The Panzerbüchse 38 ("Tank Rifle"), often abbreviated as PzB 38, conceived by Dipl.-Ing. (certified engineer) B. Brauer and built by the Gustloff-Werke in Suhl. It was a manually loaded single shot weapon with moving barrel. When fired, the barrel recoiled about 9cm, which opened the breech and expelled the spent cartridge. The breech block was then arrested in the rear position, leaving an opening for the gunner to manually insert a new cartridge. The gunner then released the cocked breech with a lever at the grip. The breech and barrel then would move forward again and the trigger was cocked; then the weapon is ready to fire again. This rather complicated mechansim was reportedly prone to jamming if the system got dirty in field use.
The weapon uses the bipod found on the MG 34; the shoulder plate is rubber-cushioned and can be folded to the right for ease of transportation. Although manufactured with pressed steel parts that were spot-welded, still because of the complicated vertical block breech mechanism it was difficult to manufacture and only the small number of 1408 PzB 38 was built from 1939 to 1940 at the company Gustloff Co. Waffenfabrik in Suhl; 62 of these weapons had been used by the German troops in the invasion of Poland 1939. As soon as the successor PzB 39 was available, immediately production was switched over to the new type.
The weapon had an overall length of 161.5 cm (129cm with the stock folded for transportation) and a barrel (4 grooves rs) length of 108.5 cm. Total weight (incl. bipod and carrying sling) 16.2 kg, weight of barrel (incl muzzle brake) 6.14kg; Vo using the Patrone 318 was 1,210m/s which made for a penetration of 30mm at 100m.
The next development, onto which production was immediately switched, was the Panzerbüchse 39 or PzB 39, an improvement made by the company Gustloff on their PzB 38. It too featured a vertical breech block mechanism. It retained the barrel of the PzB 38 and had an only slightly increased overall length of 162.0 cm; weight was reduced to 12.6 kg. It's performance data was basically the same as that of the PzB 38. To increase the practical rate of fire, two cartridge-holding cases containing 10 rounds each could be attached to both sides of the weapon near the breech - these were not magazines feeding the weapon, they simply enabled the gunner to extract the cartridges (that he still had to manually insert into the gun) from the conveniently placed magazines. 568 PzB 39 were used by the German army in the invasion of Poland; two years later, at the beginning of the war against Russia, 25,298 PzB 39 were in use by German troops; total production form March 1940 to November 1941, when production ceased, was 39,232 rifles. Technical data: overall length: 162cm; barrel length 108.5cm; total weight (incl. bipod and carrying sling but no magazines) 12.6kg; weight empty 11.6kg; total weight of magazine (loaded) 1.09kg; weight magazine (empty) 0.25kg; practical rate of fire: 10 shots/min. Ammunition: Patrone 318; Vo 1,210 m/s; armor penetration 30mm/100m.
Later in the war the German tank rifles PzB 38 and PzB 39 were withdrawn from frontline service because the penetrating power of AT rifles did not suffice against newer Allied tanks. Starting 1942, the PzB 39 were rebuilt with a shortened barrel (59cm) and an affixed Schiessbecher ("firing cup" = rifle grenade launching attachment) as grenade rifles with the designation Granatbüchse Modell 39 ("grenade rifle model 39") and proved useful in that role.