The SS Anti-Tank Rifle M.SS.41
ABOVE: Soldiers of the Waffen-SS equipped with an early PzB 38 during exercises.
After the annexation of the Sudetenland and the destruction of Czechoslovakia as a result of the Munich Agreement of 1938, the entire local arms industry came under German influence, including well-known companies like Škoda. The Czechs were very advanced in weapons engineering, rich in experience and know-how and possessed modern factories. Even the conglomerate Ceskoslovenská Zbrojovka A.S. Brno (Czechoslovakian Arms Factory A.S. Brno) was placed under German administration. The then trademark “Z in the rifled barrel” has been retained and is still used even today.
From 1938 to 1945, the conglomerate operated under the names Waffenwerke Brünn I (Brno) and II (Bystrica) and was affiliated with the Reichswerke Hermann Göring, an industrial conglomerate of Nazi Germany. The main products were military equipment for the Wehrmacht (German Army) and Waffen-SS. Not only were German weapons like the Karabiner 98k made, but also Czech pre-war developments under a new designation. For example, the vz. 24 rifle as Gewehr 24(t), the ZB vz. 26 as MG 26(t) and the ZB vz. 37 as MG 37(t). The (t) in the German name stands for tschechisch (Czech).
Most of these weapons were made directly for the Waffen-SS. This organization quickly succeeded in gaining full control of the weapon works in Brno. Since the Wehrmacht was preferably equipped and supplied, the leadership of the SS had to look for suitable opportunities for self-sufficiency and found it in Brno. The development department of the Waffenwerke worked from then on as a part of the SS-Waffenakademie Brünn (SS-Weapons Academy Brno) on the implementation of many innovative ideas, which would not have been possible through the official channels with involvement of the Heereswaffenamt (Army Ordnance Office) because of the intense rivalries between the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS.
One of the Brno-made weapons for the Waffen-SS was the anti-tank rifle Panzerbüchse (PzB) M.SS.41 in 7.92mm. It was originally based on a Czech pre-war development. In the year 1937, the Czech War Ministry requested the development of three anti-tank rifles in calibers 7.92, 13 and 15mm. One year later, the weapon was ready for trials in 7.92x145mm. It got the designation ZK 382. Its weight was 10.5 kg including a 5-round magazine. The War Ministry showed great interest and announced a demand of 10,000 pieces to Ceskoslovenská Zbrojovka.
No actual order was placed before the German Army occupied the country. Now under German management, the design was adapted for the Patrone 318 (7.92x94mm) as this ammunition was already in use with the anti-tank rifles introduced by the Wehrmacht. The bullet had a steel core, a tiny capsule of tear gas and a tracer. Later in the war, it was produced with a hardened steel core for better armor penetration. On December 16, 1939, the SS-Führungshauptamt (SS-Main Office) placed an order at the Waffenwerke Brno for 117 anti-tank rifles in caliber 15mm and 2,000 units in caliber 7.9mm. By January 1941, the first thousand weapons were completed and extensive shooting tests with the weapon Nr.1001 were carried out. It resulted in no necessary changes in the actual design. The finished weapons were shipped in lots of 150 pieces along with accessories to the SS-Main Office in Oranienburg.
The anti-tank rifles of the Wehrmacht (models PzB 38 and 39) were long and unwieldy single-shot weapons with falling-block action. After each shot, a new cartridge had to be loaded. This caused not only a waste of valuable time, but the shooter had to move the gun and thus lost sight of the target. Against the advanced tanks with heavier armor, the anti-tank rifles had little potential. Promising hits were only possible at sensitive areas, such as observation slits or motor and drive mechanisms. In contrast, the PzB M.SS.41 was a manually operated bolt action rifle with magazine feeding. The shooter could therefore keep the target in sight and fire up to six rounds before a magazine had to be changed.
The unauthorized development of PzB M.SS.41 by the Waffen-SS caused some irritation when the Allgemeines Heeresamt “AHA” (General Army Office) got wind of the plan. The SS Central Arsenal had placed an order of 200,000 cartridges for anti-tank rifles on June 10, 1941, from which the AHA logically concluded that the SS had begun the development of its own anti-tank rifle. The reply came promptly that both AHA and Chief H.Rüst.u.B.d.E. were taking a “negative position.” The SS, however, was not to be deterred from their plans. In October 1941, an inquiry was addressed to the company Gustav Appel for manufacturing of 3 or 4 barrels from unalloyed steel using the newly developed hammering method (this should extend the service life of the barrel bore). When the AHA heard about this, the SS Central Arsenal immediately got a negative notification: The company Appel is a development company of the Heereswaffenamt and already operating at full capacity. Thus, the Waffen-SS had to continue the production of its anti-tank rifle barrels from expensive alloy steel.
The PzB M.SS.41 is an extremely unusual construction for its time. It is in fact the first bullpup weapon ever officially introduced in an army. Placing action and magazine behind the trigger group permits a shorter overall weapon length. The bullpup design is widely used today because such weapons are relatively easy to use. One of the best known current representatives is the Austrian assault rifle STEYR AUG. The PzB M.SS.41 is short too. It measures only 128cm (50.4”), 34cm (13.4”) less than the model 38 anti-tank rifle.
Usually when reloading a weapon the bolt is moved back and forth while the barrel remains stationary. With the PzB M.SS.41 it is exactly the opposite and the reloading procedure is as follows: The shooter grabs the pistol grip, which is attached to the barrel, with his right hand and rotates it about 80 degrees up right. Now the barrel is unlocked and can be pushed forward. The spent cartridge case drops out of the gun. While pulling back the barrel, it picks up a new cartridge from the box magazine, which is attached to the stationary stock. In the rear position, the handle pivots back down and so again connects barrel and receiver. When the magazine is empty, the action is kept open by the protrusion of the magazine follower which stops the rearward movement of the barrel housing.
The applied safety is operated by pulling the barrel housing lock extension 1/2 inch to the rear, so that its rear alignment mark is aligned with the mark “S” (Sicher/Safe) on the barrel housing lock. Moving the barrel housing extension forward to its alignment with the “F” (Feuer/Fire) mark brings the gun to its fire position. When the action is in the safe position, the trigger cannot be pulled, nor can the action be opened. The mechanical safety device is a disconnector. If the trigger is pulled while the action is not entirely closed, the gun will not fire. Also, keeping the trigger depressed while completing the closing of the action will not permit the gun to fire. It is necessary to release the trigger and pull it again in order to release the sear.
The non-adjustable iron sights were zeroed for 500 meters and mounted on folding bases. To reduce the recoil, a muzzle brake was attached to the barrel and the stock got a padded leather cushion. The weapon is furnished with a bipod which folds and hinges forward for convenience in carrying. The bipod is attached to the front of the receiver jacket by inserting the bipod collar in a half-round slot and is fastened in place by a plunger-type catch. Most bipods are similar to the ones used on Czech machine gun models, but also the bipod of the MG 34 could be used. The barrel is fitted with a knob for retaining this type of bipod in carrying position. A leather strap is attached to the top of the barrel group, serving as a carrying handle. The carrying sling is attached to the right side of the weapon.
Even if the PzB M.SS.41 shows some advantages over the Wehrmacht anti-tank rifles, it could not stop the downfall of this type of weapon. The bullet could penetrate 30mm of armor from a distance of 100 meters resp. 20mm on a distance of 300meters (both at an angle of 90°). There was little chance to fight the heavy armored tanks that appeared on the battlefields later in the war. In August 1942, the production of the Patrone 318 ceased after a delivery of 93 million rounds. In February 1943, the Waffenwerke informed the SS Ordnance Office that the last remaining delivery of 58 pieces would be delayed until March. After that date, the production was cancelled. The future undoubtedly belonged to the rocket-propelled anti-tank weapons – a new type of weapon, on which the engineers of the SS-Waffenakademie Brno was already busy tinkering.
Length overall: 1339mm (52.72 inches)
Length of barrel: 1100mm (43.30 inches)
Weight: (empty) 13kg (28.7 lbs)
Rifling: 4 grooves, right hand twist
Magazine capacity: 6 rounds
Weight of cartridge: 84 gr
Vo: 1,079 m/s
(Collection Dr. Geoffrey Sturgess, Switzerland)