Katyusha (rocket launcher)

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Katyusha battery on a Studebaker US6 , Museum of the Second World War in Moscow
Katjuscha BM-13-16 on a ZIS-151 chassis, exhibited in the Seelower Heights memorial
Katyusha battery on ZIS-6 chassis, Kremlin in Nizhny Novgorod

Katyusha ( Russian Катюша ) is the Russian name for a Soviet multiple rocket launcher that was developed and used during World War II . The name goes back to the song Katjuscha , which was created at that time and is still known today . (Katyusha is a cute form of Katharina, Katja). The translation of the Russian collective term was Gardewerfer , from the German side the weapon was called the Stalin organ , because the arrangement of the rockets is reminiscent of an organ and a characteristic whistling sound was produced when it took off.


Compared to conventional artillery , multiple launchers are less accurate, have a lower penetration effect and require a larger propellant charge in order to achieve comparable ranges. Another disadvantage is the longer loading time to load a launcher with missiles. However, this is offset by its simple construction, the high explosive power of a rocket salve in relation to the size and weight of the launcher, the large area coverage and, above all, the short firing time compared to a howitzer .

During the Second World War, these properties were reinforced on the Soviet side through the combined use of launcher batteries, launcher departments and launcher regiments. The Katyusha launcher thus became the horror of the German Wehrmacht , as it could fire several dozen rockets within a few seconds, which - unlike artillery fire - left little or no time to seek cover.

From 1942 the German Wehrmacht started using fog launchers of various calibres, including the rocket launcher Panzerwerfer 42 .

In the West, the term was also used for later versions of Soviet multiple rocket launchers or volley guns. Today "Katyusha" is often used as an umbrella term for various small-caliber unguided surface-to-surface missiles (also artillery missiles ) and thus includes replicas, self-made or further developments.


Drive unit of a Katyusha rocket

There were different versions of the launcher frame with different missile calibers: BM-8, BM-13 and BM-31. The most famous variant, BM-13, was mounted on a three-axle truck. The Soviet ZIS-6 , but above all the American Studebaker US6 , which the Soviet Union received in large numbers as part of the Lend Lease Act , was used as a mount . Some launchers were also mounted on armored hulls.

Depending on the design, the range was between 2,500 and 11,800 (BM-13SN) meters, 16 to 54 rockets could be fired as a volley within a few seconds.

In the course of the Second World War, other unguided solid rockets were developed on the Soviet side, such as the M-31 against bunker systems or the armor-piercing RBS-82. The use took place both from vehicles and from airplanes (e.g. attack aircraft Ilyushin Il-2 ), but also from ships ( river combat ships ).

After the Second World War

Ural-375D with multiple missile launcher system BM-21

The missile type M-21 with a caliber of 122.4 mm and a range of 20,800 m, that of 40-barreled launchers on Ural-375D (BM-21), Tatra 813 ( RM-70 ), GAZ , was very popular -66 (12 pipes) and single starters could be used, through use in the Soviet Army and their former allies. BM-24 (12 launch frames) with a caliber of 240.9 mm and a range of 6000 m were also sold internationally. But other countries also manufactured rocket launchers, such as Czechoslovakia, the 130 mm rocket launcher 51 with a range of 8000 m.


Start of development

The development of the rockets used goes back to investigations by the Leningrad Gas-Dynamics Laboratory (GDL), later RNII , on solid rockets . After trials, the first samples were produced in 1938. It was initially seen that it could be used as a large-caliber weapon on the then still very light fighters against large bombers . The combination of 7 or 13 powder rods resulted in rocket types with 82 and 132 mm diameter, which led to the designation RS-82 or RS-132.

As early as June 1938, the development of a mobile ground launch device for the 132 mm RS-132 missile was ordered. The basis was the three-axle ZIS-6 truck , which could fire 24 missiles in one salvo.

On June 7, 1939, shooting with reactive M-13 projectiles was demonstrated at one of the artillery firing ranges. The People's Commissar for Defense, who was present, confirmed the effectiveness of the weapon, so the decision to accelerate the development of missile weapons for the land forces was quickly taken. The development goes back to the designers Andrei Kostikow , Iwan Gwai and Vasili Aborenkow , whose designs were based on earlier designs by Iwan Kleimjonow , Georgi Langemak and others.

In the Soviet-Japanese conflict in Mongolia on the Chalchin Gol in the summer of 1939, Katyusha missiles were used for the first time on fighter planes such as the Polikarpow I-16 (Ischak).

Development and use in World War II

Development to readiness for use

At the end of 1939, the RNII received an order from the artillery administration to manufacture a series of six M-132 self-propelled guns. Five were earmarked for further experiments, the sixth for coastal defense. At the end of 1940, the first five devices successfully completed the troop trials. The Soviet government and the High Command of the Red Army were informed of this. At the beginning of 1941, on special instructions from the government, the order was given to initiate series production of the M-132. At the end of June 1941 the first copies were ready.

From May 15 to 17, 1941, the new weapon was accepted by the Red Army High Command under Marshal Semyon Konstantinovich Tymoshenko . The ROSF-132 fragmentation missile was named M-13, the M-132 launch system was named BM-13-16 (combat machine for RS-132 with 16 launch rails).

The government decision to start series production of the M-13 and the BM-13-16 launcher was issued on June 21, 1941, a few hours before the German Wehrmacht crossed the border of the Soviet Union . All experimental weapons were immediately sent to the front.

First use on July 14, 1941

Captain IA Fljorow took over seven BM-13-16 with a total of 3,000 missiles. The main task of the battery was to test the rocket launchers under combat conditions and to develop tactical principles of use. On July 4, 1941, the battery reached the area east of Orsha , where the 20th Army had taken up defensive positions against the German troops advancing on Smolensk . On July 14, 1941, the seven launchers fired a volley of 112 rockets at the town of Rudnja, where a concentration of German troops was being observed. The use of the new weapon surprised the German troops. A second deployment took place shortly afterwards on the Orsha River.

Captain Fljorov's battery was involved in further heavy defensive battles near Rudnya , Yelnya , in the Roslavl and Spas-Demensk areas . In August 1941, the Germans succeeded in encircling the battery with other units. After all the ammunition was fired, all the rocket launchers were blown up; Fljorov himself was killed in the process. However, the German army command only became aware of the Katyusha weapon during its first missions off Leningrad .

BM-8 and BM-13 on the front lines

Katyusha rocket launcher during the Battle of Stalingrad

The successful use of the first combat vehicles of the "reactive artillery" accelerated the development work for the new BM-8 rocket launcher, which was introduced in the second half of 1941. The 82-mm missile of this weapon system had a mass of 8 kg and a range of 5500 m. The industry produced several variants of the BM-8 rocket launcher:

  • 24-barrel with the T-40 and T-60 tanks as the base vehicle
  • 36 tubes on the chassis of the ZIS-6 truck
  • 48 tubes (B-8-48) on the chassis of the GAZ-AA truck

In the course of 1941 593 BM-13 rocket launchers, 390 BM-8 rocket launchers and 525,000 associated rockets (243,000 M-13 and 282,000 B-8) were handed over to the front troops. In August 1941 the formation of eight regiments began, which were equipped with the rocket launchers BM-13 and BM-8. A regiment consisted of three departments, each with three batteries with four rocket launchers each. The regiments established were given the designation Guards Throwing Regiments of the Artillery of the Reserve of the High Command .

These units were mostly used to reinforce the rifle divisions that defended themselves in the first season. If there were not enough departments available, the rocket launchers remained under the command of the army commander, who ordered the operation according to the situation. On January 1, 1942, there were already 87 departments with BM-13 and BM-8 rocket launchers on the front lines.

In November 1941 there were more than 40 guards throwing departments in the Kalininer and Western Front . During the Battle of Moscow in December 1941 they were also in action, as in the Battle of Stalingrad 1942/1943.

Theaters of war after 1945

After World War II, katyushas were still used in numerous later wars and conflicts. Their special properties are used in asymmetrical war . These properties include in particular the simple structure of the rocket and its launching device.

Katyusha missiles were used in the Indochina War and the Korean War, as well as in the Vietnam War by the regular North Vietnamese army and rarely by the Viet Cong . Other documented deployments were in the Middle East Wars, the Gulf Wars, the Angolan Civil War , Ethiopia , the Afghan Civil War and later in the fight of the US-led Northern Alliance against the Taliban .
Even today, Taliban fighters put simple time fuses (alarm clocks, candles) on them and use them for attacks both against US Army bases and against multinational troops in Afghanistan . Due to the simple construction, however, even under primitive circumstances, self-production was a possibility for fighting sides; For example, S-82 missile cartridges were used by the Taliban from shot down helicopters and aircraft in Afghanistan.

Iraqi combat units deployed Katyushas against the US occupation forces and the Iraqi government.

In August 2005 there was a series of attacks in Aqaba , Jordan , in which Katyusha rockets were said to have been used, and for which a group close to al-Qaida assumed responsibility.

In the Palestine conflict, however, Qassam rockets (alternative spelling Qassam ) are used, which have a simpler design and shorter range.

Lebanon War 2006

In the 2006 Lebanon War , which began on July 12, 2006, attacks by Hezbollah from Lebanon dropped up to 200 Katyusha rockets a day in Israel . The BM-21 models (also called 9K51) developed in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s were mostly used; these have a diameter of 122 mm, a length of 2.87 m and a range of 20 km, some types 40 km; the warhead weighs 20 kg. In most cases, no multiple launchers were used, but rather smaller, easier-to-transport single launch racks. The missiles are also produced in Iran and are called "Arash" there.

For the first time, rockets fired from Lebanon have also reached the city of Afula , 50 kilometers away . So far it has been unclear whether Hezbollah has missiles with such a range. It is believed that the Iranian Fajr-3 with a takeoff weight of 45 kg was used here (not to be confused with the medium-range missile of the same name); or the larger Fadschr-5 with a range of up to 75 km, 333 mm diameter, 1 tonne takeoff weight and a 90 kg warhead. Technologically, all of these types are on the same level as the original Katyusha, the unguided artillery rocket, developed in 1938.

The Israeli side stated that Hezbollah had a total of 15,000 Katyusha rockets, of which 3000 had been launched by the beginning of August 2006.

Technical data of the launchers BM-8, BM-13 and BM-31

M-8 M-13 M-31
Use from 1941 1941 1943
caliber mm 82 132 300
length mm 714 1415 1760
Dimensions kg 14.1 28.7
Ground warhead kg 5.4 21.3 52.4
Explosives mass kg 0.6 4.9 28.8
Empty mass kg 6.8 35.4 81.1
Fuel mass kg 1.2 7.1 11.3
Takeoff mass kg 8.0 42.5 92.4
Mass ratio 1.2 1.2 1.1
Fuel percentage % 15.0 16.7 12.2
Usable mass fraction % 50.1 56.7
Burn rate m / s 315 355 255
Maximum flight distance m 5500 8470 4300

All 16 missiles of the BM-13-16 could be fired in the course of seven to ten seconds. The time for the transition from the march to the combat position was two to three minutes, the elevation range 4 to 45 degrees, the side alignment range ± ten degrees. The cruising speed of the vehicles was up to 40 km / h on solid roads.

See also

Web links

Commons : Katjuscha  - collection of images


Individual evidence

  1. Originally, the original rocket launchers used in Seelow and Karlshorst were exhibited on Studebaker. For propaganda reasons, at the beginning of the Cold War, the American carrier vehicles were exchanged for Soviet ones. The objects shown are now mounted on ZIS-151 and ZIL-157 chassis, which, however, were only produced from 1948 and 1958.
  2. Patent for multiple rocket launchers at russland.ru ( Memento from September 5, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Katyusha story
  4. ^ Martin Windrow: The Last Valley - Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam. Cambridge 2004, p. 600.