Russian Rocket Projectiles – WWII

Il-2 attack aircraft of the 174th assault air regiment. Leningrad Front, 1942.  Armed with RS-82 rocket projectiles. The USSR pioneered the use of aerial rocket projectiles. Taken into service in December 1937, the RS-82 was used in combat for the first time at Khaikhin-Gol in August 1939. Only in 1942 did the USAAF and the RAF make use of similar arms, and the first operational use of rocket projectiles by the Luftwaffe did not take place until 1943. The RS-82 was outfitted with a 5.55-pound warhead containing a .99-pound explosive charge. Its combat range was 5,500 to 6,500 yards.


At the beginning of the war for ground attack even high-altitude MiG-3 fighters. The picture shows such a machine with launchers for the RS-82 under the wing of the 27th Fighter Regiment, Moscow region, winter 1941–42. The aircraft having been fitted with RS-82 unguided rocket projectiles on its underwing racks. Initially, aircraft were made rocket compatible by groundcrew in the field, but from October 1941 Factory No 1 began installing wing rails on new MiG-3s as they progressed along the production line.

The MO (Russian: Malyj Okhotnik; English: Small Hunter, nickname Moshka(Fly)) is a class of small ships produced before and during World War II for the Soviet Navy. Their primary function originally was anti-submarine warfare. During the war they carried out many additional roles from supporting landing operations to escorting convoys. Over 350 ships were built with launchers for 82 mm rockets in the bow.

Armored type BK-1125 with launcher M-13-MI.

The armored boat of the Volga military flotilla number 12 with a launcher for missiles.

Katyushas multiple-launch rocket system were inexpensive and uncomplicated to produce and easily mounted on many platforms, initially including only trucks but quickly progressing to tanks, tractors, armored trains, and even small naval vessels. Later in the war, many Lend-Lease tanks, which the Soviet specialists did not consider to be up to the task of armored warfare on the Eastern Front, were used as mounting platforms. However, American Studebaker two-and-one-half- ton trucks were highly regarded for their off-road performance, and thousands of them were used as mounting platforms for Katyushas.

Soviet Navy developed small gunboats to a science. The 1124 and 1125 classes were heavily armored and had tank turrets mounted on the hull. Some mounted “Katyusyka” multiple rocket launchers. They only drew 2’ of water and were used as landing craft for naval commandos.

BKA 1124

The old Imperial Navy gunboats and the converted merchant steamers had put in sterling service during the First World War and the Civil War. In the 1920s the surviving purpose-built gunboats were rebuilt as and when resources became available, and the converted steamers and tugs were returned to civilian use. In 1934 the navy issued a requirement for a new type of armoured cutter suitable for mass production. It was intended to use many of the components being produced for the tanks of the 1931 Programme. The navy wanted two turrets, light armour protection for the machinery, fuel tanks and magazines, and a shallow draught of just half a metre (1ft 7½).

Designer Yuliy Benoit advised that it would not be possible to build an armoured boat with two turrets on such a shallow draught, but that it could be possible to achieve the modest draught by producing a slightly smaller boat carrying just one turret. He also proposed to produce the original design with two turrets on a slightly increased draught. His Bureau’s proposals were accepted, and production began of the two different series, the BKA 1124 with two turrets and the BKA 1125 with just one.

The turrets originally used on the BKA 1124 were two from the T-26 tank, armed with 45mm guns. Following successful testing of the prototypes, the turrets were changed for those from the T-28 medium tank, mounting a short 76.2mm gun and a 7.62mm MG. When the T-34 tank went into production just prior to the German invasion, it was decided to standardise on its turret with the longer 76.2mm gun, to arm the Bronekater as well. This sensible solution would soon become the source of problems and delays, as with the start of Operation ‘Barbarossa’, all turrets were allocated to the desperately-needed T-34 tanks. The mass-produced BKA hulls were therefore fitted with turrets taken from obsolescent T-28 or even T-35 heavy tanks, or when the supply of these turrets, which were no longer in production, ran out, 76.2mm Lender AA guns on unshielded deck mounts taken from warships were fitted instead. Bronekater with tank turrets needed an AA capability, and this was provided by fitting the small turrets on the BKA 1124s with 12.7mm DShK heavy machine guns, which had a much higher effective ceiling than the 7.62mm calibre weapons.

Launched: 97 BKA 1124 built 1936–45 by various yards.

Dimensions: Displ: 49.7 tons, 52.2 tons full load; L: 25.3m/77ft; B: 4.1m/13ft 5½in; D: 0.9m/3ft 11½in.

Crew: 17.

Power/Speed: Twin screws; 2 × 750bhp or 900bhp petrol engines/18–19.4 knots.

Guns/Armour: As designed: 2 × 76.2mm tank guns; 2 × coaxial 7.62mm MG. Alternatively: 1 × tank turret + 1 × Katyusha rocket launcher; 1 × twin 12.7mm AA HMG; + 10 mines/T-34/76 turret front 60mm, side 52mm, rear 30mm, roof 16mm; Citadel 12mm, Hull 7mm.

BKA 1125

More than twice the number of the smaller BKA 1125 were produced, and like its larger cousin it went into combat on all the rivers and lakes where the Soviet Navy fought. It also went through the same permutations of various types of tank turret, or a 76.2mm Lender AA gun mount, and again a Katyusha rocket launcher could be mounted on the rear deck, providing devastating firepower in a bombardment role.

Launched: 151 BKA 1125 built 1938–45 by various yards.

Dimensions: Displ: 26.5 tons; L: 22.65m/74ft 3¾in; B: 3.5m/11ft 5¾in; D: 0.52m/1ft 8½in.

Crew: 12–13.

Power/Speed: Single screw; 1 × 750bhp or 900bhp petrol engine/19.7 knots.

Guns/Armour: 1 × 76.2mm + 1 × 7.62mm MG in tank turret; 3 × 7.62mm MG in small turrets. Alternatively rear turret replaced by: 1 × 12.7mm DShK AA HMG or 1 × Katyusha rocket launcher; + 6 mines/T-34/76 turret front 60mm, side 52mm, rear 30mm, roof 16mm; Citadel 20mm, Hull 4mm.

BKA S-40 with Katyusha launcher. Noted she lacks an MG turret in front of the T-34 main turret, and the turret on top of the bridge has only one MG, as on the type BKA 1125.

BKA S-40

Designed under the overall supervision of Yuliy Benoit, this variant of the BKA 1125 type was originally intended for the Amur Flotilla, but with the diversion of diesel engines to tank production, just seven units were built in 1942.

Launched: 7 units launched in 1942.

Dimensions: Displ: 31.9 tons; L: 24.7m/81ft; B: 3.85m/12ft 7½in; D: 0.60m/7ft 9in.

Crew: 13.

Power/Speed: Twin screws; 2 × diesel engines, total 800bhp/19 knots.

Guns/Armour: 1 × 76.2mm + coaxial 7.62mm DT MG in T-34 turret; up to 4 × AA MG or Katyusha rocket launcher + 2 × AA MG or 2 × 76mm L/30 Lender AA/T-34/76 turret front 60mm, side 52mm, rear 30mm, roof 16mm; Bulletproof plating 4-8mm thick.

Air-To-Ground/Air Rockets

In 1930, GDL [Leningrad Gas Dynamics Laboratory] achieved its first practical results during the range testing of 82- and 132-millimeter rockets. In 1932, Mikhail Tukhachevskiy, Revvoyensovet Deputy Chairman and Red Army Chief of Armaments, was present when the first official in-air firings of RS-82 missiles from an I-4 aircraft armed with six launchers successfully took place. By late 1937, RS-82 and RS-132 missiles had been developed under their leadership. The Air Force had accepted these missiles as standard armaments for I-16, I-15, I-153, and SB aircraft.

The 82mm and 132mm Katyusha rockets were originally developed as air-to-air rockets and were used as such at Khalkin-Gol in 1939 against the Japanese. Five 1-16s fitted with RS-82 unguided rocket launchers under their wings attacked a force of Japanese bombers escorted by Ki-27 fighters. A volley of the rockets, which had proximity fuses, was launched at the close formation of enemy fighters. Fortune this time favoured the brave and after two Japanese aircraft had been destroyed the rest promptly returned to base. This new weapon was extensively tested and claimed, in all, 13 aircraft.

In 1941 the Western Allies were intrigued to hear that Soviet aircraft were attacking tanks with rockets. Such weapons had been developed in the USSR ahead of all other countries, and by 1941 they had been made to fly in a predictable manner, stabilized by spinning about the longitudinal axis. The commonest pattern, the RS-82 (3.23in, 82mm, calibre), was used by the million. Most of the mass-produced Soviet fighters were cleared to launch these weapons, which were on occasion used against enemy aircraft.

In 1942 or 1943 a British delegation was shown a demonstration strafing/bombing/rocket attack by a unit of Il-2 attack aircraft, in which the Soviet planes failed to score a single direct hit with their rockets.

The Il-2 could carry small bombs in bomb bays in the wing roots, and rockets under the outer wing panels. The latter could be the 82 mm RS-82 or, from early 1942 onwards, the heavier RS-132. This rocket was powerful enough to defeat the armour of a medium tank, and later the Soviets produced improved versions of these rockets with shaped-charge warheads, the RBS-82 and RBS-132. But like the rockets used on the Western front, these were insufficiently accurate for use against point targets, although they could be fired at armour concentrations.

Initially the IL-2 was equipped with R0-82 launch rails for eight 82-mm (3.22-in) RS-82 rockets. Experimentally, early in 1942 the number of launch rails on some single seat IL-2s was increased, enabling them to carry 14 projectiles of the 132-mm caliber (RS-132) or a combination of eight 82-mm and eight 132-mm projectiles. Presumably, this was done at the expense of the bomb load. IL-2 pilots did not consider the RS-82 projectiles to be a very effective weapon and expressed their preference for the heavier 132-mm rockets; they were particularly impressed by the armour-piercing RBS-132 and high-explosive/fragmentation ROFS-132 projectiles introduced in the course of the war (from the spring of 1942 the armour-piercing RBS-82 and RBS-132 came into use, supplemented by the V-8 and M-13 projectiles later in the year. The last-mentioned two types were improved versions of the RS-82 and RS-132 respectively). An idea cropped up of using rocket projectiles for the protection against enemy fighters attacking from the rear; in August 1941 some IL-2s were fitted with a pair of launching rails for the rearward firing of rocket projectiles which proved useful in scaring away the attacking fighters. In mid-1943 a two-seat IL-2 AM-38F was fitted with eight (!) launch rails for rearward-firing rocket projectiles.

In October-November 1941, the Yak 1s were provided with rocket armament. Here note must be made of the initiative displayed by Major A. Negoda, commander of the 562nd lAP. He performed four to five sorties after one refuelling, strafing the enemy’s forward lines with the new 82-mm RS-82 rockets (RS – raketnyy snaryad, rocket projectile). This was possible because the forward line of defence passed about 10 km (6 miles) from the regiment’s airfield in Khimki near Moscow. The German anti-aircraft defences were hard put to it to repulse effectively the attacks of Soviet fighters which made a surprise appearance at extremely low altitudes.

By that time the 562nd lAP had accumulated appreciable combat experience. The regiment’s pilots downed eight enemy machines in aerial combat and destroyed one German aircraft on the ground during strafing sorties. The Soviet losses comprised 13 machines that were shot down or damaged, nine pilots were killed in action. Two Yaks made forced landings, but eight machines (including those from other regiments) were repaired by the technical personnel.

In all, 195 Yaks were fitted with rocket armament at the Plant by the end of 1941; another 953 fighters were retrofitted with this armament by the late spring of the following year. The installation of six RS-82 projectiles on the machine found a positive response from the flying personnel; as a result, rocket armament began to be fitted to the fighters directly at the front. Although the external stores increased the all-up weight by 65 kg (143 Ib) and decreased the maximum speed by some 30 km/h (18mph), firing these projectiles against aerial targets (especially during head-on attacks) produced a strong psychological effect on the enemy. In the event of a direct hit (which happened extremely rarely) the enemy aircraft simply disintegrated in the air.

In the course of combat it became clear that there was really no need to score a direct hit by all means. The projectiles were provided with fuses for self-destruction, and explosions at close range inflicted serious splinter damage on enemy machines. Even German bombers, despite their high survivability, were often unable to continue their mission after being damaged by splinters. However, the absence of a guidance system in the RS projectiles and imperfections in their design led to a great dispersal of the rockets and the probability of hitting a maneuvering air target remained low.