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Terminology

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Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank

The Projector, Infantry, Anti Tank (PIAT) was an Anti-Tank Weapon used by Canadian infantry and reconnaissance troops from 1943 to the 1950s.

History

Stemming from a prewar spigot mortar (invented before the war by retired British Lieutenant Colonel Blacker, and hence called a Blacker Bombard) the PIAT was a simple spring-action launcher. The round was held in a trough at the front of the projector; releasing the trigger of the cocked weapon set a steel spigot in motion, contacting the rear of the round, igniting the ballististe cartridge attached to the tail, and setting it in flight.

The PIAT had to be cocked manually the first time, but afterwards, in theory, the recoil of the weapon would recock the spring. The spring was very difficult to cock (or re-cock). The trigger was stiff, requiring a two finger pull, and the brief lapse between pull of trigger and ejection of round often caused soldiers new to the weapon to release their grip too early, resulting in a weapon that failed to recock - and also a sharp blow to their prematurely relaxed shoulder. According to the manual, "Although the weapon is fired from the shoulder, the action on firing is very different from that of a rifle or machine gun. When the trigger action has released the spigot, a total weight of about 12 pounds travels forward for one tenth of a second before the round is fired. The backward thrust on the shoulder is increased and the balance of the weapon changes slightly. The aim has to be kept steady against these effects."

The advantage that the PIAT had was that there was no backblast, and it could be fired from an enclosed space. The firer had to be prone, however, as the weapon could not be fired while crouching or standing.

The three pound hollow charge warhead was adequate for the task of penetrating the armour of most German armoured vehicles; even the Panther could, and was, defeated by close range flank shots. Private Ernest Alvia "Smokey" Smith of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada was awarded the Victoria Cross after an action in which he defeated a Panther with a PIAT.

The effective range of the PIAT was about 100 yards, however. (Smokey Smith's VC action took place at night in poor weather, allowing him to be extremely close to the enemy tank - some ten (!) yards away). The round had an initial velocity of 250 feet per second.

Lieutenant Colonel Blacker successfully patented the design and was awarded some 25,000 pounds sterling in 1944 for his part in developing the PIAT.


Sergeant D. Wilson, Private J. Brunelle, and Private A. Munro, of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada,
on exercise in the UK, 13 Apr 1944.
PAC Photo.

The PIAT was first issued to Canadian combat troops in time for the landings in Sicily, and was used to the end of the Second World War. It was issued on the scale of one to every platoon of infantry (36 men) and was usually carried by one of the men in Platoon Headquarters. It could also be used, with less success, as a mortar, and some experimentation was done with mounting the PIAT (or PIATs) on vehicles. To fire the weapon as a mortar, the shoulder pad was turned sideways and braced against a tree, rock or suitable object that would keep the weapon secure.

The first warheads that the PIATs fired were found to be faulty, requiring a square hit on enemy armour, failure to do so causing a misfire. User confidence after Sicily was low (at Valguarnera the second in command of The Royal Canadian Regiment was killed after hitting a German tank with from one to three faulty PIAT rounds), and improved munitions were made available after the landings on the Italian mainland. A concerted education effort had to be made to ensure the troops that the PIAT was a trusty weapon.

Reports of...instances of the failure of the PIAT bomb to detonate unless striking the target squarely were fairly common (in Sicily). The adoption, early in 1944, of a "graze" fuse (which was actuated by the deceleration produced when the bomb struck an object, even obliquely) increased the proportion of detonations, thereby considerably improving the weapon's performance against tanks.1

The PIAT was replaced in Canadian service after the Second World War by true rocket munitions such as the US 3.5 inch "Bazooka" and in 1965 the Swedish-designed M2 "Carl Gustav" 84mm anti-armour weapon was introduced into Canadian service, followed in 1991 by the lighter M3 Carl Gustav.

In the confused fighting in the days following the Normandy Landing, PIATs were sometimes used to great effect. The Regina Rifle Regiment was counter-attacked at Bretteville-l’Orgeuilleuse on the night of 7-8 Jun 1944, and this Panther was knocked out just 30 yards from Battalion Headquarters. PAC Photo. A Canadian paratrooper demonstrates the actual firing position while training in Canada, Mar 1945. PAC Photo.

Components

The PIAT was a fairly simple weapon, as demonstrated by the photos below.

Object at top right is a practice round adapter; other components would be standard for a combat-ready PIAT. Artifacts and photo courtesy David Gordon.


Artifacts and photo courtesy David Gordon.

Accessories

The PIAT had a variety of extra kit for carrying the weapon and its ammunition.

Ballistite Cartridge

The PIAT spring was not strong enough to propel the bomb on its own; a ballistite cartridge located in the tail of the bomb was used to propel the bomb towards its target.

PIAT Sling

There was no specific "PIAT Sling". The PIAT could be carried by rifle slings, or as some suggest, by scrounged Bren slings. The approved method was with rifle slings, however (see below), and the weapon was heavy (32 pounds), long (39 inches) and awkward to carry.

 
This PIAT carried by Private G. Mills of the 2nd Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment, has no sling at all.
(See swivel barely visible under soldier's ring finger.)
Imperial War Museum Photo.


From the PIAT manual - in French and English.
Scan courtesy Dwayne Hordij.

"Two pairs of sling swivels are attached to the right side of the outer casing.With two rifle slings fitted to these swivels, the projector can be carried on the back, with one sling over each shoulder and the weapon itself resting on the haversack. Alternatively it may be carried slung over one shoulder. In either position the projector should be cocked. It will never be carried with a bomb loaded."

See Also

Piat Ammunition

Notes

  1. Nicholson, Gerald. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. Volume II: The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945 (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1957) p.99

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