Artillery vehicle

Russia sends “machine gun artillery division” from the Pacific Islands to Ukraine

During an apparent operational pause in the first half of July, Russian forces repeatedly attempted to capture the town of Siversk, 13 miles east of recently occupied Lyschansk. Although Siversk only had a pre-war population of 11,000, its capture would open a gateway for Russian forces to advance on the towns of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk, as well as a new route to the south from which they could attack Bakhamut – all key objectives.

But although Russian officials claimed Siversk was captured on July 13, photos proved it remained under Ukrainian control the following day. Then, on July 15, Ukrainian defenders repelled a concerted Russian attack involving DPR separatists, Wagner mercenaries, and Russian regular forces, supported by attack helicopters and fighter-bombers on July 15. The small town remains a place of Russian attacks until the third week of July.

A video released the day after the failed July 15 attack showed Ukrainian troops from the 81st Air Assault Brigade and National Guard Special Forces Detachment Omega recover a unit patch from several dead Russian soldiers.

The crest, featuring the crossed barrels of a vintage World War I Maxim machine gun and old-fashioned cannons, had a curious story to tell: it was the emblem of the 18e Machine Gun and Artillery Division (MGAD), the only such units in the Russian Army and an apparent throwback to the World Wars.

18e MGAD’s unique organization reflects its (usually) specialized role: the defense of the Kuril Islands, which Russia seized from Japan using amphibious landing ships secretly provided by the United States in the closing days of the Second World War. World War.

As Tokyo never relinquished its claim to the islands and the Russian military had direct experience of how the islands could be captured by amphibious assault, in the 1970s Moscow saw fit to fortify the archipelago , including placing dozens of obsolete tanks in fixed concrete firing positions.

So on the 18the The MGAD was equipped for a purely static, defensive role with heavy guns in fixed positions overlooking potential beaches for amphibious attack, and just enough personnel to man them. With only 3,500 soldiers, the unit has about a third or a quarter of the total personnel of an ordinary division.

Although the 18th is no longer really specialized in machine guns, it has significant artillery assets, as well as support tanks and mobile infantry in lightly armed and armored MT-LB tracked APCs (generally reserved for forces Russians of lower priority).

The presence of 18e MGAD troops in Ukraine were first reported on July 4 during a daily briefing by Ukrainian presidential adviser Aleksei Arestovych. Military historian Tom Cooper estimates that one or two Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs) of 18e The MGAD has been active in the fighting from July until now. This lean division could probably only generate around 4 BTG from its staff.

So Russia may have stripped a significant portion of its garrisons from the Pacific islands 4,700 miles to the west to serve as assault troops in Ukraine, a role those soldiers were not equipped to play.

But Russia is scrambling to fill a desperate shortage of infantry to harness any operational momentum in eastern Ukraine. At this time, it is not known which subunits of 18e were sent, and what heavy equipment these personnel brought with them (if any) or were provided upon arrival in the European war zone.


The “division” of machine guns

Today, modern military almost universally disperse machine guns and similar heavy weapons in small infantry units.

But during World I and II armies like those of the Soviet Union, United Kingdom and Germany too maintained entire “machine gun battalions” with 20–40 crew-served heavy machine guns. Although such units cannot attack enemy positions like an infantry unit, they could project tremendous defensive firepower, as well as covering fire to support an attack. In practice, rather than deploying together on the battlefield, these battalions were usually split into separate companies to reinforce field units, or assigned to fortified areas where lack of mobility posed no problem.

During World War II, the 18e The machine gun and artillery division fought in the famous infernal battle of Stalingrad, and later took part in the Manchurian offensive of the Red Army. It was then refounded in 1978 with its current role as Russia’s first island defense line in the Pacific, with the bulk of the division on the island of Iturup. The division’s frontline battalions used World War II-era IS-2 and IS-3 heavy tanks firing from fixed positions as well as 1950s-era T-54 tank turrets encased in concrete, as described in an article by Linnik Sergey.

In the 2010s, Russian analysts conceded the 18e was unlikely to last more than a few days if attacked by Japan or the United States. But Moscow undertook at this time a major modernization of defenses. 18e the division’s older T-55s were replaced by T-72Bs, which have since begun to be replaced by more modern T-80BVs or T-80BVMs. Most importantly, the new Kh-35 Bal and K-300 Bastion-P anti-ship missile batteries and the S-300V4 surface-to-air missile systems under the 68e Corps gave the island garrisons a long-range bite.

Currently, the 18e The MGAD (or PulAD in Russian) has two machine-gun artillery regiments, as well as support units, all generally subordinate to the 68e Army Corps.

  • 46e Machine Gun Artillery Regiment (Kunashir Island)
  • 49e Machine Gun Artillery Regiment (Iturup Island)
  • One from each of the following support companies: UAV (Orlan-10), Communications

A document published here, apparently circa 2017, seems to detail the structure of his regiments, which the author has slightly modified below based on additional sources and recent developments.

Each Machine Gun Artillery Regiment understand :

  • 2x machine gun and artillery battalions
  • 1x Motor Rifle Battalion (infantry mounted on MT-LB tracked APCs, many equipped with 12.7mm heavy machine guns)
  • 1x artillery battalion (18x 2A36 towed and/or 2S5 152 mm self-propelled long range artillery system)
  • 1x tank company or battalion (9 or 31 tanks) with T-72B or T-80BV tanks
  • anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) battery
  • 1x rocket artillery battery (6x Grad 122 mm systems)
  • Very Short Range Air Defense Battalion (one company with 27 Igla man-portable air defense missiles, one battery with six Strela-10 [SA-13 Gopher] mobile air defense missiles and a battery of six air defense vehicles armed with ZSU-23-4 ‘Shilka’ guns)
  • Air Defense Battalion (8x Tor-M2U [SA-15] vehicles)
  • One each of the following support companies: engineers and engineers, electronic warfare, communications, logistics, repair

Luckily for Moscow, there is virtually no chance that Japan will launch some sort of surprise invasion of the Kuril/Sakhalin Islands. But the redistribution of meager garrison forces in East Asia for use as assault troops in Ukraine shows how Russia is being forced to strip its defenses from politically sensitive areas (including the Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad and Armenia ) in order to fuel Putin’s voracious war.