Cumulative or HEAT warheads are the staple of infantry (man-portable) anti-tank weapons and are also used by artillery and various unarmoured and armoured vehicles for the purposes of anti-tank combat. Their main advantage over other types of anti-tank projectiles is that their effectiveness does not depend on the projectile’s velocity. As a result, it was possible to produce an entire group of man-portable anti-tank weapons which allowed infantry significant anti-tank capability.
These weapons were far cheaper than the tanks they were used to destroy, by the factor of over a hundred. Today, a guided Javelin missile costs 175 000 USD, while a modern main battle tank can cost from 2 to 7 million USD. And they were highly effective. Once Germans introduced the Panzerfaust on the Eastern Front in second half of 1944., proportion of the Soviet tank losses rose to 30% of all the tanks used.
Cumulative projectile works by focusing the effects of the explosive fill onto a small surface. Portion of the armour at that point turns into small particles which the explosive jet carries into the tank’s insides. The hole itself is very small, a few centimeters in diameter. After passing through the armour, the jet turns into a funnel, spreading outwards at cca 15 degree angle and reaching several meters away. It kills the crew in its path, and can also cause the ammunition to detonate should it penetrate the bullet jacket.