59 - Katyusha

One of the most fearsome WWII weapons:

the "Katyusha"

The "Stalin Organ" in Action:

a diorama by Bjørn Jacobsen

The BM-series “Katyusha” was the first multiple mobile rocket launcher in World War II.

The BM-13 was usually mounted on ordinary trucks.  At the beginning, they used Soviet ZiS or ZiL trucks, but they soon discovered that the American 2 1/2ton Studebaker truck was ideal for carrying the Katyusha launcher and thousands of Studebaker Lend-Lease trucks were turned into Katyusha launchers.

In the diorama, the trucks are ZiL 15l

This mobility gave the Katyusha the advantage of delivering a large blow to the enemy, and then quickly move before being located and attacked with counter-battery fire.

German troops nicknamed the Katyusha as Stalin's Organ (German: Stalinorgel) because of the terrible howling sound when the rockets were launched

The M-13 rocket in the BM-13 system was 80 cm (2 ft. 7 in) long, 13.2 cm (5.2 in) in diameter and weighed 42 kg (93 lb) and had a warhead of 5kg high explosive

The weapon was less accurate than conventional artillery guns, but was extremely effective in saturation bombardment, and was particularly feared by German soldiers.

A battery of four BM-13 launchers could fire a salvo of 16x4 rockets in 7–10 seconds, delivering 4.35 tons of high explosives over a 400.000 sq.meters (4,300,000 sq ft) impact zone, roughly equivalent to 72 artillery batteries.

Katyusha batteries were often massed in very large numbers to create a shock effect on enemy forces.


The weapon's disadvantage was the long time it took to reload a launcher, in contrast to conventional guns which could sustain a continuous low rate of fire.

The Katyusha rocket system rolled into battle for the first time mere days into Germany’s invasion of the U.S.S.R. and remained on the front lines all the way through to the Red Army’s final assault on Berlin.

Combat debut

Initially, the weapon was so secretive that only special NKVD state police personnel and trusted party members were trained and permitted to operate it.

The rockets were first used in the opening month of the German invasion of the Soviet Union. During a clash near Smolensk on July 14, 1941, just seven of the experimental launchers decimated a German infantry formation in the town of Rudnya.  The barrage struck with such intensity, the Axis troops broke and fled from the city.

This incident was enough to convince the Soviet high command that the rockets could be a game changer. Detachments of four mobile launchers were quickly raised and sent into battle.

By the end of the war, 10,000 Katyusha launchers were produced along with 12 million rockets

The Katyusha Nickname

The name “Katyusha”  (“Katie”) was not the official designation for the weapon — it was more of an affectionate moniker devised by rank-and-file soldiers.

The original BM-13 launchers were manufactured at a plant known as the Voronezh Komintern and accordingly bore a large “K” stamp on the side.

Troops joked that the letter stood for Katyusha  – the name of a popular 1938 folk ballad about a woman who is separated from her lover.

The name soon caught on.

A Soviet Army soldier loads an M-13 rocket

onto a BM-13 Katyusha launcher rail

MB-13 mounted on a Studebaker truck

This photograph shows the massive amount of smoke, produced when a battery of Katyushas launched their rockets

Katyusha rocket launchers in combat, 1944-45

Building the diorama

The Katyusha trucks

The Katyusha never operated as a single unit.

They were often employed in great numbers, often several batteries at a time.

A battery of BM-13 launchers included four firing vehicles; two reload trucks and two technical support trucks. Each firing vehicle had a crew of six.

I made two launchers mounted

on ZiL 15l trucks.

The kits I used are from Italeri.

This is a very old kit with roots

in the 1960s. Not a fancy kit,

but still an OK model to build.

The Katyusha vehicles had no

markings; it was just one of

housands of USSR weapons and

painted in a grey/green colour.

The rockets

I wanted the Katyusha to launch the rockets in the diorama and used the following method:

The launching rockets were glued to a 1mm thick metal rod.

The rod lengths differed from rocket to rocket.

School glue was used to fix cotton to the rods to illustrate the smoke.

A small 10w 12V halogen lamp was fixed to each rod just behind the rocket.

The lamp and the wires were fixed to the rod by a very thin metal wire taken from an electrical cable.

Then the cotton was sprayed with grey/black colour and let to dry.

To complete the launching rockets, I adjusted the cotton (removed some and covered the wires with some).

Then I painted the part of the wires that was still visible.

At last, the wires was pulled down through the rails and the launching construction and ended underneath the truck.

These wires would, of course, be concealed when the trucks were placed on the diorama base.

The smoke

The rockets produced a lot of smokes when launched and the rear ends of the trucks were covered in smoke.

It is always important to have smoke looks as natural as possible. Far too many use compact cotton or other materials.

This often gives a very unnatural compact impression.

I used a very fine cotton taken from a medical compress and stretched it as thin as possible. Then I used the airbrush and made it grey/black.

Now I could form it any way I wanted, I could make it more compact by pressing it together and thinner by stretching it.

The base

and the background

I used an old base by 60x60cm (24x24 inches) which I earlier used as

base for a tank diorama

The background is just a painted cardboard.

The figures were part of the Katyusha kits

The electrical wires are underneath the base

Here is the awesome“Stalin Organ”

in action:

Moving into position

Preparing to launch

Launching the M-13 rockets

The terrible howling sound from the Katyusha rockets was even more frightening in the dark.

I hope you enjoyed this website!

Thank you for visiting!


Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments




Bjørn Jacobsen

February 2017