The UK initially used tanks in World War I in September 1916. This powerful technology became crucial to combat. This expanding threat prompted the German army to create infantry anti-tank weapons. Mauser Tankgewehr M1918, an anti-tank rifle, was one of their most notable achievements.
The Evolution of a Problem and Its Solutions
In 1916, the German army possessed 7.92x57mm armored rifle cartridges with Spitzgeschoss mit Kern (SMK) projectiles. Initially, this ammunition was effective against the first British tanks. However, as tank technology progressed and tanks became more durable, SMK projectiles lost their effectiveness.
This evolving situation necessitated the development of novel armored vehicle and aircraft countermeasures. The Gewehr-Prüfungskommission (GPK) instituted a program to develop new anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons in October 1917.
The MG 18 Tank und Flieger was envisioned as a machine gun with a large caliber and a commensurate cartridge. However, developing such a complex weapon system would take time, necessitating an expedient solution.
In response, designing a simple, rapidly producible anti-tank weapon was proposed. Despite its inherent limitations, this strategy produced promising outcomes. In November 1917, Mauser was tasked with developing this future weapon, which eventually became known as the Mauser Tankgewehr M1918 or T-Gewehr.
A New Cartridge: The Heart of the Weapon
A powerful armor-piercing ammunition served as the basis for this revolutionary anti-tank gun. Mauser experimented with a wide variety of bullet calibers, from 13 mm to 15 mm. Polte, a master munitions factory in Magdeburg, contributed to the breakthrough. They had created a slightly flanged 92mm cartridge casing to house a regular 13.2mm armor-piercing bullet with a tempered steel core.
The 13.2mm Tank und Flieger (TUF) cartridge could have an initial velocity of 780 m/s and a muzzle energy of 15.9 kJ. When fired at an angle, it could pierce 20mm of homogeneous armor at 0 degrees at 100 meters and 15mm at 300 meters.
Designing the Rifle: A Race Against Time
Mauser based the T-Gewehr on the Gewehr 98 bolt-action rifle, including features from the Gewehr 88 where appropriate to speed up the design process. This method saved considerable effort by avoiding a time-consuming search for technical answers.
The T-Gewehr was a large-caliber rifle with a single barrel, wooden stock, and straightforward action. It was not equipped with a magazine like standard rifles, so ammunition had to be loaded one at a time via an ejection port. Rifles with thicker barrels measuring 960mm (73 caliber) were produced later, while 861mm (65 caliber) barrels were used initially. This modification helped the rifle feel more manageable in the hands.
Inspired by the Gew. 88 and Gew. 98, this bolt has two sets of locking lugs, one at the front and one at the back. Accidental discharge was prevented by a safety lever located in the back. Three holes in the bolt provided a safe outlet for any escaping gases.
Sights effective out to 2000 meters from the Gew. 98 were initially used on the T-Gewehr. The effective engagement range against armored vehicles was reflected in the 100-500 meter marks on the open sights of later models.
Combat Use and Limitations
Anti-tank rifle teams comprised two individuals: the shooter and an assistant. These squads frequently consisted of the most courageous soldiers capable of approaching tanks within 250-300 meters and opening fire. Bags were used to transport ammunition, with the shooter carrying 20 rounds and the assistant carrying additional cartridges.
The T-Gewehr’s primary tactic was to concentrate fire on the crew or vital components of hostile tanks. The 13.2mm TUF bullets could penetrate a vehicle’s armor and cause injury to its internal mechanisms or crew. In addition, debris contributed to the damage caused by armor fractures and displaced rivets.
Using rifles and SMK bullets concurrently increased the likelihood of incapacitating hostile tanks. However, the T-Gewehr’s design lacked recoil-reducing features, causing frequent distress and injury to the shooter.
The T-Gewehr significantly impacted the German defense, but its precise effectiveness against enemy tanks is unknown. However, this compelled the Entente to develop armored vehicles and personnel protection mechanisms.
Legacy and Post-War Fate
The active use of the T-Gewehr was comparatively short-lived, lasting only a few months until the armistice was signed. During this time, some firearms were misplaced or discarded. Nonetheless, substantial quantities remained available to the German army. The Treaty of Versailles’ subsequent prohibition of anti-tank rifles led to the destruction of any residual M1918 rifles.
These surplus firearms made their way to numerous nations. After acquiring thousands, Belgium sold a significant portion to China. The T-Gewehr also piqued the interest of other countries, which led to attempts to refine and replicate its design. This innovative weapon design eventually inspired the creation of comparable anti-tank systems and the evolution of rifle ammunition.
In conclusion, the Mauser Tankgewehr M1918, born out of necessity in response to the emergence of tanks on the battlefield, is a testament to human ingenuity and adaptability during the conflict. Though delicate and physically demanding to operate, it played a vital role in shaping the development of anti-tank weaponry and paved the way for future innovations in military technology.