Object Title

Mauser Tankgewehr M1918 anti-tank rifle

Mauser Tankgewehr M1918 anti-tank rifle


The first use of tanks by the British during the Battle of the Somme in 1916 came as a shock to the Germans. Whilst primitive and slow-moving compared to modern tanks, they were resilient to (though not totally proof against) rifle, machine gun fire, and bursting artillery shells. They showed the way forward in terms of breaking the deadlock of trench warfare and replacing the loss of the cavalry as mobile military units. Aside from field artillery, the Germans had no real counter to this totally new threat.

Soldiers experimented with reversed bullets, which British tests confirm were more effective at close range in penetrating armour plate. Later, the Germans issued the armour-piercing 7.92mm 'K' bullet for rifles and machine guns. Recognising that this would trigger an inevitable arms race between projectiles and thicker and harder armour, efforts were also made to create specialised anti-tank weapons. A new type of machine gun was developed to fire an enormous new 13.2mm cartridge against tanks and aircraft. This round was created by scaling up the 'K' bullet, which had a hardened steel core with a lead mantle and full metal jacket. The bullet weighed a tremendous 802 grains (52 grams) compared to the 185 grains (12 grams) of the infantry rifle version. This gave it the mass required to punch through armour, whilst the large propellant charge provided the necessary velocity.

As the MG 18 machine gun was being developed, an anti-tank rifle was also proposed. Work on the more complicated machine gun proved to be slow, and only the mechanically simple 'T-Gewehr' was produced in numbers sufficient to see action. This was little more than a scaled-up Mauser 98 rifle. Its enormous proportions were essential in making it strong enough to contain the high pressures generated by the 13.2mm round. To this end, the number of locking lugs on the bolt was doubled to four.

Use and effect

The boiler-plate steel armour of the first British tanks was unhardened and only 8 to 15mm thick. It was easily penetrated by the T-Gewehr at up to a range of 300 metres. The outer portion of the 13.2mm bullet would be stripped away on impact but the steel penetrator would continue on, tumbling and travelling sideways into the interior of the tank. Metal spalls from the tank's own armour would add to the destruction inside.

The rifle was usually deployed with a crew of two; shooter and spotter, as would become standard practice for military snipers. The spotter would direct the shooter onto the target and observe fall of shot with a pair of binoculars. Two to three rifles were supplied per regiment. Fired from cover, it was unlikely that the targeted tank crew, with severely limited vision, could effectively identify the threat and return fire. However, other tanks and infantry would immediately seek the snipers who would be forced to withdraw. This was to be expected; all snipers and machine gunners received similar special treatment from the enemy. A lack of any dampening or muzzle brake system led to punishing recoil for the shooter, which became the main drawback of the design. Another disadvantage was the absence of a magazine, limiting the opportunity for quick follow-up shots. The spotter could load the rifle to mitigate this limitation.

After the war, the T-Gewehr was banned by the Treaty of Versailles, and saw no further use, though it is believed that the Germans continued to manufacture it in secret. The weapon directly inspired the .55 calibre Boys anti-tank rifle and the .50 calibre Vickers and Browning machine guns. After tank armour had become essentially proof to rifle bullets of any kind, a whole generation of Anti-Materiel Rifles (AMRs) emerged. Some of these, including the US Barrett M82/M107 still use the .50 Browning Machine Gun cartridge based on the original T-Gewehr round. However, the anti-tank role has passed to rocket-propelled grenades and guided missile systems.  Today's AMRs are instead used to attack lightly armoured vehicles, structures, and also human targets at extreme range or behind heavy cover.


Action / Operating system Bolt
Barrel length 98.4 cm (19 in)
Calibre / Bore 13.2x92mmSR Mauser 'Tank und Flieger' (.52 in)
Capacity (rounds) 0
Country of manufacture Germany
Crew 2
Date entered service 1918
Effective range 500 m (547 yd)
Feed Single shot
Manufacturer Mauser
Muzzle velocity 780 m/s (2650 fps)
Overall length 1.68 m (39 in)
Primary operator Germany
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) about 10
Weight 17.7 kg (39 lb)


Jonathan Ferguson