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Why Antitank Rifles Were Not Sniper Rifles


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and today I want
to talk about this idea that comes up pretty much every time I
take a look at an anti-tank rifle. And that is: why didn’t they use them as sniper rifles? Why did nobody go and put, you know, a nice telescopic
sight on an anti-tank rifle and use it for sniping? And it’s an idea that comes up like with great regularity
every time one of the anti-tank rifles comes up. And I think it is largely fuelled by video games,
but let’s assess like why didn’t they do that? And … first off, there are a few exceptions. So there were a few times when guns like this were
used in … what’s called a precision marksman sort of role. And I’m just going to preempt everybody here
by starting out referencing Carlos Hathcock getting what was for a couple of decades the world
record longest sniper shot with a Browning M2 .50 calibre heavy machine gun that he
had mounted an 8x power Unertl scope on. Yes, that absolutely happened. However,
that’s not quite what we’re talking about here. That’s not really taking the Browning M2 heavy
machine gun and turning it into a sniper rifle, that is taking a gun that was a perimeter
defence emplaced weapon that never moved and basically getting bored and
deciding to see how accurate it could be. And maybe someone would walk into its field of fire, and
someone did, and he got a 2,500 yard sniper shot in the Vietnam War. He wasn’t the only person to do that.
It was done in Korea as well as Vietnam. And … the situation for these sorts of events
was basically emplaced American bases that had Browning .50s on tripods
with a nice fine adjust T&E mechanism that were sitting around at fixed points. And snipers
and armourers who … had nothing better to do deciding to try and tinker with these things
and see what they could get out of them. I actually had the pleasure of knowing
one of the guys who is in here mentioned as being one of the guys in Korea who
was experimenting with mounting scopes on .50s. And there’s a picture in here of him,
Bob Faris, mounting a 20x power spotting scope, not a sniper scope mind you, but a spotter’s
scope, onto a Browning .50. So that did happen. But … because that rifle never moves,
that’s really not what we’re talking about. The concept that people have in mind when they
make this suggestion, or when they ask about this, is let’s take let’s say a Boys anti-tank rifle, put a
scope on it, and now you can issue it to a sniper who can crawl around in the mud with it and,
you know, shoot some dude 1,500 yards away. So why didn’t this happen? Well, let’s
look at the primary purpose of a sniper rifle. It is accuracy. And in order to get that you
need the weapon to be repeatably accurate, you need the ammunition to be repeatably accurate. And we’re kind of even gonna overlook this, but you
have to get the gun to where it needs to make the shot. A Boys anti-tank rifle is, if my
memory serves me, 36 pounds. There … better be a really good benefit that you get
from that over, say, a 10 pound … Number 4 (T) Enfield, to justify carrying an extra 26
pounds of gun around in the field. The ammo by the way is correspondingly heavier as well.
You’re not carrying all that much .55 Boys ammo on you. Now, so the rifles in these cases
were mostly pretty darn accurate guns, or at least they have the potential to be if
they had been manufactured for that purpose. Like if they took the time and the care in making the
barrels and making the bolts and fitting everything together, yeah, you could have something like a Boy’s
anti-tank rifle that is very supremely accurate. But they didn’t take the time to do that, because it cost time
and money. And it wasn’t important really to the rifle’s actual role which was an anti-tank rifle. Or,
by later in the war, an anti-materiel rifle for shooting at light armoured vehicles,
aircraft on runways, that sort of thing. More importantly I think, in order to be a viable
sniper’s rifle, in order to be a very accurate rifle, you have to have very consistent, accurate ammunition. It doesn’t matter how good the gun is, it will
only shoot as consistently as the ammunition in it. And that requires a number of things. Consistent pressure, which means you have
to have … very consistent shape of the brass, the internal volume of the brass has
to be exactly the same every single shot or else your chamber pressure will be different,
which will cause the shot to go slightly differently. You have to have a consistent powder
charge. That’s kind of an obvious one. You have to have a consistently manufactured bullet, because if the bullet doesn’t always spin about
the exact centre of its axis or if it’s, you know, if the weight is a little bit different, or
the composition is a little bit different and the centre of balance of the bullet is a little bit
different, all of those things will impede accuracy. Anti-tank rifles naturally were supplied primarily
with armour-piercing ammunition, which means you don’t just have a lead bullet with a jacket on it
which is relatively easy to make very consistently. You have a three part bullet. You have a
hardened armour-piercing core in the middle, and then you’ve got lead outside
of that and then you’ve got a jacket. And making those hardened cores very consistent is
difficult and it’s something that wasn’t particularly important. These rifles were … usually equipped with iron sights
and, just to continue using the Boys as an example here, it has a maximum … sight range of 500 metres. So, like you don’t need super-accurate ammunition at 500 metres
to hit a tank that is … bigger than the size of a large SUV today. And they weren’t trying to make pinpoint shots, they
were trying to hit the tank which is this huge thing. The … guns that were equipped with
scopes, for example the Solothurn S18, we’re not talking about high magnification scopes. We’re talking about scopes that aren’t
really there to make a more precise shot, they’re there to be able to better identify
what it is that you’re looking at and find a target. So the Solothurn had a 2.5x power
scope on it, and that’s pretty typical. The Lahti had no scope on it. The German
Tankgewehr from World War One, iron sights only. The Polish anti-tank rifle,
the Maroszek 35, iron sights only. What other ones am I missing here?
… Those are the basic ones right there. Ah, the German Panzerbüchse, iron sights only. So it’s really actually only the Solothurn that came equipped
with a telescopic sight, and it was only 2.5x power. So why not add one on? Well, let’s set aside the idea that your ammunition isn’t going to give
you super-precision accuracy. Let’s say hypothetically it does. OK, so you want to put a scope on to be able to
achieve a longer effective range and spot targets better. That makes sense in a sniper sort of role. Well, think about the scopes that are available at the time that
there are anti-tank rifles, which is to say 1930s into early 1940s. (Oh, by the way, the two obviously that I’m leaving out here are the PTRS and the PTRD, both iron sights only. Anyway.) Think about the scopes, like … would you take a
scope from the 1940s, just a commercial one, … say a commercial Weaver scope, and throw
it on an FN SCAR and expect it to survive? The FN SCAR is known for being pretty
brutal on optics and it’s a semi-auto .308. Imagine that you’re going to put that
scope on a .55 Boys or 14.5mm PTRS. How long do you think that scope, made in 1935, 1940, 1945,
how long do you think that scope is actually going to last? The answer is not long.
Rifles like that have intense recoil. Virtually all of them that were in really
serious use, you know, in highly numerous use, most of them were single-shot rifles. They
were not semi-automatic or not manual repeaters, but didn’t have a lot in the way of
recoil mechanisms to absorb that energy. The Boys had a little bit of a buffer, the PTRD was
semi-auto, the Lahti and the Solothurn were semi-auto. But consider the Boys, consider the PTRS, consider
the Tankgewehr, the Maroszek, the Panzerbüchse, those things are just going to annihilate scopes. When it comes to inherent accuracy of the guns, these
are typically guns that had pretty overbore cartridges. They’re trying to get maximum velocity out of them
to achieve the best possible armour penetration, and they’re not that concerned about barrel life.
So you have cartridges like the Soviet 14.5. The 8mm round that the Panzerbüchse shoots
looks like a joke round. It looks like, you know, this gigantic cannon cartridge necked down
to 8mm to get a very high muzzle velocity. These things are going to erode throats very quickly,
they’re going to erode the rest of the barrel as well. And you’re going to see accuracy fall off pretty
darn quickly. It doesn’t give you a lot of opportunity to go out on the practice range and learn
very precise shooting with one of these guns, which is what’s necessary to make a precision shot
with it, as opposed to hitting a tank the size of a bus. … Let’s see, … I guess that’s most of the issues right there.
It is your ammunition’s not really accurate enough to do the job. The gun is so heavy, in fact, that’s
what we should … circle back to is: now … you’ve got this gun that is more powerful, it’s firing a much larger bullet, call it five times more
mass in the bullet, what does that actually get you? Is that worth carrying around a rifle that’s three times
heavier than a regular sniper rifle, or perhaps even more. The answers is it doesn’t really get you anything. You’re not increasing your range, because you’re not increasing
the distance at which you can actually see and engage targets. Snipers who do that today are doing so with really,
really improved optics compared to 75 years ago. There’s this video game thing of like a
regular rifle bullet will only do X damage but the gigantic anti-tank rifle bullet
will do three times as much damage, and thus you can kill a guy with
one hit, unlike a regular sniper rifle. Well, in the real world, getting hit with a regular
rifle is going to end your day on an actual battlefield. You hit a guy in a sniping sort of sense,
you know, at long-range he’s no longer a threat. Job is done if you hit him. You don’t have to try
and hit him with a 700 grain .50 BMG projectile. And I think that’s where the big
misconception really comes from. … You know .308, 8mm, those do the job
just as well on a person as .50 BMG, 14.5. The overkill doesn’t buy you anything, and it means that you
have to carry around a … tremendous amount more weight. You can’t carry nearly as much ammo, because your ammo
all weighs five or ten times as much as regular rifle cartridges. And frankly even just the idea of trying to
make precise shots with some of these guns. As someone who has actually fired a
Lahti, and a Solothurn, and a Tankgewehr I can tell you that the recoil will make you flinch very
quickly. The triggers on these guns are typically atrocious. If … you approach one of these like,
“Ah, I’m going to use this as a sniper rifle.” The Solothurn has a … trigger that is so heavy
that it’s designed to use two fingers to pull it. And that’s because they didn’t want an
accidental discharge with a 20mm cannon. They want you to make sure that you’re really ready and
you really intend to fire that thing before you crank off a round. So even if you did go so far as to take it in
the field, deal with the ammunition issues, you’re still going to have a far harder time making a precise hit
with one of those rifles, because they just aren’t designed for it. So, in a nutshell, … well, not in a nutshell,
in an extended, overly-long, video explanation, that is why there were no anti-tank sniper rifles.

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