Tankgewehr Rifle vs. WWI Tank – FIGHT!

The First World War was a nasty conflict. It’s slaughter is something we often fail to comprehend if only on the sheer scale. Working to avoid direct trench assaults, the Entente developed the first tanks, which when employed struck terror into the German troops. Despite being slow, they pondered on through withering fire that no man could have survived.

Recognizing their tactical utility along with their psychological impact, the Germans quickly went to work on anti-tank weapons. Artillery did work well, but it typically took a direct hit to stop a tank, which with inevitable variability in targeting, was not wholly reliable. As such, the Mauser company developed the first anti-tank weapon – aptly named the “Tank Rifle” or Tankgewehr in german.

The rifle featured a 13.7mm armor-piercing projectile that when used provided for potentially devastating accurate fire against tanks. We often hear stories of them today, but how much is true versus how much was fiction?

Fortunately, Forgotten Weapons steps in with an experiment of Tankgewehr vs. (Simulated) Tank. Using steel at the correct thicknesses and hardness, along with original WW1 rifles and ammunition, Ian puts the tales to the test. Can the projective pierce the 450 brinnel through-hardened armor?

Watch the video to find out.

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • EC

    In his post-mortem analysis of WWI anti-tank combat, Guderian pretty much felt that field guns were really the only thing effective against British tanks… or letting them mechanically break down would be an option too. AT rifles, and most other infantry-expedient options, were generally much less useful against tanks.

    • Major Tom

      And then in the next big show (WW2) those crazy Americans invented some newfangled thing called a bazooka that gave a lone rifleman the firepower of a field gun in a much much lighter package and blew that assessment to sh*t.

      • Tassiebush

        The British came up with the PIAT around the same time.

        • The_Champ

          And I believe the Panzerfaust was developed around the same time, but maybe fielded a few months later than the bazooka. I think everyone was on the same page of finding a way for a single infanteer to knock out a tank.

          • Tassiebush

            Yes I think it was close in timing to both. I recall too the Germans copied the bazooka as well but made a bigger version. Agreed everyone was in a similar zone. I think the bazooka was probably in development earlier if I recall but it was fielded later. I guess that makes sense though because of the late entry into the war so no urgency till then.

          • James Kachman

            The Panzerschreck was copied from examples of the bazooka captured in combat. The bazooka, though it had a small warhead, was one of the first shaped charge infantry AT weapons fielded. Panzerfaust came some time after Panzerschreck.

      • FarmerB

        By the thirties, tanks and armour had developed to a point where a shoulder fired AT rifle was pretty much ineffective. If you didn’t know that before WW-II started, you did after a short period.

        • Major Tom

          Early war tanks (on both sides) were still vulnerable to AT rifles. By 1942 however the number of tanks that could be engaged and defeated by AT rifles was pretty dang small.

          • mosinman

            with the exception of the PTRS and PTRD series of AT rifles which were probably the best AT rifles made during the war and were still useful in 1942

          • Major Tom

            Against Panzer II and III maybe and yes it could penetrate the side/rear armor of an early mark Pz IV. But even then, that was a pretty short list. Later marks of Pz IV, the StuG III/IV, the Tiger and other things just kinda shrugged it off.

          • mosinman

            not really, the Panzer IV was always vulnerable to the PTRD/S hence the addition of the Shurtzen armored plates, the same goes for the Stug IV/III even the Panther was able to be penetrated at close range from the side. of course after 1942 the PTRD/S could not punch through the frontal armor of German medium tanks but the sides, rear and roof were fair game, and it’s not too hard to imagine an infantryman with sufficient cover to get side shots on a tank. of course these AT rifles could handle light tanks and Armored cars as well as trucks and were sometimes used against infantry

          • SPQR9

            The point is that PKZW IV is not fielded in significant strength until late 1941. The German army’s campaigns before Barbarrossa saw the use of Pkzw II and III with large numbers of captured Czech 35(t) and 38 (t) tanks. All of which had some vulnerability to anti-tank rifles. That covers Poland, France, the early half of the North Africa campaign and Yugoslavia/Greece.

      • EC

        That’s probably not an accurate assessment of the bazooka. I think generally speaking by 1943 the effectiveness of the bazookas were much more limited, as the Germans had figured out that cage and spaced armour could greatly reduce the ability of a bazooka to penetrate. Just make the shaped charge detonate beyond the ideal standoff distance, and your tank will be fine. Essentially, this meant that bazookas were only technologically effective in 1942, even though operationally they were never very good even in 1942.

        Of course, today’s modern tanks with APSs and ERA renders infantry even more obsolete. Truly the best weapons to attack an enemy tank with are ones that are generally too heavy for infantry to carry.

        • Major Tom

          The bazooka in strict battlefield terms wasn’t some magical super weapon but it was for most of the war adequate or at least capable of defeating enemy armor. It was however a sharp departure from interwar period and early war thinking about infantry based anti-tank warfare. Those focused on towed anti-tank guns, AT rifles and specialized grenades.

          A man-portable anti tank rocket launcher never figured in to most places’ thinking. In that regard its influence was much more significant. Especially since postwar, AT rifles and towed guns fell away from use but man-portable rockets fully matured. They became one of the best anti-tank defenses around until the rise of ATGM’s and attack helis.

          Besides infantry aren’t hopeless against tanks these days. That’s what Javelin is for.

          • EC

            Certainly the bazooka was better than nothing… but infantry-carried AT weapons generally took a relatively small share of tank kills… along the lines of 13-17% I think by 1944. Most German and Allied tanks were killed by other tanks.

            As for modern infantry against modern tanks, it is pretty near hopeless I think. A typical rifle platoons might only have a pair of Javelins to go around (more if it’s mechanised), and modern tanks come with APSs that can be capable of neutralising top-attack weapons. Generally American doctrine calls for many other methods to engage enemy heavy armour; throwing light infantry at them is not advisable (unless there are no other choices).

            Infantry still have a role. To sit in a hole and be the eyes and ears of the army. Today, however, much of the heavy lifting is done by artillery, air, and armour. It’s been that way since possibly Napoleonic times, and certainly by WWI.

    • Paul

      The option of waiting for them to break down is especially ironic for those of us who have owned (and worked on) older British cars.

      • EC

        Tanks are pretty complicated and often unreliable machines, especially WWI and WWII ones. It was preferable to sometimes transport them by rail when going cross-country simply to reduce fuel consumption and wear.

        The early Tigers, for example, performed quite poorly in the initial battles due to breaking down. I think 75% of them had engine problems in the first few hours of their first conflict.

        Of course the biggest killer of all types of tanks was the simple act of running out of fuel.

  • datimes

    In a recent episode of The Great War the narrator stated that when the initial shock of the tanks appearance wore off the Generals ordered artillery was to fired at them when observed.

  • Major Tom

    The T-Gewehr was better than things like the Gebaltladung (Spelling?) aka “bunched charge” (take the explodey bits off several M24 stick grenades and tape em together) and Spitzgeschultz min Kern (K bullets) ammo.

  • jestertoo

    Shooting at steel with AP at close range is a great way to catch a rebounding projectile if it doesn’t penetrate.

    • Alex @Sea

      Yeah, don’t try BBs on steel either. Those suckers hurt!

  • Kevin Craig

    You can’t measure impact when the target moves.

    • Ian McCollum

      You misunderstand the timing of what happened. The round hit, then deflected, and then the fragments shredded the supports, allowing gravity to pull the plate down. The plate did not move when hit, and the plate falling down afterward had no impact on the penetration data.

  • Tassiebush

    It’s interesting to reflect on where you would have to be positioned in relation to the tank you were targeting as well as other tanks and supporting infantry for this weapon to work because you would really be rather exposed to get the angle right.

  • CavScout

    This feels a little like leeching content from other content creators…