Ukrainian territorial troops are true citizen-soldiers. All volunteers, they enlist in the local brigades and fight in their regions of origin with minimal training and equally minimal equipment.
They don’t always have standard uniforms, trucks and radios, not to mention heavy weapons. But that doesn’t mean they’re totally lacking in firepower.
To give the territorials a chance to blunt the Russian attacks, kyiv armed at least some of its two dozen territorial brigades – one for each major free city – with a type of big gun that in almost all other armies would be exhibited in a museum.
The MT-12 towed anti-tank gun. Hundreds of copies were lying around in Ukrainian warehouses before the current war.
The three-ton MT-12, firing a high-velocity 100-millimeter-diameter shell from a smoothbore tube, is undergoing intensive training by territorials as they hold the line against the latest Russian offensives in southern and eastern Ukraine.
A video which circulated on social media on Friday shows volunteers from the 110th Territorial Brigade in Zaporizhia, 160 km northwest of Mariupol, furiously firing their MT-12s at nearby Russian or separatist forces.
The flat gun elevation means the enemy could be only a mile away, at most. At this distance, an MT-12 can penetrate 400 millimeters of armor, enough to destroy an infantry fighting vehicle and, at certain angles, disable or destroy a tank.
Friday’s video is not the first evidence of the MT-12 in Ukrainian service. Videos and photos from the start of the war confirm at least three MT-12s which the Ukrainians abandoned and the Russians captured, plus another which the Russians destroyed in battle.
It should be noted that the Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists also use MT-12s – and have given up at least one gun, so far.
The MT-12 is not a complex weapon. That’s a good thing, as it only requires a bit of training to operate and only basic supplies and support to keep it going. Perfect for the 100,000 former taxi drivers, teachers and aging laborers who make up Ukraine’s territories.
Soviet industry developed the MT-12 in the early 1960s as a supplement to the heavier self-propelled howitzers then becoming common. While howitzers in the doctrine of the Soviet army were offensive weapons – indeed, the main offensive weapons – MT-12s were defensive.
Anti-tank companies using MT-LB tracked vehicles as tractors would lay out their six guns each along a brigade’s flanks in order to defend against counter-attacking enemy tanks. An experienced crew of six MT-12s could set up their gun in a minute and fire a bullet every 10 seconds or so.
Ukraine had up to 500 old Soviet-era MT-12s when Russia attacked on the night of February 23. It is unclear exactly how kyiv distributed the weapons. On paper, many active Ukrainian army brigades include MT-12s that could perform both direct and indirect fire missions.
In practice, the best brigades tend to assign 2S1 122 mm self-propelled howitzers to indirect fire missions and anti-tank teams with Stugna-P missiles to direct fire missions.
This may have freed up MT-12s for the growing number of territorial formations. Photos of the 110th Territorial Brigade in a German magazine The Spiegel in late April depict a crew of six gunners mounted on an MT-LB stacked with ammunition crates and towing an MT-12.
the The Spiegel article only mentions two guns, possibly alluding to the loose – and minimal – structure of the territorials’ artillery. They could just take what they can get and use it however they can.
More guns are coming, but not necessarily for territorials. The United States and its NATO allies have promised Ukraine around 200 modern artillery pieces, including some of the latest European self-propelled howitzers compatible with US-made laser-guided shells.
Expect these weapons to be for active brigades and newly mobilized reserve brigades. However, Territorials could still benefit if the given new kit replaces the old Soviet kit – and the old items trickle down to second line units.
Today, the 110 makes do with 60-year-old anti-tank guns. Tomorrow it could receive self-propelled howitzers from a tank brigade that has just re-equipped with old Dutch PzH-2000s.