Military Factory
flag of United States

2.36-inch Rocket Launcher M1 (Bazooka) Reusable, Shoulder-Fired, Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher (1942)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 7/2/2014

The United States Army enjoyed considerable success with its simplistic Bazooka rocket launcher series.

Tweet
The M1 "Bazooka" proved one of the stars of the Allied cause during World War 2 and went on to inspire the German "Panzerschreck" series in turn. The Bazooka was a special weapon which promoted ease-of-use, simple maintenance/operation and could be produced in vast numbers to supplement a growing war effort. The Bazooka was cited by General Dwight D. Eisenhower as one of the major reasons the Allies won World War 2, proving effective in the field and popular amongst its many operators the world over until replacement weapons began to ebb its position during the 1960s. A truly multirole performer, the Bazooka was used to tackle tank threats and assail fortified positions. Her service life placed her at the heart of the fighting in World War 2 (1939), the Chinese Civil War (1946-1950), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and the Cambodian Civil War (1967-1975) among her more notable engagements. The Bazooka proved revolutionary for its time when infantry held little to no portable anti-tank measure like the M1.

The Bazooka Name

The "Bazooka" nickname stems from the trombone-like wind instrument developed by radio comedian Bob Burns. Burns used the instrument in his skits and copyrighted the design as early as 1920, for whatever reason granting it the name of "Bazooka". When Brigadier General Gladeon M. Barnes of the Ordnance Department saw the weapon, he commented on how the weapon resembled Burns' "Bazooka" and this nickname was, unofficially and forever, attached to the M1 weapon and subsequent developments. The weapon was also known by troops in its shortened "Zooka" nickname form or simply called the "stovepipe" for its obvious appearance to a stove's exhaust stack. "Shoulder 75" was a lesser-used term and signified the firepower of the simple little M1, akin to the firepower inherent in a larger 75mm artillery piece.

Development

Prior to World War 2, armies of the world embraced several anti-tank measures such as awkward, small-caliber towed guns, long, heavy and cumbersome anti-tank rifle and infantry-level grenades of various design. Towed guns required tow vehicles or mover animals and were not very mobile. Anti-tank rifles were nothing more than oversized service rifles which were heavy in practice and expensive to manufacture in number. Infantry-level ant-tank grenades required personnel to be dangerously close to approaching tanks when used and results of such weapons were usually mixed in their execution.

In September of 1939, Germany invaded Poland to officially begin World War 2, joined weeks later in the East by the Soviet Union. Germany's skillful use of armor, infantry and aircraft allowed for Poland's quick demise to which The Low Countries and France soon followed. As German tank armor strength continued to grow heading into 1940, many of existing anti-tank weapons were quickly becoming obsolete though sheer desperation forced their presence as frontline implements. The most common towed anti-tank gun caliber was the 37mm and these proved affective against light-armored vehicles. Their caliber size allowed them to be modestly portable as well, though still not effective in a fluid battle. Armies then moved beyond light tanks and introduced medium tank models which improved armor protection and primary gun strength.

The US Army had let opportunity elapse by the time of World War 2 in Europe. Its primary anti-tank means was the 37mm M3 towed anti-tank gun which suffered from the aforementioned limitations of other 37mm field systems early in the war. Unlike the Germans, British and Soviets, the Americans had elected not to adopt an anti-tank rifle to boot. What value the armor-piercing ammunition of the Browning 0.50 caliber machine gun held was lost with increased armor combat vehicles beginning to appear in Europe.

Work on battlefield rocketry was being undertaken in America as early as 1933 at the storied Aberdeen Proving Ground under the Ordnance Department's "Rocket Branch". The division was headed by one Captain Leslie Skinner who had privately engineered rockets for decades prior. At this point in history, American Army authorities held little interest in sinking financing and resources into an effective battlefield anti-tank rocket until the results of the German advances of 1939-1940 alerted leaders to the need. Studies were initially held with British-originated naval anti-aircraft rockets and launchers to which the American program evolved along the lines of producing a portable launcher in the 20lb range firing an effective, rocket-propelled penetrator providing little to no recoil.

Swiss Army gunner Henry Mohaupt had developed the 2.36" M10 "High-Explosive, Anti-Tank" (HEAT) "spigot" shaped-charge grenade which was shown to US Army authorities with then-minimal interest in 1940. After testing by the Ordnance Department proved it held sound penetration capabilities, the munition was adopted as the M6. Skinner continued development of a shoulder-mounted launcher unit, still convinced of its battlefield merits, while the M6 grenade evolved along its own lines. Skinner was then joined in his exploits by 2nd Lieutenant Edward Uhl and the two finalized an improved launcher and rocket which was successfully test-fired. When pressed into a formal evaluation of their design at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the weapon exhibited excellent results against five competing "spigot" mortar designs, all of which managed to miss their target - a moving tank.

The United States officially entered World War 2 shortly after the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. The American declaration followed and war industry mobilized for overseas combat. All manner of weapons systems were then adopted including the Skinner design as the 2.36" T1 in prototype form. The production contract was handed to General Electric (Bridgeport) on May 20th, 1942 and the weapon was formally designated as the 2.36" Rocket Launcher M1. The finalized product included improved sights, a revised action and a shortened launcher body. The grenade (designated "M6 HEAT") joined production under the E.G. Budd Company brand label.

Bazooka Walk-Around

Design of the Bazooka was fairly straight forward, incorporating a simple launch tube body, integrated sights for aiming, a protected internal power supply, a rudimentary shoulder support structure and pistol- grip assembly which held the trigger unit. The tube was open at the breech and the muzzle for the loading and exiting of the rocket projectile which was electrically-actuated by way of a battery pack found in the base of the shoulder support. The grip and shoulder support were of wood and electrical components were held in a small box fitted atop the launch unit body. A red light was situated at the power box positive contact and luminated when the trigger was squeezed. A guard was affixed to the muzzle to deflect an still-burning propellant from the firer's face and hands.

Initial M1 production models incorporated a forward grip ahead of the standard pistol grip though these were eventually discarded when it was found they provided little support value. Sights were also originally intended to make the M1 ambidextrous in its usage but ultimately relegated to favor right-handed shooters in the end. Interestingly, first forms did not incorporate shoulder strap sling loops for transport which forces infantry to devise home-made straps for a time. A seldom-used bipod was also part of the original M1 design though its added weight and unadjustable nature made it discardable in the field.

Construction of the M1 was simple, allowing for low-cost serial production in the numbers required. The system was also very portable despite its length and easy to operate between the two required crew - one to load the weapon and the other to fire. Original sights allowed for ranging between 100 and 400 yards and a safety mechanism allowed for a safe and active fire mode. The weapon would automatically set itself to safe upon a rocket projectile having been fired.

The 2.36" Launcher Family - M1, M9 and M18

The 2.36 launcher appeared in four major forms during the Bazooka's active service life, these as the M1, M1A1, M9/M9A1 and M18. Performance of the M1 and M1A1 were nearly indestingquishable. The M9/M9A1 were heavier than the M1/M1A1 models by nearly 3lbs (13.1lbs versus 15.87lbs), featured a longer running length of 61 inches (versus 54.5 inches), improved effective engagement ranges from 250 yards to 300 yards and allowed for a rate-of-fire increase of 10 rounds per minute to be reached (compared to the 5rpm limit of the M1/M1A1 models). The later M18was the lightest form of them all at 10.3 lbs. Its length was slightly reduced from that of the M9 family to 60.5 inches while engagement ranges were the same as was its listed rate-of-fire.

Of note is that the M9/M9A1 and the M18 were both able to be broken down into two major sections for much improved portability. This proved very effective for airborne units who often dealt in space-strapped conditions aboard transport aircraft. However, being able to land with an anti-tank capability broadened the tactical value of the paratrooper considerably.

The 3.5" Launcher Family - M20 and M25

The original M20 launcher weighed 15lbs and featured a running length of 60.25 inches. Broken down, the launcher was a handier 33 inch length. Effective range was listed out to 300 yards with a rate-of-fire nearing 4 rounds per minute. The M20B1 followed these same qualities save for its 14lb operating weight. The M20A1 sported a weight of 13lbs, a 60 inch length and a 6 round-per-minute rate-of-fire. The M20B1 and M20A1B1 utilized different construction techniques. The seldom-overlooked M25 model was a repeat-firing Bazooka fitted atop a tripod. The weapon was fed by a three-round magazine cassette on top of the breech while other qualities of the launcher were shared with the M20 family. This system weighed 100lbs (60lbs for the launcher, 40lbs for the tripod), sported a 68.5 inch length and 350 yard reach. Unlike other M20 models, the M25 broke down into a 39.5 inch length and featured a rate-of-fire of up to 10 rounds per minute.

The Bazooka Firing Process

The full action of the Bazooka required the two operators to work in unison. The firer set the launcher upon his shoulder and usually took on a kneeling position, the weapons safety activated at this point. The loader inserted a rocket projectile into the breech end and removed the projectile's arming pin. The projectile was then inserted fully into the breech until locked in place by an awaiting latch. A coiled wire was then unfurled from the rocket's fin assembly and wrapped around a contact spring found on the launcher. At this point, the loader communication a ready signal to the firer and the firer was ready to make his decision. He (and those around him) did have to take special care when firing to make sure that the back-blast of the open breech end did not endanger any nearby allies.


Text ©2003-2014 www.MilitaryFactory.com. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Permitted. Email corrections/comments to MilitaryFactory at Gmail dot com. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value and should not to be construed as usable for hardware restoration, maintenance or general operation. Consult manufacturers directly for such information.
Picture of 2.36-inch Rocket Launcher M1 (Bazooka)
Pic of the 2.36-inch Rocket Launcher M1 (Bazooka)
Image of the 2.36-inch Rocket Launcher M1 (Bazooka)
View All Images (15)

Specifications for the
2.36-inch Rocket Launcher M1 (Bazooka)
Reusable, Shoulder-Fired, Anti-Tank Rocket Launcher


Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: General Electric / Cheney Bigelow Wire Works - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1942


Overall Length: 1371mm (53.98in)
Barrel Length: 1,371.00mm (53.98in)
Weight (Empty): 13.23lbs (6.00kg)


Caliber: 60mm
Action: Electrically-Actuated; Single-Shot; Reusable
Feed: Single-Shot, Reusable Tube
Muzzle Velocity: 300ft/sec (91m/sec)
Rate-of-Fire: 5 rounds per minute
Range: 328ft (100m; 109yds)
Sights: Included Iron / Optics


Variants:
M1 ("Bazooka") - Base series designation; 2.36" rocket projectile; solid wood furniture; ambidextrous sighting device; battery-actuated; M6 HEAT rocket support;13.1lb weight; 54.5" length; 250 yard range; 4-5rpm; 112,790 examples produced.


M1A1 - Improved Bazooka; 2.36" rocket support (M6A1/M6A3); revised, simplified sighting device; face guard at face/hand position on launcher; revised safety; conical muzzle deflector; carrying strap; 13.2lb weight; 54.5" length; 250 yard range; 4-5rpm; 59,932 examples produced.

M9 - Improved Bazooka; 2.36" rocket support; two-piece, "takedown" variant intended for airborne elements; increased tube length for improved range and accuracy; magneto actuation; 15.87lb weight; 61" length; 31.5" travel length; 300 yard range; 10rpm; 26,087 examples produced.

M9A1 - Improved M9 Bazooka variant; barrel coupling redesign; same physical and performance qualities as M9.

M18 - Aluminum body for reduced weight; 2.36" rocket support; 10.3lb weight; 60.5" length; 31.5" travel length; 300 yard range; 10rpm; 500 examples produced.

M20 ("Super Bazooka") - Post-war Bazooka; adopted in 1952; 3.5" rocket support; revised launcher body; single-position shoulder support; single-action safety; carrying strap; conical muzzle and exhaust covers; rubber-padded optics.

M20A1 - Improved M20 model

M20B1 - Same as M20 with different construction technique.

M20A1B1 - Same as M20A1 with different construction technique.

M25 - Three-shot launcher fitted unto heavy-duty tripod.


Operators:
Argentina; Austria; Brazil; Bolivia; Cambodia; Canada; China; Cyprus; France; Greece; Indonesia; India; Japan; Luxembourg; Malaysia; Mexico; Myanmar; Pakistan; Paraguay; Philippines; Portugal; Rhodesia; South Africa; Soviet Union; Spain; Sweden; Thailand; Tunisia; Turkey; United Kingdom; United States