As far as anti-tank weapons are concerned, the Panzerfaust (armor fist) was not exceptional, nor was it an innovation at that time. Regardless, this inexpensive, single-shot, recoilless anti-tank weapon was effective for its purpose, given its crude design.

Improvement from Faustpatrone

Panzerfaust was introduced in 1943 as Germany’s answer to improving Soviet tank technology during World War II. It was an improvement from Faustpatrone, a recoilless prototype with a shaped charge on a wooden shaft with spring metal stabilizing fins. Its launch tube was made of steel with black powder propellant. Faustpatrone’s warhead was found to ricochet; thus, improvements had to be made.

Panzerfaust was the result— a larger but surprisingly lighter weapon with a 6.4-pound warhead that contained a 1.8 pound charge of a 50:50 mixture of TNT and hexogen explosives and could penetrate up to 8 inches of armor. It also had a wider tube that increased the muzzle velocity to 45 meters per second. Its tube was discarded after firing, making it the first one-time-use anti-tank weapon. It was also inexpensive to make, only costing around $40 each. Panzerfaust made it possible for an infantryman to single-handedly take out an adversary’s armor, with the warhead that doesn’t just explode but also sends a jet of hot metal into the tank it targets.

Using Panzerfaust

Panzerfaust was a simple yet effective weapon against tanks. Given its weight, it was very portable, easy to operate, and proved very useful against the overwhelming swarm of Allied tanks entering Germany’s towns and cities from both the East and West. However, it was worth mentioning that its short range also put the gunner at risk of shrapnel and infantry accompanying tanks in battle.  Because the Panzerfaust was basically a handheld recoilless rifle it sent a jet of flame out of the back of the tube that was said to be lethal out to about 18 feet behind the operator.  Because of this reason, it was tricky to use in an urban warfare environment.  Firing this thing from the window of an enclosed room in a second or third-story building would roast the operator like a chicken and set the room on fire. So you had to have plenty of back clearance to fire it. 

Volkssturm soldiers with Panzerfausts
Volkssturm soldiers with Panzerfausts in Berlin, March 1945 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J31320/CC BY-SA 3.0 DE/Wikimedia Commons)

During the Battle of Normandy, only 6% of British tanks were damaged by Panzerfaust. Still, when the war was about to end, the number increased to 34%, which could be credited to the increased production of this anti-tank weapon, totaling 8.3 million by 1945.

Other countries like Finland and Hungary also used Panzerfaust. The Finnish did not have ample anti-tank weapons against the Soviet’s heavily-armored tanks, so they bought 25,000, though they could only use 4,000 of them. On the other hand, Hungary used them during the brutal Siege of Budapest.

There had been multiple versions of this weapon: from Panzerfaust 30 to Panzerfaust 150, with the number indicating its effective range in meters. Being just 30 yards from an American or Soviet tank would take some nerve., if you missed you were probably as good as dead. The Panzerfaust-60 was the most common one in use. As for the Panzerfaust 150, it uses a reloadable tube and has a pistol grip. This last development was never completed.

If you want to see Panzerfaust in action, check this out: