Anti-tank rifles were invented at the end of WWI. They had a brief golden age during WWII, but as tanks with thick armour and man-portable rocket launchers became common, they quickly disappeared. These rifles were used by all combatants of WWII and were infantry's best friend when facing lightly armoured threats. What rifles did various countries use?
Mauser T-Gewehr (Germany)
This was the first anti-tank rifle in history, developed in Germany to use the 13x92SR cartridge and accepted for service in early 1918 as a temporary measure pending the adoption of the TuF high caliber machinegun. As this rifle had no muzzle brake or recoil dampening system, the crew had to rotate after 2-3 shots. Nevertheless, no less than one thousand of these rifles reached the front lines before the end of WWII. Despite their limited effectiveness, they took down more than a dozen Allied tanks.
7.92 mm karabin przeciwpancerny wz. 35 (Poland)
This rifle, designed by Maroszek, was adopted by the Polish army in 1935. It used a regular Polish army caliber, but with a lengthened casing (to 107 mm) which resulted in a muzzle velocity of 1200 m/s. Due to its secrecy, the project was referred to by its codename, "rifle for Uruguay", resulting in several sources calling it the "Ur" rifle. The secrecy and limited number produced results in a very limited effect against German forces in 1939.
Lahti L-39 (Finland)
This rifle was designed by Aimo Lahti. Finland before the Winter War, just as Germany in WWI, was working on two types of anti-tank weapons: rifles and machineguns. During trials, the machinegun earned a very negative opinion, mostly due to its poor reliability in winter conditions. The rifle proved itself well, and it entered production in 1941. The special Lahti cartridge designed just for this rifle was replaced with a 20 mm shell from German AA guns, purchased by Finland. However, while the Lahti L-39 was enough against lightly armoured T-26 tanks, the rifle was ineffective against T-34 and KV tanks, prevalent a year or two later.
Type 97 (Japan)
The Japanese 20 mm AT rifle was based on an AA gun of the same caliber. Due to the presence of HE shells and the ability to fire in bursts, it could be used against unarmoured targets (MG nests, light fortifications, etc). The AP shell was effective against light vehicles, but the mass of the device (68 kg with ammunition and shield) severely limited mobility on the battlefield. In practice, it could only be used from stationary positions.
Panzerbuchse 38/39 (Germany)
Just as the "Ur", this rifle had a caliber of 7.92 mm with an enlarged casing that propelled the bullet to 1200 m/s, which penetrated 30 mm of armour at 100 metrs. The first variant was accepted under the index Pzb 38, but the lighter and simpler Pzb 39 appeared the following year. The penetration was sufficient against light vehicles, but the bullet did not have significant effect after it penetrated the armour. One attempt to compensate for this was the use of bullets with poisonous gases (tear gas, according to existing sources).
Boys (Great Britain)
This British AT rifle was made in the late 1930s by Enfield under the supervision of Colonel Boys. This rifle used special 0.55 inch (13.9 mm) Boys rounds. The Boys Mk. I was accepted into the British Army in 1937 and was actively used by Britain and its allies in WWII. On the Pacific Front, it saw use until the end of the war. Boys rifles were also shipped to the USSR as a part of the Lend-Lease program, but their use was limited as they were inferior to domestic designs.
PTRD and PTRS (USSR)
According to the legend, both rifles were developed at the start of the Great Patriotic War on Stalin's personal orders and were accepted into service in less than a month. In reality, prototypes were being tested in September-October of 1941, and the first PTRDs (Degtyaryev's design) reached the front in November, with real mass production starting in 1942. The BS-41 bullet with a ceramic-metal core could successfully penetrate any German medium tank in the side, even 1943's Panther. The large amounts of anti-tank rifles in Soviet service forced the Germans to attack with heavy tanks, which were not always available.
Original article available here.