The M9A1 Bazooka: Now With Optics and Quick Takedown

RIA’s catalog page for the live (NFA) destructive device

The Bazooka – or rather the Launcher, Rock, 2.36”, M1 – was introduced by the United States in 1942, the result of a fast development by two Army officers, Captain Leslie Skinner and Lt. Edward Uhl. The US has no infantry antitank weapon at that point, and it had become quite clear that such a thing was needed. The Bazooka offered a theoretical effective range of 300 yards, throwing a 1 pound hollow-charge projectile capable of penetrating 4 inches of armor plate. The 2.36 inch bore measurement, incidentally, was chosen as the inch equivalent of 60mm, to match the common mortar size.

In October of 1943, an improved M9 version was introduced, using a magnet firing system instead of the unreliable batteries of the original. A followup M9A1 variant was adopted in June of 1944, which broke down into two parts for easier transportation, and the T90 optical sight was added in September of 1944. These were effective weapons against armor early in the war, but the heavier tanks introduced late in the war were too heavily armored for the Bazooka to be very effective – although it remained a valuable tool for attacking pillboxes and other fortified positions. It would continue to see extensive service in the Korean War, although its limited armor penetration was particularly acute in that conflict.

Note that the inert M6 rocket in the video is not being sold with the Bazooka.

29 Comments

  1. “Launcher, Rock, 2.36”, M1”
    Rocks launcher? Far descendant of medieval trebuchet? 🙂

    “US has no infantry antitank weapon at that point, and it had become quite clear that such a thing was needed”
    This lead to question why they did not create such infantry weapon, despite wide usage of armoured vehicles, both during Fall Weiss and Fall Gelb?

    “T90 optical sight was added in September of 1944”
    Are there any reports giving efficiency improvement? Was optical sight so helpful in weapon of such ballistics?

    • I think you are giving Gun Jesus’ comment regarding the paucity of US Infantry anti-tank weaponry far to much credit as historical fact as we have not yet had a Gun Council of Nicaea to declare him a deity and therefore infallible. I believe his sentence was merely an oversimplification of the facts in order to get on to the main subject matter. I think he might have better written “The US was beginning to realize that it’s current infantry anti-tank weaponry was growing inadequate”. The statement that we had “no” infantry anti-tank weapons is clearly erroneous and I doubt his intention was such (of course I am not saying with certainly as I do not wish to commit Blasphemy or Heresy–although I usually burn my steak I don’t want to be burned at the stake). The US did have infantry anti-tank weaponry at this time that it thought was adequate. The 37MM gun (The US had production running but didn’t yet see the need for the 57mm), 60mm mortars, a .50 caliber machine gun issued to the infantry which had light anti-armor capability, and a shaped charge grenade that was not very practicable so the bazooka was developed at a time when it’s need became obvious. No one else was building bazookas at this time. Rocketry for military purposes was only then being developed although it’s use was about to “explode” on the scene. The bazooka was one of the first effective uses. The Brits didn’t have the Piat until mid-43, the Germans the Faustpatrone in 1942. They all relied on a combination of marginally adequate anti-tank guns, generally dual purpose weaponry, or light anti-tank rifles. Technologically the US was not behind the curve and was learning pretty much as fast as anyone else and in 1942 we had barely gotten our feet wet in combat.

      • “37MM gun”
        Ok.

        “60mm mortars”
        Wait, was armour-piercing ammunition issued to it in that period (1939-42)? Were its sights suitable for engaging moving targets?

        “No one else was building bazookas at this time.”
        Ok, but there were AT rifles of varying sizes.

        • The German work with their antiarmor rockets was based on captured American equipment.

          None of the AT rifles were worth much after operation Barbarossa resulted in much enhanced armor protection. The U.S.never invested in AT rifles because Browning developed his .50 caliber machine gun. This was the primary US AT weapon until the adoption (stole) the 37mm. It was recognized by American armor authorities that The 37mms was inadequate almost as soon as The Germans (hence the 75mms in the M3.

          The 60mm mortar was a stokes mortar type of infantry weapon not suitable for use against moving target.

  2. Magnetic induction coils? That sounds like the adaptation of the German approach to making a bazooka! At least nobody used the 10.5 cm version on wheels (I dubbed that particular weapon a “super-duper bazooka”).

    Of course nobody in his right mind sells rockets to go with the bazooka at any civilian auction. I would hate to imagine the damage from some idiot playing around with the bazooka (“inert” as in no explosive charge may NOT mean that it has no propellant charge, as one person lethally found out the hard way with a 37 mm auto-cannon live cartridge marked “inert” for the lack of explosive payload in the projectile). I hope I’m wrong!

    • The person purchasing this registered destructive device will have to go through a thorough background check from the BATFE, wait up to 90 days before taking possession, and pay a fee to have it licensed. Also, at an estimated price of almost $10,000, this is weapon is quite expensive.
      All weapons are dangerous. If a person jumps through the hoops to purchase this, what’s the harm in launching rockets from it? I doubt a serious collector would use collectible rockets, so they’d have to contract with a machine shop to fabricate them, thus adding to the hassle. I don’t see the issue with selling rockets with this, as an idiot can harm them self with a $99 black powder rifle from WalMart.

      • Good point, nobody uses collectible rockets as they are likely deactivated (drained of propellant and explosive material). Walmart no longer sells guns, by the way no thanks to gun control morons who think that crooks could swipe the guns off the shelves and then start massacring the other customers! I actually laugh at that logic, as all the real guns in gun stores and sporting goods stores have LOCKED receivers (you can’t even open the action with the self-destructive lock in place, and trying to saw or torch the lock off will ruin the gun).

      • The name Mohaupt should not be left out of this, as he was the Swiss gentleman who tried selling first the UK, and then the US an “improved explosive” which many took to have been “borrowed” from the Germans. Unfortunately for Mohaupt, the observers from the UK immediately recognized his subterfuge, and refused to buy. The resulting effect on history, however, was to give impetus to the British anti-tank weapon development effort that resulted in a shaped-charge hand grenade, and culminated in the warhead for the PIAT.

        Mohaupt moved on to try the same sort of scam with the US, only to run into problems with the patent attorneys of the Pentagon, who also recognized prior art of the Navy’s employee, Charles Munroe. Which dates back to the 19th Century… Similarly, he did manage to ignite interest in the technique, which resulted in a warhead being available to mate up with the solid-fuel rocket that became the bazooka.

        You have to wonder what would have happened, if Mohaupt had been a bit less mercenary. Due to his earned reputation for chicanery, he was locked out of the war effort, and did not participate in developing his work much past giving the basic idea to the Allies.

        Once Mohaupt left the realm of half-ass fraud behind, he experienced considerable success in the petrochemical industry after moving to Texas, where his little shaped charges were used heavily for perforating well casings deep underground.

        • Here’s a good overview of the subject done by one of the experts in the field;

          History of the Shaped Charge Effect; The First 100 Years by Donald R. Kennedy

          http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a220095.pdf

          The shaped charge phenomenon was actually known before Dr. Munroe’s work, as far back as the 1830s, but black powder (the only explosive other than mercuric or perchlorate known at the time) didn’t have sufficient explosive velocity or brisance to make it work very well. It really never became effective until the advent of high explosives like nitrocellulose and nitroglycerin, followed by “blasting gelatin”, “dynamite” and TNT. Which was where Dr. Munroe came in, as the lecture explains.

          cheers

          eon

    • “modification of an anti tank rifle grenade.”
      Interestingly, much later warhead for M72 LAW was also developed from anti-tank rifle grenade, namely M31 HEAT rifle grenade, thus these two share warhead diameter (66 mm).

    • According to History of Rocketry and Space Travel by Wernher von Braun and Frederick I. Ordway III;

      https://www.amazon.com/History-rocketry-space-travel-Wernher/dp/B0007EE6O0

      Originally the hollow-charge warhead in question was developed as a rifle grenade. Except it turned out to be too heavy to launch that way. Other methods proposed included firing it from a mortar as a “top attack” round,which would have been both effective and nasty (as we know today from such ATGWs as the Bofors Bill), and even firing it like a rifle grenade- from the business end of a .50 Browning HMG.

      Lt. Edward G. Uhl and Capt. Leslie R. Skinner had both been pre-war members of the American Rocket Society (ARS), and concluded that a solid-fuel rocket fired from a guide tube was the best way to deliver the grenade. They based the idea on a similar rocket launcher designed and built for Army Ordnance by none other than Dr. Robert H. Goddard in 1918. (It was not proceeded with due to the Armistice.)

      Their original version was made from G.I. building downspout, a firing circuit consisting of two flashlight batteries, wire, a couple of alligator clips and a doorbell pushbutton, two pistol grips and a shoulder stock from a Thompson SMG, and a post-and-ring sight improvised from wire by Uhl.

      At a test at Aberdeen Proving Ground, they “attached” themselves to a line which was demonstrating the .50 caliber launched version (which missed most of the time at 150 yards), and proceeded to hit the target three times with their dummy warhead rockets.

      The unfamiliar sound of the rockets firing attracted the attention of the high-rankers there to see the .50 test, and who proceeded to expend the rest of the dummy warhead rockets on the target. The rocket launcher and its ammunition were ordered into advanced R&D and production immediately, which was why the original 2.36in rocket launcher was available in time for Operation Torch.

      Numbers of the first production run were shipped to Russia under Lend-Lease, were immediately sent into combat, and quite a few were captured by the Germans. The result was the 8.8cm Panzerschreck, with shorter range than the 2.36in but a more powerful warhead.

      Incidentally, the name “Bazooka” derived from a homemade “trumpet” used by Bob Burns, a radio comedian of the day, as a running joke in his show. The “trumpet” and the rocket launcher did look quite a bit alike.

      cheers

      eon

      • “Incidentally, the name “Bazooka” derived from a homemade “trumpet” used by Bob Burns, a radio comedian of the day, as a running joke in his show. The “trumpet” and the rocket launcher did look quite a bit alike.”
        Russian 9К135 has also name which might be understand as name of musical instrument: Корнет, however it have more than one meaning in Russian, meanings are as follows:
        brass instrument (valved aerophone sounded by lip movement): cornet in English
        wind instrument:
        zink in English
        rank in cavalry of Russian Imperial army, originally responsible for bearing of standard of regiment or squadron. Rank was in usage until 1917.

  3. By the way: the nose cone on the rocket is an important part of the shaped charge system: The fuse needs to detonate the charge while it it is still some distance away from the target surface, in order to allow the focused jet from the explosion to properly form. That’s why you see a relative large nose cone on all shaped-charged projectiles. C.f. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaped_charge

    • “some distance away from the target surface”
      There also exist variant of HEAT working at greater distance, which are known as weapons using MISZNAY-SCHARDIN effect, like for example DYNAMIT NOBEL AT2.

      • Misznay-Schardin is not HEAT, by definition here in the US. It is a self-forging fragment technique, and relies on a totally different mechanism to penetrate armor.

        With HEAT, which is a term for a class and use of the shaped-charge effect, you are essentially using the focused energy of the blast wave to invert, compress, and then drive the liner into the target st such velocities and pressures that the targeted armor deforms plastically as though it were momentarily molten, despite the fact that it never reaches even remotely close to a temperature where it would do so.

        Misznay-Schardin is an effect where you basically plaster your explosives into close contact with a steel plate, and then detonate them, the blast wave deforming the steel plate into a slug of metal and then driving it into the target. The difference in effect is easily apologized as being similar to the difference between a rapier and a bludgeon–They can both kill you, but the mechanism is going to be different.

        Where it starts to get interesting is with modern munitions that blend the two techniques, and begin to combine the benefits of each approach. Some modern SFF munitions manage to reach damn near to the velocities and pressures of the classic HEAT munitions, and still maintain the stand-off and disruptibility advantages of the M-S categories. The lines between the two have blurred, somewhat.

  4. “2.36 inch bore measurement, incidentally, was chosen as the inch equivalent of 60mm, to match the common mortar size.”
    Interestingly, incidentally Soviet RPG-16:
    http://modernfirearms.net/en/grenade-launchers/russia-grenade-launchers/rpg-16-eng/
    has very similar caliber, namely 58 mm (or 58,3 mm depending on source), also unlike older RPG-7 its caliber rather than over-caliber. PG-16 (HEAT warhead) can penetrate 300…320 mm. Thanks to greater rocket velocity (shorter flight time) it was easier to hit moving targets, also when it was adopted (1970) its penetration ability was roughly equal to penetration of contemporary warheads of RPG-7, however due to its nature, new bigger warheads (for more penetration) could be developed for RPG-7 but not RPG-16 (as it simply wouldn’t fit inside tube), therefore RPG-7 get advantage: in 1972 PG-7S (72 mm warhead) was adopted giving 400 mm of penetration, in 1977 PG-7L (93 mm warhead) giving 500 mm of penetration. Despite for some time RPG-16 was considered to be more future solution, finally RPG-7 prevailed.
    RPG-16 were used during Soviet intervention in Afghanistan with generally favorable feedback, however it must be noted that Mujahideens were NOT deploying most recent NATO tanks en masse.

  5. The external tube certainly limited the ability to upgrade for improved tank armor. The recoil-less launcher with the warhead outside the tube was more flexible from the get-go. Panzerfausts were continuously upgraded and the Russian RPGs launched larger payloads without having to make the launcher any heavier.

    Surprising that even up to the LAW, the U.S. was still committed to the tube launch.

    • Here’s a good reason NOT to have the warhead outside the tube: stupid users. Many terrorists who wanted to have fast launching RPG’s would arm the warheads BEFORE inserting them into the launchers. Inevitably, one RPG-wielding extremist actually had a “pratfall” as he was unwisely sprinting towards an American tank (the commander, already through the copula hatch, spotted the guy and opened up with the pintle-mounted Browning M2, clipping the would-be tank hunter in the knee and severing his lower leg as a result). The armed tip of the rocket hit the ground and VAPORIZED the idiot!

      Did I mess up?

      • In one case in the second Iraq War in ’03, an Iraqi guard was trying to load an RPG-7V round, armed as you say, while firing from the roof of a four-story building (backblast, you know).

        He apparently got excited and forgot the bit about “twist to lock”, and when he angled it down to fire on a U.S.M.C. Bradley about 150 meters away, the rocket slid out of the tube… and landed nose-first in the box full of RPG-7V rounds he had just taken it out of.

        The Marines in the Brad were pretty much, “Who the Hell’s calling in arty? We didn’t call any!”

        Yes, a box full of RPG rounds sympathetic-detonating can do a marvelous impression of a Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition going off.

        cheers

        eon

        • “(…)reason NOT to have the warhead outside the tube: stupid users. Many terrorists who wanted to have fast launching RPG’s would arm the warheads BEFORE inserting them into the launchers.(…)”
          But this mean either said users are too ill-trained for usage of such weapon or either fuse manipulation/loading procedure is too clever. Which has more to do with chosen solutions in that area rather than over-caliber or caliber (fitting inside tube) warhead.

    • “Surprising that even up to the LAW, the U.S. was still committed to the tube launch.”
      Important thing there is that M72 LAW is disposable weapon (so basically you throw away it after use) and it was never supposed to be reloaded in field and I would not be surprised if it would be cheaper to make new one rather than attempt to reload spent one.
      For other warhead-in-tube disposable AT launcher of similar era see:
      Pansarskott m/68 (Sweden)
      RPG-18 (Soviet Union)
      WASP 58 (France) notice number denotes diameter rather than year
      APILAS (France)

  6. I had a Tach Officer in Military School who was ex-Army. He had facial scars from firing a Bazooka. The rocket is supposed to burn all of the fuel in the tube, but at lower temperatures the fuel would not always be completely consumed causing the operator to get a bit of exhaust in the face, there was a cold weather face shield, but he didn’t have one that day on a hill in Korea.

  7. Just a small comment on the nose cone – it’s main purpose is not aerodynamics, but to set off the shaped charge at the proper distance to the target.

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