Struck by a rocket armed with a shaped explosive charge fired by a Libyan rebel fighter, a burned-out Soviet-made T-72 of Muammar Gaddafi’s loyalist army lies abandoned near Ajdabiya on March 26, 2011. (Patrick Baz/AFP (Getty Images))
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Throughout the history of human warfare the backbone of any army has been the common soldier, who has had to endure terrifying inventions—from the chariot to the mounted cavalryman to the motorized armored fighting vehicle—an enemy develops to gain an edge over him. Against every such juggernaut, however, the infantryman hasn’t been entirely helpless—not as long as his own mad scientists have applied their ingenuity to develop countermeasures and increase his odds of survival.
On Sept. 15, 1916, Britain introduced its Mark I tank at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, amid the Somme campaign, with modest success. It wasn’t long before the Germans tried to counter it with the steel-cored K (Kern, or “core”) bullet, a 7.92×57 mm round able to pierce tank armor when fired from a standard Mauser Gewehr 98 rifle. In 1918, as the Allies rolled out tanks with thicker armor, Mauser introduced the specialized T-Gewehr rifle, firing a 13.2×92 mm TuF (Tank und Flieger, or “tank and plane”) round. Thereafter, the arms race was on, as opponents rushed to counter newer, deadlier armored vehicles with more sophisticated “equalizers” intended to give the infantryman a chance of holding his ground. Tanks have since acquired their share of enhanced protection. But aided by such pivotal creations as rocket propulsion, the shaped charge and computerized guidance systems, the current species of “ground pounder” carries his own means to pound back.
this article first appeared in Military History magazine