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He Who Invented First Grenade Launcher

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The first automatic grenade launcher (AGL) that became the prototype of all modern AGLs was created in the 1930s by a young designer who had not even graduated from university. The cruel irony is that in 1941, he was accused of plotting the production of technically unfinished and unsatisfactory weapons systems and was executed by shooting. And in 1967, the US Navy kick-started the production of an analogous weapon, which is still exported to dozens of countries.

Yakov Taubin was born in Pinsk, Belarus, in 1900 into the family of an accountant in a forwarding office. After his father's death, he was forced to quit school and become a labourer. The young man was already 29 when he entered the Odessa Institute of Grain and Flour Technology design department. Either the university was so strong, or truly outstanding abilities distinguished the student himself. Still, two years later, he set himself the task of creating the world's first automatic grenade launcher. What was the impetus for this?

Whilst studying, the young man encountered a grenade launcher during student military training. Taubin, having plucked up courage, told the military that the weapon they were testing had several shortcomings, and he could create a perfect version by his efforts.

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In 1931 the first drawings of an AGL were ready. They turned out to be more than convincing, and in 1933 the Main Military Mobilization Administration sent the engineer to an instrumental plant to create a prototype. Then the enthusiast was transferred to Moscow, where he developed and improved the system within the specially established design bureau OKB-16 of People's Commissariat of Heavy Industry.

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The first exemplar of the grenade launcher had the calibre 40,6 mm and magazine feeding from the clip for five cartridges. It could fire single shots and bursts, direct fire or overhead trajectory. The average rate of fire was 436 rounds per minute, and the range was 1250 m. The grenade launcher was initially mounted on a tripod, later replaced with a light infantry wheeled launcher, similar to the one used for the "Maxim" machine gun. This reduced the weight of the launcher from 73kg to 38kg.

The career seemed to be on the upswing. Taubin becomes a respected military designer: he is visited by the USSR People's Commissar of Defence Kliment Voroshilov and Marshal of the Soviet Union Semyon Budyonny.

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But then comes an event that threatens not only the inventor's brainchild but his entire fate. The fact is that Yakov Grigorievich's work was supported by the first Deputy Defense Commissar, Mikhail Tukhachevsky. He was a real military expert and advocate of the reform of the armed forces, but he lost in the internal political confrontation and was shot in 1937.

His opponent, Grigory Kulik, became head of the Artillery Directorate of the Red Army and harshly criticized all of his predecessor's projects, including the AGL. In 1937 it was decided to conduct demonstration comparative tests of mortars and grenade launchers. Despite satisfactory fragmentation of grenades, high rate of fire and range of the grenade launcher, the choice of the leadership was in favour of the artillery system. It was found to be cheaper and more reliable and was accepted for service.

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Taubin's invention was successfully used in the Soviet-Finnish War in limited numbers, and a small series was also ordered by military flotilla. After it was tested on a small armoured boat, the commission issued the following conclusion: "The automatic system worked flawlessly. The accuracy is satisfactory. Since the shot produces a faint sound and does not generate flame, the system does not get unmasked when firing. The fuse works reliably in both water and ground".

But there was no large-scale introduction, and soon all work in this direction was stopped. Today historians say that the designer crossed the road of the so-called «mafia mortar» who ensured that our country met the war without these effective weapons.

In addition to the AGL, the engineer was the author of several other projects, with the 23-mm MP-6 aircraft gun amongst them, or the NS-37 aviation gun based on it. The latter played an essential role during the Great Patriotic War. However, Yakov Grigoryevich did not participate in this work, as he became a victim of the fabricated "military trial". One of the accusations was that he had not completed the job on MP-6 within the allotted time frame.

In 1941 Taubin was shot without trial in the Samara region (although a year before it was awarded the Order of Lenin "for the successful development of new weapons"). Along with him was "buried" the concept of the automatic grenade launcher, which the military leaders then did not recall for several decades. But it was not until the time they encountered the US forty-millimetre automatic grenade launcher in Vietnam. Their firepower turned out to be so great that the USSR decided to get the invention back into production, some 25 years after putting it "to gather dust on shelves".

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Eventually, grenade launchers will be recognized as one of the most effective ways to destroy enemy military equipment, structures or human resources. They will be mounted on armoured vehicles, ships and helicopters. The range of fire will increase to 1500-2000m, and the most modern models will be fitted with computerized sights.

Taubin was rehabilitated in 1955.