Multiple Rocket Launcher

3 minutes read.

Mobile Rocket Artillery

Motorized multiple rocket launchers are the modern equivalent of the horse archers of antiquity. With their advantages in firing range, rate of fire, and mobility, they can surprise the enemy with a sudden massive attack from safe distance, disengage before the enemy can counter-attack, quickly move elsewhere, reload, and make another such attack. Doing so repeatedly and massively can cause tremendous damage to an enemy with minimal losses to the attacker. Although these rocket launchers are technically self-propelled artillery, their mode of operation and the results of their attacks are similar to that of air strikes. Rocket launchers have two additional advantages over both strike aircraft and gun artillery: they have the shortest response time from the decision to strike a target to the end of the strike, and they are so much cheaper.


The first motorized multiple rocket launcher was the Russian BM-13 Katyusha, which fired sixteen 13cm (5.2") diameter rockets, with 11lb of explosives (plus fragmentation) per rocket, to a range of up to 5.4mi. The launcher was mounted of a simple and reliable truck. The basic unit, a Katyusha battery, included four launcher trucks, two ammunition reload trucks, and two technical support trucks. A battery could strike a target within seconds with 64 explosions totalling 704lb of explosives. But typically much largest units of Katyushas concentrated their fire at the same target. Three batteries were a battalion and three battalions were a regiment, with 36 launcher trucks, capable of striking a target with 576 almost simultaneous explosions, totalling 6,336lb of explosives. There was practically no warning and no time to take cover.

When Nazi Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, only a few Katyusha launchers were ready. Their first attack, on July 14, 1941, targeted the railroad station at Orsha, which was on the path of the German Army to Moscow, and just about half way from the pre-invasion border to Moscow. On that day the railroad station at Orsha was full of disembarking German troops, vehicles, ammunition, fuel, etc. The seven launchers, commanded by captain Ivan A. Flyorov, fired a single salvo of rockets at the railroad station, with devastating effect and massive German casualties, caused by both the rockets and the secondary explosions and fire of the ammunition and fuel at the target. The 2nd salvo destroyed the nearby highway bridge on the river, to slow German advance.

Following that first success, Katyusha launchers and rockets were mass-produced in increasing rate, and additional models with smaller (8cm) and larger (30cm) rockets followed. In 18 months (by the end of 1942), over 3,000 Katyusha launchers were produced, and by the end of World War 2 over 10,000 were produced. Since 1943, new Katyusha launchers were mounted on American Studebaker trucks thanks to their excellent off-road performance. Since 1944, a new launcher model, BM-31, fired 12 larger rockets with 64lb of explosives per rocket to a range of 2.7mi. That's 4.3 times the firepower of the original BM-13 launcher.

21st Century Rocket Launchers

The technological advances since WWII, in every area of technology related to rocket artillery, enabled significant improvements, especially in accuracy and range. These improvements allow current rockets to accurately hit and destroy specific 'point' targets from great distances, with a single rocket per target, giving the launcher far greater effective firepower than during WWII. Here are a few state-of-the-art examples, as of 2021. All are truck-mounted, like the original Katyusha of 1941. All can fire satellite-guided rockets:

Related essays:
Russia In World War 2 (22 minutes read)

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