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Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank
PIAT cropped.jpg
Type Anti-tank weapon
Place of origin  United Kingdom
Service history
In service 1942–1950
Used by British Empire & Commonwealth
Wars Second World War
Production history
Designer Major Millis Jefferis
Designed 1942
Manufacturer Imperial Chemical Industries Ltd., various others.
Produced August 1942 [1]
No. built 115,000 [2]
Specifications
Weight 32 pounds (15 kg) [2]
Length 39 inches (0.99 m) [2]

Muzzle velocity 250 feet per second (76 m/s) [2]
Effective firing range 115 yards (110 m)[3]
Maximum firing range 350 yards (320 m)[3]
Sights aperture sight
Filling Hollow Charge[4]
Filling weight 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg) [2]
Detonation
mechanism
Impact

The Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank (PIAT) was a British anti-tank weapon developed during the Second World War. The PIAT was designed in response to the British Army's need for a more effective hand-held infantry anti-tank weapon. It consisted of a steel tube, a trigger mechanism and firing spring, and was based on the spigot mortar system; instead of using a propellant to directly fire a round, the spring was cocked and tightened. When the trigger was pulled, it released the spring which pushed the spigot forward into the rear of the bomb. This detonated the propellant in the bomb itself, which was then thrown forward off the spigot. It possessed an effective range of approximately 115 yards (110 m)[3] in a direct fire anti-tank role, and 350 yards (320 m)[3] in an indirect fire 'house-breaking' role.

This system meant that the PIAT had several advantages, which included a lack of muzzle smoke to reveal the position of the user, the ability to fire it from inside buildings, and an inexpensive barrel; however, this was countered by, amongst other things, a difficulty in cocking the weapon, the bruising the user received when firing it, and problems with its penetrative power. The PIAT entered service in 1943, and was first used during the Allied invasion of Sicily that year; it remained in use with British and Commonwealth forces until the early 1950s, when it was replaced by the American bazooka. A large number of PIATs were supplied to the Soviet Union through Lend Lease, and it was also used by the French resistance and the Polish Underground. The Israeli Haganah used PIATs during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. Six members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces received Victoria Crosses whilst using the PIAT in combat.

Development[edit]

At the beginning of the Second World War, the British Army possessed two primary anti-tank weapons for its infantry — the Boys anti-tank rifle[5] and the No. 68 AT Rifle Grenade.[2] However, neither of these were particularly effective as anti-tank weapons. The No. 68 anti-tank grenade was designed to be fired from a discharger fitted onto the muzzle of an infantryman's rifle, but this meant that the grenade was too light to deal significant damage, resulting in it rarely being used in action.[6] The Boys was also inadequate in the anti-tank role. It was heavy, which meant that it was difficult for infantry to handle effectively, and was outdated; by 1940 it was only effective at short ranges, and then only against armoured cars and light tanks. In November 1941 during Operation Crusader, part of the North African Campaign, staff officers of the British Eighth Army were unable to find even a single example of the Boys knocking out a German tank.[7]

Due to these limitations, a new infantry anti-tank weapon was required, and this ultimately came in the form of the Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank abbreviated to PIAT. The origins of the PIAT can be traced back as far as 1888, when an American engineer by the name of Charles Edward Munroe was experimenting with guncotton; he discovered that the explosive would yield a great deal more damage if there were a recess in it facing the target. Known as the 'Munroe effect', this was developed upon further by the German scientist Egon Neumann, who found that lining the recess with metal enhanced the damage dealt even more.[2] By the 1930s Henry Mohaupt, a Swiss engineer, had developed this technology even further and created hollow charge ammunition. This consisted of a recessed metal cone placed into an explosive warhead; when the warhead hit its target, the explosive detonated and turned the metal into a high-speed molten plug. The speed, and the immense pressure the explosion caused, allowed the plug to create a small hole in armour plating and send a large pressure wave and large amounts of fragments into the interior of the target. It was this technology that was utilized in the No. 68 anti-tank grenade.[2]

PIAT and ammunition case at the Canadian War Museum

Although the technology existed, it remained for British designers to develop a system that could deliver hollow-charge ammunition in a larger size and with a greater range than that possessed by the No. 68. At the same time that Mohaupt was developing hollow-charge ammunition, Lieutenant Colonel Stewart Blacker of the Royal Artillery was investigating the possibility of developing a lightweight platoon mortar.[8] However, rather than using the conventional system of firing the mortar shell from a barrel fixed to a baseplate, Blacker wanted to use the spigot mortar system. Instead of a barrel, there was a steel rod known as a 'spigot' fixed to a baseplate, and the bomb itself had a propellant charge inside its tail. When the mortar was to be fired, the bomb was pushed down onto the spigot, which exploded the propellant charge and blew the bomb into the air.[8] By effectively putting the barrel on the inside of the weapon, the barrel diameter was no longer a limitation on the warhead size.[9] Blacker eventually designed a lightweight mortar that he named the 'Arbalest' and submitted it to the War Office, but it was turned down in favour of a Spanish design. Undeterred, however, Blacker continued with his experiments and decided to try and invent a hand-held anti-tank weapon based on the spigot design, but found that the spigot could not generate sufficient velocity needed to penetrate armour. But he did not abandon the design, and eventually come up with the Blacker Bombard, a swivelling spigot-style system that could launch a 20-pound (9 kg) bomb approximately 100 yards (90 m); although the bombs it fired could not actually penetrate armour, they could still severely damage tanks, and in 1940 a large number of Blacker Bombards were issued to the Home Guard as anti-tank weapons.[10]

PIAT in use by Canadian airborne troops.

When Blacker became aware of the existence of hollow-charge ammunition, he realized that it was exactly the kind of ammunition he was looking for to develop a hand-held anti-tank weapon, as it depended upon the energy contained within itself, and not the sheer velocity at which it was fired.[11] Blacker then developed a hollow-charge bomb with a propellant charge in its tail, which fitted into a shoulder-fired launcher that consisted of a metal casing containing a large spring and a spigot; the bomb was placed into a trough at the front of the casing, and when the trigger was pulled the spigot rammed into the tail of the bomb and fired it out of the casing and up to approximately 140 metres (150 yd) away. Blacker called the weapon the 'Baby Bombard', and presented it to the War Office in 1941.[11] However, when the weapon was tested it proved to have a host of problems; a War Office report of June 1941 stated that the casing was flimsy and the spigot itself did not always fire when the trigger was pulled, and none of the bombs provided exploded upon contact with the target.[12]

At the time that he developed the Baby Bombard and sent it off the War Office, Blacker was working for a government department known as MD1, which was tasked with developing and delivering weapons for use by guerilla and resistance groups in Occupied Europe.[1] Shortly after the trial of the Baby Bombard, Blacker was posted to other duties, and left the anti-tank weapon in the hands of a colleague in the department, Major Millis Jefferis.[1] Jefferis took the prototype Baby Bombard apart on the floor of his office in MD1 and rebuilt it, and then combined it with a hollow-charge mortar bomb to create what he called the 'Jefferis Shoulder Gun'. Jefferis then had a small number of prototype armour-piercing HEAT rounds made, and took the weapon to be tested at the Small Arms School at Bisley.[13] A Warrant Officer took the Shoulder Gun down to a firing range, aimed it at an armoured target, and pulled the trigger; the Shoulder Gun pierced a hole in the target, but unfortunately also wounded the Warrant Officer when a piece of metal from the exploding round flew back and hit him.[14] Jefferis himself then took the place of the Warrant Officer and fired off several more rounds, all of which pierced the armoured target and failed to wound him. Impressed with the weapon, the Ordnance Board of the Small Arms School had the faults with the ammunition corrected, renamed the Shoulder Gun as the Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank, and ordered that it be issued to infantry units as a hand-held anti-tank weapon.[15] Production of the PIAT began at the end of August 1942.[1] For his part Blacker received £25,000 from the Inventions Board.[9]

Design[edit]

PIAT HEAT Projectile.

The PIAT was 39 inches (0.99 m) long and weighed 32 pounds (15 kg), with an effective direct fire range of approximately 115 yards (110 m) and a maximum indirect fire range of 350 yards (320 m).[3] It was carried and used by a two-man team.[16] The PIAT launcher was a tube constructed out of thin sheets of steel, and contained the trigger mechanism and firing spring. At the front of the launcher was a small trough in which the bomb was placed, and the spigot ran down the middle of the launcher and into the trough.[6] Padding for the user's shoulder was fitted to the other end of the launcher, and rudimentary aperture sights were fitted on top for aiming; the bombs launched by the PIAT possessed hollowed-out tails, into which a small propellant cartridge was inserted, and hollow-charge warheads.[6]

To fire the weapon the trigger mechanism, which was essentially just a large spring, had to be cocked, and to do this was an extremely difficult process. The user had to first place the PIAT on its butt, then place two feet on the shoulder padding and turn the weapon to unlock the body and simultaneously lock the firing pin to the butt; the user would then have to bend over and pull the body of the weapon upwards, thereby pulling the spring back until it attached to the trigger and cocking the weapon. Once this was achieved, the body was then lowered and turned to reattach it to the rest of the weapon, and the PIAT could then be fired.[17] Users of a small stature often found this difficult to achieve, as they did not have the sufficient height required to pull the body up far enough to cock the weapon; it was also difficult to do when lying in a prone position, as was often the case when using the weapon in action.[18]

When the trigger was pulled, the spring pushed the firing pin forwards into the bomb, which ignited the propellant in the bomb and launched it out of the trough and into the air. The recoil caused by the detonation of the propellant then blew the firing pin backwards onto the spring; this automatically cocked the weapon so it could be fired again but did have the unfortunate effect of giving the user severe bruises on his shoulder.[6][17]

An Australian PIAT team during the Battle of Balikpapan in 1945

Training for using the PIAT emphasized that it was best utilized from a slit trench with surprise and concealment on the side of the PIAT team, and where possible the flanks or rear of enemy armour were to be targeted.[19] It was possible to use the PIAT as a crude mortar by placing the shoulder pad of the weapon on the ground and supporting it with a monopod, giving the weapon an approximate range of 300 yards (270 m).[6] The PIAT was often also used in combat to knock out enemy positions located in houses and bunkers.[19]

Despite the difficulties in cocking and firing the weapon, it did have several advantages; its barrel did not have to be replaced or require high-grade materials that were expensive to produce, there was little muzzle blast that could give the users position away, and the size of the barrel meant it could accommodate relatively large calibre munitions.[6] However, the weapon did have drawbacks. It was very heavy and bulky, which meant that it was quite unpopular with the British and Commonwealth troops who were issued with it.[16] There were also problems with its penetrative power; although the PIAT was theoretically able to penetrate approximately 100 millimetres (4 in) of armour, field experience during the Allied invasion of Sicily, which was substantiated by trials conducted during 1944, confirmed otherwise. During these trials, a skilled user was unable to hit a target more than 60% of the time at 100 yards (90 m), and faulty fuses meant that only 75% of the bombs fired detonated on-target.[7]

An analysis by British staff officers of the initial period of the Normandy campaign found that 7% of all German tanks destroyed by British forces were knocked out by PIATs, compared to 6% by rockets fired by aircraft. However, they also found that once German tanks had been fitted with armoured skirts that detonated hollow-charge ammunition before it could penetrate the tank's armour, the weapon became much less effective.[7]

Operational history[edit]

Warsaw Uprising combatants display PIAT anti-tank weapons.

The PIAT entered service with British and Commonwealth units in mid-1943, and was first used in action by Canadian troops during the Allied invasion of Sicily.[14] The 1944 war establishment for a British platoon, which contained 36 men, had a single PIAT attached to the platoon headquarters, alongside a 2-inch (51 mm) mortar detachment.[20] Three PIATs were issued to every company, which allowed one weapon for each platoon.[19] British Army and Royal Marines commandos were also issued with PIATs and used them in action.[21] The Australian Army allocated a PIAT (which was also known as Projector Infantry Tank Attack in Australian service) to each infantry platoon in its 'jungle divisions', which differed from the standard British organisation, from late 1943.[22]

The PIAT was used in all theatres in which British and Commonwealth troops served, and remained in service until the early 1950s, when it was replaced by the American bazooka.[14] The Australian Army briefly used PIATs at the start of the Korean War alongside 2.36-inch (60 mm) bazookas, but quickly replaced both weapons with 3.5-inch (89 mm) M20 "Super Bazookas".[23] As part of the Lend Lease agreement, between October 1941 and March 1946 the Soviet Union was supplied with 1,000 PIATs and 100,000 rounds of ammunition.[24] The PIAT was also utilized by resistance groups in Occupied Europe. During the Warsaw Uprising, it was one of many weapons that Polish Underground resistance fighters used against German forces.[25] And in occupied France, the French resistance used the PIAT in the absence of mortars or artillery.[26] After the end of the Second World War, the Israeli Haganah used PIATs against Arab armour during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence.[27]

Six members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces received the Victoria Cross while using the PIAT in combat.[28] On 16 May 1944, Fusilier Francis Arthur Jefferson used a PIAT to destroy a Panzer IV tank and thereby repel a German counterattack launched against his unit as it assaulted a section of the Gustav Line.[29] During the initial Normandy Landings on 6 June 1944, Company Sergeant Major Stanley Elton Hollis used a PIAT in an attack against a German field gun.[30] The third VC was awarded to Rifleman Ganju Lama, who on 12 June 1944 used a PIAT to knock out several Japanese tanks that were preventing his unit from advancing in an area of Burma.[31] During the Battle of Arnhem, between 19–25 September 1944, Major Robert Henry Cain used a PIAT to disable a Tiger tank advancing on his company positions, and to force another three German Panzer IV tanks to retreat during a later assault.[32] The fifth VC winner, Private Ernest Alvia ("Smokey") Smith, used a PIAT on the night of 21 October 1944 to destroy a German tank and help repel a German attack against his unit as it secured a beachhead on the Savio River.[33] Finally, in Italy on 9 December 1944, Captain John Henry Cound Brunt utilized a PIAT, amongst other weapons, to help repulse an attack by the German 90th Panzergrenadier Division against his unit.[34]

Users[edit]

Some of the users of the PIAT included:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Hogg, p. 44
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Khan, p. 2
  3. ^ a b c d e The War Office, Army Council, Small Arms Training P.I.A.T. June 1943, page 1
  4. ^ French, p. 89
  5. ^ Khan, p. 1
  6. ^ a b c d e f Weeks, p. 84
  7. ^ a b c French, pp. 88–89
  8. ^ a b Hogg, p. 42
  9. ^ a b Macrae, Stuart (2004). revised, ed. "Blacker, (Latham Valentine) Stewart (1887–1964)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31907. Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  10. ^ Hogg, pp. 42–43
  11. ^ a b Hogg, p. 43
  12. ^ Hogg, pp. 43–44
  13. ^ Khan, pp. 2–3
  14. ^ a b c d e Khan, pp. 2-3
  15. ^ Khan, p. 4
  16. ^ a b Bishop, p. 211
  17. ^ a b Hogg, p. 45
  18. ^ Hogg, pp. 45–46
  19. ^ a b c Bull, p. 42
  20. ^ Neillands, p. 214
  21. ^ Moreman, p. 47
  22. ^ a b Kuring, p. 173
  23. ^ Kuring, p. 245
  24. ^ a b "Russia (British Empire war assistance)—House of Commons debate, 16 April 1946 vol 421 cc2513-9". Hansard. 16 April 1946. Retrieved 27 April 2009. 
  25. ^ a b Bruce, p. 145
  26. ^ a b Crowdy, p. 63
  27. ^ a b Laffin, p. 30
  28. ^ Khan, p. 3
  29. ^ "No. 36605". The London Gazette (invalid |supp= (help)). 11 July 1944. 
  30. ^ "No. 36658". The London Gazette (invalid |supp= (help)). 15 August 1944. 
  31. ^ "No. 36690". The London Gazette (invalid |supp= (help)). 7 September 1944. 
  32. ^ "No. 36774". The London Gazette (invalid |supp= (help)). 31 October 1944. 
  33. ^ "No. 36849". The London Gazette (invalid |supp= (help)). 19 December 1944. 
  34. ^ "No. 36928". The London Gazette (invalid |supp= (help)). 6 February 1945. 
  35. ^ Phillips, p. 34

Bibliography[edit]

  • Bishop, Chris (2002). The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II: The Comprehensive Guide to Over 1,500 Weapons Systems, Including Tanks, Small Arms, Warplanes, Artillery, Ships and Submarines. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. ISBN 1586637622. 
  • Bruce, George (1972). Warsaw Uprising. Harper Collins. ISBN 0246105267. 
  • Bull, Stephen (2004). World War II Infantry Tactics. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1841766631.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • Copp, Terry (2004). Fields of Fire: The Canadians in Normandy. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802037801. 
  • Crowdy, Terry (2007). French Resistance Fighter: France's Secret Army. Osprey. ISBN 1846030765.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • French, David (2001) [2000]. Raising Churchill's Army: The British Army and the War against Germany 1919-1945. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-019924-630-4. 
  • Hogg, Ian (1995). Tank Killers: Anti-Tank Warfare by Men and Machines. Pan Macmillan. ISBN 0330353160. 
  • Kuring, Ian (2004). Red Coats to Cams. A History of Australian Infantry 1788 to 2001. Sydney: Australian Military History Publications. ISBN 1876439998. 
  • Khan, Mark (2009). "The PIAT". Britain at War. April 2009 (24).  Unknown parameter |month= ignored (help);
  • Laffin, John (1982). The Israeli Army in the Middle East Wars 1948-73. Osprey. ISBN 0850454506.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • Moreman, Tim (2006). British Commandos 1940 – 1946. Battle Orders. Dr Duncan Anderson (consultant editor). Botley: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 184176986X. 
  • Neillands, Robin (2002). The Battle of Normandy 1944. Cassell. ISBN 030435837 Check |isbn= value: length (help). 
  • Rottman, Gordon L. (2005). World War II Infantry Anti-Tank Tactics. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1841768421.  Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (|author= suggested) (help)
  • Phillips, Neville Crompton (1957). Italy Volume I: The Sangro to Cassino. The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945. Wellington: Historical Publications Branch. 
  • Weeks, John (1975). Men Against Tanks: A History of Anti-Tank Warfare. David & Charles. ISBN 0715369091. 

External links[edit]

Category:Anti-tank weapons Category:World War II British infantry weapons Category:World War II mortars Category:Spigot mortars Category:Military equipment of the British Empire