Ampulomet: The Unusual Soviet Anti-Tank Gun That Quickly Fell Into Obscurity

Photo Credit: Lieutenant Janssonille, Finnish Army / SA-kuva archive / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

A number of weapons were developed during the Second World War. Some saw success and widespread use throughout the conflict, such as the M3 Grease Gun and Bren light machine gun. Others, however, left service almost as soon as they were adopted. One of these was the Soviet Ampulomet, an anti-tank gun that wasn’t as practical as the Red Army had hoped it’d be.

Needing to defend against the German invasion

Ampulomet prototype left outside
Photo Credit: Unknown Soviet State Employee / Сергей Резниченко Ампуломёт: универсальная стрелковая система низкой баллистики для ближнего боя пехотных подразделений РККА / Техника и вооружение / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

In June 1941, the Germans launched their invasion of the Soviet Union. Dubbed Operation Barbarossa, the offensive ran until January the following year and featured some of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War. The Red Army ultimately came out victorious over the enemy forces, albeit after suffering over one million casualties. The Germans, on the other hand, endured over 4.4 million casualties, of which more than 566,000 were killed in action (KIA).

While they aimed to beat back the invasion, the Soviet couldn’t be sure they’d succeed, especially in the early days. As such, they immediately got to work on a slew of weapons they could use against the Germans. This resulted in the development of a rather unique anti-tank gun, which fired glass projectiles that shattered upon hitting their target, causing their innards to seep into slots within a vehicle, taking out it and the crew within. This weapon was called the Ampulomet.

Ampulomet specs

Red Army soldier aiming an Ampulomet
Photo Credit: Leyt-sov / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

The Ampulomet was a particularly large weapon, weighing 26 kg and sitting at one meter in length. Given this, it needed three men to effectively operate, with them using a folding, graduated rear sight to aim at targets. It’s primary components were rather simple, consisting of an unrifled tube and a breech mounted on a Y-shaped pedestal, which pivoted on trunnions. This, along with two breech-mounted handles, allowed the anti-tank gun to change the elevation at which the projectile was launched.

The Ampulomet’s 125 mm barrel used a black powder charge to fire its 1.5-kg glass AZh-2 ampules. Sources vary as to what was encased within the shells; it’s said to have either been a napalm-like substance, such as jellied gasoline, or an incendiary mixture containing 80 percent phosphorus and 20 percent sulfur.

Better known as “KS,” it ignited when exposed to air, emitting thick white smoke and flames that would burn at between 1,470 and 1,830 degrees Fahrenheit for up to three minutes. The mixture would seep into the vision slots and engine grill of a tank, igniting fuel and ammunition, and choking those within.

The Ampulomet saw a short service life

Group of Red Army soldiers aiming Ampulomets
Photo Credit: Leyt-sov / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

The Apulomet was introduced into service with the Red Army in 1941. It was used in a limited capacity on both the Eastern Front and during the Continuation War. A number were captured by the Finnish during the latter and subsequently tested. On the Eastern Front, the anti-tank weapon primarily saw action during the Battle of Stalingrad, where dedicated platoons used it to incinerate German dugouts and positions.

Servicemen quickly realized the Ampulomet wasn’t particularly effective against tanks, but did hold its own against stationary targets. It was also used to launch propaganda leaflets into German holdouts.

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By 1942, the Ampulomet had become largely obsolete, and by the end of the year and into early 1943, it had completely been removed from use. In its place, the Soviets equipped themselves with Molotov cocktails and a host of anti-tank weaponry, including rifles, grenades and other guns.

Clare Fitzgerald

Clare Fitzgerald is a Writer and Editor with eight years of experience in the online content sphere. Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from King’s University College at Western University, her portfolio includes coverage of digital media, current affairs, history and true crime.

Among her accomplishments are being the Founder of the true crime blog, Stories of the Unsolved, which garners between 400,000 and 500,000 views annually, and a contributor for John Lordan’s Seriously Mysterious podcast. Prior to its hiatus, she also served as the Head of Content for UK YouTube publication, TenEighty Magazine.

In her spare time, Clare likes to play Pokemon GO and re-watch Heartland over and over (and over) again. She’ll also rave about her three Maltese dogs whenever she gets the chance.

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