Ukrainians Training with Bulgarian Arsenal AKs

At the end of January a series of photographs taken by Canadian Army photographers showed Ukrainian troops being trained at sites in the UK as part of Operation Unifier. Unifier is a training mission carried out by the Canadian Armed Forces with training currently taking place in the UK alongside the multi-national training mission Operation Interflex.

What is interesting about the new imagery is that the Ukrainian troops in training are all armed with Bulgarian-made Arsenal AK-pattern rifles. This is the firs time this particular AK has been seen in use. If you saw our earlier videos looking at the other types of AK-pattern rifles procured by the UK for their training of Ukrainian personnel you’ll have seen Zastava M70s, Chinese Type 56s and East German MPi KMS-72s are in use.

The rifles were almost certainly procured by the UK Ministry of Defence and like the other AK-pattern rifles being used for training they will probably remain in the UK to be used in the training of future Ukrainian personnel. 

A soldier with the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, instructs Ukrainian recruits during a weapons class as part of Operation UNIFIER in the United Kingdom, on January 26, 2023. (Corporal Eric Greico/Canadian Armed Forces)

The Arsenal AKs were seen for the first time in photographs taken on the 23 January, during a lesson on field craft. The Ukrainian troops can be seen taking notes with the rifles slung at their sides. 

The rifles appeared in photographs again  on 25 January, when Canadian medics were instructing Ukrainian recruits on the application of tourniquets. One of the rifles was seen slung over the shoulder of a Ukrainian soldier rendering aid. 

Subsequently on 26 January, soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were photographed instructing Ukrainian recruits during a weapons class. The class saw Ukrainian troops learning how to operate NLAWs, grounded on the floor next to them are their Arsenal AKs.

A series of images from a counter-explosive training session on searching and spotting mines and booby traps showed a platoon of Ukrainian trainees equipped with the Bulgarian AKs.

Ukrainian recruits under the supervision of Canadian soldiers from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment practice searching for and identifying booby traps, during Operation UNIFIER on 28 January 2023 in the United Kingdom. (Corporal Eric Greico/Canadian Armed Forces)

The rifles seen in all of the photographs appear to be basic model rifles, none of the weapons have railed handguards or Picatinny on the receiver cover for mounting optics. This suggests that they are either AR-M9Fs or AR-M14Fs (at least according to Arsenal’s website). The ‘F’ refers to the folding tube metal stock which helps identify the rifles as Arsenal-made AKs. The characteristic flash hider and furniture also identify them as Arsenal rifles.  It is difficult to identify what calibre the rifles are chambered in as the Ukrainians are never seen with magazines loaded into their weapons (as they’re unnecessary for the training being carried out). 

The AR-M9 and M14 are bother available chambered in 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm. Logical arguments could be made for either calibre: the UK MoD has confirmed that other AK-pattern rifles that have been procured are chambered in 7.62x39mm so this chambering would give them ammunition commonality with other AK-pattern rifles in use. Alternatively, the UK has ample stocks of 5.56x45mm and this would also more closely mimic the 5.45x39mm AK-74 rifles the Ukrainians are likely to be issued when they return home. Either way they are AK-pattern rifles which enable training on manual of arms, handling and firing with similar weapons the trainees will probably be equipped with.

Ukrainian recruits under the supervision of Canadian soldiers from 1 Combat Engineer Regiment practice searching for and identifying booby traps, during Operation UNIFIER on 28 January 2023 in the United Kingdom. (Corporal Eric Greico/Canadian Armed Forces)

The rifles have black polymer furniture and appear to be either new or in excellent condition with few visible scratches or scrapes to the finish or furniture. Notably each rifle has green tape around the base of the folding stock onto which a rack number has been written in black marker pen. 

Addendum:

As is sometimes the case with writing these articles and videos while in the process of research and production new source material emerges. On 1 February, the UK MoD shared a series of new photographs from the training of Ukrainian troops. In these a number of the Arsenal AKs were seen fitted with blank firing adapters (BFAs). This is interesting for a number of reasons – previously we have seen Ukrainian trainees using British L85A2s with BFAs for the elements of their training which required blank fire. We have covered this in an earlier article/videos – it requires additional, and largely unnecessary training on the use of the British bullpup.

Australian soldiers demonstrate section level attacks and how to handle captured enemy personnel to Ukrainian recruits during the first rotation of Operation Kudu in the United Kingdom. (UK MoD/Crown Copyright)

BFAs for the 7.62x39mm AK pattern rifles procured earlier by the UK appear to have been deemed either unsafe for use in British training areas or BFAs and blank 7.62x39mm ammunition haven’t been readily available. The new photographs show that BFAs are in use with these Bulgarian AKs – likely because they were procured with the rifles direct from the manufacturer.

These UK MoD photographs also show the rifles with magazines – which indicate the rifles are chambered in 5.56x45mm. As I theorised earlier the UK has ample stocks of both blank and ball 5.56x45mm which would simplify the logistics of training the nearly 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers expected to be trained in the UK in 2023.

Australian Army soldiers from the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, receive weapon handling lessons from the British Army’s Small Arms School Corps as part of the “train the trainer” portion of Operation KUDU in the United Kingdom (Australian Department of Defence/Commonwealth copyright)

The Australian Army has also shared a large number of photographs from their involvement in the training of Ukrainian troops in the UK. The Australian military have dubbed their effort Operation Kudu. They describe Kudu as: “A contingent of up to 70 Australian Defence Force (ADF) personnel are deployed on Operation KUDU to assist with the UK-led and based training program.” The Australian photographs show the training and familiarisation of Ukrainian troops with the Arsenal AKs with both Australian and British instructors seen in the photographs.

An Australian Army soldier from the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, assists Ukrainian recruits with cleaning their rifles during Operation KUDU (Australian Department of Defence/Commonwealth copyright)

The photographs feature members of the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment and senior instructors from the British Army’s Small Arms School Corps, instructing trainees in the classroom before undertaking some fire and movement drills with blanks.


Update 08/02/23:

The Canadian Ministry of National Defense has released a short video showing some of the training Canadian personnel in the UK are delivering to Ukrainian troops as part of Operation Unifier (the Canadian element of the international Operation Interflex.)

The video focuses on some of the field exercises and urban training being provided and heavily features Bulgarian Arsenal AR-M9F (5.56x45mm) AK-pattern rifles.

Update – 14/02/23: A video shared by the Australian Department of Defence showed Australian troops training Ukrainians with Arsenal AKs during Operation Kudu.

Update 15/02/23: The Danish Army has also shared several photographs of Danish troops training Ukrainians in the UK, Arsenal AKs can again be seen in the photographs (fitted with BFAs).


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Bibliography:

Assault Rifles, Arsenal, (source)

Operation Unifier, Canadian Armed Forces, (source)

Operation Kudu, Australian Defence Force, (source)

Colt Canada / Diemaco C7 Rifles & C8 Carbines in Ukraine

We’ve seen a large number of different small arms being transferred to Ukraine. The large number of different 5.56x45mm chambered rifles is especially interesting. This is the first of a series of videos examining the variety of different 5.56x45mm rifles which have been seen in the field. These range from US M4A1s to FN F2000s and everything in between. 

We’re starting the series examining the use of Colt Canada produced rifles and carbines. We first began to see Colt Canada C7 rifles appearing in the hands of Ukrainian personnel in May. They have continued to be seen in use with units including the Belarusian Kalinouski Regiment, International Legion Units and most recently one was seen in the hands of Ukrainian special operations forces landing on the Kinburn Spit. 

International Volunteers with C7A1s fitted with ELCAN C79 optics (via Social Media)

Diemaco, renamed Colt Canada in 2005, began producing the C7 in 1982. These were derived from the US M16A1E1 programme which led to the development and adoption of the M16A2. The C7 differs from the M16A2 in a number of ways but principally in that it retains the M16A1’s rear sight set up and its semi- and full-automatic fire modes, rather than the A2’s 3-round burst. The versions seen in use in Ukraine are C7A1s, which replace the fixed carrying handle with a modified Weaver rail for mounting optics.

The primary users of the C7A1 are Canada (who have since moved to the C7A2 and C8A3), Denmark who issue the C7A1 as the M/95 and the Netherlands who adopted the C7A1 in the early 1990s. All of the countries also use the C8 carbine with the improved Integrated Upper Receiver. The Netherlands field the C8 as the C8NLD and the Danish Army uses it as the M/10. the United Kingdom currently fields the C8 SFW as the L119, and may have other earlier variants of the carbine in inventory.

Combatant from the Kalinouski Regiment with a C7A1 rifle fitted with a Hi-Mag optic (via Social Media)

I reached out to the Dutch, Canadian and Danish defence ministries and while the Dutch and Danish ministries declined to comment the Canadian Ministry of National Defence responded to confirm that Canada has not, to-date, provided any C7 pattern rifles. Instead, the Canadian spokesperson confirmed that Canada has provided an unspecified number of C8 carbines. 

Another indicator of this is that some of the photographs show the original Diemaco stylised ‘D’ roll mark on the magazine housing. Canadian C7A1s have the ‘D’ roll mark above the trigger, with a Canadian maple leaf engraving on the magazine housing. Sources state that Colt Canada refitted most of Canada’s C7A1s into the C7A2 configuration, with a collapsing buttstock, in the 2010s. The available imagery isn’t clear enough to make out smaller national markings to differentiate where they originated from.

Ukrainian combatants with C7A1 rifles fitted with Hi-Mag optics (via Social Media)

This means that the C7A1 rifles seen in Ukraine were likely provided by either the Netherlands or Denmark. The Netherlands adopted the C7A1 and fielded it with ELCAN SpecterOS3.4x (C79). Interestingly, there has also been at least two sightings of a 6x ELCAN Hi-Mag on a C7A1 in early October. The Hi-Mag was adopted by the Dutch military as a machine gun optic which may point to at least some of the rifles coming from a transfer from the Netherlands. I have not been able to find any mention of the Danish armed forces using the Hi-Mag. [Update: on further research and discussion with Dutch sources the C7 pattern rifles have now been confirmed to be of Dutch origins. The key identifying characteristic being the small QR code tags seen on the right side of the magazine housing. We will have a more detailed article on this in the future.]

The C7A1s have been seen fitted with a mix of ELCAN C79s, Aimpoint Comps, various reflex sights and some with original Diemaco/Colt Canada rear iron sights. Some have already been adapted with some pretty interesting paint schemes and fitted with suppressors.

Various C7A1 rifles with suppressors, iron sights and paint jobs (via Social Media)

It is also unclesr where the C8 carnines seen in Ukraine originated from. While the Canadian Ministry of National Defence confirmed C8s had been sent to Ukraine, an anonymous source close to the programme to transfer the weapons noted that the carbines sent were in the C8 SFW configurations with a railed forend. The C8s seen in the field, with the earlier non-railed handguards, may be from Denmark or the Netherlands.

The first appearances of C8s in videos shared to social media that I could find date to September, but they’ve likely been in use prior to this. This piece of combat footage which was shared on social media around the 19 September is especially interesting as we see C8 carbines with ELCAN Specters but at least one has a red dot and magnifier set up. We can also see TRIAD rail mounts which are attached around the front sight base. This may indicate the carbines are C8A3s but its difficult to make out the other defining features of the A3. The TRIAD was developed to allow attachment of accessories without changing out the hangdguards, in this case most of the guys appear to have fitted vertical front grips.

Ukrainian combatant with a C8 carbine, note the Triad rail attachment (via Social Media)

An individual on the Kherson front has also shared numerous images and videos featuring his personal weapon – a C8 with a suppressor and what appears to be a more modern ELCAN Specter. The individual also shared some footage of himself and others running a contact drills.

Member of the Ukrainian 73rd Naval Special Purpose Center with C8 (via Social Media)

The 73rd Naval Special Purpose Center, part of Ukraine’s SSO (special operations force), with a Colt Canada/Diemaco C8 carbine. The C8 is easily identifiable by its thicker buttstock. It also appears to have a vertical front grip just visible, attached to a Triad rail mount under the front sight post.

Another photo of the operators from the 73rd Naval Special Purpose Center may be the first image of a C8 SFW – the carbine appears to have a railed forend with a laser/light module fitted along with a vertical front grip.

73rd Naval Special Purpose Center operators with what may be a C8 SFW, along with earlier unrailed C8 carbines (via Social Media)

In future articles/videos we will explore the plethora a 5.56×45mm chambered rifles, carbines and light machine guns transferred to Ukraine.

Thank you to War_noir on twitter and StreakingDelilah on Instagram for sharing several additional photos of C8s.

Update – 01/12/22: Ukrainian SSO have shared a video with an operator discussing recent operations which gives a good look at his C8 carbine.

Update – 30/01/23: The Belarusian Kalinouski Regiment, serving with the Ukrainian Armed Forces, has shared a photo of a Dutch Diemaco C7A1. Note the C79 ELCAN and original Thermold magazine which were shipped with the guns. The armory QR code tag can be seen on the magazine housing – identifying this rifle as of Dutch origins.

Update – 15/02/23: Another recent photograph showing a Dutch C7A1 rifle with an ELCAN Hi-Mag optic, originally used on Dutch light machine guns.

Update – 26/02/23: Elements of the Azov Brigade have been equipped with Dutch C7A1 rifles (and ELCANs). Azov released these training photos a couple of days ago, on 21 February.

Update – 12/05/23: Ukraine’s SBU shared photographs showing personnel armed with C7A1s

Update – 17/05/23: Some recent examples of stock C7A1s being adapted with aftermarket furniture to increase the rifle’s modularity.


Update

Find the follow up to this article, documenting how these C7A1 rifles came from the Netherlands, below:


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PIAT During the Rhineland Campaign

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of travelling to the Tank Museum to film some segments for the new documentary on the Rhineland Campaign – ‘Rhineland 45‘. We looked at various small arms used during the campaign ranging from Panzerfausts and Bazookas to MG-42s and M1A1 carbines.

Not all of the segments we filmed discussing the weapons could be included in the finished documentary, so I’m pleased to share a couple here. This one Brings Up The PIAT!

The Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank was used extensively during Operations Veritable and Varsity in March 1945. British and Canadian troops put them to use against enemy armoured vehicles and defensive positions within the forests, towns and villages of the Rhineland.

If you’d like a copy of my book on the PIAT you can pick one up here.

Thanks again to Real Time History for inviting me to contribute, check out the documentary here.


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