This week we have a very special episode where we tap into a topic close to Matt’s heart, the PIAT. Matt wrote a book about the PIAT, or Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank, in 2020 and continues to research its history. One of the most interesting aspects of the PIAT is its unique cultural history, having been portrayed in a plethora of films spanning over 70 years. Most famously it was heralded, literally, when Anthony Hopkins as Lt. Colonel Frost in A Bridge Too Far shouted ‘BRING UP THE PIAT!‘ A line which has become iconic. But there’s so much more to the PIAT’s onscreen career!
Recently there have been a number of defence media articles about Russia’s new ‘silent’ mortar. It’s often described as cutting edge technology but in reality it’s based on technology over 100 years old.
The Russian 2B25 82mm mortar is in fact a spigot mortar. What is a spigot mortar? Unlike a conventional mortar which uses gravity acting on the bomb dropped into the tube striking the anvil or striker at the base of the tube detonating the propellant cartridge in the bomb and launching the mortar bomb. A spigot mortar alters this principle, instead using a spigot or metal rod onto which a bomb with a hollow tail is placed. The bomb’s tail then becomes the element which contains the pressure from the detonated propellant charge rather than the tube as in a conventional mortar. The 2B25’s bomb has a plug at at the base of the propellant cartridge which when fired is pushed down the bomb’s tail tube by the expanding propellant gases – essentially acting as a piston. The plug is prevented from leaving the tube by a constriction at the tube’s end. This captures the gases and reduces the report of the mortar.
Perhaps the most famous spigot mortars are the Blacker Bombard and PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) of world war two. I wrote a book about the PIAT a couple of years ago so the 2B25 really interests me as a niche application of the same technology!
Spigot mortars have a number of benefits and drawbacks which set them apart from conventional mortars, including a shorter range and slower rate of fire than conventional mortars, but the advantages primarily seized upon is their reduced sound signature and lighter weight. The ignition of the propellant cartridge against the spigot, inside the bomb’s tail tube removes visible flash and is much quieter than a conventional mortar which. The 2B25 optimises this by enclosing the bomb inside a light weight tube to further reduce the visual and audio signatures of the weapon firing even further.
Why is this important and why are ‘silent’ mortars useful? With a reduced signature on the battlefield the chances of effective counter-battery fire are reduced enabling the mortar fire to be more effective and sustained. The developers claim that the 2B25 is about as loud as AK fitted with a PBS-1 suppressor, about 135db, substantially quieter than a standard mortar.
The patent for the 2B25’s bomb, filed in August 2011 and published in February 2013, states:
“proposed shell comprises main part and tail. Tail case accommodates propellant charge and combination piston with initiator. Shell is composed of detachable sealed screw assembly of tail and main part. Tail is furnished with fin. Tail charge chamber accommodates multi-section propellant to be implemented in various versions.”
The 2B25 first began to appear in western media back in 2018 but the design dates back to at least the early 2010s. Developed by the central research institute Burevestnik, it is manned by a two man team and can be transported in a backpack. Officially released data for the mortar suggests it has a maximum range of 1,200 metres with a rate of fire of perhaps 15 rounds per minute. It is reportedly equipped with a standard MPM-44M optical mortar sight.
The mortar appears to be of a fixed spigot design with a firing pin running inside the spigot. This means that unlike the PIAT the 2B25’s spigot does not move. Once the bomb is slid into the mortar tube, down onto the spigot, the operator pulls a handle at the base of the weapon downwards to cock the weapon and then pushing it up to fire it.
The mortar’s baseplate is said to be made of an aluminium alloy with the whole weapon weighing 13kg or 28.6lbs. The mortar’s 3VO35 bomb itself weights 3.3kg and has a 1.9kg warhead.
Both Russian and western media reports have stated that the weapon has been delivered to the Russian armed forces with some suggesting it was in use by “special-purpose units”, possibly Spetsnaz
The 2B25 certainly isn’t the only modern spigot mortar in service, others include the Fly-K from Rheinmetall. Personally, I find it fascinating that spigot-based weapons still have a place on the battlefield, albeit a niche one.
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Last weekend at the We Have Ways podcast’s history festival the Airborne Assault Museum brought along a very interesting piece of history – a PIAT with Arnhem provenance. The PIAT had allegedly been dropped during Operation Market Garden but not used. At some point after the battle it was discovered by locals and handed into the Doorwerth Castle Museum, the original airborne museum before it moved to the Hartenstein, and was subsequently gifted the the UK’s Airborne Assault Museum in the 1950s.
The museum believes the PIAT has much of its original paint and in general the weapon is in excellent shape. It has the earlier rear sight with two apertures for 70 and 100 yards, the later design had three – with a maximum range of 110 yards. This PIAT’s monopod could still be raised and lowered, to elevate the weapon upto 40-degrees for indirect firing.
The indirect fire quadrant sight is in good condition – complete with its spirit level. The weapon also appears to have its original white indirect fire aiming line along the top of its body and almost pristine webbing – though the butt cover is frayed which isn’t uncommon. Sadly the weapon has been deactivated so we couldn’t open up the action or cock the weapon. It seems to have been welded at the front and rear of the body.
The PIAT is in great shape, albeit deactivated, and it was a pleasure to take a look at a weapon which could be traced back to the battle. Thank you to Ramsay, Ben and Allen of the Airborne Assault Museum for allowing me to examine and film the PIAT, check out the museum’s website here.
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Earlier this year I had the pleasure of travelling to the Tank Museum to film some segments for the new documentary on the Rhineland Campaign – ‘Rhineland 45‘. We looked at various small arms used during the campaign ranging from Panzerfausts and Bazookas to MG-42s and M1A1 carbines.
Not all of the segments we filmed discussing the weapons could be included in the finished documentary, so I’m pleased to share a couple here. This one Brings Up The PIAT!
The Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank was used extensively during Operations Veritable and Varsity in March 1945. British and Canadian troops put them to use against enemy armoured vehicles and defensive positions within the forests, towns and villages of the Rhineland.
If you’d like a copy of my book on the PIAT you can pick one up here.
Thanks again to Real Time History for inviting me to contribute, check out the documentary here.
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We return to the Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank’s long and storied on-screen career. This time we are examining a scene from ‘Paper Tiger’ (1975). It’s an interesting film, and certainly not one you’d expect a PIAT to pop up in! David Niven plays Mr Bradbury, a tutor to a young Japanese boy. Bradbury is a Walter Mitty-like character that regales the child with made up tales of his wartime escapades.
Early in the film Bradbury describes a battle in France in October 1944. Niven’s Character is shown to be a member of the Grenadier Guards and receivers orders to take an enemy pill box. Bradbury describes how he attacked the German position single handed. The sequence begins with what looks like a platoon making a frontal assault.
Niven receives a call from his commanding officer and then asks his Sgt to hand him ‘the bazooka’. But it’s not a Bazooka he’s handed but a PIAT! Now it’s quite the faux pa’s to call a PIAT a Bazooka but I imagine the script called for one and the film armourer brought along British weapons to fit the action involving the Grenadier Guards.
Niven’s character then charges across the ground in front of the pillbox. He takes cover in a shell crater and we can see that the bomb loaded into the tray is painted black with a yellow stripe – this denotes that its actually an inert drill round. – If we look closely inside the yellow stripe it also appears to have the words ‘drill use’ written on it. Note how far forward the bomb appears in the bomb support – this suggests that the weapon isn’t cocked and that the bomb has just been slid down onto the spigot to make it look loaded.
Before he can take on the pillbox a German armoured fighting vehicle (which is actually a disguised American M8 Greyhound) crests the ridge. Niven takes aim with the PIAT and knocks it out. As he aims, we can see the PIAT has the later pattern 3 aperture rear sight rather than the earlier 2 aperture. The apertures are for 50, 80 and 110 yards. The PIAT, however, is missing its webbing butt pad and gaiter cheek rest. But we can see the white indirect aiming line painted along the top of the PIAT for use in the light mortar role!
As the Greyhounds crew bails out Niven draws his revolver and shoots the crew with a style that pastiches many war films. Leaving his PIAT Niven runs forward and we see that the spigot is forward in the bomb tray – this means he would have had to manually re-cock the weapon before firing again! As he runs we can see he has another PIAT bomb handing from his belt. I’ve never seen any contemporary photos or documents referencing this method of carrying bombs – in reality they would have been carried in a 3-bomb bomb carrier.
He throws a No. 36 (Mills) grenade into the pillbox with perfect aim. Another funny nod to a common war movie trope! The bunker is knocked out and the enemy surrender en masse. It’s an interesting little scene, Niven as always is great and of course as a veteran of the war and an officer he would have been familiar with the PIAT.
Check out the rest of our videos looking at on screen PIAT portrayals here.
My friend Martin and the guys at Lead, Thread & Bread Reenactment Supplies on Malta have very kindly put together a couple of 3D models of the PIAT bomb and shared them with us. They’re available for TAB Patreon supporters to download here – www.patreon.com/posts/51046435 This is just an extra thank you perk for your support!
Of course if you don’t have a 3D printer handy, then there are other ‘thank you’ perks available too including personal, handwritten thank you notes on custom illustrated postcards featuring an illustration of the internals of the HK G11 & stickers! Check those out here!
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!
So you may have seen our earlier video looking at the portrayal of PIATs in the 1978 classic A Bridge Too Far! If not check it out.
When I think of Richard Attenborough’s all-star war epic telling the story of Operation Market Garden, I immediately think of the iconic ‘BRING UP THE PIAT’ scene where Anthony Hopkins playing Colonel John Frost commanding 2 PARA calls for the Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank to take out a marauding ‘Panther’.
But this isn’t the only scene from the film depicting the PIAT! In this video we’ll look at a couple of the other scenes showing the PIAT in action.
We first see the PIAT during the scene when the Guards Armoured Division’s spearhead meets heavy german resistance. Michael Caine’s Sherman’s get a pasting from some Pak 40s. The British infantry deploys and we see a cornucopia of kit ranging from Brens to Vickers to an M2 Browning. But blink and you’ll miss them a pair of PIAT teams also ‘bring up the PIAT’. A two man team can be seen moving forward, the No.1 carrying the PIAT and the No.2 carrying a 3 round bomb carrier, sadly killed by enemy fire.
The second scene in which we see the PIAT finally get to work on some German armoured fighting vehicles is during Gräbner’s attack over the bridge. As the PARAs at the Bridge prepare for the attack we see 2 or 3 PIAT positions get ready – loading bombs into their bomb support trays. One PIAT No.1 can be seen slotting the rear of a PIAT bomb into the projectile guide plates to hold the bomb in place – very authentic.
As the column crosses the Bridge Frost orders his men to open fire, Brens, Stens, Rifle No.4s and PIATs open up and the column is stopped in its tracks. During the scene we see a number of PIAT’s fire and knock out SS vehicles. One PIAT No.2 is hit by enemy fire. The first PIAT round fired hits a lead German vehicle causing it to halt, the second flips a Kubelwagen. We then see a No.2 two load a fresh bomb into the bomb support tray – with a tap to make sure its properly in place. We get a great show of the PIAT firing from the front. It’s worth noting that the PIAT doesn’t recock and the spigot is still seen in the bomb tray just before the camera cuts away. Meaning that that PIAT No.1 will have to recock his weapon before he can fire again!
It’s worth remembering without the ‘Bring Up The PIAT’ scene making a point of naming the weapon, most people would never have known what this unusual weapon that dealt so much damage in the earlier scene was! Of course the attack wasn’t stopped by PIATs alone, there were also airborne anti-tank guns, which the film doesn’t show.
Another little titbit of information I learnt since the first ‘Bring Up The PIAT’ video, thanks to my friend Robbie of RM Military History [check out his channel], is that the PIAT was fired in most of these scenes by one of the film’s armourer Bill Aylmore. The information comes from After the Battle – The Battle of Arnhem – War Film: A Bridge Too Far which describes him as formerly a sergeant with the 50th Regt. – which might be a reference to the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. The book goes on to say that “Aylmore excelled himself during the filming of the battle on the bridge by being the ace shot with the PIAT. During all the various takes he was able to put the bomb exactly where the director wanted it and where it coincided with the special effects explosions.” – Good shooting indeed!
We have examined several on screen appearances of the PIAT previously, in this article we will look at a scene from the 2014 Polish movie, MIASTO 44 or City 44/Warsaw 44. The film follows a group of young members of the Home Army during the Warsaw Uprising.
In the scene we’re going to analyse today a Home Army squad are in a defensive position on the first story of an apartment building when a German Goliath remote controlled mine approaches their position. They immediately open fire on the Goliath with small arms, some rifles, a couple of submachine guns including a Sten, a PPSh-41 and an MP40 as well as a captured MG-42. While they’re pretty well armed, they’re low on ammo.
With the small arms fire ineffectual the squad leader calls for the PIAT. The Home Army had an estimated 70 PIATs at the start of the uprising. The British Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank was the Pole’s primary infantry anti-tank weapon. By the 12th September the allies had managed to drop more PIATs bringing the number available to around 250.
What’s so special about this scene is that it depicts the cocking of the PIAT! As the others open fire the PIAT number one can be seen rotating the outer casing to unlock it and then pulling it up until the spring inside is cocked. He then lowers the casing and locks it ready to fire. We don’t see it but the No.2 has loaded a bomb into the bomb support tray and the No.1 places the monopod on the sandbags and takes aim.
So not only do we have photographs of the PIAT in use at Warsaw we also have some good accounts of its use, one from Zbigniew ‘Deivir’ Czajkowski, a corporal and patrol leader with the Home Army’s ‘Parasol’ scout battalion describes using a PIAT against a German tank during street fighting. Czajkowski describes how the man about to fire the PIAT had forgotten to prime the bomb, he then describes firing on the tank below their position:
“I press the heavy weapon into my shoulder. The tank is in front of me, as if on a plate. I can see the enormous armour plating and the smoke coming from its muzzle. I set my sights. Slowly… carefully… The tank fires, below us again. I aim just behind the turret. There! I squeeze the trigger. The PIAT recoils, the round flies through the air… nearly there… It misses the tank and explodes to the rear of it. “Fuck!” Now my colleague tears the PIAT out of my hands. I don’t stop him. I load a new round. Two more shots from the tank. Presumably they haven’t noticed us. Suddenly it dawns on me – we’re on the second floor! “Aim lower, much lower, under the tracks. We’re too high up here.” The barrel of the PIAT tilts down. I’m oblivious to everything glued to the gap in the wall. The weapon barks. There’s a flash of light against the side of the tank. Got him! The tank is momentarily covered in smoke.”
While not a tank, the Goliath seen in the film, were used during the fighting in Warsaw. The Goliaths were armoured, remote controlled bombs could be steered from cover. These tracked mines could deliver a 60 to 100kg payload of high explosive. Enough to destroy positions and heavily damage buildings. A pair of Goliaths are also seen in the earlier Polish film on the uprising – 1957’s Kanal – which also features a PIAT, albeit a wooden mock-up, which takes on a German tank.
In Warsaw 44 the PIAT No.1 manages to land his bomb just in front of the approaching Goliath, the blast apparently is enough to break one of the mine’s tracks – perhaps shrapnel or debris struck it. The victory is short-lived, however, and the Polish position is raked by machine gun fire – killing the PIAT No.1 – and a full German assault follows.
The film’s depiction of the PIAT is quite good, although the PIAT appears to be cocked very easily. The weapon’s recoil seems a little light but is represented with the No.1 being sharply pushed back. There is a short flash as the remains of the bomb’s propellent cartridge are seen as the bomb leaves the spigot. We can also see that the spigot is still visible in the bomb tray, meaning the weapon has not re-cocked itself.
The PIAT gave the besieged soldiers of the Home Army a much-needed weapon capable of taking on enemy armoured vehicles. But a few dozen PIATs weren’t enough to turn the tide and the valiant Poles were forces to surrender after two months hard fighting. The film, Warsaw 44, gives a pretty immersive idea of what the fighting in the city might have been like and is worth checking out.
Miasto 44 (2014) Warsaw 1944: An Insurgent’s Journal of the Uprising, Z. Czajkowski, (2013)