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Panzerfaust: And Other German Infantry Anti-Tank Weapons

22 Feb

Wolfgang Fleischer, a prolific writer on German military equipment has done something special, cataloguing one of the most diverse arsenals of anti-tank weaponry, in remarkable detail, while providing excellent pictures and using common sense language- all in just 50 pages.

During the Second World War, the military of Nazi Germany ran into a problem: the Soviet Red Army. While the Germans were equipped with a vast array of tanks, the Soviets not only had more tanks, they had superior ones.

The Germans responded with more advanced tanks of their own, and with better anti-tank weapons. Yet they could never match the Russians tank for tank (i.e. 1,347 Tiger tanks vs. 57, 000 T-34s), and even employed large numbers of towed anti-tank guns like the famous “88,”  which proved problematic, since they still required transport and several crew members. So what was the Germany infantryman to do?

Fleischer begins his story with a brief recap of World War One and how Infantry had to improvise to have any chance against the British’s new mechanical beasts (the first tanks). Thus was born the T-Gewehr, the first anti-tank rifle, which was essentially a standard Gew-98 Mauser rifle scaled up to comic proportions. This intimidating weapon at least gave foot soldiers something to fight back with.

While the Germans improved on this concept, the anti-tank rifle was short lived. This is where the book takes off. Unlike the Allies or the other Axis powers, Germany put lots of research and effort to allow their infantry to destroy tanks on their own without relying on solely on heavy crew served weapons.

Fleischer chronicles this by starting with the anti-tank rifles, then moves on to anti-tank mines, smaller two crew anti tank guns; rifle-fired grenades and finally, rockets. He also gives a rundown of man to tank combat on the Eastern Front with German estimates of how many tanks their soldiers where managing to kill.

The issue the German’s had was as their anti-tank weapons improved, enemy tank armor was becoming thicker and better designed. They received some inspiration from a new American invention captured in North Africa, the rocket firing “bazooka”. While the American design had good stopping power the Germans knew it wouldn’t be up to snuff against the new Tiger and Panther tanks they had coming into service. So they copied the design, increased the size of the rocket and the Panzerschrek (tank terror) was born. This heavy weapon could knock out the majority of allied tanks fielded during the war.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to its namesake the Pazerfaust. Meaning “Tank Fist” the Panzerfaust is the grandfather of all of today’s disposable, man portable anti-tank rockets. The Germans figured out that you needed a fairly large diameter rocket to kill a tank but anything larger than the Panzerschrek would be pushing the weight a man could carry.

Fleischer describes how the Germans got around this problem and followed the Panzerfaust from drawing board to production line. He also covers all versions of this potent weapon as it was steadily improved throughout the war and was the inspiration for the Soviet RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) series.

The author has done truly outstanding job for such a small book. While there may be other more in depth works about the subject this small 50 page works still covers all the basics and more. It is also wonderfully illustrated with great captions. Retailing at around $10 Panzerfaust is a must have for any infantry or tank buffs.

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Military Small Arms Of The 20th Century

22 Feb

If you’re an avid firearms enthusiast, this is the bible on the subject of military firearms.

In publication since 1973, this huge reference book, written by renowned weapons expert Ian V. Hogg and John S. Weeks, chronicles firearms development from 1900 -2000. It technically covers the late 1800s as well, since many of the 20th century’s famous guns were designed in the 1890s.

The 7th and final edition of “Military Small Arms” is a large soft cover book that is lightweight for a book of its size. It is 416 pages long and covers five types of firearms — pistols, sub-machine guns, bolt action rifles, automatic rifles, machine guns and anti-tank riles/anti-material rifles.

It also has chapters on the principle of operation for various fire arms (i.e. what gas operated is, what delayed blowback is etc.), in addition to chapters on ammunition with a data table and an introductory chapter for each type of firearm covered.

The book has a lot going for it. It not only covers all the major firearms producing countries (France, Germany, Russia, the UK and US), but many smaller nations such as Belgium, Finland and the former Czechoslovakia. Because of that, you can find some very interesting and odd ball weapons in this book.

Everything from the Canadian Ross and the US Navy Lee straight pull rifles, Japan’s Type-2 Paratroop rifle that breaks down into halves and Mexico’s early automatic rifle the Mondragon, to the USSR’s Stechkin machine pistol and the Nazi’s Sten gun clone are addressed here. It also covers antitank rifles, which many people aren’t familiar with at all, along with their modern descents the anti-material rifles.

As usual, Hogg does a fantastic job summing up the UK sections of his book. The number of Lee Enfield rifle and Webley pistol variants can drive you mad and he neatly organizes what can be a bewildering topic.

His coverage on German and American firearms is also superb. Displaying an affinity toward the designs of Browning and Mauser, he tends to go into much more detail on these weapons.

Captioning was an issue in some of the earlier editions and while that’s improved, several weapons are misidentified in the captions.

The coverage of some countries isn’t so in depth and smacks of bias. While the entries for Russian/Soviet, Japanese and Italian guns are technically accurate, they often contain snubs and snarky comments.

The entry on Soviet snipers rifles is incorrect and lacking and his coverage on Japanese machine guns and pistols is seems just plain biased.

He often cites them as being unpopular with Japanese troops without even citing a reference.

Firsthand accounts of Japanese infantrymen being unhappy with their country’s machine guns are practically unheard of, if not presently nonexistent.

He states that the Type-2 paratroop rifle was “not a success,” which is hard to prove being that it was never used in an airborne operation. While he praises Soviet firearms for their utility, he seems to hint at a lack of innovation in their design, calling the SKS “uninspired,” for instance.

The issue of bias aside, “Military Small Arms” of the 20th Century is still the best general reference on the subject around. It’s cheap (around $25 new), very readable and easily located.

While some information should have been updated as it became available over time, it is far more useful than it is inaccurate.

So if you’re new to the subject or require a large handy reference this book, this makes an invaluable part of your library.