Bazooka Face Mask-Blast Protection for a GI’s Face

With the success of Hitler’s armored Blitzkriegs in Poland, France and the Low Countries in 1939 and 1940, the US Army realized it needed an effective and reliable anti-tank weapon that was portable enough for its infantry to carry.

By the early 1940’s, the Army had developed the M10 hand grenade which was capable of penetrating 2.4 inches of armor. However, the grenade was difficult to throw due to its hefty weight of three and a half pounds and was too heavy to be launched as a rifle grenade, making its use impractical.


A GI practices firing a Bazooka

In 1942, Lieutenant Edward Uhl, an Ordnance officer stationed at the Ordnance Corps Headquarters in Washington DC, came up with a revolutionary delivery system for the M10 grenade. According to Uhl:

“I was walking by this scrap pile, and there was a tube that … happened to be the same size as the grenade that we were turning into a rocket. I said, that’s the answer! Put the tube on a soldier’s shoulder with the rocket inside, and away it goes.”

Uhl’s inspiration turned into the M1 Recoil-less Rocket Launcher. The weapon was named the bazooka after its resemblance to a musical instrument played by popular comedian Bob Burns.

The bazooka first saw service with the US Army in North Africa, but due to highly unreliable rockets and lack of training, the weapon was largely ineffective. In North Africa, the German Army also captured numerous bazookas and reversed engineered them into the more powerful and deadly Panzerschrek or “Tank Terror”. Which became a scourge for Allied tanks on the Western and Eastern fronts.


The German Panzerschreck, copied from the American bazooka was a much more effective anti-tank weapon


An American bazooka team prepares to engage a target in France

As the war progressed, the bazooka saw multiple upgrades and modifications, including the M1A1 and M9 series. Unable to penetrate the thick frontal armor of German tanks, American soldiers were taught to aim for the tank’s sides, belly, tracks, top and rear where armor was thinner.

The bazooka was most effective not as an anti-tank weapon, but against enemy fixed fortifications such as pillboxes and bunkers.

A Marine on Peleliu firing a bazooka. The back blast of the bazooka quickly gave away the firer's position

A Marine on Peleliu firing a bazooka. The back blast of the bazooka quickly gave away the firer’s position

Issued with the bazooka was a face mask intended to protect the firer’s face from the back blast of the rocket. The mask came in a cardboard box that was intended to be used as a carrying case between firings. Although the mask was a helpful protective measure, many GI’s found the dangers of stealthily approaching within 30-50 yards of an enemy tank and surviving much more worrisome than remembering to put on their protective face masks.


Front of the Rocket Launcher face mask with protective paper covers for the lenses still in place


Interior of the mask


Rocket Launcher Face Mask box with instructions

For Related Articles See:

One thought on “Bazooka Face Mask-Blast Protection for a GI’s Face

  • Peter Kubicek says:

    To counter the American bazooka, the Nazis established a slave labor camp in 1944 in the German town of Schlieben to develop and produce the so-called Panzerfaust. (loose translation: fist to destroy a tank).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Past and Present WWII History Posts