When the U.S. Department of the Army, using interviews with German veterans of the Eastern Front, published Russian Combat Methods in WWII at the beginning of the Cold War, the report said of the antitank rifle: “It was to be found even where no German tank attacks might be expected…. If the small gun, always excellently camouflaged, was not needed for antitank defense, its flat trajectory and great accuracy were put to good use in infantry combat.”
Antitank rifles were also extremely popular weapons to air-drop to Red partisans operating far behind enemy lines to give them a powerful yet portable weapon to use against German supply lines and support units. Rear-area German security forces usually had only light armored cars or tankettes, often captured enemy models, to utilize for patrols and reaction forces. These lightly armored vehicles and supply trucks could be easily defeated by the powerful 14.5mm weapons.
One partisan said of the PTR dropped to his troops, “It was the ideal weapon for partisans. Its accuracy was amazing, and a trained PTR crew could hit the boiler of a railway at 800 meters. This enabled us to ambush German trains in daylight, shooting them up from a safe distance.”
Although it was not a dedicated antiaircraft weapon, the PTR was often fired at German planes. The weapon was certainly powerful enough to knock down an aircraft. The 14.5mm round is still used in light antiaircraft cannon to this day. On July 15, 1943, Soviet propagandists credited an antitank rifleman named Denisov with using his PTR to shoot down two “Fascist bombers,” and Private Semen Antipkin with destroying eight tanks and one German aircraft.
It should be noted, however, that Soviet doctrine dictated firing every available weapon at attacking German aircraft. It proved to be effective enough to make ground support missions by the Luftwaffe very unpleasant.
One German pilot reported on Luftwaffe aircraft losses in February 1942: “Every Soviet ground unit attacked by our aviation opens fire on our planes with rifles and other infantry weapons. The probability of hits on a small target by widely distributed ground fire is very great…. Mortar fire is also used. I do not point this out as an example to be followed but to explain that the Soviets fire on aircraft with all weapons used by ground troops.”
The End of the Antitank Rifle
After World War II, the Soviets exported PTRS-41 antitank rifles as part of their effort to modernize and equip the North Korean Peoples Army. At the beginning of the Korean War, due to the limits of Japan’s road and bridge infrastructure, the U.S. Army had only M24 Chaffee light tanks available in theater. Thinner skinned than the German Mark IV, these light tanks proved quite vulnerable to PTRs. When heavier tanks such as the American M26 Pershing and British Centurion began to arrive, the PTR lost much of its utility as an antitank weapon.
Like the Soviets, the North Koreans continued to use PTRs in much the same way as modern antimaterial and special applications rifles. A 1951 U.S. Army intelligence summary ended, “Consequently, these rifles ostensibly find more employment at present against infantry concentrations, machine gun emplacements, and similar targets than as antitank weapons.”
The PTR also remained in service with other Soviet Bloc countries for after World War II. Albania kept them in its inventory until the early 1980s. Despite its utility as an antimaterial rifle in Soviet and Korean hands and the development of scoped PTR and other antitank rifles as long-range sniper rifles by military officers in the field, the U.S. Army brass showed absolutely no interest in the concept.
Forty years later, however, a similar anti-material rifle suddenly came back into vogue and is in great demand by armies around the globe, especially by military snipers and special forces. Today, more than a dozen countries manufacture such weapons, with four of those nations making antimaterial rifles chambered for the 14.5mm round. The current Hungarian-produced Gepard family of antimaterial rifles includes two different 14.5mm models, and the weapons bear a striking resemblance to the Soviet antitank rifles of 1941.
Originally Published in 2018.
This article by Robert Cashner
This article by Robert Cashneroriginally appeared on the Warfare History Network.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.