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"German Balanced Antitank Protection" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following U.S. military intelligence report on German antitank weapons and tactics is reproduced from Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 5, August 13, 1942.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The German 88-mm. dual-purpose AA and AT gun has been a vital factor in Rommel's African campaigns. However, this gun is only one element in the excellent antitank organization of the Germans and should be viewed in its proper perspective.

In accordance with German Army principles, each combat unit, from the smallest to the largest, is so organized, armed, and equipped as to be tactically self-sufficient. Antitank protection is vital to the successful accomplishment of a combat mission; therefore, suitable antitank weapons are provided for each unit. These weapons are used in accordance with the German doctrine of antitank defense, which may be summarized as follows:

Staffs, troops, and supply echelons must be prepared for a tank attack at all times. Careful ground and air reconnaissance and map study assist in indicating the avenues of approach feasible for hostile tank attacks. Certain terrain features are natural obstacles to tanks and must be used to full advantage. The favorable avenues of approach must be protected by antitank guns, artillery, mines, and tanks.

The antitank units, organically a part of infantry regiments, battalions, or companies contribute their fire power to the support and protection of their respective organizations. Those antitank units which are organically a part of corps and divisions, constitute a reserve force which, because of their mobility, can be rushed to decisive areas as determined by the general situation.

Early information relative to hostile tanks permits timely and coordinated defensive measures. All reconnaissance agencies must be required to report immediately tank information to the commander and to the troops specifically threatened.

Certain situations may require the attachment of additional units to antitank battalions such as signal, engineer, and infantry troops.

Antitank protection has been provided for in each of the units, from the smallest to the largest; furthermore, the amount of protection is being steadily increased.

Each infantry company is protected by a section of 3 AT rifles. In Africa, each company of a light division was reported to be equipped with two 76.2-mm. captured Russian field guns for antitank use. (However, see this publication, No. 3, p. 5). Each infantry battalion is protected by 9 AT rifles.

Each regiment is protected by 27 AT rifles and by an AT company which has 3 platoons, each armed with four 37-mm. AT guns (total 12), and one platoon of four 20-mm. rapid fire AA-AT guns.

A trend toward substitution of the 50-mm. AT gun for the 37-mm. AT gun is progressing rapidly.

The infantry division is protected by 81 AT rifles, forty-eight 20-mm. AA-AT guns, and seventy-five 37-mm. or 50-mm. AT guns. The divisional AT battalion has 3 companies of twelve 37-mm. AT guns each and one company of twelve 20-mm. AA-AT guns. One AA battalion of twenty-four 20-mm. AA-AT guns and nine 37-mm. AA guns, or of thirty-six 20-mm. AA-AT guns may be attached.

The motorized division is protected by fifty-four AT rifles, twelve 20-mm AA-AT guns, fifty-four 37-mm. AT guns, and nine 50-mm. AT guns. The motorized AT battalion has 3 companies of eight 37-mm. and three 50-mm. AT guns and one company of twelve 37-mm. AA-AT guns. An AA battalion of twenty-four 20-mm. AA-AT guns and nine 37-mm. AA guns may be attached.

The armored division is protected by high velocity guns mounted in the tanks (totaling one hundred seventeen 37-mm. or 50-mm. high velocity guns), by an AT battalion with twelve 37-mm. and eighteen 50-mm. AT guns, or an AT battalion with twenty-four 47-mm. self-propelled AT guns each mounted on a Mark I tank chassis with a three-sided armor shield, and by an AA Battalion with thirty-three 20-mm. guns.

A mobile AA battalion from the air force is often attached to a division when additional protection is required. This battalion contains 3 heavy batteries of 88-mm. AA guns, each battery consisting of four 88-mm. AA guns and two 20-mm. AA guns; 2 light batteries, each consisting of fifteen 20-mm. AA-AT guns and four 60-cm. searchlights; 1 searchlight battery consisting of nine 150-cm. searchlights and 6 sound locators.

Generally speaking, antitank weapons are of two types: either single-purpose, such as the 50-mm. AT gun, or dual-purpose, such as the highly effective 88-mm. AT and AA gun. The characteristics of the most commonly employed AT weapons may be summarized as follows:


7.92-mm. AT Rifle (See sketch)

Weight   27 1/4 lbs.
Length (shoulder rest extended)62 1/4 in.
Length (shoulder rest folded)50 3/8 in.
Rate of Fire6-8 r.p.m.
Muzzle velocity3,540 f.s.
Penetration (Homo hard armor-plate at 100 yds., 90°)33 mm. (1.3 in.)

Remarks: This AT rifle has a hand-lever-operated dropping block and is a single loader. Its ammunition is a special high-velocity armor-piercing type with a super-heavy charge contained in a 13.2-mm. case necked down to take a 7.92-mm. tungsten-carbide cored bullet.

[German 7.92-mm. Antitank Rifle]
German 7.92-mm. Antitank Rifle

37-mm. AT Gun

Maximum range   4,400 yds.
Penetration (steel plate at 90°)43 mm. (1.7 in.) at 330 yds.
 33 mm. (1.3 in.) at 650 yds.
Rate of fire12 r.p.m.
Traverse (trails closed)
Traverse (trails open)58°
Weight of AP shell1.68 lbs.
Weight of HE shell1.37 lbs.

Remarks: This is one of the main antitank weapons. The gun has two shields, fitted one above the other. The upper shield moves with the gun in traverse. There are four types of shell: armor-piercing with and without tracer, and high explosive with and without tracer. The gun is mounted on a well-sprung carriage and is fitted with low-pressure pneumatic tires for transportation as a motor trailer. It can be drawn by a detachment of soldiers across country for short distances.

47-mm. AT Gun

Weight (approximate)   1,980 lbs.
Length of barrel7 ft. 2 in.
Muzzle velocity3,000 f.s.
Weight of projectile3.75 lbs.

Remarks: This gun made its appearance in the German Army in 1940. It is of Skoda manufacture. The mounting is a modified Mark I tank chassis.

50-mm. AT Gun (See sketch)

Weight   1,760 lbs.
Length of barrel9 ft. 10.5 in.
Muzzle velocity2,953-3,280 f.s.
Rate of fire16 r.p.m.
Weight of AP shell4 lbs. 9 oz.
Weight of HE shell3 lbs. 15 oz.

Remarks: This antitank gun was issued to the main units of the German Army in the spring of 1941. It is steadily replacing the 37-mm. as the standard antitank gun. The carriage is provided with an armor-plated shield and has a tubular split trail. The AP shell has pierced the armor of British infantry tanks and cruiser tanks and our light and medium tanks. There are also reports of a 50-mm. AT gun on a self-propelled mount.

[German 50-mm. Antitank Gun]
German 50-mm. Antitank Gun

50-mm. Tank Gun (High Velocity)

Weight   421 1/2 lbs.
Length overall210 cm. (12 ft. 11 in.)
Length of chamber30.5 cm. (12 in.)
Length of rifling162.2 cm. (5 ft. 4 in.)
Muzzle velocity3,444 f.s.
Weight of AP shell3.9 lbs.
   Poly-groove plane section
   Uniform twist of 1 in 35 calibers
   16 lands, 3.5 mm. wide
   Grooves, 6 mm. wide, .75 mm. deep

Remarks: This gun is mounted in the new Mark III German tank and has been very effective.

AT Gun (M 41) (See sketch)

Weight   501 lbs.
Muzzle velocity   4,700 f.s.
Caliber at breech   28 mm.
Caliber at muzzle   20 mm.

Remarks: The barrel of this semiautomatic gun is constructed on the Guerlich principle, i.e., it tapers from 28 mm. at the breech to 20 mm. at the muzzle as above indicated. The gun uses the so-called arrowhead type of ammunition. The life of the barrel is thought to be not over 400 rounds. The gun has a welded carriage with a split trail. It is served by a 5-man crew. It is manufactured by the Austrian firm of Bohler.

[German Antitank Gun (M 41)]
German Antitank Gun (M 41)


20-mm. AA-AT Gun

Weight in action   1,012 lbs.
Muzzle velocity   2,950 f.s.
Maximum horizontal range   6,124 yds.
Maximum vertical range   12,468 ft.
Rate of fire - theoretical280 r.p.m.
Rate of fire - practicalUnknown
Elevation0° to +90°
Length of bore65 cals. (4 ft. 3 in.)
Weight of shell0.308 lbs.

Remarks: This gun may be towed by a light tractor or be self-propelled, mounted with a shield on a half-track vehicle. It fires self-destroying tracer ammunition. There is also a four-barreled type called the "Flakvierling." (See this publication No. 4, p. 3.)

37-mm. AA Gun

Weight in action   3,400 lbs.
Muzzle velocity2,800 f.s.
Maximum horizontal range8,744 yds.
Maximum vertical range15,600 ft.
Rate of fire - theoretical150 r.p.m.
Elevation-10° to +85°
Length of bore50 cals. (6 ft.)
Weight of shell1.4 lbs.

Remarks: This gun is motor-drawn or self-propelled on a half-track vehicle. It fires self-destroying tracer ammunition.

47-mm. AA Gun

Weight in action   3,400 lbs.
Muzzle velocity2,620 f.s.
Maximum horizontal range11,695 yds.
Maximum vertical range24,000 ft.
Rate of fire - theoretical25 r.p.m.
Rate of fire - practical15 r.p.m.
Elevation-10° to +85°
Weight of shell3.3 lbs.

Remarks: This gun originated in Czechoslovakia. It is tractor-drawn, but may self-propelled.

88-mm. AA Gun (See sketch)

Weight in action   10,400 lbs.
Length of bore65 cals. (18 ft. 9 in.)
Muzzle velocity2,750 f.s.
Maximum horizontal range16,000 yds.
Maximum vertical range37,000 ft.
Rate of fire - theoretical25 r.p.m.
Rate of fire - practical15 r.p.m.
Elevation-3° to +85°
Weight of shell19.8 lbs.

Remarks: A tactical study of the gun has been previously made in this publication; see No. 1, p. 29.

It is a high velocity dual-purpose gun equipped with a shield and has been used most effectively in the African campaigns. Its effectiveness is due to (1) mobility - towed on trailer by half track with ammunition in rear and can go into position very quickly by use of outriggers and demountable spade; (2) flexibility - (when not firing from trailer), can change from AT to AA fire in 5 to 6 seconds, traverse 360° and has specially trained crews who are able to take full advantage of its capacity to fire on rapidly moving targets; (3) high velocity - has penetrated all types of British tanks and also our own light and medium tanks.

[German 88-mm. Antiaircraft-Antitank Gun]
German 88-mm. Antiaircraft-Antitank Gun

*        *        *        *        *        *

In conclusion, the German Army has developed a system of balanced antitank protection which complements its system of antiaircraft protection. All units from the company to the division have an all-around "cubic space" (three-dimensional) protection against the greatest threats of modern warfare, the tank and the airplane.


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