David Axe

Nov 28, 2022


The Ukrainian army‘s newest howitzers also are among its oldest. On Sunday, the first video appeared online depicting ex-Lithuanian M101 howitzers in front-line use by Ukrainian forces, apparently somewhere in eastern Ukraine.

The M101 was a battle-winner 80 years ago. In the hands of experienced, motivated gunners, it still can win battles today. Especially as those gunners combine the old howitzers with new drones.

Ukraine‘s M101s come from Lithuanian army stocks. Lithuania acquired 54 of the towed cannons from Denmark back in 2002 and today is replacing them with the latest German and French self-propelled, 155-millimeter howitzers. Dozens of countries still use M101s or keep the old guns in reserve.

Vilnius pledged to Ukraine an undisclosed number of redundant M101s – the first guns shipped in September. The classic M101s join a bewildering array of donated Western guns—some old, some new—that increasingly are supplanting Ukraine‘s pre-war inventory of ex-Soviet guns.

The M101 might be old, but it fires the same 105-millimeter shell that’s standard for all NATO light artillery. The United States and United Kingdom have supplied Ukraine with tens of thousands of modern 105-millimeter shells.

The M101’s range—seven miles—is greater than the five-mile range of Ukraine‘s ex-Soviet 100-millimeter field guns. Still, an M101 battery is at a huge disadvantage in an artillery-on-artillery counterbattery fight with, say, a Russian 2S19 battery firing 152-millimeter shells out to 15 miles.

But Ukrainian commanders would be fools to assign the M101s to counterbattery missions. The classic howitzers always have been infantry-support guns. Towed by trucks or armored tractors, an M101 battery follows close behind the infantry, setting up and shooting when the riflemen get into trouble—and breaking down and moving before the enemy‘s own artillery can shoot back at the battery.

Count on Ukraine‘s gunners—who by now are some of the most experienced in the world—to use their new-old M101s in creative ways. In particular, look for the Ukrainians to combine the vintage howitzers with the latest spotting technology.

In World War II, an M101 battery counted on a human spotter with binoculars, a map and a radio to call in targets and correct fire. Today, Ukrainian forces largely have replaced human spotters with unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones, hovering over Russian positions and relaying precise coordinates, should make the old M101s more responsive and accurate than they ever were when they were new.