Katyusha rocket launcher

Katyusha rocket launcher

Infobox Weapon
name= Katyusha

caption= BM-13 launcher based on a ZiS-6 truck, Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Kiev, Ukraine
origin= Soviet Union
type= Multiple rocket launcher
service= 1939–
used_by= Soviet Union, Russian Federation, and others
wars= World War II, 2006 Lebanon War
variants= BM-13, BM-8, BM-31, BM-14, BM-21, BM-24, BM-25, BM-27, BM-30

Katyusha multiple rocket launchers ( _ru. Катюша) are a type of rocket artillery originally built and fielded by the Soviet Union in the Second World War. Compared to other types of artillery, such multiple rocket launchers are able to deliver a devastating amount of explosives to an area target more quickly but with lower accuracy and requiring a longer time to reload. These vehicles are fragile compared to conventional artillery guns, but relatively inexpensive and easy to produce. Katyushas of World War II, the first self-propelled artillery mass-produced by the Soviet Union, [Zaloga, p. 150] were usually mounted on trucks. This mobility gives Katyushas (and other self-propelled artillery) another advantage: they are able to deliver a blow all at once, and then move before the other side is able to locate their position and attack it with counter-battery fire.

Katyusha weapons of World War II included the BM-13 launcher, light BM-8, and heavy BM-31. Today, the nickname is also applied to newer truck-mounted Soviet multiple rocket launchers—notably the very common BM-21—and their derivatives worldwide.

The nickname

Red Army troops adopted the nickname from Mikhail Isakovsky's popular wartime song, "Katyusha", about a girl longing for her absent beloved, who is away performing military service. [Zaloga, p. 153] "Katyusha" ( _ru. Катюша) is the Russian equivalent of "Katie", an endearing diminutive form of the name Katherine: "Yekaterina →Katya →Katyusha". German troops coined the sobriquet "Stalin's organ" ( _de. Stalinorgel), after Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and also alluding to the sound of the weapon's rockets. [Zaloga, p. 153]

Katyushas of World War II

Katyusha rocket launchers were mounted on many platforms during World War II, including on trucks, artillery tractors, tanks, and armoured trains, as well as on naval and riverine vessels as assault support weapons.

The design was relatively simple, consisting of racks of parallel rails on which rockets were mounted, with a folding frame to raise the rails to launch position. Each truck had between 14 and 48 launchers. The 132-mm diameter M-13 rocket of the BM-13 system was 180 centimetres (70.9 in) long, 13.2 centimetres (5.2 in) in diameter and weighed 42 kilograms (92 lb). It was propelled by a solid nitrocellulose-based propellant of tubular shape, arranged in a steel-case rocket engine with a single central nozzle at the bottom end. The rocket was stabilised by cruciform fins of pressed sheet steel. The warhead, either fragmentation, high-explosive or shaped-charge, weighed around 22 kg (48 lb). The range of the rockets was about 5.4 kilometres (3.4 mi). Later, 82-mm diameter M-8 and 310-mm diameter M-31 rockets were also developed.

The weapon was less accurate than conventional artillery guns, but was extremely effective in saturation bombardment, and was feared by German soldiers. A battery (4 BM-13 launchers) could fire a salvo in 7-10 seconds that delivered 4.35 tons of high explosives over a four-hectare (10 acres) impact zone. [Zaloga, p. 154] With an efficient crew, the launchers could redeploy to a new location immediately after firing, denying the enemy the opportunity for counterbattery fire. Katyusha batteries were often massed in very large numbers to create a shock effect on enemy forces. The weapon's disadvantage was the long time it took to reload a launcher, in contrast to conventional guns which could sustain a continuous low rate of fire.


In June 1938, the Soviet Jet Propulsion Research Institute (RNII) in Leningrad was authorized by the Main Artillery Directorate (GAU) to develop a multiple rocket launcher for the RS-132 aircraft rocket (RS for _ru. "Reaktivnyy Snaryad", 'rocket-powered shell'). I. Gvay led a design team in Chelyabinsk, Russia, which built several prototype launchers firing the modified 132mm M-132 rockets over the sides of ZiS-5 trucks. These proved unstable, and V.N. Galkovskiy proposed mounting the launch rails longitudinally. In August 1939, the result was the BM-13 (BM stands for "Boyevaya Mashina", 'combat vehicle' for M-13 rockets). [Zaloga, p. 150]

The first large-scale testing of the rocket launchers took place at the end of 1938, when 233 rounds of various types were used. A salvo of rockets could completely straddle a target at a range of 5,500 metres (3.4 mi). But the artillery branch was not fond of the Katyusha, because it took up to 50 minutes to load and fire 24 rounds, while a conventional howitzer could fire 95 to 150 rounds in the same time.Fact|date=August 2008 Testing with various rockets was conducted through 1940, and the BM-13-16 with launch rails for sixteen rockets was authorized for production. Only forty launchers were built before Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. [Zaloga, p. 153]

After their success in the first month of the war, mass production was ordered and the development of other models proceeded. The Katyushas were very inexpensive and could be manufactured in light industrial installations which didn't have the heavy equipment to build conventional artillery gun barrels. [Zaloga, p. 154] By the end of 1942, 3,237 Katyusha launchers of all types had been built, and by the end of the war total production reached about 10,000. [Zaloga, pp. 154-55]

The truck-mounted Katyushas were installed on ZiS-6 6×4 trucks, as well as the two-axle ZiS-5 and ZiS-5V. In 1941, a small number of BM-13 launchers were mounted on STZ-5 artillery tractors. A few were also tried on KV tank chassis as the KV-1K, but this was a needless waste of heavy armour. Starting in 1942, they were also mounted on various British, Canadian and U.S. Lend-Lease trucks, in which case they were sometimes referred to as BM-13S. The cross-country performance of the Studebaker US6 2-1/2 ton truck was so good that it became the GAU's standard mounting in 1943, designated BM-13N (нормализованный - "Normalizovanniy", 'standardized'), and more than 1,800 of this model were manufactured by the end of World War II. [Zaloga, pp. 153–54] After World War II, BM-13s were based on Soviet-built ZiL-151 trucks.

The 82mm BM-8 was approved in August 1941, and deployed as the BM-8-36 on truck beds and BM-8-24 on T-40 and T-60 light tank chassis. Later these were also installed on GAZ-67 jeeps as the BM-8-8, and on the larger Studebaker trucks as the BM-8-48. [Zaloga, p. 154] In 1942, the team of scientists Leonid Shvarts, Moisei Komissarchik and engineer Yakov Shor would receive the Stalin prize for the development of the BM-8-48. [ Rachel Bayvel, “ [http://www.jewishquarterly.org/article.asp?articleid=91 Tales of ‘Tank City’. Rachel Bayvel Celebrates the Soviet Jews Who Produced Weapons for Allied Victory] ”. "Jewish Quarterly" no. 198, summer 2005. Retrieved on 2008-09-30.] [Yosif Kremenetsky (1999), “ [http://www.usfamily.net/web/joseph/evr_v_prom_sssr.htm Inzhenerno-tekhnicheskaya deyatel’nost’ yevreyev v SSSR] (Engineering-technical activities of Jews in the USSR)”, "Yevrey pri bol’shevistskom stroye (Jews in the Bolshevist order)", Minneapolis. Retrieved on 2008-09-30.]

Based on the M-13, the M-30 rocket was developed in 1942. Its bulbous warhead required it to be fired from a frame, called the M-30-4, instead of a launch rail. In 1944 it became the basis for the BM-31-12 truck-mounted launcher. [Zaloga, p. 154]

Combat history

The multiple rocket launchers were considered top secret at the beginning of the war. They were called by various code names such as "Kostikov Guns" (after the head of the RNII), and finally designated "Guards Mortars". A special unit of the notorious NKVD secret police was raised to operate them. [Zaloga, p. 154] On July 7, 1941, an experimental artillery battery of seven launchers was first used in battle at Orsha in Belarus, under the command of Captain Ivan Flyorov, destroying the station with several supply trains, and causing massive German Army casualties.

Following the success at Orsha, the Red Army immediately organized new Guards Mortar batteries for the support of infantry divisions. A battery's complement was standardized at four launchers. They remained under NKVD control until German Nebelwerfer rocket launchers became common. [Zaloga, pp. 154–55]

On August 8, 1941, Stalin personally ordered the formation of eight Special Guards Mortar regiments under the direct control of the General Headquarters Reserve (Stavka-VGK). Each regiment comprised three battalions of three batteries, totalling 36 BM-13 or BM-8 launchers. Independent Guards Mortar battalions were also formed, comprising 36 launchers in three batteries of twelve. By the end of 1941, there were eight regiments, 35 independent battalions, and two independent batteries in service, holding a total of 554 launchers. [Zaloga, p. 155]

In June 1942 Heavy Guards Mortar battalions were formed around the new M-30 static rocket launch frames, consisting of 96 launchers in three batteries. In July, a battalion of BM-13s was added to the establishment of a tank corps. [Zaloga, p. 147] In 1944, the BM-31 was used in Motorized Heavy Guards Mortar battalions of 48 launchers. In 1943, Guards Mortar brigades, and later divisions, were formed equipped with static launchers. [Zaloga, p. 155]

By the end of 1942, 57 regiments were in service—together with the smaller independent battalions, this was the equivalent of 216 batteries: 21% BM-8 light launchers, 56% BM-13, and 23% M-30 heavy launchers. By the end of the war, the equivalent of 518 batteries were in service. [Zaloga, p. 155]

Katyushas since World War II

The success and economy of multiple rocket launchers (MRL) have led them to continue to be developed. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union fielded several models of Katyushas, notably the BM-21 launchers fitting the stereotypical Katyusha mould, and the larger BM-27. Advances in artillery munitions have been applied to some Katyusha-type multiple launch rocket systems, including bomblet submunitions, remotely-deployed land mines, and chemical warheads.

With the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited most of its military arsenal including the Katyusha rockets. In recent history, they have been used by Russian forces during the First and Second Chechen Wars and by Armenian and Azerbaijani forces during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Georgian government forces are reported to have used BM-21 or similar rocket artillery in fighting in the 2008 South Ossetia war. [cite news|title=Georgia pounds breakaway capital|date=2008-08-08|publisher=Reuters|url=http://uk.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUKL73791220080807 | accessdate=2008-09-30]

Katyushas were exported to Afghanistan, Angola, Czechoslovakia, Egypt, East Germany, Hungary, Iran, North Korea, Poland, Syria, and Vietnam. They were also built in Czechoslovakia, People's Republic of China, North Korea, and Iran.fact|date=September 2008

Katyushas also saw action in the Korean War, used by the Chinese People's Volunteer Army against the South and United Nations forces. Soviet BM-13s were known to have been imported to China before the Sino-Soviet split and were operational in the People's Liberation Army.

Israel captured BM-24 MRLs during the Six-Day War (1967), used them in two battalions during the Yom Kippur War (1973) and the 1982 Lebanon War, and later developed the MAR-240 launcher for the same rockets, based on a Sherman tank chassis. During the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah fired between 3,970 and 4,228 rockets, from light truck-mounts and single-rail man-portable launchers. About 95% of these were 122 mm (4.8 in) Syrian-manufactured Katyusha artillery rockets, which carried warheads up to 30 kg (66 lb) and had a range of up to 30 km (19 mi).cite web | url = http://www.jcpa.org/brief/brief006-10.htm | title = Hizballah's Rocket Campaign Against Northern Israel: A Preliminary Report | publisher = Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs | date = 2006-08-31 | accessdate = 2006-09-14 ] [cite web | url = http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5187974.stm | title = Hezbollah's rocket force | publisher = BBC News Online | date = 2006-07-18 | accessdate = 2006-09-14 ] An estimated 23% of these rockets hit built-up areas, primarily civilian in nature. [cite web | url = http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,,-6022211,00.html | title = Mideast War, by the numbers | publisher = Guardian / Associated Press | date = 2006-08-18 | accessdate = 2006-08-25 ] cite news|title=The war in numbers|publisher=Jane's Defence Weekly |date=August 23, 2006]

There were incidents reported that BM-21 launchers were used against American forces during 2003 invasion of Iraq. They have also been used in the Afghanistan and Iraq insurgencies. In Iraq, according to Associated Press and Agence France-Presse reports, Katyusha rockets were fired at the Green Zone late March 2008. [cite news|title=Baghdad Green Zone hit by rockets|date=2008-03-26|publisher=Agence France-Presse|url=http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/03/26/2199070.htm |accessdate=2008-09-30] [cite news|title=Front Row for Green Zone Mortar Salvos|date=2008-03-25|publisher=Associated Press|url=http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory?id=4525164 |accessdate=2008-09-30]

See also

* Panzerwerfer, a German rocket launcher mounted on a half-track
* Wurfrahmen 40, another German rocket launcher mounted on a half-track
* Land Mattress, employed by Allied forces in World War II



* cite book
last = Zaloga
first = Steven J.
authorlink =
coauthors = James Grandsen
title = Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles of World War Two
publisher = Arms and Armour Press
year = 1984
location = London
pages = pp 150–54
url =
doi =
id = ISBN 0-85368-606-8

External links

* [http://www.thetankmaster.com/english/afv/bm-13.asp BM-13 (Studebaker) walk-around photos]
* [http://rkkaww2.armchairgeneral.com/galleries/rocketgallery.htm Photos] of various mounts of "Katyushas"
* [http://home.comcast.net/~markconrad/ROCKARTY.html Creation and Development of Rocket Artillery in the First Phase of the War] , translation of a 1976 article published by the USSR Defence Ministry [broken link, see [http://web.archive.org/web/20071011232905/http://home.comcast.net/~markconrad/ROCKARTY.html archive] ]
* [http://www.geocities.com/sa_bushwar/savstalinorrel1.jpgPhoto of a Cuban BM-21] in Angola

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