Osprey Publications has recently come out with a new title in the Weapon Series of books, “The Anti-Tank Rifle”. It is a light history of the anti-tank rifle from the First World War to the beginning of the Cold War.
For those not familiar with the Weapon Series from Osprey Publications, the series of books are designed to give a well laid out and explained (but easy to read) description of a particular small arm over the course of 80 pages. It is supplemented with artwork and high-quality photographs. The Weapon Series of books isn’t supposed to be a definitive guide, but instead more of a survey for those wishing to expand their knowledge in regards to any particular small arm.
Steve Zaloga does an excellent job of dividing the book into two sections of information. The first section is concerned with the mechanical and procurement aspects of the anti-tank rifles that each country produced. While the second section deals with the actual effects in combat that each rifle had, both positive and negative.
Through the pages of “The Anti-Tank Rifle”, Steven Zaloga leads the reader through the initial requirement and subsequent development of the anti-tank rifle by a number of the combatant countries that produced them during the two World Wars and the interwar years. Almost to a country, it is readily apparent that there were several central issues that accompanied these heavy, man-portable, infantry rifles throughout the wars.
The first, and most glaring, issue was that anti-tank rifles were only marginally effective, even under the best of conditions. Although they were designed to penetrate an opposing foes tank armor (up to 25mm in some cases), very few of the rounds used would actually finish the job. Hopefully, one of the rounds would have enough energy to kill, or wound, the armored crew (or damage a mechanical feature leading to a mobility kill). The kill was completely contingent on the right conditions being met, the thickness of the armor, the angle at which the vehicle was bladed to the shooter, and the range of the target.
Even with all of those four conditions being met, over the course of the war, countries would upgrade their vehicles to the point where the anti-tank rifle in its original employment was essentially over. Anti-tank rifles soon found other roles during the war, much like anti-materiel rifles today filling an anti-personal role.
Another issue was the complete lack of oversight and intelligence when it came to developing and fielding anti-tank rifles. Defense industry completely supported the endeavor, building whatever fit the requirements that the various military procurement agencies blindly set forth. As an example, the .55 Caliber Boys anti-tank rifle was initially adopted in 1936 with a cartridge that was completely inferior to what the German Army had introduced with the T- Gewehr almost two decades earlier (S.A Armour Piercing .55in W Mk I). In another example of an intelligence failure when it comes to anti-tank rifle design, the entire German anti-tank rifle inventory essentially went obsolete merely a year or two into fielding by the introduction of the Soviet T34 tank.
However much disdain was apparent for the early (to mid 20th Century) anti-tank rifle, it must be noted that, in their early development, they were seen as special weapons. The German T-Gewher was under such secrecy that only the U-Boat programs were held in a more confidential status. In the case of the Polish 7.92mm wz.35, the rifles had the nomenclature of “Uruguay” to confuse Soviet and German intelligence officers into thinking it was an export program to Uruguay instead of a combat rifle. Many of these rifles were treated with such secrecy that they were delivered to their units in boxes under orders not to be opened until a certain command was given. For some units that command wasn’t given until after the war began in September of 1939.
Germany’s entry into anti-tank rifles in the First World War was purely reactive as the British came up with tanks first. Their result was one of the most uncomfortable rifles to shoot, and apparently, it routinely broke the collar bones of gunners using it.
Poland experimented with a 7.92x107mm round, trying to make the .30 Caliber round “speed” through armor at great velocity. Unfortunately, this left the Poles with a barrel life of 20-30 rounds. The solution was an odd one when a Polish designer found out that the round wouldn’t have to even penetrate the hull of a tank as long as it knocked spall out from the inside. An odd concept indeed but the wz.35 was one of the most used anti-tank rifles by both the Poles and the Germans in the early years of the war.
The semi-automatic PTRS designed by Simonov and the bolt action single shot designed by Degtyarev were actually competing designs with each other, but the Soviets needed everything they could throw at the German advance so took both trial guns and threw them into production. These were also the most widely produced anti-tank rifles of the entire war, numbering in several hundred thousand. Unfortunately, their effectiveness couldn’t match the German tanks. Zaloga has a quoted account where a Soviet Infantrymen recounts that 45 anti-tank teams (two men per) were killed in a single action over several days in 1943.
This was by far the heaviest rifle of the war used by one of the bigger combatants. Coming in at almost 68 kilograms fully equipped, the Type 97’s 20x125mm round could only penetrate 35mm of armor at 100 meters. Compared to the PTRS/PTRD in 14.5x114mm round that could do 50mm at the same distance.
The eclipse for the anti-tank rifle was the improvement of vehicular armor, vastly improved anti-tank light artillery/field guns, and the advent of the rocket-propelled anti-tank launcher that fired shaped charged explosives. It clearly became apparent that using up several soldiers for the purposes of supporting, moving, and protecting an anti-tank rifle was extremely inefficient when compared to the effectiveness of a single soldier with a Panzerschrek or 2.36-inch Bazooka.
My only real complaint with the book is that it really should have included at least a paragraph or two on the resurgence of the anti-materiel rifle in modern warfare. We’ve seen more domestic, improvised production, and field use of anti-materiel rifles in Syria and Iraq in the past several years than we have almost anywhere else. The author dedicates a single sentence to some PTRD rifles appearing in Ukraine and then another sentence mentioning that anti-tank rifles are the forerunners of the current day anti-materiel rifle.
The Anti-Tank Rifle by Steven Zaloga is available on Amazon for $13.39 in the United States.
Posted in Product Reviews, Rifles Tagged with: America, anti-materiel, anti-tank rifles, Armor, Defense, europe, GERMAN T-GEWHER, JAPANESE TYPE 97, POLISH WZ.35, PTRD AND PTRS, Reviews, Rifles, ww1, WW2
The C96 ‘Broomhandle’ Mauser is certainly one of the most iconic self-loading handguns of the First World War. Osprey Publications has recently published a title about the C96, written by Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, UK. For those not familiar with the Weapon Series from Osprey Publications, they are written to give a well organized and explained, yet easy to read, description of a particular small arm. The books are generally 80 pages in length and supplemented with artwork and high-quality photographs. The Weapon Series of books aren’t meant to be a definitive guide, but instead more of a survey for those wishing to expand their knowledge in regards to any particular small arm.
Ferguson begins his final chapter with this quote, “Overall it has to be said that the Mauser pales in comparison with later pistol designs and would be unsuitable for today’s various military, police, and civilian needs. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that in 1896 there was simply nothing in its class to touch its firepower, reliability, and accuracy potential.” Summed up in two sentences is the story of the C96 from its debut in 1896 to the end of production in the 1930s. Although it was technologically advanced at the time, it quickly became outclassed by Browning and Luger designs.
But the Mauser is unique in its historical trajectory. Similar to many iconic firearms, it was beloved and loathed by criminal, soldier, cop, and civilian alike. And for that reason, Ferguson’s book really stands out in taking the reader on this Mauser journey.
One important point about Jonathon Ferguson’s position at the Royal Armouries is that he was able to use dozens of C96s that exist in the National Firearms Centre reference collection as images throughout the book. It is this access that really allows readers to get to know the design changes throughout the different variants that were produced.
The book begins with the development of the C96 with the operational requirement for a self-loading handgun. An interesting fact here is that the Mauser team specifically designed the handgun to not have a single pin in the operating mechanism holding the trigger and hammer together.
Ferguson discusses partial acceptance by some elements within the German Army, mostly as an alternative to a bolt action carbine in use by cavalry. Later on, the C96 would have to bow to the Luger as a substitute standard handgun. He then goes into describing the different versions and iterations as Mauser worked on different safety and hammer designs and even carbine versions. He ends the initial chapter by discussing the end of the Mauser C96 in the 1930s after over one million were made.
The remaining chapters discuss the C96 throughout the world and this is what I really like about it. He discusses Mausers that were extensively used by Chinese warlords, rebels in Ireland and Armenia, police in South America that continued to use Brommhandles into the 1960s and 70s and even adventurers around the world that relied on the C96 for defense in the bush. He also discusses the different copies of the C96 from Spain to China, both licensed and unlicensed. Interestingly, Chinese Norinco was still producing a domestic copy of the C96 into the 1970s as the Type 80 for paratroopers. It ended up as a failure and was never really issued.
As with many iconic small arms, names for them often vary from locality to locality. Ferguson makes specific mention of this throughout the book and even points out that Mauser as a company didn’t even have a standard nomenclature for the handgun throughout its production life. In China it was called the “Box Cannon”, in Ireland “Peter the Painter”, some British called it a “Bolo” for its use by a number of Communists/“Bolsheviks” after the First World War, among many other both official and unofficial terms. And of course throughout much of the English speaking world, the “Broomhandle”.
As always, I want to point out a few bits that the book could possibly have done better on. One point I would have really liked to see is in the conclusion that Ferguson could have discussed the current collector market of the C96 today, or even the subsequent reproductions and possible fakes out there. He spends time covering the image of the C69 in various Hollywood films which is important, but I would have liked at least a paragraph or two on the collector market today. Also, on page 64 there is a mismatched caption to photograph which should show the internal rate reducing mechanism of an Astra C96 copy, but instead only shows the external handgun. And this just because of my own interests but in one photo caption, Ferguson mentions that Ottoman C96s had their rear sights marked in ‘Farsi’ numerals. This is incorrect as Ottoman Turkish would have used Arabic numerals instead of Farsi ones.
If you are a collector of German handguns, you could probably duplicate the written contents of this book yourself many times over so it wouldn’t be for you. But, if you are a student of the First World War or early 20th Century small arms, want to get a gift for someone who is, or are simply more curious about this German steampunk handgun, then I would absolutely recommend this Osprey Weapons Series book for you.
The ‘Broomhandle’ Mauser is available from Amazon for $13.59 in the United States.
The Packaging: I know, I know. Who cares about the packaging? But wait, it comes in a suede and sheepskin-lined zippered pouch. Nice touch!
Appearance: Looks great. It’s a tough, sturdy looking knife with a great design and ergonomics.
Finish: Good meaty blade with a magnetized powder coat that is sprayed on and then baked for good measure. This finish is on both their black and tan models. The ergonomics of the handle and blade are very comfortable and feel exceptionally solid but then all the TOPS Knives I have owned or tried have that solid you-can’t-break-this feel.
Function: I’m not going to cut open a soda can or saw through the tree in my front yard to test this knife because that is not what I would use it for, unlike some kitchen knives. This knife will be carried day in and day out and be used for either self-protection, skinning something I want to eat or opening boxes. I usually assign my knives a job in the beginning and try not to waver. It confuses them.
This is not a spring-assist knife. It has a nice sized thumb extractor allowing the user to readily crack open the blade just enough to get that hand-flick-open dynamic for quick and immediate access. I noticed that when I pushed on the thumb extractor, the blade exited the housing and stopped at what felt like a natural safety point, as if it had a hesitation. This, I found out, was intentional because it is a tip-up design. This keeps the blade from falling open when removing it from your pocket. I liked it because I don’t like knives that float freely from the housing, they feel wishy-washy to me. This natural break area is at the perfect point for the transition from thumb pressure to wrist flick moment.
As a woman, this MIL-SPIE 3.5 Tanto is a bit big for me to carry around as a daily pocket carry because I wear fitted pants. My knives need to be a bit slimmer. This would not be a problem for most men whose pants are baggier and have larger pockets.
The handle gets a bit slippery when wet and I’m sure blood would be even worse so if there is a downfall, that might be it. Then again, I don’t swim with my knives and if I have to kill something, I will only need to use this knife once. It’s that tough. ASJ