During World War I, the invention of the tank revolutionized modern warfare and gave British and French troops a significant advantage on the battlefield. When it was first introduced, the British Mark I tank was almost invulnerable to the ordinary rifles possessed by the German troops in the trenches. The Germans tried several tactics to neutralize British tanks.
The first attempt that the Germans made was to develop a "reversed bullet". This was simply a cartridge with the same case and bullet as the normal cartridge, but the bullet was turned backwards and extra propellant was added to the cartridge case. Since it used the same bullet and cartridge case, it could be fired by the infantry rifles that the Germans were already using. When such a cartridge was fired, the extra propellant would push the bullet at a faster speed than a normal cartridge and because the bullet was placed in backwards, the blunt end of the bullet would hit the tank first. If fired at closer ranges, the bullet would not shatter on the armor plating of the tank, but would instead penetrate it. In many cases, it would not always penetrate, but would significantly dent the tank's armor and cause shrapnel to fly in the interior compartment and kill or wound the people inside the tank. However, this cartridge was only effective at close range and because it carried extra propellant, it could damage older rifles or cause them to burst, thereby endangering its user and people around him.
The next attempt was to develop a special "K-bullet". This bullet was a 7.92x57 mm. bullet similar to what the Germans were already using at that time, but it was made with a hard tool-steel core. This meant that it could penetrate armor better than other bullet types. In fact, it had a 33% chance of penetrating 12-13 mm. thick armor plate at a range of 100 meters (330 feet). Like the reversed bullet, this could also be fired out a standard German infantry rifle. However, the K-bullet was more expensive to produce and hence was only issued to specialized snipers. Also, like the reversed bullet, the K-bullet cartridges also often damaged rifles, especially older ones and therefore wasn't very popular. In addition to this, when the British introduced the Mark IV tank during the battle of Messines Ridge, the K-bullet couldn't penetrate its thicker armor effectively.
Therefore, the Mauser factory came up with an entirely new rifle, specifically designed to fight against armored vehicles.
The Mauser T-Gewehr M1918. Click on the image to enlarge.
Image licensed under the Creative Commons Attribute-Share Alike 2.0 France license by user Rama at wikipedia.org
The Mauser Tankgewehr M1918 was developed in 1918, as the name suggests. It was a bolt-action design, using the same tried and tested Mauser M-98 action that was used in their bolt action rifles from 1898 onwards. The rifle was single-shot and rounds were loaded manually into the chamber. Sights were calibrated between 100 and 500 meters. The rifle and bipod together weighed about 18.5 kg. (or about 40 lbs.), so a two man crew was required to operate this -- a gunner and an ammunition carrier, who was also trained to fire the rifle, in case the gunner was injured.
The cartridge for this rifle was a 13.2x92 mm. cartridge, with a special hardened steel core bullet. The rifle did not have a muzzle brake and there was no recoil pad in the stock either. This meant that the rifle had a very heavy recoil and often injured the shoulder of the person firing it. Nevertheless, approximately 15,800 of these rifles were produced. Unfortunately for the Germans, this rifle came rather late in the war. Mass production of this rifle began in May 1918 and by November 1918, the end of World War I was declared.
This was the world's first anti-tank rifle and pioneered the use of other large caliber firearms in the future. We will study some of those in the following posts.