The musical origins of the Katyusha rocket

Video footage showing Katyusha missile launchers that were attacked on July 23, from the air by the IDF.  (IDF Spokepserson)

Video footage showing Katyusha missile launchers that were attacked on July 23, from the air by the IDF. (IDF Spokepserson)

MOSCOW, July 31 (JTA) — The Katyusha rockets that are raining down on Israel are named after a love song written by a Russian Jewish composer. The song is about Katyusha, a diminutive of the Russian name Ekaterina or Katerina, who is longing for her beloved who is away on military service. The music for the song was written in 1938 by Matvey Blanter, a Soviet composer of Jewish origin. The lyrics were penned by Mikhail Isakovsky. The rocket launchers were first used by the Red Army in July 1941, weeks after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The Germans called the weapon Stalinorgel, or Stalin’s Organ, because of its organ-like appearance and the sound of the rockets, which was like a pipe organ. Known for its simple design, the weapon could be mounted on trucks and tanks — and even on tractors. The wide use of Katyushas by the Red Army was due to the fact that the rockets were inexpensive to produce, though they were fragile. The launchers took a long time to reload but could deliver a devastating amount of explosives to a target area in a short period of time, although with poor accuracy. The Soviet Union never used the original Katyushas after World War II, although upgraded versions of Soviet multiple launchers were introduced in the early 1960s. This type of weapon has been widely used since the 1960s by various insurgent groups around the world, from the National Front for the Liberation of Vietnam to the Iraqi insurgency to the Taliban and Hezbollah. The postwar version of the Katyusha made it to the Middle East through the extensive sale of Soviet-made weaponry to the Arab world after the 1967 Six-Day War.

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