The Panzerfaust (lit. "armor fist" or "tank fist", plural: Panzerfäuste) is an inexpensive, single shot, recoilless German anti-tank weapon of World War II. It consists of a small, disposable pre-loaded launch tube firing a high-explosive anti-tank warhead, and was intended to be operated by a single soldier. A similar but smaller weapon was named the Faustpatrone. The Panzerfaust was in use from 1943 until the end of the war.
A forerunner of the Panzerfaust was the Faustpatrone (literally "fist cartridge").
The Faustpatrone was much smaller in physical appearance than the better known Panzerfaust. Development of the Faustpatrone started in the summer of 1942 at the German company HASAG with the development of a smaller prototype called Gretchen ("little Greta") by a team headed by Dr. Heinrich Langweiler in Leipzig. The basic concept was that of a recoilless gun; neither the Faustpatrone, nor its successor the Panzerfaust were rockets.
The following weapon model of the Panzerfaust family, the so-called Faustpatrone klein, 30 m ("small fist-cartridge") had a total weight of 3.2 kg (7.1 lb) and a total length of 98.5 cm (38¾ in); its projectile had a length of 36 cm (14¼ in) and a warhead diameter of 10 cm (4 in); it carried a shaped charge of 400 g (14 oz) of a 50:50 mix of TNT and tri-hexogen. The propellant consisted of 54 g (1.9 oz or 830 grains) of black powder, the metal launch tube had a length of 80 cm (31½ in) and a diameter of 3.3 cm (1.3 in) (early models reportedly 2.8 cm (1.1 in)). Fitted to the warhead was a wooden shaft with folded stabilizing fins (made of 0.25 mm (0.01 in) thick spring metal). These bent blades straightened into position by themselves as soon as they left the launch tube. The warhead was accelerated to a speed of 28 m/s (92 ft/s), had a range of about 30 m (100 ft) and an armor penetration of up to 140 mm (5½ in) of plain steel. Soon a crude aiming device similar to the one used by the Panzerfaust was added to the design; it was fixed at a range of 30 m (100 ft).
Several designations of this weapon were in use, amongst which Faustpatrone 1 or Panzerfaust 30 klein; however, it was common to refer to this weapon simply as the Faustpatrone. Of the earlier model, 20,000 were ordered and the first 500 Faustpatronen were delivered by the manufacturer, HASAG Hugo Schneider AG, Werk Schlieben, in August 1943. Two main problems had already surfaced much earlier in the weapon's trials: first, the original model did not have a sighting device, and, secondly, because of the odd shape of the warhead (see pictures), it tended to ricochet off or explode with lesser effect on sloped armour, especially evident when deployed against the Russian T-34. Since these problems surfaced early in testing, the development and production of its successor, the Panzerfaust 30, had already begun by the time of the first deliveries, inhibiting incorporation of possible solutions to the problems in the newer design and perpetuating its weaknesses. Still, the small and simple Faustpatrone was kept in production well into 1945. During the entire Second World War, it remained the most common German anti-armour weapon.
Development began in 1942 on a larger version of the Faustpatrone. The resulting weapon was the Panzerfaust 30, with a total weight of 5.1 kilograms (11.2 lb) and total length of 1.045 metres (3.4 ft). The launch tube was made of low-grade steel 44 millimetres (1.7 in) in diameter, containing a 95-gram (3.4 oz) charge of black powder propellant. Along the side of the tube were a simple folding rear sight and a trigger. The edge of the warhead was used as the front sight. The oversize warhead (140 mm (5.5 in) in diameter) was fitted into the front of the tube by an attached wooden tail stem with metal stabilizing fins. The warhead weighed 2.9 kilograms (6.4 lb) and contained 0.8 kilograms (1.8 lb) of a 50:50 mixture of TNT and hexogen explosives, and had armour penetration of 200 millimetres (7.9 in).
The Panzerfaust often had warnings written in large red letters on the upper rear end of the tube, the words usually being "Achtung. Feuerstrahl." ("Beware. Fire jet."). This was to warn soldiers to avoid the backblast. After firing, the tube was discarded, making the Panzerfaust the first disposable anti-tank weapon.
The weapon, when correctly fired from the crook of the arm, could with its shaped charge warhead penetrate the armour of any armoured fighting vehicle of the period.
To use the Panzerfaust, the soldier took off the safety, aimed, and, with a little squeeze, fired the projectile. Unlike the Bazooka and Panzerschreck, the Panzerfaust did not have a trigger. It had a pedal-like lever near the projectile that would ignite the propellant when squeezed.
In the Battle of Normandy, only 6% of British tank losses were from Panzerfaust fire, despite the close-range combat in the Bocage landscape. However, the threat from the Panzerfaust forced tank forces to wait for infantry support before advancing. The portion of British tanks taken out of action by Panzerfausts later rose to 34%, a rise probably explained by the lack of German anti-tank guns late in the war and also the terrain where the fighting took place.
In urban combat, in the later war, in eastern Germany, about 70% of tanks destroyed were hit by Panzerfäuste or Panzerschrecks. The Soviet forces responded by installing spaced armour on their tanks from early 1945 onwards, despite it being easily removed by exploding shells or Panzerfaust hits. Each tank company was also assigned a platoon of infantry to protect them from infantry-wielded anti-tank weapons.
During the last stages of the war, many poorly trained conscripts were given a Panzerfaust and nothing else, causing several German generals to comment sarcastically that the tubes could then be used as clubs.
Many Panzerfäuste were sold to Finland, which urgently needed them as the Finnish forces did not have enough anti-tank weapons that could penetrate heavily armored Soviet tanks like the T-34 and IS-2. The Finnish experience with the weapon and its adaptability to Finnish needs was mixed and only 4,000 of 25,000 Panzerfäuste delivered were expended in combat. The manual that came with the weapon upon delivery to the Finns included depictions of where to aim the weapon on the Soviet T-34 and US Sherman tanks.
The US 82nd Airborne Division captured some Panzerfäuste in the Sicilian campaign, and later during the fighting in Normandy. Finding them more effective than their own Bazookas, they held onto them and used them during the later stages of the French campaign and even dropped with them into the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden. They captured an ammunition dump of Panzerfäuste near Nijmegen, and used them through the Ardennes Offensive toward the end of the war.
Panzerfaust 30 klein ("small") or Faustpatrone
this was the original version, first delivered in August 1943 with a total weight of 3.2 kilograms (7.1 lb) and overall length of 98.5 cm (38.8 in). The "30" was indicative of the nominal maximum range of 30 m (33 yd). It had a 3.3 cm (1.3 in) diameter tube containing 54 grams (1.9 oz) of black powder propellant launching a 10 cm (3.9 in) warhead carrying 400 g (14 oz) of explosive. The projectile traveled at just 30 m (98 ft) per second and could penetrate 140 mm (5.5 in) of armour.
an improved version also appearing in August 1943. This version had a larger warhead for improved armour penetration, 200 mm (7.9 in), but the same range of 30 meters.
this was the most common version, with production starting in September 1944. It had a much more practical range of 60 m (66 yd), although with a muzzle velocity of only 45 m (148 ft) per second it would take 1.3 seconds for the warhead to reach a tank at that range. To achieve the higher velocity, the tube diameter was increased to 5 cm (2.0 in) and 134 g (4.7 oz) of propellant used. It also had an improved flip-up rear sight and trigger mechanism. The weapon now weighed 6.1 kg (13 lb). It could defeat 200 mm (7.9 in) of armour.
this was the final version produced in quantity, from November 1944 onwards. It had a nominal maximum range of 100 m (330 ft). 190 g (6.7 oz) of propellant launched the warhead at 60 m (200 ft) per second from a 6 cm (2.4 in) diameter tube. The sight had holes for 30, 60, 80 and 150 m (260 and 490 ft), and had luminous paint in them to make counting up to the correct one easier in the dark. This version weighed 6 kg (13 lb) and could penetrate 220 mm (8.7 in) of armour.
this was a major redesign of the weapon, and was deployed in limited numbers near the end of the war. The firing tube was reinforced and reusable for up to ten shots. A new pointed warhead with increased armour penetration and two-stage propellant ignition gave a higher velocity of 85 m (279 ft) per second. Production started in March 1945, two months before the end of the war.
the last development of the Panzerfaust series was the Panzerfaust 250. It used a reloadable tube and now featured a pistol grip. With propellants in both the firing tube and on the projectile itself it was projected to reach a projectile speed of 150 m/s (490 feet/s). Serial production was scheduled to begin in September 1945. However, the development of this weapon was never completed and none were produced. The Soviet RPG-2 anti-tank rocket launcher partially was based on the design of the Panzerfaust 250.
Argentine-made antitank weapon, similar to the Panzerfaust. The acronym stands for proyectil antitanque para infanteria (Spanish for "infantry anti-tank projectile").
Pansarskott m/45 and pansarskott m/46
Swedish-made copies of the Panzerfaust.
Italian Social Republic
Kingdom of Hungary
Poland (use of captured Panzerfausts during the war, limited use post-war as PG-49 and limited manufacture of local copy PC 100)
Kingdom of Romania
Argentina Argentine-made PAPI and possibly Swedish made Pansarskott m/46.
Sweden manufactured and used copies of the Panzerfaust in at least two different variants; Pansarskott m/45 and Pansarskott m/46
Chuikov, Vasili Ivanovich; Kisch, Ruth (translator) (1969). The End of the Third Reich. Panther Books. ISBN 978-0-586-02775-2. LCCN 74534462.
Contemporary U.S. Intelligence Report on German Hollow-Charge Weapons
Finnish Panzerfaust manual
der Erste Zug: taken from Die Neue Feldpost newsletter
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