The tank undoubtedly made its presence felt in the many ferocious ground battles of World War 2 (1939-1945). With this consistent threat, warplanners from all sides clamored to find tank-killing solutions and this ultimately ran the gamut of various land mines, "sticky bombs", Anti-Tank Rifles (ATRs), and - of course - the shoulder-fired rocket launcher. In the post-war years, perhaps no other nation could lay claim to finding as much success in this field as the Soviet Union did with their "Ruchnoy Protivotankovy Granatomyot" - or "RPG" - line of man-portable, shoulder-fired tank-killing solutions which continues today.
The series originated with the largely forgotten "RPG-1" model of the World War 2 period. A considerable amount of time was spent on bringing this weapon about but inherent deficiencies ultimately led to development of its successor, the RPG-2. Nevertheless, it was the RPG-1 that laid the groundwork of the form and function that was to become the RPG-2 - and the even more popular RPG-7 series still to come.
During the World War 2 period, the Soviets certainly gained an appreciation for the results being had from the American "Bazooka" anti-tank rocket launcher line and the German weapon based off of it - the "Panzerschreck". This appreciation led to much engineering work spanning from 1944 until 1948 to develop the RPG-1. As the RPG-2 began to show more promise and right-the-wrongs of the limited RPG-1, it was selected ahead of the RPG-1 in 1947.
The RPG-2 was essentially a culmination of the RPG-1 and rectified issues centered primarily on armor penetration at-range, general action difficulties, and inconsistencies in propellant behavior (which proved highly susceptible to environmental factors). The RPG-2 did, however, retain the RPG-1's stable accuracy which was due to the low muzzle velocity of the out-going projectile. It also carried a highly portable design and managed to improve on engagement ranges and armor penetration.
The new weapon weighed just 6.25lb unloaded and reached 10.3lb when ready-to-fire while being a manageable 47.2 inches long. While two operators were used to achieve optimal results in the field, the weapon could just as easily be handled by a single person. The compact nature of the rocket grenade also meant that a single infantryman could carry multiple reloads.
The weapon consisted of a basic steel tube form that was open at both ends. Over the front end was fitted the forward sighting device that was of a flip-up type design. This was paired with a primary sight held closer to the firer's face near the midway point of the tube. The extreme aft-end of the tube was open to allow propellant gasses to be jettisoned rearwards, away from the firer. Under the forward section of the tube lay the combination trigger unit / pistol grip. Wood furniture encased the middle section of the tube to serve as a shoulder support section. The launch tube's caliber was 40mm.
The rocket grenade, designated "PG-2 HEAT" ("High-Explosive, Anti-Tank"), was a fin-stabilized munition in which the fins, being spring-loaded, sprung into action upon leaving the launch tube. This stabilization effect allowed for some accuracy to be had over range as the projectile made its way towards the target. The projectiles caliber was 82mm.
A trained crew could fire off between three and four rocket grenades a minute out to a range of 150 meters. Because of back-blast, operators would have to make sure no one stood behind the launch tube during the process and firing from cover, such as buildings, was restricted some. Absolute range of the RPG-2 was listed at 200 meters which gave the weapon a useful reach across the battlefield.
The RPG-2 series entered service with the Soviet Army service in 1954. Specialized optics support was added as soon as 1957 to allow for night-fighting (through the "RPG-2N" variant).
In practice, the weapon proved so successful that it permeated the many global battlefields of the Cold War period (1947-1991), seeing action in the bloody Vietnam War (and its related regional conflicts), the Nigerian Civil War, the Rhodesian Bush War, the Salvadorian Civil War, the Somali Civil War, and the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s to name a few. The weapon was used extensively in the Vietnam War by North Vietnam forces against American and South Vietnamese targets for the duration of the conflict as it was easy to come by, easy to operate and maintain, and packed a punch against unarmored and armored targets as well as fortifications.
The weapon's reach has been such that is has appeared in more recent conflicts of the new millennium, noted in the Cambodian-Thai Stand-Off of 2008, the 2010-2012 Burma Border Clashes, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Libyan Civil War, the Iraqi Civil War, and the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
Just a few nations actively use the RPG-2 series in a frontline capacity today and this includes North Korea (where has been locally-produced), Somalia, Syria, and Thailand. The Taliban is a known active user of the type as well. The list of former users includes (but is not limited to) Cambodia, China, East Germany, Egypt, Hungary, Libya, Mongolia, Myanmar, Poland, Romania, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.
In Chinese military service, the RPG-2 was designated the "Type 56" and these were eventually succeeded by the Type 69 series. The former Yugoslavia produced the Soviet RPG-2 as the "M57" while the weapon was designated by Vietnam as the "B-40". The "B-50" counterpart was given a greater caliber (50mm) and increased overall dimensions.