The Piat – Britain’s anti-tank weapon of World War II, Matthew Moss

The Piat – Britain’s anti-tank weapon of World War II, Matthew Moss

The PIAT was the most effective British man-portable anti-tank weapon of the Second World War, developed quickly during the conflict and seeing extensive use in Italy, Normandy and north-western Europe and the Far East. However it was also an unusual weapon – a spigot mortar using a spring for its recoil mechanism, and has gained a rather negative reputation.

We start with an introduction to the work of Lt Colonel Stewart Blacker, a prolific inventor who was also responsible for the Blacker Bombard, a reasonably effective defensive anti-tank weapon used by the Home Guard. Next comes the rather complex development of the PIAT, which saw versions produced by Blacker and by Millis Jefferis competing with each other, before ICI produced a composite version. We then look at the shaped charge ammunition used by the PIAT, the real key to its effectiveness.

There is a good if brief explanation of how the PIAT actually worked, going through the loading and firing process, then what actually happened within the weapon. Apart from anything else this helps to clear up any idea that the PIAT was a spring operated weapon – the PIAT shells contained propellant just like any conventional weapon, while the powerful spring was used as a recoil mechanism, and to help re-cock the weapon ready to fire another shot.

It soon becomes clear in the combat section that the PIAT was a rather effective weapon, capable of destroying strong-points and soft skinned vehicles as well as tanks. Experience in Italy soon proved that it could take out most German tanks and armoured vehicles, although its short range meant that the operators needed to have strong nerves. There are even examples of it taking out Tigers, although from the rear. In Normandy a PIAT probably achieved the first armoured victory of D-Day, and once again they were also effective against pillboxs and bunkers. I hadn’t realised that some were used during the Warsaw uprising, where they were one of the few anti-tank weapons available to the Poles. They were also used in the Far East, but proved to be less effective against the soil covered Japanese bunkers, often failing to detonate.

The Impact chapter makes good use of wartime reports on the PIAT, especially the views of the soldiers who used it. These were generally positive, although its short range and fierce recoil put some people off. However it was one of the most effective anti-tank weapons on Normandy, accounting for 7% of German tank losses examined in a British study. The book finishes with a comparison of the PIAT to its contemporary man-portable anti-tank weapons, which suggests that it was on a par with most of them – heavier than all of them, but with good penetration, easy and quick to reload if things worked correctly, and lacking the back-blast of the Panzerfaust or Bazooka, both of which needed open space behind them.

Development – Springs and shaped charges
Use – The PIAT in action
Impact – Punching above its weight

Author: Matthew Moss
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 2020
Publisher: Osprey
Year: 80

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