Ukraine’s Homemade Tank Destroyer

On 12 August videos of an improvised vehicle built by Ukrainian troops began to circulate online. While we’ve seen technicals and an increasing number of trucks turned into multiple rocket launcher systems, usually using spare or salvaged parts, in recent months the new vehicle is even more interesting.

Gun at full elevation (via ArmyInform)

The available footage shows an MT-LB tracked armoured fighting vehicle paired with an MT-12 anti-tank gun. Traditionally, the MT-LB and MT-12 aren’t an unusual pairing as the MT-LB was, and is, often used to tow artillery, including the 100mm MT-12 anti-tank gun.

Gun in action (via ArmyInform)

The Ukrainian General Staff shared a video of the homemade tank destroyer or self-propelled gun (SPG) in action on the 13 August, with the caption:

“Ukrainian soldiers demonstrate their own development, made from captured muscovite equipment. MTLB army tractor + MT-12 Rapira anti-tank gun = self-propelled anti-tank gun. The infantrymen did all the design and construction work on their own. The system has already been tested and is in the combat zone.”

The caption said that the footage had been filmed in the Mykolaiv region in early August by members of the Department of Public Relations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. A further video shared by ArmyInform, simply titled ‘Kraken’ (perhaps the name given to the vehicle as the Kraken is a popular symbol among Ukrainian forces), shares much of the same footage and the same description text.

The gun and vehicle are both of Cold War vintage with the 100mm smoothbore MT-12 entering service in the early 1970s and the MT-LB coming into service in the late 1950s/early 1960s.

The hydraulics supports added to the rear of the MT-LB (via ArmyInform)

From the footage we can see that the vehicle has been substantially modified to mount the gun, part of the rear roof of the vehicle appears to have been removed to allow the crew to operate the gun with some protection and to also achieve the gun’s maximum 20-degree elevation. Perhaps most interestingly, at the rear of the vehicle the builders have added a pair of hydraulic supports to stabilise the vehicle when firing, these can be seen descending from the rear of the MT-LB. These may be built using the MT-12’s original trail.

A view of the rear of the gun and vehicle (via ArmyInform)

The video even shows that a barrel travel lock has been fitted to lock the gun in place when the vehicle is on the move. The video does not show the interior of the vehicle so it is unclear how much the vehicle and the mounting point for the gun has been reinforced. The gun itself weighs just over 3 tons or 2, 750kg, though some of this weight from the carriage has likely been removed through the cannibalisation of the carriages when the gun was mounted. The video doesn’t indicate how much ready ammunition the vehicle can carry either. The video also shows the gun being fired by crew outside the vehicle pulling a long lanyard. Sources in Ukraine have said that in the field the system is fired by both the lanyard and the firing lever on the gun.

Barrel travel lock added to the vehicle (via ArmyInform)

While at first glance the gun looks like it could also be an older DD-44, which have been seen in use, the characteristic muzzle brake suggests its the later MT-12. While the official Ukrainian Army statement suggests both the MT-LB and gun were captured both were in Ukraine’s inventory in significant numbers before the current conflict. Before the Russian invasion in February the Ukrainian Armed Forces were said to have up to 500 MT-12s in service, in 2020. Similarly, Ukraine operated over 2,000 MT-LB before the invasion but there is visual confirmation of numerous Russian MT-LBs being captured.

Gun ready to fire (via ArmyInform)

So why go to the trouble of adapting an MT-LB to be capable of firing a gun from its roof? Perhaps the most likely answer is speed into action. While an MT-LB towing an MT-12 can in theory get the gun into action in under 2 minutes the creation of this ad hoc tank destroyer allows the gun to be brought into and out of action faster. With the need to unlimber and position the gun removed the improvised self-propelled gun can, in theory at least, shoot and scoot.

A photo of an adapted MT-LB, possibly a different vehicle from the one seen in the video shared by the Ukrainian General Staff (Photo redacted for OPSEC purposes)
A view of the rear of the vehicle showing the considerable reinforcement where the roof has been cut away (Photo redacted for OPSEC purposes)

Sources in Ukraine suggest that more than one of these vehicles has been constructed with work ongoing since at least July. Photographs shared with TAB support this with the vehicle pictured sporting the Ukrainian digital camouflage pattern. The photographs show the mount and the reinforcement done to the vehicle to support the MT-12. They are reportedly used more as assault guns, than ‘tank destroyers’, with the guns being used against Russian fixed positions and in support of infantry manoeuvres.


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Saxon APCs in Ukraine

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. 

Knocked out Saxon APC (via social media)

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.

Still from 1985 British Army equipment video (British Army)

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.

Saxon APCs outfitted with a DShK and two PK-pattern machine guns, c.March 2015 (Ukrainian MoD)

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. 

Saxon APCs pre-February 2022 invasion (via Volodymyr)

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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Bibliography

“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)
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Captured Saxon, Zvezda, (source)