Stalin’s Organs – The Iconic “Katyusha” Rocket Launcher with 25 Photos

On July 14, 1941, near a defensive site of the 20th Army in the forest east of Orsha, Captain Ivan Flerov’s battery attacked German positions. The battery was armed with new, and unknown to the enemy, BM-13 military vehicles. Those combat vehicles would eventually become called “Katyusha” and take part in the most important Soviet battles of World War II. Like the legendary T-34 tank, they are still a symbol of victory in Russia.

Katyusha is an unofficial name for the systems of field rocket artillery which appeared during the war. The name originated with the BM-13, but later spread to the BM-8, BM-31 and others. On the other side, the sound produced by the plumage of the rocket led Wehrmacht soldiers to call it “Stalin’s organs” (“Stalinorgel”).

The development of rockets in the USSR took place in the 1920s and was carried out by the staff of the Gas-Dynamic Institute. In the 1930s, research continued at the Rocket Research Institute, under the leadership of Georgiy Langemak. Despite his contribution to rocket development, he was later subjected to repression and was shot.

Katyusha Rocket Launcher By adam Jones CC BY-SA 2.0
Katyusha Rocket Launcher By adam Jones CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1938-1941, under the supervision of an engineer named Kostikov, a multi-charge launcher system was created and mounted on a lorry. After testing in 1941, the launcher was named BM-13 and was adopted for service on June 21, 1941.

BM-13’s were installed on the base of the ZIS-6 truck, and used 132 mm M-13 missiles. After the end of 1942, all the components were mounted on American Studebaker US6 trucks supplied by the Lend-Lease program. These trucks had good speed and footing, which allowed them to cope with the main task of the Katyusha–to fire at enemy positions and then, if necessary, quickly retreat. The crew consisted of 5-7 people.

ZIS-6 platformed with BM-13 Katyusha battery. By ChrisO CC BY-SA 3.0
ZIS-6 platformed with BM-13 Katyusha battery. By ChrisO CC BY-SA 3.0

The production of Katyushas took place at both the Moscow plant Compressor and at the Voronezh plant Kommunar. BM-13, BM-31 and BM-8’s were also mounted on ships, airplanes, boats and horse sleighs. During the war, a large number of different versions of rockets and launch systems were created, as well as about 10,000 reactive artillery combat vehicles.

At the beginning of the war, Katyushas were used to guard headquarters and important facilities. The Soviet leadership attached great importance to their use in the battle of Moscow, the defense of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk, and in many other battles and operations.

A battery of Katyusha launchers fires at German forces during the Battle of Stalingrad, 6 October 1942. By RIA Novosti archive CC-BY-SA 3.0
A battery of Katyusha launchers fires at German forces during the Battle of Stalingrad, 6 October 1942. By RIA Novosti archive CC-BY-SA 3.0

On October 1, 1941, in the directive of the Supreme High Command, the following was noted: “The sudden, massive and well-prepared fire of divisions M-8 and M-13 provides an exceptionally good defeat of the enemy and at the same time has a strong moral shock to his manpower, leading to a loss of combat capability.”

After WWII, Katyushas were later deployed in the Korean and Afghan wars. In addition to the Soviet Union, Katyushas, particularly the BM-13, were in service with the Warsaw Treaty countries, as well as Algeria, Albania, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, China, North Korea, Cuba, Mongolia and some African countries.

Katyusha rocket motor. By Steve Markgraf CC BY-SA 2.5
Katyusha rocket motor. By Steve Markgraf CC BY-SA 2.5

Currently, about 21 of the Katyushas based on the ZIS-6 truck remain, in the forms of museum exhibits and monuments.

 

BM-31-12 at the Museum on Sapun Mountain, Sevastopol.  By Cmapm CC BY 3.0
BM-31-12 at the Museum on Sapun Mountain, Sevastopol.  By Cmapm CC BY 3.0

 

BM-13 and BM-21 Grad
BM-13 and BM-21 Grad

 

BM-13N Katyusha on a Lend-Lease Studebaker US6 truck, at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Moscow. By Nick Lobeck CC BY-SA 2.5
BM-13N Katyusha on a Lend-Lease Studebaker US6 truck, at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Moscow. By Nick Lobeck CC BY-SA 2.5

 

Postwar Katyusha on a ZiL-157 truck. By Schreibschaf CC BY-SA 3.0
Postwar Katyusha on a ZiL-157 truck. By Schreibschaf CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Reloading a BM-13
Reloading a BM-13

 

An M13 rocket for the Katyusha launcher on display in Musée de l’Armée.
An M13 rocket for the Katyusha launcher on display in Musée de l’Armée.

 

A pair of BM-31-12s. By DrDeemon CC BY-SA 3.0
A pair of BM-31-12s. By DrDeemon CC BY-SA 3.0

 

A pair of BM-31-12s. By DrDeemon CC BY-SA 3.0
A pair of BM-31-12s. By DrDeemon CC BY-SA 3.0

 

BM-24M on a ZIL-157 chassis. By ShinePhantom CC BY-SA 3.0
BM-24M on a ZIL-157 chassis. By ShinePhantom CC BY-SA 3.0

 

BM-24T on an AT-S tractor chassis.
BM-24T on an AT-S tractor chassis.

 

Reload drill of a Katyusha rocket.
Reload drill of a Katyusha rocket.

 

A BM-25
A BM-25

 

BM-13-16 on a ZiS-6 chassis on parade in Russia. By Ardianen CC BY-SA 3.0
BM-13-16 on a ZiS-6 chassis on parade in Russia. By Ardianen CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Soviet multiple rocket launcher BM-8-24 on T-60 light tank chassis
Soviet multiple rocket launcher BM-8-24 on T-60 light tank chassis

 

BM-8-24 on T-60 light tank chassis
BM-8-24 on T-60 light tank chassis

 

BM-13N Katyusha Multiple rocket launcher
BM-13N Katyusha Multiple rocket launcher

 

BM-13N Katyusha Multiple rocket launcher
BM-13N Katyusha Multiple rocket launcher

 

A damaged BM-31-12
A damaged BM-31-12

 

BM-13N Katyusha Multiple rocket launcher
BM-13N Katyusha Multiple rocket launcher

Read another story from us: Operation Bagration – The Soviet Liberation of Belarus

Russia, antifascist war | 1941-45Rocker projectors “Katyusha” near Viborg, Leningrad front, 1944
Russia, antifascist war | 1941-45
Rocker projectors “Katyusha” near Viborg, Leningrad front, 1944