PzB-39 German Anti-Tank Rifle at RIA

Most countries still had anti-tank rifles in their military inventory at the beginning of WWII – the Solothurn S18-100, the Lahti L39, the Boys AT Rifle, the PTRD and PTRS, and so on. For Germany, this role was fulfilled by the Panzerbüchse 39, a single-shot falling block rifle firing a high velocity 8mm AP cartridge. It was nominally effective in the opening campaigns of the war, but was quickly rendered obsolete as Allied armor improved. German planners has a huge number (25,000) of these on hand for the invasion of Russia, where they expected Russian armor to be vulnerable to them – which was not the case. Most were subsequently converted into Granatbüchse 39 AT grenade launchers, which were then used until the end of the war. Finding one of these still in its rifle configuration is pretty rare today!


  1. Well I hope another fellow carried the “wee” ammo boxes, it looks heavy enough fae lugging around. Interesting trapdoor mechanism, locked… By, the bit with less stress on it “well no, but yes” I know what I Mean- OOMPH zat way > lock \/ zis way’ish less locking…

  2. I believe in a modern use for this gun, since it’s projectile is so fast: it could be used as anti-personnel sniper weapon, capable of penetrating ballistic helmets and chest plate armor. It just need a scope.

      • Over 8mm Mauser? Definitely. But you’d probably need to get bullets with a much higher ballistic coefficient and that are significantly heavier than the ones it was historically loaded with to take advantage of the available power and start competing with modern long range cartridges. The rifle isn’t completely unsuitable for that- since the rounds load directly in from the rear, and you have so much spare case capacity, you could use some very long bullets indeed. Unfortunately it’s slightly too small in caliber to take the specialized long range .338 bullets, so you’d have to experiment and work up your own.

        • Wiki list 8mm as firing a 181grain to 198 grain bullet vs the 225 grain bullet this thing was firing, it likely had a better ballistic co-efficient.

          Nosler makes a 220 grain BC .69 in 8mm, part of their custom competition line. And 4 other options in different weights and tip designs.

    • These smart rounds are the future, get it to land beyond then splat… Where it’s supposed too, to… Whatever. eeek, the future.

  3. .50bmg in full auto… Splat, splat… How accurate is 7.92xfat’whatever cal- If it has no extra range, or splat… Accuracy, than other incarnations of sniper rifles I don’t see the benefit it’s not exactly light.

    Ballistic penetration at range of plates I suppose… But splat, the splat seems to do it “apparently” less punch more splat- Crack… Snap, crackle and pop- Rice crispies.

    Just saying the hole, doesn’t need to be clean.

  4. The developers apparently had doubts about the adequacy of these weapons from the start. Their standard round apparently included a tiny tear gas payload behind the steel penetrating core. Not only was the amount of tear gas pretty trivial (maybe they figured it was adequate to the confined crew space of a tank), but the payload was apparently prone to fall off on impact and not make it into the tank even if the armor was penetrated.

    • The Soviet 14.5×114 also has “gas” bullet variant – it was БЗХ which is acronym for бронебойно-зажигательно-химической bullet (Armourpiercing-incendiary-chemical). The gas used was Phenacyl chloride (also known as “CN”). It was developed from БС-41 Tungsten-carbide-core-armour-piercing-incendiary bullet.

      Альбом конструкций патронов стрелкового оружия states that 7.92mm triple effect (AP, incendiary, tracer) bullet for PzB 39 also was filled with 16mg of Phenacyl chloride and has white tracer. Other data for the cartridge from same source:
      cartridge mass: 81+/-2.5 g
      muzzle velocity: 1180m/s
      maximum powder gases pressure: 3250 kg/cm^2
      powder charge: 14.8 g
      bullet travel distance in barrel: 100.4 cm
      rifling angle: ~4°46′
      area of bore cross section (including rifles): 0.514cm^2
      bullet mass: 14.5+/-0.22 g
      core mass: 8.7 g
      distance between bullet center-of-gravity-point and bullet base: 1.39cm (42.7% of bullet length)
      case mass: 57 g
      case capacity: 17.6 cm^3
      case capacity with bullet seated: 17.0 cm^3
      primer mass: 0.47 g
      primer components:
      Lead styphnate – 23.69%
      Tetrazene – 2.22%
      Ba(NO3)2 – 62.09%
      Al – 5.82%
      Sb2S3 – 6.18%
      priming compound mass: 0.089g
      Armour piercing core material: tungsten alloy (contain 95% of tungsten)
      case material: steel, hardness: base: 213, mouth: 179 (Vickers scale)

      • Municion has photo of this cartridge:
        Where it is described “Patrone 318 S.m.K.RS L’Spur”
        And small correction to my above post:
        is: “case material: steel, hardness: base: 213, mouth: 179 (Vickers scale)”
        should be: “case material: steel, hardness: base: 213, mouth: 179 (Vickers scale), lacquered”

  5. Ian, the Polish connection is WAY off in this story, I’m afraid. First – how could they capture a Polish AT rifle to copy the cartridge already in 1938 for the Rheinmetall PzB38? The Polih and German AT Rifles were completely parallel developments in fact, right until 1940, when P490 factory started to manufacture Polish rounds for captured wz.35 rifles loaded with ‘Gesch. 318 o.Rs’ bullet.

    The development of German AT rifle for Patrone 318 started in mid-1930s, actually with a 13 mm round (the 318 moniker was said to mean “8/13 mm” in kind of Leonardo mirror-code – that is according to Karl Pawlas research) which later on was necked down to 8 mm – hence 8-13, or in mirror image 31-8, or 318. Whatever. But by far the most interesting feature of the 318 bullet was its multi-purpose bullet: armor-piercing (tungsten core) / tracer / tear-gas. What have these people smoked, I don’t know – but they must have been miles-high designing a bullet of, mind you, just 8 mm diameter containing an irritant element specifically to render the targeted tank uninhabitable for the crew. As if the fragments of the pierced armor were not enough invitation to get some fresh air… Of course it was a failure from point zero – when the bullet hits the armor plate, the heavy core continued into the plate, stripping itself of the jacket, which was left with its stinking tiny teargas pellet on the outside of the target… The resulting bullet was called the 318 o.Rs – o.Rs meaning ‘ohne Reizstoff’, or ‘w/o teargas’. These bullets were used for the ammo manufactured for captured Polish rifles, which were handed over to Italians in 1941, when enough PzB 39 was at hand to oust the Polish rifles, which were still used to a great extent in France (countless photos show German infantry with Polish ATRs, including the Waffen-SS troops). Nevertheless, the development of the German PzB rifles did not stop there with the PzB 39 – there were PzB 40, PzB 709 and PzB SS M/41, all three semi-automatic models as well. Only GrB 39s survived after 1943, and these were also quickly ousted by RPzB 54 Offenrohr (Panzerschreck), a development of the US Bazooka and by the recoilless launchers, the Panzerfausts, both of which were capable of defeating more armor than the shaped-charge rifle grenade (even though initially Pzf lacked the range of the GrB 39).

    • I was wondering about that point in the video too. If Ian was talking about the Maroszek AT rifle, it was supersized Mauser style bolt action, unlike the falling block action in the German AT rifle. The Polish 7.92 x 107 round was also very different from the German round. See Anthony William’s page on the subject for more detail. http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/ATRart.htm

    • No excuse – I miffed it. I was intermixing the PzB38 as the predecessor for the 39 with with use of captured Polish wz35 rifles. Sorry! I will be writing a more complete article on these with a bunch of photos, and I will have correction in the piece.

    • “As if the fragments of the pierced armor were not enough invitation to get some fresh air…”

      This kind of small penetrators produced relatively little fragments when the bullet actually penetrated. Ironically, they could produce MORE spalling if it didn’t — that was the idea behind the lead core DS bullet used with the Maroszek wz.35. There are numerous stories and anecdotes that armored vehicles were penetrated several times by AT rifle bullets with little effect, which indicates that in many cases only the actual bullet was inflicting the damage inside the vehicles. If there was nothing vulnerable or important on its path, the internal damage was very limited*. The disappointing “behind armor” effects were also apparently more common with small caliber bullets like the German 8mm than the much larger 14.5mm and 20mm AP projectiles.

      *Incidentally, that is also a problem with modern high precision and high penetration HEAT warheads. The “jet” remains so narrow and cohesive after penetration that it can pass through the inside of the vehicle and damage only what is directly on its path.

    • Re: Ur antitank Polish rifle.
      The received knowledge is that there is no record of Maroszek rifle’s , well, record, in the September 1939 campaign, because – obsessed with the secrecy (hence its name “Ur” meant to confuse the potential spy that it was something prepared for Uruguay – Polish militar authorities kept it under such key and lock, that the field units did not even know they had it, let alone being provided with the possibility to train). Most of the German tanks at that time being PzkW-1 and – 2, this could produce some havoc. Anyway

  6. Okay, this won’t do against most tanks (obviously, referencing the anti-armor section in a book on 20th century artillery). But, just like the Japanese Type 97 AT rifle, could it have been used against high-value soft targets like heavy bombers on a runway (or even crazier, shoot the 100 pound bomb that’s about to be loaded into a B-25 Mitchell or the fueling truck right next to the plane), even though nobody thought to use it in that manner? Or would a German user just one-shot the Soviet commissar a hundred meters down range on the Eastern Front?

    Given a choice, which would you take for potting a dictator, if you had the chance?

    1. Boys 0.55 inch AT
    2. Type 97 AT
    3. PTRD or PTRS
    4. PzB-39
    5. 2.5 cm SAL 37

    You do not have to respond to the questionnaire if you do not wish to do so.

    • Boys 0.55in, hands down. It was the most consistently accurate of all the AT rifles of its era. And unlike the 7.9 class, its big .55in bullet could carry an incendiary tracer charge capable of doing some real damage.

      Photos of vehicles of the Long Range Desert Group and Special Air Service in the Western Desert often show Boys rifles on the pedestal mount, notably on the Dodge 20cwt truck. They were brought along because they were very useful for shooting up ammo carriers, fuel trucks, and etc. from ranges up to 1200 yards.

      The SAS liked using the Boys with APIT rounds for night attacks on German airfields. Unlike the Jeep-mounted .50 BMG, the Boys could be “sneaked in” to within 1000 yards without needing a Jeep to do it. Then shoot each fueled Bf-109 or whatever on the flight line in the fuselage tank with one APIT each, put a couple into the fuel bowser, and leave during the ensuing chaos. Beats trying to actually get onto the field itself with blocks of PE without getting stitched by an alert sentry behind an MG34.

      61 Boys rifles were air-delivered to the French resistance by SOE for exactly this sort of work. Considering that SOE also delivered PIATs and U.S. 2.36in Bazookas to the Resistance, I doubt the Boys rifles were intended for potting Panzers.

      BTW, there’s a persistent myth that to airdrop the Boys, you had to saw off part of the barrel to get it into the drop container, thereby sacrificing the muzzle brake and increasing recoil.

      Sorry. The Boys was airdropped in the “C” container, which was 170cm x 36cm (or 5′ 7′ x 14″ diameter), and the Boys’ OAL was 63.7in, or 5′ 3 7/10″. Taking the magazine out and folding up the bipod would get it into the container just fine, including spare magazines, ammo, the cleaning kit and the manual which told what to do with it.

      See; Lorain, Pierre, Clandestine Operations; The Arms and Techniques of the Resistance, 1941-1944, trans. by David Kahn. NY; MacMillan, 1983.



  7. Talking of using the PzB as a Long range sniper rifle, there are persistent anecdotal accounts of Australian soldiers using them in North Africa for just such a task ( Aussies were/are inveterate scroungers—just as they used the excellent Breda 20-mm AA Guns both at Tobruk and in Syria) and even a rumour (as yet unconfirmed) that a PzB39 made it back to Australia as a “Bring-back”…some “bringback”)

    NO scope, either….just good shooting.

    Doc AV

    • Speaking of Breda, didn’t Commonwealth troops like the Breda 37 for its heavy 8 mm round’s penetration power against anyone trying to use vehicles (other than tanks) as cover?

      BANG! “Boom, head-shot.” [victim slumps over armored-car’s turret with his brains blown out due to PzB-39’s overpowered round going through the MG shield]
      THONKATHONKA! “Speed won’t save you now, Jerry!” [Breda 37 used against a BMW R75 and its rider]

      • The 8.59 Breda (That’s how Barnes lists it, I presume that means 8 x 59mm)launched a 210 grain FMJ at 2600 F/S for 3160 FPE. That puts it in the same category as the .30-06 with a 180-grain bullet power-wise, so it definitely packs more downrange whack than the 0.303in Enfield.

        But according to contemporary accounts from the LRDG and SAS boys who went “up the blue”, the major reason they liked the Breda M/37 HMG was its utter reliability. It worked no matter what.

        And unlike the equally brute-reliable Vickers-Maxim 0.303in, it was air-cooled. Water isn’t exactly easy to come by in the desert, so a gun that didn’t need a water-cooling jacket was considered a handy thing to have bolted onto your buggy.

        Also, in the early days there was a shortage of everything, especially HMGs. And they had all these Bredas sitting in store at Alexandria after Garibaldi & Co. threw in the towel. They sent most of the 20 million+ rounds of 9 x 19mm captured from the Italians to England (now you know why the Sten was a 9 x 19mm), but the “oddball” Breda 8mm ammo, and the guns for it, stayed in North Africa.

        BTW, the 8 x 59 round was apparently designed specifically for the Breda MGs and was never used in any other weapon. So there wouldn’t have been much sense in sending the guns or ammo stores anywhere else, anyway.



        • Re: Sten and Italian 9 mm ammunition. From what I gather about the sten, its tolerances were quite liberal. So it could handle 9-19 mm Parabellum and 9 – 19 mm Glisenti, which, so I learned, was externally identical with that of Parabellum, but with a smaller load.
          Regards, Andrzej

    • On the scrounging part I’ve seen plenty of pictures of captured Italian tanks at Tobruk with a white Kangaroo quickly slapped on the side, we were kinda using everything we could get our hands on.
      I hadn’t heard the PZB 39 story, but the Australian war memorial does have Ppsh that was apparently brought back from the Korean War under its ‘liberators’ trench coat- it’s a tiny bit unclear how it then got to the memorial but the impression is it was found in his effects after he died.

    • Most anti-tank rifles were developed after Spanish Civil War, where tanks with light armour was used (Italy supply CV33 tankettes and Soviet Union supply T-26), so the experience from that war indicate that man-portable anti-tank rifle is viable weapon. However in this time tank designers starts developing more heavily armoured vehicles as Spanish Civil War proved that armour thickness of current tank was too small.

      • The best AT rifles remained viable weapons against light tanks all the way to 1942 and even beyond that against armored cars. The T-26 was still the most numerous tank in Soviet service in 1941 when the Germans invaded, so Ian’s assertion that the PzB 39 was ineffective against Soviet tanks is not correct. The BT series tanks was the second-most numerous and they were vulnerable as well, although the highly sloped upper hull (glacis) armor of the BT-5 and BT-7 was often able to deflect AT rifle projectiles. The separate machine gun turrets of the multi-turreted T-28 medium tank could be penetrated as well. The T-26, BT series and T-28 made up more than 90% of the Soviet tanks in June 1941.

        The Soviet 14.5mm AT rifles remained usable even longer. The German PzKw III (Tank Mk. III) had a fairly weak side hull armor, which the 14.5mm tungsten core projectile could penetrate at short ranges. The German side hull skirts (Schürzen in German) for PzKw III & IV (plus StuG III etc.) were originally introduced to protect against AT rifle bullets (not HEAT warheads like some sources claim). While the bullets could easily penetrate the skirts, they usually tumbled after that and could not penetrate the main armor deeply.

    • The videos at Full30.com are HTML5 video, so no Flash player is required as long as you use a fairly recent version of any modern Web browser.

      • I’m using Chrome, which supposedly updates automatically, I can see the initial “start” image, but the playing video just shows a black screen, although the audio plays fine. Youtube and streaming video sites ARE working for me though..It confounds me.

        • I don’t have Chrome installed on my PC, but full30.com works on my Android tablet with Chrome. Although strangely the full screen viewing zooms to larger than actual screen area, probably some weird driver issue.

          Anyways, Ian does still make all his videos available on Youtube on the Forgotten Weapons channel a couple of days later. He just said that the makes more money from Full30.com viewings.

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