Panzerfaust 30 klein (“small”) or Faustpatrone
The “Panzerfaust” literally meaning “Tank Fist” was an inexpensive, throw away, recoilless anti-tank weapon. It consisted of a small, disposable preloaded launch tube firing a high explosive anti-tank warhead that could be operated by a single soldier on the battlefield and designed to address the lack of anti-tank weapons fielded by the Wehrmacht and the growing Soviet tank threat principally experienced on the Eastern front.
The original prototype or forerunner of the Panzerfaust was the Faustpatrone literally ‘fist cartridge’. Being of a much smaller configuration than the Panzerfaust the Faustpatrone was slightly heavier than the later models to follow. Development of the Faustpatrone started in the summer of 1942 at the German company HASAG - Hugo Schneider AG, Werk Schlieben with the development of a smaller prototype called Gretchen (Little Gretel) by a team headed by Dr. Heinrich Langweiler in Leipzig. The basic concept was that of a recoilless gun since neither the Faustpatrone, nor its successor the Panzerfaust were rocket powered projectiles like those fired by the Panzershreck.
It employed the relatively new concept of hollow shaped charges. This radical idea of the time exploited the newly discovered principal of directional explosives were by a specially shaped charge (in this case an inverted funnel or cone shape) could be concentrated to explode in a pre-defined direction rather than exploding in the traditional spherical all-round shape that say a shell would produce. Although the warhead looks considerably bulky it is largely empty space inside that acts merely as a focusing chamber for the warhead. When the warhead strikes its target the explosive charge liner at the rear of the warhead is triggered. The internal space coupled with the specially molded shape of the charge allows the detonated charge inside to form and move in a single focused direction. This focused explosion punches a small ‘fist’ sized hole through the armoured steel hull of the tank, spraying the inside of the vehicle with molten steel at a very high velocity, usually resulting in detonation of ammunition and fuel stored inside.
The Heereswaffenamt ordered an initial 20,000 units with the first 500 Faustpatronen being delivered by the manufacturer in August 1943. Although the first model did tend to suffer from several issues as this original model did not have any sighting device, it also suffered due to the odd shape of the warhead having a tendency to ricochet off or explode with lesser effect on sloped armour especially when deployed against the Russian T-34. Since these problems surfaced early in the program, the development and production of its successor, the Panzerfaust 30, had already begun and by the time of the first deliveries these issues were in main resolved. Strangely even with the further developments of bigger more effective fausts the small and simple Faustpatrone was kept in production well into 1945.
To a well trained operator the weapon was correctly fired from an under arm position. Using the flip up pressed steel sights the operator would line up the sight marks and upon firing the device the warhead would be ejected from the tube carrier by the small black powder charge and appear to be lobbed high into the air rather like a mortar round and then drop onto the intended target. The Panzerfaust had an instruction label applied to the warhead and warnings written in large red letters along the main tube, the words usually being Achtung! Feuerstrahl! (“Beware! Fire Jet!”). This was to warn soldiers of the dangerous back blast venting to the rear of the firing tube. After firing, the tube was discarded, making the Panzerfaust the first truly disposable anti-tank weapon. During the last stages of the war, many poorly-trained last ditched conscripts were simply given a Panzerfaust and nothing else, giving rise to several German generals to comment sarcastically that the tubes could then be used as clubs!
The sight, firing mechanism and warning information on the Panzerfaust 60.
The Panzerfaust was extremely effective in urban combat situations which gathered pace towards the end of the war. Thus by this late stage of the war on the eastern front about 70% of all Russian tanks destroyed (rising to near 100% in the battle for Berlin) were either hit by Panzerfausts or Panzerschreck the German bazooka. Both weapons were nicknamed “fausts” by the Soviet forces; the operators of such weapons were consequently named “faustniks”. The Soviet forces responded by installing spaced armour on their tanks from early 1945 onwards in an attempt to pre-detonate the warhead on the sacrificial spaced armour thus protecting the main tank armour underneath. Since they were such a menace for Soviet tankers each tank company was also assigned a platoon of infantry to protect them from these infantry-wielded anti-tank weapons.
In Order of Development & Appearance
Panzerfaust 30 klein (“small”) or Faustpatrone
This first version, with deliveries beginning in August 1943 had a total weight of 3.2 kilograms and overall length of 98.5cm. The “30” designation was indicative of the nominal maximum range of 30m. It had a 3.3cm diameter tube containing 54 grams of black powder propellant launching a 10 cm warhead carrying a shaped charge of 400g of a 50:50 mix of TNT and tri-hexogen. The projectile traveled at just 30m (98ft) per second and could penetrate 140mm of armour.
An improved version also appearing in August 1943, this version had a larger warhead for improved armour penetration of 200mm, but the same range of 30 meters. Fitted to the warhead and common to all designs was a wooden shaft with folded stabilizing fins made of 0.25 mm thick spring steel. These flattened blades straightened into position by reflex as soon as they left the launch tube and helped stabilize the warhead in flight.
This was the most common version, with production starting in September 1944. It had a much more practical range of 60m, although with a muzzle velocity of only 45m (148ft) per second it would take 1.3 seconds for the warhead to reach a tank at that range. To achieve the higher velocity, the tube diameter was increased to 5cm and 134g of propellant used. It also had an improved flip-up rear sight and trigger mechanism. The weapon now weighed 6.1 kg. It could defeat 200 mm of armour.
This was the final version produced in quantity, from November 1944 onwards. It had a nominal maximum range of 100m. 190g of propellant launched the warhead at 60m (200ft) per second from a 6cm diameter tube. The sight had holes for 30, 60, 80 and 150 meters, and had luminous paint in them to make counting up to the correct one easier in the dark. This version weighed 6 kg and could penetrate 220 mm of armour.
Representing a major redesign of the original concept and deployed in limited numbers near the end of the war. The firing tube was reinforced and reusable for up to ten shots. A totally redesigned pointed warhead with increased armor penetration and two-stage propellant ignition system gave a higher velocity of 85m (279ft) per second was used to good effect. Production started in March 1945 just two months before the end of the war.
This saw another leap forward in design, scheduled to enter production in September 1945. Similar to the 150 model by design, the 250 incorporated a longer firing tube and the added concept of a pistol grip with a trigger mechanism. The war ended before development had been completed but comparison to the Soviet RPG-2 leaves one in no doubt but to conclude that the Panzerfaust 250 variant formed the basis for the development of the postwar RPG-2 which later evolved into the world successful RPG-7 weapon system. Sources claim that the Soviet army made use of captured stocks of Panzerfausts, reportedly designated RPG-1, prior to the introduction of their RPG-2.
To sum up the Panzerfaust’s small scale certainly belays its deadly punch and gives a lone soldier the ability to destroy an enemy tank single handedly, although the relatively short range of the early incarnations greatly exposed the operator himself to danger of counter fire. Since a tank represents a considerable cost and investment to an Army it’s hard to imagine that it can be destroyed so easily with such a relatively simple and inexpensive weapon. It’s no small wonder that these remarkable weapons from the American LAW to the Russian RPG’s have found a home amongst all the Army’s of the world and can be found in virtually every conflict since World War 2.
Submitted by Simon Garner
Photography by Neil Barlow & Martin Pike
Illustrations by Neil Barlow