Soviet-era rocket launchers are still in service on the Ukrainian front

For a handful of Ukrainian gunners camping under a clump of trees not far from Russian lines, the day passes by a BM-21 Grad rocket launcher awaiting firing orders.

The Soviet-made device is the 1960s version of “Stalin’s Organs”, a fearsome World War II weapon that terrorized Nazi German soldiers, its 40 tubes capable of launching 122mm rockets that could hit targets up to ’20 kilometers (12 miles) one way.

Far behind them, the Ukrainian guns pulverize the Russian positions from above.

The latter replied in a fierce artillery duel along the entire length of the front line.

Wearing his cap backwards, Maksym, a bearded man in his thirties, explained to AFP that the day was “hectic”.

“This morning they (the Russians) shot at us, not far away. We were forced to descend into the shelters. Now it’s calmer,” he said over the din of artillery exchanges.

The coffee had just been served in plastic cups when the order from command finally arrived.

The men grab their guns, helmets and bulletproof vests and run towards the truck which takes off, revving its powerful diesel engine before rolling at breakneck speed through the fields.

Thunderous crash

Suddenly it stops. The tubes rise and turn as the men make final adjustments.

Only three minutes after the truck stopped, five rockets came out of the tubes one by one in a thunderous crash.

Each Grad rocket, which means “hail”, launches a lightning bolt in its wake amid a thick cloud of smoke.

It’s time to leave: being spotted by enemy radars risks triggering a rapid and destructive response.

As soon as possible, the truck returns to the “base” to take cover, the target remaining confidential to AFP journalists, as are the techniques used to target it.

“We get the order, and the target we have to hit,” said a 23-year-old officer nicknamed “Buk” (“beech”), coincidentally the name of the Russian missile system that shot down a plane in 2014 line over the same region, killing 298 people.

“We go, deal with the target and come back.”

Asked about the effectiveness in modern warfare of the Grad, a weapon designed 60 years ago, Buk insisted that “the effectiveness of the weapon depends on (the skills of) those who use it”.

“This weapon is still effective because it has a long range and can hit many targets,” he added.

“It depends how pissed off the Russians are, if they don’t leave our infantry alone, we go out a lot more,” he said when asked how many times a day they perform this maneuver.

And as for the decision taken on Wednesday by the Russian President Vladimir Poutine to order a “partial” mobilization of 300,000 men, Buk replied bluntly: “That will be enough for us to fertilize our land”.

Comments are closed.