Ukrainian Training Videos: RPG-18

Since the war in Ukraine began on 24 February, the Ukrainian armed forces have been hastily putting together and sharing training films for various weapon systems. we’re sharing these so they’re saved for the historical record and so they can be easily found by those who might need them. We’ll try and give some context on the weapon’s origins and on who made the training video.

Demonstrating how to deploy the RPG-18, the tube isn’t fully extended as its a live weapon

In this well shot video a Ukrainian soldier demonstrates the features and handling of an RPG-18. The RPG-18 (‘Mukha’ or ‘fly’) was the first of the Soviet/Russian family of extendable tube launchers (very similar to the US M72 LAW). The RPG-18 was developed in the late-1960s and was introduced in the early 1970s. It has since largely been replaced by larger calibre and more capable launchers. The weapon is a simple, smoothbore, single-use launcher. It is constructed from an aluminium tube with an outer layer of fibreglass.

A close up of the RPG-18’s locking system, rear sight and trigger

It isn’t clear how many RPG-18 the Ukrainian Armed Forces’ may have had in inventory before the war began but it appears that the weapon seen in this video was made in East Germany and probably transferred by Germany as part of Germany’s military aid shipments to Ukraine. While Greece have also reportedly transferred a quantity of RPG-18s, we have seen other examples in the field with identical German instructions stickers.

The video first surfaced around the 21st March, posted by Vadim Kodachigov (the director of Kort, a military industrial company) on Facebook, though he may not be the original creator. Kodachigov appears to be part of a Territorial Defence Force unit. The video identifies the unit as part of the 112th Territorial Defense Brigade (Kyiv). The production value of the video is relatively high, with a title card, good editing, close ups and some interesting footage of the weapon being fired.

RPG-18 Specifications:

Warhead64mm HEAT 
Weight (round and launcher)5.7lbs (2.6kg)
Length27.8in (705mm) – collapsed 41.3in (1050mm) – extended
Effective Range220yd (200m)
Penetration11.8in (300mm) against RHA

If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

Earliest video source found: Vadim Kodachigov via facebook (source)

RPG-18, Military-Today, (source)

The SMAW-D In Ukraine

In recent days, with the news that a shipment of M141 SMAW-D anti-structure weapons have arrived in Ukraine as part of the US military aid shipments, a number of media articles and videos have been made on the subject which seem to confuse the SMAW-D with the AT-4 and even the M72. So, I thought it would be useful to take a look at the SMAW-D in a little detail. 

M141 (SMAW-D) (US Army Manual)

So What is the SMAW-D?  

Its official designation is ‘Rocket and Launcher, 83mm HEDP Bunker Defeat Munition (BDM), M141 (SMAW-D)’ SMAW-D stands for Shoulder-Launched Multi-Purpose Assault Weapon-Disposable. This isn’t to be confused with the Mk 153 Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon used by the US Marine Corps. Those the SMAW-D did evolve from the SMAW.

Originally developed by McDonnell Douglas the design was acquired by Talley Defense Systems, whom were subsequently acquired by Norwegian company Nammo. Development began in the early 1980s and the system was adopted by the US Marine Corps as the Mk 153 in 1984.

M141 (SMAW-D) (US Army Manual)

The Mk 153 has a reusable forward launch tube and firing mechanism which has a spotting rifle and can be mounted with an optic. The warhead element of the SMAW is attached at the rear of the launcher. The US Army was initially interested in the Mk153 but preferred a lighter, single use weapon.

A Marine fires a Mk 153 SMAW (USMC/Cpl. Drew Tech)

In the early 1990s the US Army began the search for a disposable Shoulder-launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon. McDonnell Douglas offered a lighter, disposable version of the Mk 153, taking the Mk 153’s High Explosive, Dual Purpose warhead and pairing it with shorter burn rocket. In 1996 the US Army selected the SMAW-D, beating a Swedish design, the FFV AT8, and the Hunting Engineering LAW80.

US Army advisor demonstrates how to deploy the M141 (Ukraine MoD)

The SMAW-D is similar to the 66mm M72 in that it telescopes with the launch tube extended before firing. When collapsed it measures just under 32 inches in length but extending the inner tube gives the weapon an overall length of 55 inches. The launch tube and rocket weigh 15.7 lbs.

The tube has the firing mechanism mounted on the side under a plastic cover which when opened arms the rocket ready to fire. The weapon has front and rear iron sights for aiming. The SMAW-D can also be fitted with an AN/PVS-4 nightsight and various infrared aiming lasers for night fighting.

Ukrainian soldiers fire M141 BDMs (Ukrainian MoD)

To fire the M141 the operator removes the locking pin from the front of the launch tube, depresses the tube release button and extends the inner tube rearward. The operator then raises the weapon onto the right shoulder, slides the front sight cover forward and then the same for the rear sight. Then opening the firing mechanism cover pivoting it forward, flush with the tube, this arms the weapon. The operator should then check the backlist area and fire when ready by depressing the safety button and then the red trigger button. The rocket is ignited by an electrical impulse sent by the firing mechanism. Once ignited the rocket burns out before it leaves the muzzle, this protects the operator.

M141 (SMAW-D) (US Army Manual)

The M141 can engage targets out to 500 metres but is most effective out to 300. Its 83mm unguided, fin-stabilised round has an integral high-explosive, dual-mode warhead with 2.38 lbs of explosive. Detonation is instantaneous when impacting on a hard target, such as a brick or concrete wall, or an armored vehicle. Impact with a softer target, such as a sandbagged bunker, results in a fuze time delay that permits the rocket to penetrate into the target before warhead detonation. It can penetrate up to 200mm (8 inches) of concrete, 300mm (12 inches) of brick and 2m (6 feet 6.74 inches) of earth or sandbags. It can also perforate up to 20mm (0.8 inches) of rolled homogenous steel giving the SMAW-D the ability to take on soft and light armoured vehicles. For training at the range a 21mm sub calibre training system can be used. While the usefulness of the M141 might be questioned, as it isn’t an anti-tank weapon and could be considered more of an offensive rather than defensive weapon it would no doubt prove very useful during urban fighting, which Ukraine anticipates in the event of an invasion.

The SMAW-D saw service with the US Army during the War in Afghanistan and during the Iraq War. Some 6,000 units were initially procured, with an unknown number procured since. It remains an active part of Nammo’s product line. 

Airmen and civilians from the 436th Aerial Port Squadron palletize ammunition, weapons and other equipment bound for Ukraine during a foreign military sales mission at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Jan. 21, 2022. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mauricio Campino)

It is estimated that perhaps 100 M141 BDMs have been shipped to Ukraine so far as part of military aid, alongside small arms and ammunition, Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missiles and NLAW anti-tank weapons from the UK. From the US Department of Defense’s packaging configuration table for the SMAW-D we know that each metal container holds one round and that 25 containers can be placed on a pallet. This appears to match up to the photos of the weapons being prepared for shipment. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defence and media have shared photographs of Ukrainian personnel training with M141s under the supervision of US troops. The training took place over two days at the 184th Training Center and the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security of the National Ground Forces Academy. These personnel will likely be tasked with then training other Ukrainian units on how to use the weapon. 

M141/SMAW-D Specifications:

Length(extended/ready to fire): 1,371mm (54.8inches)
Length(closed/carry): 792mm (31.8inches)
Weight(ready to fire): 7.12 kilograms (15.7 pounds)
Rocket muzzle velocity: 217 meters per second (712 feet per second)
Rocket diameter:83mm (3.26 inches)
Minimum arming range: 15 meters
Maximum effective range: 300 meters
Maximum range: 500 meters


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography: 

FM 3-23.25 Shoulder-Launched Munitions, 2006, US Army

Bunker Defeat Munition (BDM), Nammo, (source)

M141 Training, Ukraine Ministry of Defence, (source)

M141 Training, Ukraine Land Forces, (source)

Thank you to Amael for sharing some of the documents and manuals used to make this video.

Footage/Imagery: 

Marines fire SMAW, have a blast, USMC, (source)

Dover supports strategic partnership with Ukraine, US Air Force, (source)

Dover AFB supports US, Ukraine strategic partnership, US Air Force, (source)

Sadr City 2008 SMAW D, Gold 5 Publishing, (source)
SMAW-D (AT-4) fired in combat Sadr City, Iraq, Bowen11b, (source)

Improvised Bazooka Mine

I recently came across an interesting segment in a January 1945 US Army Combat Bulletin newsreel. It showed men of B Company of the 238th Combat Engineers setting up improvised anti-tank mines in Belgium. The mines were fashioned from Bazooka rockets!

A still from Combat Bulletin #39 showing an engineer from the 238th Combat Engineer Battalion setting up an improvised off route rocket mine on a fence post (US Army)

This is a relatively little-known application for the Bazooka’s rockets but a really interesting field expediency. The footage shows engineers cutting the cardboard tubes the Bazooka’s rockets were carried in, down and attaching them to a fence post. Essentially setting up an off-route mine or IED. The engineers run a wire back to cover for remote detonation with some batteries. 

Diagram showing how the rocket could be buried (1944 US Army field manual)

While these seems quite ad hoc it was a secondary use for the Rocket Launcher’s ammunition which was laid down in the Bazooka’s 1944 basic field manual. It doesn’t appear in the 1943 technical manual for the M1A1 launcher at all but the 1944 manual explains that 

“In addition to its use as a projectile when fired from the launcher, the rocket may be prepared for firing electrically and used as an improvised anti-tank mine.”

Diagram showing the transport packing and transit cannister tube for the M6 Rocket, the tube could be used as a makeshift launch tube (US Army)

This improvised method of use was also demonstrated in a training film for the Rocket Launcher, a Bazooka team are seen digging a pit in a road and burying a rocket in its makeshift launcher just as laid down in the manual. The training film explains it best…

A still from the 1943 US Army training film for the Bazooka, demonstrating the setting up of an improvised rocket mine (US Army)

The 238th Combat Engineer battalion fought in the Battle of the Bulge and received a commendation from Major General Matthew B. Ridgeway, commander of XVIII Corps, for helping to establish a line of defence against the German offensive. The commendation read: 

“The work of the 238th Engineer Combat Battalion in the construction of the initial barrier in the vicinity of Manhay was outstanding and materially assisted the Corps in holding off the attack of the enemy in that area.”

Illustration from a 238th Combat Engineer Battalion Association book showing knocked out German tanks around Grandmenil (238th Combat Engineer Battalion Association)

Whether this technique of improvising a mine from the rockets was used during the battle is unclear but I found the footage of the engineers demonstrating the set up fascinating. Its always interesting to see suggestions from manuals and training films put into action in the field so I was excited to come across this footage. 


If you enjoyed this video and article please consider supporting our work here. We have some great perks available for Patreon Supporters – including custom stickers and early access to videos! Thank you for your support!


Bibliography:

238th Combat Engineer Battalion Association (source)

The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, H.C. Cole, 1965, (source)

Footage:

The Anti-Tank Rocket M6” 1943 US Army Training Film; M1 & M1A1 Bazookas, War Department

Combat Bulletin No.39, War Department

Behind the Scenes at the Tank Museum

Here’s a behind the scenes look at the filming Matt did at The Tank Museum for the upcoming ‘Rhineland 45 – Decision in the West’ documentary being produced by Realtime History, the guys behind The Great War!

Panzerfaust & Panzerschreck (Matthew Moss)

Be sure to check out the project here.

More behind the scenes footage coming soon with a look at the Vickers Gun shoot!

My New Book on the PIAT is Out Now!

I’m very excited to say that my second book has been published! It looks at the much maligned and much misunderstood PIAT – Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank.

The book is available from retailers from the 20th August in the UK/Europe and the 22nd September in the US – but you can order a copy from me now regardless of location. I filmed a short video to show you the book and talk a bit about the process of writing it, check that out above.

The PIAT was the British infantry’s primary anti-tank weapon of the second half of the Second World War. Unlike the better known US Bazooka the PIAT wasn’t a rocket launcher – it was a spigot mortar. Throwing a 2.5lb bomb, containing a shaped charge capable of penetrating up to 4 inches of armour. Thrown from the spigot by a propellant charge in the base of the bomb, it used a powerful spring to soak up the weapon’s heavy recoil and power its action.

With a limited range the PIAT’s users had to be incredibly brave. This becomes immediately obvious when we see just how many Victoria Crosses, Military Medals and Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded to men who used the PIAT in action. 

The book includes numerous accounts of how the PIAT was used and how explores just how effective it was. I have spent the past 18 months researching and writing the book and it is great to finally see a copy in person and know it’s now available.

The book includes brand new information dug up from in-depth archival research, never before seen photographs of the PIAT in development and in-service history and it also includes some gorgeous illustrations by Adam Hook and an informative cutaway graphic by Alan Gilliland.

If you order a book directly from me I’ll also include this custom illustrated postcard with a design featuring a PIAT and the famous line from A Bridge Too Far.

It’s immensely exciting to know the book is out in the world for all too enjoy. If you’d like a copy of my new book looking at the PIAT’s design, development and operational history you can order one directly from me here!

Me, bringing up the PIAT…

Thanks for your support and if you pick up a copy of the book I really hope you enjoy it! 

– Matt