SADJ Identification Series: The RPG ID Guide

SADJ Identification Series: The RPG ID Guide

A Iraqi Special Forces (ISF) Soldier, attached to U.S. Marine Corps 1st Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division (MARDIV), holds security position armed with the RPG-7 recoilless launcher in Al Fallujah, Al Anbar Province, Iraq, on Nov. 12, 2004, while on patrol during Operation Al Fajr. The 1st MARDIV is engaged in Security and Stabilization Operations (SASO) in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Jonathan C. Knauth)

SADJ has brought a number of articles on the RPG-7 and its technology and history to our readers.  We’ve covered light armorer work, as well as operational idiosyncrasies, and we’ve dispelled myths perpetuated by a generation of writers and Internet gurus who insist on saying “RPG” means “Rocket Propelled Grenade” no matter how many times it’s explained that this is a recoilless launcher system, with many launchers using rocket-assisted grenades.  This is a fundamental difference in system, not a minor picking point for us firearms techno-geeks.  There are many different capabilities and characteristics to consider in this.

“RPG” stands for “Ruchnoi Protivotankoviyi Granatomyot,” in the case of RPG-2 and RPG-7.  There are different Russian words with the same initials for the true rocket propelled grenades of RPG-18, RPG-22, etc.  In no case does “RPG” represent the English words “Rocket Propelled Grenade.”

Our goal is to educate the small arms community, and especially those going into harm’s way, so that they have a full understanding of the system.  While there is a stigma in the Western press, the NATO and U.S. allies in this world are now using the RPG-7 system more and more.  It is an effective, robust, reloadable and generally easy to use system.  It is entirely worthy of upgrades and operational use.

There are two stories we haven’t done yet at SADJ; identification of the grenades used in these systems, and identification of the weapons that fall into the category of “RPG.”  We decided to start with the launchers, and to concentrate on overall pictures and identifying marks, so that the reader would have the ability to perform fast forensic identification of a unit, hopefully helping solve the questions of where it might have come from.

For the museums and collectors of military pieces out there, here’s another set of items to start tracing down and filling out your displays, as if you didn’t have enough to chase already!  At the end of the RPG-7 section, we have moved further into as many of the weapons called “RPG” whether they are recoilless launcher systems or true shoulder fired rocket launchers, so that the reader can tell what they are, as well as some odd pieces that fit the category but not the nomenclature.

Previous Articles that the Reader Should Reference:

The RPG-7 System Primer by Dan Shea.  (History, some ID, light armorer work.  SADJ Vol. 1, No. 3, 2009)

Rocket Versus Recoilless; A Brief History of the RPG by Paul Newhouse.  (History, operation, good technical understanding of the systems.  SADJ Vol. 1, No. 3,  2009)

A Primer on Shaped Charges by Paul Newhouse.  (History, physics, good technical understanding of shaped charges.  Small Arms Review Vol. 11, No. 1, October 2007)

Rocket Launchers & Recoilless Rifles by Robert Bruce.  (History and operation of some WWII era systems.  Small Arms Review Vol. 4, No. 12, September 2001)

RPG-2 launcher with strap, covers and grenade in firing position. This specimen dates from 1952. Note the blast diverter at the rear, this is not necessary, nor present on all RPG-2 type designs. (Photo by Dan Shea courtesy LMO Working Reference Collection)

This Russian designed, reloadable, shoulder operated recoilless system is the first real step towards the RPG-7 of today. The RPG-2 was copied in many countries, and many of the subvariants are shown here. No RPG-2 grenades had rocket assist, the sheet metal bodies simply couldn’t take the added pressures in the experimental rounds that were tried and this severely limited the range and time to target. One major step up from the German designs is that instead of two charges spread out over the interior of the launching tube, the RPG-2 utilizes six in tandem to create much more velocity and keep the tube integrity intact.

The following are not illustrated due to low or non-existent production, and a resulting lack of photos.

RPG-1: Russian design. Very similar to the German Panzerfaust of WWII, this recoilless system did not progress from design.

RPG-3: Russian design. A design step up from the RPG-2 series, did not progress from design. Frequently this designation is mistaken for the infamous RKG-3 drogue-parachuted, shaped charge, hand thrown grenade that saw so much use in Africa and the Balkans (Yugoslav M79).

RPG-4: Russian design, limited production. RPG-4 is where the RPG-7 was truly born – the expanded tube from the 40mm size of the RPG-2, to 45mm, and the central “chamber area” providing for more expansion of the propellant gases, combined with the new Venturi at the rear, made for more range and faster target hits. Not issued in significant quantity.

RPG-6: Russian design. Hand thrown grenade from WWII.

RPG-8: This designation was mistakenly applied by Western intelligence to what was later known as the RPG-7D takedown model of the RPG. RPG-8 as part of this series did not exist except in some late 1960s reports.

RPG-15: This designation is seen occasionally and apparently dates to 1970s era intel reports- talking about the newly seen RPG-18. SADJ has seen no other indication that an RPG-15 was made.

The German Panzerfaust was a basic underarm fired recoilless launcher made in the early 1940s. The first ones, the ‘30’ and ‘60’ meter launchers (shown), used a single lower-pressure black powder charge in order to limit hoop pressure on the tube. Later Panzerfausts, the ‘100’ and ‘150’ models, added a second charge further down the tube in order to spread out the pressure and the time/pressure curve, thus adding velocity/range. A primary problem with the Panzerfausts was the low velocity of the projectile, causing targets that moved to be difficult to aim properly for. There is another ‘Panzerfaust’ that came into service use in the early 1960s in Germany, called the PZF44 and upgrades (2A1). The slang term was a ‘Lanze.’ This was also a reloadable recoilless launcher but more sophisticated than the originals, more akin to the RPG-2 series. This was replaced in the early 1990s by the Panzerfaust 3. (Photo by Dan Shea courtesy LMO Working Reference Collection)
Type 56 (Chinese) variant of the RPG-2. This is the 40mm straight tube launcher primarily used by the Viet Cong forces early on during the Vietnam War. It was referred to as the B40, and some B40s were made in North Vietnam. Later in the war - approximately 1967 - the RPG-7 was used. This specimen dates from 1956. (Photo by Dan Shea courtesy LMO Working Reference Collection)
Al-Yassin (Yasin). In the early 2000s, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas and their various allied forces fighting the Israelis started using a new manufacture RPG-2 variant called the ‘Yasin.’ This is indigenously manufactured, moving a step back from the much more complex to manufacture RPG-7 variants that had shown up in the Palestine area from the 1970s on. While this may be a technical step backwards, the fact is that these can now be manufactured robustly, and the grenades, while not rocket assisted, have proven effective against armor. It is not unusual to see RPG-7s of various manufacture referred to as ‘Yasin’ in photos, because the Yasin has a divergent nozzle; the large cone at the back end, much like an RPG-7. However, it does not have the RPG-7 expansion chamber and the projectiles use bent sheet metal fins, no rocket assist, and have a unique local explosives design. (Photos courtesy Al-Qassam English Forum)
Czech P-27 (shown) is an RPG-2 variant, that has been replaced in service by the RPG-75 (not shown) which is a light tube high/low pressure recoilless hybrid that gives all the appearance of being a shoulder fired rocket launcher, but due to its design is a somewhat bizarre, lightweight recoilless. Serial number marking on this P-27 is from the front sight block. Note the long time use of the front grip that has a button operated, spring loaded bipod that extends downward. (Photo by Dan Shea courtesy National Firearms Collection, Royal Armouries, Leeds)
The Thai company ‘RP’ manufactured a high quality RPG-2 variant during the 1970s. (Photo courtesy Pol. Lt. Gen. Amporn Charuchinda, Commissioner of Police Forensic Science, Bangkok, Thailand.)
Thai M13 - the launcher marked as ‘M13‘ is of unknown origin, and it has the appearance of an RPG-7, but it is actually an RPG-2. These have been found in a number of areas of Southeast Asia, but there is a notable picture from the Battle of Ampil, seen in use by KPNLF soldiers. Note the expeller cartridge and the sheet metal fins wrapped around the body of the grenade base. While the tube appears to have an expanded chamber and divergent nozzle, the rounds are definitely RPG-2 style. (Photo courtesy Pol. Lt. Gen. Amporn Charuchinda, Commissioner of Police Forensic Science, Bangkok, Thailand.)
In addition to their B-40 direct copy of the RPG-2, the North Vietnamese produced, in limited numbers, an enlarged copy as well, the 50mm B-50. Little is known of the launcher, which is believed to resemble the B-40/RPG-2. The grenade (Third from top in photo) is unique, in that rather than wraparound sheet steel fins like the PG-2, it uses fixed fins on a collar which is located behind the warhead in the unfired condition, and which slides down to the end of the tail boom following muzzle exit.