More on the Czech/German AT Rifle

Our recent auction post reminds us that (1) we have to come up with some better way of flagging more interesting auctions and (2), and more to the point of this post, that there’s a lot of interest and misconceptions about the Czech-German AT rifle featured at one upcoming auction.

First, this 2015 post here has some background on rifle-caliber-yuuuge-case AT rifles, like the German and Polish variants, and their rounds. (This archived external page also covers the round). The Germans chambered this rifle in their standard wartime 7.92 x 94 mm P318 round, which was used in the standard German PzB 38 and 39 AT rifles. The round was capable of 4,000-plus fps from a long barrel and the most common ammo was a tungsten-cored kinetic penetrator. P.O. Ackley, eat your heart out. Barrel life was pretty short, but if you’re going to shoot a rifle at tanks, it’s not the life of the barrel that should be worrying you.

(The Russian site that cartridge picture is from appears to be down now, unfortunately).

Those rifles operated by a dropping block, like an artillery piece (or early breechloader), and their principal mechanical difference was that the PzB 39 was manually operated, replacing the “semi-automatic” (in artillery terms) automatic opening and ejecting of the PzB 38.

The Czech rifle used completely different principles, and as proposed for Czech service a different cartridge.

In fact, the Czechoslovak Army experimented with a variety of anti-tank rifles in the 1930s, as part of a campaign to improve AT defenses overall. Many Czechoslovak officers put their faith in conventional anti-tank artillery, but others pursued the AT rifle. Many versions were tested including Josef Koucky’s’ ZK 382, a bullpup repeater which fired a unique 7.92 x 145 mm round, further ZK single-shots ZK 395 (12 mm x ?) and ZK 405 (7.92 x ?), the ZK406 repeater and 407 self-loader the “Brno W,” the Janeček  9/7 and 15/11 mm Gerlach-principle squeeze bore, and several 15mm designs, including vz. 41 single shots, and a bolt-action magazine repeater which was supplied to Italy (in only 15 units) and possibly Croatia. The 15mm guns used an AP version of the 15 x 104 mm round used in the Czechoslovak vz. 60 heavy MG, produced primarily by the British under ZB license as the 15mm BESA. The Czech engineers then reworked into the vz 41 in 7.92 x 94 for the occupiers, specifically, for the SS.

During all this experimentation, Czechoslovakia was dismembered and its Czech provinces occupied. The best was the enemy of the good; nearly a decade of experimentation in AT rifles wound up yielding absolutely nothing for the Czechoslovak Army. (It was a moot point, perhaps, as despite its strengths in tanks and artillery, there was no resistance to the Nazi occupation.

Most of the elite of the Czech arms design industry worked on these rifles at one time or another. Vacláv and Emanuel Holek worked with Koucky at Zbrojovka Brno; Jiri Kyncl worked with Janeček.

By the time the SS received their rifles, they were already hopelessly outclassed by improved armor, and among Speer’s actions in his attempt to rationalize the chaos of the German and occupied territories’ arms industry was to discontinue production of the 7.92 x 94 Type 318 ammunition.

The M.PzB.SS.41 was supplied in a wooden transfer and storage crate containing the rifle, two spare barrels, and four magazine boxes containing five magazines each. There were some variations in minor features (bipod, muzzle brake) during production. Of some variants, only photographs or documents survive. We have found no reports of combat effectiveness.

All of these AT rifles are rare today, the German guns existing in single-digit quantities (the mass-produced PzB 39s were recalled during the war and converted to grenade launchers, the GrB 39).

Sources

  • Dolínek et al. Czech Firearms and Ammunition: History and Present. Prague: Radix, 1995.
  • Hoffschmidt, E.J. Know Your Anti-Tank Rifles.  Stamford, CT: Blacksmith Publishing, 1977. (A .pdf of the chapter of this out-of-print book on this rifle is attached: MPZB41 comp.pdf)
  • Šada, Dr. Col. Miroslav. Československé Ruční Palné Zbrane a Kulomety. Prague: Naše Vojsko, 2004. (pp. 139-142, 197-198).

Update

Well, this is embarrassing. Never hit “schedule” or “publish” on this one. -Nose

8 thoughts on “More on the Czech/German AT Rifle

  1. Haxo Angmark

    “we have found no reports of combat effectiveness”. I’m too lazy to pull them off the shelf right now, but in firsthand BEF accounts from the 1940 Battle of France there are a few mentions of Boys AT-rifles being fired at German tanks. To no discernible effect.

    The AT-rifle is part of a long line of ill-conceived weapons that have/will cost money and lives: the battlecruiser; the Sopwith Pup; the Fairey Battle; the Brewster Buffalo; the Douglas Devastator ; the LCS; the F-35…

      1. Haxo Angmark

        2,900 fps. Interesting article @ militaryfactory.com says the Finns put it to good use during the Winter War against Russian light tanks, and Brits used it with some success against Japanese LT’s in CBI.

    1. DSM

      In the history of the US armored force that was linked on here quite some time ago it went into some detail of the early AT weapons. The earliest tanks and armored vehicles could be defeated by .50cal fire and so the earliest AT organizations built their foundations around the Brownings. What no one anticipated was how fast the armored force would evolve. Even after up-gunning to early 37mm and then 57mm it was found the guns couldn’t penetrate at anything other than relatively close range. This rifle, I believe, would have no trouble defeating the armor of the M2 tanks we had just right up to WWII.

      That said, as soon as a heretofore unknown millionaire relative bequeaths their fortune to me a 37mm will be added to the stable. Those are fascinating “little” guns.

  2. Hans

    The url in the cartridge photo is working for me:

    копанина.рф

    If you think a website has died, you can find an archive of it by going to archive.org and plugging in the url.

    The website is all in Russian moonrunes. : ) Absolutely beautiful rifle btw. I keep coming back to gawk at it. I would love for Ian to do a video on it. It is possible he already has and just hasn’t uploaded it.

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