The world-famous Katyusha (Russian: Катюша) was the first multiple rocket-launcher vehicle in history. Built from the ZIS-6 truck, it could carry up to forty-eight 132mm light rockets on its folding frame's racks, firing terrible barrages at a range equivalent to that of 75mm field guns.
Lacking accuracy, it relies on its rockets' high explosive capacities to saturate an area with explosives, usually creating panic on a large scale. Though very mobile, the Katyusha is also very fragile. Armor, or infantry, or even AA guns that get in close enough will cut them to pieces. It takes a ZiS-6 truck, a howitzer gun sight, twelve railroad rails and some support structure to build this thing, totaling to $30, so you can understand why Soviets loved using this thing en masse.
This unit can turn the tide of a battle, it can crush infantry to pieces as well as buildings and vehicles if you have it in a reasonable amount of numbers, but it is almost useless against any tanks.
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 Reaktivnyy Snaryad, 'rocket-powered shell'). I. Gvay led a design team in Chelyabinsk, RSFSR, 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).
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. 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.
After their success in the first month of the war, mass production was ordered and the development of other models proceeded. The Katyusha was inexpensive and could be manufactured in light industrial installations which did not have the heavy equipment to build conventional artillery gun barrels. 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.
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 (hey there, Calliope!) 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. It was firstly built of cheap Canadian and US car parts but was then built properly using Russian car parts and getting armoured doors instead of regular truck doors. The cross-country performance of the Studebaker US6 2½ ton truck was so good that it became the GAU's standard mounting in 1943, designated BM-13N (normalizovanniy, 'standardized'), and more than 1,800 of this model were manufactured by the end of World War II. After World War II, BM-13s were based on Soviet-built ZiL-151 trucks. More exotic mounts included chassis of T-70 light tanks, motorcycles, tripods, armoured trains and ships.
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. In 1942, the team of scientists Leonid Shvarts, Moisei Komissarchik and engineer Yakov Shor received the Stalin prize for the development of the BM-8-48.
Based on the M-13, the M-30 rocket was developed in 1942. Its bulbous warhead required it to be fired from a grounded frame, called the M-30 (single frame, four round; later double frame, 8 round), instead of a launch rail mounted on a truck. In 1944 it became the basis for the BM-31-12 truck-mounted launcher.
Participation in the War
The multiple rocket launchers were top secret in the beginning of World War II. A special unit of the NKVD secret police was raised to operate them. On July 14, 1941, an experimental artillery battery of seven launchers was first used in battle at Rudnya in Smolensk province of Russia, under the command of Captain Ivan Flyorov, destroying a concentration of German troops with tanks, armored vehicles and trucks at the marketplace, causing massive German Army casualties and its retreat from the town in panic.
The event had been witnessed by a future military historian, then a 20-year old Russian Sergeant Andrey Sapronov (90 years old in 2011). There is a widespread Soviet myth of Katyusha’s maiden attack of July 14, 1941 at Orsha in Belarus, destroying a station with several supply trains. It obviously conflicts the fact that Orsha remained at the hands of the Soviet Army on July 14 and through July 15. And even on July 16, 1941 the German troops were unlikely to invade Orsha aboard their supply trains. Thus, had the Katyusha’s rockets fallen on any supply trains on July 16, 1941, those would have been the Soviet trains unable to have left Orsha railroad station. Any records of the battery’s actions in July 1941 were forbidden. Following the success, the Red Army 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 the German Nebelwerfer rocket launchers became common later in the war.
On August 8, 1941, Stalin 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, totaling 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, fielding a total of 554 launchers.
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. 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.
Pros and Cons
+Katyusha has almost as long range as medium artillery and more firepower than heavy artillery.
-Rocket artillery is much more inaccurate than standard artillery, with about a 250m radius off the target at 1.4km
-The ZiS-6 only has 24 km/h mobility eventhough it has an acceptable speed in reality.
-Katyusha takes up produced at the prototype factory eventhough it is far from a prototype.
- Wikipedia: Katyusha rocket launcher
- Wikipedia: Katyusha (song) - The song the vehicle was named after