In June of 1941, the German Army invaded the Soviet Union through "Operation Barbarossa" beginning the East Front which would go on to become one of Adolf Hitler's critical mistakes in World War 2. Hitler was convinced that his blitzkrieg steamroller could overtake the vast reaches of the Soviet Empire within time and made large gains in the open rounds of the offensive, taking the Soviets completely by surprise. The Red Army, however, was not without hope for it held an array of weapons in which to help defend and, hopefully, stave off complete elimination at the hands of the Germans. Chief among these weapons were anti-tank systems directly designed to meet armored drives head-on.
While these weapons - to include the RPG-40 anti-tank stick grenade of 1940 - proved effective against the early generations of German tanks - mainly the Panzer I and Panzer II light tank series - they became less effective when the German Army began unveiling their Panzer III and Panzer IV medium tank series. The Soviet need for improved anti-tank weaponry became readily apparent by the time the Germans delivered their new Panther (Panzer V) medium-heavy and Tiger I heavy tanks to the East Front. This pushed Soviet authorities to request much improved weapons from their manufacturing districts to which the RPG-43 series anti-tank stick grenade - a much improved form of the original RPG-40 series - resulted. Beyond its obvious external differences to the RPG-40, the RPG-43 featured a shaped charge HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) warhead against the HE (High-Explosive) type as featured in the preceding RPG-40 series. As the designation would suggest, the RPG-43 entered Soviet Army service in 1943, directly replacing the RPG-40 in service as the standard Red Army anti-tank hand grenade for the duration of the war.
Design of the RPG-43 followed along the same lines as that of the RPG-40. It was based around the relatively handy concept of a "stick" grenade in which the design was characterized by its long wooden handle capped by the canister containing the explosive content. The handle and canister were separated by a tapered conical housing. The weapon weighed in at 1.24 kilograms and featured a diameter measuring in at 95mm. The warhead was filled with a TNT shaped charge weighing in at 0.61 kilograms designed to inflict maximum damage against armored surfaces. Detonation was by way of an inertial impact fuse, detonating upon contact against the target or target area.
The operator activated the RPG-43 by pulling a safety ring from the wooden handle stem. From there, the operator proceeded to throw the grenade against the intended target. As such, the range of the grenade was really only as far as the use could throw it. This often times meant that the operator would need to be relatively close to the target, unnecessarily exposing himself to enemy fire. Additionally, the weight of the stick grenade worked against the thrower as it was much more heavier than the standard infantry hand grenade - throwing ranges were therefore about half of that as found in the lighter and smaller hand grenades. Regardless, the cumbersome system was effective against armor up to 75mm in thickness at a 90-degree angle. The type was also easy-to-use, requiring little training, and - perhaps more importantly - cheap to mass-produce for the wartime Soviet Union.
The RPG-43 proved highly efficient and effective upon its introduction and immediately moved to replace the RPG-40 as the standard Soviet Army anti-tank grenade. An improved version of the RPG-43 - the conically-capped, air-stabilized "RPG-6" - appeared later in 1943 and was used throughout the remainder of the war as well. Both the RPG-43 and RPG-6 would see use in the post-war years and throughout the Cold War decades thereafter, finding homes in the inventories of several Warsaw Pact and Soviet-allied nations and states. Beyond combat actions in World War 2, the RPG-43 also saw service in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the follow-up Six Day War and the upcoming Yom Kippur War.
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