PTRD 41: The Simple Soviet Antitank Rifle of WWII


The Soviet Union had originally eschewed the use of large numbers of antitank rifles, anticipating that any potential combat use of them would be largely against tanks impervious to AT rifle cartridges. However, when German forces came flooding across the border in 1941, the Soviet Union found themselves being attacked by quite large numbers of tanks which were in fact vulnerable to an antitank rifle cartridge. Stalin ordered an immediate development and production of such a weapon, and the designers responded with concepts. Simonov produced the PTRS-41, a semiautomatic 14.5mm weapon that was sophisticated, expensive, and effective. Degtyarev produced the PTRD-41, a single shot 14.5mm weapon which was simple, cheap, and also effective. Both used the same cartridge, which fires a 980gr armor piercing projectile at a remarkable 3320 fps.

Both the Simonov and Degtyarev rifles were ordered into production, with the PTRD-41 being available and fielded within a month because of its very simple nature. By the end of the war some 185,000 of these rifles had been made, and even after the new German tanks became impervious to them, they remained effective weapons for use on light armored vehicles, field guns, machine gun nests, pillboxes, and other hardened targets.

The PTRD-41 is a mechanically interesting and unusual weapon in that despite being only a single shot system, it is recoil operated. When fired, the entire barrel assembly recoils rearward, absorbing some of the immense recoil energy and also opening the bolt and ejecting the spent case. The shooter then need only drop a new cartridge into the action and close the bolt to be ready for a subsequent shot.


While I occasionally have “whoops!” moments during filming, it is rare for the camera to actually capture anything worthy of being considered a blooper reel. But today was different…


  1. 8 weeks from first order to issue! And it worked!! An astonishing testament to humankind’s ability to not only function but also create and make under abysmal circumstances; and there cannot have been many industrialised places more abysmal than the USSR in 1941.

    • ” make under abysmal circumstances”
      Degtyaryov in his memoirs (Моя жизнь, 1951) states that they (he oversees production of his design) worked hard to produce as many as possible that anti-tank rifles, they considered that to be theirs patriotic duty and manage to produce more and more anti-tank rifles despite adversities – qualified workers were pressed into military service, so their places was taken by women and men either too young or too old for service.

      • There was even more stop-gap anti-tank rifle produced in 1941, namely Sholokhov AT rifle (ПТР Шолохова), see 7th image from top here:
        it was single-shot weapon for 12,7×108 (DShK) cartridge, basically copy of Tankgewehr from 1918 however with muzzle brake.
        Interestingly they were produced by… МВТУ that its Bauman Moscow State Technical University (commonly known as Baumanka, one of better known technical universities in Soviet Union)

      • Old people and school kids in factories? Imperial Japan was in the same position later on. And worse, the factories got bombed a lot, along with schools and hospitals (what idiot put flak guns on top of the hospital?). And to top it off, American escort pilots going out on fighter sweep missions were not above blatantly shooting Japanese school kids caught in the open. “Call it revenge for kids killed at Pearl Harbor.” I can’t remember who might have said that…

  2. I’ve never seen PTRD shooting footage. Once saw footage of a PTRS gunner loosing 5 rds like Roy Rodgers and then waving the comrades forward. Probably filmed during training or for propaganda, surely not the real thing. (When you see “combat footage,” always ask yourself where the cameraman was standing. If he had to be out in the open, you can smile. If the shot was taken from a low angle and doesn’t really show very much, maybe it’s authentic.) I also once saw a picture of a graduating PTRD class horeshoed around their instructor. He was telling them to say farewell to life. That one I took to be authentic.

    • “He was telling them to say farewell to life.”
      Well, hangman humor was popular in Worker Peasant Red Army during Great Patriotic War. Units of AT cannons were known as “barrel long, life short”, SVT was backronymed to «Сами воюйте, товарищ» meaning Fight Alone, Comrade, due to is perceived lack of reliability and so on.

    • Seems to work reasonably well, without the recoil mechanism, but reloads seems to suffer due to pounding the bolt open.

  3. “PTRD-41 is a mechanically interesting and unusual weapon in that despite being only a single shot system, it is recoil operated”
    Degtyaryov in his memoirs (Моя жизнь, 1951) states that before designing that gun they (Degtyaryov and his co-workers) examined wide array of weapons: guns, rifle, winchesters, carbines, even machine guns searching for idea how to make simple anti-tank gun. Among them was captured anti-tank gun delivered from frontline, they found it complicated and heavy, but it pointed Degtyarov toward another inspiration – Fyodorov Avtomat, long barrel was found to be useful feature so it was implemented, yet finally it was about half as heavy as said captured weapon which weighted 36 kg. He also states that it was closer to machine gun or autocannon, but give no further clues.
    Has anyone idea what model of gun it might be?

    • Auto-ejection of an empty case was a trait of the PzBuchse 39 of zee Germans, and also the 88mm AA/AT gun, yes? My sense would be that the Soviets encountered one or another weapon in which the empty shell was kicked out during the Spanish Civil War? There would have been captured guns of various kinds from the occupation of the Baltic States, the Soviet-Finnish War, etc. What of the Swedish made Bofors AT gun?

      • “Auto-ejection of an empty case was a trait of the PzBuchse 39 of zee Germans, and also the 88mm AA/AT gun, yes”
        Not only, soviet 45 mm AT gun also has this feature, however Degtyaryov clearly says about captured i.e. foreign weapon, which was apparently recoil-operated, thus giving Degtyaryov information that this principle is suitable for anti-tank cartridge.

  4. Simple and smart…. just wondering why they did not make larger muzzle brake. Because of shockwave coming back? They could have used deflectors, although they are of limited effect.

    • I’d guess that the designers drew the muzzle break very late in the 28 days devoted to designing the thing; or maybe the size was dictated by the size of the steel sheets available, and by the cutting head of the stamping machines that were a short walk away. This whole gun must have been designed and first made in one fplace. That kind of limit will dictate everything else if you are in a life or death rush.

      • The question is whether any design team could craft a good weapon just in time before the invaders burst into their bedrooms and shot them in their beds.

    • While it has in common with PTRD cartridge and principle of operation, it differs by fact of having default sight: 8 x scope, when PTRD has iron sight and it was never required to show superb accuracy.
      Modern counter-part of PTRD are rather light man-portable AT launchers like WASP 58 or RPG-22, as they are “last line of defense” against armoured targets.

    • At the end, Marstar states that they were using 70% loads. Looks like the recoil stroke was just about halfway.

      • I think they were trying not to kick the bolt and receiver to pieces. The gun in question is quite old and has seen plenty of service. I wonder how you’d feel about getting the bolt in your head should the bolt stop fail…

  5. “Soviet Union had originally eschewed the use of large numbers of antitank rifles, anticipating that any potential combat use of them would be largely against tanks impervious to AT rifle cartridges.”
    Yes, however it was immediately before outbreak of Great Patriotic War, yet in 1939 first AT rifle for 14,5 x 114 was adopted, namely «14,5-мм противотанковое ружье обр. 1939 г»
    it was self-loading with capacity 5, principle was gas-operated/rotation, it was striker-fired, it had muzzle brake and recoil pad on stock. Planned production was 50 in 1939 and 15000 in 1940, however it never was – production lagged as this AT rifle needed some improvements and later was deemed unnecessary due to perceived thickness of potential enemy armour being 60 – 80 mm.

    • So it looks they had number of designs, but they were just too heavy to be portable in combat. That is before arrival of PTRD41.

      • «14,5-мм противотанковое ружье обр. 1939 г» was 24,0 kg heavy, for comparison PTRS was 20,9 kg, both were found to be transportable by 2 men. That first has some reliability problem and was also much more labor-intensive to make – according to
        it needed 173 work hours overall and 145 machine hours, while PTRS needed 60% and 40% of that respectively.

  6. If you do get to shoot one, watch your thumb.
    In the video, it looked like it was in the area where the bolt comes back under recoil.

  7. The Mambi AMR built by Cuba’s UIM (Union-Of-Industry-And-Military) is basically a PTRD-1941 action changed to bullpup configuration and the magazine relocated on top in the style of the Finnish Lahti anti-materiel rifle.

  8. I encountered one of these in friendly hands in Afghanistan in about 2009 or so. There had been an attempt to make it into an anti-material rifle with an offset scope, but the mount/scope combination couldn’t handle the recoil.

  9. An American did make a sniper rifle out of it! Bill Brophy experimented with PTRD rifles, maybe rebarreled in .50, during the Korean war.

  10. Anyone know what scope the PTRD and PTRS used during WW2, who made the scope, and how powerful its magnification is?

  11. Ian,
    To demonstrate the action, try placing the butt on the floor, muzzle towards ceiling, and force the barrel DOWNWARDS towards the floor. Far easier to cycle this way.

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