The Soviet T-34 Medium Tank came as a big surprise to the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front. This modern tank seriously outclassed German Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks, and it became available in large numbers as production topped 2000 units per month. To counter this threat, particularly when there were no friendly tanks or anti-tank guns in the vicinity, soldiers occasionally resorted to improvised anti-tank devices and tactics. By 1944, more than 10,000 enemy tanks and armoured vehicles were reported to have been destroyed by individual soldiers close-assaulting a vehicle. On 9 March 1942, the German High Command published a directive which retroactively permitted the issue of a Panzervernichtungsabzeichen – tank-buster badge – to honor soldiers who had destroyed or immobilized an armoured vehicle single-handedly, using close-combat weapons or munitions like an anti-tank rifle, rifle grenade, or explosive device. One badge was issued per enemy armoured vehicle knocked out. One or several tankbuster badges could be worn on the upper left arm of the tunic. The tankbuster award was popularly known as the "Panzerknacker" badge, in reference to training manual Merkblatt 77/3 – Der Panzerknacker which was designed to encourage soldiers to close-assault armoured vehicles.
Tens of thousands of soldiers must have been killed in the attempt to destroy a tank with an improvised explosive device, but there are some who learned the trade and survived to talk about it. Oberleutnant Günther Viezenz, Company Commander of 10. Kompanie / Grenadierregiment 7 earned 21 tank buster badges during his military carreer. After the war he joined the West-German Bundeswehr and retired in 1980 at the rank of Colonel.
Anti-Tank Weapons and Devices
- 7.62 mm Panzerbüchse anti-tank rifle
- 20 mm S.18/100 Solothurn Tankbüchse anti-tank rifle
- Geballte Ladung stick grenade cluster
- Tellermine anti-tank mine
- Panzerwurfmine shaped charge
- Panzergranate 46 armour-piercing rifle grenade
- Panzergranate 61 armour-piercing rifle grenade
- Faustpatrone/Panzerfaust 50 Klein
- Faustpatrone/Panzerfaust 100 Klein
- 8.8 cm Raketenpanzerbüchse/Panzerschreck
- Haft-Hohlladung 3 kg magnetic hollow-charge
- Zimmerit Mine magnetic hollow-charge
In military modelling or wargaming terms, any figure courageous or desperate enough to be carrying an anti-tank device may be considered a Panzerknacker.
- Panzerknacker, 1:48 Master Fighter MF48001
- Panzerknacker, 1:72 C-P Models WH16
- German Engineers, 1:72 Revell 02508
- Panzerknacker, 15 mm Battlefront Miniatures GSO16
- Der Panzerknacker – Merkblatt 77/3 – LW-Merkblatt 220
Anleitung für den Panzernahkämpfer
- German Anti-Tank Weapons
- Panzergranate Wargame Rules
- Any theater of operation from 1941 to 1945
Panzerknacker who acted on their own initiative and typically used improvised weapons and tactics, are not to be confused with Panzerzerstörer who were designated infantry anti-tank troops attached at the platoon, company or battalion level. Panzerzerstörer were armed with Panzerfaust or Panzerschreck anti-tank rocket projectors and they were trained to use them effectively against enemy armour.