Could a Tankgewehr Really Take Out a British MkIV Tank?

The Tankgewehr antitank rifle was developed by the Mauser company and adopted by the Imperial German military as an emergency measure to counter the introduction of tanks to the WW1 battlefield. The question is, did they really work? Could a 13.2mm AP bullet from a Tankgewehr really perforate the armor of a British tank? Well today we find out!

The armor on a British tank was steel plate of 6mm, 8mm, and 12mm thickness, through-hardened to Brinell 440-480. We have replicated this with a plate of AR450 (ie, Brinell 450) armor, which we will be shooting at a distance of 50 yards. The ammunition we are using is original 1918 production German AP, and the rifle is a Tankgewehr captured by Allied troops late in the war and brought home as a souvenir.

This video was only made possible with help from three very helpful folks:

MOA Targets provided the steel (to spec and on short notice!).

Mike Carrick of Arms Heritage Magazine provided use of the T-Gewehr.

Hayes Otoupalik provided the original ammunition.

35 Comments

  1. Busted! …or something.

    A hundred yards? I can’t say I’d want to shoot that thing… Detached retina or something. By the way, why shoot off-hand? Is it just because shooting prone would have been gawd-awful? I’d stick the T-Gewehr on a big ol’ pile of sandbags.

  2. “Could a 13.2mm AP bullet from a Tankgewehr really perforate the armor of a British tank?”
    Independently from it, having such weapon might effect positively psychologically to unit using it – we are not defendless, we can do something – and thus reduce chance for “tank panic”

    • Infantry may have felt being ‘defence-less’, but command could have allocated few pieces field artillery in direction of expected tank strike. I am aware that Germans operated mostly howitzers but even so, tanks might have been tackled.

      • It should be remembered that AT rifles most often were “last chance” weapons, when others failed to stop enemy tanks

      • Denny, that is exactly what was done for the most part. 77mm field guns in particular were very effective on all tanks of the era.

    • The primary anti-tank weapon of the infantry in 1918 was the late model 7.58cm Minenwerfer, which had a carriage capable of flat-trajectory fire. This was part of the equipment of every infantry regiment for months before the T-Gewehr appeared; when the latter was available it supplemented the existing light Minenwerfer teams.

  3. 45 degree incidence is sort of academic with a MK IV (or any other WW1 rhomboidal tank), as the armor was all vertical around the crew compartment and only the armor over the lower prow (what passed for the glacis) was angled back.

    A quartering shot could generate an angled impact horizontally speaking, but if the T-Gew team was either in front of the advancing tank or in a flank position, getting an “Attack at Normal” 90-degree incidence shot probably wouldn’t have been much of a problem.

    Remember, the top speed of a MK IV on flat, level ground was a blistering 4 mph (6.44 km/h) or about 5.9 f/sec. (1.8 m/sec). Even on a flat road, it moved at the pace of walking infantry. On a typical WW1 battlefield (i.e., blasted into a moonscape by artillery) it would be doing half that at best.

    The T-Gew gunner would have pretty much all the time he needed to set up his shot just the way he wanted it, even allowing for covering fire on the tank’s behalf.

    cheers

    eon

    • I would expect Tankgewehr gunner taking on critical spots such as visors or areas of lesser armour integrity (corners, joints…). It might have been successful harvest if they did not get cut down by machinegun fire from vehicles. It was probably matter of being seen first.

  4. yep, but 50 m is uncomfortably close and the mk4’s didn’t come alone. so a t gewehr gunner would still need balls of steel.

    • Remember that before the tanks ever got close to the T-gewehr gunner, they’d get hammered by German field guns (unless Allied artillery/heavy bombers blew them to Kingdom Come). I’m pretty sure a battery of 7.7 cm FK 96 nA firing AP rounds all at once isn’t going to be the tanker’s best friend!

      Did I mess up?

      • That’s what I thought, but trick was to have those fields guns in place in due time. British probably did reconnaissance prior to attack.

        • But what if the German lines only appeared to be devoid of life? If the Germans had falsely retreated (abandoned trenches) and disguised their field guns to look “dead,” would the British tanks go through under the impression that all the Germans were rotting in open graves? Ever hear of a “defensive feint trap?”

          • This tactic was used by Chinese in second part of Korean war and later during Vietnam war by NVA. They created huge surprise to enemy. How they managed, given reconnaissance technology of the time is beyond me.

      • No AP rounds at the time, but plain HE destroyed most Allied tanks, and yes the 77mm field guns were the common executioners.

        • And the Ludendorff Line was exactly that kind of defense in depth. The first line was mostly observation posts, pillboxes and anti tank trenches. Followed by open ground with barbed wire and lots of kill boxes in the field of fire of MGs and field guns. Third line was much further back with lots of reserves and heavy artillery. A defensive masterpiece for the day!

      • Do they even need AP on armor that thin? Thinking of the Shermans using 75Ap against Japanese armor in the Pacific. They had to switch to HE as the AP went straight through.

        Think the same thing happened in France with early british cruiser tanks during 1940. Armor was very thin on some of them. AP went right through the tank. Remember a story of a TC putting a sock in the hole an AP round made during the counterattack at Arras.

  5. Heinz Guderian wrote in “Achtung Panzer” that the french mentioned holes in tanks in their battle reports caused by the tankgewehr. The tankgewehr could penetrate the armor of a tank, but could not put it out oft action very often

  6. If you 90 degree shot didn’t go threw would you have tried pulling bullets on original ammo and reloading a period correct charge of new powder? Hope your WW1 tank sees future battles.

  7. Great show and effort!
    Just wondering if that the gun was fired on its bipod, the shooting experience was more comfortable and result more confirming.

    • I read that German T-Gew gunners sandbagged the bipod legs to absorb some of the recoil, rather like a 16th /17th Century “hackenbusche”.

      I’d say putting at least a bread pouch about 3/4 full of sand between the rifle’s buttplate and your shoulder wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

      cheers

      eon

  8. Ian,
    is there a modern equivalent caliber to compare to the 13.2mm cartridge to put things in perspective? Is .50 BMG the closest?

    • There are only two modern (post-WW2) cartridges in the same class as the 13×92mmSR of the T-gewehr, namely the .50 BMG and the Russian 12.7×108mm. From those two the former is the (slightly) weaker one and therefore closer to the 13×92mmSR. The .50 BMG has a muzzle energy of about 17.1 kJ and the 13×92mmSR about 15.5 kJ.

      The closest WW2 equivalents to the 13×92mmSR were the 13.2mm HMG cartridges used by the French, Italians and Japanese. They were not interchangeable due to varying case lengths, but they were all based on the French 13.2mm and had very similar ballistics with a muzzle energy of about 16.2 kJ.

  9. Interesting observations on armor and angle. Sort on reminds me of my days as a renaissance fencer where the point of the sword historicaly (and inevitably) rules and armor was either vestigial, solely in the parry, or…entirely in the maneuver. In other words, “Don’t get hit!” (Please don’t cite a Katana. Such is a slashing weapon with a very effective point, but one has to convince one’s opponent to dance the same slashing dance to be able to actually use said point.)
    Unlikely
    Any (surviving) Panther TC can tell you this. Were one to ask said TC, one might hear something like, “A panther has very thick armor on the front, but alas, a Panther had five more sides. And it would seem there’s always some damn Russki or Amerikaner creeping around in the bushes with a Bazooka fixed on shoving something unwelcome up my patootie!”
    Next time you’re in the neighborhood of London’s Imperial War Museum, check out their Mark IV on the main floor. You can see the baby is about as armored as the crushed Nike shoebox you last got from Amazon.
    Makes you wonder how they got the shlubs to get in there and do it.

    • Yes, we know that the katana is NOT a superweapon. The whole game of using a slashing blade is to end a fight quickly, preferably by slicing the opponent open or by decapitating him in one stroke. Straight-edged thrusting swords are meant to keep the opponent at bay and then stab him in a vital spot! There is a strange article that lists the outcomes of “Katana vs. Rapier” and it states that neither weapon is superior. It comes down to which combatant messed up first, whether the western belligerent got too close to the samurai after missing a torso stab (and therefore got gutted like a fish) or if the samurai got stabbed through the heart after having his powerful blow denied its quarry of flesh…

      And of course all tanks have weak points, especially the top (direct artillery hits and air-strikes tend to instakill tanks if the engine or turret are blown to bits).

      • Alas, my friend, CD,
        I’m afraid you err on basic sword usage.
        Being the only one (apparently) in the room with actual hands-on experience with rapier, katana, and [the extremely lethal] “‘left handed dagger” so I might suggest a small bit of hands-on experience (for educational purposes only, of course.) Once you tend to the loving multiplicity of slash-touches and, the near loss of an eye, you may wish to rethink your stance.
        How do I know this, you say?
        Let’s just say, Mom was really pissed off about my call from the local ER, what with the eyeball thing and all.
        But the baby blue still,works fine, and i still can still impress girls with the scar.
        Just Iilre the girls in 1588.

        • I stand corrected. And by “rethink stance” I assume you mean change argument or “don’t stand around in some silly movie sword fight pose.” The latter error (trying to look cool is overrated, but some rookies in my foil fencing class did so anyway) leads to the swordsman getting skewered or beheaded by a professional! Did I mess up again?

          • The rethought “stance” being both literal and figurative. The error many made, back in the day, was trying to keep ones opponent at a goodly distance. Hence the really long blades of 15th-16th century rapiers (and katanas, for that matter.) The modern sport of renaissance fencing is an odd mix of modern equipment and decidedly old-style weapons.
            The key component is understanding that longer distance is in fact to your (and your weapon’s) disadvantage.
            Counterintuitive, yes, but even that will work to your own advantage once you realize staying inside your opponent’s arc of influence, be it the edge or point, largely negates his/her weapon,
            And that’s when you learn what those quillons on your rapier are for, not to mention how suddenly useful that dagger in your other hand is. Ah, the good old days.
            We really didn’t use a foil blade at all, being far too delicate and actually far too dangerous as they break easily and, as you know, a broken foil is all too potentially lethal. Imagine if you will, an English-style swept-hilt or Spanish style cup-hilt with a modern fencing saber blade. Much more flexible and durable. Keeps the fatalities at a low rate, too. But they’ve been known to break too, haven’t they? Ouch!
            In any case, it ain’t the SCA.

          • You are saying the 16th and 17th century European swordsmen did it wrong by trying to keep their distance and use the great reach of the point, and you base that on your own sparring experiences? That sounds a bit funny to me, considering those men had actually wounded seriously and killed others in duels or military combat, and we have their instructions on how to use the rapier in multiple preserved manuals or “treatises” as they are usually called. And they instruct using the point with the rapier, IF you can. They of course also knew and fully acknowledged that in some situations you could not.

            Of course combat is never simple and you have to be prepared for your adversary to close in. That is what the dagger and quillons are for. It’s not a situation of either or. Getting inside the “arc of influence” is not easy and while it may work, it may also get you “run through”. You shouldn’t train to use any single tactic or technique exclusively, because the opponent is not going to do what you want if he’s any good.

  10. Going into this, I expected the T-Gewehr to be able to penetrate the armor plate, but I questioned its effect after penetration. Now I have real evidence that fragmentation and spalling does the damage. If Ian can set this up again, or simulate the situation with a modern .50 BMG (since they are easier to obtain) I would like to see the effect on a dummy, or some ballistic gelatin placed behind the plate to get a better sense of the effects on the crew.

    • I suspect that the crew of a struck Mk IV tank would get hit by the fragmentation debris and suffer accordingly, as they did NOT wear much in terms of body armor (and there were NO COMPARTMENT WALLS to keep engine fumes from choking the crew).

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