The bazooka dates back to experiments carried out by the scientist, Robert H. Goddard, in the 1920s. It consisted of a lightweight metal tube held on the shoulder, from which a fin-stabilized rocket could be fired.
In the Second World War scientists returned to the idea and in 1942 the bazooka became an important anti-tank weapon for the US infantry. It fired a 3.4lb rocket to a range of 400 yards.
The Red Army was supplied with this weapon to use on the Eastern Front against the Germans. After managing to capture some of these weapons, the German Army introduced the Panzerschreck. Based on the bazooka, the German version fired a 7.3lb rocket around 165 yards.
M1 (Bazooka) / (2.36-inch Rocket Launcher M1)
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 08/15/2019 | Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com | The following text is exclusive to this site.
The M1 "Bazooka" proved one of the stars of the Allied cause during World War 2 and eventually inspired the German "Panzerschreck" series. The Bazooka was a special weapon which promoted ease-of-use, simple maintenance/operation and could be produced in vast numbers to supplement a growing war effort. The Bazooka was cited by General Dwight D. Eisenhower as one of the major reasons the Allies won World War 2, proving effective in the field and popular amongst its many operators the world over until replacement weapons began to ebb its position during the 1960s. A true multi-role performer, the Bazooka was used to tackle tank threats and assail fortified positions. Her service life placed her at the heart of fighting. World War 2 (1939), the Chinese Civil War (1946-1950), the Korean War (1950-1953), the Vietnam War (1955-1975) and the Cambodian Civil War (1967-1975) were among her more notable engagements. The Bazooka proved revolutionary for its time when infantry held little to no portable anti-tank measure like the M1.
The Bazooka Name
The "Bazooka" nickname stems from its resemblance to the trombone-like wind instrument developed by radio comedian Bob Burns. Burns used the instrument in his skits and copyrighted the design as early as 1920 and, for whatever reason, granted it the name "Bazooka". When Brigadier General Gladeon M. Barnes of the Ordnance Department saw the weapon, he commented on how the weapon resembled Burns' "Bazooka" and this nickname was, unofficially and forever, attached to the M1 weapon and subsequent developments. The weapon was also known by troops in its shortened "Zooka" nickname form or simply called the "stovepipe" for its obvious resemblance to a stove's exhaust stack. "Shoulder 75" was a lesser-used term which likened the firepower of the simple little M1 to that of a larger 75mm artillery piece.
Prior to World War 2, armies of the world embraced several anti-tank measures such as awkward, small-caliber towed guns, long, heavy and cumbersome anti-tank rifle and infantry-level grenades of various designs. Towed guns required tow vehicles or mover animals and were not very mobile. Anti-tank rifles were nothing more than oversized service rifles which were heavy in practice and expensive to manufacture necessary numbers. Infantry-level anti-tank grenades required personnel to be dangerously close to approaching tanks when used and the results of such weapons were usually mixed in their execution.
In September of 1939, Germany invaded Poland, officially beginning World War 2. Germany's skillful use of armor, infantry and aircraft led to Poland's quick demise in which The Low Countries and France soon followed. As German tank armor strength continued to grow heading into 1940, many of the existing anti-tank weapons were quickly becoming obsolete though sheer desperation forced their continued presence as frontline implements. The most common towed anti-tank gun caliber was the 37mm and these proved effective against light-armored vehicles. Their caliber size allowed them to be modestly portable as well, though still not effective in a fluid battle. Armies then moved beyond light tanks and introduced medium tank models which improved armor protection and primary gun strength.
The US Army had let their opportunity for casual anti-tank weaponry improvement slip by before the time of World War 2 in Europe. Its primary anti-tank weapon was the 37mm M3 towed anti-tank gun which suffered from the aforementioned limitations of other 37mm field systems early in the war. To make matters more difficult, the Americans had elected not to adopt an anti-tank rifle unlike the Germans, British and Soviets. What value the armor-piercing ammunition the Browning 0.50 caliber machine gun had was lost as increased armor combat vehicles began to appear in Europe.
Work on battlefield rocketry was being undertaken in America as early as 1933 at the storied Aberdeen Proving Ground under the Ordnance Department's "Rocket Branch". The division was headed Captain Leslie Skinner who had privately engineered rockets for decades prior. At this point in history, American Army authorities held little interest in sinking money and resources into an effective battlefield anti-tank rocket that was until the results of the German advances of 1939-1940 alerted leaders to their need. Studies were initially held with British-originated naval anti-aircraft rockets and launchers, which the American program evolved into a portable launcher in the 20lb range that fired an effective, rocket-propelled penetrator while also providing little to no recoil.
Swiss Army gunner Henry Mohaupt developed the 2.36" M10 "High-Explosive, Anti-Tank" (HEAT) "spigot" shaped-charge grenade that was shown to US Army authorities who, in 1940, had little interest. After testing by the Ordnance Department proved it held sound penetration capabilities, just the munition was adopted as the M6. Skinner continued development of a shoulder-mounted launcher unit, still convinced of its battlefield merits, while the M6 grenade evolved along its own lines. Skinner was then joined in his exploits by 2nd Lieutenant Edward Uhl and the two finalized an improved launcher and rocket which was successfully test-fired. When pressed into a formal evaluation of their design at Aberdeen Proving Ground, the weapon exhibited excellent results against five competing "spigot" mortar designs, all of which managed to miss their target - a moving tank.
The United States officially entered World War 2 shortly after the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. The American declaration followed and war industry mobilized for overseas combat. All manner of weapons systems were then adopted including the Skinner design as the 2.36" T1 in prototype form. The production contract was handed to General Electric (Bridgeport) on May 20th, 1942 and the weapon was formally designated as the 2.36" Rocket Launcher M1. The finalized product included improved sights, a revised action and a shortened launcher body. The grenade (designated "M6 HEAT") joined production under the E.G. Budd Company brand label.
Design of the Bazooka was fairly straight forward, incorporating a simple launch tube body, integrated sights for aiming, a protected internal power supply, a rudimentary shoulder support structure and pistol- grip assembly which held the trigger unit. The tube was open at the breech and the muzzle for the loading and exiting of the rocket projectile which was electrically-actuated by way of a battery pack found in the base of the shoulder support. The grip and shoulder support were made of wood and electrical components were held in a small box fitted atop the launch unit body. A red light was situated at the power box positive contact and illuminated when the trigger was squeezed. A guard was affixed to the muzzle to deflect any still-burning propellant from the firer's face and hands.
Initial M1 production models incorporated a forward grip ahead of the standard pistol grip though these were eventually discarded when it was found they provided little support value. Sights were also originally intended to make the M1 ambidextrous in its usage, but ultimately it was relegated to favor right-handed shooters in the end. Interestingly, first forms did not incorporate shoulder strap sling loops for transport forcing infantry to devise home-made straps for a time. A seldom-used bipod was also part of the original M1 design though its added weight and nonadjustable nature led to it be discarded in the field.
Construction of the M1 was simple, allowing for low-cost serial production in the numbers required. The system was also very portable despite its length and easy to operate between the two required crew - one to load the weapon and the other to fire. Original sights allowed for ranging between 100 and 400 yards and a safety mechanism allowed for a safe and active fire mode. The weapon would automatically set itself to safe upon a rocket projectile having been fired.
The 2.36" Launcher Family - M1, M9 and M18
The 2.36 launcher appeared in four major forms during the Bazooka's active service life: the M1, M1A1, M9/M9A1 and M18. Performance of the M1 and M1A1 was nearly indestinquishable. The M9/M9A1 was heavier than the M1/M1A1 model by nearly 3lbs (13.1lbs versus 15.87lbs) and featured a longer running length of 61 inches (versus 54.5 inches), which improved effective engagement ranges from 250 yards to 300 yards. It also allowed for a rate-of-fire increase of 10 rounds per minute (compared to the 5rpm limit of the M1/M1A1 models). The later M18was the lightest form of them all at 10.3 lbs. Its length was slightly reduced from that of the M9 family to 60.5 inches while engagement ranges were the same as well as its listed rate-of-fire.
Of note is the much improved portability of the M9/M9A1 and the M18 as both were able to be broken down into two major sections. This proved very effective for airborne units who often dealt in space-strapped conditions aboard transport aircraft. Being able to land with an anti-tank capability broadened the tactical value of the paratrooper considerably.
The 3.5" Launcher Family - M20 and M25
The original M20 launcher weighed 15lbs and featured a running length of 60.25 inches. Broken down, the launcher was a handier 33 inch length. Effective range was listed out to 300 yards with a rate-of-fire nearing 4 rounds per minute. The M20B1 followed these same qualities save for its 14lb operating weight. The M20A1 sported a weight of 13lbs, a 60 inch length and a 6 round-per-minute rate-of-fire. The M20B1 and M20A1B1 utilized different construction techniques. The seldom-overlooked M25 model was a repeat-firing Bazooka fitted atop a tripod. The weapon was fed by a three-round magazine cassette on top of the breech while other qualities of the launcher were shared with the M20 family. This system weighed 100lbs (60lbs for the launcher, 40lbs for the tripod), sported a 68.5 inch length and 350 yard reach. Unlike other M20 models, the M25 broke down into a 39.5 inch length and featured a rate-of-fire of up to 10 rounds per minute.
The Bazooka Firing Process
The full action of the Bazooka required the two operators to work in unison. The firer set the launcher upon his shoulder and usually took on a kneeling position with the weapons safety activated at this point. The loader inserted a rocket projectile into the breech end and removed the projectile's arming pin. The projectile was then inserted fully into the breech until locked in place by an awaiting latch. A coiled wire was then unfurled from the rocket's fin assembly and wrapped around a contact spring found on the launcher. At this point, the loader communicated a ready signal to the firer and the firer was ready to make his decision. He (and those around him) did have to take special care when firing to make sure that the back-blast of the open breech end did not endanger any nearby allies.
The open-ended design of the Bazooka ensured that there was little to no recoil force on the weapon or firer, as these forces were jettisoned from the rear of the launch unit and countered by the exiting projectile at the front.
While useful, the M1 held certain deficiencies in its design, which was more or less accelerated to fulfill the battlefield need. As such, teething issues arose and forces a revision of the base system which gave rise to the M1A1 of 1943. The ambidextrous sights were removed and its engagement range reduced to the span of 100 to 300 yards. A new guard was installed to protect the operator's face from generate heat along the launch tube body. A new flash deflector was added to the muzzle and sling loops installed for supporting a shoulder strap. Improvements were also made to the original M6 rocket and this produced the M6A1 designation (M7A1 for training rounds). Production of M1A1 systems totaled nearly 60,000 units. It is notable that the newer M6A1 rocket was not supported by original M1 launchers. The M6A3 became a later, round-nose rocket version of the pointed M6/M6A1 form.
The M9 "Airborne Bazooka"
Even before the improved M1A1 was gaining traction, the airborne branch of the US Army requested a Bazooka version with improved portability. Airborne troopers were traditionally lightly-armed units and tank-killing powers were much appreciated with the arrival of the M1. However, the launch tube was fixed to its 54.5 inch length which made it a cumbersome weapon for a paratrooper to haul into the tight confines of a transport aircraft, let alone drop and land with the unit strapped to his body. A formal request for a modified Bazooka was issued in November of 1942 and this produced the new M9 designation.
Several prototype forms made up the M9 development process and resulted in a two-piece, breakdown unit which reduced travel lengths to 31.5 inches. The gain in portability allowed engineers to slightly lengthen the launch tube itself, thusly promoting an increase in engagement ranges by as much as 50 yards. Additionally, the longer launch tube improved accuracy and all this at the expense of a few extra pounds of travel weight. As the original battery ignition system of original Bazookas proved prove to failure in cold weather environments, a new magneto system was devised. The muzzle was also revised to use a conical blast deflector and the safety system appeared near the grip handle. The solid wooden shoulder support of the M1 was dropped in favor of a wire, two-position rest which reduced weight and cost while simplifying production. The M9 was adopted in June of 1943 though deliveries did not begin until August of the following year. Production was slow and netted just 26,087 units before the improved M9A1 was issued to the tune of 277,800 units.
The M18 "Improved Bazooka"
Improvements to the Bazooka line could still be made, particularly in the area of weight saving and this was seen through the T90 prototype which was adopted as the aluminum-body M18 Bazooka. Weight was reduced by nearly 6 pounds and body connections were either screwed or riveted for improved robustness. The wire shoulder support was simplified to a single-position assembly. The M18 arrived late in the war, introduced in April of 1945, as the war in Europe concluded in May after Hitler's suicide in his Berlin bunker.
The war in the Pacific would last until August to which a formal Japanese surrender took place in early September, marking the end of World War 2 as a whole. This limited overall production of M18 units to just 500 units and, of these, only 350 made it to the frontlines before the end of the war.
The 3.5-inch "Super Bazooka"
As early as 1943, a "Super Bazooka" with improved capabilities was under consideration, firing a larger 3.5 inch projectile able to pierce up to 11 inches of armor. The revised weapon was adopted as the M20 but not until October of 1945, well after hostilities of World War 2 has ended. Production was slow now that there proved a lessened need and first units were not seen until 1948. It was only the arrival of the Korean War, which pressed American forces back into action, that Super Bazooka production spiked. The weapon was needed largely to counter the threat posed by North Korean T-34/85 Medium Tanks, the same war-winning design fielded by Soviet forces in World War 2 - though with 85mm main guns rather than their original 76mm designs. American forces still utilized the smaller-caliber M9 and M18 models but the M20s proved their effectiveness in both anti-tank and bunker-busting sorties. Improvements to the original M20 then followed and this produced the M20A1 and M20A1B1 marks before the end of the war in 1953.
The M20 incorporated features found in both the preceding M9 and M18 lines. One of the key additions was an adjustable bipod assembly and an aft- grip handle. The breech was wrapped by a solid conical deflector and sling loops were standard at a central and aft point. The weapon was also given a collapsible sighting device and single-action safety. While the wire shoulder rest was retained from earlier forms, it was simplified to a single-position structure.
The Bazooka's Practical Battlefield Effect on Tanks
Tanks were/are traditionally constructed with most of their armor protection at the front facings for both turret and hull and this requires anti-tank teams to gain a more advantageous position, usually against their moving target giving rise to teams "hunting" a tank down - to engage along its more vulnerable sides or rear. The Bazooka was capable of engaging all available German tank types with success through skill and, sometimes, sheer luck. It was recorded that a single, well-placed shot was all that was needed while other scenarios required multiple shots in order to accurately pierce vital engine components or the crew compartment. Bazookas were used against the lighter Panzer III and Panzer IV tanks as well as the heavier Panzer V ("Panther") and Panzer VI ("Tiger") tanks. A shooter would need to understand the limitations of his weapon as well as the weaknesses of the target in question.
Bazooka shots against the overlapping wheel system used in German tanks more often did nothing to immobilize the vehicle as the projectile could only pass through the out wheel assembly. Similarly, engaging tracks was risky and not a guaranteed approach to stopping the enemy force. It was realized that the bazooka held the advantage against the sides and rear of both hull and turret, where penetration was particularly afforded at the turret. A well-placed shot to the engine compartment may have sparked an engine fire which would have forced the tanker crew out of their vehicle, only to be killed by awaiting enemy riflemen.
The Bazooka at War
The Bazooka was not an American-only weapon during World War 2 and Lend-Lease allowed the system to be delivered to Allies around the globe. The largest foreign operator of the type became Free French forces which received some 11,350 units during the war. The Soviet Union received approximately 3,000 examples but held them in lower regard against their proven anti-tank rifles. Brazil received about 2,900 examples while Britain took on a stock of over 2,100 units. China was given 2,000 examples while all parties eclipsed the meager 170 or so examples delivered to Canadian forces.
World War 2 production of Bazookas totaled 476,628 examples along with 15,603,000 rockets.
The Bazooka, in its varied forms, was used across all major theaters concerning World War 2 - their first use in North Africa and then later across the Mediterranean, mainland Europe and the Pacific. They proved effective against all enemy tanks in service, assuming more vulnerable areas were targeted, while also being able to tackle fortified positions as "bunker busters". HEAT, and training rockets were eventually met with smoke rounds that could conceal movements of allies or blind attackers. White phosphorous warheads (M10 projectile) proved particularly effective, producing smoke, causing sensory irritations and even burning skin. Listed engagement ranges were around 300 yards but realistic ranges were kept under 100 yards to ensure accuracy.
Bazooka Versus Panzerschreck
The Germans first noted the "Bazooka" in the fighting across North Africa following the Allied invasion but they did not receive any captured examples for evaluation until some fell to capture from Soviet forces along the East Front (the Soviets received the Bazooka via Lend-Lease). The Germans appreciated the concept enough to adopt a more potent version as the "Raketenpanzerbuchse 43" in 1943 (popularly known by the name of "Panzerschreck"). Despite its Bazooka influence, the resulting German design was a very different weapon of larger 88mm caliber, a magneto-based action and large, square blast shield. However, these changes came at a price for it made the Panzerschreck a weapon twice as heavy as the American Bazooka and less accurate with a shorter engagement range. The 88mm projectile gave the same penetration values of the smaller American 2.36" design. The original RPzB 43 was followed by the improved Raketenpanzerbusche 54 in August of 1944. Panzerschrecks were also nicknamed "stovepipe" in German Army service.
Captured Bazookas were identified in German nomenclature as the "6cm Raketenpanzerbusche 788(a) - "6cm" to indicate their caliber and the lowercase "a" to indicate their American origin.
The Bazooka's Post-War Service
While a frontline anti-tank weapon in World War 2 and the Korean War, the Bazooka saw only limited service in the upcoming Vietnam War (1955-1975). Recoilless rifles and more modern rocket launchers eventually superseded the Bazooka line beginning in the 1960s. The most popular (by quantity) of the Cold War -era designs were the American 66mm M72 LAW (Light Anti-tank Weapon), the Swedish 84mm Carol Gustav (recoilless rifle) and the wide range of Soviet RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenade). The USMC in Vietnam saw their trusty Bazookas being phased out before June 1966. "Leathernecks" did not receive their new LAWs well for the weapon's ability to take in water during patrols.
Bazooka operators included Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Greece, Indonesia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Soviet Union, Spain, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey and the United Kingdom among others (see Operators listing below for full list).
Bazooka - History
Thursday, June 10 – Presentation at 8 – Doors at 7
The City Reliquary is proud to present a very special event celebrating America’s favorite eyepatched rascal Bazooka Joe! A distinguished panel of candy and comics experts will discuss the history of the iconic character and his lasting impact on marketing and design.
Ira Friedman has spent his career on the merchandising side of pop culture. Since his early days at Starlog and Fangoria magazines, to a stint at Lucasfilm during the original release of The Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ira landed at Topps in 1988 as the director of new product development. Since that time, Ira has been a fixture at the famed bubble gum and trading card company involved in hundreds of different projects, publishing, and confectionery products – ‘homegrown’ and licensed.
Charles Kochman is the Editorial Director of Abrams ComicArts and editor of the #1 bestselling series Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. For thirty-five years, Kochman has edited several hundred books for all age groups, including award-winning picture books, middle-grade novels, retrospectives, monographs, graphic novels, and art book collections published by Abrams, DC Comics, MAD magazine, Bantam Books, and Putnam. He is a recipient of the Inkpot Award, presented by Comic-Con International for achievement in comics.
Jason Liebig is regarded as one of the nation’s foremost experts on candy and snack food brand history and is considered an arbiter of candy as pop culture and nostalgia. As such, he has written hundreds of articles on the subject matter and has served as a brand consultant as well as period television consultant for shows such as Stranger Things, Young Sheldon, Mad Men, and more. His unique perspective and expert knowledge have led him to become an occasional television host and frequent guest, sharing his love of the candy and snack worlds he loves. Blog: http://www.collectingcandy.com/wordpress/
R. Sikoryak is a cartoonist and author of the graphic novels Constitution Illustrated, The Unquotable Trump, Masterpiece Comics, and Terms and Conditions (Drawn & Quarterly). His comics and illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, The Onion, and more. Sikoryak presents his live comics performance series, Carousel, around the U.S. and Canada.
Special guest appearance by M. Sweeney Lawless, writer of ill repute. Twitter: @Specky4Eyes
Bazooka Joe and his Gang appeared in mini-comics on Bazooka bubble gum wrappers starting in 1954. The comic concept was the brainchild of Woody Gelman and Ben Solomon, heads of product development at Topps, and the original comic artist was Wesley Morse. Topps, the king of trading card companies, has been based in NYC since 1947.
Admission to the Museum and The Call of Candy exhibit included – come early to check out vintage Topps and Bazooka Joe ephemera as well as that of other NYC candy manufacturers from the 1800s to today!
Inside the Bubble: The ‘Gum-Believable’ Jewish History of Bazooka
Chew on this: One of America’s most iconic gum brands was originally a Jewish-owned tobacco business.
In 1891, Morris Chigorinsky emigrated from Russia to the United States, where in the early 1900s he assumed control of the American Leaf Tobacco Co. But by 1938 — at this point Chigorinsky had changed his surname to Shorin — the business was struggling.
His four sons decided to save the family from certain penury by starting a new penny candy business, Topps Chewing Gum Inc., with the name borrowed from an eponymous Chattanooga candy company they purchased.
Following the end of World War II, the Shorin brothers — Abram, Ira, Joseph and Philip — aggressively set about supplanting their then-dominant competitor, Dubble Bubble, manufactured by Fleer, through the launch of Bazooka Bubble Gum.
The gum cleverly capitalized on the nation’s post-war patriotic pride in the wake of the recent Allied victory, not only via its name (derived from the rocket-propelled weapon invented and deployed by American troops) but also through its red, white and blue packaging.
The product sold well. But in 1953, Topps made an alteration to the design that proved to be a game-changer: the inclusion of small comic strips starring Bazooka Joe, a swashbuckling kid who donned a black eyepatch and got into scrapes and adventures with his crew of streetwise companions.
The wrappers — ultimately, there were more than 1,500 manufactured — also featured fortunes and immediately became collector’s items among consumers and candy enthusiasts, who still vigorously buy and sell vintage strips on online auction websites.
While the original flavor continues to be the bestseller, Topps has also introduced variations, such as Grape Rage, Cherry Berry and Watermelon Whirl.
In 2012, Bazooka discontinued the inclusion of comics in favor of “brainteaser” wrappers and subsequently found itself in a (shall we say) sticky situation. Loyalists were displeased and chewed out corporate honchos for the most unwelcome change.
In 2019, Topps responded to the call to adhere to the original look by issuing a Throwback Pack intended to be “inspired by the brand’s iconic original packaging” with “nostalgic 1980s graphics and Original flavor Bazooka Bubble Gum wrapped in classic comics.”
Testaments to Bazooka’s enduring popularity have bubbled up over the years on TV sitcoms such as “How I Met Your Mother,” “Seinfeld” and “The King of Queens.” The candy made a particularly sweet cameo in an episode of “30 Rock,” in which NBC exec Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) erroneously and hilariously claimed Bazooka’s founder inherited a quarry of pink rocks, then baked them to transform them into gum.
While Bazooka continues to be cherished in many countries, the gum has amassed a particularly unique cult following in Israel. In the 1960s, Islico Ltd. began making Bazooka in Tel Aviv, which was taken over by Lieber Co. in the 1970s. The product was then assumed in the 1980s by the food conglomerate Strauss-Elite, which continues to manufacture the candy today, in addition to snack mashups like Bazooka-flavored marshmallows and even milk.
“So culturally iconic are the strips in Israel,” The Jerusalem Post reported in 2017, “that they even inspired one local artist to assume “Bazooka Joe” as his pseudonym because “he naturally connected with the colors and simplicity of the comics.’”
Chomping at the bit to get a glimpse of some of these crazy toons but still hesitant to travel because of COVID-19? Those interested in Israeli Bazooka historiography can visit a virtual museum dedicated to displaying the cartoons over the decades.
A culinary consultant, food historian and travel/food critic, Joanna O’Leary wrote this article for The Nosher, a 70 Faces Media brand.
Holocaust programs director Jeanette Parmigiani talked with Jmore about her work at the BJC and her retirement, which officially begins on Dec. 11.
Amb. Barbara A. Leaf will explore the current state of the Middle East at Bet Chaverim’s Middle East-themed virtual series.
The rapid-fire and intensive nature of presidential chaos makes us forget each episode -- well, almost, writes Michael Olesker.
Among some Jews, Shavuot is a two-day festival. Meanwhile, others observe only one day. Talk amongst yourselves.
Bazooka [Musical Instrument]
Although today it is more commonly applied to the anti-tank weapon widely used during World War II, or to a product of Topps Chewing Gum, the name “bazooka” was originally given to a novelty wind instrument created by native Arkansan radio and film personality Bob Burns. Spanning the musical gap between a trombone and a slide whistle, the bazooka produces a narrow range of notes with a tone that is more comical than dulcet.
Burns developed the bazooka one evening, as early as 1905, during band practice at Hayman’s Plumbing Shop in Van Buren (Crawford County). Burns blew into a gas pipe that made a noise described as sounding like a “wounded moose.” Inspired by this, he developed a new instrument from two interconnecting pipes, a slide handle, a whiskey funnel, an inset trombone-like mouthpiece, and possibly other obscure internal parts. He called it a “bazooka,” a word he later copyrighted in 1920. The name was most likely formed from “bazoo,” a slang term meaning “a windy fellow.”
Like the trombone, the bazooka is played with variably tense buzzing lips blowing air into a mouthpiece and a slide moving to change the overall tube length. The slide is manipulated to produce vibrato and harmonic shifts.
Burns practiced his new instrument constantly, becoming good enough to play it in the Silver Cornet Band. During World War I, Burns became a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps, going overseas with the Eleventh Regiment, U.S. Marines, American Expeditionary Force. Later, he became the leader of the U.S. Marine Corps jazz band in Europe and introduced the bazooka to the troops there, making it part of the band’s performances by 1918. As Bob “Bazooka” Burns, he began a long career in radio in 1931, playing his bazooka in between jokes and tales about fictitious hillbilly relatives back home in Arkansas.
During World War II, U.S. soldiers dubbed a commonly used portable rocket launcher a “bazooka” due to physical similarities the launcher had with the instrument. After World War II, Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., produced a popular patriotic bubblegum called “Bazooka” that the company claimed was named directly after Burns’s instrument—not the weapon.
Although the instrument has been taken up by few musicians, Burns has not been the only bazooka performer to date. Sanford Kendrick, a member of the western swing band Bob Skyles and His Skyrockets, was known for playing the instrument, as well as mid-twentieth-century New Orleans, Louisiana, jazz musician Noon Johnson, who played a bazooka he constructed from parts of an old brass bed.
Few of the original Burns bazookas remain today. This is mostly due to Burns’s comedic habit of destroying them on stage at the end of his performances as part of the entertainment. One remains on display at the Arkansas Entertainers Hall of Fame in Pine Bluff (Jefferson County).
The remarkable Jewish history of Bazooka bubble gum
Chew on this: One of America’s most iconic gum brands was originally a Jewish-owned tobacco business.
In 1891, Morris Chigorinsky emigrated from Russia to the United States, where in the early 1900s he assumed control of the American Leaf Tobacco Company. But by 1938, Chigorinsky’s (who by then had changed his surname to Shorin) business was flailing. His four sons, Abram, Ira, Joseph and Philip decided to save the family from certain penury by starting a new penny candy business, Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., whose name was borrowed from an eponymous Chattanooga candy company they purchased.
Following the end of the Second World War, the Shorin brothers aggressively set about supplanting their then-dominant competitor Dubble Bubble, manufactured by Fleer, through the launch of Bazooka Bubble Gum. The gum cleverly capitalized on the nation’s post-war patriotic pride in the wake of their recent victory, not only via its name (derived from the rocket-propelled weapon invented and deployed by American troops) but also through its red, white and blue packaging.
The product sold well, but in 1953, Topps made an alteration to the design that proved to be a game changer: the inclusion of small comic strips starring Bazooka Joe, a swashbuckling kid who donned a black eye patch and got into various scrapes and adventures with his crew of streetwise companions. The wrappers (of which there were ultimately over 1,500 manufactured) also featured fortunes and immediately became a collector’s items among consumers and candy enthusiasts, who still vigorously buy and sell vintage strips on online auction websites. While the original flavor continues to be the bestseller, Topps has also introduced variations, such as Grape Rage, Cherry Berry and Watermelon Whirl.
“Mad Major” Carpenter Attached 6 Bazookas To His Artillery Spotter Plane And Went Tank Hunting
Charles Carpenter enlisted in the US Army in 1942 commissioned a second lieutenant. After completing flight training, Carpenter flew light observation aircraft and accumulated substantial flight training for enemy surveillance and observation and artillery scouting missions.
In 1944, Carpenter was promoted and assigned to combat duty with the 1st Bombardment Division in France. When he arrived, he was assigned to fly artillery support and surveillance missions with a Piper Cub light aircraft – an L-4H.
This assignment was supporting part of General George S. Patton’s U.S. Third Army. The Piper L-4H had a combined weight capacity of approximately 232 pounds, including cargo and passenger.
Of note, it should also be mentioned that there was no radio aboard.
How the Bazooka’s were mounted on the L-4 Spotter Plane
By the time of the Allied siege of Lorient and the encirclement of German forces around that city, Carpenter had become annoyed at not being able to attack Nazi forces during the occasions when Allied artillery was out of reach or assault aircraft were occupied in other combat missions.
Carpenter had noticed that other pilots had installed bazookas as armament on their planes as anti-tank fire. So with approval from Command Headquarters, Carpenter first attached two bazookas to the wings of his plane, which he called Rosie the Rocketer.
After some testing, Carpenter added two more rocket launchers, then later, two more for a total of six bazookas.
Carpenter’s bazookas each fired a single rocket-propelled anti-tank grenade with a battery ignited toggle switch operated by the pilot. The bazooka’s warhead could pierce approximately three inches (76 mm) of armor on impact when fired at a 30° flight angle, even though the rocket was highly ineffectual against the front armor of the German Tiger tanks.
Now with his aircraft armed, Carpenter began attacking German armored forces. With any firm hit against the thinner armor protecting the top of the tank, Carpenter found that even against the heavy tanks such as the Tiger I, using the bazookas as airborne weapons were quite effective at immobilizing the Nazi tank targets.
Lt. Col. Charles “Bazooka Charlie” Carpenter and his L-4 Grasshopper, mounting a trio of bazookas just outboard of the jury struts
Most of Major Carpenter missions were flown alone because any additional weight had a negative impact on the plane’s maneuverability and speed.
When on the attack, Carpenter’s usual routine was to find his target while he was in the air, then corkscrew down before rapidly diving at the enemy tank or other target and releasing his bazooka grenades.
It wasn’t essential the enemy target be destroyed as long as a tank was stopped from advancing any further. Within a short time, Carpenter was credited with immobilizing four Nazi tanks, two of which were Tiger 1 tanks, and knocking out a German armored car. Carpenter quickly became known as known as “The Mad Major” or “Bazooka Charlie” by his comrades in his unit.
His Carpenter’s heroic acts were soon recognized by several media accounts, including the Associated Press, the New York Sun, the Stars and Stripes, Liberty Magazine, and Popular Science.
Major Carpenter was the private pilot for General John S. Wood, the commanding officer of the 4th Armored Division, in addition to flying his other surveillance and attack missions.
His duties as a personal pilot, allowed Carpenter to avoid most artillery observation missions. This was very fortunate for him because it allowed him the time to bestow his own private war on the Nazi armored corps.
Carpenter was also involved in some ground warfare. On one occasion, Carpenter was inspecting some prospective landing fields in a jeep near Avranches, when German infantrymen attacked his location. Jumping atop a Sherman tank, Carpenter started firing a .50-caliber machine gun, while shouting for the other troops to attack the Nazis.
Directed by the machine gun fire and the tank guns from the US Sherman tank, the Americans forced the Germans to retreat. Eventually, Carpenter’s Sherman came upon some Allied forces and accidentally shot at a Sherman bulldozer tank, blowing off the blade.
Carpenter was placed under arrest for the friendly fire incident and threatened with death by a firing squad until his commanding officer, General Wood, came to his support.
He was told he would be court-martialed for his actions. Suddenly, this decision was overturned by General Patton himself. Patton not only stopped the trial proceedings but awarded the major the Silver Star for bravery!
Patton said, that Carpenter was the type of American fighter he wanted in his army!
Initially, during Carpenter’s missions, he faced very little return ground fire. The Nazis were hesitant to fire on the light aircraft because they didn’t want to reveal their position, as doing so would draw fire from the Allied artillery or, worse, bring in the Allied fighter/bomber support.
However, as Carpenter’s bazooka attacks became more frequent and damaging, the Nazi return ground fire increased. Even the German infantry troops would fire at Carpenter with rifles and pistols trying to down “The Mad Major”.
On one occasion, Carpenter told a reporter from the Stars and Stripes that the enemy troops must have gotten the word to fire whatever they have at light aircraft with bazookas mounted on them.
Now, every time I’m on a mission they shoot whenever they see me. They never used to bother with me. The bazookas must be making them mad.
September 20, 1944, during the Battle of Arracourt near Nancy, France, was one of Carpenter’s longest missions. It began when the Nazi armored division forces launched a sudden tank attack pinning down several 4th Armored Division support units.
Major Carpenter boarded his armed L-4 and soared into the sky, but he couldn’t see the ground below because of heavy fog. He was beginning to worry he couldn’t locate the enemy.
Around noon, the fog began to clear, and Carpenter spotted a company of Nazi Panther tanks and armored cars pressing forward to Arracourt.
Diving through a barrage of German infantry fire during a continual sequence of assaults against the Nazi formation, Carpenter emptied all of his bazooka tubes. Carpenter returned to reload and flew two more missions that afternoon.
During this long mission, he fired at least sixteen bazooka rockets at the oncoming enemy. “Bazooka Charlie” was given credit for immobilizing two Panther tanks and several armored vehicles, while killing or wounding a dozen or more enemy troops.
The remainder of the German tank formation had to retreat because of Carpenter’s unnerving assaults to the enemy. These heroic attacks enabled a pinned down 4th Armored Division support crew, who had witnessed what Major Carpenter did that day, to escape capture and possibly death.
By the end of the war, Major Carpenter had destroyed several German armored cars and immobilized at least 14 Nazi tanks (he would be credited officially with two Tiger I tanks completely destroyed from a total six tanks destroyed) and had also participated in several ground combat actions.
Carpenter gained another nickname – because he never got as much as a scratch from enemy fire, he was also called, “The Lucky Major.”
In recognition of his bravery and ‘call to duty’, Carpenter was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded the Bronze Star, the Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Silver Star with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Bazooka - History
The M20 "Super Bazooka" gave the foot soldier a portable anti-tank weapon, as well as a super bunker-clearer. Weighing only 12 pounds, it fired a shaped charge which concentrated the rocket's energy in a small area, and was effective against up to eleven inches of armor at a range of almost 900 yards. In Korea, that was worth taking to the dance.
TM 9-297: 3.5-In Rocket Launcher, M20 and M20B1 8/50
Tech Manuals: FM7-10: Rifle Company, Rifle Regiment
TM9-2200: Technical Manual for WWII Small Arms
The 3.5-inch "Super Bazooka" rocket launcher , introduced in early 1950, was able to penetrate any armored vehicle from greater distance with improved accuracy than the 2.36-inch WWII bazooka. The M20 was a two-piece, smooth-bore weapon weighing only 12 pounds with an assembled length of 60 inches, easily transportable, and fired a "shaped charge" that concentrated the force of the explosion on a very small area, thus allowing the projectile to penetrate armor plate as thick as 11 inches. The gunsight was unique and allowed for various ranges and speeds to give an accuracy up to 900 yards.
Note: The 2.36 in Bazooka, carrying only 8 oz of pentolite, could penetrate less than 5 inches of armor
The 3.5in rocket launcher M20 is a two-piece, smooth bore weapon of the open tube type, and is fired electrically. A bipod and rear support permit firing in a prone position, and the rocket may also be fired from sitting, kneeling and standing positions. The high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rockets are capable of penetrating heavy armour at angles of impact up to 30 degrees. Sighting on target is by means of a reflecting site mounted on the launcher. In firing, the front and rear barrel assemblies are joined to form the firing tube. While carrying, the barrels are unjoined, and fastened together side-by-side with a carrying sling, to be less cumbersome. A magneto-type firing device in the trigger grip provide the current for igniting the rockets.
The primary functions of a rocket launcher are to ignite the rocket propellant and give it initial direction in flight. Reactive forces are slight since the propulsion of the rocket is due to the jet action of the propellant powder in the motor body, and not a gas pressure built up inside the tube. Therefore, the tube needs to be only heavy enough for handling in combat, and to prevent excessive heating at normal rates of fire.
When the propellent is ignited, gases and flames are blown from the breech. The area directly at the rear must be clear of personnel or inflammable material. Because of the rear blast, the gunner must take special precautions to avoid injury when firing from the prone position.
As with the heavier German tanks, the 2.36" bazooka was not sufficiently effective against the rugged T34, arguably the best tank developed in WWII. Actually, it should never have been deployed in Korea, as the M9A1 and other 2.36" models had been withdrawn from service shortly after WWII, and nominally replaced with the M20, of similar design but with a larger rocket. The M20 was deadly against the T34.
Beginning with Vietnam the Army switched to light antitank weapons, or LAWs, such as the M72, a one-shot, disposable weapon that weighed 5 pounds fully loaded yet could launch its rocket with reasonable accuracy out to 350 yards.
Both the 2.36" and the 3.5" bazookas were deadly effective against dug-in troops, and as a short-range anti-pillbox and anti-personnel weapon, as well as against transport and tanks.
When prepared for shipment, at the factory the weapon was protected by fungus resistant coats over electrical contacts, grease films, and grease packing in the hand operated generator which ignites the propellant. On issue, grease-removing solvents were provided, to be used in readying the weapon for actual firing.
This wasn't always understood by troops in combat, especially allies unfamiliar with our approach. When Aussies were issued the 3.5 at the Battle of the Broken Bridge, October '50, they fought off a large group of NK supported by T34 tanks, but had problems igniting the propellants. When they found out about the grease --- later --- the problem ceased. Funny in retrospect, but not to a guy looking down the barrel of an 85mm cannon. Little things can make a big difference, in chaos.
‘Bazooka Charlie’ Turned His WWII Recon Plane Into a Tank Killer
Major Charles Carpenter strapped not one but six M1A1 bazookas to the wing struts of his Grasshopper.
Charles Carpenter, or “Bazooka Charlie” as he’s now remembered, served as an Army pilot in the Second World War, tasked with locating enemy positions from the air for artillery bombardment. Aircraft like Carpenter’s unarmed L-4 Grasshopper were perfect for low-level, low-speed reconnaissance, but ol’ Bazooka Charlie aspired to do more than spot enemy tanks…he wanted to destroy them himself.
The L-4 Grasshopper military aircraft was just a Piper J-3 Cub with some added plexiglass
The Army’s L-4 Grasshopper, which is more commonly known by its civilian moniker, the Piper J-3 Cub, was an American design out of the Piper Aircraft firm that first went into production in 1938. Its simple strut-braced monoplane design made the aircraft extremely manageable at the sort of low, loitering speeds needed for a reconnaissance or military liaison aircraft. The Cub was so well suited for the role that the American military would eventually order more than 5,400 of the newly dubbed “L-4 Grasshoppers” for the fight.
But the Grasshopper’s performance and capabilities left a lot to be desired compared to some of the more legendary World War II planes like the acrobatic Spitfire, the powerful P-51 Mustang, or the forward-reaching B-29 Superfortress. The aircraft had room for one pilot and one passenger and was almost identical to the civilian-market cub, with the exception of a plexiglass skylight and rear windows for improved visibility in combat environments. With just the pilot on board, the Grasshopper would top out at 85 miles per hour, had a service ceiling of 12,000 feet, and could remain airborne for around three hours. It was also capable of flying very slowly–with a stall speed of just 38 miles per hour–which made it ideally suited not just for recon patrols, but for artillery spotting duties.
Of course, with a trained observer onboard carrying a 25-pound radio, the aircraft was often stuck operating while exceeding its intended weight parameters, but the plucky Grasshopper proved capable for its role, even if it wasn’t quite the war machine other aircraft of the day had become.
Charles Carpenter turned his Grasshopper into a tank-buster
Charles Carpenter signed up to serve in 1942, shortly after the United States entered the war. He was assigned the role of Grasshopper pilot and became an artillery spotter for the 4th Armored Division of General George Patton’s 3rd Army. Initially, the job was fairly safe–German troops rarely fired upon the unarmed scout aircraft for fear of giving away their position, which gave Carpenter a great deal of latitude when it came to performing his duties. As the war stretched on, however, Carpenter began to grow weary of his artillery spotter role, and began looking for ways to play a more active role in the fighting.
It wasn’t long before Carpenter found his way into the fight, jumping on a .50 caliber machine gun during an engagement with Nazi troops. After firing for a few minutes, Carpenter chose to lead a group of soldiers into the German-held town they’d come from and, despite not being their commander, the troops followed. In the midst of the fighting, Carpenter ordered the tank he’d jumped on to open fire on another vehicle that soon proved to be American. He was promptly arrested after the incident and threatened with a court martial… That is, until General Patton himself intervened on the young pilot’s behalf. It was after that close call that Carpenter decided to keep his fighting in the air.
Inspired by stories he’d heard from other unarmed scout aircraft, now Major Charles Carpenter decided to follow suit, strapping not one but six M1A1 bazookas to the wing struts of his Grasshopper. Aided by an ordnance tech and a crew chief, the bazookas were wired into the cockpit of the airplane and could be fired by flipping switches either individually or all at once. Each bazooka could fire a single rocket-propelled anti-tank grenade that could penetrate as much as three inches of armor plating. That was enough to take out a tank if you hit it in the right places (like on top) but would be practically useless against the Nazi armor when engaging head-on.
Bazooka Charlie and Rosie the Rocketeer
With his Grasshopper now equipped with enough firepower to rain holy hell down on his enemies, Carpenter took to calling his aircraft “Rosie the Rocketeer,” in honor of the cultural icon representing women working in factories and shipyards back home in the States. His plane wasn’t the only thing to get a new nickname though, and soon after he began flying with his bazookas Charles Carpenter became better known among the troops around him as Bazooka Charlie.
Carpenter’s first kill came quickly, eliminating a German armored car before upgrading some of his bazookas to the more capable M9 platform, which could fire the M6A3 High Explosive Anti-Tank rounds he’d need to go after bigger prey. Soon, the Germans began to realize that the crazy Grasshopper scouting them was just as capable of destroying vehicles as the artillery he guided, prompting them to fire on him any time he appeared in the sky.
“Word must be getting around among those Krauts to watch out for Cubs with bazookas on them,” Carpenter said at the time.
“Every time I show up now, they shoot with everything they have. They never used to bother Cubs. Bazookas must be bothering them a bit.”
Despite the hail of gunfire, Carpenter would dive his aircraft directly at Nazi tanks and open fire with his bazookas at only about 100 meters off the ground. Then he’d pull straight up, hoping to get back out of range of the enemy gunfire before they managed to shoot him down.
The “Mad Major” goes on the offensive
These exploits soon earned Bazooka Charlie yet another nickname: The “Mad Major.” Although Carpenter had been inspired by other pilots who had armed their aircraft, his wild successes at fighting armored vehicles inspired other artillery scout and reconnaissance pilots to follow suit, but according to press coverage at the time, the other pilots “found that driving their frail aircraft into a hail of German small arms fire was extremely unhealthy.” As a result, most returned to their less-dangerous observation duties.
Whether you knew him as Bazooka Charlie, the Mad Major, or just as Major Carpenter, the man tended to live up his larger-than-life reputation. At one point, he destroyed a German column advancing toward Allied troops and instead of flying back to base, he chose to land his aircraft in a nearby field to scout out the damage he’d wrought. While doing so, he managed to take an additional six German soldiers prisoner with a rifle he’d found on the ground–which, it probably goes without saying, was not a common practice among artillery scout pilots.
“Some people around here think I’m nuts,” Carpenter once said, “but I just believe that if we’re going to fight a war, we have to go on with it 60-minutes an hour and 24-hours a day.”
Not long after, Carpenter would match some of the exploits found among Spitfire pilots in the Battle of Britain, despite flying an aircraft that was never meant for combat. During a patrol, Carpenter found an American infantry unit pinned down by German soldiers and he sprung into action, engaging the German positions with his on-board weapons. When he ran out of firepower, he flew straight back to base and had the ordnance team re-arm his Grasshopper for another jaunt.
After expending all of his rockets again, he returned once more for re-armament. After flying three combat sorties into the fight, Carpenter had managed to destroy two German tanks and break up the Nazi attack. British pilots defending against Nazi bombers in the Battle of Britain would often fly multiple sorties a day in order to beat back the overwhelming Luftwaffe numbers, though they often used amphetamines to push through the exhaustion.
By the time World War II came to a close, Charles Carpenter was officially credited with killing six Nazi tanks, making him an official “tank ace,” though many claim his unofficial number was actually much higher. According to some accounts, Carpenter and his airplane Rosie the Rocketeer took out at least 14 Nazi tanks, a number of other armored vehicles, and dozens of enemy soldiers. He never took so much as a scratch from enemy fire, earning him one more nickname among the Allied troops he fought alongside: the Lucky Major.
With the war at an end, Carpenter was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded a Silver star, a Bronze Star, and an Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for his heroic service, but with no more Nazi tanks to fight from the sky, the legendary pilot hung up his flight suit and went right back to work in the profession he had prior to the war, as a high school history teacher.
Alex Hollings is a writer, dad, and Marine veteran who specializes in foreign policy and defense technology analysis. He holds a master’s degree in Communications from Southern New Hampshire University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in Corporate and Organizational Communications from Framingham State University.
Bazooka Charlie and the Grasshopper: A Tale of World War II
Joe Scheil is a numbers guy. When he sees an interesting airplane, he looks for its serial number in an online database or published reference work to learn what he can about it. He adds the information he finds to one of several Excel spreadsheets he has created with details on hundreds of airplanes organized by their serial numbers. In 2017, while reading an article in the Experimental Aircraft Association’s magazine Warbirds of America, Scheil came across a photo of a famous World War II Piper L-4 Grasshopper, serial number 43-30426, and decided to find out more.
The article was about Charles Carpenter, an L-4 pilot who became known as “Bazooka Charlie” for his exploits against German tanks. The Grasshopper—a Piper Cub as a civilian—was flown during the war as a liaison and observation airplane, but Carpenter, war-weary and homesick, became dissatisfied with flying as an artillery spotter, scouting ahead of the advancing 4th Armored Division of General George Patton’s 3rd Army. Instead, he bolted six M1A1 bazookas on the wing struts of his Piper and rained fire on Panzer columns. “It was like a sparrow trying to attack an elephant,” says his daughter, Carol Apacki, who had written the article Joe Scheil read, “except this sparrow had fangs.”
Carpenter wasn’t the first pilot to hang weapons on an L-bird—as liaison airplanes like the Aeronca L-3, Stinson L-5 Sentinel, and the L-4 are known—but he was almost certainly the most effective at using them. In October 1944 alone, he destroyed four tanks and an armored truck. On the side of his airplane, he painted “Rosie the Rocketer,” a tribute, Apacki says, to the women working in aircraft factories back home, who were nicknamed Rosie the Riveter.
Besides picking out the Piper’s registration number, Scheil—an airline pilot and Cub owner who reads a lot of military aviation history—saw something else in the photograph of Carpenter and his airplane: a reminder of another photo, often included in histories of World War I. “It’s the picture of Frank Luke in front of his SPAD, the day before he died,” says Scheil. Luke, the first pilot to receive the Medal of Honor and at the time of his death the country’s leading ace, was, like Carpenter, unconventional and aggressive in combat. Scheil says Luke and Carpenter had the same casual pose and the same sad look. By the time Carpenter’s photo was taken, “all the ineptitude, naiveté, and bewilderment of the Americans as we were getting ourselves killed in North Africa” was gone, Scheil says. What he saw in Carpenter was the grind of the war after Normandy and the grief borne by airmen who had witnessed its horrors.
After the war, Charles Carpenter resumed his life as a school teacher and father to his daughter Carol. (Courtesy Carol Apacki)
Charles Carpenter and his small airplane were also similar in some ways. Innocent in its early days, the Piper Cub was painted sunny yellow with a black lightning bolt running the 22-foot length of its fuselage. Nothing beats a Cub on a warm summer afternoon with the side door open: Pilot and passenger can watch the world float slowly by.
With a gross weight of 1,220 pounds, a cruising speed around 80 mph, and Model T simplicity, the Cub gently introduced thousands of pilots to flight from the late 1930s to 1944 through the U.S. Civilian Pilot Training Program.
Carpenter could also be considered a trainer. Before America’s entry into World War II, he taught history in a Moline, Illinois high school. After the war, “In the summers, he ran a boys’ camp in the Ozarks,” his daughter writes in Warbirds, “a camp that focused on teaching outdoor skills and building character.”
Pilot Rob Collings shakes hands with Bruce Harrison after giving him a ride in a Boeing PT-17 Stearman that once trained Tuskegee Airmen. (David Watts Jr.) Two of the 40 or so L-4 Grasshoppers still flying gave a 2014 airshow audience at Little Gransden, U.K. a good look at the mildest of World War II combat aircraft. (David Whitworth)
When the war began, the Cub traded its yellow paint for olive drab, and Carpenter enlisted in the U.S. Army, commissioned as a second lieutenant. Flying at an altitude of 1,500 feet, the L-4 Grasshoppers could speed the advance of tank columns by reporting the positions of the enemy. Initially German soldiers feared giving away their positions by firing on L-birds, but the calculus quickly changed. Once Carpenter started firing bazookas, the Germans saw him as a threat. “Every time I show up now, they shoot with everything they have,” he told a Stars and Stripes reporter. Even before Carpenter turned his L-bird into an attack aircraft, spotter pilots were in danger. I n June and July 1944, General Omar Bradley’s 1st Army lost 49 artillery spotting aircraft and 33 pilots. Flying at low altitude made the pilots vulnerable even to light anti-aircraft fire.
Watching mayhem from his 1,500-foot perch and barely escaping gunfire eventually took a toll on Carpenter. In a poem he wrote after the war, “Incident in the Woods,” he tries to capture the impact of combat on vanquished and victor alike. He describes coming upon an enemy officer tending to a soldier who had been shot: “The soldier dead, the man had returned/ To save some seeming trifle./ It was a baby thing, blue, and partly burned./ He folded it and kicked his loaded rifle./ I led him from that torn and stinking spot/ May fire and grassy time soften memory./ Willing guards took him at the prison lot,/ And smiled, and wrongly guessed me free.”
In early 1945, Carpenter was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease (a type of cancer), given a prognosis of no more than two years, and sent home. (Instead, he lived another 21 years.) His airplane was assigned to another pilot. When the hostilities ceased in Europe, Piper L-4 aircraft, which had cost the government only $2,500 each, weren’t worth shipping home they were either scrapped or sold as surplus. The Piper L-4 flown by Carpenter met one of those two fates. Until Scheil decided to look into it, no one cared which one.Over Wisconsin’s Lake Poygan in 2015, Experimental Aircraft Association vice president Sean Elliot flies the second Grasshopper Colin Powers restored. The L-4, which had served on Saipan, was the prize in the EAA’s 2015 Sweepstakes. (Winner Jeff Troxel took it home to Milwaukee.) (Jason Tony / EAA)
Within hours of reading Apacki’s article about her dad, Scheil found that the L-4H, serial number 43-30426, had been left in a German surplus yard in September 1946. He first searched a list of military aircraft serial numbers on joebaugher.com, a website familiar to most warbird fans and packed with information about U.S. military airplanes. And there it was: On the site, the military serial number is linked with the manufacturer’s serial number 11717. With that manufacturer’s number, Joe Baugher’s source—he also lists on his website the people who email him information—found that after the war, the airplane was registered in Switzerland as HB-OBK and in April 1956, re-registered in Austria as OE-AAB. With further research, Scheil learned that Heinz Wullschleger of Olten was the first to register the Cub and that when the registration changed in 1956, the aircraft, sporting yellow Cub colors, became part of the Austrian Aero Club in Vienna, where it towed gliders.
For a number of years, the little Piper flew as a civilian until, as the second aircraft ever registered in Austria (signified by the designation AAB AAA being the first), it was acquired by the Österreichisches Luftfahrtmuseum at Graz Airport. That’s where it was in 2017, when Scheil tracked it down. Bingo. Scheil called Rob Collings.
One of the foremost warbird collectors in the United States, Collings is the chief executive officer of the nonprofit Collings Foundation, which has supported the restoration and display of two dozen historic warbirds, including a Curtiss P-40 that had been in a hangar at Pearl Harbor on the day of the Japanese attacks and a Supermarine Spitfire that had flown 116 combat missions. The foundation also supports the Wings of Freedom tour, which sells rides aboard the P-40, a P-51, and several large bombers.
Scheil, one of the pilots who had flown the B-17 and a B-24 on the Wings of Freedom Tour, knew that Collings was looking for a combat aircraft that had seen action during the war.
“There are none that are obtainable,” Scheil says. “There’s no P-47 from the Eighth [Air Force] or the Ninth. We were looking for something that could capture the fight from Normandy to Germany—for an aircraft that was doing air-to-ground work.” Surviving P-51 Mustangs had all been spoken for, Scheil says. “So when this Cub showed up with an unknown number of tanks and armored cars killed, it was oddly enough the most destructive aircraft that we had extant from the ground war across Europe.”
Scheil says Carpenter and his Grasshopper are credited with stopping a German counterattack in one battle. “That was a very significant accolade paid in 4th Armored Division records to a liaison aircraft,” he says.
Rob Collings traveled to Graz, Austria to examine the Piper Cub then registered as OE-AAB.
“When I first saw the L-4 in person it had recently been recovered and was being restored as a static display,” says Collings. “We didn’t know too much about it because it had fresh fabric on it, and they weren’t keen to let us start cutting into it.” The museum was unaware of the airplane’s service in World War II, but Collings could see the serial number on the data plate. Not until the airplane was returned to the United States and stripped to the bare frame, however, could he confirm the parts numbers against Piper records.Carol Apacki’s daughter, a graphic designer, re-painted the nose art that her grandfather had painted 75 years earlier. (Colin Powers)
In 2004, Colin Powers, the restoration manager for the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, won a trophy for the restoration of a Piper Cub that had served in the Pacific. “I bought it in pieces,” says Powers, “and I thought it would be a fun project to do.” The trophy was awarded by the National Aviation Heritage Invitational, which for many years has invited vintage airplane owners to display their airplanes at the national air races in Reno, Nevada, where they’re judged for the authenticity of the restoration. (Powers is now a Heritage judge.) More than 200,000 people attend the races and stroll among the classics in the Heritage competition, and one morning during race week, Powers saw on his L-4 a business card that had been tucked in its door. It was from the Reno fire marshal with a note saying that he was the nephew of famous L-4 pilot Charles Carpenter. From him, Powers learned that Carpenter’s daughter lived in Ohio. When the Heritage Invitational went to the Dayton Air Show the following year, Powers invited Carol Apacki to visit the airplane. She had never seen a Piper L-4. “I had her get in it and she became very emotional,” says Powers. “She didn’t really realize how vulnerable her father was while he was flying. We became friends after that.”
Later, Powers re-restored the airplane and won a trophy from the EAA for Reserve Grand Champion Warbird. After Collings finalized negotiations with the Austrian museum, he chose Powers to restore the L-4 because of his experience (Powers restored two more L-4s after his first one) and because Powers had such a strong connection with Carpenter’s daughter. Rosie the Rocketer was packed into a cargo container in Austria, trucked to Spain, and loaded on a cargo ship to New Jersey. The airplane traveled by train across the United States and arrived in Powers’ Oregon shop in January 2019.
“Once we got it back to Oregon and had the fabric stripped off, we were just blown away,” says Collings. “We didn’t want to make everything perfectly new because what was underneath was in great condition. The original wooden spars still had great varnish on them. The ribs were bare aluminum but they were all clean. The grease pencil handwriting was there from the factory, with names and dates. These are things that you could never duplicate.”
With three L-4 restorations under his belt, Powers wasn’t expecting any surprises from Rosie the Rocketer, but he got a few. “Bullet holes,” he says. “One bullet had passed from the bottom through the leading edge of the aileron into the wing, went through the steel-plate hinge for the aileron, tore a big chunk of metal out of one of the ribs and exited out through the top of the wing. I’ve retained all of that [damage] except on top of the wing, I’ll just put a patch where it exited.”
Powers also located a double patch on the front strut where the Army had patched both sides after a bullet had apparently entered on one side and exited on the other. Collings is intent on bringing the L-bird back to look exactly like it did in 1944. To do that, Powers has a long list of tasks.
“The airplane was modified,” he says. “The cowling and boot cowl and a lot of the instrument panel are all different and need to be replaced. They replaced the engine with a Continental C90.” As a glider tug, he says, it would have needed the increased power. “We have a period-correct, 65-horsepower Continental to install.”
They also replaced three of the instruments with German instruments. “Rob’s got a copy of the Piper build sheet,” says Powers, so he can determine what instruments were in it in 1944. “Keystone Instruments in Pennsylvania is refurbishing all the original instruments for us,” he says.
Finding six original M1A1 bazookas will be daunting. Powers is using photographs unearthed by Carol Apacki to guide him in mounting the bazookas. He knows they were mounted on a piece of plywood on the struts, but figuring out the proper angles is going to be trial and error.
“It gives me a lot of pride that I was asked to restore Rosie,” he continues, and says he hopes to fly it when it’s finished.
In an August 1944 letter home, Charles Carpenter wrote, “Lately I have been taking quite a few chances but my luck has been marvelous. Yesterday I got a bullet hole through the wing and hit a church steeple with one wheel. It was very little for what might have happened under the circumstances.”
More than 75 years later, Bazooka Charlie’s Grasshopper will fly again, to Oshkosh for the annual EAA fly-in and warbird judging. It is one of the last World War II veterans to return home, bullet holes and all.
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This story is a selection from the April/May issue of Air & Space magazine