The R4M (German: Rakete, 4Kilogramm, Minenkopf) rocket, nicknamed the Hurricane (German: Orkan) due to its distinctive smoke trail when fired, was an anti-aircraft rocket. It was developed by the German Luftwaffe during World War II.

R4M rocket
R4M AT version
The anti-tank version of the R4M rocket known as the Panzerblitz on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Place of originGermany
Service history
In service1944-1945
Used byLuftwaffe
WarsWorld War II
Production history
ManufacturerHeber AG, Osterode, Germany
VariantsAir-to-air & Air-to-ground
Mass3.85 kg
Length812 mm
Width55 mm

Muzzle velocity525 m/s (1,175 mph)
Effective firing range600-1,000 m
Maximum firing range1,500 m
Filling weight520 g Hexogen for air-to-air role


The R4M was developed in order to deal with the increasing weight of anti-bomber weapons being deployed by Luftwaffe fighters. The primary anti-bomber weapon of the Luftwaffe for much of the war was the 20 mm MG 151/20 autocannon, which was compact enough to be mounted in an internal wing bay mounting in the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 (up to 4 cannon, or 6 with optional twin-gun underwing pods) and also fitted on the centerline of Bf 109G fighters, firing through the propeller spinner as a Motorkanone. This could be supplemented by an additional pair of cannon in drag-inducing underwing gun pods, but it was found that it took an average of twenty 20 mm hits to shoot down a typical four-engined Allied bomber. The MG 151/20 was subsequently supplemented with or replaced by the 30 mm MK 108 cannon, which replaced the centerline Motorkanone-mount MG 151/20 on many Bf 109's, and could be fitted into slightly larger underwing pods, which could be used on either the Bf 109 or Fw 190. This heavier-caliber cannon could bring down a bomber with an average of one to three hits. However the MK 108 was much heavier and the larger calibre ammunition made it difficult to carry more than one or two "passes" worth. Worse, the low muzzle velocity of this gun meant it had a very short range and suffered a ballistic drop of over 41 metres at 1,000 metres range after firing. In approaching close enough to get hits, the fighters placed themselves within the range of the dozens of AN/M2 "light barrel" Browning defensive machine guns that a combat box formation of a typical USAAF heavy bomber raid possessed, from nearly any approach direction. The more powerful MK 103 cannon had higher muzzle velocity and increased range, at the cost of greatly increased weight, size (barrel length of 1.34 meters, or 52-3/4 inches) and much lower rate of fire: 380-420 RPM vs. 600-650 RPM for the MK 108.

Also, the Nebelwerfer 42-derived Werfer-Granate 21 (Wfr. Gr. 21, or Bordrakete BR 21) rockets fitted to Messerschmitt Bf 109 and Bf 110, and Focke-Wulf Fw 190 fighters, used to break up the USAAF combat box bomber formations, had launch tubes that were not only drag-producing, due to their exposed five-strut under-wing mounting, but also from the fact that the launch tubes needed to be aimed upwards at some 15° from level flight, to counter the BR 21 rocket projectile's considerable ballistic drop after firing. This added to the already considerable drag the launch tube mountings created, and contributed to the Wfr. Gr 21's relatively slow projectile velocity of 1,150 km/h (715 mph), approximately 60% of the 505 m/s (1818 km/h) velocity of the MK 108 cannon's shells.

The solution was to replace the underwing gun pods, and the excessively drag-producing large-calibre underwing rocket launch tubes, with a small-diameter solid-fuel rocket-engine-propelled projectile, mounting a warhead similar to that of the cannon shell. Although each "round" was heavier than the corresponding gun-fired shell, the absence of a gun reduced the overall weight considerably. The weight difference was so great that even a much larger and longer-ranged rocket was still lighter than the guns it could replace, although the total number of rounds carried was also reduced from 65 rounds of 30 mm ammunition to only 24 rockets.

The anti-aircraft version of the R4M used a large warhead of 55 mm with 520 g. (17.6 ounces) of the strongly brisant Hexogen explosive charge, nearly guaranteeing a fighter kill with one hit, from the "shattering" force of its explosive warhead — this was the same explosive used in the shells fired by both the MK 103 (30 x 184 mm cartridge) and MK 108 (30 x 90 mm cartridge) autocannons. Each R4M weighed 3.2 kg and was provided with enough fuel to be fired from 1000 m, just outside the range of the bomber's defensive guns. The main body of the rocket consisted of a simple steel tube with eight base-hinged flip-out fins on the tail for stabilisation, deployed immediately after launch. A battery typically consisted of two groups of 12 rockets and when all 24 were salvoed in an attack, they would fill an area about 15 by 30 m at 1000 m, a density that made it almost certain that the target would be hit. The R4Ms were usually fired in four salvos of six missiles at intervals of 70 milliseconds from a range of 600 m, and would supersonically streak towards their target at a sixty percent higher velocity than the Wfr. Gr. 21's rockets would (the BR 21's projectile travelled at some 1150 km/h post-launch), as the R4M typically had a flight speed of roughly 1,890 km/h (1,175 mph). Two warheads were available for the R4M, the common PB-3 with a 0.4 kg charge for anti-aircraft use and the larger shaped charge, similar in construction to the Panzerschreck, the Panzerblitz (PB-2/3), for anti-tank use. The Panzerblitz III, mounting a gigantic 210 mm hollow charge warhead (the same calibre as the BR 21), can be seen as the ultimate development of the basic Orkan rocket. It was intended to be carried (six or eight rockets per plane) by the tank-busting B model of the Henschel Hs 132 jet dive-bomber - however, neither the missile nor the warplane it was exclusively intended for got beyond the prototype stage before the end of the war.


Me 262 with R4M installation
Me 262 with R4M underwing rockets on display at the Technikmuseum Speyer, Germany

Only a small number of aircraft were fitted with the R4M, mostly Messerschmitt Me 262s and the ground attack version of the Fw 190s, which mounted them on small wooden racks under the wings. On one occasion, a Me 163A was fitted with several R4M rockets, and this setup was tested for several weeks in 1944, without incident. This was the first time a rocket propelled aircraft has had rocket propelled armament.

The Luftwaffe found the R4M missiles to have a similar trajectory to the 30 mm MK 108 cannon's rounds in flight, so the standard Revi 16B gunsight could be utilized.[1]

See also



  1. ^ Jeffrey L. Ethell; Alfred Price (1 April 1994). World War II fighting jets. Airlife. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-85310-406-0. Retrieved 3 September 2013.
  2. ^ Ziegler, Mano (July 1984). Rocket Fighter (2nd ed.). New York City: Bantam Books. pp. 155–156. ISBN 0-553-27348-5.

External links

35 mm Bessa

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Air-to-air rocket

For air-to-air missiles, see Air to air missile.

An air-to-air rocket or air interception rocket is an unguided projectile fired from aircraft to engage other flying targets. They were used briefly in World War I to engage enemy observation balloons and in and after World War II to engage enemy bombers. Fighters were too maneuverable to be effectively engaged with rockets.

Bachem Ba 349

The Bachem Ba 349 Natter (English: Colubrid, grass-snake) was a World War II German point-defence rocket-powered interceptor, which was to be used in a very similar way to a manned surface-to-air missile. After a vertical take-off, which eliminated the need for airfields, most of the flight to the Allied bombers was to be controlled by an autopilot. The primary role of the relatively untrained pilot was to aim the aircraft at its target bomber and fire its armament of rockets. The pilot and the fuselage containing the rocket-motor would then land using separate parachutes, while the nose section was disposable. The only manned vertical take-off flight, on 1 March 1945, ended in the death of the test pilot, Lothar Sieber.


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Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket

The Mk 4 Folding-Fin Aerial Rocket (FFAR), also known as Mighty Mouse, was an unguided rocket used by United States military aircraft. 2.75 inches (70 mm) in diameter, it was designed as an air-to-air weapon for interceptor aircraft to shoot down enemy bombers, but primarily saw service as an air-to-surface weapon.

Jagdgeschwader 7

Jagdgeschwader 7 (JG 7) Nowotny was a Luftwaffe fighter wing during World War II and the first operational jet fighter unit in the world. It was created late in 1944 and served until the end of the war in May 1945, and it operated the Messerschmitt Me 262 jet fighter exclusively.

Leica M mount

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List of aircraft weapons

This is a list of weapons (aircraft ordnance) carried by aircraft.

List of military rockets

This is a list of unguided rockets and missiles used for military purposes.

Messerschmitt Me 262

The Messerschmitt Me 262, nicknamed Schwalbe (German: "Swallow") in fighter versions, or Sturmvogel (German: "Storm Bird") in fighter-bomber versions, was the world's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. Design work started before World War II began, but problems with engines, metallurgy and top-level interference kept the aircraft from operational status with the Luftwaffe until mid-1944. The Me 262 was faster and more heavily armed than any Allied fighter, including the British jet-powered Gloster Meteor. One of the most advanced aviation designs in operational use during World War II, the Me 262's roles included light bomber, reconnaissance and experimental night fighter versions.

Me 262 pilots claimed a total of 542 Allied aircraft shot down, although higher claims are sometimes made. The Allies countered its effectiveness in the air by attacking the aircraft on the ground and during takeoff and landing. Strategic materials shortages and design compromises on the Junkers Jumo 004 axial-flow turbojet engines led to reliability problems. Attacks by Allied forces on fuel supplies during the deteriorating late-war situation also reduced the effectiveness of the aircraft as a fighting force. Armament production within Germany was focused on more easily manufactured aircraft. In the end, the Me 262 had a negligible impact on the course of the war as a result of its late introduction and the consequently small numbers put in operational service.While German use of the aircraft ended with the close of World War II, a small number were operated by the Czechoslovak Air Force until 1951. It also heavily influenced several designs, such as Sukhoi Su-9 (1946) and Nakajima Kikka. Captured Me 262s were studied and flight tested by the major powers, and ultimately influenced the designs of post-war aircraft such as the North American F-86 Sabre, MiG-15 and Boeing B-47 Stratojet. Several aircraft survive on static display in museums, and there are several privately built flying reproductions that use modern General Electric J85 engines.


In military language, a missile, also known as a guided missile, is a guided self-propelled flying weapon usually propelled by a jet engine or rocket motor. This is in contrast to an unguided self-propelled flying munition, referred to as a rocket (although these too can also be guided). Missiles have four system components: targeting or missile guidance, flight system, engine, and warhead. Missiles come in types adapted for different purposes: surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missiles (ballistic, cruise, anti-ship, anti-tank, etc.), surface-to-air missiles (and anti-ballistic), air-to-air missiles, and anti-satellite weapons. Non-self-propelled airborne explosive devices are generally referred to as shells and usually have a shorter range than missiles. In ordinary language the word means an object which can be thrown, shot, or propelled toward a target.

Panzerblitz (missile)

Panzerblitz is a German anti-tank unguided aerial rocket developed during the Second World War.

The missile was based on the R4M Orkan air-to-air rocket used by the Messerschmitt Me 262. It was fitted with either an 80 mm (3.1 in)-diameter standard warhead, in Panzerblitz I, or a 210 mm (8.3 in)-diameter hollow charge warhead, in the Panzerblitz III.

It was intended to be operated by the Henschel Hs 132, which would carry up to eight rockets, complementing or even replacing the cannon armament in the tank-destroying role. The 80mm model was tested extensively in early 1945 from Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, but neither Panzerblitz I nor Panzerblitz III (earmarked exclusively for the Hs 132) were ready for use by the German surrender in May 1945.

Ruhrstahl X-4

The Ruhrstahl Ru 344 X-4 or Ruhrstahl-Kramer RK 344 was a wire guided air-to-air missile designed by Germany during World War II. The X-4 did not see operational service and thus was not proven in combat but inspired considerable post-war work around the world and was the basis for the development of several ground-launched anti-tank missiles, including the Malkara.

Work on the X-4 began in June 1936, by Dr Max Kramer at Ruhrstahl. The idea was to build a missile with enough range to allow it to be fired from outside the range of the bombers' guns (what is now called a stand-off weapon), while being guided with enough accuracy to guarantee a "kill". The X-4 met these specifications and more; its BMW 109-448 rocket motor accelerated the missile to over 1,150 km/h (715 mph) - and kept the X-4 there during its "cruise", between 1.5 and 4 km (0.9-2.5 mi), while the defensive guns had a maximum effective range of about 1000 m (1,094 yd).

The rocket burned a hypergolic mixture of S-Stoff (nitric acid with 5% iron(III) chloride) and R-Stoff (an organic amine-mixture of 50% dimethylaminobenzene and 50% triethylamine called Tonka 250) as propellant, delivering 140 kg (310 lb) thrust initially, declining to 30 kg (66 lb) over the 17-second burn. As there was no room for a fuel pump, the fuels were forced into the motor by pistons inside long tubes, the tubes being coiled (similar to a coil spring) to fit inside the airframe. S-Stoff was so corrosive, it dissolved all base metals and was extremely difficult and dangerous to handle. The Germans planned to replace the motor with a solid fuel design as soon as possible.

The missile was spin-stabilized at about 60 rpm, or one rotation a second, so any asymmetrical thrust from the engine or inaccuracies in the control surfaces would be evened out. Signals to operate control surfaces on the tail were sent via two wires (a method chosen to avoid jamming), which unwound from bobbins housed within long, bullet-shaped fairings, themselves mounted either on the roots of an opposing pair of the larger mid-body fins (there were four, swept 45°), or on one pair of those same fins' opposing tips; these contained a total of about 5.5 km (3.4 mi; 3.0 nmi) of wire. The wires were controlled by a joystick in the cockpit. A gyroscope kept track of "up" so control inputs from the pilot's joystick in the launch aircraft could be translated into yaw and pitch as the missile spun. Flares attached to two of the midsection wings were used to keep the missile visible through the smoke of its motor.

The warhead consisted of a 20 kg (44 lb) fragmentation device that had a lethal radius of about 8 m (26 ft). It was thought that the guidance system would allow the pilot to get the missile into this range in terms of pitch and yaw, but at the ranges the missile could operate at it would be almost impossible to judge range to anywhere near this accuracy. For this reason the missile mounted a proximity fuze known as Kranich, an acoustical system tuned to the 200 Hz sound of the B-17's engines in cruise, activated by the Doppler shift as the missile approached. The trigger range was 7 m (23 ft).The first flight test occurred on August 11, 1939 using a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 for the launch platform. Subsequent tests used the Junkers Ju 88 and Messerschmitt Me 262, although they were not launched from the latter. The X-4 had originally been intended for use by single-seat fighters (including the Me 262 and possibly the Dornier Do 335), but the problems in guiding both the missile and the aircraft at the same time proved unworkable. Instead, the X-4 was re-directed to multi-seat aircraft like the Ju 88, while the unguided R4M rocket was to be used in single-seaters.

The X-4 was designed to be easily assembled by unskilled labour and airframe production began in 1939 incorporating low-cost (non-strategic) materials, such as wood for fins. Production was hampered by Allied bombing of the BMW rocket engine factory at Stargard, though as many as 1,000 X-4s may have been completed, the missile was never officially delivered to the Luftwaffe. The fighter-interceptor designed to use this missile as its primary weapon was the Focke-Wulf Ta 183 Huckebein, which never got out of the project stage.

After the war, French engineers tried to develop a domestic version of the X-7, the Nord SS.10. 200 units were manufactured between 1947 and 1950. However, the program was disbanded due to the dangerous pre-flight refuelling involved (the hypergolic nitric acid and Tonka combination was highly explosive).

Schlachtgeschwader 77

Schlachtgeschwader 77 (SG 77) was a Luftwaffe close air support Geschwader during World War II. It was formed on 18 October 1943 in Wassilkow from Stab/Sturzkampfgeschwader 77. With the exception of II. Group, which was redesignated as III. Group, Schlachtgeschwader 10, the remaining groups were renamed to Schlachtgeschwader 77. On 3 March 1945, 9. Staffel equipped its Fw 190F-8s with Panzerblitz 80 mm anti-tank rockets. Adapted from the R4M rocket, these were carried under the outboard wings.

On 17 April 1945 Stab and III./SG 77 were based at Kamenz, north-east of Dresden. A formation of P-51s of the 55th Fighter Group spotted SG 77's aircraft preparing to take-off. 116-kill 'ace' Oberleutnant August Lambert and two other pilots were taking off when the American fighters appeared. The Fw 190s jettisoned their bombs and tried to escape but all three were shot down, Lambert being killed in his Fw 190 F-8 'Black 9 + ' north of Hoyerswerda. Seven other Fw 190s were destroyed or badly damaged on the ground at Kamenz by the P-51s.

Zeppelin Rammer

The Zeppelin Rammer (German: Rammjäger) was a design proposal by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin intended to use aerial ramming against the allied bombers attacking Nazi Germany during World War II.

German Aerial Weapons of World War II
Anti-tank autocannons
Unguided rockets
Guided bombs and Missiles
Anti-personnel bombs
Armor-piercing bombs
Cluster bombs
High-explosive bombs
Experimental weapons


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