Britain’s First Anti-Tank Weapon

The British Army’s first dedicated anti-tank weapon was a rifle grenade. The No.44 Rifle Grenade was developed towards the end of the First World War to take on the emerging threat of German tanks.

A British officer firing a No.3 Mk2 Rifle Grenade (IWM)

The No.44 could be fired from a Short Magazine Lee-Enfield MkIII rifle, the British had developed a plethora of rod and cup discharger based rifle grenades but the No.44 was the first specifically designed with tanks in mind. 

By 1918 the German Army had responded to the threat of British and French tanks by developing their own, the A7V, albeit in small numbers, and by fielding captured allied tanks. 

The A7V was a leviathan at over 3.3m tall and more than 30 tons. It would be crewed by at least 18 men. It was decided that the infantryman needed an effective means of taking on tanks.

A German A7V (US National Archive)

Sources suggest that the grenades were developed by the by the Royal Engineers Experimental Station with input from the Tank Corps. The No.44 was largely based on the earlier No.24 rifle grenade. The British Army had been using rifle grenades with rods since February 1915 with the No.2 rifle grenade. 

No.44 Anti-Tank Grenade (IWM)

A myriad of grenade designs were developed during the war with dozens of designs entering service between 1915 and 1918. Eventually the British Army moved away from using rodded rifle grenades, because of the implications of barrel wear from the friction of the rods, and focused on discharger cup based designs. The No.44’s spiritual descendent, the No.68, introduced in 1940, would follow this trend and be fired from the same discharger cup used by to fire No.36 grenades fitted with a gas check.    

The No.44 grenade itself is made up of a pair of pressed tin plate pieces which make up the top and bottom of the bomb with a rolled sheet of tin making up the central body. The parts were soldered together with a filling plug also soldered into the top of the grenade. The grenade itself contained either Amatol 80/20 or Amatol 83/17 explosive, sources suggest about 11.5 ounces. While externally it may resemble later shaped charges, it was not, the explosive filled the space around the central detonator assembly.

Sectional diagram No.44 Anti-Tank Grenade

The ignition system was essentially a .297/230 cartridge case and a detonator. On firing a release socket moved to allow the retaining bolts to release the striker (or needle pellet) it had been retaining. The striker was then simply held back from the detonator by a spring. When the grenade struck its target inertia cause the striker to over come and compress the spring, allowing the striker to ignite the detonator and set off the grenade’s main filling. Given mass of the bomb and the type of detonator used the No.44 was probably intended for use at very short ranges.

Soldiers firing rod rifle grenades (IWM)

To use the grenade the firer would remove the wire fastening around the grenade to free the canvas vane. This would also allow access to the safety pin. The top plug could be undone and the detonator inserted. The rod was then slid down the muzzle of the user’s rifle. The safety pin could then be removed. A blank cartridge would be loaded into the rifle and when the trigger was pulled the was grenade launched by the gases from the cartridge pushing the rod out of the barrel. The No.44’s flight would be stabilised by the canvas skirt or vane.    

There’s no mention of the grenades in the British Army’s Small Arms Committee Minutes so its development must have been documented elsewhere. It does, however, appear in the List of Changes and is known to have been issued from April 1918 onwards but further primary research is needed to find out more about its development, designers and testing.

No.44 Anti-Tank Grenade (Matthew Moss)

The No.44 remained in service into the inter-war period but does not appear in any of the post-war Small Arms Training manuals. Several were published during this period, the first in 1924 and a second in 1931 – the No.44 appears in neither of them. The final pre-war Small Arms Training pamphlet on grenades, published in 1937, is confined to just the No.36 grenade. According to Ian Skennerton’s book on British grenades there were no No.44s remaining in stores by April 1931 and it was declared obsolete. 

Sources disagree on the number of No.44s manufactured with some suggesting just under 100,000 while others suggest between 125,000 and 150,000. According to Skennerton 9,800 were issued between April and November 1918. A very small amount when compared to the hundreds of thousands of other, more widely used grenades held in stores at the end of the war.  

The German A7Vs were first deployed in March 1918, but only saw their first action the following month. With only 20 A7Vs built and the design proving relatively impractical the Allies had little to fear from German tank attacks. Sadly, there are no readily available records of the No.44’s use or its effectiveness.

British solider firing a cup discharger rifle grenade (IWM)

The A7V’s armour consisted of 5 to 30mm of steel plate depending on location on the tank. This steel plate was not hardened which may have increased the No.44’s effectiveness against it. It may be that the No.44 would have had to have been fired at close range and strike a vulnerable point on the attacking vehicle to have the most effect.

While not the only anti-tank grenade to be developed during the period, the French also developed several rifle grenades, and not as famous as the German T-Gewehr, it does represent Britain’s first dedicated infantry anti-tank weapon. 


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Bibliography:

An Introduction To British Grenades, I.D. Skennerton, (1988)

British Grenade Rifle No. 44 Anti-Tank, AmmunitionPages, (source)

Grenade, Rifle No 44 A.T. (Anti Tank), Imperial War Museum, (source)

Grenade, Rifle, No 44 Anti-Tank (Sectioned), Imperial War Museum, (source)

British No.24 Mk.II Rod Grenade, Inert-Ord.net, (source)

Men Against Tank, J. Weeks, (1975) 

Cold War Weapons: The Off-Route Mine

During the Cold War NATO was understandably interested in capable anti-armour weapons. In this video/article we will examine the Off-Route Mine which features in footage from several British Army training films. They show a team of Royal Engineers setting up an L14A1 off-route mine ready to ambush attacking Soviet tanks.

Unlike a conventional mine which detonated vertically when a vehicle drove over it, the Off-Route Mine would be tripped by a breakwire set across a vehicles likely path. When the wire was tripped or broken the mine’s charge would be electrically detonated and the blast would project horizontally.

An Off-Route Mine in position (IWM)

What the British termed the L14A1 was developed in the early 1970s by France’s state arsenals. In French service it was known as the ‘Mine Anti char à action horizontale Modèle F1′ (or MI AC AH F1). It was manufactured throughout the 1970s and 80s by GIAT Industries.

The mine was essentially an electrically fired shape charge, it used the Misznay-Schardin effect rather than the Monroe effect. The former relies on a shallower, concave shape charge, which has a copper cone that is super heated by the explosion and fired out towards the target. This gave it the ability to project its cone further and removed the need for it to detonate in contact with the target vehicle. 

An illustration of how the Off-Route Mine works from a British Army manual

The mine had an effective range of between 70 to 80 metres and according to the 1977 French manual the projectile created by the detonation could travel up to 6km. In terms of the mine’s effectiveness the same manual states that 40m was the optimal range but no closer than 2m.

The manual also notes that “the slightest obstacle in the trajectory of the projectile (such as earth or shrubs) considerably reduces performance.” The diagram below from a 1977 French Army manual shows the effect of the mine on 70mm of armour at 40m, with 0-degrees of angle.

Effect diagram from 1977 French Army manual

When detonated the mine could throw fragments in a radius of 100m and could throw armour shards from a successful strike up to 200m from the target. The British mines came in the L27A1 kit which included a pair of the L14A1 off-route mines as well as instructions, the break wires, a night sighting tool, and an adjustable stand for mounting.

The mine’s electorally-powered detonator was powered by D cell batteries, which Sappers complained had to be frequently changed. The mine itself weighed 12kg and was packed with just over 6kg of Hexolite explosive. There was also a training version, the L28A1, which fired a paint-filled sponge to mark the side of the vehicle and confirm a hit. 

A Sapper setting up an Off-Route Mine (IWM)

The Miacah F1 was removed from French service in 2001. An improved version, the F2, was manufactured in 1996 and used by the French until the mines were withdrawn in 2004 due to corrosion. While some mines may have remained in stores, as some have been seen as late as 2016, they contravened the 1997 Ottawa Treaty on anti-personnel mines because the break wire could in theory be tripped by a human rather than a vehicle.

It was replaced in British service by the ARGES off-round Anti-Tank Mine which fired a modified 94mm rocket with a tandem HEAT warhead. In 1997 it was reported that 4870 Off-Route mines were held by British Army stores, in line with the Ottawa Treaty this had been reduced to 0 by 1999.


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Bibliography:

Landmine Monitor Report, 2004, Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor, (source)
Landmine Monitor Report, 2000, Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor, (source)
CNEMA Report, 2000 (source)
British Army User Handbook, Mine Anti-Tank Kit L27A1 (Off Route Mine), 1980
French Army MIACAH F1 Manual, 1977

Footage:

Fighting In Woods, British Army training film, 1982, (held by the IWM, DRA 1472)
Fighting In Villages, British Army training film, 1979, (held by the IWM, DRA 1401)

What Links Calculators to Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missiles?

What connects calculators to the Javelin FGM-148 Anti-tank guided missile? That might sound like an odd question but what links one of the most successful scientific calculator companies and one of the most widely fielded modern infantry anti-tank weapons is the company which developed them.

Texas Instruments is a household name, especially in the US, better know for its calculators than weapons of war but from the 1940s through to the 1990s they were leaders in defence electronics.

Javelin FGM-148 (US Government)

Javelin was developed by Texas Instruments in cooperation with Martin Marietta (now Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin). In the mid-1980s it beat off competition from Ford Aerospace and Hughes Aircraft to win the US Army’s AAWS-M (Advanced Anti-Tank Weapon System—Medium) program to replace the M47 Dragon. So while the company’s calculator division was running television adverts featuring Dracula the Texas Instruments’ defence arm were developing a next generation anti-tank guided missile.

In June 1989, Texas Instruments and their partner company Martin Marietta were awarded the AAWS-M development contract and the Javelin was adopted as the FGM-148. Javelin continued development and testing throughout the 90s before entering service.

The infrared guided man-portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missile has been in service with over a dozen countries for over 20 years and is still produced under the joint venture between Raytheon Missiles & Defense and Lockheed Martin.

Skipper II AMG-123 (Texas Instruments)

Javelin wasn’t the only weapon Texas Instruments had a hand in developing, they also developed the AGM-88 Harm air-to-surface missile, AGM-123 Skipper anti-ship missile, the AGM-45 Shrike anti-radiation missile, the AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon and the Paveway laser-guided bomb. Texas Instruments’ involvement in the defence industry ended in 1997, when they sold off their defence division to Raytheon in a deal worth $2.95 billion at the time.

This short video came from some ongoing research I’m doing at the moment for an upcoming video on another missile called Javelin! Stay tuned for that.


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Black Friday Hit Different This Year

I was recently lucky enough to pick up a pair of very cool anti-tank weapons. A brilliant cutaway/sectioned 66mm LAW and an intriguing 94mm LAW80 training model which requires more research! These were both standard infantry anti-tank weapons for the British Army (and many others) during the Cold War.

The LAW80 deployed! (Matthew Moss)
Dickie with the 66mm LAW (Matthew Moss)

Really pleased to add these to the TAB reference collection. We’ll have proper videos on both of these in the near future! 


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B.A.T. Gun – The Battalion Anti-Tank Gun

In this video we dive into another item from the TAB Reference Collection. An article taken from a 1955 edition of the Illustrated London News which looks at the British Army’s newest anti-tank weapon – The B.A.T Gun! The L2 B.A.T Gun was a recoilless rifle developed to replace the heavier 17pdr Anti-Tank guns then in service. The B.A.T and its successors remained in service throughout the Cold War.

Today we would consider the illustration an ‘infographic’, it was drawn up with the Ministry of Defence’s assistance by Illustrated London News‘ special artist George Horace Davis who had illustrated hundreds of similar articles including one for the PIAT.

The article, titled ‘Britain’s Latest and Most Powerful Anti-Tank Weapon’, explains not juse the operation of the new gun but also provides some data on weight and comparisons of the new 120mm HESH ammunition with that of previous conventional anti-tank weapons. Check out our video on the 2pdr anti-tank gun and the 6pdr anti-tank gun.

We have many more videos on important and interesting primary source materials in the works. If you enjoy our work please consider supporting us via Patreon for just a $1. Find out more here.

Check out videos on items from our reference collection here.

The Panzerfaust & Panzerschreck In The Rhineland

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of travelling to The Tank Museum in Bovington to film some segments for the new documentary on the Rhineland Campaign – ‘Rhineland 45‘. Not all of the segments I filmed discussing weapons could be included in the finished documentary – I filmed quite a few – so I’m pleased to share a couple here. This one looks at German infantry anti-tank weapons: the Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck. Thanks again to  Realtime History for inviting me to take part, check out the documentary here.

Check out the first video of this series on the use of the PIAT during the Rhineland campaign here.


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Behind the Scenes at the Tank Museum

Here’s a behind the scenes look at the filming Matt did at The Tank Museum for the upcoming ‘Rhineland 45 – Decision in the West’ documentary being produced by Realtime History, the guys behind The Great War!

Panzerfaust & Panzerschreck (Matthew Moss)

Be sure to check out the project here.

More behind the scenes footage coming soon with a look at the Vickers Gun shoot!

We Have Ways of Making You Talk Discuss ‘The PIAT’

Al Murray and James Holland discussed my new book about the PIAT on a livestream for their great podcast ‘We Have Ways‘, please do check them out – here.

Massive thanks to Al and James for their enthusiasm about the book (and the PIAT!) and for their kind words about it! Al gives a nice short rundown of some of the areas I cover in the book. [You can watch the entire livestream here]

The book explores the design, development and operational history of the PIAT. If you’d like a copy, you can pick a copy up at HistoricalFirearms.info/shop

My New Book on the PIAT is Out Now!

I’m very excited to say that my second book has been published! It looks at the much maligned and much misunderstood PIAT – Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank.

The book is available from retailers from the 20th August in the UK/Europe and the 22nd September in the US – but you can order a copy from me now regardless of location. I filmed a short video to show you the book and talk a bit about the process of writing it, check that out above.

The PIAT was the British infantry’s primary anti-tank weapon of the second half of the Second World War. Unlike the better known US Bazooka the PIAT wasn’t a rocket launcher – it was a spigot mortar. Throwing a 2.5lb bomb, containing a shaped charge capable of penetrating up to 4 inches of armour. Thrown from the spigot by a propellant charge in the base of the bomb, it used a powerful spring to soak up the weapon’s heavy recoil and power its action.

With a limited range the PIAT’s users had to be incredibly brave. This becomes immediately obvious when we see just how many Victoria Crosses, Military Medals and Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to men who used the PIAT in action. 

The book includes numerous accounts of how the PIAT was used and how explores just how effective it was. I have spent the past 18 months researching and writing the book and it is great to finally see a copy in person and know it’s now available.

The book includes brand new information dug up from in-depth archival research, never before seen photographs of the PIAT in development and in-service history and it also includes some gorgeous illustrations by Adam Hook and an informative cutaway graphic by Alan Gilliland.

If you order a book directly from me I’ll also include this custom illustrated postcard with a design featuring a PIAT and the famous line from A Bridge Too Far.

It’s immensely exciting to know the book is out in the world for all too enjoy. If you’d like a copy of my new book looking at the PIAT’s design, development and operational history you can order one directly from me here!

Me, bringing up the PIAT…

Thanks for your support and if you pick up a copy of the book I really hope you enjoy it! 

– Matt

Surplus Zone: PIAT EOD Training Bomb

Whilst looking through the piles of surplus ‘kit’ in my friends warehouse in Germany I came across an interesting find, an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) training kit that has several examples of WWII and after ordnance that might be found on training grounds and former battlefields throughout Europe.

One of the elements from that training kit was a PIAT or Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank, round. Many of these have been found across northwest Europe since the end of WWII and it was important for EOD teams to be able to identify them and understand how they work in order to safely dispose of them.

DSC_0042 (1).jpg
A British a PIAT or Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank (Matthew Moss)

This example is likely an ‘instructional’ round that may have been produced from a previously live round and not subsequently marked as inert. In the video, which was filmed on location from memory, I mentioned that the charge was inside the front cone. Instead the charge was actually just behind the steel cone, which acted as a forcing cone, and has seen been replaced by some sawdust. We can see this in the diagram below, which shows an earlier Mk round but the configuration remains the same:

piat bomb.jpg

PIAT Bomb 1.jpg
A close up of the bomb’s markings (Vic Tuff)

This time we examine an example of the Mk3 PIAT Bomb. When I filmed the video I wasn’t sure of the markings but this chart below more clearly explains them:

PIAT Bombs 1.jpg

There were 7 marks of PIAT bomb:

MkI yellow/green/yellow band 808 stamped on green band, red x’s around nose cone

Mk2 as above

Mk3 yellow/blue/yellow band TNT stamped on blue band, red circle around nose cone

Mk4 as above

Inert bomb black with yellow band INERT in white

Drill bomb black with DRILL in white x 2

Practice bomb – to fit the practice insert tray, painted white and it looks nothing at all like a PIAT bomb!

PIAT Bomb 3.jpg
The inert EOD ‘Mk3’ training round (Vic Tuff)

Our inert bomb isn’t painted black, instead it is painted up as a Mk3 to emulate what a live blind found in the field would look like.

DSC_0712 (1).jpg
An inert ‘Drill’ round painted black (Matthew Moss)

Here’s an extract from the PIAT’s manual explaining how the fuze was fitted to a live round:

From the PIAT manual:
The fuze. – Until required for use the fuze is kept in a container attached to the drum tail by a spring clip….

ii. To fuze. – Remove the fuze container from the drum tail and take out the fuze. Remove the thimble from the bomb nose by pressing it downwards and turning it clockwise. Remove the transit plug from the fuze chamber and insert the fuze flat end first. Replace the thimble. The transit plug should be placed in the fuze container and the latter put in the carrier, in case the bomb should later have to be unfuzed.


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