The fighting in Ukraine has frequently drawn comparisons with the Cold War and while plenty of Eastern Cold War vehicles have been seen in use one of the interesting Western Cold War warriors seen action is the Saxon armoured personnel carrier.
The AT105 Saxon was developed by the UK in the late 1970s to provide some protected mobility for British forces deploying from Britain and moving up to the front line after an anticipated Communist offensive. Based on the Bedford TM series of trucks, the four-wheeled Saxon was slated to protect against small arms fire (up to NATO B7 standard to withstand 7.6x51mm) and shrapnel. With a welded steel body and blast deflecting chassis plate the Saxon is powered by a 6 cylinder diesel engine. Primarily designed as a battle taxi it could carry up to 8 men and a driver. They were armed only with an L7 general purpose machine gun. Entering service with the British Army in the mid-80s the Saxon saw service in the Balkans, Iraq and Northern Ireland. It was finally removed from service in 2005.
The British Army appears to have begun disposing of them in the late 2000s with many gifted to other countries and some sold to private dealers. In 2013, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense purchased 75 second-hand Saxons from a private dealer, these were delivered in two shipments in 2015. Sources suggest the vehicles were bought for around £50,000 each or a total procurement cost of $3.8 million. The first 20 arrived in February and were handed over the the Ukrainian National Guard for testing. Oleksandr Turchynov, then Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, said the vehicles would be upgraded by Ukroboronprom and fitted with machine guns. The second batch of 55 vehicles were delivered in June.
With the news of the transfer General Richard Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff, told the Telegraph newspaper that “My Concern is the inadequate nature of these vehicles which I ordered out of British Army front line service when I was Commander in Chief Land Command 2005-2006. They were withdrawn from Iraq and never deployed in souther Afghanistan. To suggest that the UK is making a significant gesture of support by supplying vehicles which we took out of service ten years ago, because we deemed them unsafe, seems bizarre at best and downright dangerous at worst. They are quite useless semi-armoured lorries that should be nowhere near anyone’s front line.” The UK MoD responded saying that “they offer protective mobility to personnel… but they are not close combat vehicles.”
While arguably obsolete the Ukrainians themselves reportedly felt they were fairly decent vehicles with the armour providing the expected level of protection. Ukrainian National Guard testing in February 2015 showed that the armour could withstand B-32 7.62x54mmR API. There was a well reported accident involving a pair of Saxons with on overturning and another hitting the central barrier on a motorway in March 2015. Its clear that the Ukrainians thought at the time they were cost-effective, capable vehicles which they wisely didn’t push into close combat roles.
Contemporary reports suggest that a number of the vehicles, perhaps 10 or 20, received additional armour for the troop compartment and mounts for as DShK heavy machine gun and a pair of PK medium machine gun positions. The work reportedly took about two weeks. The majority, however appear to have been rerolled as command or MEDEVAC vehicles and were reportedly initially assigned to 25th Airborne Brigade, 79th, 81st and 95th Airmobile and 36th Naval Infantry Brigades. Though it is unclear if or when they were reassigned from these units. They saw action in Donbas for the first time in June 2015.
In a September 2015 Ukraine Today report on the Saxons a member of the 81st airmobile brigade said: “it’s a really beautiful vehicle and the armour is good. for evacuating personnel the APC is great.” When asked if the vehicles were difficult to work with he replied “yes, but that’s normal.” Other pre-February 2022 adaptations include at least one of the vehicles outfitted with slat armour in an effort to protect against RPGs.
With the Russian invasion in February the Saxons have seen in a number of photographs, mostly in flat green paint, though at least one had the Ukrainian digital camouflage pattern. The majority of the sighted vehicles have been ambulances and all of the photographs have been of either captured or knocked out vehicles. One of the captured vehicles, which appears to be the same vehicles as in image #2 in the block of photographs above, also appeared in a Zvezda TV report being driven around a depot. Narrator reportedly explains it is a captured ambulance, which originated from the UK and the presenter explains that it has an automatic gearbox and is quite fast and now will be transferred to Separatist DNR troops.
According open source intelligence analysts Oryx a total of 5 Ukrainian Saxon’s have been visually confirmed lost. There have not been any recent sightings of the Saxons and the UK and other supporting nations have now transferred or promised more modern and capable vehicles.
Thanks to Volodymyr for sharing some of the pre-war photographs of the Saxon in service.
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“Useless” Saxon Vehicles Surprisingly Useful In Ukraine, Defence24, (source)
The Not So Secret Life of the Saxon, Think Defence, (source)
‘Saxon’ armored vehicles to enter service after improvement and test procedure, Censor, (source)
UK’s Delivery of Saxons to Ukraine “Nothing Short of Immoral”, ForcesTV, (source)
Attack On Europe: Documenting Ukrainian Equipment Losses During The 2022 Russian Invasion Of Ukraine, Oryx, (source)
General Sir Richard Dannatt condemns armoured vehicle transfer to Ukraine, The Telegraph, (source)
Saxon armored personnel carriers were first used in real combat operations, Military Informant, (source)
Ukraine tested the delivered British Saxon armored vehicles, Military Informant, (source)
British Saxons in Action, Ukraine Today, (source)
Captured Saxon, Zvezda, (source)