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Soviet rocket artillery - From Katyusha to Smerch

Written by Sakhal

Two Russian state-owned corporations, SPLAV and Rosvoorouzhenie, presented in the shooting range at Orenburg, ending the 20th century, an improved version of the multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) BM-21 "Grad", a system in use in Russia and in other 50 foreign armed forces.

The exhibition showed as well the multiple launch rocket system Smerch, which can fire 300-millimeter rockets at distances of 70 kilometers, and the Grad-V, a light vehicle fitted with a 122- millimeter 12-tube launcher, specially designed for landing troops. From the Grad, it was developed as well the BOBR target, intended for air defense training regarding the operators of the portable surface-to-air missiles Stela and Igla (type SAM-7) as well as other developments.

Historical background

The 15th July 1941, in Smolensk, it was premiered in combat the modernized version of an old weapon (for "jet projectiles" had been used already during the 19th century by some European armies): the Russian 132-millimeter rockets M-13 launched by a BM-13-16 16-tube launcher. From that date to the presentation of the last Russian developments regarding solid-fuel multiple rockets, the engineers of the former Soviet Union remained as the undisputed number one in this field, due to the quality of the designs and the numbers in production and exportation, as well as the success of their doctrine of employment. While the Katyusha BM-13 remained in service until the 1980s, and even at a later date in the arsenals of some army or guerrilla, its developers constantly perfectioned the design.

Soviet rocket artillery - From Katyusha to Smerch

The BM-13 was the original Katyusha system introduced in 1941.

In March 1928, as a result of studies carried by V. Artonyev and N. Tikomirov, it was produced by the Gas Dynamics Laboratories of Leningrad a rocket projectile of caliber 82 millimeters, with more than satisfying trajectory stability and a range of 5-6 kilometers. These positive results intensified the efforts of the different investigation teams, and in 1934 it was decided to unify the investigations under the direction of engineer Petropavlosky, who would be succeeded by engineer Kostikov after his death. Finally in 1938, by guidance on previous experiences, were built the frames initially known as "launchers of jet-propelled grenades" and later renamed as BM (Boievaia Mashina or Combat Machine). The initials were followed by a number indicating the model of the weapon. Substantially, the BM, popularly known as Katyusha by the Russian soldiers, consisted of a ramp with multiple rails, in variable number depending on the model, mounted on a truck. The rails served as launching guide for a certain number of rocket projectiles propelled by solid fuel capable of fulfilling trajectories of 4-8 kilometers. The trucks, generally a ZIS for the launchers BM-8 and BM-13 and a GAZ for the launcher BM-31, had three wheel axes an their driving cab slightly armored and additionally protected by armored plates folded on the roof, that were placed on the windscreen before firing the rockets. In the late phase of the war were used as well launchers mounted on artillery tractors ZIS or in light tanks T-60 and T-70. The BM were used as medium-caliber field artillery pieces, specially when it was required a high degree of saturation in the attack. These weapons, due to their destructive effects, caused a notable psychological effect in the enemy who, in few seconds and suddenly, would see dozens of ululating rockets falling upon their position, some of them with warheads containing 20 kilograms of explosive. During the war, also the Americans and the Germans would make use of rocket projectiles, but never in such large scale as Russians did.

Specifications for Katyusha BM-13

Truck: Three-axed ZIS-6

Weight: 7.2 tonnes

Length: 6 meters

Width: 2.80 meters

Height: 2.30 meters

Number of rails: 8 duplex

Number of projectiles: 16

Caliber of projectile: 132 millimeters

Weight of projectile: 42.5 kilograms

Weight of warhead: 20 kilograms

Range: About 8 kilometers

Ignition of the projectile: Electric

Salvo duration: 10 seconds

Recharge time: 7-10 minutes

The new hailstorm

The weapon system BM-21 was based in the 122-millimeter rockets M-21-OF and M-14-OF, both of the breaker type, the first one with a weight of 77 kilograms and a range of 20380 meters and the second one with a weight of 46 kilograms and a range of 11017 meters, generically denominated Grad (Hailstorm) and whose operative life started in 1958. There are also other types of warheads for more "special" uses: smoke, chemical, incendiary and mine-laying. Which was presented by SPLAV and Rosvoorouzhenie was a new development of the BM-21, product of the experience acquired with the version Prima, introduced in 1994. This one was a rocket which, preserving the size and other characteristics of its predecessor, achieved a much higher effectiveness. The warhead of the rocket was detached from the rest of the projectile in the final phase of the trajectory and, by means of a small parachute, were achieved angles of incidence almost perpendicular to the ground. This increased to the maximum the effects of the shrapnel created by the fragmented casing of the projectiles, being it projected in a plane almost parallel to the terrain. The effects on uncovered personnel or soft targets were devastating, which even allowed to decrease the amount of explosive charge, while replacing the explosive by a more effective one. Also, the described effects were independent from the distance, unlike in normal rockets, which in the short radius saturate lesser areas. Optionally, the rocket could be prepared to prevent the detachment of the warhead from the rest of the projectile, achieving so higher effects of penetration and destruction in light fortifications and armored vehicles. This was possible thanks to a double-effect fuze, timed or instant according to what circumstances would require.

Apart from the breaker grenade, were developed the "special" ones: smoking, mine-laying (against personnel or armored vehicles), submunition with terminal guidance phase, interferer-laying for electronic war (in collaboration with Bulgaria) and chemical. Thanks to programs previously set, and with the help from fire control computers, minefields could be laid with quite a precision. The reduction in explosive charge allowed to install a larger rocket engine, increasing range to 35 kilometers. And even better, these changes could be introduced in the already existing rockets. The launcher continued being mounted in trucks Ural-4320, from which all the processes of firing could be automatically controlled: fire sequence, firing speed, type and calibration of fuze, data link with the battery or the group, etc... Also where studied thermal shields which, wraping the launching tubes, would disperse the heat accumulated in successive launchings, managing to reduce the negative effects of the different ambient temperature for each of them, being reduced so the dispersion of the salvo. The time to put the launcher ready for firing was reduced to a fifth part while the time to reload the laucher was about 16 minutes. Overall, the weapon system increased its effectiveness - according to its developers - up to 20 times.

The new generation BM-21

The final result presented in Orenburg, keeps all the advances achieved with the Prima, improving them as follows: the range of the breaker projectile is 40 kilometers; the weight is reduced because the rocket engine passes from 20 kilograms to nine, thanks to new alloys and fuels; warhead has more capacity, passing from 18 kilograms to 21; the 40 rockets of a launcher can neutralize an area of 600 x 600 meters; anti-tank submunitions with terminal guidance phase have a penetration power of up to 120 millimeters; the fire control system, denominated Kapustnik, directs up to 11 launchers per battery, with capability to do it in every weather condition and topographic environment. Also it was presented in Orenburg the version for airborne and amphibious troops Grad-V fitted with 12-tube launcher.

Soviet rocket artillery - From Katyusha to Smerch

The BM-21 Grad of new generation.

Soviet rocket artillery - From Katyusha to Smerch

The Grad-V, designed for airborne and marine troops.

A true cyclone

The last weapon system coming from the factories SPLAV in Tula was the 9A52 Smerch (Tornado), which was first seen by western observers in 1983, having no possible competitor in the world. The launcher, composed of twelve 300-millimeter tubes, is mounted on a 20-ton 8 x 8 truck MAZ-543. The ensemble weighes 44 tonnes and can travel 850 kilometers without refueling at an average speed of 60 kilometers/hour. The driving cab houses the driver and his assistant and the command cab houses the artillery chief and his assistant. Between the third and fourth axes there are two support jacks, hydraulically actuated, like the launcher itself. Horizontal orientation sector is 60 degrees and elevation sector is 50 degrees. Preparation for firing lasts only three minutes and discharge of rockets lasts for 38 seconds. The rocket 9M55K weighes 800 kilograms and has a range of 70 kilometers, being fitted with an inertial system for correcting its trajectory, programmed before the launching, to achieve a high precision. The warhead weighs 300 kilograms and it can contain, among others, the following types of charge: 72 submunitions with possibility of terminal guidance phase, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, fuel-air explosive and chemical agents.

The Fire Director Control, denominated 1K123, is mounted in a KamAZ-4310 truck with three wheel axes. From inside, by means of computers, radio devices and data transmission, it is regulated the firing in batteries and groups. A generator is carried to provide energy. The discharge of a launcher can neutralize areas from 650 x 650 meters (422500 square meters) to 800 x 800 meters (640000 square meters) - similar to the area that would occupy the deployment of a mechanized company - with a total of 864 submunitions, one for every 21 x 22 meters (462 square meters) in average. The normal employment would be one battery (four launchers) to quadruplicate the density and hence the destructive effect. Recharge lasts about 20 minutes and it is done, rocket by rocket, by a truck 9T234 (based on the MAZ-543), which carries 12 rockets and is equipped with a crane capable of 850 kilograms.

Soviet rocket artillery - From Katyusha to Smerch

The Smerch system; it can send 300-millimeter rockets to distances of up to 70 kilometers.

Soviet rocket artillery - From Katyusha to Smerch

The Smerch system in action.

The evolution of the Katyusha system

Year :: Rocket :: Launcher :: Truck :: Caliber :: Weight :: Range

1941 :: M-8 :: BM-8-36 :: ZIS-6 :: 82 mm :: 8 kg :: 5.5 km

1941 :: M-8 :: BM-8-48 :: ZIS-6 :: 82 mm :: 8 kg :: 5.5 km

1941 :: M-13 :: BM-13-16 :: ZIS-6 :: 132 mm :: 42.5 kg :: 7 km

1942 :: M-13/20 :: BM-13-16 :: ZIS-6 :: 132 mm :: 57 kg :: 5 km

1943 :: M-13 UK :: BM-13-16 :: ZIS-6 :: 132 mm :: Increased precision

1942 :: M-30 :: BM-30-4 :: Towed :: 300 mm :: 72 kg :: 2.8 km

1942 :: M-31 :: BM-31-8/6 :: Towed :: 300 mm :: 92.4 kg :: 4.3 km

1943 :: M-31 :: BM-31-12 :: Studebaker :: 300 mm :: 92.4 kg :: 4.3 km

1945 :: M-31 UK :: BM-31-12 :: Studebaker :: 300 mm :: Increased precision

Total built during the Second World War: 10000 self-propelled launchers, 12 millions of rockets, 519 Groups in 1945

1956 :: M-14-OF :: BM-14-16 :: ZIL-151 :: 140 mm :: 39.5 kg :: 9.8 km

1959 :: M-14-OF :: BM-14-17 :: GAZ-63 :: 140 mm :: 39.5 kg :: 9.8 km

1967 :: RPU-14 :: 16 tubes :: Towed :: 140 mm :: 39.5 kg :: 9.8 km

1954 :: M-24 short :: BM-24-12 :: ZIL-157 :: 240 mm :: 109 kg :: 6.5 km

1954 :: M-24 long :: BM-24-T :: AT-S :: 240 mm :: 112 kg :: 11 km

1954 :: M-20 :: BMD-20-4 :: ZIL-151 :: 200 mm :: 194 kg :: 20 km

1957 :: M-25 :: BM-25-6 :: Kraz-214 :: 250 mm :: 455 kg :: 60 km

1977 :: M-22 :: BM-27-16 :: ZIL-135 :: 220 mm :: 360 kg :: 40 km

1964 :: M-21 :: BM-21-40 :: Ural-375 :: 122 mm :: 66/46 kg :: 20.5 km

From the system BM-24 were created Israeli versions and from the system BM-21, among others, the following versions: Chinese (Type 81, 83 and 90), Egyptian (Sakr 30), Czech (RM 70), Pakistani (Koortyong), Romanian (M-64), North Korean (3M-11), Yugoslavian (Oganj) and Italian (FIROS 25).

Soviet rocket artillery - From Katyusha to Smerch

The BM-24 developed in the 1950s fired 240-millimeter rockets with a range of 11 kilometers.

Article updated: 2015-01-16

Categories: Artillery - World War Two - Cold War - 20th Century - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-01-16

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