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R4M rocket
R4M AT version.jpg
The anti-tank version of the R4M rocket on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Type Rocket
Place of origin Germany
Service history
In service 1944-1945
Used by Luftwaffe
Wars World War II
Production history
Designed 1944
Manufacturer Heber AG, Osterode, Germany
Variants Air-to-air & Air-to-ground
Weight 3.85 kg
Length 812 mm
Width 55 mm

Muzzle velocity 525 m/s (1,175 mph)
Effective firing range 600-1,000 m
Maximum firing range 1,500 m
Filling weight 520 g Hexogen for air-to-air role

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.


The R4M was developed in order to deal with the increasing weight of anti-bomber weapons being deployed by Luftwaffe fighters. Their design had started out with the 20-mm MG 151/20 cannons, compact enough to be mounted in an internal wing bay mounting in the Focke-Wulf Fw 190, but it was found that it took an average of a score of 20-mm hits to shoot down a typical four-engined Allied bomber. The 20-mm cannons, also fitted to the Bf 109 in drag-producing underwing gun pods, were then supplemented with or replaced by the 30-mm MK 108 cannon, in slightly larger underwing pods, which could bring down a bomber with an average of one to three hits. However the MK 108 was much heavier and the larger 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 bomber's defensive guns. 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 the same as 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.

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 184mm cartridge) and MK 108 (30 x 90mm 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 traveled at some 715 mph 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 II/III (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 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.

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[edit]


  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.