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PTRD 41: The Simple Soviet Antitank Rifle of WWII

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The Soviet Union had originally eschewed the use of large numbers of antitank rifles, anticipating that any potential combat use of them would be largely against tanks impervious to AT rifle cartridges. However, when German forces came flooding across the border in 1941, the Soviet Union found themselves being attacked by quite large numbers of tanks which were in fact vulnerable to an antitank rifle cartridge. Stalin ordered an immediate development and production of such a weapon, and the designers responded with concepts. Simonov produced the PTRS-41, a semiautomatic 14.5mm weapon that was sophisticated, expensive, and effective. Degtyarev produced the PTRD-41, a single shot 14.5mm weapon which was simple, cheap, and also effective. Both used the same cartridge, which fires a 980gr armor piercing projectile at a remarkable 3320 fps.

Both the Simonov and Degtyarev rifles were ordered into production, with the PTRD-41 being available and fielded within a month because of its very simple nature. By the end of the war some 185,000 of these rifles had been made, and even after the new German tanks became impervious to them, they remained effective weapons for use on light armored vehicles, field guns, machine gun nests, pillboxes, and other hardened targets.

The PTRD-41 is a mechanically interesting and unusual weapon in that despite being only a single shot system, it is recoil operated. When fired, the entire barrel assembly recoils rearward, absorbing some of the immense recoil energy and also opening the bolt and ejecting the spent case. The shooter then need only drop a new cartridge into the action and close the bolt to be ready for a subsequent shot.