Soviet Katyusha rocket artillery launcher
Soviet Katyusha rockets firing in the Carpathian mountains in 1944.Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
  • US-supplied rocket systems have been put to good use by the Ukrainians.

  • There is a long history of rockets on the battlefield.

  • The Soviets had a fearsome reputation during World War II.

The US-made rocket that Ukraine is using to destroy Russian ammunition dumps and command posts has been called a game-changing weapon, but it's actually a descendant of a rocket that the Soviets used against the Nazis in World War II.

It is more than a weapon. It became an icon that evoked images of rockets flying into the air. Many were copies of the Soviet Union and the media refers to them as "Katyushas" since World War II.

Military rockets have been around for a while. The Chinese used rockets for a long time. The British stole the idea to use "rockets' red glare" against Americans in the War of 1812 from the Indians.

The early versions were more psychological than physical.

Soviet BM-13 Katyusha rocket launcher
A Soviet BM-13 Katyusha rocket launcher being readied for battle in November 1943.Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Russia has a flair for rocketry, even though it lags behind the West in technology. The first rocket-firing submarine was developed by Russia in the 18th century.

Even though rockets were inaccurate and propelled by gunpowder, they were still dangerous to the operator. They were a military novelty until the end of the war.

The development of soviet battlefield rockets from rails mounted on a variety of platforms was spurred by advances in solid propellants by the 1930's.

The M-13 was a rocket that weighed 93 pounds and had a range of about 5 miles.

James Prenatt wrote about the fin-stabilized rocket in his book. The rockets were launched from trucks that could fire 12 to 48 rockets a minute.

The BM-13 multiple rocket launcher made its combat debut at the Battle of Smolensk on July 14, 1941.

German Nebelwerfer rocket launchers firing on the Eastern Front in July 1943.Berliner Verlag/Archiv/picture alliance via Getty Images

Three weeks into the Nazi invasion of Russia, German troops were confident that they could conquer the "primitive" Soviets.

Germans soldiers fled in terror from a weapon their enemies weren't supposed to be able to invent.

The weapon was named after a popular song. From the howl of its launch, the Germans called itStalin's Organ. The road from Moscow to Berlin was paved by the Russian army.

Special rocket brigades and divisions, which massed at key points to blast holes through German fortifications, allowed infantry and tanks to advance across a cratered moonscape.

The Soviets' uneasy alliance with the US resulted in a perfect marriage between the rockets and the trucks. The soviets loved their American trucks for their ruggedness, reliability, and all-wheel drive.

Ukrainian troops fire a Soviet-designed BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launch system in the Luhansk region on June 12.REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

There were limits to theKatyusha. It could take up to an hour for the rockets to be reloaded. Accuracy was more important than massing firepower to destroy or stun the defender in the Soviet doctrine.

The 1944 Soviet manual states that a single brigade could lay down 1,151 rockets in five minutes.

The US soldiers nicknamed it "Moaning Minnie" because of the sound it made.

The rockets were mounted on a two-wheeled trailer and fired. Compared to howitzers, it was light, mobile, and easy to use. Poor accuracy and smoke trails caused it to suffer.

After World War II, Soviet multiple rocket launchers became popular with militias, warlords, and terrorists all over the world. In conflicts where civilian casualties were not a concern, the inaccuracy of the weaponry counted less.

Multiple rocket launchers were slow to be embraced by the Western militaries because they were perceived to be low tech and inaccurate.

A Ukrainian soldier with a HIMARS vehicle in Eastern Ukraine on July 1.Anastasia Vlasova for The Washington Post via Getty Images

The US adopted the M270 multiple rocket launch system in 1980. The M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System was used by the US military. There is a shipment of Himars going to Ukraine.

The BM-30 Smerch is one of the newer Russian models. Multiple rocket launchers are more accurate than ever. In addition, the rockets they fire are no longer metal tubes with warheads, but precision munitions with gps and inertial guidance.

There are only six launch tubes for a Himar, but a single rocket can hit a target that can be missed or hit with a lot of damage.

The range of a US M109A6 howitzer is 20 miles, but a HIMARS rocket can hit targets up to 40 miles away. The US Army has developed rocket-assisted howitzer shells that can be used to shoot rockets.

All of the modern weapons have their roots in the same place as the ancient ones. Little Kate's legacy is still going strong.

His work has been published in Forbes, Defense News, Foreign Policy Magazine and other publications. He has a masters degree in political science. You can follow him on social networking sites.

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