On the bazooka and the Tiger (Mark VI) tank
Date Written: Winter, 2009
Author: Charlie Noble
Foreword and 90th IDPG Notes:
Armchair quarterbacks and generals have been around for ages - and over time their commentary has strongly flavored how we as amateur historians view and relate to battles, people, uniforms, equipment and weapons. Media, video games, authors, commentators and internet commandos who may never have seen, held or experienced the actual object being discussed have an impact on our views rightfully or wrongfully so.
It's worth while to go back and examine primary source documentation written during the war - as well as veterans testimonies - both from the war as well as from recent reunions and interviews. Mr Noble has gathered a grouping of veterans testimonies - of men who were there and actually USED the bazooka in anger - to argue the point that the 2.36 inch bazookas were not the anemic pea shooter that they are often portrayed as in contemporary literature, commentaries and media.
While not directly about the Tiger tank as focused on in this article, the 100th Division Association has a digitized copy of a report prepared from testing performed on a Panther tank on the effectiveness of the bazooka. The report can be found at http://www.100thww2.org/
Of note is the fact that the findings fly in the face of most reenactor lore of "shoot it in the roadwheels or tracks to immobilize it". The report clearly indicates that you are likely to score a kill by hitting it anwhere on the side armor or sides of the turret, or in the engine compartment. Attacking directly from the front or the roadwheels / tracks is a futlile effort.
It is noteworthy to point out the accuracy of veterans testimonies. While they are far more credible than modern internet commando commentaries - they should be taken with a grain of salt.
Sgt. Horvath and Capt. Miller put bazookas to good use in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan. They were seen making shots against them in the battle for Ramelle. Band of Brothers saw them used again in numerous battle scenes. Ever since the war, bazookas have had a stigma stuck to them that they are useless. People say they are only good for halftracks, light tanks, or pillboxes, and that the “invincible” Tiger is out of its league. Reenactors seem to believe this is true too. Those with tanks and halftracks like to think they are immune to the threat the bazookas pose on our made-up battlefields. However, the facts don’t lie. While Tigers might have been a rolling pillbox, it did have its weak points.
I know for a fact that the bazooka could and would defeat the Tiger on a number of occasions, through veteran interviews, AARs, pictures (taking the captions for what they are worth..) and other write-ups. It was not 100%, but it did happen. There’s a number of places that if a shot could be placed you would either get a mobility kill or knock it out completely.
Bazookamen learned early on that their launcher was not a standoff kind of weapon; it was to be used close in, "whites of their eyes” kind of thing. The engine is the most susceptible place for a shot; white-hot plasma makes a mess of an engine block rather quickly. Vision ports were always weak points as well, albeit a small target. Hatches are also very thin, but you had to be in a good position and have good aim to take that shot. Below are a number of instances where bazookas were used to effectively destroy Tigers.
One Shot One Kill:
“Several of our guys worked their way around the area in spite of the German infantry and knocked the “TIGER” out with one round from their bazooka!” Ben Rouse, 506th PIR
“As Patton’s men advanced, the troops in surrounded Bastogne fought desperately. In one instance, an NCO paratrooper walked out into the blinding fog until he found a German tank with his hands. He then backed away, dropped on one knee and fired a bazooka round into its side, destroying it. He then repeated the process on two more tanks.”
"The lead Tiger tank was hit by a bazooka and brought to a halt.." Probably by Sgt. Jim Hill or Pvt. Lester Bornstein (168th Engineers in/near St.Vith).
"FeldWebel Reinhold Schalbs in Jadgtiger 123 - 250 meters away (there were 3 Jadgtigers present supporting an attack by 17th SS PG) states that Unteroffizer Fritz Jaskiela's Jadgtiger No 134 was hit on the right side by a bazooka resulting in an ammunition explosion." *yes, a Jadgtiger*
If the bazooka didn't take out the tank, they usually drove it off. The tankers knew their tanks were delicate in some aspects, and the less damage they took, the better.
“He limped to a drainage ditch, where he found an American soldier with a bazooka but with no one to load it for him. The two men, working together, began firing at the German tanks, stalking them through the orchard until they withdrew.” Sgt. John Hawk, 359th Infantry, 90th ID
"One of our bazooka men sneaked forward and placed one rocket, luckily, where it disabled the port track, the tank slid off into the ditch" Don Burgett writes when speaking about an engagement with one in Holland.
“After dark the men tried again with more success. One tank was set afire and bazookas scored five hits on a Tiger tank…” 3rd ID in Anzio
"...we kept passing rockets forward to him by passing them from man to man forward. The fourteenth rocket (I counted them) the tank exploded, the tank commander was blown out of the hatch about 40 feet into the air." - Don Burgett
"Holland then grabbed a bazooka, and after discovering how to take the safety off fired two rounds at the tank before setting it afire with his third and last round. " (Lt.Bill Holland, CO of Baker Co 168th Engineers).
In T/Sgt Charles Carey's Medal of Honor citation it talks of a tank he knocked out with a bazooka, a Tiger.
“During the battle for the Falaise Gap on 17 August 1944, the 2nd Battalion was held up by a German Tiger tank concealed in a barn. The tank rolled out frequently to fire its 88mm gun with devastating effects. Schulz, again in command of the battalion and having lost the heavy weapons commander, led a rocket launcher team into close proximity of the barn to get an effective shot from the bazooka. The untrained gunner was unsure of himself, and Schulz seized the exposed tank and destroyed it” Major. Robert Schulz, 358th Infantry, 90th Division (he also led a bayonet charge)
“Sgt. Barfoot took up an exposed position directly in front of 3 advancing Mark VI tanks. From a distance of 75 yards his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank effectively disabling it, while the other 2 changed direction toward the flank” Sgt Barfoot, 45th ID
"On the evening of April 3rd, 1945 John Dolan of the 80th Infantry stopped two Tiger tanks alone with a bazooka."
"Pvt. Francis Currey, carrying a load of anti-tank rockets, saw Lt. Albert Snyder knock out one tank with a bazooka, and then apparently went totally berserk. Currey grabbed Snyder’s weapon and knocked out three more Panzers by himself, then fired the rest of his rockets at their accompanying infantry, killing several and driving off the rest in blind panic."
Dumb Luck or Supreme Skill:
“At 0700, the Germans began shelling Hotton, and German tanks pushed past a small 3d Armored Division force on the far side of the river. As a Tiger tank approached the bridge, Private Ishmael engaged it with his .37-mm. gun and Sergeant Kenneth Kelly attacked it with a bazooka. One .37-mm. round wedged between the turret and the hull, and as the smoke cleared, the 51st saw the German crew abandoning the tank.” 51st engineers
Page 76 in All American, all the way points this out as well when talking about a bazooka gunner jamming one of the attacking Tiger's turret, knocked another tanks tracks off, while the 3rd tank withdrew.
On Jan. 18th, 1945 men of the 82nd Airborne reconnaissance platoon decided to have some fun testing the so-called invincibility of the King Tiger. The lane was a ready-made shooting gallery; the weapons chosen for the competition were the bazooka vs. the Panzerschreck. The armor on the glacis of the Tiger II is 150mm- just about six inches. Both weapons only penetrated to a depth of four inches although this was sufficient to pass through the 80mm armor plate on the side of the turret. Yes, a King Tiger*
While these do not represent every occasion when the bazooka was successful in stopping Hitler’s behemoth tanks, it does give a good idea that the bazooka wasn’t a spitball shooter when it came to tank busting. The bazooka did its job and did its job well. For a man portable infantry anti-tank weapon - it was potent for its size and weight. For the role it was designed to fill, it was a capable and effective weapon that provided infantrymen an equalizer against Hitler's panzers. World War 2 was not a videogame with the certainty of a kill with every hit - while one shot one kill happened - it was not the absolute with any of the infantry anti tank weapons of the war.
90th IDPG Articles