Panzerschreck — Five Amazing Facts About the German Bazooka 

The Panzerschreck was Germany's clone of the U.S. Army's famous Bazooka. Bigger and badder than its U.S. counterpart, the Panzerschreck was the bane of Allied tank crews. (Image source: German Federal Archive)

The Panzerschreck was a German clone of the U.S. Army’s famous Bazooka. Bigger and badder than its American counterpart, the Panzerschreck was the bane of Allied tank crews. (Image source: German Federal Archive)

“Under ideal conditions, Panzerschrecks were enormously effective.
A single shot could usually knock out an enemy tank.”

By GermanWarMachine.com

THE PANZERSCHRECK OR “tank fright” was a German-built hand-held anti-tank weapon that made life uncomfortable for Allied tank crew, especially in urban areas. Here are five things you ought to know about this fearsome Axis weapon.

The U.S. M1A1 Bazooka inspired the Panzerschreck. (Image source: WikiCommons)

The U.S. M1A1 Bazooka inspired the Panzerschreck. (Image source: WikiCommons)

The Weapon Was Based on the American Bazooka

In 1943, German forces in Tunisia captured a quantity of U.S. 2.36-inch anti-tank weapons. The weapon, which was known informally as the Bazooka, was of immediate interest to the Axis, who commissioned the development of a Wehrmacht equivalent. The result was the Raketenpanzerbüsche 43 (RPzB 43). The design was clearly indebted to the U.S. weapon, but with some key improvements. Among these was the RPzB 43’s 88mm shaped-charge warhead – it provided better penetrative capability than the 60mm U.S. version. Rounds were fired electrically via an impulse magneto, something that the U.S. Army adopted for later Bazooka models like the M9/M9A1 — earlier variants used a battery ignition system.

Panzerschrecks Were Cheap and Easy to Manufacture

Panzerschrecks were produced in huge numbers from facilities like the HASAG works in Meuselwitz. In total, some 290,000 launchers of all variants were manufactured, along with over two million rockets.

Panzerschrecks left a tell-tale smoke cloud when fired, making it easy for Allied gunners to locate their assailants. (Image source: German Federal Archives)

Panzerschrecks left a tell-tale smoke cloud when fired, making it easy for Allied gunners to locate their assailants. (Image source: German Federal Archives)

Panzerschreck Crews Were Marked Men

The Panzerschreck was nicknamed the Ofenrohr (stovepipe) by German troops because of the large amount of smoke and dust it generated during firing. These clouds often gave away the position of Panzerschreck teams to enemy infantry and tanks. As a result, rocket crews would have to move fast after a launch or risk being killed by enemy small-arms fire, all of which could outdistance the relatively short 180-metre effective range of the Panzerschreck.

The exhaust from Panzerschreck rockets could burn and even blind the operator. Many users donned their gas masks for protection.

The exhaust from Panzerschreck rockets could burn and even blind operators. Many users donned their gas masks for extra protection.

The Panzerschreck Often Injured Its Users

During firing, the RPzB 43 missile left the tube in full burn, something that made life unpleasant for the user. Gas masks and fire-retardant clothing were often essential when shooting a Panzerschreck. Later models, like the RPzB 54 (built from mid-1944 onwards), provided a shield on the launcher to reduce this problem, although this increased the weight of the weapon to 11kg (24.2lb) from 9.5kg (20.9lb). Variants like the the RPzB 54/1 had a slightly shorter tube, but improved RPzBGr 4992 rockets provided an increased range but offered a reduced blast issue since most of the propellant was consumed in the tube. Even with these refinements, anyone standing up to 10m (32 feet) behind the weapon risked serious injuries from the weapon’s back-blast.

Panzerschreck crews exacted a heavy toll on Allied tank columns in Normandy's rugged bocage country. (Image source: German Federal Archives)

Panzerschreck crews exacted a heavy toll on Allied tank columns in Normandy’s rugged bocage country. (Image source: German Federal Archives)

The Panzerschreck Was Deadly in Close Combat

As with other shoulder-launched rocket weapons such as the Panzerfaust, users had get dangerously close to an enemy tank in order to destroy it. In battle zones such as Normandy, this often involved setting up roadblock ambushes along wooded trails and then attacking enemy tanks as they came to a halt. Alternatively, Panzerschreck teams operating in open country would often lie unseen when tanks approached making use of any available obstacle or shell hole for cover. Once the weapon was fired, Panzerschreck crews were exposed and could expect to face a torrent of fire. Not surprisingly, the weapons were most effective in urban areas where combat took place at much closer ranges. The ample cover also gave crews virtually limitless firing positions and just as many escape routes.

A soldier prepares a Panzerschreck round for loading. (Image source: German Federal Archives)

A soldier prepares a Panzerschreck round for loading. (Image source: German Federal Archives)

Under ideal conditions, Panzerschrecks were enormously effective. A single shot could usually knock out an enemy tank — it wasn’t called “tank terror” for nothing. Because of the devastating effect of the weapon, Allied armoured units often covered their vehicles with sandbags, track links or other similarly improvised protection. This created a stand-off distance that reduced the penetrative effect of the shaped charge on a tank’s main armour. Sometimes even that wasn’t enough. One eyewitness with the Canadian 5th Canadian Armoured Division recalled seeing comrades from the British Columbia Dragoons tangle with enemy Panzerschrecks.

A Panzerschreck team on the Russian Front. (Image source: German Federal Archives)

A Panzerschreck team on the Russian Front. (Image source: German Federal Archives)

“The BCDs ran into a hornet’s nest… Paratroopers fired on the lead tanks with their extremely effective Panzerfausts and Panzerschrecks, both much feared by our tank crews,” said Stanley Scislowski, Perth Regiment, 11th Infantry Brigade, 5th Armoured. “Later… we passed two Shermans jammed up together. The front tank’s turret was blown off and lying several yards off to the side, giving a good indication of the destructive power of the shaped-charge anti-tank bombs.”

rr_st-loYou can find out more about the Panzerschreck’s role in German anti-tank tactics in Normandy in a “Rapid Read” eBook The Defence of St Lô ’44, available for £1.99 (or dollar equivalent) on Amazon and also on the German War Machine website www.germanwarmachine.com.

 

2 comments for “Panzerschreck — Five Amazing Facts About the German Bazooka 

  1. Steve Evans
    15 August, 2017 at 1:19 pm

    Idiots . . . the RPzB came BEFORE the Bazooka. Further, it was a useful weapon against allied tanks, whereas the Bazooka, with a MUCH smaller warhead, was generally ineffective against German tanks heavier than the PzKw IV.

    • 15 August, 2017 at 2:44 pm

      That’s incorrect. The Americans were developing what would become known as the Bazooka in the closing days of WW1, more than 20 years before the German weapon.

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