PNG images: RPG
A rocket-propelled grenade (often abbreviated RPG) is a shoulder-fired anti-tank weapon system that fires rockets equipped with an explosive warhead. Most RPGs can be carried by an individual soldier. These warheads are affixed to a rocket motor which propels the RPG towards the target and they are stabilized in flight with fins. Some types of RPG are reloadable with new rocket-propelled grenades, while others are single-use. RPGs, with some exceptions, are generally loaded from the muzzle.
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RPGs with high explosive anti-tank warheads (HEAT) are very effective against armored vehicles such as armoured personnel carriers (APCs). However, heavily armored vehicles from the 2010s, such as main battle tanks, are generally too well armored (with thick armor) to be penetrated by an RPG, unless weaker sections of the armor or tank are exploited. Various warheads are also capable of causing secondary damage to vulnerable systems (especially sights, tracks, rear and roof of turrets) and other un-armoured targets.
The term "rocket-propelled grenade" is, strictly speaking, a backronym; it stems from the Russian language РПГ or ручной противотанковый гранатомёт (transliterated as "ruchnoy protivotankovy granatomyot"), meaning "hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher", the name given to early Russian designs.
The static nature of trench warfare in World War I encouraged the use of shielded defenses, even including personal armor, that were impenetrable by standard rifle ammunition. This led to some isolated experiments with higher caliber rifles, similar to elephant guns, using armor-piercing ammunition. The very first tanks, the British Mark I, could be penetrated by these weapons under the right conditions. Mark IV tanks, however, had slightly thicker armor. In response, the German rushed to create an upgraded version of these early anti-armor rifles, the Tankgewehr M1918, the first anti-tank rifle. In the inter-war years, tank armor continued to increase overall, to the point that anti-tank rifles could no longer be effective against anything but light tanks; any rifle made powerful enough for heavier tanks would exceed the ability of a soldier to carry and fire the weapon.
Even with the first tanks, artillery officers often used field guns depressed to fire directly at armored targets. However, this practice expended much valuable ammunition and was of increasingly limited effectiveness as tank armor became thicker. This led to the concept of anti-tank guns, a form of artillery specifically designed to destroy armored fighting vehicles, normally from static defensive positions (that is, immobile during a battle).
The first dedicated anti-tank artillery began appearing in the 1920s, and by World War II was a common appearance in most armies. In order to penetrate armor they fired specialized ammunition from proportionally longer barrels to achieve a higher muzzle velocity than field guns. Most anti-tank guns were developed in the 1930s as improvements in tanks were noted, and nearly every major arms manufacturer produced one type or another.
Anti-tank guns deployed during World War II were manned by specialist infantry rather than artillery crews, and issued to infantry units accordingly. The anti-tank guns of the 1930s were of small caliber; nearly all major armies possessing them used 37mm ammunition, except for the British Army, which had developed the 40mm Ordnance QF 2-pounder. As World War II progressed, the appearance of heavier tanks rendered these weapons obsolete and anti-tank guns likewise began firing larger calibre and more effective armor-piercing shells. Although a number of large caliber guns were developed during the war that were capable of knocking out the most heavily armored tanks, they proved slow to set up and difficult to conceal. The latter generation of low-recoil anti-tank weapons, which allowed projectiles the size of an artillery shell to be fired from a man's shoulder, was considered a far more viable option for arming infantrymen.