Light, man portable anti-tank weapons remain a constantly changing, evolving and eagerly sought infantry weapon development. These handheld munitions, used for not only tanks but also lightly armored vehicles as well as structures, are always being refined to squeeze the maximum punch out of a minimal envelope.
World War II saw several anti-tank weapons, but arguably the most innovative light anti-tank munition came from Germany in the form of the Panzerfaust.
Essentially a large shaped charge and booster fired from a simple tube, the Panzerfaust turned into an ideal urban fighting weapon for the forces of a collapsing German.
The Panzerfaust went through four major evolutions during World War II, starting with the Panzerfaust 30. Capable of penetrating 140 mm of armor at an angle of 30 degrees, the first generation anti-tank rocket was different in the shape of its warhead.
While a shaped-charge was inside the cone, the nose of the round was a sharply tapered bell-looking. This first generation charge was believed to increase the velocity of the round upon impact. However, the sloped armor of Soviet tanks made the shape ineffective.
As a result, the next Panzerfaust models incorporated a more traditional flat nosed shaped-charge.
A larger charge in generation two of the Panzerfaust resulted in an armor penetration of 200 mm. The next Panzerfausts saw increases in effective distance and armor penetration, eventually becoming capable of reaching out to 200 meters while able to punch into 200 mm of sloped armor.
Firing the Panzerfaust on targets was as simple as its design. It had a simple multi-peep flip up sight and a thumb operated trigger on the top of the launching tube.
The tube that held the base of the rocket could be tucked under an operator's arm, in the crook of the elbow or over the shoulder and fired. Once the charge left the tube a series of gins popped open to stabilize the weapon in flight.
After firing, the Panzerfaust launching tube could be tossed. It's ease of use, with basic training, meant the Panzerfaust could be dropped into the hands of common citizens and used a deadly harassment weapon.
Eventually, weapons designers sought to expand on the basic Panzerfaust envelope to something more reusable. That version never saw advance use during the war, but it did inspire the design that would go onto become the prolific RPG-7 series from the former Soviet Union.
Panzerfausts, in the hands of the enemy, were devastatingly effective and war planners took note and to this day its cost-to-effectiveness ratio is still being chased.