Anti-tank rifle is an obsolete class of of firearm designed to defeat armored vehicles. They were produced from towards the end of the First World War to the early years of the Second.
History[edit | edit source]
The question of what to do about armored vehicles was raised as soon as they appeared: this was particularly true for Germany, as Britain could simply deploy tanks to take on tanks. Early attempts mostly consisted of improvised demolition charges such as the "bundle charge" German soldiers made by attaching six additional warheads to their standard hand grenade. However, these systems required stripping away the tank's infantry protection before it could be attacked at all. Other plans required the use of heavy and inaccurate artillery guns, which could not easily be pulled up to the front lines for accurate direct-fire aiming. A long-range, infantry-portable solution was sought.
This took the form of an outsized rifle firing a special armor-piercing high-velocity cartridge which could penetrate the thin armor of the early tanks easily: as these vehicles were centered around a massive unprotected engine block and lacked meaningful damage control capabilities, a penetrating hit could quite easily stop a tank in its tracks: a lucky shot that set off the ammunition of a "male" tank could even destroy it outright.
However, as tank armor improved at a rapid pace during World War 2, the concept hit a brick wall in that a rifle that could fire an effective anti-tank cartridge would have to be so large and heavy that no soldier could carry it. The Lahti L-39 and Solothurn S-18-1000 exemplified this issue, both barely portable at over 100 pounds (~50kg) to be able to fire the 20×138mmB anti-aircraft gun cartridge. A similar fate awaited the light wheeled anti-tank guns that attempted to take their place, such as the German 3.7 cm PaK 36: the guns quickly became so ineffectual that Soviet KV tanks would simply ignore fire from a 3.7cm PaK 36 until they ran it over.
As the war went on the situations where anti-tank rifles could be even slightly effective became vanishingly few: by the end, they were only really workable firing down onto a tank's roof armor. There is some evidence of Soviet marksmen repurposing obsolete PTRS and PTRD anti-tank rifles for long-range sniping: however, no calibrated scopes ever existed for Soviet anti-tank rifles. Images of rifles with Mosin-Nagant PU scopes exist, but these were only used for spotting, not for aiming.
The final nail in the coffin of the anti-tank rifle was the development of the hollow charge warhead and recoilless weapons to fire it: with these, the weapon no longer needed to penetrate the target's armor through brute force imparted to the projectile by conventional gun propellant. This meant the massively reinforced action and heavy barrel required by later anti-tank rifles was not needed. Weapons like the Bazooka, PIAT and Panzerschreck quickly replaced anti-tank rifles in service.
While some sources place the Anti-materiel rifle as the successor to the anti-tank rifle, this is not really the case: anti-materiel rifles are neither intended or suited to attacking heavily armored targets, and are instead used against more fragile targets such as sensor equipment, missiles, parked aircraft and the like. They also trace their lineage to the use of scoped M2 Browning heavy machine guns for long-range sniping in Vietnam, not to any anti-tank rifle.