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Ukraine’s territorial troops are true citizen-soldiers. Volunteers all, they enlist with local brigades and fight in their home regions with only minimal training and equally minimal equipment.
They don’t always have standard uniforms, trucks and radios—to say nothing of heavy weaponry. But that doesn’t mean they’re entirely lacking firepower.
To give the territorials some chance of blunting Russian attacks, Kyiv has armed at least some of its two dozen territorial brigades—one each for every major free city—with a type of big gun that, in almost any other army, would be on display at a museum.
The MT-12 towed anti-tank gun. Hundreds of copies of which 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 getting a hard workout by the territorials as they hold the line against the latest Russian offensives in southern and eastern Ukraine.
A video that circulated on social media on Friday depicts volunteers with the 110th Territorial Brigade from Zaporizhia, 100 miles northwest of Mariupol, furiously firing their MT-12 at nearby Russian or separatist forces.
The gun’s flat elevation means the enemy might be just a mile away, at most. At that range, an MT-12 can penetrate 400 millimeters of armor—enough to destroy an infantry fighting vehicle and, from certain angles, disable or destroy a tank.
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The Friday video isn’t the first evidence of the MT-12 in Ukrainian service. Videos and photos from earlier in the war confirm at least three MT-12s that the Ukrainians abandoned and the Russians captured, plus another that the Russians destroyed in combat.
It’s worth noting that Russian-backed Ukrainian separatists also use MT-12s—and have abandoned at least one of the guns, so far.
The MT-12 is not a complex weapon. That’s a good thing, as it requires only a little training to operate and only basic supply and support to keep it in action. Perfect for the 100,000 aging former taxi-drivers, teachers and factory workers who comprise the Ukrainian territorials.
Soviet industry developed the MT-12 in the early 1960s as a complement to the heavier self-propelled howitzers then becoming common. While howitzers in Soviet army doctrine were offensive weapons—indeed, the main offensive weapons—MT-12s were defensive.
Anti-tank companies using MT-LB tracked vehicles as tractors would array their six each guns along a brigade’s flanks in order to defend against counterattacking enemy tanks. An experienced, six-person MT-12 crew could set up its gun within a minute and shoot a round every 10 seconds or so.
Ukraine possessed as many as 500 old, Soviet-vintage MT-12s when Russia attacked the night of Feb. 23. It’s unclear exactly how Kyiv has distributed the guns. On paper, many of the Ukrainian army’s active brigades include MT-12s that could perform direct- and indirect-fire missions.
In practice, the best brigades tend to assign self-propelled 2S1 122-millimeter howitzes to indirect-fire missions and anti-tank teams with Stugna-P missiles to direct-fire missions.
That may have freed up MT-12s for the growing number of territorial formations. Photos of the 110 Territorial Brigade in German magazine Der Spiegel in late April depict a six-man gun crew riding on an MT-LB stacked high with crates of ammo and towing an MT-12.
The Der Spiegel article mentions just two guns, perhaps hinting at the loose—and minimal—structure of the territorials’ artillery. They might just take what they can get and use it however they can.
More and better guns are coming, although not necessarily for the territorials. The United States and its NATO allies together have pledged to Ukraine around 200 modern artillery pieces, including some of the latest European self-propelled howitzers that are compatible with American-made laser-guided shells.
Expect those guns to go to active brigades and newly-mobilized reserve brigades. The territorials still might benefit, however, if new donated kit replaces older Soviet kit—and the old stuff cascades down to second-line units.
Today the 11oth makes do with 60-year-old anti-tank guns. Tomorrow it might get self-propelled howitzers from some tank brigade that just reequipped with ex-Dutch PzH-2000s.