What is a Bazooka?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A bazooka is a portable weapon which is fired from the shoulder. Bazookas were developed during the Second World War by the United States Army, when they were used to devastating effect against German tanks. The technology was picked up by other forces during the Second World War, and the weapons became quite famous due to their high profile use during this conflict. Bazookas were also used during the Korean War, but by the Vietnam War they had been supplanted by more accurate, lighter weapons which were easier to handle.

Bazookas were first developed and used by the United States Army during World War II.
Bazookas were first developed and used by the United States Army during World War II.

In Army terminology, a bazooka is an M9A1 Rocket Launcher. The weapon takes the form of a long tube which is designed to accommodate a tank-piercing rocket. The soldier holds the weapon on his or her shoulder to fire it. Bazookas are only effective at short range, and they also have a rather poor rate of accuracy. The short-range use usually makes up for this problem.

Bazookas were designed to pierce tank armor.
Bazookas were designed to pierce tank armor.

The slang term “bazooka” is probably derived from a musical instrument of the same name. The instrument was developed by Bob Burns, a comedian who was widely broadcast during the 1930s. Burns' bazooka was a crude horn made with an assortment of pipes; the name may have been a reference to the instrument known as a kazoo. American soldiers would have been very familiar with the bazooka from radio broadcasts, and they probably adopted the term affectionately for their weapons.

Before the development of tank-piercing weapons, armored tanks were essentially impenetrable, and they did a lot of damage on the battlefield. Soldiers in the tanks could fire at will on enemy forces while bulldozing through their lines, and an effective attack against a tank involved getting close enough to launch a grenade inside or to shoot the crew. Tank-piercing rockets could be used from a distance to at least cripple the tank, if not put it out of commission altogether, and bazookas were undoubtedly popular among soldiers as a result.

Several variants on the bazooka were developed, including the super bazooka, a version which carried more firepower. These weapons were used quite successfully through the start of the Vietnam War, when the light anti-tank weapon was developed. Light anti-tank weapons are self-contained, meaning that they are fired once and then discarded. These weapons are easy to operate, and a number of variations are produced by several munitions companies around the world to meet the needs of various armies.

In World War II, bazookas were effective at short range.
In World War II, bazookas were effective at short range.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


When I was a kid there was nothing that I wanted more than a bazooka. I had mostly seen bazookas in video games and silly cartoons and had next to no idea of how they actually worked. I think I just wanted to make something go boom.

I used to plead with my dad to build me one that shot water balloons. I was convinced that he could do this in a matter of minutes with some PVC pipe and a spring. The bazooka never got made. There is a great toy idea for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit.


@JimmyT - I have seen bazookas fire both in real life and in the movies and I can say right now that most of the time in movies they try to make it seem like the weapon fired is easier to fire than it actually is.

Most of the time when someone sees a bazooka fired in the movie the person firing almost immediately just shoots the bazooka at the target. This is impossible to do as it is very hard to aim a bazooka and takes time in order to calculate where to aim, especially from a long distance.

I agree the Rambo 2 scene is very ridiculous and I sometimes wish Hollywood would actually show how these weapons are fired. I have met people that own bazookas and it somewhat worries me that first they own them and second that they may try legally firing them at a target someday and not take the care and thought that is necessary to fire them.


I always laugh when I watch the movie Rambo 2 and see him fire a bazooka out of a helicopter full of wounded soldiers.

In the movie the bazooka first has a trigger, which a bazooka does not, it has a button at the top to fire. Secondly and more importantly a bazooka will have fire and heat coming out the back several feet when it fires. This would have killed everyone on board in that scene in the helicopter.

Of course, this scene was completely out of Hollywood, but it can be used as an example to show and explain exactly how dangerous bazookas are and how much care really needs to be taken into firing them. The entire scene just shows how ignorant people are as to how weapons fire and assume that a bazooka will merely fire like a handgun would.


@Emilski - You are correct for the most part. The bazooka is not at all ideal for hand to hand combat, but it is an ideal weapon for strategic purposes when heavy artillery is needed.

Most of the time in a battle it is hard to get heavy artillery to come right away so that is where a bazooka comes into play. A bazooka can be taken nearly everywhere and someone essentially has heavy artillery on the spot that they can use to fire and get out of situations.

The practicality of bazookas s very minimal as it is used for only certain situations, but when a situation requires heavy artillery and no reinforcements are available the bazooka is the best option available.


I have always seen bazookas as the weapon which people want to fire off but is relatively unnecessary in battle.

A bazooka works much like a mortar or a rocket launcher, only it is hand operated and acts like any other type of firing weapon that someone carries. However, the only time that bazookas become feasible to use is when they are looking to cause major damage and in reality blow up something.

In hand to hand combat bazookas are absolutely obsolete and in the middle of a war or battle the only use that comes into play for it is if they are looking to shoot down many of the enemy or to disarm heavy artillery of some kind whether it be helicopters or a snipers post.

Everyone wants to fire a bazooka because it is an awesome looking weapon and people think would be fun to shoot, but that does not make it an ideal battle weapon.


Bazookas seem to be closely associated with terrorists and revolutionaries these days. There is usually an image of a terrorist with a bazooka on his shoulder on the news everyday.

Even though it was first used in war between countries, it has become a popular weapon among revolutionary groups and terrorist groups around the world. And some of these groups are actually enemies of the US and it's allies.

How the technology got passed on and how this weapon became cheap enough for all sorts of groups to purchase and use is another story. But it makes sense that they would opt for this weapon because even though the precision is not good, it can kill around 20-30 or more people at a time if it's a populated area.

And the fighter doesn't have to come face-to-face with his enemy. So it's really ideal for these groups to use since they are often on the run and need to make an attack quickly and run.

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