name=Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank
caption PIAT at the
Canadian War Museum
ICILtd., various others.
weight=31.7 lb (14.4 kg)
length=39 in (990 mm)
velocity= 450 ft/s (137 m/s)
range= 110 yd (100 m)
max_range= 350 yd (320 m)
filling_weight=3 lb (1.4 kg)
The Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank (PIAT), was one of the earlier
anti-tank weapons using a high explosive anti-tank projectile. It was developed by the British starting in 1941, reaching the field in time for the invasion of Sicily in 1943.
The PIAT was an unusual infantry anti-tank weapon. It was comparatively quiet and smokeless, with no backblast. This meant that, unlike the American
bazookaor German Panzerfaust and Panzerschreck, it could be fired from an enclosed space, and would not give away its position as soon as the weapon was fired. However, it was more cumbersome than its counterparts, and in many circumstances it could be difficult to reload.
At the start of
World War II, all major armies were investing in research into HEAT projectiles to produce an infantry weapon capable of defeating modern tanks, which were essentially immune to the weapons carried by normal infantry. The Germans concentrated on recoilless weapons and the US on rockets, but in 1941when the PIAT was being developed, rocket powered weapons were nowhere near ready for use.
The British instead turned to a prewar weapon known as the
Blacker Bombard, a large mortar, known as a "spigot discharger" or spigot mortar, invented by Lieutenant ColonelStewart Blacker, Royal Artillery. The Bombard consisted of a heavy barrel containing a large spring. The spring pushed against a 12 lb (5 kg) steel canister and rod that rode up the barrel and struck the rear of the bomb, igniting a small propulsion charge. The heavy bolt and rod, known as the "spigot", was used primarily to damp out the recoil of the round leaving the barrel. The charge was also intended to reset the spring, meaning that the weapon had to be cocked only once, by pulling up on the tube while standing on a handle mounted at the rear.
The Blacker Bombard saw limited operational use, having been known to have destroyed only one tank, at the defence of Tobruk in June 1942. It was issued to the
British Home Guardin large numbers. However, the design was suitable for modification as the launcher for a HEAT round. The drop in size of the warhead (an effective HEAT shell was 3 lb compared to the 20 lb HE used on the Bombard) meant that the PIAT would be much lighter and more manoeuvrable than the Bombard. A section of the barrel was cut away on the top to form a tray for the round, which could be reloaded with fresh rounds with the operator remaining prone. The charge on the shell was small enough that it caused no real smoke or backblast, a significant advantage over the bazooka. However, the heavy duty spring and spigot increased the weight, resulting in a weapon that weighed 34 lb (15 kg) unloaded. Furthermore, if the charge failed to reset the spigot, which happened often (especially when the firer could not take the recoil), the operator had to retire behind cover to re-cock the weapon. This required a 200 pound-force(900 N) pull requiring the user to stand up or lie on his back.Harvard reference | Surname=Hogg | Given=Ian| Title=Tank Killing | Year=1996 | Page=46 ]
In general use, the PIAT had a rated range of about 100 m, but that was considered extreme, and it was typically fired at much shorter ranges. According to some wartime British documents, the 3 lb (1.4 kg) HEAT warhead could penetrate 102 mm of armour at a 30 degree angle, although this was considered overly optimistic, and 4 inches (102 mm) at a 90 degree angle was considered to be a more realistic penetration figure. Indeed, there seems to be some disagreement between wartime sources on the PIAT's actual performance - earlier British documents often state a figure of 75 mm, whereas later, most often post-war documents state the figures of 100 mm or more. This was only just sufficient to defeat the frontal
armourof the older German tanks, remaining more effective against their side and rear armour. The PIAT could also function in a mortar-like role, where the shell was fired in a parabolic arc up to 350 m. The PIAT was also widely used in the "house-breaking" role, being used to blast openings through walls to permit the entry of an assault team.
An attachment that allowed the PIAT to fire 2 inch mortar shells was produced in limited numbers.
Early use in
Sicilyproved that a "perfect" hit was required or the round would not detonate, and the weapon soon garnered a poor reputation among the troops. The Army then instigated a rapid series of improvements, and the weapon had matured by the time of the invasion of the Italian mainland. The PIAT could then be found in all theatres.
One problem reported with the PIAT was that the bombs it fired were quite sensitive, due to the special firing mechanism, and if dropped could explode.Fact|date=June 2007 Hence some bombs were given special caps over the ignition device to prevent this.Fact|date=June 2007 Also, the bomb had to be positioned correctly or it would not fire and would have to be removed whilst the PIAT was re-cocked, taking time before it could be fired again.Fact|date=June 2007
On the morning of the
D-Daylandings, a single PIAT disrupted a German attempt to reach the invasion beaches. [S.E. Ambrose, Pegasus Bridge (New York, 1985; 1988)] British troops had landed by glider and had seized and held the vital bridges over the Caen Canal and the Orne River. Among the positions held was a T-junction on the main road from Caen to Ouistreham at the coast via Benouville and [Le Port] . A German force of two half-tracks of which certainly the leading vehicle was armed with a gun, described by a passing nightly local civilian as a (Fr.)"tube." [ For the latter see only (the otherwise very unreliable) N. Hugede, Le commando du pont Pegase. Both S.E.Ambrose, other authors and many British airlanding veterans including D Coy-members and parachutists believed the German vehicles present this night at Benouville to have been 'tanks'. In Ambrose's 'Pegasus Bridge' Sergeant Charles 'Wagger' Thornton stated explicitly the German vehicle to have been a Mark IV. That all were wrong is proven by other eye witness accounts that speak of the wreck of a German half-track destroyed by Thornton that night of 5/6 June 1944. They saw the wreck at daylight on June 6. See the after-battle report on Sgt. Thornton's Military Medal-award; the report of 1 Spec. Service- commander "the Lord" Simon Lovat and the memoires of both parachutist John Butler and Commando/secret agent Leslie ('Red') Wright, all published on the Internet. According to a French translation of British Commando Wright's wartime story, he was as a wounded man sheltering on the crossroads at Benouville in the morning of June 6 behind 'un camion' which was destroyed that night. For this reason, I believe the leading German half-track might well have been a DEMAG-type vehicle armed with gun in the open backside, such as a DEMAG D7 SdKfz 10. The presence of German half-tracks has been confirmed personally as well by the director of the Musee Memorial Pegasus at Benouville, Marc Jacquinot to drs. Carles Wolterman (Amstelveen, Holland) who wrote these notes.] and who were followed by infantry support, approached the junction from the direction of Benouville around 01:30 at night, threatening to turn onto the D 514 road leading to the canal bridge and Ranville. SergeantCharles "Wagger" Thornton (B Coy attached to D Company, 6th Platoon) Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, armed with the only working PIAT and two rounds, shot the leading half-track at short range. The sergeant lay unprotected and flat on his belly on the left side of the D 514 coastal road, near the town hall, and was accompanied by Private Eric Woods. The PIAT round scored a direct hit and the half-track blew up, while the surviving German grenadiers were shot at by Woods, armed with a Sten submachine gun. The other half-track beat a hasty retreat along with the rest of the troops. The burning half-track was now blocking the junction for other vehicles. The explosion of the wreck forced the remaining Germans to withdraw, and the commander of the vehicle behind the one destroyed by Thornton reported to his superior that the British were armed with 6-pounder anti-tank guns (he believed this due to the ferocity of the explosion). When "Private" Thomas ('Tommy') Clare went to have a closer look at the wreckage, after having heard a continuous moaning, he found a severely wounded officer in a black leather uniform who had half crawled out of the half-track, still alive, and rescued him. The German officer died a couple of hours later at the regimental-aid post of Major Dr. John (Jacob-) Vaughan.
On the morning of D-Day around 09:00 hours (British Double Summertime) two trawler-type Kriegsmarine-vessels suddenly came sailing steadily down the canal from the area of the coastline. They were most probably the two surviving of three smaller boats seen earlier at sea that very morning by Schnellboot-Korvettenkapitaen Heinrich Hoffmann, all ships coming from Le Havre-harbour, having been alarmed by invasion news. Hoffmann himself saw one German boat being shot up by a British naval vessel belonging to Force S and he himself twice torpedoed the Norwegian ship 'Svenner' which sunk instantly, causing 32 sailors to die. When these surviving German trawlers reached the (closed) canal bridge at Benouville, they were shot at too soon by lightly armed British parachutists from 7th Para-Battalion from the side of Le Port. The first armed trawler answered this unexpected gunfire with its 20 mm bow canon and nearly shot up by accident a para-headquarters housed in some dwellings there. On command of Major Howard, Corporal Claude Godbold lying in wait in a former German trench at the eastern side of the canal only then fired his PIAT round. His bomb entered the boat in its left flank just above the water line, which caused a loud explosion aboard, probably having hit its engine room. This vessel then abruptly turned around hard, so that its bow hit the western shore of the canal and its poop got stuck on the eastern side. The second boat, seeing the attack, withdrew immediately into the direction of Ouistreham which by then was being cleaned up by Commandos of the Lord Lovat. A very reluctant blonde young nazi-captain was forced off the trawler by Howard's men of the Ox and Bucks, other Germans came running off board scared, yelling "Kamerad!". The raging Kriegsmarine-captain was sent all the way hopping to the para-Intelligence troop at Ranville, having been handcuffed and bound by his feet. Howard's sappers under command of 'Jock' Neilson next poured over the boat to check its armament and equipment. This German naval wreck thus conveniently blocked the canal from the seaside against any further German naval attacks against the vital bridge, just as Thornton's wreck blocked the road between Caen and the coast.
The outcome of the use of a single PIAT launcher during Operation Pegasus shows that, while an unpopular weapon and with a questionable design, a single PIAT was crucial in destroying the first German armour encountered during the opening moments of the D-Day assault, and continued to show its worth for the next several hours by turning back the first German response encountered in the liberation of France. (text: drs. Carles Wolterman, Amstelveen)
Private Ernest Alvia "Smokey" Smith of the
Seaforth Highlanders of Canadaearned the Victoria Crossafter crawling to within thirty feet of a Panther tankto destroy it with a PIAT.
In one of the most remarkable examples of bravery under fire, Major
Robert Henry Cainalso earned the Victoria Cross at Arnhem during Operation Market Garden. Using a PIAT (in addition to several other weapons) he destroyed or disabled six tanks, four of which were Tiger tanks, as well as a number of self-propelled guns. Jeremy Clarksonmade the remark on the PIAT in a documentary about the major that "it was a botched piece of design" and "virtually useless against all known sorts of German armour".]
In another example of selfless bravery in the face of danger, on
January 18, 1945 Lance-Sergeant John Taylor of The Leicestershire Regimenttook up the PIAT himself, from a very exposed position, to defend his platoonH.Q. and score direct hits, silencing the panzerschreckand MG42fire of the enemy. This action was mainly responsible for beating off the attack of the enemy and giving time for the fire in the roof of H.Q. platoon to be checked. Lance-Sergeant Taylor was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, in part, for his bravery in this action.
The PIAT remained the main British platoon-level
anti-tank weaponuntil 1950, when it was replaced by the US M20 "Super Bazooka", known as "Launcher, Rocket, 3.5 inch UK (M20)" in British service and then later by the ubiquitous Carl Gustav recoilless rifle.
The PIAT was also used by non-British forces. After the British withdrew from
Palestine, the Haganahand early Israeli military used the PIAT in Israel's War of Independence to ward off Arab tanks. Its effectiveness in allowing an inferior force to hold off a more powerful opponent was demonstrated at several engagements, but most pointedly at the series of battles in the Kinarot Valleyhttp://blog.tapuz.co.il/anschel/images/2444848_50.jpg] .
The naval weapon Hedgehog was another application of the spigot discharger principle.
*Manufacturer : ICI Ltd., various others.
*Overall length : 39 in (990 mm)
*Weight : 31.7 lb (14.4 kg)
*Projectile weight : 3 lb (1.35 kg)
*Muzzle velocity : 190 ft/s (30 m/s)
*Effective range : 110 yd (100 m) armour, 350 yd (320 m) "house-breaking"
*Penetration : 3.3 in (83 mm) of steel armour
*Range : 50 yd
**Bomb HEAT; Infantry Projector, AT, Mk 3/L
**Weight - approx 2 3/4 lb (1.25 kg)
**Length - 16.6 in (422 mm)
**Colour - Service colour or brown, with red filling ring around forward portion of body, a blue band edged above and below with yellow and with "TNT3" in black on the blue band.
;OperationFrom the 1943 British Army manual "Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank":
'Lie on the back and rest the projector on the chest, with the bomb support pointing over one shoulder and the shoulder piece flat on the ground. Keep the front support clear of the body and arms. Place the insteps on the shoulder piece, one foot on each side of the outer casing. Grasp the trigger guard firmly with one hand from underneath; with the other grasp any part of the projector that will give good leverage. Sit up or bend the knees if necessary, according to cover. Pull the outer casing away from the shoulder piece and turn it anticlockwise as far as it will go. Pulling with the hands and pushing with the feet, continue to pull on the outer casing until a click is heard. Considerable effort is required to overcome the resistance of the mainspring. The click denotes the action is cocked.'
Notes and references
* [http://www.wwiiequipment.com/piat.aspx PIAT performance and production]
* [http://www.geocities.com/nasenoviny/PIATen.html Nase noviny]
* [http://www.arnhemarchive.org/equip_piat.htm Arnhem Archive]
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