Anti-Tank Gun

Soviet 45-mm anti-tank gun (M1942)

Anti-tank guns are guns designed to destroy armored vehicles. In order to penetrate the armor of tanks and other armored vehicles they generally fire relatively small bore shells at high-velocity.


Prior to World War II, anti-tank guns included both small towed guns and anti-tank rifles. Few had (or needed) calibers larger than 50 mm. Examples of guns in this class include the German 37 mm, US 37 mm, French 25 mm and 47 mm, British 2-pounder, and Soviet 45 mm. All of these relatively light weapons could penetrate the thin armour found on most pre-war and early war tanks.


At the start of World War II many of these weapons were still being used operationally, along with a newer generation of light guns that closely resembled their WWI counterparts. These guns were increasingly less effective as tank armor improved. For instance, the German army had recently introduced a new lightweight 37-mm gun, whose users quickly nicknamed it the “tank door knocker” (Panzeranklopfger?t) once Soviet T-34 and KV tanks were encountered; all it seemed to do was announce its presence.


All combatants quickly introduced newer and more powerful guns, and the anti-tank rifle declined in importance, although many were still in use as late as 1943. The “typical” towed gun by late 1942 was 50 mm or larger; the Germans had an excellent 50-mm high-velocity design, while the British introduced the “QF 6-pounder” which was adopted, with minor modifications, by the US Army as the 57 mm. A year later, sizes had grown due to pressure on the Eastern Front, German guns were now 75 mm and the famous 88 mm. The Red Army used a variety of 45 mm, 57 mm, and 100 mm guns, as well as deploying general-purpose 76.2 mm and 122-mm guns in the antitank role. The British 17 pounder was smaller at 76.2 mm but delivered its excellent amour piercing shell at high speed.

German PaK 40 75-mm anti-tank gun

As the guns grew in size they dropped in mobility, making the dedicated anti-tank gun more vulnerable to enemy fire. Earlier weapons had been light enough to be moved a short distance by their crews. This was impossible with the much heavier weapons becoming common by mid-war. In addition to their lack of mobility, these guns offered almost no protection to the crew and were thus vulnerable to infantry and artillery fire. This gave impetus to the development of the tank destroyer. These were generally lightly-armoured vehicles providing mobility and some protection against HE fire. These mobile AT guns were far more effective than their towed counterparts.


By the end of the war the concept of the dedicated conventional anti-tank gun was declining, with few new designs introduced after 1945. The guns were so large that they were essentially immobile. Instead, newer recoilless weapons and rocket launchers were developed.

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