The Model SS41 – A Czech Bullpup Anti-Tank Rifle for the SS

The SS41 was a bullpup, bolt action antitank rifle manufactured in small numbers by CZ for the SS. contrary to common assumption, the SS were not a part of the standard German military arms procurement system, and were forced to scrounge for their weapons from other sources. Czech factories were one of the more popular sources, as smaller production lines could escape being integrated into Wehrmacht oversight and were able to contract privately with groups like the SS (the ZK383 as used by the SS is another example of this).

The Model 41 had been in development by the Czech military when the Germans occupied, and it was adapted to the German Patrone 318 cartridge for this production run. That cartridge was also used in the PzB-39, and fired a 220 grain tungsten-cored bullet at 4000 fps – although even this extremely high velocity only allowed it to defeat 30mm of vertical armor at 100m. As with the other antitank rifles of WW2, it would obsolete almost as soon as it was introduced, although it did remain useful for attacking emplaced positions and light armored vehicles (much like the Soviet PTRD and PTRS rifles).

Only a few thousand of the SS41 were manufactured, and they served primarily on the Eastern Front. As a result very few exist in American collections, and this is a particularly excellent example. Thanks to the Institute of Military Technology for allowing me to have access to this very cool AT rifle and bring it to you!

58 Comments

  1. I have been waiting for this video. Only a little bit disappointed – wanted to see ejection and the firing mechanism. Thank you.

  2. The major problem with the German 7.92mm AT rifles was not only the rather mediocre penetration, but also the quite meager and unpredictable after-armor effects. There are many accounts of armored vehicles which were penetrated multiple times without any apparent effect. The tungsten-carbide bullet core was small enough that it produced minimal fragmentation, so basically only objects that were in direct route of the bullet would be damaged. WW2 AFVs may have been cramped from an ergonomic perspective, but for a less than 8mm bullet they were still largely empty and had a lot of non-critical parts where the bullet could go. Sometimes the bullet would bounce inside the tank, but that was far from guaranteed.

    The Soviet 14.5mm AT rifles remained useful even against German medium tanks and assault guns until the end of the war. The Panzer III and Panzer IV had only 30mm of vertical armor at hull sides, which could be penetrated by the PTRS/PTRD at ranges up to 100 meters. Wheels could be seriously damaged even at longer ranges. Of course this required successful ambush positions, which was often difficult to set up, because the Germans were usually pretty good at escorting their tanks with infantry.

    Nonetheless the threat was real enough that the Germans introduced the armored side skirts (Schürzen) to protect the hull sides of vehicles with Panzer III or Panzer IV hulls. They reduced the threat of Soviet AT rifles considerably, but often they would become damaged and had to removed, so on the larger scale they did not eliminate it completely. The side skirts were not developed against weapons with HEAT warhead, because their development started several months before the introduction of the first Soviet infantry HEAT weapon (the RPG-43 hand grenade). Furthermore, using the RPG-43 against the side hull armor of an armored vehicle was almost impossible.

    • “quite meager and unpredictable after-armor effects”
      Germans, probably to counter this, packed chemical agent inside 7,9 bullets for their AT rifles – default bullet for PzB 38 and other weapons using Patrone 318 was Geschoss 318 also designated SmK.H.Rs.L’spur where Rs stands for Reizstoff – irritation agent, in theory it has to force crew to abandon vehicle, but in practice it did not work as quantity inside bullet was too limited to give that effect.
      According to Альбом конструкций патронов стрелкового оружия each bullet contained 16 mg of C6H5COCH2Cl.

      • This is a bit of surprise since the 15x96mm shot with armour piercing bullet as used by Luftwaffe might have been good candidate for AT rifle.

        • Too little and too late. The 15×96mm cartridge had an about 150 m/s lower muzzle velocity than the 14.5mm×114. The armor penetration of the tungsten core bullet was good (39mm at 180 meters, perpendicular / 0°), but tungsten was in short supply. Penetration with steel AP bullet was only 26mm (presumably @ 100m, 0°), which was clearly insufficient. The T-34 had a minimum of 40mm side armor, which was sloped as well, so even with the tungsten core bullet the penetration would have been insufficient against the new Soviet medium tanks.

          • Hmmm, good enough against allied bobbers but not enough to pierce Russian armour. One thing though, we are routinely taking as ‘etalon’, is performance against the heaviest of tanks. In reality, most vehicles on battlefield were of lighter tonnage and lesser thickness of skin. Against those it might have worked ok.

          • The 15×96mm based AT rifle would have been able to pierce the side hull armor of the T-70, which was only 16mm thick. Then again, the 7.92mm AT rifles could do that as well, so the only advantages to the bigger gun would have been cheaper projectiles (if steel AP was used) and better behind-the-armor effects.

            It is also true that for a general anti-materiel rifle the 15mm bullet would have been much better as well, but that kind of application was not the design goal of WW2 AT rifles. They were anti-tank (or at best anti-AFV) weapons, plain and simple, and any other anti-materiel use than against armored vehicles was an afterthought.

            As for the effectiveness of the MG 151 against enemy bombers: the Germans discovered already in 1941 that the 15mm HE bullet was insufficient against medium bombers and designed the MG 151/20 cannon to replace it. However, even the MG 151/20 was not good enough against four engine heavy bombers, which lead to the design of the 30mm MK 108 cannon.

  3. I would think that dirt would be a real problem with a gun that was transported around in two groups. Those pretty rollers would be lubricated which would make them a dirt magnet.

    • No more so than the US pack howitzer or other mountain guns which could be disassembled and carried around by beasts of burden, or in some cases, even by people. I would guess they had some sort of transport cover for the most vulnerable parts of this rifle when disassembled. They certainly did for the artillery pieces.

  4. First off, thanks to Ian for showing us another obscure, cleverly-designed weapon.

    Thanks for the in sights on SS procurement problems.
    Amusing how the SS was “sucking hind tit” in 1941 scrounging in Czech factories for odd-ball anti-tank rifles.

    Equally amusing is how the Luftwaffe was able to order development of the FG42 starting in 1942. Holy specialization Bat Man!

    Finally, did the Kriegsmarine order any specialized weapons during WW2?

  5. The Waffen SS used the Czech factories because those captured factories became part of the SS-Werke which was a series of factories under the control of the SS. This was because they had trouble getting German Army supplies at the time to include uniforms. This was only a problem until about mid-1943 when the Waffen SS was included as part of the German Armed Forces. They also started receiving drafted personnel for their Divisions. Harry

    • Waffen-SS was never a part of the Wehrmacht, but Waffen-SS units usually operated under Heer (Army) operational command. The influx on better equipment in 1943 was because Stalingrad made Hitler distrust the Heer even more than he used to. Despite having a commander who was not part of the traditional Prussian military elite, the 6th Army surrendered and Paulus even failed to commit suicide, along with a large number of other Heer generals, who also surrendered.

      So, partially at the instigation on Himmler, Hitler then started to build the Waffen-SS as an alternative army to Heer, even if operational command still remained mostly with Heer generals until the end of the war. This development was greatly accelerated after the Stauffenberg assassination plot of July 20 1944, after which the Waffen-SS often had the first pick on the best new equipment.

      • “Stalingrad made Hitler distrust the Heer even more than he used to. Despite having a commander who was not part of the traditional Prussian military elite, the 6th Army surrendered and Paulus even failed to commit suicide”
        Worth of note here is case of General der Artillerie von Seydlitz-Kurzbach: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walther_von_Seydlitz-Kurzbach
        which surrendered to Red Army and become Soviet collaborator (see: Bund Deutscher Offiziere)

    • “bullpup”
      In Russia, there was also developed 12,7 mm, sniper repeating bull-pup barrel-forward rifle, namely ОЦ-44:
      http://weaponland.ru/load/snajperskaja_vintovka_oc_44/88-1-0-393
      which additionally is silenced weapon, which is said to have noise level equal to SVD, when using full-power (supersonic) 12,7×108 cartridge. It uses specific silencer which do not increase much length of weapon (see photos).
      This weapon can also special 12,7×108 less noisy that full-power, but at cost of limited range.
      Data: cartridge: 12,7×108, length: 1070 mm, mass (without cartridges): 14,0, muzzle velocity: 800 m/s, capacity: 8, effective range: 1200 m

    • The Falkon seems very conventional compared to the ss41, and hardly more interesting than a Serbu BFG-50.

      The exotic ss41 design seems to have great potential for the modern large caliber sniper/anti-material rifle role.

  6. Of course the Waffen-SS were last on the list to get wonderful toys. They were political police, not proper soldiers (even if they operated under Heer command). What did the Waffen-SS do best? Random murder, state-sponsored terrorism, and “cleaning up” of atrocities for the sake of “political correctness.” Good thing most of them were terrible at actual combat… Or am I wrong?

    • “Terrible in actual combat”? No, not to my knowledge. If some major breakthrough was to be made it was thru use of SS. They had their own tank units, for instance. I was told by those who remembered end of war that the ax fell on SS harsh and swift. They were not normally taken in custody – mostly finished on spot. They knew what they were up to so they fought so much fiercely.

      • The military competence of Waffen-SS was varied at different phases of the war. In France they were noted by Heer officers for being reckless but accomplishing relatively little. Later in Russia their role grew greatly, especially after Stalingrad. In 1941 it was still quite minor. They only became “elite” after the failed July 20th 1944 assassination attempt. Both the “Wacht am Rhein” (the Ardennes counter-offensive / Battle of the Bulge) and “Frühlingserwachen” (March 1945 counter-offensive in Hungary) were spearheaded by Waffen-SS formations.

    • I hope this is not too political, but Konrad Adenauer post-WWII created something of an exculpatory myth about the “bad” SS and the “honorable” old Prussian aristocrat-led “Heer.” In reality, the Heer was also very frequently an instrument of German hyper-imperialism and atrocities and state-sponsored terrorism. The members of the institution took a personal loyalty oath to Hitler as the German “führer” after all… The Einsatzgruppen, counter-partisan sweeps, reprisals, etc. etc. all necessarily relied on the regular armed forces. Hitler was quite clear about the proposition of “Vernichtungskrieg,” and “Großer Raßenkrieg” as objects of the invasion and destruction of states including Poland and the USSR.
      The sad fact is that any ideologically-driven, callow, highly indoctrinated person willing to view human beings as mere abstractions, given a machine gun and carte blanche, can commit all sorts of unbelievably horrendous, atrocious acts.

      As for the debunking of the mythologies of the German armed forces, there are any number of studies including Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer’s _Soldaten: On fighting,killing, and dying–the secret second world war tapes of German PoWs_ (Simon & Schuster, 2012), Wolfram Wette, _The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality_ (Harvard, 2006), and even in the case of a reserve police unit’s participation in mass-murder in a Polish shtetl, even though they were not particularly “Nazi” there is Christopher R. Browning, _Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland_ (Harper Collins, 1992).

      • Real dirty ‘work’ on temporarily occupied territories of USSSR was done by allied paramilitaries, such as Ukrainian and Lithuanian Nazi units. This is not to say SS were saints, they were in fact declared criminal association. This is just to say that in was by far not just them.

    • “Random murder, state-sponsored terrorism”
      Possibly you mistake Waffen SS for Sicherheitsdienst des Reichsführers SS

  7. I recall some of the Heer generals who balked at the Austrian-born German corporal turned messianic figure when he wanted war with Czechoslovakia. “Sure,” the reasoning went, “the borders were contrived at Versailles so they might be defensible, but the Czechs have spiffy tanks with 37mm guns, a state-of-the-art arms industry and their very own mini-Maginot line…” So first came Anschluß with Austria to ensure that Czechoslovakia’s formidable defenses could be flanked, and then came the colossal sell out at Munich so that the defensive barriers were duly transferred to German control.

    The glider-borne commandos who took out the Belgian Eben Emael fortress practiced on the vacant Czech bunker system. English speakers who were spared invasion, largely by dint of very powerful navies and a water moat–all too small to prevent aerial bombardment in the case of Britain, rather large for the USA–tend to dismiss the French Maginot line and lament the French surrender of June 1940, and have never heard or read of Czechoslovakia’s formidable preparations for national defense.

    Again Ian has provided us with a very interesting informative piece and a very forgotten weapon indeed! Fascinating discussion too! Thanks!

    • “tend to dismiss the French Maginot line and lament the French surrender of June 1940, and have never heard or read of Czechoslovakia’s formidable preparations for national defense.”
      Even having best defense systems, will not help if highest commander lacks esprit de corps. The choice of Maréchal Pétain for that post was highly unlucky for French forces. Yes, he was hero of previous war and showed good commanding skills, but then he was not highest commander as this was post hold by Ferdinand Foch – Jean-Baptiste Duroselle in his book La grande guerre des français, 1914-1918 note that he lacks fighting spirit and was executing orders rather than his initiative.

    • “…never heard or read of Czechoslovakia’s formidable preparations for national defense.”

      These are well known items of general knowledge. There was massive defensive fortifications buildup starting at around 1936. At time of Sudeten occupation on Fall of 1938 they were largely unfinished however. I read number of studies (in language of my origin) which laid out alternatives of future development IF Czech armed forces (Slovaks promptly created separate state in March of 1939) put up resistance. They are almost uniformly bleak in ultimate outcome. What many people do not know was that Soviet Union was offering assistance which indeed might have been of significance, but its acceptance was politically unacceptable. This was true test of Czech leadership of the time and there are not to this day not all facts available in order to judge events of he time impartially.

      • “in language of my origin”
        Searching for data about Czechoslovak anti-tank rifle, I found article titled Ing. Jeronym Kynčl – Neznámý známý (1.díl) here:
        https://www.valka.cz/15330-Ing-Jeronym-Kyncl-Neznamy-znamy-1-dil
        which, if I understand correctly enough, since 1936 was working on some taper bore 15/11 mm AT rifle (4th photo from top), bullets for that weapon can be seen at 5th photo from top (before & after firing). Later, during German occupation created self-loading 11/8 mm AT rifle (7th photo from top). After the war idea of taper-bore AT rifles was abandoned in favor of HEAT-throwing weapons. 8th image from top, shows (fragment) of light machine gun „Janeček“ – 7,92mm bull-pup light machine gun, also developed by Kynčl.

          • 73770 Průbojná střela seems to be relevant for AT rifles, which can be found in pdf here: http://spisy.upv.cz/Patents/FullDocuments/73/73770.pdf
            judging from 4th page of that pdf it is patent for bullet for taper-bore barrel, now I guess what is showed:
            OBR. 1. and OBR 2. – bullet before firing
            OBR. 3. and OBR. 4. – bullet after firing
            OBR. 5. and OBR. 6. – probably steps of manufacturing process.

          • Hey, tovarisc Daweo, how did you find it? This is super reading and I am getting into it right now. Very nice pictures of so far unknown designs to me.

            Also, that bullet patent from Patent-Amt is really rare!

          • “unknown designs to me”
            After looking at valka cz subsection of AT weapons:
            https://forum.valka.cz/category/view/500349/Protitankove-zbrane
            it seems that there were several works on AT rifles, though their description are scarce and do not say whatever it was pre-war or occupation designs, in valka cz parlance CZK stands for CZechoslovaKia and it is not part of weapon designation. Valka cz shows following Czechoslovak AT rifles, sadly most weapons has only short data table, translation (if I am not mistaken) are as follow:
            Ráže: Caliber [cartridge]
            Délka: Length
            Délka hlavně: Barrel length
            Hmotnost: mass
            Úsť. rychlost: muzzle velocity
            Kapacita: capacity [of magazine]
            Following weapons are known:
            ZK 382 for 7,92×145 mm cartridge, for which 2 photos are shown; please notice that one shows cartridges – which seems to be very long but also skinny, so it might have similar ballistic to German one, though designation might suggest otherwise
            ZK 384 for 12×165 mm cartridge (1300 m/s)(5 or 10 round magazine)
            ZK 385 for 12×165 mm cartridge (single-shot)
            ZK 395 for 12×165 mm cartridge (5 round magazine)
            ZK 404 for 7,92×94 mm cartridge – considering chambering probably made during occupation
            ZK 405 for 7,92×97 mm cartridge
            ZK 406 for 7,92×97 mm cartridge

          • I am impressed with your ability to understand Czech language… it is surely of advantage even in case of such small nation. Many of these things I did not know about. I used to read on Valka/ War quite a bit more in past, but did not want to stay in ‘cocoon’ of original ethnicity.

            Afaik there is another page of reasonable quality http://www.palba.cz/
            Many of correspondents there are ex-military people.

          • “I used to read on Valka/ War quite a bit more in past, but did not want to stay in ‘cocoon’ of original ethnicity.”
            I understand, but I, where possible, try to use “native” date source for given weaponry. There is always risk in author believing in superiority of author’s own nation solution, but in case of technical aspects grand hoax is hard to execute.

  8. It wasn’t mentioned, but the attachment of the bipod and the stud on the barrel look to be compatible with the bipod of the MG34.

    • An attempt to save development funds might explain that. The only problem is that the Waffen SS rarely got the standard equipment of the army (it’s not like someone has tons of bipods to spare). Did I mess up?

  9. Ian, you should blur the communist flags too.
    If you really insist on maximizing revenue with cuckoldry, atleast make a statement and troll a little.

  10. Ian, you should blur the communist flags too in the youtube videos.
    If you really insist on maximizing revenue with cuckoldry, atleast make a statement and troll a little.

    • Exhibiting the Nazi hakenkreutz/swastika is against the law in Germany, and a few other nations that experienced the “New Order.” That’s why they get blurred out. Some folks might want to blur out this or that communist state too–what with the Black Book of Communism and whatnot… I don’t think the Soviet hammer and sickle is against the law, except maybe in Poland or something. Anyhow, “troll a little” elsewhere, plz.

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