Home Forums WWII Why Missiles (e.g. Katyusha, Nebelwerfer)? Plus Other Questions

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    Avatar photoShahbahraz

    Some possibilities for why missiles over conventional artillery, and I stand ready to be corrected on any assumptions:

    1. Multiple simultaneous strikes from a single launcher. The first round on target does the most damage before men go to ground. If you can land a nebelwerfer/katyusha salvo, more effective.
    2. Artillery barrels are expensive to manufacture, need replacement after a certain number of firings. and use valuable raw materials like high quality steel.
    3. Machining quality for shells is very important, so manufacture is highly specialised and suited only to huge factories with major investments in machinery. Rockets are relatively cheap, and can be quite crude without losing much effectiveness.
    4. Launchers are cheap..   so the components of the armaments chain most liable to destruction are the cheapest (Lose a launcher, just get another one, lose an artillery piece and it’s expensive to replace, more difficult to transport, and meanwhile you have a stockpile of shells not being used).
    5. Skilled artillerymen take longer to train to obtain the necessary accuracy, a single launcher that is an area weapon doesn’t need to be quite so accurate.

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    Avatar photoEtranger

    So six questions here on a subject I know relatively very little about as compared to my knowledge of artillery/mortars in the indirect fire role.

    1. Why use missiles like the examples in the title instead of artillery? Is it morale effect?
    2. How do they determine range to target?
    3. Is fire corrected?
    4. Are they called by a forward observer or are they part of a preparatory bombardment?
    5. Are they ever used in direct fire (“direct fire” being defined as the launch crew can see the target)? I’ve read at least a couple of examples of single or a couple of Katyusha trucks right up at the fighting, whether by accident of deliberately, I don’t know.
    6. How do different rule sets treat them as compared to indirect fire artillery?

    If you have any insight on even just one of these questions, I’d love to hear from you.

    Thanks very much in advance! 🙂

    My take: they were cheap to produce, since they didn’t need a precision manufactured barrel. They were a ‘force multiplier’ with multiple launch tubes/rails using the same carriage/chassis.

    They produced an effective barrage where accuracy wasn’t particularly essential. They seem to be most effective in offence, where you’re looking for overwhelming firepower in a concentrated area ,over a short period of time.

    IIRC the Germans used FO’s but accuracy wasn’t particularly good. Ranging etc would use standard artillery methods, although ranging rounds would obviously be a challenge.

    In defence, they were often used as ‘shoot and scoot’ weapons, not least because they left a long smoke trail straight back to the launch site, where hanging around after firing wasn’t usually recommended. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avKrExlKprY

    Direct fire was fairly rare, but I wouldn’t want to be standing in front of one! In Stalingrad, the Russians were known to put the rear wheels of their Katys over the edge of the cliff, so that the rockets went almost straight up & down only a few hundred meters away, due to the short range.

    They must have been terrifying to be on the receiving end of. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bWt81vhIyY (it does go on a bit)

    Avatar photoMartinR

    Their main value was a as means of delivering an extremely large amount of HE in a short time (the HE fill weights of nebelwerfer rounds range from 63 lb to 99 lb of HE per shell, a 25pdr round in contrast is only 7% HE, or a couple of pounds…). They were however short ranged, inaccurate and had long reload times and a huge firing signature.

    Effectively they deliver an on demand TOT, which is both very dangerous and highly suppressive to anything on the wrong end of it. Modern MLRS systems are referred to as map grid removal weapons for a reason. They can’t keep it for long though, so by far and away the greatest use of their fire in WW2 was as prep bombardment, generally towards the end of the conventional artillery preparation. The Sovs had entire divisions of these things, with literally thousands of ground mounted rails (Guards Mortar Bns aka Katyushas, were used a bit differently). The rocket barrage was also a very obvious signal to time the start of the assault from.

    The rocket launcher craft used on D-Day etc had a similar use – a final blast of devastating (but short lived) suppressive fire.






    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    Avatar photoMcKinstry

    As the others have stated, cheap and if you’re not too fussed about precision, a great way to throw a lot of explosive into a general area in a short time.


    The tree of Life is self pruning.

    Avatar photoDeleted User

    I hesitate to add to the expert answers given but I wonder if we shouldn’t throw in the morale-shaking ability of rockets?

    I believe they had an unearthly noise all of their own: the German things weren’t nicknamed “Moaning Minnies” for nothing. Terror would surely inhibit your ability to fight. As good wargamers, we are all aware that killing your enemy is only secondary to driving him to flee or stop fighting.



    Avatar photoGrimheart

    I think its also noteworthy that the two major armies that used a lot of rocket artillery, the germans and russians, also had significant deficiencies in artillery quantity, communications or control compared to the uk and usa systems.

    If your army can already call in massive regular artillery support extremely quickly and accurately you dont really need to use rockets with their obvious drawbacks.

    So rockets were a cheap and obtainable stopgap measure imo.

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    Avatar photoRussell Phillips

    I believe one reason the Soviets used rockets in WWII was because it was relatively easy to set up manufacturing facilities after half the country got over-run by the Germans. During the Cold War, when Khrushchev was in charge, another reason was that it was easier to get funding/approval for development and manufacture of rockets and missiles. Khrushchev thought rockets and missiles were the future, so would back them over guns.

    As for rules, I’ve seen at least some rule sets give multiple rocket launchers a larger area of effect than standard tube artillery.

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