Stalin's Great Organ

Crew reload their Katyusha Stalin's Great Organ - The Katyusha in Berlin: Soviet
With Livio Tonazzo

The Katyusha is undoubtedly one of the most iconic Soviet weapons of WWII. It is a rocket launcher developed in 1938 by a group of scientists led by Georgij Langemak. The official name of the weapon was RS-132, an acronym for Reaktnivnyj Snarjad (self-propellant rocket) 132. It soon became famous in the Red Army with the name Katyusha, from the title of a very popular song very popular among soldiers which told of a girl who yearns for her distant love, who left for the front. 

Among the opponents, however, it was known by the name of Stalin's organ, due to the noisy hiss that accompanied the rockets. From a psychological point of view, it was a terrifying weapon capable of deeply impressing those who endured the bombings thanks to its capacity of a very large area with a capacity never seen before.

The weapon system provided for a variable number of rockets between 16 and 48 placed in a support structure from which they departed in consecutive salvos. The most common version had some 1.8m long, with a diameter of 132mm and a weight of 42kg (of which 22 of explosive ogive). The support structure could be placed on trucks, obsolete tanks such as the T-60 or even on warships, even river ones. When it comes to Katyusha, however, we all have in mind the Zis-5, certainly the most iconic truck of the Red Army.

Although the project was dated 1938, the Katyusha was ready for its first operational use, albeit experimental, only in 1941 when it had its baptism of fire on July 14 during the initial stages of Operation Barbarossa near Rudnja. The test was a success and already on August 8 of the same year, the first eight regiments of Katyusha were created, each with 36 rocket launchers. By the end of 1942, more than 3,200 examples had already been built. Production continued until the end of the war, at the end of which it amounted to about 10,000 examples in the various versions.

The Katyusha in Flames Of War

The Katyusha in Flames of War

The Katyusha is undoubtedly one of the most iconic artillery available to the Soviets.
It is a unit available among the Supports of a Force that can only be duplicated once as there are only two slots for a Katyusha Guards Rocket Battery. Generally, however, a single unit is enough to do what it does best, which is to saturate the ground! The second would risk being redundant and difficult to protect adequately.

The unit can also be made up of two pieces, but of course, it is preferable to deploy an entire unit made up of 4 pieces to avoid being forced to re-roll successful hits, which can be really annoying and make the battery ineffective. Unfortunately, you cannot set up more than four pieces and re-roll successful hit rolls. As for the rating, there are not huge differences compared to the normal statistics. The major one undoubtedly concerns morale. Being a battery of the Guard, the Katyusha are Fearless and therefore successfully pass the tests with a result of 3+. This is an advantage that should not be underestimated if the unit is Pinned Down from having suffered 5 hits or from having suffered an artillery bombardment. There is nothing worse than an artillery forced to shut up for failing a Rally test.

This Fearless rating allows a Katyusha unit to be deployed in isolation as it should be quite autonomous, at least statistically speaking. The training instead is the same as that of other Soviet artillery, the unit is categorized as Trained 4+. This means that in 99% of the cases you will need a 5+ to place a Range In marker. Having a template this big you will practically never be able to place it without touching a Short or Tall scenic element: don't be under any illusions about this! Occasionally however this rating will also allow you to risk a few Blitz or Shoot&Scott orders should you need to. It is good practice to carefully evaluate the effects of a possible failure since the probability of success is 50%, do not be too optimistic!

Also with regard to the value of Is Hit On there are no surprises, like many options in the Soviet arsenal, the Katyusha is also Aggressive and is therefore hit with a result of 3+. The Katyusha looks like a normal truck and is therefore an Unarmoured Tank Team. One of the intrinsic characteristics of the Unarmoured Tank Teams is their fragility: not having armour they are particularly vulnerable to rifle or mg shots. In fact, they have a Save of 5+ which, even if it allows you to save yourself from quality shots (i.e. with high anti-tank), saturation suffers a lot. On the other hand, however, the Unarmoured Tank Teams have the possibility to move to avoid threats or bombings. This is an advantage that should not be underestimated compared to medium and heavy artillery which usually can only move 2-4” to avoid enemy artillery.

The Katyusha in Flames Of War

Due to the massive structure on which the rockets rest, the Katyusha is not particularly mobile (although it is mobile enough). It has a Tactical Movement value of 8” which however is almost useless. In fact, the Katyusha does not have weapons capable of firing while moving, while Tactical movement is preferable to Dash only if there are enemies within 8”…. which means that you have almost certainly lost your platoon. The Terrain Dash is also equal to 8” but the Cross value must be considered which, as it is easy to expect, is rather low and is equal to 5+. The weight and superstructure greatly penalize the mobility of the truck. Even the Cross Country Dash value is not particularly excellent and is equal to 12" while the Road Dash is really generous with an impressive value of 28": now all that remains is to find a dense road network on which to move!

Dulcis in fundo, here is the most interesting feature of the Katyusha: the weapon system! The BM-13-16 rockets allow you to bomb the enemy up to 64" away and therefore, often, from a position of relative safety. Given the large number of rockets fired, rockets allow saturation of a very large area. In fact, instead of placing a normal Artillery Template, the Katyusha places a SALVO Katyusha which is equivalent to four Artillery Templates. With a single artillery team you can therefore hit up to four times as many opponents, including hidden ones. While woods can prevent you from placing a Range-In marker where you need it, quite often the width of the SALVO Template can still hit hidden opponents. Anti-Tank's value isn't particularly brilliant but it's still a decent 2 that allows you to destroy face-up vehicles unlucky enough to roll a 1 on their Saving throw.

All things considered, this is the Anti-Tank value of the 75mm artillery. The comparison is not accidental because the Firepower value is also quite similar and is equal to 4+. Considering the large number of opposing teams that can be hit, this is a very interesting value, given to the Katyusha thanks to the explosive capacity of the rockets (the famous 22kg of explosive cone). The Forward Firing rule which forces the Katyushas to have the target on their frontal arc (or to hope for a Blitz) should be considered, although quite marginal.

BM-31-12 Katyusha


But until now we haven't said anything new, while the book Berlin: Soviet introduces something new! As the war continued since 1943 the need for a larger rocket quickly became apparent. The response to this demand was the BM-31-12. It was basically a rocket built like its predecessor, but bigger and more destructive. The BM-31 in fact had an explosive nosepiece of 53kg, double that of the BM-13. The rocket therefore necessarily had to have larger dimensions to contain all the necessary propellant. It had a calibre of 300m and a length of 1760mm, much greater than the previous 132mm and 1415mm. All of this had an effect on the rocket's weight, making it significantly heavier. In fact, it weighed 93kg instead of 43, thus jeopardizing the range that came out halved.

The BM-31-12 Katyusha in Flames Of War

On the battlefields of Flames of War, the BM-31 keeps unchanged all the statistics of the BM-13 in terms of Is Hit on, Morale, Skill as well as those of Movement or Save. What changes in a very significant way is the weapon profile. In fact, it comes out decidedly improved, exactly as was to be expected. In fact, the value of Anti-Tank goes from 2 to 3, making these rockets much more dangerous for tanks, especially for Top 0 ones such as the American M10, Achilles or Marder. In fact, these pieces have only a 50% chance of making a successful Save (4+) thus risking being Bailed Out or even destroyed those times they roll a 1 or 2 for a Save (33% of the time). Whether it's an infantryman, a gun or a tank, missing a Save can really be fatal because the Katyusha BM-31 has a Firepower of 3+ which is particularly punishing and can easily prove fatal. A 33% success rate really offers great security.

All in all, it is the same destructive power of a 100-122mm howitzer (anti-tank 3, firepower 3+) only that it is not concentrated in a normal Artillery Template but on a SALVO Template: impressive! As a drawback, it must be said that the range is a bit reduced, but 48" should still be sufficient to hit the opponent from a safe distance.

The range isn't the only drawback though, there's a really worse and more impactful one. The large size of the rocket meant that each truck could carry only a limited number of rockets. The Katyusha 31-12 can therefore only fire 3 times in a match. In fact, the player will have to place 3 tokens next to the unit and remove one of them every time an artillery bombardment is launched. Once the tokens run out, the unit will be effectively helpless. This is undoubtedly an important malus that can jeopardize its use, also considering the quite important cost in points.

It must be said, however, that thanks to the SALVO Template and the excellent anti-tank and Firepower values, the unit should be able to produce the desired effects and repay itself with 3 rounds of bombardment if a little luck assists you. No doubt there will be great satisfaction in literally punching holes in the ground around where you have placed your Range In marker.

~ Livio Tonazzo