Marine Corps enlistees train with M20 bazookas at Camp Matthews Marine Rifle Range, La Jolla, CA in the early 1950s.
The rocket pioneer scientist Robert H. Goddard developed the basic idea of the bazooka at the end of World War I. On 6 November 1918, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD he demonstrated a tube-launched, solid-propellant rocket.
In 1942, early in World War II, an Army first lieutenant with an engineering degree named Edward Uhl helped develop the shoulder-fired rocket launcher. The Bazooka went from the drawing board into combat within 30 days, setting a record for effective procurement. The 2.36 inch M1 rocket launcher was introduced in June 1942, and the improved M1A1 in August 1943. It was named the "Bazooka" after a custom-made musical instrument used by then-popular radio comedian Bob Burns. The M9 bazooka, introduced in June 1943, was a major redesign and improvement of the original weapon. It was replaced in turn by the M9A1 in September 1944.
In the Korean War, the 3.5 inch M20 rocket launcher was used. This weapon had been developed at the end of WW II but then ignored. It was rushed into production and flown to Korea when it was found the 2.36 inch bazooka was ineffective against the Soviet T-35 tanks. The U.S. Army explosives experts at Picatinny Arsenal developed a highly effective 3.5-inch bazooka High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) round.
Since the Korean War, bazookas have been replaced by recoilless rifles and antitank missiles. In Vietnam the U.S. Army used the M20 in limited numbers, while phasing in the M72 LAW, a five pound disposable weapon accurate to 350 yards (meters).
Bazooka Model Descriptions
Bazookas at ordnance demonstration, Pinecastle Jeep Range, FL, during WW II.
All bazooka rocket launchers feature a smooth bore steel tube, a shoulder frame and a trigger mechanism. Each of the models differs in details as briefly described in the following paragraphs. Bazookas are a crew served weapon with a two-man team, gunner (aim/fire) and loader (ammo prep/loading). It was effective against tanks to about 100 yards (meters) and could be used at longer distances against softer targets.
The original M1 bazooka was 2.36 inches (60mm) in diameter. It had a wooden stock and hand grips. It used same sling as the M1 Garand rifle. The rocket is loaded in the rear of the tube and a wire is connected. Pressing the trigger energizes the rocket from two BA-30 1.5 volt D-cell batteries in the stock, connected through an off/on switch.
The bazooka ammunition was a small, fin-stabilized rocket-propelled grenade. The original model cost only $19 to produce. While useful, the first bazooka had many limitations. Among other deficiencies, it was extremely inaccurate in combat and the back-blast tended to expose the location of positions.
The first successor model was the M1A1. The tube was still a single piece, but it had improved sights. The forward hand grip and the off/on switch was eliminated. A small disc made of mesh wire could be clamped to the muzzle to protect the gunner from baskwash. The mesh wire was ineffective and was mostly ignored by the troops. In later production, a solid metal funnel at the muzzle replaced the mesh with much better effect.
The next evolution was the M9 bazooka, introduced in June 1943, and replaced by the M9A1 in September 1944. This was a major redesign of the original weapon with many improvements. The tube was made from lighter metal in two parts that could be separated for convenient transport. A skelaton metal shoulder stock replaced the wood of the M1 series and the tube featured a metal funnel like the late production M1A1. The unreliable batteries were replaced by a small magneto-generator in the trigger and the fixed iron sights replaced by optical ones. The M9A1 (and other 2.36" models remaining in inventory) were withdrawn from service at the end of WW II.
The M20, developed at the end of World War II but not used until the Korean War, was mainly distinguished by an increased diameter of 3.5 inches. There were other improvemens in the sights and shoulder frame, but it was otherwise very similar to the World War II weapons. A bipod and rear support are provided for firing from a prone position. Further improved models were designated M20A1 or M20B1.
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