role as an AA weapon. Development of the new weapon was finished by January 1945; 500 of the new warheads were produced but none were used in the planned combat trials.
To prepare the weapon for firing, the RPzB.Gr. projectile had to be inserted into the rear of the weapon. The gunner had two triggers to pull: The first trigger cocked the magnetic ignition system. The second trigger released it: a small magnetic rod was pushed into a coil winding, thereby generating (through magnetic induction) a small electrical current which was conducted via wiring to the rear of the tube where it ignited the projectile's rocket motor.
Aiming was done via a simple sighting device (see sketch at left) consisting of two metal hooks, one serving as the notch, the other one as bead with little inset bars for the different ranges of 100, 150 and 200m (RPzB.54/1). The bead part of the sight also had to be repositioned to account for the different characteristics of both the RPzB.Gr. 4322 and 4992 and the respective summer and winter versions of these ammuntions.
The backblast of the
Panzerschreck was even more dangerous than that of the Panzerfaust. Therefore,
as explained above, with the early model the operator had to wear a kind
of fireproof poncho and a gas mask (with the filter removed) for protection
against the backblasting propellant particles. As stated abvove, the propellant
continued to burn for another 2m (6.5 ft) even after it had left the launch
tube. Later the protective shield cured this problem.
The common tactic for hunting or defending against tanks from 1944 on was the use of special anti-tank teams, so-called "Panzerzerstörergruppen" ("tank destroyer groups"), which consisted of two squads with 3 Panzerschreck each. They were to cover each other which provided some problems in deployment due to the limited range of these weapons.
The Panzerschreck was even used at night: an illuminating flare round then had to be fired behind the enemy tank in order to let the tank silhouette stand out against the bright background.
The Panzerschrecks were initially less successful than Panzerfausts because Panzerschreck gunners - trusting in the impressive size of the Panzerschreck - tended to open fire at larger ranges of around 100m (330 ft.), which was also necessified by the relative cumbersomeness of the large Panzerschreck which was a hindrance when retreating into cover after the shot. Panzerfausts were easier to handle and usually shot from a distance of 30m (100 ft.) after which the soldier quite easily could get under cover again.
trials, out of 12 Panzerschreck rounds fired
at a static T-34 at a range of 100m only 3 hit the target.
In the same trial all of the five Panzerfausts fired at a range of 30m hit the tank - however one should keep in mind that this was a static target that did not shoot back!
CLICK HERE TO SEE SOME PICTURES FROM THE TRIALS (Panzerschreck shooting at target tank)
There is still some controversy around the range of this weapon. Sources give figures for anything from 150m to 1,000m as range: The Panzerschreck's technical data call for a theoretical engagement range of 700m (!), practical engagement ranges are usually cited with 400m for static targets and 100 to 230m for moving targets. Then again, an army report on the fighting around Posen dated March 1st 1945 emphasizes the effectiveness of the Panzerschreck and states that static targets such as AT gun and infantry emplacements had been successfully attacked at ranges up to 1000m (!). Engagement procedures called for the Panzerschreck teams to open fire against attacking (oncoming) tanks at 180-150m. Laterally moving tanks were to be attacked at a range of 120m. These later figures of course take into account the fact that fire should only be opened (and hence the chance of detection and counter fire) when a high chance of hit probability is given.
Many factors influence the weapon's range, amongst these the type of ammunition used (4992 had a higher range), the temperature, size & type and speed vector of the target. A swiss instructor for the B+W Raketenrohr 58/80, a swiss license-built of the belgian Blindicide, which was a pretty straightforward post-war Panzerschreck derivative (although the Blindicide and the Raketenrohr were not direct copies of the Panzerschreck, they are fairly identical in system, handling and operational parameters; official range data: the Blindicide had sights adjustable from 100 - 400 meters, and a special sight for 700meters. Official manufacturer data for the swiss weapon were 300m vs static and 200m vs moving targets) contributed the following:
"Our regulation state a maximum range of 300 meters, but in NCO school
our instructor told us to reduce it to 250 meters max for static targets
and 200 for moving targets. (...) A 400m range is right on for engagement
of non-moving large targets, such as buildings or pillboxes, against which
AT weapons are effective. A 1000m range is reachable only through the use
of a parabolic trajectory, and I imagine that more than one round was fired.
(...) Parabolic-trajectory firing of the RR80 was not cited in the manual
for fighting enemy infantry emplacements (I suspect the tactic went against
Wehrmacht doctrine as well and was used by soldiers as an ad hoc alternative
to mortar fire) but it was allowed for avalanche detachment. A sight attachment
existed which allowed the gunner to properly aim the weapon this way. The
engagement drill procedure were still valid with the RR80 10 years ago.
We had a graphic scheme on the RR80 shield that told the gunner exactly where to aim depending on sight elevation (which had 3 settings: 150, 200 (combat), 250), target speed and windspeed. Fire was usually commanded personally by the group leader (a corporal) who had to spell out the engagement data for the teams (target designation, target distance and speed) and who had to check for correct identification by the gunners. (...) We had a minimum range of 50 meters since the RR80 round fuse didn't arm itself before 15 meters, and there must be at least 50 meters between you and the target in order to survive the engagement. An exploding tank is not the safest thing to be near to..."
He also mentioned in regard to the last time he fired the Raketenrohr, in 1994, where he managed to hit all 4 assigned targets:
"They were at ranges of 150 to 250 meters. They were not moving but
we were under time constraint - 30 seconds to engage them all. 30 seconds
is an eternity under combat conditions, but it always takes the greatest
toll on the loader, since he has to load all the rounds, make sure the
tube is clear, arm the weapon and clear the danger area, which extended
from the rear of the tube up to 50 meters in length and 4 meters to the
In August 1944 an enlarged version of the Panzerschreck was suggested. The caliber of this new Panzerschreck was to be 10.5cm (4.13 in.). The first prototype weighed 18kg (39.6 lb) and was 2.40m (7.87 ft.) long. The projectile weighed 6.1kg (13.43 lb), range was up to 300m (330 yd.), armor penetration was 180mm (7.09 in.) (60° impact angle). The proposed weapon was rejected: the new weapon was to be less cumbersome and lighter, also an armor penetration of 240mm (9.45 in.) was requested. Therefore the next model had a shortened tube of 200cm (6.56 ft.), weight was reduced to 13kg (28.6 lb). The proposed projectile now weighed 6.3kg (13.87 lb) with a shaped charge of 1.3kg (2.86 lb) which made for an armor penetration of 220mm (8.66 in.) (again at 60° angle). But recoil forces now became a problem and experiments with a small mount took place. The end of the war ended this development; none of these Panzerschreck 10,5cm - models ever saw active service.
Panzerjäger Bren 731(e)
The Panzerschreck also constituted the main armament of what was probably the first armored vehicle in history equipped with AT rockets, the Panzerjäger Bren 731(e) ("tank hunter" Bren, consecutive foreign vehicle type number 731, "e" for english origin). The original german concept of a small tank saw the development of a vehicle in the 6 - 10 ton range under the designation E-5 Wanze ("bedbug"). (see below).
In the meantime the germans had captured a number of the english Bren
carrier armoured tracked vehicles during the course of the war. They were
found most useful and therefore used in german service under the foreign-vehicle
designation Bren 731(e).
Among other uses - most served as machine-gun carriers, others were equipped with 3,7cm PaK AT guns as tank hunters - they were converted to improvised tank destroyers with a mount of three Panzerschreck tubes and utilised by the Panzer-Zerstörergruppen ("tank-destroyer groups") who also took with them other AT weapons such as the Panzerfaust. The conversions were done by the field maintenance shops. The Bren vehicle had a length of 3.65m (12 ft.), a width of 2.05m (6 ft. 9 in.) and a height of 1.60m (5 ft. 2 in.). It weighed 4 tons, was armoured up to 12mm (0.47 in.) and used an 85hp Ford V-8 engine that made the little tank destroyer comparably agile and enabled it of speeds of up to 35mph. The Panzerjäger Bren was used mainly on the Eastern Front.
The triple RPzB 54 mounts which can be seen in the picture was also fitted to some SdKfz 251 halftracks and even Kübelwagen jeeps; in the army administrative papers of Jan. 15th 1945 a detailed instruction for the mounting of triple Panzerschreck launchers onto SdKfz 251 armored halftrack personnel carriers was publicized which was intended for the tank-hunters of the mechanized infantry Panzergrenadier-battallions.
E-5 Wanze Ausf m RPzB 54
The german army's weapon's bureau had a series of projected future tank designs, the so-called E-types (E = Entwicklung "development"), wherein the E-number roughly corresponded with the weight class of the vehicle. The smallest such design in the 5-ton class was the E-5 mini tank. The requirements called for a fast minitank, to be used in the antitank role and as machine gun carrier, with no more than 6 - 10 tons of weight and one or two crewmen. The projected minitank was given the name Wanze ("bedbug"). Several different concepts were proposed by the companies Daimler, Steyr, Büssing, Weserhütte; a model by BMW was even built in one prototype, the vehicle had a length of 3,55m and had a 90 hp engine. However, no final decision was made until March 1945, when the whole projected models all were rejected by the Inspector General of Tanks.
Panzerjäger Borgward B IVc Ausf m RPzB 54
there are reports of a few similar vehicles actually built and used in
the defense of Berlin, the vehicle in question was the Borgward B IV
Ausführung mit Raketenpanzerbüchse 54 (Borgward as the company's
name; "version with rocket tank rifle").
The company Borgward had been building the B-series "Minenräumwagen" ("mineclearing vehicles") load carriers. The later vehicles in the series were supposed to carry a demolition charge into the minefield. This resulted in the B-IV, which was ordered by the Heereswaffenamt under the designation schwerer Ladungsträger ("heavy charge carrier").
It was operated by remote control; on the front it carried a detachable explosive charge of 500kg which it placed in the minefield that was supposed to be cleared. The original version Borgward B IVa from as early as October 1940 weighed 3.45t, had a length of 3.65m, a width of 1.80m and a height of 1.185m and was powered by a Borgward engine with 49hp. The internal fuel capacity of 130l allowed for an operating range of around 120km cross-country. Instead of the remote control it could alternately be operated conventionally by a driver; armor plating to the front and sides had a strength of 10mm. Original contract cost was 28,000 RM apiece. The Borgward vehicles in general didn't prove to be as widespread as their smaller brethren, the Goliath remote-controlled tracked explosive charge vehicles.
In April 1942 the first 15 vehicles were handed over to the Waffenamt; a last major production batch of the original A-version was delivered in June 1943. After that, the successor version B-Ausführung ("B-version") had stronger armor plating which increased weight to almost 4t, and 260 were produced until November 1943. The final production version was the B IVc model. Dimensions were 4.10m length, 1.83, width and 1.25m height, it had a 6-cyl. Borwgard engine of 3.75l which had a performance of 78hp which gave the vehicle a maximum speed of 40km/h. Armor thickness had been increased to 20mm at front and sides which increased the total weight to roughly 5t; 305 were produced.
few of these in an improvisation were modified as Panzerjäger
("tank hunters"); they were armed with a sixfold RPzB.54 arrangement offset
to the left side of the vehicle (the driver compartment was offset to the
right in all Borgward IV vehicles); the launcher was rotatable and offered
a protective shield. It was intended to engage enemy armor at short distance
in a shotgun-like manner with the six Panzerschreck tubes. A few of these
saw actual combat in the defence of Berlin in the closing days of the war.
The small picture above shows an abandoned Borgward before the background
of the Brandenburg Gate landmark in Berlin's center. The picture at right
apparently shows Russian soldiers (notice uniform and PPSh-41) with a captured
tank-hunter Borgward (pictures via R.Waugh).
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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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