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Soviet Anti-Tank Rifles

Written by Валерий Потапов
Published on Friday, 25 September 2009 17:12
Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 18:43

The Red Army employed only two antitank rifles during the Great Patriotic War: the Degtyarev single-shot (PTRD) and the Simonov 5-shot (PTRS). All mentions about other types of production AT rifles either false or refer to lend-lease equipment. Work had been conducted on several rifles before the war, including the Rukavishnikov rifle and Kurchevskiy 37mm antitank rifle (gun). But neither of these had been adopted for general use before the beginning of the GPW.

With the beginning of the war with Germany, Soviet infantry did not have an antitank weapons because Soviet leadership considered that the Wehrmacht had thick-armored tanks, against which not only the rifle but even the 45-mm antitank gun would be ineffective. However, in the course of combat operations it became clear that the majority of German tanks did not have thick armor and could be defeated even by the armor-piercing bullets of the 12.7-mm DShK machinegun. In connection with this, in July 1941 many designers received the tasking to develop antitank rifles in the shortest possible time. Simultaneously an attempt was made to put into production the 7.92-mm German PzB-39 rifle as a temporary measure. A month later the design bureaus of V. A. Degtyarev and S. G. Simonov presented their own rifles for range testing, designed around the 14.5-mm cartridge. Because neither rifle was substantially better than the other, both were adopted for general use.

The Degtyarev rifle was quite cost-effective to produce. Some 600 rifles were produced in 1941, and 184,000 units in 1942. The production of the PTRD was halted in January 1945.

As a consequence of its more complicated design, the Simonov antitank rifle was not produced in as rapid a manner as the PTRD. Thus, only 77 Simonov rifles had been produced by January 1942, but this figure had risen to 63,308 units by the end of that year. The total number of antitank rifles of both systems produced during the course of the war is now calculated at 400,000 units.

The following tactics of employment of the antitank rifles were employed. In the offensive ATR-crews operated in the combat formations of subunits on tank-dangerous axes and occupied positions forward in the intermediate zones between rifle platoons and on the flanks of companies. Also practiced was a chess-piece positioning of the ATRs across the front and in the depth to a distance of 50–100 metres apart with mutually covered approaches and with broad employment of plunging fire.

According to the recollections of R. Mellenthin, «The impression was created that every infantryman had an antitank rifle or antitank gun. The Russians very cleverly distributed these assets and, it seems, there was not a place that they did not cover.»

The widely held opinion that the appearance of German tanks with thicker armor made antitank rifles obsolete is incorrect. In the first place, light tanks did not suddenly disappear but continued to be employed in combat for some time. And as well, in addition to tanks the Wehrmacht employed a significant number of armored cars and armored personnel carriers. One may also read accounts in which antitank rifles were employed with success against wood-based field fortifications.

Parameter PTRD PTRS «Boyes» ATR1
Calibre, mm 14.5 14.5 13.97
Mass, kg 17.3 20.9 17.4
Length, mm 2000 2108 1626
Muzzle velocity, m/s 1012 1012 900
Effective range, m 600 1500 500
Magazine capacity n/a 5 5
Practical rate of fire (rds/min) 8-10 15 9-10
Round PTRD 300/500 metres PTRS 300/500 metres Boyes 300/500 metres
BS-41 40/? 40/? -
BS-32 35/25 35/25 -
13,92 mm - - ?/16


The same ammunition was used in both rifles:

  • 14.5mm shell with B-30 armor-piercing (AP) projectile;
  • 14.5mm shell with B-32 armor-piercing incendiary projectile (API) with steel core;
  • 14.5mm shell with BS-412 AP projectile with metal-chambered core;
  • 14.5mm shell with MD API tracer projectile;
  • 14.5mm shell with MDZ-33 explosive incendiary projectile.


The first assigned antitank rifles were included in a division after 6 December 19414 (TOE Nos. 04/750-04/769). A company of ATRs was included in the TOE (No. 04/751) of a rifle regiment. This company consisted of a command and control element (7 men) and three platoons of antitank rifles with three squads in each. A platoon consisted of 24 personnel, a horse-drawn wagon, and 9 ATR (three rifles per squad).

The following group of rifle division TOEs was adopted on 18 March 1942 (Nos. 04/200-04/216). In accordance with the new rifle regiment TOE (No. 04/201), the previous ATR company remained with a practically unchanged organization (27 rifles distributed in three platoons of three squads each). But in addition, a ATR company was assigned to each rifle battalion. The battalion ATR companies had two platoons of four squads each, with two rifles in each squad, for a total of 16 ATRs. As a result, each regiment now had 27 rifles plus 16 rifles in each of its three battalions, for a total of 75 ATRs.

The TOE of the antitank battalion (No. 04/767) was changed at the same time. A PTR company consisting of four platoons of three squads each was introduced in this TOE. This provided for a total of 36 rifles and four submachine guns in the company.

Then, on 28 July 1942, TOEs 04/300-04/316 were adopted. No changes were made at the regiment-division level, but in the rifle battalions only a ATR platoon (three squads of three rifles each) remained in place of the ATR company. In addition, a ATR company (12 rifles) was introduced into the TOE of a divisional machine gun battalion. Antitank rifles also appeared in howitzer batteries: 4 rifles, two in each of the battery's two firing platoons.

In December 1943, in accordance with a new TOE (No. 04/569), the ATR company of the divisional antitank battalion now consisted of four platoons with two rifles in each. No changes regarding ATRs were made to later TOEs adopted through December 1944. In addition to the indicated ATR subunits, ATR assets became available in the reserve battalion of rifle divisions.

ATRs had appeared in the TOE of rifle brigades (Nos. 04/7/30-04/7/44) already by October 1941 in the form of ATR companies (four platoons with a total of 12 rifles) subordinated to brigade headquarters. In April 1942 a ATR platoon (8 rifles) was included in each battalion of the brigade. The brigade company was retained. Ski battalions were given ATR platoons (three squads of three rifles each). Antitank battalions of ski brigades had ATR companies of three platoons (9 rifles per platoon).

An ATR platoon was included in the TOE of the machinegun-artillery company of machinegun-artillery battalions of the fortified region. This platoon had two submachine guns and 7 ATRs (two squads, one with three and the other with four ATRs). A cavalry squadron (TOE 06/233 of 6 January 1942) had a ATR platoon (6 rifles, and later 9 submachine-guns).

Motorized rifle companies of motorized rifle battalions of tank brigades (TOEs 10/345-10/352, December 1941) had an ATR squad (three rifles). Later (TOEs 10/500-10/506, December 1943), an ATR company (18 rifles) was established in their place in the motorized submachine-gun battalion of the tank brigade. This ATR company was abolished in April 1944 in connection with the introduction of a fifth person in tank crews.

There were ATR companies in each battalion of motorized rifle and mechanized brigades, in addition to the brigade ATR company of varying organization. It should be noted that different ATR units also had varying organizations. Thus, there were battalions of 72 rifles (three companies of 24 rifles each) and also battalions of 108 rifles (four companies of 27 rifles each).

One can judge regarding the presence of antitank rifles in infantry units by this letter from Comrade Voronov (further Marshall of Artillery) of 4 August 1942:

«From the beginning of this year through 17 July 1942, antitank means of reinforcement of the rifle regiment have consisted on one ATR-1 antitank company.
On 17 July 1942 a decision was made to reinforce the rifle regiment antitank means up to the following number5: killer-antitank subunits consisting of one battalion (3 companies) of antitank rifles and one company of antitank rifles in the regimental antitank reserve.
It was not recommended to dissipate the assigned weapons of the killer-antitank subunits by introducing them into battle as separate platoons on unconnected axes.
In addition, supplementary antitank battalions or separate killer battalions were attached to divisions that stood on main tank-dangerous axes.
At the present time the assignment of antitank assets to companies is not appropriate5.
The commander of a regiment (division) should understand that only the massing of antitank assets on the most critical axes, supplementary reinforced regimental and divisional artillery will permit him to defeat an attack of enemy tanks that are inflicting powerful blows with narrow wedges...»

It should also be noted that antitank rifles were assigned to artillerymen, for example, in place of battalion antitank artillery. Such occurrences were especially frequent in 1941 and even in 1942, that is, at the time when practically all artillery had been lost and the evacuated factories had not yet managed to renew its mass production. Subsequently, the situation was rectified and battalion antitank defense received the type-1937 or type-1942 45-mm cannon.

There were also various views regarding the equipping of a battalion. In many cases PTR companies and reinforced platoons were not included in a battalion by TOE but only temporarily attached to them for reinforcement of defensive capabilities on tank-threatening axes.

By 1943 calculations, a division that was positioned on a main tank-threatening axis had at its disposal in addition to its own artillery either a tank-killer brigade of a combined-arms type (light artillery regiment of 45-mm guns and one reinforced or two conventional ATR battalions), or two reinforced ATR battalions and IPTAD (anti-tank artillery battalion). The quantity of antitank assets permanently attached or attached for reinforcement was changed, depending on the importance of the sector. Sometimes one could encounter a division reinforced only by three ATR companies and two or three «DShK batteries», in addition to the TOE gun artillery regiment.

Depending on the subordination and status of the killer units, in 1943 one could encounter various numbers of rifles in the antitank rifle platoon: 2, 3, or 4. Some ATR company TOEs had a light machine-gun and others a squad of SMG infantry.

In conclusion, I would like to say a few words regarding the Boyes antitank rifle. The Boyes was most actively employed in the USSR from 1942 to 1945. The rifles were employed in all three types, including the 12.7mm (Boyes Browning). Despite the fact that they were inferior to our rifles in armor penetration, they were employed successfully. It was namely the Boyes that came as standard equipment on the «Universal»7, and the Boyes Browning came as standard equipment on some «Scouts». But I have not managed to find statistics on it thus far.


1 The Boyes antitank rifle was a.55 caliber British design developed in the mid-1930s. The 5-round magazine was inserted into the weapon from the top, necessitating off-set of the front and rear sights;

2 The BS-41 projectile was developed and placed in production in 1942 and because of its significant cost was intended for firing only at enemy tank;.

3 The MDZ-3 projectile was developed for antiaircraft guns but also could be employed for antitank rifles;

4 Artillery units were also equipped with antitank rifles in the fall of 1941. Therefore sometimes one encounters «ATR antitank batteries.» Therefore the «core» of the artillery battalion sometimes consisted not of the two-piece 45-mm gun battery, but of a platoon of three or four antitank rifles;

5 Judging by all available information, the decision remained on paper. In accordance with a 28 July 1942 TOE (No. 04/301), only an ATR company remained in the rifle regiment. The total number of ATRs in the division was reduced in view of the fact that ATR companies in the battalions were reformed into platoons, reducing the number of ATRs in the battalion from 16 to 9. Subsequently, antitank rifle battalions were not included in the TOEs of rifle regiments and divisions;

6 Antitank rifles were attached neither to rifle companies nor platoons. During the forming of the first PTR subunits it was instructed «to commit to battle in prepared positions with forces of not less than 10 rifles for a platoon of tanks». In addition, such dissipation of effort was in all cases prohibited.

7 At the request of J. Stalin, Boyes carriers and not Bren carriers were delivered to the USSR.

Translated by: James F. Gebhardt

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