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The Panzerfaust
By David Ackerman, edited by Jonathan Bocek

The following was taken from the Die Neue Feldpost newsletter & was done so with permission of the publisher.  We would like to thank him for his generosity as well as thank all those who have contributed to this article.  It is with their efforts, we are able to share this valuable research with the rest of you.

The weapons & tactics used by the German Infantryman to combat tanks changed drastically from 1939 to 1945.  The Landser entered World War II with very little training on combating tanks.  The effectiveness of his anti-tank weaponry during the initial campaigns in Poland & France was adequate.  When the campaign against Russia began, the weakness of German anti-tank weapons & tactics became very evident.  Initial field experiences with Russian tanks on the Eastern Front, especially the T-34 & KV types, convinced them that their existing infantry anti-tank tactics & weapons were inadequate.

The job of finding a cheap, easily portable solution fell to the Armed Forces Weapons Office, or Waffenamt, sub-section Waffen Pruf. 11.  Waffen Pruf was the organization dealing with all weapons testing & development & Sub-Section 11 was devoted to rockets.  Eventually a revolutionary & innovative weapon was developed.  It was known as the Panzerfaust (Tank Fist).

In December of 1942, the first production model of the Panzerfaust entered service.  Known initially as Faustpatrone I, or "Gretchen", it was later designated Panzerfaust (Klein) 30m.  It had a muzzle velocity of 30 meters per second, & its .75 kg warhead was capable of penetrating 140mm of armor at a 30 degree angle.  The unusual shape of the wind-cone on the front of this grenade often prevented this weapon from detonating on the extremely-sloped armor of some Russian tanks, & this problem was partially redressed in the second model known as Faustpatrone II.  The grenade now had an angular appearance, & the weight was increased to 1.5 kg, thereby boosting its armor-piercing capability up to 200mm at a 30 degree slope.  This weapon also became known as Panzerfaust (Gross) 30m, to distinguish it from "Gretchen" which was being issued at the same time.

In early 1944, the Panzerfaust 60m was developed.  This model had a thicker tube, stronger firing cap, larger propellant charge, improved fuse, & a bomb with a fixed joint between the head & the tail shaft.  The effective range was increased to 80 meters, & muzzle velocity to 45m/sec.  The armor piercing capability was about the same as the Faustpatrone II.  The redesigned trigger mechanism of the 60m also gave the operator some options in firing positions (like the over-shoulder position) which were not practical with the push-button trigger of the earlier models.

By September 1944, another increase in range was achieved with the introduction of the Panzerfaust 100m.  The effective range was 150 meters, & this was possible due to the application of two propellant charges, slightly separated by a gap.  Ignition was fractionally staggered and led to a smooth & rapid increase in velocity.  The 100m had a muzzle velocity of 62m/sec & could penetrate 200mm of armor at 150 meters.

In January of 1945, a new version of the Panzerfaust was designed, known as the Panzerfaust 150m, in which the weight of the projectile was decreased (thereby increasing the range) without affecting its penetrating capability.  This model had a muzzle velocity of 82m/sec & could penetrate 200mm of armor at 200 meters.  An anti-personnel fragmentation sleeve was also provided.  Very few of the Panzerfaust 150m reached the troops before the end of the war.

At the close of World War II, the Panzerfaust 250m was under development.  This model would have been re-loadable & was equipped with a pistol grip beneath the tube.  The 250m was the ancestor of the modern Russian RPG series anti-tank weapons.

The Panzerfaust was not a true rocket launcher, since the warhead did not carry its own propellant.  The propellant charge was contained inside the launching tube.  When fired, the propellant gases pushed the grenade from the front of the tube, & also exhausted from the rear of the tube, thus eliminating recoil.  It also caused a very dangerous back-blast, & this is the meaning of the warning painted on every tube:  Caution!  Intense fire stream!

The grenade itself used the "shaped charge" principle for armor penetration, & the 60m had a warhead about 5-1/2 inches in diameter.  Behind the bulb-shaped warhead was the hollow tube containing the base-detonating fuse & a blaster.  These elements were loaded into the grenade just before using it by removing the detachable tail assembly & inserting them into the hollow tube.  After the tail assembly was replaced, the fins were curled against the tail & the grenade slipped into the front of the tube.  With the safety pin pulled out & the rear sight deployed, the grenade was held in place by friction from the collapsed fins against the inside of the tube.  Once launched, the fins sprang open, steering the grenade as it wobbled on its course towards the target.  The tube with its trigger assembly was then thrown away.

The method of operating the 60m was as follows:  After arming the grenade & replacing it into its base unit, the Landser pulled the safety ring from the pivoting front sight & pulled it upwards until it latched.  The t-bar safety was pulled forward, & all the operator had to do now was aim & press the firing lever downwards.  As the front part of the trigger depressed, the rear part pivoted upward, lifting the spring steel striker via a catch bar.  Eventually, the catch bar slid off the striker & the striker snapped back downwards, hitting the primer & igniting the propellant behind the grenade.  Upon striking something, the fuse in the base of the grenade functioned as an impact fuse, exploding the warhead.

The Panzerfaust was a short-ranged weapon which relied heavily on surprise.  The user had to be exposed to the target at such short ranges that when the weapon fired, the resulting back-blast clearly revealed the location of the firer.

Early versions were also subject to occasional malfunctions.  Occasionally, there was even a premature detonation of the warhead or burst tube which killed the operator.  Another occurrence was the faust that did not go off at all.  There is an account of an officer who went through pains to stalk a British tank, only to find that the Panzerfaust he had was a dud.  It was probably partially due to these events that the German soldier did not totally trust the weapon when it first appeared.  However, as bugs were ironed out & the weapon gained a favorable impression, this mistrust was replaced with almost total reliance.

The 'faust was not used just against tanks, either.  Another effective use of the weapon was as a "house buster".  When attacking buildings & light fortifications, the German soldiers soon learned that a round or two of Panzerfausts could destroy or breach walls & demoralize the defenders.

There was another in the 'faust family, but this weapon was a horse of a different color.  The Fliegerfaust was meant to be an anti-aircraft weapon, & looked something like a mini Nebelwerfer.  Six thin-walled tubing barrels, rested on the shoulder, & fired in a salvo.  The projectiles were small rockets, tipped with the standard 20mm HE anti-aircraft bullet.  Some of these weapons did reach the troops (it was for abandoning what is believed to be some of these weapons on the west bank of the Rhine that a young Luftwaffe officer was executed after the Remagen battle), but it is not known if any Jabos were actually downed by them.

Overall, the Panzerfaust became regarded as a potent weapon... a weapon that struck terror in any tank crew who had to face it.  To learn more about these weapons: Click Here




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