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|Panzerschreck - The shield|
Why is there a shield?
One of the most characteristic images of the Panzerschreck is the profile of the shield. The shield was made of thin sheet metal, but that was all that was needed for the job. The RPzB Granate 4322 had a rocket motor that just burnt too slow. The result was an exhaust of burning powder particles for the first 2 meters. Without any protection the firer would sustain severe burns to eyes, face and hands. Likewise, it was not a good idea to occupy the space behind the tube when a shot was fired
A instructional slide that shows the hazards created by the rocket motor of the RPzB granate 4322.
Waiting for the real thing
The biggest problem with the Panzerschreck when it was issued for frontline service was the absence of the shield that just wasn't invented yet. To remedy this problem a simple set of protection gear had to be used, consisting of a gas mask (without a filter), a padded winter hood and padded winter gloves.
Ukraine, spring 1944. Playing by the rules. The correct gear has been put on.
The first official instructions concerning the wear of clothing can be found in the D 1864/2 "8,8 cm R Pz B 54 mit 8,8 cm R Pz B Gr 4322 Gebrauchsanleitung" vom 6.1.1944 (Never found a copy, so no further details). This manual describes the attire needed to safely fire the weapon (as the shield was not invented yet). The shield first appears in the D 1864/5 from 24 February 1944, but pictorial evidence suggests that the full deliverance of the shields to the front line took another 7-8 months to complete. At the time the instructions were issued approximately 80.000 Panzerschrecks had already been manufactured and issued to the front. "Von der Front für die Front" dated 6 June 1944 simply states that "Der Panzerschreck ist ein Kriegskind" (A child of war). Since priority had to be given to a speedy development in order to equip the troops with adequate anti-tank weapons the system has several shortcomings. And the biggest problem was apparently the need for the firer to wear the protective gear. "In many cases the troops themselves have made their own shields that can be mounted on the tube with a clamp and that have a window of Plexiglas or similar materials. Production of shields is ongoing, but if for some reason these doesn't reach the front troops the units Waffenmeister can make them locally, using the D 1864/5 as a guide."
"Von der Front für die Front" dated 8. September 1944 states that reports are still being received from the front about soldiers being wounded from burns due to missing protection clothing and absence of shields on their Panzerschrecks. As a remedy the units are once again prompted to make their own shields and this time a blueprint for a unit-made shield followed the publication.
A weapons demonstration for the brass, somewhere in France May 1944. The Model I front sight is still in use.
As a result of the problems encountered with the wearing of the protective gear and the promised shields not showing up the troops themselves had long ago designed their own shields to remedy the problem. The shield in the picture above was made from scrap metal and appears to be heavy, as the window isn't in line with the sights. Of special note are the wires that have been attached to hold camouflage and the "Handschutz" (Hand protection) visible to the left viewed from the front.
Fallschirmjäger in the Soviet Union in the start of the year 1944
The shield in this picture is totally different from any other improvised shield, and from what can be seen appears to have had another function from the start (Dustbin lid?). Note the small window. It does not confirm to the standards set in the manual D 1864/1, as it appears to be non-removable. Also worth noticing is the discarded wooden dowel with electric connector from a previously fired round lying in the lower left corner of the picture.
More examples of improvised shields. The right picture was taken in France, summer of 1944.
Two ground dug specimens of improvised Panzerschreck shields. The right one strongly resembles the one in the picture above right. Both shields from "Collection Petigny".
Yet another version of Waffenmeister made shield. Unlike the two models above, this model has a improvised "attachment mechanism". A flat iron has been bent and mounted below the opening for the tube. This would correspond with the forward surface of the trigger guard, enabling the gunner to hold it in place. Pictures courtesy of Vladimir.
And even yet another variety! This shield was found in the vicinity of the town of Polotsk. Pictures courtesy of Alexander, Belarus.
The official issue
The shield came in two documented varieties. It appears to be factory variations, and not a matter of product developments. The only difference being a depression for the spare glass windows. Apart from this they appear to have been manufactured unchanged from February 1944 to the end of the war, maybe with one exception for the RPzB54/1.
The picture above show the version 2 model of the shield with the depressed compartment for spare glasses.
From the D 1864/5:
The shield protects the firer against the burning powder particles that will be flying to the rear from the grenade that has been fired. When the shield has been mounted the instructions in D 1864/2 concerning the use of a gasmask, hood and gloves will no longer apply. The firer can use a steel helmet or field cap.
Warning: Only shoot with the shield mounted. Wounds to the head or hands will be the result without it.
The brackets on the front of the shield are used to fasten camouflage.
The shield should be fastened in front of the rear sight with the box-clamp so that the shield is fastened tight, and placed so the firer can see through the window when aiming.
The shield was in fact issued with a fail-safe mounting bracket. The "anti-twist bracket" protrudes to the rear and fits inside the hollow front of the rear sight. It would ensure that the window was in line with the sights and that the off-set weight didn't cause the shield to tilt so that the sightline got blocked. Pictorial evidence show that the bracket was used most of the time, but some have ignored the functionality it provided.
The glass window was supposed to be prepared before mounting. The tape that held the wooden dowel to the rear of the RPzB Granate was re-used on the glass.
A set of two spares should be prepared the same way and stored in the box on the shield.
"Glass that isn't taped around the edge will shatter.
Exchange glass that has shattered or is damaged with a replacement."
Often these spare pieces of glass were separated/isolated with paper to preserve them.
And once again the re-supply of crucial but cheap components was made easy! This text is from the official approval of the RPzB 54 with ammunition and accessories, the Heerestechnische Verordnungsblatt from 1 September 1944.
And then finally on 15 January 1945 in the Heerestechnische Verordnungsblatt that officially approves the RPzB 54/1 with the new ammunition that was also intended for the RPzB 54 the following text can be found:
The "ammunition box" was for the new rocket, the RPzB granate 4992. The new improved glass was a safety glass with two laminated pieces of glass.
In this slide the cardboard box with the spare glass is clearly visible.
Northern Russia August 1944. This ammunition carrier has saved up an extra box and carries two spares around.
Two varieties of the glass for the window. The different names (Glas/Scheibe) were used side-by-side. Both have their paper-envelope intact, but no cardboard box.
The glass to the left above is the standard one-piece glass. The right glass is the improved glass from January 1945, laminated by gluing two single pieces of glass together. It is maker marked in white ink in the lower right corner with "mtv" for "A. Lorenz, Feinmechanik-optik, Dresden".
Improving the shield
The D 1864/1 had a annex number 3 at the end with improvements suggested by the troops. In reality just a "Best of" from the "Von der Front für die Front" publications.
I haven't managed to find any picture of a RPzB 54 with the standard shield that has had this improvement implemented. The closest I get are the pictures at the top of this page from the weapons demo, but that is a improvised shield.
A newly formed Volksgrenadierdivision. Note the camouflaged shields and a improvised hand guard unlike the prescribed model.
The shield delivered with the RPzB 54/1 appears to have had the improvement implemented in the rebuild process
A RPzB 54/1 as "touchable" exhibit in a Russian museum.
A picture from the manual D 1864/6 for the RPzB 54/1. The handprotector has clearly been installed on this prototype of the rebuild.
The only other original picture from the era I have seen of a RPzB 54/1 has what MIGHT be a Handschutz, but the picture is not clear on that subject. Picture can be studied at the very end of the page about the sights.
The Mystico corner
By mounting the shield back to front and tilting it 900 it was possible to use the shield in a manner not described in any manual. This could of course be credited to ignorance when it comes to the Volksturm youth above right, but hardly the case with the Grossdeutschland soldiers above left. Some have a theory that this was done to get a lower profile, but that doesn't make sense. The "Handhabe", the wood and steel frame around the coking handle/trigger handle has the exact same height as the shield, so that would give no effect what so ever. The only explanation I can think of is that this variation will give a better protection of the firers' right hand (but leaving larger parts of his torso exposed). In addition the profile will be higher making the weapon easier to spot. The firer is still wearing a glove. Maybe they are just checking to see if it can be done.... note the wooden dowel in the lower right corner. This is a shooting exercise and not a combat trench-picture".
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