Stopping Tanks with Rifles?

Picture the year 1939 – lots of light tanks are out there in various armies, but there isn’t much practical experience on how to stop them in combat. The heavy anti-tank rifles pioneered at the end of WWI are an option, but perhaps it is possible to find a simpler method? An answer occurs to someone hanging about Aberdeen Proving Ground – probably someone with some with traumatic childhood memories of sticks and bicycle spokes. “Hey!” he says… “what if you jam a rifle into the idler sprockets of a tankette’s treads so it throws the track?”

Well?

“So far as it is known attempts to break or throw the tracks of light tanks or combat cars by thrusting rifle barrels between the track and the sprocket or the track and the idler have never been made at the Proving Ground.”

That can’t stand! We might have a brilliant war-winning idea here!

…or a laughable waste of perfectly good rifles. A reader on Facebook pointed me to this entry on the WorldOfTanks blog “The Chieftain’s Hatch”: Rifles vs Tanks. If you want to know how this experiment turned out, have a look! Or just take a look to see an entirely serious Aberdeen Proving Ground photo of a test rock. Yeah, a rock.

Spoiler; the tests did not go well. Don’t throw out the AT rifles just yet, guys.

 

44 Comments

  1. Finnish soldiers used heavy iron bars and thick logs successfully during Winter War to temporarily stop Soviet T-26 light tanks. Sometimes the tank would even “throw a track” as a result or the crew would try to bail out from their immobilized tank, but more often the technique was used to facilitate the use of a Molotov cocktail or satchel charge.

    I don’t think anyone ever tried to use a perfectly good rifle for that purpose, though, or at least such attempts have not been recorded.

    • After Fall of France Great Britain become endangered by German invasion. LDV later renamed Home Guard was created, but many AT guns were lost in France, so some unconventional weapons were considered:
      – dishes, which place upside-down can be seen by enemy tankers as AT mines
      – logs, placed on roads
      – Molotov cocktail (also known as Petrol Bomb)
      – Grenade, Hand, Anti-Tank No. 74 (also known as Sticky Bomb)
      – Northover projector, fire No. 68 HEAT grenade
      – 29mm Spigot Mortar (also known Blacker Bombard)

      “temporarily stop Soviet T-26 light tanks”
      Also notice that many Soviet tanks after Winter War has machine gun mounted in turret firing rearward, this was caused to counter attackers trying to lob Petrol Bombs on engine deck.

      • “…firing reward,”

        THAT’S why that was done. I’ve always wondered why. The Japanese also had turrets set up that way. I learned something new.

    • “Molotov cocktail”
      This weapon was used by IIRC each side of conflict of WW2. It can be basically split in following categories:
      -fired by rag (set rag on fire, throw)
      -“binary”, two components, which when mixed start fire, first component inside bottle, second attached to outside
      -fired by air, sealed mixture inside bottle which start fire when exposed to air
      -other
      Examples of WW2 Molotov cocktail include:
      American M1 Frangible Grenade filled with phosphorus/rubber/gasoline, fired by exposure to air
      German Brandhandgranate 48/57 filled with Flammöl Nr.19 (fuel for flamethrowers)/gasoline
      Various soviet Molotov cocktails filled with gasoline/kerosene/naphtha or KClO3/solvent; cocktails made in besieged Odessa have label:
      «Товарищ! Запал и бутылка изготовлены в Одессе. Не пускай врага в наш город, подожги танк!»
      which mean: “Comrade! Igniter and bottle made in Odessa. Don’t let enemy inside our city, set tank on fire!”
      TOZ (Tula Arms Factory) after evacuation of equipment to made rifles produced Molotov cocktails with igniter based on 7.62×25 blank cartridge.

      Similar to Molotov cocktail was АК-1 glass ball (125mm diameter) with mixture self-igniting when exposed to air. It was invented in 1930s, as chemical bomb dropped from aeroplanes and breaking when striking ground, later adopted to flammable. It can be launched from 125-мм ампуломёт образца 1941 года, it can launch glass ball up to 250 meters.

      During Talvisota Soviet Army lost 1919 tanks, in this 436 to flames, most caused by Molotov cocktails.

      • Finnish Molotov cocktails were originally ignited by rags, but soon a more effective ignition system was invented in form of a storm match attached to the bottle. The bottles used were standard vodka bottles readily available. The storm match provided a fairly long burn time and reliable ignition. The bottles were safe to storage unlike self-igniting ones. The liquid used was originally just gasoline, but later a cheaper and also more effective mixture of gasoline, ethanol (a by-product of wood pulp industry) and tar was used to make the liquid “stick” more. The properties of the mixture made for a primitive form on “napalm”.

        Further information about Finnish Molotov cocktails: http://jaegerplatoon.net/OTHER_AT_WEAPONS1.htm

        By the way, the Italians also manufactured petrol bombs industrially, although they seem to have started to production quite late (only in 1942):

        https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/OTO_Mod._42

          • Actually, it’s both, with varying proportions depending on the process. However, it is easy to produce ethanol from mannose, which is a byproduct of sulfite pulping process.

      • Also the British Grenade No. 76, aka “Self-Igniting Phosphorus” grenade, or the Albright & Wilson (AW) bomb;

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No._76_Special_Incendiary_Grenade

        One drawback to the SIP was that with age, the cap seal tended to leak. When air got in, the phosphorus tended to do what phosphorus does when exposed to air- ignite.
        It had an irritating tendency to do it at about 0200 in the middle of an ammo dump.

        Also, units early on had a tendency to acquire the things in large numbers, which became an embarrassment toward the end of the war. As such, rather than turn them in, they tended to bury crates of them in out of the way places.

        Twenty or thirty years later, when the development boom hit Britain along with the rest of the Continent, the crates tended to get found by bulldozers and excavators- with the results you might expect, which fortunately were generally more spectacular than dangerous.

        cheers

        eon

  2. Don’t get your hand caught in the sling while jaming the rifle into the tracks. Sounds like an idea you come up with when you’ve had one too many. Testing commenced at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds after several cases of beer were consumed by the test volunteers.

  3. According to Ian Hogg, in 1940 when the British were expecting a German invasion at any moment, the “approved” Home Guard method of jamming a tank track was sticking a piece of tram line rail in it. Here are the specs;

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tramway_track

    In short, two or more men would hide in an alleyway with a ten-foot piece of six-inch web steel T-rail weighing about 300 pounds, to shove it into the track on cue. Once the tank was stopped, some other heroes would throw Self-Igniting Phosphorus bombs (Molotov cocktails) or etc. onto it, and when the crew bailed, shoot them.

    Well, that was the theory, anyway. Hogg stated that he never had much confidence in it. Mainly because it didn’t mention what the tank crew would be doing while this bloody ballet was going on.

    The drill never mentioned using a rifle to jam the tracks. Probably because the British didn’t have enough rifles or even double-barreled shotguns to go around to begin with.

    cheers

    eon

  4. The Germans actually gave out an award for destroying a tank “hand to hand” using panzer faust, magnetic mines or satchel charges. The top three records were 21, 18 and 12. Not a career field with long-term prospects. On the other hand, there was a total of over 13,000 recorded kills, so overall it was not an insignificant contribution to the total.

  5. Reminds me of a joke some wargaming friends and I came up with in the late Seventies for dealing with the expected Soviet invasion of western Europe.

    Station fake haystacks along the border. In each have either a late-Fifties Buick or an early-Seventies Lincoln Continental, all with big block V8 engines. When the tanks were sighted volunteers would drive the cars into the sides of them. All that chrome on the front of a Buick would jam the tread. The massive front bumper of the Lincoln would simply do blunt force trauma to the mechanics. 🙂

  6. I have it on good authority that Chuck Norris once jammed his wiener into tank treads causing the vehicle to come to such a sudden stop that the crew inside all died from whiplash.

  7. When desperation rules insanity reigns. Anyone close enough to an enemy tank to mess with the treds is probably dead or about become dead. The legacy of someone attempting to stop a tank with a rifle barrel is to become another nameless stain on that Tanks treads.

    • Not quite so. Visibility from the inside of most WW2 tanks and especially the early ones was poor, and detecting enemy infantrymen wasn’t easy. If you don’t see the enemy, you can’t react. Most tanks also had weapons with fairly limited firing arcs, basically just the frontal arcs of hull and turret. Some did have turret rear machine guns or pistol ports, but in practice those proved to be of limited usefulness due to insufficient visibility and created additional weak spots in the armor.

      If the terrain provided some cover for the infantrymen, it was relatively easy to sneak to the sides of an tank not escorted by friendly infantry, and try to do things like sabotage the treads. Experienced tankers of course tried to turn and crush any enemy infantrymen they could detect, but you couldn’t just keep on turning without knowing where the enemy is. That is why all sides of WW2 soon learned that tanks had to escorted by friendly infantry or risk becoming disabled or destroyed by even relatively primitive methods such as Molotov cocktails or satchel charges.

      • And thus the infantry anti-armor weapon serves less as a tank-sniper than a “surprise, suckers” to any tanker who has no experience with dealing with threats extremely close to a tank.

        Would it do any good for any GI to rip open the turret hatch of a Tiger I and then CQC the commander out of his own tank in order to take him hostage? Or, fast forward a few decades, would it be possible to use a cargo-type Fulton Recovery Device to kidnap a tank and its crew, assuming you could sneak up on it?

  8. Probably the best improvised anti-tank weapon was the German Geballte Ladung or “bundle charge”;

    http://i.imgur.com/kK0f3oW.jpg

    Nothing fancy, just six Steilhandgranate explosive heads wired or taped around a seventh with the handle still on. Pull cord out, yank on it, toss on the rear engine deck of a T-34 or IS-2, and run like hell.

    The tank might still be able to traverse its turret by hand crank, but as far as mobility goes, it’s not going anywhere without a tow.

    cheers

    eon

    • Probably not, but who knows? A bundle charge as described by eon was used in a manga I read. The hero threw it at the tread of an incoming T-34 and blew the track. Said T-34 was attacking a VK.4501 (P), one of Porsche’s Tiger prototypes, head on, which is a really BAD idea in the first place, considering the Porsche Tiger has the 8.8 cm KWK 36, and you know what the bigger gun usually does at point blank range if it’s loaded and ready to shoot…

      • About the only way a standard fragmentation grenade would damage the running gear was if it broke a track link. The roadwheels, etc., were designed to stand up to anything short of an anti-tank mine. (Tanks could roll over anti-personnel mines and detonate them without even noticing it.)

        And breaking a track link would most likely require a Golden BB hit on the link connector pin itself, snapping it or popping its retainer off. Not too likely.

        The Bundle Charge stuck in the workings would absolutely blow the crap out of the track, a couple of roadwheels, etc. But its main purpose was blowing in the engine intake/cooling grilles on top of the engine compartment, wrecking the carburetion system, etc.

        The Japanese equivalent was the Lunge Mine;

        http://i16.photobucket.com/albums/b24/hybenamon/LAND/MISC/Ultra%20Close%20Killing%20Of%20Tanks/lung.jpg

        No matter where it hit, it did a horrifying amount of damage- at both ends.

        One of my college profs, USMC Class of ’42(Guadalcanal), stated that Shermans, etc., never made a move in the island jungles without a lot of infantry covering their flanks and “sanitizing” the road ahead of them. Especially the ditches to wither side, where camouflaged “spider holes” were usually found.

        Of course, on Iwo Jima, and then Okinawa, they found another “innovation”, the Japanese definition of a command-detonated anti-tank mine. Dig a hole two and a half feet wide by about four and a half deep in the middle of the road, stick a 15cm artillery shell in it nose up, pull the safety on the impact fuze.

        Then before you camouflage it, a volunteer hunkers down in it, wrapped around the shell. His one piece of equipment?

        A hammer.

        cheers (?)

        eon

        • I would hate to be the lacky I.J.A volunteer that got picked for that job. I’m shure they picked the guy nobody liked for this. Well Private Tanaka we finally found something you can do right. Reminds me of the Porky Pig cartoon, Ali Baba Bound especially the goofy suicide squad character with the artillery shell strapped to his head.

        • “Japanese equivalent was the Lunge Mine”
          Japan also used Type 99 mine (also known as Turtle Mine)
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_99_mine
          in fact it was AT grenade (has time-delay fuse, has to be thrown at enemy tank)
          it has four magnets attached to cloth sack of explosives, it entered service in 1939, it is HE weapon (not HEAT like Lunge Mine), single mine penetrate .75″ of armor, doubled penetrated 1.25″

          “15cm artillery shell in it nose up”
          When using artillery shells as mines is not bad idea I wonder who “invent” the idea it has to be fired by suicide volunteer. I am not expert on IJA structure of WW2, but I assume they have some equivalent of British Corps of Royal Engineers or American Seabees which have some explosives detonated by electric pulse (electric cord), so why not dig in artillery shell together with explosive and put electric cord to fire it? It give at least some chance to survive.

          If we discuss untypical method of stopping tank it is possible to do it with:
          -single Bangalore torpedo
          -bundle of Bangalore torpedos
          ?

          • One wonders; did they give the “volunteer” his medal before he hunkered down in the hole, or send it directly to the family?

        • The Finnish Amry had many different AT hand grenades manufactured industrially. They were all simple HE grenades unlike later Soviet AT hand grenades (RPG-43 etc.), which had a HEAT warhead. Regardless, they got fairly sophisticated towards the end of the war, with the last design having a quickly field adjustable charge. A link to a better explanation about Finnish AT hand grenades and satchel charges:

          http://jaegerplatoon.net/OTHER_AT_WEAPONS1.htm#Kasapanos

  9. While we’re exploring in the land of the improbable, what would happen if one fired a rifle round and it struck inside the barrel of a tank? Would it ricochet down the bore and jam against the shell and cause problems?

    • Maybe, but you’re better off trying to shoot a smaller caliber cannon round into the tank’s main gun. Preferably a hollow charge.

    • Possibly it could ricochet down the barrel, but given the size of the shell, and rifling in the average tank of the day, the only way it’d cause any real issue is if it set off the shell inside the barrel. The rifling on the Flak KWK 88 is a little over 1mm, and 5mm wide. (ref: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=erliBwAAQBAJ&pg=PA91&lpg=PA91&dq=flak+88+barrel+rifling+depth&source=bl&ots=rV3h_Z99Jt&sig=ZbGeNgPv7d53Hp9RH6McDvBqWfU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiIr7vr-sjKAhVBVxQKHXFSDKgQ6AEIHzAA#v=onepage&q=flak%2088%20barrel%20rifling%20depth&f=false ) That’s not a great size for a rifle bullet of the day to lodge in and even if it did, it would be highly unlikely to jam the shell in place.

    • A the softness of a rifle bullet relative to the shell of a tank’s main gun is pretty much cheese to a stone. When fired, the shell would flatten the bullet against the bore like it wasn’t even there.

      • After the ogive of the shell gets done turning the slug into a coin blank, it will slip past the ogive and the shell will override it until it hits the rotating band, the bronze “ring” at the aft end of the shell that actually takes the rifling.

        The band might get wedged or jammed by the flattened slug, but it’s more likely that it will just push the bit of metal ahead of it and right out the muzzle as the shell leaves.

        If anyone bothers to look, they’ll probably find it on the ground, a few yards in front of the tank.

        About the only way for a rifleman to hurt a tank in this way would be to score a bullseye on the shell’s nose fuse (assuming it has one- not all do) that doesn’t glance, but instead penetrates the fuse housing and hits the “gain”, the explosive train that detonates the main filling.

        This would require an extremely accurate rifle and sighting system, an armor-piercing bullet round, high skill, nerves of steel, and an incredible amount of luck.

        I won’t say it it couldn’t happen, or hasn’t happened, but it would be a literal one-in-a-million shot.

        cheers

        eon

  10. I’ve read (rumors??) that the spoked idler wheels of the original production M3 Stuart tanks were modified to solid after initial bouts in the Pacific because the Japanese were stuffing palm logs, etc. into the wheel openings jamming the track against the rear idler sprockets.

    • Actually, it was because the spoked cast wheel (inherited from the Combat Car T2 by way of the earlier M2 version of the Stuart) turned out to not be too durable in service. It developed cracks in the spokes after a few months, hence its replacement by the still cast, but much tougher, “disc” idler.

      cheers

      eon

  11. Given the state of pre WWII tanks and their relatively light armour AT rifles where a good options till at least 1940 even 41. It sure as hell was better than throwing rocks and bad language at a tank.

    Given the popularity of large caliber anti material rifles today ( Barrett et al) the main thing the AT rifles missed the point is what good anti material weapons they are. After 41 sure not really any use against the tanks of the day , but very useful against light armour and trucks and planes on the ground and pill boxes etc.

    Took another 40 years to work out these large caliber rifles have a very effective use on the battlefield.

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