Projector Infantry Anti-Tank (PIAT)
Type: light anti-tank weapon.
Table of Contents
The ‘Projector Infantry Anti-Tank’ became known under the short name PIAT. This light anti-tank weapon of the British infantry during the Second World War was the result of several years of trials and experiments by Lieutenant-Colonel Blacker.
This officer had long been fascinated by the idea of a spigot discharger. Such a device works without the usual barrel and replaces it with a hollow rear part with the projectile. A percussion cartridge inside this rear part is hit by a firing pin. This firing pin is a heavy steel rod which is pressed into the end of the projectile while it is on a simple rack. The blast of the cartridge blows up the projectile from the spigot. The distance covered on the spigot gives the projectile sufficient accuracy on its way to the target.
Blacker’s first patent for this type of weapon appeared in the early 1930s and by 1937 he had built a specimen called ‘Arbalest’. Several of these were produced in 1939 by the Parnell aircraft company for trials with the British army.
However, these were rejected in May 1939 as the 2-inch mortar seemed a better proposal for a grenade launcher.
In 1940, however, General Blacker was transferred to MD1 (Ministry of Defense 1), a military facility for the investigation and development of unorthodox weapons, especially for secret operations. Therefore, the establishment was also called ‘Winston Churchill’s Toy Shop‘.
After reworking the Arbalest, Blacker introduced it there as a combined weapon for fighting tanks and bombing. He claimed that the weapon had the same power as the 2-pounder anti-tank gun and almost the same range as the 3-inch grenade launcher.
MD1 passed the draft on to superiors at the end of 1940 and although it was considered somewhat skewed by most of those responsible, the weapon went into production as the ’29 mm Spigot Mortar’ or ‘Blacker Bombard’ in 1941 and was widely used by the Home Guard and airfield security units.
Blacker now developed a smaller, man-wearable version, which he called the ‘Baby Bombard’. But before he could do much more with the design, he left MD1 to another post, where he no longer had enough time for his experiments.
However, the prototype of the ‘Baby Bombard’ remained with the MD1, where Major (later Major-General) M R Jefferis continued to work on it. In June 1941 the weapon was presented as ‘Bombard Baby 0.625 inch No.1’ (the unit of measurement indicates the diameter of the pin) for first tests at the Ordnance Board. However, it was not impressed and reported that ‘the baby bombard would be ineffective as an anti-tank weapon under all conceivable circumstances and in all conceivable missions’.
Such important persons as the director of artillery and the assistant to the general staff agreed and on August 11, 1941 the weapon was officially dropped.
Among other things, it was above all the ineffective light bombs of the weapon that led to this decision. Therefore, Jefferis developed an effective hollow charge bomb in the following months, which he explained to various interested parties in February 1942.
This seems to have changed the situation and in mid-March prototypes of the PIAT were produced and the possibilities for the use of high explosive, fog, flare and signal projectiles were investigated.
The tests with the new bomb were successful and the weapon went into production. On August 31, 1942, PIAT was officially adopted.
The mechanism of the PIAT was very simple: an enormous spring was compressed by unlocking the shoulder pad. By standing on it and lifting the weapon, the spring and spigot are pressed into the body and held in place by a simple sear mechanism. The body was then put back to the shoulder pad and the weapon was ready to fire.
A bomb was now placed in the front guide rail and when the trigger was pulled back, the spigot was released, which penetrated into the rear part of the bomb and caused the propellant charge there to explode.
This explosion threw the bomb forward and at the same time pushed the spigot back into the body of the weapon, so that it was already cocked for the next shot.
The maximum combat range was about 100 yards (ca. 91 m), although bombs could be fired up to a distance of almost 750 yards (ca. 686 meters). The planned anti-personnel and signal bombs were never introduced.
Within the restrictions of PIAT it was an astonishingly efficient weapon, but it would be inappropriate to call it popular among British and Allied soldiers.
The weapon was heavy and unwieldy to carry, complicated and only to cock with great effort and generated enormous forces when firing. Nevertheless, the PIAT was grudgingly respected for the purpose for which it was designed: in the hands of a resolute man, it could effectively stop any tank.
Undoubtedly the best-known incident of this kind took place in Italy, when fusilier Jefferson jumped outside his ditch and knocked-out two Tiger tanks from close range firing from the hip with a PIAT. For this outstanding effort he was awarded the Victoria Cross, but the general opinion among the soldiers was that he received the award mainly for shooting this thing from the hip and not for taking out two tanks.
In any case, the hollow charge grenade of the PIAT could disable any standard battle tank and was thus comparable in performance to the American Bazooka and German Panzerfaust, although no chemical energy but mechanical springs were used for firing.
With explosive or smoke grenades, the PIAT could also be used in house-to-house combat, making it a versatile weapon, in contrast to the other light anti-tank weapons. The PIAT replaced the Boys anti-tank rifle as the light standard anti-tank weapon and was widely used by the British and Commonwealth forces.
Only the powerful spring made it unpopular, since mostly two men were necessary for the transport and use of the weapon. And if the bomb missed the target or did not put it out of action, the weapon was almost unusable because it was far too risky to reload it in combat.
But if the bomb hit, it could take out any tank. In addition, the PIAT was often the only main armament of light vehicles, such as the Universal Carrier and some armored cars.
PIAT was used by the British armed forces for some time after the Second World War, but was replaced by other weapons as soon as possible. Although the PIAT was an effective for anti-tank combat, its principle of operation was exceptional and was not used in any other weapon.
Its main advantage was that the weapon could be built easily and relatively cheaply in large quantities when the British army urgently needed a light anti-tank weapon.
Users: British and Commonwealth forces.
Animated 3D model PIAT
|Projector Infantry Anti-Tank (PIAT)
|Anti-tank launcher with spring spiral
|3ft 0in (99.0cm)
|Projectile and weight
|hollow charge bomb, 3lb (1,36kg)
|System of operation
|250-450 ft/sec (76-137 m/sec)
|750 yards (700m)
|105 yards (100m)
|c.70-102mm / 0°
|August 31, 1942
|Price per unit
|? (relative cheap)
References and literature
The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II (Chris Bishop)
The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War II (Ian V.Hogg)
Infanterie im 2. Weltkrieg (J.B.King, John Batchelor)