Nebelwerfers

Nebelwerfer, a mobile electronically fired multiple-barrel rocket launcher (German).

For the Germans, the rocket-propelled shell, such as the 28/320 mm Schweres Wurfgerät 40 and 41 and the 180 mm Raketengranate 4331, meant easier, quicker, and cheaper shell manufacture and the means to deliver high weights of shell at less cost in money and in time on the battlefield.

Although strictly speaking not mortars, the Soviet Katyusha, or “Stalin Organ,” rocket weapons caused the Germans to look carefully at small rocket-propelled shells. They already had the multi-barreled Minenwerfer weapons, and soon, they dispensed even with barrels for firing these projectiles. The 28 cm and 32 cm Nebelwerfer 41 shells and many similar projectiles were fired from their packing cases. The shells’ weight was such that they did not need sophisticated sighting systems, just an area to be hit. These latter-day mortars proved effective in battle, and they were the forerunners of today’s Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS).

Not content with a good thing, the Germans as ever were forced to employ the Maultiers for yet another purpose. The German Nebelwerfer (rocket) batteries had become an established part of the army artillery system by late 1942, and it was decided that the Panzer formations should have their own dedicated rocket units. At that time most Nebelwerfer units used towed launchers, so in order to keep up with the Panzers a self-propelled version was required. The halftrack was the obvious choice as a starting point, but as none could be allocated the Maultier was pressed into use.

The basic truck was provided with a fully armoured cab, engine cover and hull. On the hull roof a 10-barrel launcher known as the 15-cm Panzerwerfer 42 was placed. This launcher had 270° of traverse and 80° of elevation, and it fired the 10 rockets in a ripple. The army ordered 3,000 of these conversions with the understanding that production would eventually switch to the SWS when production totals of the latter allowed, which they never did (apart from a small batch of prototypes). The first of these Maultiers was used during 1943, and had a crew of three. The rockets were carried in the launcher, with reloads in compartments along each side of the lower hull. A machine-gun was usually carried. Some of these armoured Maultiers were produced without the launcher and were used to carry extra rockets for the launcher vehicles, and some of these were used by units other than the Nebelwerfer batteries as front-line ammunition supply vehicles, although their armour was proof only against small arms projectiles and shell splinters.

Despite their name the Nebelwerfer units were primarily rocket troops firing their missiles to bolster artillery barrages. The SdKfz 11s used with these batteries not only towed various multi-barrel launchers but also carried spare rockets, launcher frames for the statically-emplaced launchers and the crews to carry out the fire missions, Since the Nebelwerfer units were supposed to retain their smoke-producing skills for laying down smoke screens at times, some SdKfz 11s (the SdKfz 11/1 and SdKfz 11/4 models) were fitted with smoke-generating equipment but this could usually be removed for the more usual rocket-firing duties. These smoke-generating models had a crew of only two, compared with the nine that could be carried when the vehicle was used as a tractor.

15-cm Wurfgranate 41

The 15-cm (5.9-in) German artillery rockets were the mainstay of the large number of German army Nebelwerfer (literally smoke-throwing) units, initially formed to produce smoke screens for various tactical uses but later diverted to use artillery rockets as well. The 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets were extensively tested by the Germans at Kummersdorf West during the late 1930s, and by 1941 the first were ready for issue to the troops.

The 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets were of two main types: the 15-cm Wurfgranate 41 Spreng (high explosive) and 15- cm Wurfgranate 41 w Kh Nebel (smoke). In appearance both were similar and had an unusual layout, in that the rocket venturi that produced the spin stabilization were located some two-thirds of the way along the rocket body with the main payload behind them. This ensured that when the main explosive payload detonated the remains of the rocket motor added to the overall destructive effects. In flight the rocket had a distinctive droning sound that gave rise to the Allied nickname ‘Moaning Minnie’. Special versions were issued for arctic and tropical use.

The first launcher issued for use with these rockets was a single-rail device known as the ‘Do-Gerät’ (after the leader of the German rocket teams, General Dornberger). It was apparently intended for use by airborne units, but in the event was little used. Instead the main launcher for the 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets was the 15-cm Nebelwerfer 41. This fired six rockets from tubular launchers carried on a converted 3.7-cm Pak 35/36 anti-tank gun carriage. The tubes were arranged in a rough circle and were fired electrically one at a time in a fixed sequence. The maximum range of these rockets was variable, but usually about 6900m (7,545 yards), and they were normally fired en masse by batteries of 12 or more launchers. When so used the effects of such a bombardment could be devastating as the rockets could cover a considerable area of target terrain and the blast of their payloads was powerful.

On the move the Nebelwerfer 41s were usually towed by light halftracks that also carried extra ammunition and other equipment, but in 1942 a half-tracked launcher was issued. This was the 15-cm Panzerwerfer 42 which continued to use the 15-cm (5.9-in) rocket two horizontal rows of five on the top of an SdKfz 4/1 Maultier armoured halftrack. These vehicles were used to supply supporting fire for armoured operations. Up to 10 rockets could be carried ready for use in the launcher and a further 10 weapons inside the armoured body. Later in the war similar launchers were used on armoured schwere Wehrmachtschlepper (SWS) halftracks that were also used to tow more Nebelwerfer 4 Is, The SWS could carry up to 26 rockets inside its armoured hull.

The 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets were also used with the launchers intended for the 30-cm (11.8-in) rockets, with special rails for the smaller rockets fitted into the existing 30-cm (11.8-in) launcher rails.

Specification

15-cm Wurfgranate 41 Spreng

Dimensions: length 979 mm (38.55 in); diameter 158 mm (6.22 in)

Weights: overall 31.8 kg (70 lb); propellant, 35 kg(14 lb); filling2.5 kg(5.5 lb)

Performance: initial velocity 342 m (1,120 ft) per second; range 7055 m (7,715 yards)

Specification

15-cm Wurfgranate 41 w Kh Nebel

Dimensions: length 1.02 m (40.16 in); diameter 158 mm (6.22 in)

Weights: overall 35.9 kg (79 lb); propellant 6.35 kg (14 lb); filling 3.86 kg (8.5 lb)

Performance: initial velocity 342 m (1,120 ft) per second; range 6905 m (7,550 yards)

21-cm Wurfgranate 42

Following on from the success of their 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets, German designers decided to produce a larger rocket which by 1941 emerged as a 210-mm (8.27-in) design. At first sight this rocket, known as the 21-cm Wurfgranate 42 Spreng, looked exactly like a conventional artillery projectile, but closer examination showed that the base had 22 angled venturi to impart the important spin stabilization. The long streamlined nose was also deceptive, for it was hollow and the warhead proper was located some distance from the tip. This rocket contained no less than 10.17 kg (22.4 lb) of high explosive, which on detonation produced a powerful blast effect. The weapon was so successful in this destructive role that only high explosive versions were produced.

The 21-cm (8.27-in) rocket was used with only one type of projector, the 21-cm Nebelwerfer 42. The first such equipment appeared in action in the Soviet Union during 1943 as it took some time to finalize the launcher design. Originally this was to have been a simple enlargement of the existing 15- cm (5.9-in) Nebelwerfer 41 complete with six launcher tubes, but the larger calibre gave rise to some imbalance problems when the launcher was being towed and fired, so the number of tubes was eventually reduced to five and that solved the problems. In all other respects the carriage was the same as the earlier design and was a modification of the 3.7-cm (1.456-in) Pak 35/36 anti-tank gun carriage. As with the 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets the firing of the 21-cm (8.27-in) weapon was by electrical means. Once the rockets had been loaded in their tubes the launcher crew withdrew to a safe distance (or even took cover), and on receipt of the firing order one of the crew operated a special switch-gear box and the full load of rockets were fired one at a time in a fixed sequence. The salvo firing of the rockets produced a considerable amount of smoke and dust that revealed the launcher and battery position to the enemy, and during their trajectory the rockets produced their characteristic moaning noise that made them so distinctive a weapon. This combination of smoke, dust and noise meant that the Nebelwerfer troops had to be experts at getting in and out of action quickly, for any firing of the large salvoes necessary to cover a target quickly produced counter-battery artillery or rocket fire that could neutralize the launcher units.

The 21-cm (8.27-in) rockets made a considerable impression on all who had to endure their effects, and the Americans in particular considered the rocket and launcher design to be so far in advance of anything they could produce that they took some examples back to the USA and copied them. The US version was the 210-mm (8.27-in) T36, which was used for a series of trials and research programmes that did nothing to produce an operational weapon but which added considerably to the Americans’ knowledge of artillery rocket technology.

Specification

21-cm Wurfgranate 42 Spreng

Dimensions: length 1.25 m (49.21 in); body diameter 210 mm (8.27 in)

Weights: overall 109.55 kg (241.5 lb); propellant 18.27 kg (40.25 lb); explosive 10.17 kg (22.4 lb)

Performance: initial velocity 320 m (1,050 ft) per second; range about 7850 m (8,585 yards)

28-cm and 32-cm Wurfkörper

The 28-cm (11-in) and 32-cm (12.6-m) rockets preceded the 15-cm (5.9-in) rockets in service with the German army, the first of them being issued for use during 1940. The two rockets shared the same rocket motor, but differed in their payload. Both were awkward and- bulky rockets with a poor ballistic shape, but both had powerful payloads.

The smaller weapon was the 28-cm Wurfkörper Spreng, which used a heavy high explosive warhead, while the larger weapon was the 32-cm Wurfkörper M FI 50 with an incendiary warhead in heavy liquid form. Both had a range limitation of just over 2000 m (2,185 yards) and were highly inaccurate despite their spin stabilization, and were consequently used en masse whenever possible, Counterbalancing these disadvantages was the fact that both were devastating in their effects if they hit a target, and the high explosive rocket was highly regarded for use in urban fighting where houses or other structures had to be demolished.

Both rockets were issued to the troops in wooden carrying crates, or Packkiste. These crates doubled as launching frames and were fitted with simple forward supporting legs for rudimentary aiming purposes. In this form both rockets could be used by assault pioneers to demolish bunkers or strongpoints, but more often the rockets were used in batches of four resting on simple launcher frames known as the schweres Wurfgerät 40 or schweres Wurfgerät 41, which differed from each other only in that the latter was tubular steel- rather than wooden-framed. Both could be used for pre-arranged barrages, as during the siege of Sevastopol in 1942. But this launching method was static, and to provide some form of mobility the 287 32-cm Nebelwerfer 41 was developed. This was a simple trailer with frames for six rockets in two superimposed rows of three, and after the 15-cm Nebelwerfer 41 this launcher was the most important early equipment of the Nebelwerfer units.

Another and still more mobile launcher for these rockets was the schwerer Wurfrahmen 40, in which six launcher frames were mounted on the sides of an SdKfz 251/1 half-track. The rockets were mounted on the side frames still in their carrying crates. Aiming was achieved by simply pointing the vehicle towards the target, and the rockets were then fired one at a time in a set sequence. This rocket/ vehicle combination had several names but was often known as the ‘Stuka- zu-Fuss’ or ‘heulende Kuh’ (Foot Stuka or Howling Cow) and was often used to support Panzer operations, especially in the early days of the invasion of the Soviet Union. Later in the war other vehicles, usually captured French or other impressed vehicles, were used to bulk out the numbers of mobile launchers available. All manner of light armoured vehicles were used in this role, some carrying only four launchers. Many of these improvised launcher vehicles were used during the fighting in Normandy in 1944.

Specification

28-cm Wurfkörper Spreng

Dimensions: length 1.19m (46.85 in); body diameter 280 mm (11 in)

Weights: overall 82.2 kg (181 lb); propellant 6.6 kg (14.56 lb); filling 49.9 kg (110 lb)

Performance: range about 2138 m (2,337 yards)

Specification

32-cm Wurfkörper M F150

Dimensions: length 1.289 m (50.75 in); body diameter 320 mm (12.6 in)

Weights: overall 79 kg (174 lb); propellant 6.6 kg (14.56 lb); filling 39.8 kg (87.7 lb)

Performance: range about 2028 m (2,217 yards)

30-cm Wurfkörper 42

Compared with 28-cm (11-in) and 32- cm (12.6-in) rockets which preceded it, the 30-cm Wurfkörper 42 Spreng (also known as the Wurfkörper Spreng 4491) was a considerable improvement on the earlier designs when it appeared on the artillery scene during late 1942. Not only was it in aerodynamic terms a much smoother and cleaner design, but it had a much higher propellant/payload ratio than any other German artillery rocket. However, to the troops in the fields these technicalities were far less important than the fact that the more advanced type of propellant used with the new rocket produced far less smoke and exhaust trails than the other rockets, and was thus far less likely to give away the firing position. But for all this improvement the 30-cm (11.8-in) rocket did not have any marked range advantages over the existing rockets. It had a theoretical range of some 6000 m (6,560 yards), but practical ranges were of the order of 4550 m (4,975 yards).

The first launcher used with the new 30-cm (11.8-in) rockets was the 30-cm Nebelwerfer 42, This was a simple conversion of the 28/32-cm Nebelwerfer 41 with the simple rail launching frames altered to accommodate the new rocket shape and size. But this simple conversion did not last long, for almost as it was issued a new programme of rationalization was drawn up and the special trailer of the Nebelwerfer 41 and 42 was eliminated. Instead a new trailer based on the carriage of the 5-cm (1.97-in) Pak 38 anti-tank gun was placed into production and the 30-cm (11.8-in) launcher frames were placed on this to produce the 30-cm Raketenwerfer 56; to ensure that the new launcher could be used to the maximum each was provided with a set of launcher rail inserts to allow 15- cm (5.9-in) rockets to be fired if required. When not in use, these 15-cm (5.9-in) rails were stacked on top of the 30-cm (11.8-in) frames. Yet another rationalization was that the 30-cm (11.8- in) rockets could also be fired from the schwerer Wurfrahmen launcher frames of the SdKfz 251/1 half-track, originally intended for use by the 28- cm (11-in) and 32-cm (12.6-in) rockets. When launched from these frames, the 30-cm (11.8-in) rockets were fired from their carrying crates or Packkiste, and no doubt the 30-cm (11.8-in) rockets were used by assault pioneers for direct firing from their crates in the same manner as the earlier 28-cm (11- in) and 32-cm (12.6-in) weapons.

Despite its relative improvements over the earlier artillery rockets, the 30-cm (11.8-in) rocket was not used in very great numbers. The earlier rockets remained in service right until the end of the war despite a late attempt to replace all existing weapons, including the 30-cm (11.8-in) type, by an entirely new 12-cm (4.72-in) spin-stabilized design, This decision was made too late in the war for anything actually to reach the troops, and it now appears doubtful if any 12-cm (4.72-in) rockets were ever made.

Specification

30-cm Wurfkörper 42

Dimensions: length 1.23 m (48.44 in); body diameter 300 mm (11.8 in)

Weights: overall 125.7 kg (277 lb); propellant 15 kg (33.07 lb); explosive 44.66 kg (98.46 lb)

Performance: initial velocity 230 m (754 ft) per second; range about 4550 m (4,975 yards)

8 cm Raketen-Vielfachwerfer

The Waffen-SS decided to copy the Soviet 82 millimetres (3.2 in) M-8 Katyusha Rocket-Launcher as the twenty-four rail 8 cm Raketen-Vielfachwerfer. Its fin-stabilized rockets were cheaper and easier to manufacture than the German spin-stabilized designs and used cheap launch rails. It was also capable of using the considerable stocks of captured Soviet rockets. Separate production lines were set-up under Party control as the Army refused to convert any of its existing factories, but not many actually appear to have been made. Production quantities are unknown, but photographic evidence shows the launcher mounted on lightly armored versions of the Sd.Kfz. 4 “Maultier” and the captured French SOMUA MCG half-track.

Summary

The Soviet Katyusha rockets were fin stabilised and hence could be launched from rails. These rockets were 82mm or 132 mm diameter and their rail launchers were truck mounted in general although eg T60 light tank chassis and STZ 5 artillery tractors were also used but in much smaller numbers. The soviets also used a 300mm rocket fired from a 4 unit static, ie ground mounted, rack.

Ranges:
82mm 5500 metres
132mm 8500 metres
300mm 2800 metres

The German Nebelwerfer rockets were spin stabilised. The rockets were fired from either

-a 2 wheeled trailer fitted with 6 short tubes arranged in a circle – 15cm Nebelwerfer 41.

-a 2 wheeled trailer fitted with 5 short tubes arranged in a circle – 21cm Nebelwerfer 42.

-a 2 wheeled trailer fitted with 6 launcher frames arranged in 2 rows of 3 28/32 cm Nebelwerfer 41.

-a 2 wheeled trailer fitted with 6 launcher frames arranged in 2 rows of 3 30 cm Nebelwerfer 42. (This was the same as the 28/32cm Nebelwerfer 41 adapted for the 30cm rocket)

Packkiste: This was the rockets carrying case. The rocket could be fired from this case as a single round if needed.

Schweres Wurfgerat 40 and 41: Made of wood (40) or steel tubing (41) these were frames onto which the packkiste were fitted. 4 packkiste were fitted to each frame.

Schweres Wurfahmen 40. This was a special steel tube frame fitted to the side of a SdKfz 251. They could be fitted with the packkiste of the 28/32cm rocket. 3 were fitted to each side of a SdKfz 251.

A simpler version consisting of a frame for 4 packkiste was fitted to eg Infantrie Schlepper UE (f) and the PzKpfw 35H(f).

15cm Panzerwerfer 42

A 10-barrelled launcher with its tubes arranged in 2 banks of 5 set one atop the other. These tubes were the same as the Nebelwerfer 41. The Panzerwerfer 42 had a traverse of 270 degrees and could elevate yup to 80 degrees. It was fitted to an armoured Sdkfz4/1 Maultier half track.

The 8cm R Vielfachwerfer was basically a copy of the soviet fin-stabilsed 82mm rocket and was fired from the same type of rail launcher.

Ranges:
15cm Wurfgranate 41 Spreng c 7000m
21cm Wurfgranate 42 Spreng c 9000m
28cm Wurfkorper Spreng c 2200m
32cn Wurfkorper M Fl 50 c 2000m (incendiary round)
30cm Wurfkorper 42 Spreng 6000m

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