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Recoilless Rifles

Recoilless Rifles

Recoilless rifles are man portable and are usually employed as anti-tank or fire support weapons

 
 

   One of the longest-serving types of infantry heavy fire support weapons, the recoilless rifle is basically a small recoilless artillery piece. The secret to their operation lies in allowing excess gasses from the propellant charge vent-out through a venturi at the back end of the tube, resulting in a forward recoil force that counteracts the recoil from the muzzle and the projectile (though it must be noted that most are not entirely recoilless).

   These weapons are often confused with rocket launchers, and while the principles of operation are extremely similar, the difference lies in how the projectile is fired. If the propellant is located behind the projectile, the weapon is a recoilless rifle; if it is located inside the projectile, it is a rocket launcher. Even considering these differences, it is often difficult to discern where recoilless rifles end and rocket launchers begin, but because the projectiles thrown by recoilless rifles contain none of the propellant charge used to fire them, they are capable of delivering a larger payload than what is practical to achieve with a rocket.

   Also, it should be noted that the rifling (or lack thereof) determines the definition of the weapon. Recoilless weapons with rifled tubes are called "Recoilless Rifles", while those with smooth bores are called "Recoilless Guns". The term "Recoilless Weapon" is also used as a catch-all that includes rocket launchers, though in the context of this introduction, it will be used from here onward only for recoilless rifles and guns.

   Recoilless weapons also produce an extremely violent muzzle flash and backblast when fired (to reiterate, these weapons are artillery pieces), so they are usually too dangerous to fire from indoors or in front of walls. However, some recoilless weapons mitigate the backblast effects through the use of a "countermass", which decelerates the gasses enough to make the backblast area significantly smaller, without creating a dangerous backpressure inside the weapon.

   The first operational recoilless weapons were fielded in the First World War, with the most famous example being the Davis Gun. Recoilless weapons were used mostly to attack airships and submarines, but their potential as ground-based fire support weapons was widely overlooked (even though it was proven on several occasions in real combat), and they fell out of use during the Interwar Era as more familiar weapons overtook them in development. Some experimentation with recoilless weapons took place throughout the Interwar Era, but the lack of a munition suitable for engaging tanks, and the size and weight of early recoilless weapons (which didn't give them many relevant advantages over regular artillery pieces) always held them back.

   This changed in the late 1930s, when evolving artillery technology allowed increasingly smaller and lighter recoilless guns to be built for fire support, which finally matched the power of small pack howitzers and mountain guns in a much more compact form. The value of recoilless weapons for fire support was graphically demonstrated during the 1941 Battle of Crete, there German paratroopers overwhelmed a numerically superior Allied defense force (which had already successfully repelled an amphibious assault). Later in the war, the application of shaped charge ammunition turned recoilless rifles and guns into extremely formidable tank-killers, a role which has ever since been the dominant application of these weapons.

   The early Cold War saw the introduction of increasingly more powerful recoilless weapons through the 1950s, with NATO and the Warsaw Pact locked in an arms race between tank armor and anti-tank munitions. However, as recoilless weapons were increasingly viewed by most militaries as anti-tank weapons, the widespread proliferation of anti-tank guided missiles by the early 1950s saw development stagnate once again.

   However, the pendulum is once again swinging back in favor of recoilless weapons, as numerous insurgency and counter-insurgency conflicts across the world are increasingly favoring the capabilities of the recoilless weapon over the anti-tank guided missiles. The ability of most recoilless weapons to fire a wide range of ammunition makes them extremely valuable in urban and anti-personnel warfare, so there is in fact a future for them; unless the attention span of the powers that be again zeros-out too quickly, that is.

 

Notable Recoilless Rifles

 

   Panzerfaust: This was the first disposable, direct-fire, man-portable anti-tank weapon. It was a    cruse weapon even by 1940s standards, with a very short effective range, but its effectiveness against tanks during World War 2 was legendary. It had another extremely important innovation in the form of an over-caliber warhead (which was wider than the diameter of the tube, since it was located in front of the muzzle), which saw little impact on later recoilless rifles and guns, but was applied to numerous rocket launchers produced during and since the Cold War.

   M18: This US-made 57 mm weapon was the first man-portable recoilless rifle. It was introduced in the closing days of World War 2, but saw substantial combat use in many conflicts that followed, including the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

   Carl Gustaf: One of the longest-lived and most successful recoilless rifles, the 84 mm Carl Gustaf has been used by many nations, most of which still operate it, and it was employed as both an anti-tank weapon, and a general-purpose fire support weapon. The current iteration of these weapons is the Carl Gustaf M4, and the preceding M3 version was produced under license in the US as the M3 MAAWS.

   M40: Created in the early 1950s as a replacement for a wide range of 75 mm and 105 mm recoilless rifles, the US-made M40 became one of the most widespread and successful weapons of its type, and many nations still operate them. A wide range of 106 mm ammunition was developed for this weapon.

   M67: An alternative to the Carl Gustaf, the US-built M67 was a 90 mm man-portable recoilless rifle developed as a replacement for the M18 and the 1940s-era "Bazooka" anti-tank rocket launchers. The M67 was generally less impressive than the Carl Gustaf, but effective enough that it remains in service with several nations.

   Miniman: This Swedish 74 mm recoilless gun is a disposable anti-tank weapon, much like the Panzerfaust. The Miniman had good performance by 1960s standards, but was quickly overtaken by advances in tank armor technology. It has since been superseded by the AT-4.

   AT-4: Developed as a quick successor to the Miniman, Sweden's AT4 utilized a larger 84 mm version of the earlier weapon's projectile, added features to the warhead that greatly increased its lethality after penetration, and used a more ergonomical disposable launch tube. Unlike the Miniman, the AT4 was widely exported, and also manufactured under license abroad as well (notably in the US, as the M136).

   ALAC: This new Brazilian recoilless rifle uses a tube much like that on the AT-4, but fires a projectile more like that of the Carl Gustaf M2. Both anti-tank and anti-structure versions are manufactured, and the ALAC is being aggressively marketed around the world.

 

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Recoilless rifles

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Recoilless rifles

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Recoilless rifles

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Recoilless rifles

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Recoilless rifles

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Recoilless rifles

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Recoilless rifles

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Recoilless rifles

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Recoilless rifles

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