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.
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.
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.