the start of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the Red Army faced perhaps one of the most advanced armed forces of all time. The German tactic of Blitzkrieg put to use the latest technology available to the Germans, of which the most brutal was their new ‘Panzer’ line. Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks were used extensively during Operation Barbarossa (the German name for the operation to invade the Soviet Union).
These tanks, although not as heavily armored as the tanks created later in the war, such as the Tiger I and Tiger II tanks, proved to be a problem for the unprepared Red Army. With no set anti-tank weaponry, the army strategists had to come up with a method to slow down the metal onslaught into the motherland.
A new type of warfare
Perhaps one of the most important inventions to come out of the First World War was the tank. This new piece of technology transformed the way tacticians thought about the battlefield by enabling a shift away from the slow and methodical warfare we saw at the beginning of WWI. Although this new type of ‘mobile warfare’ wasn’t fully implemented during this conflict, in the interwar years, many tacticians sought to further this concept. This gave rise to the Blitzkrieg doctrine.
Blitzkrieg, also known as lighting warfare, is the perfect embodiment of the concept of mobile warfare. Through the use of rapid light tanks and coordination through radios, the Germans broke the lines of their enemies, most notably the French, during the invasion of France in 1940. As this was a new concept to many nations, most lacked the firepower to counter the relatively lightly-armored tanks.
At the start of the Great Patriotic War, the USSR also faced this problem. Although the industrial giant had tanks of their own, at the beginning of the war, they lacked the numbers to fight back. The Soviets were also unable to counter the Blitzkrieg doctrine due to a two-fold problem. They were unprepared for the invasion as Stalin thought that Hitler would not break the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, and, as mentioned above, they lacked the firepower and numbers to disable the wave of armored vehicles entering their border.
The Soviet leadership had to find a stop-gap to slow down the enemy while the factories of the USSR were moved and geared towards war production. Their answer to this problem was the creation of the ПТРС-41 (Anglicised: PTRS-41) and ПТРД-41 (Anglicised: PTRD-41) rifles.
As seen above, the PTR rifle line had two variations. Both variations shot a 14.5×114mm round capable of penetrating up to 40mm of armor. Although this wasn’t enough to penetrate the armor of most Panzers, it was able to penetrate the armor of a more important vehicle: the German armored personnel carrier.
If the Red Army could disable the armored personnel carriers of the Wehrmacht, the German push into the Russian motherland would be significantly hampered. Without infantry to protect the tanks, the Germans couldn’t perform their Blitzkrieg tactic. hI
Although their effectiveness is debated, many historians consider the PTR rifles a suitable stop-gap for the Soviets at the beginning of the war. The rifles were deployed across the front in significant numbers as they were very simple to manufacture and maintain.
They went on to be used until the end of the war, with some ending up in other communist countries post-WWII. The more advanced of the two, the PTRS-41, which had a five-round magazine (rather than its counterpart, which could only fire one shot at a time), went on to be used even after the war. The weapon was found in the hands of the soldiers of the People’s Volunteer Army during the Korean War, Vietcong soldiers during the Vietnam War, and even in the hands of pro-Russian militias in 2014 as part of the Donetsk People’s Republic independence movement preceding the 2014 coup in Ukraine.
For a weapon meant to be used as a stop-gap in 1941, the PTR rifles ended up being more useful than many imagined. In a world where mechanized warfare has become more common, I doubt that such a weapon will cease to be used. I am sure that the Soviet anti-tank rifle will make an appearance in the future as part of the arsenal of an insurgent group or militia due to its cheap cost, reliability, and power. Soviet engineering is here to stay.