by: Russ Amott [ ]
The bazooka was considered by many to be one of the most important weapons in WWII.
When the war began, antitank weapons available to infantry were outdated and ineffective. Although shaped-charge warhead technology was reaching maturity, the means to deliver them - rifle grenades or hand grenades - were cumbersome at best, suicidal at worst. In 1942, the ingeniously simple combination of rocket technology and an existing HEAT warhead created the 2.36-inch M1 rocket launcher, soon known simply as the "bazooka." Armed with this light and lethal device, for the first time it was possible for infantrymen alone to stalk and kill tanks.
Now Osprey has released The Bazooka by Gordon L. Rottman, illustrations by Johnny Shumate and Alan Gilliland, in their Weapon Series (Vol. 18, ISBN 978-1-84908-801-5).
The bazooka's active career was short but distinguished; it evolved into a break-down version, the M9, and then into the 3.5-inch "super-bazooka," which saw notable service in Korea. Including information on little known variants, this book tells the story of what is arguably the greatest antitank weapon of World War II.
Author Rottman presents a well-detailed analysis of the origins and design of the bazooka, discussing the trial and error process clearly. It is worth noting that the design team essentially snuck in to a separate anti-tank mortar trial and demonstrated their new weapon before General Lesley McNair. It was during that demonstration that Brig. General Gladeon Barnes remarked that the new rocket launcher looked a lot like comedian Bob Burn's "bazooka," a comical musical instrument, and the name stuck.
The introduction begins with the initial German report of a captured American rocket launcher from Tunisia, and then gives an historical overview of existing anti-tank weapons at the onset of WWII, including large caliber rifles, hand grenades and Molotov cocktails.
The next chapter, "Development," gives the history of the weapon's designers and how the idea for the anti-tank rocket came about. Design of the initial 2.36" rocket and launcher, prototypes, and production of the M1 rocket launcher and the M6 2.36" rocket, followed by the M1A1 launcher, M6A1 and M6A3 HEAT rounds, M9, M9A1 and M18 2.36" launchers, and the M20 series of 3.5" "super bazooka" launchers are all covered in good detail, There is even included a comparison to the German 8.8cm Panzerschreck.
"Use" covers the actual employment of the bazooka in combat, from introduction through Lend Lease with British and Soviet forces, on to US usage, first in North Africa, then Sicily and Italy, and finally Northwest Europe and the Pacific. Many specific examples are given in which named soldiers employed the bazooka against enemy armor and fortifications. Training on the bazooka and field analysis are also covered, including a bulletin from the 5th Tank Destroyer Group Headquarters Unit on testing of the 2.36" rockets on a knocked-out Pz. Lehr Panzer V Panther. It documents the effects of hits on the road wheels, tracks, hull and turret.
The bazooka was good, but wasn't perfect: a hit on a towing hook, the jack or muffler was enough to dissipate the effect of the rocket, but a direct hit on the armor would penetrate. A turret hit would create significant spalling and shrapnel inside, devastating the crew. In the Pacific, the bazooka was often the only weapon that could be used against Japanese fortifications and caves because of its portability in rough conditions.
Use of the 3.5" M20 series in Korea, again with battlefield accounts, is given at the end of this chapter, as well as training and firing the weapon. Use of the launcher was limited in Vietnam, but it did see usage by British Commonwealth forces and French forces in Indochina and Algeria.
"Impact" is an analysis of the actual deployment of the Bazooka. It put real tank-killing ability in the hands of the average infantryman for the first time, was cheap and easily-produced, and either directly or indirectly led to a large number of new weapons designs from many nations around the world. General Eisenhower named it one of the four items that helped most to win the Second World War, along with the jeep, the atom bomb and the C-47.
There are numerous photographs pertinent to each section, showing training and use of the bazooka, as well as diagrams of the M1A1 and M20 launchers with accompanying rounds. There is also some artwork showing the bazooka in combat settings. The only thing it lacks, at least for me, would be more first-hand accounts from the users. I found the book well-written, with a clear narrative that flows easily. At 80 pages in length, it is easy to read through.
The Bazooka has a suggested retail of $18.95. I found it to be a very useful reference, and it is worth adding to the library. My thanks to Osprey and Armorama for making this copy available.