Panzerschrek (Tank Fright) is an 88mm calibre reusable anti-tank rocket launcher that was mass produced by Nazi Germany during World War Two.
The Panzerschreck was designed as a light weight infintry anti-tank weapon. the Panzerschrek was shoulder launched and fired a rocket-propelled, fin stabalised grenade with a shaped charge warhead.
In 1941, when the Germans encountered the new Soviet tank designs such as the T-34, they quickly discovered the effectiveness of the high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round against this new threat. The need of a more effective infantry anti-tank weapon than the Panzerbüchse 39 (PzB 39) anti-tank rifles was paramount for the German army.
Development for a weapon using the HEAT principle quickly ensued. The first development was a converted anti-tank grenade launcher version of the P.z.b 39 anti-tank rifle called the G.z.b 39. Further development created the Faustpatrone and later the Panzerfaust which were highly effective against Allied armour, but lacked the range and multi-purpose nature of the 2.36-inch (60mm) M1A1 "Bazooka". German troops captured many Allied bazookas in North Africa as well as some lend-lease versions on the Eastern front. The German army quickly developed an enlarged German version of the M1A1 Bazooka, the Raketenpanzerbüchse, which used a bigger 88 mm round and had double the penetrative performance. It proved itself against Allied armour on all fronts, earning the nickname "tank terror" a direct translation of the word Panzerschreck.
The first model was the RPzB 43 which was 164 centimetres (5.38 ft.) long and weighed about 9.25 kilograms (20.4 lb.) when empty. Operators of the RPzB 43 had to wear a protective poncho and a gas mask without a filter to protect them from the heat of the backblast when the weapon was fired. In October 1943, it was succeeded by the RPzB 54 which was fitted with a blast shield to protect the operator and was heavier weighing 11 kilograms (24 lb.) empty. This was followed by the RPzB 54/1 with an improved rocket, shorter barrel and a range increased to about 180 meters.
Firing the RPzB generated a lot of smoke both in front and behind the weapon. Because of the weapon's tube and the smoke, the German troops nicknamed it the Ofenrohr ("Stove Pipe’’) This also meant that Panzerschreck teams were revealed once they fired, making them targets and, therefore, required them to shift positions after firing. This type of system also made it problematic to fire the weapon from inside closed spaces (such as bunkers or houses), filling the room with toxic smoke and revealing the firing location immediately. This was in contrast to the British PIAT's non-smoking spigot mortar system, or the Panzerfaust's short burst launch system.
The Panzerschreck was an effective weapon. Allied bazookas had problems with newer up-armoured German tanks later in the war, most notably the Panther tank and the Tiger tank. By comparison the Panzerschreck rocket could penetrate over 200 mm of armour, which was only found on the IS-2 Soviet tanks. However, this extra hitting power required extra weight. The rocket projectile weighed 3.3 kilograms (7.3 lb). One direct hit was usually enough to destroy any Allied armoured vehicle. When handled by well-trained crews, this weapon became the bane of Allied armoured units, who frequently attempted to add improvised protection to their tanks, e.g. sandbags, spare track units, logs and so on. Most of this makeshift protection had little effect, and overtaxed the vehicle's engine, transmission, and suspension systems. Years before the collapse of Nazi Germany, Allied troops preferred to use captured Panzerschrecks over Bazookas when engaging Axis armoured vehicles, but their limited supply of warheads remained a problem caused by the need to capture those as well.
Its combat success caused the Bazooka to be completely redesigned at the close of World War II. A larger, 3.5 in (90 mm) model was adopted; hence, the M20 Super Bazooka. Though bearing a superficial resemblance to the Panzerschreck, the M20 had greater effective range, penetrating capability and was nearly 20% lighter than its former counterpart.