The Ubiquitous RPG-7 (Video)

The RPG-7 is pretty far from being a forgotten weapon, but I was not going to pass up an opportunity to take a closer look at a live one. This example is one of the few live and registered RPGs in the US, and it belongs to Movie Gun Services (if you saw Black Hawk Down, you saw it in use…).

The RPG is a rocket-propelled shaped charge antitank weapon that took its philosophical foundation from the German WWII Panzerfaust (although it shares little with that weapon mechanically). Over the course of WWII, the armor on tanks quickly became too heavy for man-portable anti-tank rifles to defeat. The solution to this dilemma was the development of shaped charge warheads, in which directed explosive energy could be used much more efficiently than simple high explosive or even simpler kinetic energy.

After several earlier developmental iterations, the RPG-7 was introduced in 1961 by the Soviet Union and would prove to be an extremely effective, inexpensive and simple weapon. Today they are found in virtually all third world conflict zones. A variety of rocket types have made them much more than a dedicated anti-tank weapon, and they will be found used against everything from personnel to aircraft.

55 Comments

  1. Curiously, while the RPG doesn’t resemble the old Panzerfaust much, it does share a very close resemblance to the 1960s era “leichte Panzerfaust” or “Panzerfaust 44mm Lanze”, which replaced the Bazooka in the Bundeswehr. The lePzf was built in 1960, so slightly before the RPG – maybe somebody brough the plans over? 😉

    Both weapons are reusable metal pipe launchers that you put the rocket and booster charge in from the muzzle side, with a foldable set of fins on the end of the stem of the round. Unlike the RPG, the lePzf had its primers in a little magazine in the pistol grip – they were .22lr blank cartridges. Each round came with 2 primers, so in case of a misfire you could reload and try again. Both weapons also had the option to mount optical sights, greatly increasing accuracy compared to for example the M72.

    • “so slightly before the RPG – maybe somebody brough the plans over?”
      RPG-7 was developed as a replacement for RPG-2, which enter service in 1949, is working on same principle as RPG-7 but has lower muzzle velocity (and hence lower accuracy)

    • Friction. There is a screw in the warhead that must be slotted into a groove in the mouth of the launch tube, but that only indexes the primer on the warhead so it can be struck by the firing pin.

  2. Excellent and clear presentation Ian. Thank you.
    I have often wonder why we (U.S. and NATO allies), during the Soviet era, did not adopt this style weapon.
    Seems our anti-tank-block house busters are cumbersome to carry-transport for the over burdened infantry men.

    • Several NATO armies, including Britain, Norway and Denmark use the Swedish Carl Gustav recoilless rifle in both antitank and bunker busting roles. The US started using Carl Gustavs in Afghanistan to counter RPG-7s.

      • U.S. SpecOps forces have used the 84mm “Karl” for over forty years. It was first adopted by the SEALs in the mid-1960s, replacing the WW2 57mm shoulder-fired RR.

        It was considered to have more range and punch than the 57mm or the M72 LAWS (which it does) and to be more tolerant of extremes of climate than either of them (which it is). Best of all, from SpecOps’ POV, unlikwe the M72, with the 84mm you can carry one “launcher” that can fire several different rounds (HEAT, HE, etc.) plus spare ammunition, instead of half-a-dozen “one-shot” throwaway launchers that are pretty much strictly for AT.

        And if you want serious AT, there’s that big muzzle-loaded fin-stabilized HEAT round with the oversized warhead and the blank launching charge. Which will put a world of hurt on about any tank other than an Abrams, Leo 2, or Challenger.

        And it will still blow tracks and running gear off of them.

        cheers

        eon

  3. Ian, you called the Panzerfaust a rocket launcher. Actually to nit pick there is no rocket motor in the projectile, its a recoiless launcher.

    • Yes and no.
      RPG-2 was a pure recoilless launcher (like Panzerfaust) on the Davis principle.
      The projectile of RPG-7 is also launched following the recoilless principle, but there is a rocket motor in the projectile, which fires after some distance. So RPG-7 is a rocket assisted recoilless weapon.

      Same applies to Bundeswehr 44 mm Panzerfaust mentioned by Juergen. It originally worked on the recoilless principle alone. Later, enhanced version LANZE fired a rocket assisted projectile.

      • I guedd I was not specific enough. I was refering to the WWII German Panzerfaust as was Ian when he made the statement.

    • Same goes for all launchers – laws of physics are rigid for everyone. If you want to launch a 5-lbs shaped-charge warhead you can either haul your artillery piece there to cover your backblast – and loose a war by having to haul it over the mountains – or use Davis principle and launch it recoiless, from be it RPG or AT-4. You can loose your war with either of these two, if back-blast was that much of a problem.

      • Not necessarily. The WW2 British PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) was a spigot mortar type weapon. Its large bomb had a Cyclonite (RDX) shaped charge that would still penetrate most tanks today; it was horrendously effective on WW2 era armor.

        Due to its operating principle, it had no backblast, just a H*ll of a recoil. But unlike Bazookas, Panzerfausts, Panzerschrecks, etc., it could be fired from inside an enclosed space, like a room in a building, without a backblast that would kill most of the detachment.

        It also had a relatively low muzzle signature due to most of the firing blast being contained within the bomb’s hollow tail boom and used to recock the spigot. (If you didn’t hold it tight enough, though, it would knock you flat on your a$$ and not recock itself. Oops.)

        As such, it was a very effective weapon for irregular forces in MOBUA, because a couple or even three or four targets could be engaged before the enemy could localize the AT team. Giving them time to fire a carrier’s worth of bombs (three rounds) and beat it before the men in feldgrau with MP40s came pounding up the stairs.

        Ironically, it was Germany in the 1970s that came up with a tactical equivalent. The Armbrust (German for “arbalest”- a heavy crossbow) was a one shot/reloadable recoilless AT launcher, shoulder-fired, that worked on the classic Davis Gun principle; the HEAT round going out the front was counterbalanced by a mass of plastic particles going much faster coming out the back. Same net momentum both ways (M x V), without the flamethrower effect of a rocket launcher or “conventional” recoilless gun.

        The plastic bits (which started out as chips but were basically blown to dust by the propellant charge going off) lost velocity within 3 meters, so while standing right behind the launcher when it was fired wasn’t too smart (anyone for sandblasting?), as long as you stayed back about ten feet, or a yard or so to each side, you could safely fire it from a hotel room window without problems.

        Like carbonizing the rest of the section, which most ATRLs are entirely too good at.

        😉

        cheers

        eon

        • Make it in the style of a terminator shotgun, in the form of a Hawkeye 105mm to dampen the recoil. Have the firing pin extend up the spigot, sounds almost rude.

          • The PIAT spigot fires the bomb off by slamming its way clear up in the tailboom nearly to the backside of the bomb. So it’s pretty rude already.

            Yes, there were jokes on that subject back in the day.

            No, I am not repeating them here.

            cheers

            eon

          • All of this talk about how the PIAT launched it’s warhead reminds me of a conundrum from the Cold War, where NATO had contingency plans for every possible incident in Europe.

            “If Russia ever attacked Turkey from the rear, would Greece help”???

        • The IRA had some black powder recoil-less projectors that famously used biscuits (cookies to the cousins) as the counter mass. Probably not HobNobs – my favourite English packet biscuit.

  4. How about calling it a rocket-assisted recoilless rifle?

    Anyhow, the doctrinal differences are interesting: in the US, everyone gets one shot with the M72; in the USSR, you have one guy with the reloadable RPG, good if it allows extra training, bad if the RPG guy gets blown up along with the squads’ only AT weapon.

    • Does really only one guy per squad get trained under Red Army standards? In the Bundeswehr everyone got trained on the Panzerfaust (with one guy designated to carry the launcher, and some others carrying reloads), just like everyone got trained on the machine gun.

      By the way, the optical sights really are a major improvement over the simple iron sights used by the USA. With optical sights you can have helpful little markings to determine the range to the target, or the speed if the target crosses you.

    • “How about calling it a rocket-assisted recoilless rifle?”

      Well, for starters, the sequence of operation is actually quite the opposite: it’s the starting (or supporting) charge that is recoilless, while the main propulsion is rocket engine. And then, it’s a smoothbore weapon, so the “rifle” part is off as well.

  5. In my IDF service (1986-1994) we had these as a regular part of an infantry platoon.

    My normal “packal” was the 52mm mortar but we obviously cross-train on everything and on occasion I had to carry this monster. It’s heavy, long, un-weildy and awkward to sling across the back and carry.

    When you are carrying the thing in preparation for use, your Galil is slung across your back and invariably digs into your kidneys or back, particularly if your gun is an ARM variant. And if you squat while firing, your Galil’s muzzle is digging into the dirt/mud!

    I recall that at the time, Romania was selling us dummy rounds as well as live ammo to augment the gazillions of rounds we captured from the Arabs, particularly from the PLO in southern Lebanon.

    I have no idea if it is being used anymore, my guess is that it was eventually phased out in favor of something more whiz-bang and Western in manufacture…………..

    • Far it from being phased out – the US Army is reportedly pondering adopting it! There is a US company making “whizz-banged” US-made version of the launcher, using AR-15 grips and M4 stock. Polish Army was researching a replacement for the RPG-7 – and decided to stay with it, as no other system offered that much utility and variety in use (warheads are now available with various payloads, from HE-Frag thru thermobaric all the way to tandem shaped-charge), while being that cheap.

  6. Fascinating video clip from Ian.
    If I may add some theory about the Venturi tube at the back end of the RPG-7 … The Venturi tube accelerates the cloud of burnt gun powder exiting to the rear. By accelerating exhaust gases, it increases thrust pushing the projectile out the front, increasing muzzle velocity.
    A few meters after launch, the second stage rocket motor ignites, etc.

    Plenty of other recoil-less rifles use Venturi tubes: American 106 mm recoil-less rifle, Swedish 84 mm Carl Gustavo, etc.

    • One minor quibble;

      Most rocket exhaust “bells” are not Venturis. A venturi tube is basically two truncated conic sections with their frustums face-to-face, opening out toward the ends. The purpose being to increase the velocity of the working fluid (fluid/gas/whatever) by constricting its cross-section at midpoint in its travel while maintaining flow volume (cm3/sec or whatever).

      The RPG-7 exhaust is more like a conventional rocket nozzle. Which isn’t actually a “venturi”.

      Us rocket fans have our little quirks regarding terminology, too.

      😉

      cheers

      eon

  7. The Venturi allows Carl Gustavs to launch projectiles with a muzzle velocity of 290 meters per second vrrsus 105 mow from a Bazooka or 75 maps from a PIAT.

    In future forgottenweapons episodes, I would like to hear more about the obscure 20 mm anti-recoil-less rifle briefly utilized by the Swedish Army.
    What about (Ametican-made) Sidewinder SMGs?
    The more obscure the weapon the better!

    • I remember the Sidewinder. Somewhere around here I still have some promotional material from the developer, iirc, “Sir Syd’s Sidearm Sales.” Unfortunately, I don’t think they ever went into full production.

  8. Weapon of choice scenario:

    Given a choice, how do you wish to improve protection of a tank against stuff like the RPG-7?

    1. Just get a heavier tank with thicker armor, then run down the idiot holding the light anti-armor weapon
    2. pile sandbags and tool boxes on the tank
    3. have a few infantrymen ride as tank-descants so that they can spot the danger and perhaps nail it.
    4. replaceable spaced armor or tiles
    5. better scanning tech
    6. Screw this! Shoot everything that moves!
    7. Call the artillery?

    Or conversely, if you’re a paratrooper trying to fend off a tank, what do you do?

    1. 20mm recoilless rifle
    2. Magnetic antitank grenade
    3. Bazooka
    4. Panzerschreck
    5. Tons of Panzerfausts
    6. Apple down the hatch as a joke?
    7. if you’re crazy enough, force your way into the tank and hijack it
    8. Or, per the usual, find your favorite toys before they get trashed

    This activity is voluntary. You are not required to participate if you do not wish to do so. Please keep any and all criticism of this post humane and free of foul language.

    Thank you,

    Cherndog

    • I don’t want to be the idiot who attempts it, but I’ve always wondered if you could defeat a modern tank with a few machine-guns to keep everyone battened down, and using some kinda launcher (paintball marker or catapult of some sort, or entertainingly modified flamethrower), to cover the optics/periscopes with paint. Done correctly it could be enough to get some crews to surrender since it removes combat effectiveness.

        • This stunt was tried by the Hungarians in the 1956 Budapest revolt. The Red Army tankers’ solution was to traverse the turret 360 degrees and hose the area with fire from the coax MG. Sometimes with the driver doing a neutral steer as the bow gunner hosed the area with his gun.

          In the end, Molotov cocktails were found to be more effective, and safer. Well, until the T-34s were replaced by T-55s.

          cheers

          eon

    • Remote-controlled armored bulldozer with a 16″ Naval shell attached as a spar torpedo. I wouldn’t even need to make contact…just get close enough. 🙂 Or, a carload of hookers to entice the crew into leaving the tank so I could capture it.

    • “8. Or, per the usual, find your favorite toys before they get trashed”
      Some XA-38 Grizzly attack aeroplane will solve any problem with enemy armored vehicles.

    • Abrams or Leo 2 or Challenger II type multiphasic armor. But NB; the RPG round can still blow your tracks and running gear off.

      The RPG’s HEAT round was the main reason for the Abrams’ armor in the first place.

      Fun fact; the Abrams was built at the Lima, OH, Tank Plant, about 124 miles up US 33 from where I live.

      The special armor was so top secret, the section of the plant where it was installed on the tanks was called “the Kryptonite room”.

      cheers

      eon

      • I attended Case Western Reserve University and some of the stuff at the engineering school never left the school for good reasons…

        • My first go-round was at Hocking (Technical) College in Nelsonville. And some of the stuff we worked on under contract to Uncle Sugar would curl your hair if I was allowed to talk about it. It’s still TS, and that was in the 1970s, for Ghu’s sake.

          You didn’t hear me say that.

          cheers

          eon

    • Star wars tie fighter, in the form of a WW1 tank, think a diamond shape with the “wings” having tracks over them, with gaps in said wings this would dissipate mine blasts and automatically act as grills i.e. Something to detonate the warhead initially.

  9. Ian, a few points in your very well video:
    1. Somebody already beat me to point that out, but WW2 Panzerfaust (as opposed to the post-war one) was a true recoiless weapon, and not a “rocket launcher”. That was the other German AT launcher, the RPzB-54 or Panzerschreck
    2. An un-finned RPG-7 round you mentioned? That’s the first time I hear about one. How would any such be stabilized in flight, being fired froma smoothbore launcher? The venturis at the back of the warhead are propulsion only, pointing outward, but straight. If they would be spin stabilized, the vents would be deflected from the longitudinal axis – just like in Nebelwerfer rockets, to keep to WW2 German hardware that everybody knows. All RPG-7 live projectiles have articulated (in fact – hinged) folding metal fins, covered before the shot by that green plastic vinyl sleeve you handled, and they only deploy after clearing the muzzle on the way out.
    3. The RPG-7 training insert was NOT firing a regular ball cartridge. Of course it could chamber one and ever fire it, but it was designed to work with a special Czech-made short range tracer. It has a regular 7,62×39 case, with a round-nosed bullet, not unlike the .30 Carbine tracer, with white-over-green tip, called the 7,62 mm Zm43 (Zamerovaci vz.43 – not to be mixed with white-tipped Rd43 Redukovany vz.43 which was just a SR training ball). Check out https://www.ar15.com/archive/topic.html?b=3&f=16&t=527033, see the 8th picture from the top. Same was loaded in .32 ACP cases for the Czech RPG-75 LAW-style telescoping AT launcher. Next time take a look at the EXTRA deep rifling of the RPG-trainer bbl, enabling it to fire a full-bore AK round without damaging neither the trainer nor the trainee, by bleeding excess gases forward, around the bullet. These grooves are like 4 mm deep – they’re trenches, not grooves. Also, the bbl can be screw-adjusted (zeroed) to the sight. There are four set-screws at the muzzle, bending the bbl until the POI registers with POA.

  10. You can adapt coin batteries to that russian scope. I have a romanian that takes 2 AA’s.
    The bulb was burnt out in mine so I ordered a small LED and soldered it into the old bulb socket. It was a bit tricky but it works great now.

  11. the last types of panzerfausts looked a lot like the rpg 2 and so the rpg 7 owes a lot to the germans. I am not sure those panzerfausts were build in quantity, but they used recoilless grenades from multi shot launchers.

    • I think you’re referring to the Fliegerfaust and Fliegerschreck;

      http://militaryhistory.x10.mx/images/infantry/fliegerfaust.jpg

      Basically a multi-tube shoulder-fired rocket launcher. Each round was a standard automatic cannon shell with a solid rocket motor attached to its rear end. The Fliegerfaust (“air fist”) was a 2cm using the shells from MG151/20 ammunition, and the Fliegerschreck (“air panic”) was supposed to be 3cm using the MK108 30mm shell.

      AFAIK, none of the latter was ever actually built; the 2cm apparently did see some actual combat use in March and April of ’45.

      Each one was supposed to fire off its entire 7-round clip in about half-a-second, with a slight lag between the first four and last three firing, to prevent wake interference and possible fratricide, as well as getting a shotgun-like “spread” on the intended target (strafing Thunderbolts and Typhoons for the most part).

      I doubt the 2cm would have made much of an impression on a Sherman from the front; back or sides might be another story. The 3cm would probably have been nasty from any angle.

      Either one would be a problem for a fighter-bomber “on the deck”.

      cheers

      eon

  12. Great video, I have a bit of a fixation with the RPG7. I used to have one, I traded it to a guy in Tucson that you may know, Ian. It was the ‘D’ model (paratrooper). Rather rare. Not sure if it’s still in Tucson.

    Just a few thoughts;

    The HEAT PG7 projectiles are ‘PIBD’, or ‘Point Initiating, Base Detonating’. The bit at the front is a piezo electric crystal. The you show in the video looks like a plastic plug, with the PZ crystal missing. The proper bit should be a blunt silver nub looking thing. When the fired projectile impacts something, the PZ crystal generates electricity. The fuze at the base of the shaped charge arms on forces of ‘setback’ (so that if the round is not fired, it can not arm). The story about the guy tripping and blowing up was interesting, but if it’s true, he didn’t blow up from the RPG functioning.

    I had a Russian sub cal trainer with with mine, as well. It was essentially a bolt action rifle, complete with folding bolt handle. Similar to the Czech unit, but different. It fired standard tracer rounds, but had ridiculously deep rifling to vent propellant gas and allow the bullet to follow a trajectory similar to the live round. I know of a third variant of sub-cal trainer, that had a bullet and a blank butted together in a casting that had a primer on the side, to achieve the same effect (plus simulate back blast).

    The launch motor has fins under the paper covering. The fins are angled a bit, and impart a little spin to the projectile. There is a tracer on the back of the launch motor/fin assembly. Interestingly, projectiles tend to ‘weather vane’, and steer into the wind in the case of a cross wind.

    I’ve had the opportunity to shoot quite a few RPG7s, and I can tell you the fuzing is very insensitive. Without a direct hit to something solid, they often fail to function. I’ve also seen RPGs hit the aluminum bits on a HMMV and penetrate without detonating. The dozen or two I fired on a dirt range would almost never detonate when they hit the ground, and the self destruct would often fail to function (pyrotechnic delay started when the fuze is armed by setback) There are a number of accounts of RPGs penetrating aircraft and not detonating, as well.

    With all things soviet block, so many countries made variations that all of the above are just generalizations.

    I think I had something else to say, but I don’t remember what it was.
    ~Doug

  13. Ian, a most interesting presentation.
    As has been said before, the Panzerfaust was a recoil-less weapon, of very limited range, and not a rocket. The tail was actually a piece of round wood, dare one suggest a piece of broomstick?
    The Panzerschreck was a rocket launcher like the Bazooka, but with the difference that the rocket motor did not burn out inside the launcher tube, it kept going for a while longer. That is what the little shield and glass visor are for, to avoid the operator getting a fried face. The same applies to the later Spanish Instalaza rocket, which also burnt out beyond the launch tube.
    To rectify a point on the (3.5 inch) Bazooka, it did not have a battery but a flip-magnet pulse generator in the grip, as you tightened the grip a spring would be compressed, when you reached the firing point the spring would cause the magnet to flip violently across a pick-up coil generating a pulse of current of sufficient strength to ignite the rocket. If it failed, you could always try it again after your assistant checked the 2 leads under the spring clamps. Also you did not risk having a battery die on you at the crucial moment. The Bazooka had an Albada type sight, very compact and neat with a rather complicated but useful recticle, similar in concept to some camera view-finders.
    The 84 mm Carl Gustav (at least in British service) had a subcaliber training device that fired a 6.5 mm cartridge (presumably 6.5 mm Swedish) of 2 types. One had a really feeble charge with a cap-like projectile, intended to simulate 200 m in the 25 m indoor range, the targets had a tank silhuete in solid black, and a displaced outline to make up for the parallax error used to assess the shot, very neat. The other cartridge was a full-strength tracer round for use in outdoor ranges.
    The Challenger is better protected than either the Abrahams or the Leo 2. There has been one single incident of a Challenger being partially penetrated through its bottom armour as it rose over an obstacle, the driver was seriously injured in a foot but drove the tank to safety. Since then the bottom armour has been upgraded, I believe the weapon was the descendant of the RPG-7 with the dual charge warhead. One Challenger was lost in a blue-on-blue incident, the HESH round struck an open hatch and exploded, killing the crew and staring a fire inside the tank that destroyed it. Finally the record for a tank-v-tank lethal strike belongs to a Challenger, in Iraq, at 5100 m using the depleted uranium penetrator (about which there has been much grumbling as the stuff is toxic as hell) from its excellent 120 mm rifled gun. Like someone said, the Challenger is built for combat, not to win competitions. Alas, the Leo-2 seems to have been built for competitions, and a lot of NATO countries have adopted it (Canada included). France and Italy have their own MBT’s (so far). In any case the ammunition for the 120 mm smoothbore is likely to become a NATO standard, forcing the British into changing their gun to one that really has no proven advantage over what they already have and well proven.
    The PIAT worked at close range (see “Pegasus Bridge”, and excellent book about a superbly executed coup-de-main), but was an awful weapon to use and inaccurate. The anti-submarine Hedgehog launcher was on the same principle and worked quite well, otherwise the spigot mortar seems to have been a technological dead-end.

  14. Fantastic video, this site is greatly appreciated. Here is another great video on Russian grenade launcher. Even though it is not in english nor is it subtitled, alot of great information can be learned about the RPG-7 just by watching it. Oodles of slow motion shots and military training footage of the RPG-7 firing.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxU4BgYnxto

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