Part 14

Image Collection 13

Gavin K. Watt

This weapon was developed from prewar experimentation and went into production at the end of 1942 to replace the .55 calibre Boys ATk rifle at platoon level. Unlike the U.S. Army’s "bazooka" rocket-launcher, which was intended to perform the same task, the PIAT operated by mechanical force employing a spring which drove a metal rod or “spigot" that detonated a charge contained in the tail tube structure of a 3 pound hollow-charge bomb. The explosion projected the bomb about 120 yards. The PIAT was primarily an anti-tank weapon and capable of knocking out the heaviest German tanks, but it was equally effective against bunkers and buildings and was often used in that role.

The photographs illustrate the PIAT being manpacked using two rifle slings. Although extremely awkward and heavy, the PIAT had the distinction of being considered “outstandingly effective” by Canadian Infantry Officers who rated it even higher than the BREN light machine gun.

Cocking the PIAT required pulling and locking the heavy spring to the rear; this was done by rotating the butt piece and pulling or pushing it away from the body of the weapon - usually by the soldier lying on his back with his feet braced on the butt, and compressing the spring using the strength of his legs and bowed body. The No. 2 took a bomb (from cardboard carrying tubes similar to those used for mortar rounds), fused it, and placed it in the open forward trough, its tail tube fitting to grooves at the spigot aperture. Trigger pressure released the spring; the long rod flew forward with great force up the tail tube of the bomb, detonating the propellant charge, and keeping the bomb straight as it flew out the front of the trough. The charge also drove the spigot back and re-cocked the spring. The PIAT had a fearsome recoil and the cocking of the weapon and getting close enough to a target to aim effectively required considerable strength and a great deal of nerve. Helmets were always worn and the firer tilted his head downwards to protect his face. The No. 1 carried the PIAT and a Sten Mk II as his personal weapon.

1. A not very revealing image of the Cape Breton Highlanders using a Boys Atk Gun while training in England, November 1942.

(LAC, PA194002)

2. British infantry in Tunisia with a PIAT and a wound cardboard bomb carrier, Tunisia 19Feb43.

(IWM, NA-000756)

3. PIAT team of the London Irish Rifles, Forli, Italy. The No.2 fits a bomb into the launching tray.

(IWM, NA-022007)

4. Cpl. E.H. Pruner, a ‘plow jockey’ of the Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment manpacking a PIAT and an M-1 Thompson in Motta, Italy, 02Oct43.

(LAC, PA167299)

5. West Novies infanteer gets a hit while training with a PIAT at 3CIB school near Ortona, 10Jan44.

(LAC, PA205264)

6. LCpl Thrasher of the Westminster Regiment poses with the German Hummel SPG which he destroyed with a PIAT, Pontecorvo, Italy, 26May44.

(LAC, PA169121)

7. Personnel of the 16th Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers (R.C.E.), arming a Universal Carrier which has been modified to carry fifteen PIAT anti-tank weapons fired by a single trigger, Nijmegen, Netherlands, 14 December 1944.

(LAC, PA177594)

8. Private Edmund Arsenault of The West Nova Scotia Regiment aiming a PIAT anti-tank weapon from a slit trench near Ortona, Italy, 10 January 1944.

(LAC, PA153181)

9. Private L.H. Johnson and Sergeant D.R. Fairborn of the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion with a PIAT anti-tank weapon, Lembeck, Germany, 29 March 1945.

(LAC PA114595)

10. Corporal A. Hynd and Private Guenther, both of The Highland Light Infantry of Canada, manning a PIAT anti-tank weapon during a training exercise, England, 13 April 1944.

(LAC, PA136851)