The enormous scale of tank warfare during World War II consequently lead to creating counter-measures. The armor of early tanks was relatively thin. However, that changed after 1942. Thus, anti-tank weapons had to adapt, especially their armor penetration characteristics. In a close combat situation, without air or tank support, infantry was vulnerable and consequently pushed onto the defensive. Arming soldiers with a weapon capable of disabling enemy armor became essential.
Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941. Early successes for either side were achieved only by taking heavy losses. The battle of endurance was ultimately won by Soviets in early 1943 when the Germans were encircled at Stalingrad. A few months later, the Battle of Kursk sealed the fate of the German offensive operations on the Eastern Front.
The Wehrmacht desperately needed more tanks, but the speed of their production couldn’t be increased, especially under the constant bombing by Allied aircraft. German engineers had designed a prototype Faustpatrone in 1942, which led to the development of the Panzerfaust. Tests proved that the weapon was reliable and achieved excellent ballistic results.
The first delivery of Panzerfausts 30 (first model) occurred in mid-1943 on the Eastern Front and they quickly earned a reputation among German troops. The weapon was cheap, simple in design, easy to use and most important, effective. It was to be used by a single soldier, which meant that Soviet tank crews could be hit by it from anywhere within a range of just over 30 yards. With a penetration capability of 0.75 inches, it was deadly in the hands of a skilled soldier.
The Panzerfaust 30 was good but that didn’t stop German military minds from upgrading it. Soon, the Panzerfaust 60 entered service, doubling the range. The range was still an issue so the next variant, the Panzerfaust 100, increased it to over 100 yards. The final Panzerfaust, designated “150”, had both the range and its armor piercing capability improved, with the range increased to 165 yards and armor penetration performance to 1.2 inches. A “250” version was also planned. However, none were produced before the end of the war.
From 1943 until the capitulation of Nazi Germany in May 1945, around 7 million Panzerfausts of all variants were produced. Except for the last “150” version, it was a single-use weapon. Its simplicity of use became handy in late 1944 when Adolf Hitler ordered that every male between 16-60 years old should be armed.
A short training session, or even just a simple display, was all that was required to teach the Volkssturm members how to utilize the weapon – and time was of the essence.
The reputation of the Panzerfaust reached beyond the borders of the Third Reich and was commonly used on other fronts in Europe. The Finns especially made impressive use of it while fighting against the Soviets and later their former allies, the Germans. Without a doubt, the Panzerfaust was one of the most effective weapons of the entire war, from which Russian RPGs were developed after the war.