An Outstanding Weapon

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

The RPG is a really, really outstanding weapon, Weapons Man says, and it fits in a sweet spot of direct-fire AT and AP support weaponry that’s really missing in the US infantry squad:

Instead, we have more riflemen, and additional-duty weapons like the AT-4. The RPG is cheaper and reusable, and it has a range advantage over most US disposable non-guided weapons. Its effective anti-tank range is about double that of the AT-4, and the disposable AT-4 costs $1,500 a round.

The evolutionary history of the RPG is fascinating. The Soviets began by copying a weapon they’d felt the sharp end of: the German Panzerfaust. There were many versions of this disposable AT weapon available, and by war’s end the Germans were evolving this weapon in the direction of a reusable tube. It was the Panzerfaust that originated the grenade-launch boost and rocket sustainer operating system, and the weapon evolved rapidly under the pressures of mechanized warfare. Early Panzerfäuste had a mere 30 meter range, demanding bravery, or recklessness, from a rifleman under the pressure of hordes of T-34s or Shermans. And the warheads were marginal, at least on the well-protected T-34. By 1945 most of the initial weaknesses had been allayed by the intense development taking place behind the lines, and the industrial and R&D plant fell into Russian hands.

Unlike the USA, where captured German scientists and engineers came to be trusted, with many staying on as employees and seeking American citizenship, the Soviets, who suffered terribly at German hands, never trusted the Germans and held them in rigid captivity. As quickly as possible, they transitioned German projects, including rockets, guided AA missiles, and turbine engines as well as AT weapons, to Soviet design bureaux and shut the Germans out, generally releasing them back in the USSR’s occupied zone of Germany.

The Soviet engineers proved to be quick and imaginative. They continued to improve the Panzerfaust operating system. It is generally believed that a Soviet-produced version of the late-war Panzerfaust 250 was given limited issue as the Ruchnoy Protitankovniy Granatomet or RPG-1. A Soviet-improved version was widely issued as the RPG-2 in the later 1940s, as part of the systematic re-equipment of the Soviet Army that also saw new rifles, machine guns, and soon, tanks in service.

The limits of the RPG-2 led to the larger, heavier, more solid, and tactically longer-ranged and more accurate RPG-7 in 1961, and the versatility of the RPG-7 has kept it on the world’s front lines to this day. While most of the world knows about the remarkable longevity of the Kalashnikov rifle, its AT counterpart is just as ubiquitous, and won’t be going away any time soon. (In fact, a US firm makes a modified version for Foreign Military Sales).


  1. Space Nookie says:

    I read somewhere that the Germans had 10 times as many panzerfausts in storage at the end of the war as the Allies had tanks.

  2. Purpleslog says:

    What do you think of those revolver-like grenade launcher the US is starting to use? M32?

  3. Lucklucky says:

    I think Special Forces and the Marines have the Carl Gustav, which, by the way, the AT-4 was born from — the disposable version of a recoilless rifle.

  4. Lucklucky says:

    Straight from Wikipedia:

    In November 2011, the U.S. Army began ordering the M3 MAAWS for regular units deployed in Afghanistan. Soldiers were being engaged with RPGs at 900 meters, while their light weapons had effective ranges of 500–600 meters. The Carl Gustaf allows airburst capability of troops in defilade out to 1,250 meters, and high explosive use out to 1,300 meters. While the weapon provides enhanced effectiveness, its 21 pound weight burdens troops. On 28 March 2013, USSOCOM announced a call for sources to develop a kit to lighten the M3 MAAWS. A minimum of 3 lbs must be cut, with a desired reduction of 5 lbs. A 3 inch reduction in overall length is also sought. The reductions must not affect the weapon’s center of gravity or ruggedness, including air delivery and salt water submersion. A kit with production configuration is to be delivered within 16 months. Saab has developed a weight-reduced version prior to the SOCOM release. It weighs approximately 15 lbs and is 2 inches shorter. Live fire tests have demonstrated no decrease in performance, no increase in recoil, and nearly equivalent barrel life. It will be ready for government testing in 2014. Saab has also developed a new high explosive round that has a direct fire range of 1500 meters when using a fire control system.

  5. Isegoria says:

    The Panzerfaust seems to require suicidally courageous troops to use effectively — making it a better fit for a certain other Axis power…

  6. Isegoria says:

    Grenade-launchers are certainly far less devastating — and far less spectacular — than movies and video games might suggest. They are surprisingly accurate, but only out to 100–200 meters. That’s much shorter than rifle range, but rifles don’t cause many casualties at long range, either.

    The new, whiz-bang XM25 is supposed to provide the best of both worlds, a small, but accurate grenade, good against point targets out to 600 meters. The M32 looks fairly accurate, but its larger rounds won’t travel as far.

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