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GP-25 - one man's artillery system

This little Soviet device made a truly big impact on the recent military history in the Eastern hemisphere and continues to shape it to this day. In this article, we will explore how GP-25 was adopted in the Soviet Army and how it was put into practice during the Soviet-Afghan War. This article is a part of a bigger list, which covers all the weapons used by the Soviet troops in Afghanistan.


The pre-history of under-barrel launchers

The idea to equip an infantryman with technical means for throwing hand grenades at long ranges (over 100 m) was embodied in metal at the end of the XIX century. The so-called rifle grenades were adopted at a large scale during the First World War by most major powers.

The grenade was worn directly on the muzzle of the barrel and its throwing was carried out by the energy released when a live or blank cartridge was fired. Despite the rather high efficiency of using such grenades, they nevertheless had a number of disadvantages - different launchers had different flaws. The most common were:

  • inability of using the rifle for regular fire when the grenade or the launcher was attached

  • the need for special blank ammunition

  • very significant and premature wear of the barrel or muzzle (or both)

Further development and improvement of this type of individual weapon was undeservedly forgotten. Most major arms manufacturers scrapped any work in this direction in the 1970s, with the mass adoption of under-barrel grenade launchers. In my opinion, these two weapon systems do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Testing of TKB-048 - a competitor to what will later become GP-25

The development history of GP-25

In the 1960s, the Soviet small arms industry was presented with a new type of weapon - an American 40-mm XM148 under-barrel grenade launcher. The higher officials knew that the Soviet Army is lacking a similar solution so they decided that is it a worthy idea. For that reason, a standardized process of technical contests was launched and by 1970 two experimental launchers were presented to the commission (five, in fact, but they were repeating themselves).

TKB-0121 - the working prototype of the future grenade launcher

The model TKB-0121 designed by V.N.Telesh was considered for further development and late adapted for service in 1978. As it later turned out, it was just in time for the Soviet-Afghan War. Not much else is known about the development process of the GP-25.

GP-25 in the Soviet-Afghan War

The GP-25 played a significant role in the Soviet-Afghan War. As the weapon system adapted a year short of the invasion, it became really popular and was supplied in big numbers from the very early months of the war - the Soviet industry was at its peak. The GP-25 was supplied to all branches of the Army - infantry, support troops, but most importantly and in biggest numbers - to Airborne and Spetsnaz. This little addition to an AK turned out to be a huge helper for all those who experienced firefights on daily bases.

Spring of 1980 for 56th DShB. Officer on the right has the GP-25 and it is one of the earliest evidences of the grenade launcher in use

Afghanistan proved to be the best possible battleground for testing this new weapon. The rocky mountainous terrain really called for a weapon that could get the enemy behind his cover. GP-25 was the best possible option, as it was freely available on section level - soldiers did not have to wait for 82mm mortar or AGS-17 support.

The initial order of issue of GP-25 grenade launchers was one per section, three per platoon - one for each section commander of his second in command. Very quickly, the experience gathered in Afghanistan has proved this standard wrong. Every section would prefer to have as many GP-25 grenade launchers as possible, depending on availability. It was not uncommon to gather together more grenade launchers from a "mother" unit to a smaller one when this was required for the mission.

The coolest setup for soldier in Afghanistan - AKM with NSPU, PBS-1 and GP-25. Wasn't really used in battle

Overall, GP-25 proved to be an outstanding weapon system, especially given how little time passed from adaption to actual use on the battlefield. What is quite amazing is that GP-25 did not require any significant and noticeable modifications. It was almost perfect from day one. Until now it is basically the only grenade launcher used on AK platform rifles - the newer GP-30 or GP-34 were never produced and issued in any meaningful numbers.

Earlier versions of GP-25 has the handle with a hole. While the initial idea behind the hole is unknown, soldiers successfully used it to break fingers when firing

As with any weapon system, GP-25 had its fair share of problems. Well, in fact, the grenade launcher did not have any problems itself, but it did inflict problems on everything and everyone around. Here are the three main ones:

  1. The pushback is ridiculously powerful. Shooting the GP-25 from the shoulder, as you would from a rifle will lead to a dislocated joint. As someone who had practice shooting this grenade launcher, I can vouch for that - it really does hurt. You would become combat ineffective after shooting a couple of VOG-25 projectiles. This problem was partially solved by adding a rubber pad for stock as well as teaching soldiers not to shoulder fire the weapon. By the manual one was supposed to either place the stock under the armpit or on the ground - basically treat it like a mortar.

  2. Again, the pushback was hard enough to make AK's top cover go off flying. It would not happen every time, but it was happening often enough for it to become a concern. The solution was to modify the catch on the AK's spring guide. The new one would hold the top cover safely in position.

  3. The overall impact on the AK from the GP-25 was devastating for the rifle. Just like the stocks of the WW1-style rifles would break from excessive use of rifle-fired grenades, the AKs would be damaged from systematic GP-25 fire. The kickback made the rifle vibrate so much, that it would become ineffective as a regular rifle after a couple of hundred grenade shots. It was ordered not to shoot more than 400 grenades while attached to the same rifle. See the video to actually feel the effect.

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