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Shoulder Fired Weapons

Shoulder Fired Weapons

In 1940, America was a neutral state and the strength of the US Army numbered some 243,000, which included the Regular Army, National Guard and Organised Reserve. Knowing that it was only a question of time before the country became embroiled in the war, steps were taken to expand all branches of the armed forces and new weapons, such as the M1 Garand and M1 Carbine, were beginning to enter service. The size of the army continued to increase, and by the end of the war would see some 16 million men and women in uniform deployed to all theatres of war.

New kit

New weapons continued to be developed for the army, one of which was the ‘Launcher, rocket, 2.36” anti-tank, M1’, but it would be by its nickname of ‘Bazooka’, after a musical stage prop used by an American comedian in his act,  that it would become better known. A re-useable shoulder-fired weapon that weighed only 13.25lbs, it was capable of launching rocket-propelled anti-tank projectiles. It gave the infantry the capability of engaging tanks without having to rely on specialist anti-tank guns. The science behind the development of the Bazooka and its ammunition had been known for some time, but this was the first time it had all been brought together practically. Its first operational deployment was in November 1942, during ‘Operation Torch’, when American forces landed in North Africa. These were the M1 version, but they proved disappointing when used in combat for the first time in 1943, largely because training in its use was inadequate. However, once the troops gained handling experience, the Bazooka proved very effective against most tanks. Following this experience, several versions, each with modifications, would be developed by the end of the war. All examples were operated by two men, the firer and the loader. The latter inserted the rocket into the rear of the tube and wired it to the battery source. This was then used to ignite the solid fuel motor. The Bazooka itself was the launch tube, the means to aim and fire the projectile at the target, and it was the ammunition which did the real damage. Following on from the first M6 anti-tank (AT) projectile, a whole series of rocket-propelled ammunition was developed including smoke, high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) and ordinary HE, all of which were initiated electrically by a battery. Combat experience highlighted the failings in this method and later M1A1 versions of the Bazooka were fitted with a ‘magneto sparker’, which was operated through the trigger mechanism. The shapedcharge warhead of the M6 AT round could penetrate some 80mm of armour, but improvements almost doubled this and increased the range. The changes also led to the pointed-type warhead being modified into a hemispherical design and the fusing and firing sequence being improved.

The Panzerschreck

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The major action by Americans to engage German positions came on the 19th of February 1943, as they tried to force through the Kasserine Pass. Over the next four days, the Germans inflicted heavy losses on the inexperienced American troops, who abandoned equipment and weapons as they took cover. After the fighting, the Germans surveyed the scene and picked up examples of the M1 Bazooka and the ammunition, which were sent back to Germany for examination. The science was not lost and engineers wasted no time in producing their own version, officially known as the ‘8.8cm Rakentenpanzerbusche 43’ (RpZB43), but also termed as the Panzerschreck (Tank Terror). It used a magneto sparker firing mechanism, but apart from that, the similarity between the two designs was obvious. Two further versions would be developed - the RpZB 54 and the RpZB54/1, both of which fired rocket-propelled projectiles of 88mm calibre that were capable of penetrating over 160mm of armour. The effective range was around 160 yards. These larger shells weighed more than 7 lbs compared to the 3.4 lb weight of the 60mm projectiles of the Bazooka. Another drawback with the weapon was the weight and size of the firing tube, which at 20 lbs was 50% heavier than the Bazooka. Plus, measuring just over 62” in length, it was also nearly 10” longer than the American weapon. This great size led to it being nicknamed the ‘Ofenrohr,’ which meant ‘stovepipe’. Because of the nature of the ammunition fired by these weapons, while they had no recoil, they had to be used in the open. The larger, more powerful projectile of the RpZB produced more smoke and dust on firing, which betrayed the firer’s position. Plus, it was provided with only AT ammunition, while the Bazooka was supplied with a range of types. By the end of the war, the Americans had produced over 476,000 Bazookas of all types, including almost 113,000 M1 versions alone, while the Germans produced almost 315,000. Levels of ammunition for the RpZB are not precise but the Americans produced over 15.6 million projectiles of all types for the Bazooka, which went on to influence many post-war designs of AT weapons.


Today, examples of these weapons are important to re-enactment groups, who include them in static displays at shows as part of an exhibition of kit and equipment. These are usually replicas because originals are too valuable to use in this way. Also, replicas can be used in arena displays as part of a battle re-enactment demonstration, complete with pyrotechnics to replicate firing against tanks. Sometimes, it has been arranged in the planning stage of the show that a tank will react by using pyrotechnics to simulate being hit. These authentic-looking replica weapons are available from various suppliers, such as www.epicmilitaria.com, www.real-gun.com and www. sofmilitary.co.uk. Prices vary, so look around, but in all cases, strict terms and conditions cover the sale of these items and in the case of Epic Militaria, it is stipulated that the buyer collects. Collectors and weapon historians can purchase items relating to either weapon, such as drill and instruction manuals as well as cleaning kits and instructional posters. Because of the numbers produced, they are unusual but not rare items to acquire to add to a collection, and original examples are on offer through specialist websites. Some traders do offer them at militaria fairs, along with examples of inert ammunition, which, in the case of the Bazooka, runs into several types with design changes. In all cases, experienced collectors will already know that condition affects price greatly. Examples in excellent condition do come up for sale but these are snapped up quickly along with any ammunition. Museums display these weapons and wartime film footage shows them in action. This is of great assistance to modellers, who put them into dioramas.


The Panzerschreck was used in all theatres of operation after 1943 and supplied Germany’s allies, including Finland. Small anti-tank hunting groups using bicycles were armed with the Panzerschreck, despite the weapon’s cumbersome weight and length. Multiple Panzerschreck launchers were sometimes carried on vehicles, along with spare ammunition and other weapons to act as mobile tank hunting units. One of the most unusual examples of this, proven by wartime photographs, is the use of captured examples of the British Bren Gun Carrier pressed into service with the German army and designated ‘Panzerjager Bren 731(e). The Bazooka was used in all theatres of war and gave firepower to the infantry from the Pacific to Europe. Undoubtedly, the most unusual role for the Bazooka was that devised by Major Charles ‘Bazooka Charlie’ Carpenter, who mounted three under each wing of his L-4 Grasshopper spotter aircraft and achieved creditable success against tanks and other targets. Each weapon has its own merits and both have been important in the development of modern, current anti-tank weaponry.