The Anti-Tank Rifle
Osprey's latest in their "Weapon" series is The Anti Tank Rifle, by AMPS master and well-known author Steve Zaloga. The format is the familiar Opsrey - a nice paperback of 80 pages including bibliography, 54 photos, five color plates, and six small data tables. If you're interested in infantry weapons, or anti tank weapons in general, this is a great topic. I always look forward to Zaloga's books also since they are consistently well-researched and well-written.
This book begins with a few pages of introduction that summarize the topic. Normally I consider a good introduction to be one of the most important bits of any book, but, this one was oddly redundant. The Introduction provides a good overview of the history and obvious problems with man-portable AT rifles, concluding that the physics problem of AT rifles was never really solved and that they were never very effective. However, the first chapter does an even better job of introducing the topic.
The three major chapters are 'Development', 'Use' and 'Impact'. As you'd guess, the development chapter starts with the use of tanks by Britain and France in the First World War. The German response included the development of powerful rifles that became the first in the breed of antitank rifles. There's a terrific, character-filled photo of a US doughboy holdign a captured German T-gewehr to start us off on this chapter.
Zaloga then moves on to describe the development of each of the major AT rifles of the interwar period - those of Poland, Britain, Japan, Germany and the US. ironically, the USSR, which used more AT rifles in combat than anyone, was very late to the party and only developed their 14.5mm rifles in the WW2 period.
A nice color plate illustrates the operation of the best-known western AT rifle, the British Boys .55 caliber rifle. There's nothing too surprising here; it's pretty much a very scaled up rifle, as the name suggests. Throughout this section there are some great photos of interesting weapons that were fielded by some armies and rejected by others.
The US Army, for example, was never too keen on the AT rifle concept, and designs such as the .60 caliber gun, below, did not make it into production. Instead, the US pursued the bazooka route. The bazooka, which combined the HEAT warhead with rocket propulsion, was the forerunner of modern man-portable AT weapons.
I loved the photo below of two Finnish soldiers humping their 20mm L-39 AT rifle. In a nutshell it shows the fundamental problem with AT rifles: anything big enough to stop a tank is too big for Infantrymen to carry. Every army came up against this problem and no one solved it.
The 'Use' chapter then goes on to describe the production and deployment of these weapons in combat. Zaloga explains that there may have been a short window in the 1930s when tanks were thinly armored in which AT rifles may have been effective. But even when AT rifle projectiles could penetrate armor, they didn't have enough energy remaining to do much damage inside a tank.
AT rifle teams did have the advantage of stealth; their weapons were so small that they were very difficult for the enemy to spot. Still, AT riflemen had to take very close range shots to be even minimally effective. But increasing armor thicknesses on tanks meant that there was never a period in WW2 when AT rifles were ever a reliable means of defense.
Armies find a use for everything, however, and AT rifles were somewhat useful in other tasks such as shooting into bunkers or penetrating walls and field fortifications. I am not convinced they were effective AA weapons despite the photo below ;)
Soviet AT rifle teams were numerous but could not be as effective as towed AT guns. The color plates such as the one below are quite good, showing Polish, German and Red Army AT rifle teams in action.
There are six data tables providing some information on weight, performance and production levels for various AT rifles.
Finally, the author concludes that AT rifle design simply could not overcome the physical problem of making a light weapon fire a kinetic-energy projectile that could penetrate a useful thickness of armor. Towed AT guns, even small ones, fired projectiles with many times the kinetic energy of AT rifles. The future of AT weapons belonged to HEAT weapons such as the bazooka and their legacy, the man-portable AT missile.
If AT rifles have left any legacy, it is in the modern anti-material rifle and perhaps the modern heavy caliber sniper rifle.
Pros: Good history of a niche weapons category; balanced coverage of less-well-known users such as British, US, Japanese and Finnish armies; excellent discussion of the technical aspects of the weapons.
Cons: Odd organization harms continuity
Recommended for Beginner to Advanced builders.
Thanks goes out to Osprey Publishing for this review sample.
Reviewed by Danny Egan
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