According to the definition of the German Federal Armed Forces, forces and weapons of the military anti-tank defense are used to command and support other combat troops and combat support troops in fighting tanks and armored vehicles.
Panzerjäger are sub-units and units, formerly also associations, in which anti-tank forces are combined for uniform combat management and focus formation in defense and fire support. Their primary task is to fight tanks and armored vehicles in order to support their own infantry , but also the armored forces.
Ever since tanks appeared on the battlefields of Europe during World War I , a way to eliminate this threat had to be found. During the First World War, artillery pieces were mainly used to destroy the vehicles by directing them. The armor of the tanks of the First World War offered at best protection against rifle ammunition and fragmentation. But even during the war, special guns developed only for anti- tank guns were made ready for the front as so-called anti - tank guns . The most common caliber until World War II was 37 mm. These were the first simple guns, developed from conventional field guns.
At the same time, large-caliber anti - tank rifles were developed. These should be carried by individual soldiers as part of the platoon or company and thus be a means of anti-tank defense for the individual companies. This principle was maintained until the end of World War II.
Second World War
Before and during the Second World War, an independent weapon type for anti-tank defense was formed, as its importance grew at the same rate as that of the armored forces. Tanks alone were not enough to combat enemy tanks and should be spared as an offensive tool. In Germany, the importance of closely cooperating branches of arms was recognized as early as the interwar period and therefore, among other things, anti-tank units were divided into units at division level, such as the armored divisions, which gave the Wehrmacht a not insignificant advantage in the first years of the war. This new type of weapon was set up both in cooperation with the armored forces and above all with the infantry. The infantry battalions were supported in platoons by the anti-tank company of the infantry regiment and reinforced by the anti-tank departments of the division, which were set up according to the structure at the time and were equipped with anti-tank guns (PaK). These had a low silhouette that was easy to camouflage and should enable a quick change of position in the platoon by hand. In addition, an independent tank destroyer department was created within the division as an operational element at the time.
The 7.5 cm anti-tank gun and, due to its high muzzle velocity and the resulting elongated ballistic trajectory, anti-aircraft guns were a tried and tested means of anti-tank combat . The 8.8 cm anti-aircraft gun was later even installed as a combat vehicle cannon (in a slightly modified form as 8.8 cm KwK 36 L / 56) as the main weapon in the Tiger I armored vehicle , but the oversized PaK 43 was also installed as an 8.8 cm KwK L / 71 is used in the newer and very powerful tanks such as Tiger II , Jagdpanther or Nashorn . In the course of the war there was an increasing increase in the armor thickness of the tanks used and, with a slight delay, an increase in the caliber used for anti-tank guns.
In cooperation with main battle tank units, anti-tank units were used in the Wehrmacht in particular to pull enemy tanks into their own anti-tank line by means of a (feigned) retreat, which also usually separated the enemy tanks from the supporting infantry, making them easier targets . The combat value of its own mechanized forces could thus be increased by anti-tank guns from open or partially covered positions. When the war became more and more agile through the use of tanks, it was necessary to motorize and mechanize anti-tank guns.
The assault gun used for anti-tank defense in the beginning could only insufficiently fulfill this task. As a result, tank destroyers were constructed. Due to the scarce production situation, these also replaced battle tanks, especially at the end of the war. With a mobile battle command, especially in the delay and after unsuccessful defense, it quickly became apparent that both the foot-powered infantry and their only motorized anti-tank guns could no longer meet the requirements of this battle command, which in some cases led to high losses. The assault guns, on the other hand, in their function as armored artillery, were further developed into self-propelled howitzers, and rarely armored cannons on self-propelled guns.
The tank destroyers , as casemate tanks, were their own designs. On the German and Soviet sides, these did not have a tower. The gun was front mounted and allowed only a small directional range. The entire vehicle was turned for rough side straightening. At first conventional roller screens were used, later the sow head screen . Tank destroyers were so successful in World War II that every warring nation set up its own tank destroyer detachment. As in the Red Army with the SU-85 and SU-100 tank destroyers, which arose from experience with German tank destroyers. The pictured German Hetzer tank destroyer was active in the Swiss Army until the 1970s.
The US and British sides developed their own tank destroyers. These vehicles called "Tank Destroyer" in English were relatively light tanks equipped with a turret. Like the German tank destroyers, these were conversions of existing tanks. One of the better known models was the M10 Wolverine .
Close combat armor
When the tanks appeared in World War I, the infantry could not counteract the new weapon. Rather primitive tank melee weapons such as explosive charges (e.g. concentrated charges ), adhesive charges, incendiary bottles and the like were used in order to be able to defend at least a little. Fire bottles were usually thrown on the engine blinds and quickly ignited the engine compartment due to the airflow of the engine intake air, which put the tank out of action. The burning liquid could penetrate into small crevices and melt away seals and get into the fighting compartment. Plate mines and explosive charges were usually used to destroy the chains, but they were also placed in the tower ring (space between the tub and the tower). To prevent the explosion from simply fizzling out and to amplify it in the direction of the tank, the explosive charge on the tank was dammed up with sandbags. There were two types of detention charges; either as a conventional charge or according to the principle of a shaped charge . The adhesive shaped charges had the advantage of being more efficient with the same weight. Adhesive charges were mostly magnetic, they were attached to the tank, armed and the soldier got to safety. The British “ Sticky Bomb ” (Grenade, Hand, Anti-Tank No. 74), on the other hand, was coated with an adhesive.
As a last resort, when no suitable means of combat were available, attempts were made to block the view of the tank occupants. For this purpose, the visors and hatches were covered with cloth or destroyed. Smoke-producing agents were also used.
For anti-tank defense in World War II, both the Japanese and German armed forces set up so-called tank destruction troops towards the end of the war. These should destroy attacking tanks in close combat. This was often a suicide mission, but it was also quite successful, as the award numbers of the tank destruction badge show. When fighting armored vehicles with melee weapons, the flanking deployment from a camouflaged position and the previous fighting down of accompanying infantry as well as fire protection by machine gun fire was essential. In terrain unfavorable for tanks, such as the Bocage in northern France, tank advances could also be stopped, forcing the attacker to laboriously clear the area with infantry. The impact mine , the land version of the kamikaze, was used in Japan .
From cannon to missile
Towards the end of the Second World War, missiles were first used to destroy enemy tanks. The US introduced the bazooka as a portable missile weapon. The German Wehrmacht introduced the Panzerschreck . At the beginning of the 21st century, the missile largely replaced the cannon in anti-tank defense. Even a single infantry squad has considerable anti-tank means at its disposal. Anti-tank guided missiles such as the HOT , MILAN or the American TOW or Javelin can be fired from vehicles, helicopters or individual soldiers. In contrast to unguided anti-tank missiles, such as the German Panzerfaust 3 , these are guided by wire. This means that moving targets can also be fought effectively at great distances. With these weapons and the efficiency of modern main battle tanks, the combat range in tank combat has increased significantly. The normal combat of the Second World War took place at distances of 500 m and less. Troops armed with modern anti-tank equipment and battle tanks have increased the combat range to 1,500 m and much more. However, the limiting factor is and remains the viewing distance, which determines the effective combat range. Anti-tank defense is carried out today by all combat troops. The independent tank hunter divisions and companies were dissolved and incorporated into the heavy hunter companies.
Tank hunting from the air
During the Second World War, the aircraft's value as a tank fighter was recognized. Models like Junkers Ju 87 , Republic P-47 , Ilyushin Il-2 or Hawker Typhoon were very successful tank destroyers. The weapons and tactics used varied in each case; the Ju 87 was initially used as a dive fighter, the bombs of which were intended to destroy or damage tanks. The dive tactics benefited the precision of the drops. Later versions of the aircraft were armed with 3.7 cm FlaK 43 and were intended to destroy tanks by direct fire. Other aircraft types also relied on heavy cannon armament in calibers from 20 to 37 mm, but unguided rockets such as the HVAR or the RS-82/132 were more effective . A further development of the war were drop containers for shaped charge cluster munitions such as the German SD 4 HL or the Soviet PTAB . It should be noted that anti-tank combat was mostly carried out with general-purpose fighter-bombers . The only type of aircraft of the Second World War specially designed for anti-tank combat was the Henschel Hs 129 . The tank destruction figures reported in particular by the German side, however, do not correspond to reality and were therefore already considerably reduced in the situation reports of the Air Force itself.
In the case of aircraft, on the other hand, anti-tank fighting is now a rather rare application, with only a few exceptions. A machine developed solely for anti-tank combat is the Fairchild-Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II. Its 30 mm Avenger machine cannon is equipped with uranium ammunition. The A-10 proved to be an extremely effective system in the Gulf War , among others . A similar development is the Russian Sukhoi Su-25 , which is conceptually in the tradition of the Il-2 of the world war. This type of aircraft uses the 30mm GSch-30-2 cannon , which is also used on the Kamow Ka-50 and Mil Mi-24 anti-tank helicopters .
Combating tank accumulations from the air is now summarized under the term Anti Surface Force Air Operations .
In western armies, anti-tank and combat helicopters were primarily used, such as in the Bundeswehr with the anti-tank helicopter Bo 105 or in the US Army with the attack helicopter Bell AH-1 Cobra and their successors, the Eurocopter Tiger and the Boeing AH-64 Apache with up to 16 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Other modern combat helicopters such as the Eurocopter Tiger or the Mil Mi-28 have primarily been designed to fight tanks and to accommodate the corresponding guided missiles.
Anti-tank in modern armies
Anti-tank forces with anti-tank guided missile systems (PARS) are now integrated into both mechanized and motorized infantry forces. The range of anti-tank guided weapons sometimes exceeds the range of battle tanks. The anti-tank forces of the motorized infantry in the Bundeswehr are fully mobile and partially protected with the weapon carrier vehicle as a Wiesel TOW tracked vehicle . Anti-tank forces of the infantry, Panzergrenadiers but also reconnaissance and anti-tank forces of the tank troops can use them to significantly intensify the tank-to-tank battle frontally, but above all as a flank, and thus have the same function and effect as in the first large tank battles in the Russian campaign, in which German armored forces carried through Conditional evasion, enemy tank units moved to their own anti-tank lines, which then strengthened the fighting power of their own tank units from partially covered and camouflaged positions.
In addition, modern artillery such as the artillery troops of the Bundeswehr can indirectly fire cluster munitions with MARS and self-propelled howitzer 2000 for anti-tank purposes on accumulations of tanks. The Bundeswehr's pioneer troops can use the Skorpion mine throwing system to lay anti-tank mine barriers. This means that even larger collections of armor can be brought to a halt. All in all, modern anti-tank defense has thus become a mixture of several weapon systems and armaments capable of doing so.
Passive anti-tank defense
One of the most widely used means of anti-tank defense is the anti-tank mine . They are usually laid in the form of mine barriers . The aim is to block access or to hinder or prevent breakthrough operations. Mine barriers are often set up in such a way that alleys remain free, which are then covered by active repellants. Today, anti-tank mines can be relocated by aircraft, artillery or certain engineering equipment. In principle, barriers are monitored and ordered from the brigade level upwards.
Anti-tank traps and anti-tank trenches are passive means of anti-tank defense. They consist of concrete ( cusp line ) or steel and were often used in fortresses; but do not serve to combat tanks, but hinder their movement.
Blast shafts are used for the prepared destruction of crossings and bridges as well as for creating driving pits from which armored vehicles can no longer exit. Today they can still be found in the national defense of some states.
Barriers that were monitored and triggered in Germany by the Wallmeisters of the Bundeswehr have now largely been removed. A combination of blocking agents is often used in modern anti-tank combat.
- Shelford Bidwell et al. a .: Land war in the 20th century: history, technology, strategy. Edited by: Ray Bonds, Gondrom Verlag, Bayreuth 1978, ISBN 3-8112-0148-4 . (German translation; English original title: The encyclopedia of land warfare in the 20th century. )
- Ian Hogg : 20th Century Artillery. 1st edition, Gondrom Verlag, Bindlach 2001, ISBN 3-8112-1878-6 . (German translation).
- Gordon L. Rottman: World War II Infantry Anti-Tank Tactics Osprey Publishing, 2005, page 47, ISBN 978-1-84176-842-7 . (67 pages online PDF) ( Memento from May 15, 2018 in the Internet Archive )
- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaQTc2YJ0nQ&t=93s Jens Wehner, MA: Death from the air? Attack Airmen vs. Tank in World War II