Bazooka is the colloquial name for the Antitank Rocket Launcher (later known as simply Rocket Launcher), a reloadable American anti-tank rocket launcher.
Widely used during World War II and giving its users at least some hope at defeating German tanks, the bazooka's design heritage involved the development of two lines of technology combined together to create the weapon; the weapon's colloquial name stemmed from its rather vague resemblance to a musical instrument of the same name.
The final variants of the weapon was phased out of service in the 1960s with the introduction of the M67 recoilless rifle. Despite this, the term "bazooka" remains in use as a colloquialism referring to any sort of ground-to-ground shoulder-fired missile weapon like rocket launchers or recoilless rifles.
The design lineage of the bazooka stems back to at least World War I, with the development a number of experimental rocket-powered weapons by American rocketry pioneer Dr. Robert H. Goddard and Dr. Clarence N. Hickman (who would later be part of the team who completed the bazooka design) in November 1918. Col. Leslie Skinner performed further work based on Goddard's design and produced plans for an infantry rocket launcher in December 1940, but was told there was no warhead it could fire that would actually be effective. However, with the development of the M10 shaped charge anti-tank rifle grenade, Skinner quickly realised he had his warhead.
Skinner received an M10 grenade in 1942 and set to work on a suitable rocket motor for it, tasking Col. Edward Uhl to create a launcher design. Uhl determined that he had to protect the user from the exhaust, as well as provide some means to aim it. One day, he was struck by inspiration: "I was walking by this scrap pile, and there was a tube that... happened to be the same size as the grenade that we were turning into a rocket. I said, "That's the answer!" Put the tube on a soldier's shoulder with the rocket inside, and away it goes."
Uhl fabricated a launcher from the scrap metal pipe he found and he and Skinner demonstrated the result at a test of a number of anti-tank spigot mortars at Aberdeen Proving Ground in May 1942: his launcher, despite using sights fabricated from a wire coat hangar earlier that day, scored several hits on the moving tank target while none of the tested mortars could do likewise. This display impressed the observers, and he was ordered to push ahead with the design.
This led to the development of the 2.36-inch Rocket Launcher, M1, colloquially known as the M1 bazooka. A simplified version of the bazooka, the 2.36-inch Rocket Launcher, M1A1, was introduced later. Early production versions of the weapon and rocket were secretly introduced in 1942 and hastily supplied to American troops and Soviet forces via lend-lease. The first use by US forces was an unimpressive debut in Operation Torch in November 1942, which revealed numerous shortcomings, not helped by troops receiving little or no instruction in how to actually operate the new weapon. A further improved version, the 2.36-inch Rocket Launcher, M9 was introduced in 1943. An incremental improvement to the M9, the M9A1, was introduced in 1944.
Germany captured a number of Bazookas, either examples that had been provided to Russia via lend-lease in 1942, or from US forces in Tunisia in February 1943 (it is not clear which). From these they developed the Raketenpanzerbüchse, better known as the Panzerschreck. These German-engineered copies were used to great effect against the Americans, giving impetus to further improvement and refinement of the bazooka.
This led to the development of the 3.5-inch Rocket Launcher, M20, better known as the Super Bazooka. This was designated as M20 in 1944, but not ready in time for the war's end and adoption was postponed by Secretary of Defense Louis A. Johnson due to budget cutbacks following the war. Soldiers in Korea were instead issued M9A1 bazookas: this proved disastrous, as the M6A3 round had not been designed for long-term storage and issued rounds had degraded severely: after events like the Battle of Osan where even repeated shots to the engine compartments of North Korean T-34/85s failed to achieve penetration, issue of the M20 was quickly restarted.
Another variant, the M25, a three-shot rocket launcher, was developed around 1955; there is no evidence it ever saw service.
The bazooka saw very limited use during the Vietnam War, having been phased out for more modern and effective rocket launchers by then; the weapon was completely phased out from United States service by June 1966. Despite the weapon having been phased out of service, the weapon has been seen in use as late as the Falklands War and a number of derivative weapons have spawned from the bazooka design.
Most versions of the bazooka are simple breech-loaded recoilless anti-tank rocket launchers. Rockets are loaded through the rear. The weapon is electrically-fired. Despite there being quite a number of variants of the bazooka, all variants are in gross terms functionally identical, bar the M25.
The M25 bazooka was an attempt to produce a support weapon version of the Bazooka, somewhat along the lines of a light cannon. It is about three times heavier than the M20, uses a tripod mount, and featured a detachable, overhead loading 3-rocket gravity feeder which could also be opened at the top and used as a hand-fed hopper: the operator's notes commented that this greatly reduced loading time. The M25 has a rotating chamber operated with two flips of a handle, effectively being a lever-action weapon.
Most variants of the bazooka fired variants of the M6 rocket, a 60 mm (2.4 in) shaped charge. The original M6 rocket was notoriously unreliable, and temperamental at extremes of temperature, burning so quickly it could burst the tube of the M1 on hot days and so slowly it would still be burning on exit on cold days, potentially scorching the gunner's face. This issue was not fully solved until the development of Blastless Bazooka Propellant (BBP), a rocket fuel less sensitive to temperature variations. The M6 rocket was unique in that one of the contacts was a metal ring around the nose of the rocket that interfaced with a contact that pushed into the tube from above: no Bazooka but the M1 can fire it. It was capable of penetrating around 3 inches (76mm) of rolled homogeneous steel.
The M6A1 rocket was developed with the M1A1 Bazooka as a matter of necessity: since the M1A1 eliminated the contact box as a point of structural weakness that could cause the tube to split, the rocket was redesigned with the second contact a wire that unspooled from the rear of the rocket and attached to a clip at the back of the tube. The M6A1 also used shorter propellant sticks to reduce peak internal pressures. "M6A2" appears to have been an informal designation used to refer to M6 rockets modified to the A1 standard.
The M6A3 was developed alongside the M9 Bazooka and was a broad improvement to the rocket design, using a short, fixed cylindrical tailfin to remedy issues with the long fins of earlier rockets being prone to bending if handled roughly. It also used a blunt nose design following observations of previous pointed-nose designs tending to skip off armor without detonating if they struck at an angle. This variant improved armor penetration to around 4 inches (100mm).
Since the rockets were electrically ignited, they could also be used with the standard "blasting machine" magneto detonator used to set off explosives, and training films for the Bazooka outlined the use of M6 rockets as ersatz demolition charges or mines.
The M10 Bursting Smoke (WP) rocket was a smoke/marker rocket with a payload of white phosphorous, developed alongside the M9 bazooka and using the same engine components as the M6A3.
Special cyanogen chloride-filled rockets designated the M26 Gas Rocket were developed by the US Army's Chemical Warfare Service; the rockets were seen as a good counter against Japanese forces (particularly in enclosed spaces like caves and bunkers) whose gas masks lacked the impregnants that would protect them against the cyanogen chloride (or CK). Despite having been made and stockpiled in US Army inventory, no M26 rockets were ever used or issued.
The M20 Super Bazooka however, fired the larger M28A2 rocket, a 90 mm (3.5 in) shaped charge. The weapon was also compatible with the T127E3/M3 WP smoke rocket and the M29 training rocket. The M28A2 rockets proved very effective against tanks of the time.
- M1 bazooka (2.36-inch Rocket Launcher, M1)
June 1942. Original production variant. First used in combat in late 1942. 112,790 were produced. Only compatible with the original M6 rocket due to the unique placement of the front battery contact. Unpopular due to substandard steel used in manufacturing, lack of a bore gauge for production meaning rockets could stick in the tube and explode, and unreliable ammunition: issue was suspended in May 1943.
- M1A1 bazooka (2.36-inch Rocket Launcher, M1A1)
July 1943, full production started in August. Simplified version of the M1. Tube is wrapped with 0.5 inch steel wire to prevent bursting issues, contact box eliminated as a point of structural weakness in the tube. Can be identified by the lack of a front grip, lack of a contact box, and the contact wire on the right side of the rear tube going all the way to the breech. 59,932 were produced, and many original production M1s were updated to the A1 standard.
- M9 bazooka (2.36-inch Rocket Launcher, M9)
October 1943. Improved version of the M1. Tube length increased to ensure a full propellant burn inside the tube even in cold conditions. Ditched the older battery ignition system (unreliable in wet conditions, and batteries had constant availability issues in the field) for a Magnavox T6 magneto and can be identified from an M1A1 by the replacement of the wooden shoulder rest (which contained the battery) with a sheet metal shoulder stop, and the use of black plastic instead of wood on the grip. Early versions used a General Electric T43 folding bar sight, later issued with a Polaroid T90 optical sight. The M9 could most notably be disassembled into two halves for easier transportation. 26,087 were produced.
- M9A1 bazooka (2.36-inch Rocket Launcher, M9A1)
September 1944. Improved version of the M9. Has an improved coupling system over the M9 and eventually supplanted the M9 during production. Only issued with a Polaroid T90 optical sight. The M9A1 appears to be the variant to have been produced in the greatest numbers, with 277,819 produced.
- M18 bazooka (2.36-inch Rocket Launcher, M18)
Experimental version of the M9A1 made of aluminum that was ordered in April 1945 but canceled at the war's end with only 500 units produced. 350 examples saw combat in the Philippines and on Okinawa.
- M20 Super Bazooka (3.5-inch Rocket Launcher, M20)
1950. Enlarged version of the M9A1 which later received a separate designation. Notably uses a larger 3.5 inch warhead and was used to great effect during the Korean War.
- M20A1 Super Bazooka (3.5-inch Rocket Launcher, M20A1)
1952. Improved version of the M20 with an improved connector latch assembly.
- M20B1 Super Bazooka (3.5-inch Rocket Launcher, M20B1)
Lightweight version of the M20 with cast aluminum barrels. Meant to supplement the M20.
- M20A1B1 Super Bazooka (3.5-inch Rocket Launcher, M20A1B1)
Designation used to give M20B1 launchers with M20A1 improvements.
- M25 Three-shot Bazooka (3.5-inch Rocket Launcher, M25)
1955. Three-shot gravity feed or hopper fed tripod-mounted bazooka. Despite 1,500 being built and the weapon being standardized and given an M designation, there is no evidence it was ever actually issued, nor any US Army table of organization and equipment which mentions it.
- Raketenpanzerbüchse 43/54 (Panzerschreck)
An enlarged German copy of the bazooka made by reverse-engineering bazookas captured in North Africa and Eastern Front encounters.
- RL-83 Blindicide (Raketenrohr)
A Belgian derivative of the M20A1 bazooka design.
- Instalaza M65
Spanish copy of the M20 with a different ignition system.
Chinese copy of the M20 based on launchers captured during the Korean War.
- RL-83 Blindicide
- Hoffman, Jon T., A History of Innovation: U.S. Army Adaptation in War and Peace, 2011
- Popular Science, December 1943 issue
- Rottman, Gordon L., Panzerfaust And Panzerschreck, 2014
- van der Bijl, Nick, Argentine Forces in the Falklands (Men-at-Arms Book 250), 1992
- Green, Michael; Green, Gladys, Weapons of Patton's Armies, 2000
- Smart, Jeffrey K., History of Chemical and Biological Warfare: An American Perspective, 1997
- War Department, Characteristics and Employment of Ground Chemical Munitions, Field Manual 3-5,, 1946
- TM 9-297, 3.5-inch Rocket Launchers M20 and M20B1, 10 August 1950
- Blair, Clay, The Forgotten War: America in Korea, 1950–1953, 2003
- Rottman, Gordon L., The Bazooka, 2012
- Guzmán, Julio S., Armas Modernas de Infantería, 1953 (in Spanish)