Panzerfaust: The Super Tank-Killer Hitler Unleashed During World War II

Robert Beckhusen

Key Point: Hills recalled having nightmares of his experiences decades later that would leave him feeling “despair and terror.” But he kept those thoughts from overwhelming him due to his considerable courage and support from fellow soldiers.

To Allied tank crews during World War II, the Panzerfaust was one of the German army’s deadliest weapons behind the static 88-millimeter cannon, the rocket-propelled Panzerschreck and — most of all — other tanks.

The shoulder-launched Panzerfaust, or “tank fist,” propelled a shaped charge warhead around 45–60 meters per second over a distance of 60-100 meters — depending on the Panzerfaust 60 and 100 variants. But it was always a short range weapon, requiring German troops to sneak up close to their targets before depressing the firing mechanism.

Due to the Panzerfaust’s inherent range limitations, German anti-tank teams were most effective in dense or obscured environments such as cities and woodlands. A lone soldier armed with a Panzerfaust could — depending on the angle and shot placement — penetrate an Allied tank, ignite its fuel or ammunition and kill everyone inside.

Crew members would only have a second or two to jump from their tank, surely suffering horrific burns regardless of whether or not they survived. If unable to escape, the flames would leave little more than ashes and bones.

British Army tank commander Stuart Hills experienced the Panzerfaust’s power during the initial battles in northern Belgium that preceded Operation Market Garden. One encounter made for a harrowing passage in his 2002 memoir By Tank Into Normandy.

Hills’ Sherman tank and three others with the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry pushed into the Belgian city of Gheel on Sept. 9, 1944. Initially, the operation took the bloodiest toll on the tanks’ supporting infantry.

An understrength rifle advancing with the Rangers met MG-42 machine gun fire in the fields outside Gheel. Hills witnessed an officer being “virtually cut in half as he received a belt of bullets all to himself,” Hills wrote.

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