Ukraine Situation Report: Russia Claims Destruction Of Western-Supplied M109 Howitzers
The big artillery duels that are dictating much of the course of the war in Ukraine’s east are only set to become more complex.
Video showing a Russian strike on a Ukrainian battery of self-propelled howitzers provides the most convincing evidence yet of Russia’s having destroyed some of the more significant components of Western-supplied military aid packages pouring into Ukraine.
Filmed by what is likely a drone flying overhead, the video shows what appear to be several U.S.-made M109-series self-propelled howitzers spread over a Ukrainian field. The Ukrainian armed forces have reportedly received at least one batch of ex-Norwegian M109A3GN variants in May. In addition to Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium have supplied or have said they plan to supply other M109 types to Ukraine.
What looks to be Russian cluster munitions are then seen hitting the Ukrainian positions, causing dirt and dust to spurt up around the howitzers, one of which is later seen ablaze. It is unclear from the video if the M109 itself is on fire, or if ammunition and propelling charges that are visible earlier in the footage arrayed behind one of the vehicles are what is burning.
The Ukraine Weapons Tracker Twitter account suggested that Russian 220mm BM-27 multiple rocket launchers (MRL) firing 9M27K unguided cluster munition rockets may have been responsible for this strike, but this is unconfirmed. Various cluster munition rounds are available or other Russian artillery systems.
Regardless, this only underscores how long-range artillery has taken center stage in the three-month-old conflict in Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine has been pockmarked by heavy artillery duels, leaving a scarred landscape reminiscent of No Man's Land in World War One.
Ukrainian artillery fire punched holes in an apparent Russian ammo dump in Zaporizhzhia Oblast on Tuesday, causing a massive explosion that sent dozens of rounds of ammunition firing randomly in all directions.
Both sides are attempting to outrange the other as NATO countries debate what kinds of artillery to send to aid the Ukrainian armed forces. This recent strike on the Ukrainian M109-equipped unit highlights that many of the Western systems that the country had received recently remain very much within reach of hostile indirect fire.
This reality was among the factors that led the U.S. government to finally agree to send M142 Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and precision-guided 227mm rockets to Ukraine's military. The Germans and now the British have also announced plans to send tracked rocket artillery systems that can fire the same types of 227mm ammunition, as well. The War Zone has previously explored in depth what these systems will and won't be able to offer the Ukrainian armed forces in the ongoing fight.
There continue to be reports that the United States and other Western countries are considering further expanding the scope, as well as the scale of future military assistance packages for Ukraine, including ones that could potentially include armed drones and other higher-end weapon systems. Spain, for one, recently announced plans to supply Ukraine with Leopard 2A4 tanks, which could become the first modern Western main battle tanks that would enter the fray.
WARNING: Some of the updates below contain graphic material.
A lot has happened in Ukraine since we last updated readers on the situation there. Before we get into the details, take a moment to catch up here.
POSTED: 8:15 PM EST—
Russian forces likely continue to occupy eastern districts and continue toward a likely goal of cutting off the city of Sieverodonetsk in a pincer move launched from the north and south of the Ukrainian salient there, according to the U.K. Ministry of Defense. In heavy weekend fighting, Ukrainian forces managed to recapture parts of Sieverodonetsk, according to the latest British military assessment of the ground war. While Russian progress from the south has stalled as Ukrainian reinforcements arrived to blunt their advance, British authorities assess that Russian troops are preparing a renewed assault from the north.
“Russia will almost certainly need to achieve a breakthrough on at least one of these axes to translate tactical gains to operational level success and progress towards its political objective of controlling all of Donetsk Oblast,” the U.K. Ministry of Defense said today.
More than 40,000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed or wounded since Russia launched its all-out invasion in February, according to The New York Times. Counting wartime casualties is notoriously difficult to do in real-time and Russia is saying little to nothing about how many troops it has lost in three months of combat.
Despite Russian advances in Donbas, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was able to visit his troops in Zaporizhzhia and then on the front lines in the eastern cities of Lysychansk and Soledar on June 5-6. The visits are the most recent demonstrations of Zelensky’s lead-from-the-front-mentality that first emerged when he turned down international offers to be evacuated from Kyiv before Russian forces crossed the border. Zelensky told CNN on Tuesday that independence for Ukraine means "regaining all of our territories, restoring all of our territorial integrity and inviolable sovereignty."
Maps of the areas visited by Zelensky show just how close to Russian lines he got, especially in Lysychansk, smack in the middle of a Ukrainian salient surrounded on three sides by Russian forces.
Speaking from the heights above Omaha Beach on Monday, the U.S. landing area that saw some of the heaviest casualties on June 6, 1944, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley likened the defense of Ukraine to the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.
Milley told the AP that Russia’s war on Ukraine threatens the relatively cooperative and peaceful world order established by the victorious Allies after World War II.
“What’s happened here is an open, unambiguous act of aggression,” Milley told the AP of Russia’s war on Ukraine. “It is widely considered to undermine the rules that these dead — here at Omaha Beach and at the cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer — have died for. They died for something. They died for that order to be put in place so that we would have a better peace,” Milley said from the American cemetery above Omaha Beach in the French village of Colleville-sur-Mer. For that reason, “the nations of Europe, the nations of NATO, are supporting Ukraine with lethal and nonlethal support in order to make sure that that rule set is underwritten and supported.”
That same day, across the English Channel, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he had directed his country's Ministry of Defence to send M270 Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) with guided rockets capable of hitting targets nearly 45 miles away to Ukraine.
French-supplied wheeled CAESAR 155mm self-propelled howitzers were recently seen in Ukrainian service performing a shoot-and-scoot maneuver.
A separate video purportedly showed Ukrainian forces hitting a Russian tank with an M777 towed howitzer. It is unclear if the gun shown was the same weapon used to strike the tank, but the ensuing explosion is possibly the largest catastrophic detonation of a Russian tank yet caught on film during the Ukraine war.
On the naval front, a photo showed up online on June 6 purporting to show a seriously worn Russian Ropucha class landing ship, one of a number of these vessels that have been supporting Russia's war on Ukraine, sailing likely in the Black Sea mid-May. Heavy soot on a part of the ship's superstructure underneath its main 76mm could indicate that the ship has been employing its 122mm Grad-M artillery rocket launchers to bombard Ukrainian positions ashore. The ship is otherwise covered in rust and its paint is peeling.
Nearly two months after the Russian Navy's Black Sea Flagship Moskva sank, a lifejacket from the guided-missile cruiser was found, apparently by Bulgarian yachtsmen.
Footage surfaced online of a Russian Buyan-M class missile corvette firing eight SS-N-30 Kalibr cruise missiles toward Ukraine, whose capital Kyiv was struck with similar weapons the morning prior.
More videos have emerged showing Russian Ka-52 attack helicopters flying dangerously low over friendly troops in Ukraine in areas where no threats appear to be present.
Fast flight at very low altitude is certainly a valid tactic used by Russian, as well as Ukrainian aviators, flying fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to evade enemy man-portable air defense systems (MANPADs) and other anti-aircraft weapons, as evidenced below.
Continuing to provide a flicker of light in the darkness, celebrity chef Jose Andres recently returned to Ukraine with his World Central Kitchen charity. Andres took time out of his busy schedule feeding war-weary Ukrainians to scope out an artist decorating destroyed military equipment with images of butterflies and birds.
Residents of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv awoke on June 5 to incoming Kh-101 air-launched cruise missiles aimed at rail lines and other critical infrastructure in the capital. The strikes could have been an attempt to stall shipments of Western military equipment to the front lines in the east and south. At least one of the estimated five cruise missiles fired on the city was shot down. It was the first Russian strike on Kyiv in weeks.
The targeted railway station is a hub for railroad cars specifically designed for transporting grain overland to and from Ukraine’s ports. Coupled with Russia’s weekend strike on grain-transport infrastructure in the port city of Mykolaiv, the strike likely will exacerbate a worsening global food shortage caused by Russia’s blockade of Ukrainian Black Sea ports.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov found his path to visiting Serbia blocked this week when Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Montenegro closed their airspace to his Russian jet.
Yet another Russian general officer was reportedly killed in fighting over the weekend. Maj. Gen. Roman Kutuzov was said to have died in the Donbas region near Mykolaiv. Kutuzov's death adds to a Russian general officer death toll that has not been seen since World War II.
More footage of Russian TOS-1A thermobaric rocket artillery systems striking Ukrainian targets at point-blank range across a treeline emerged Sunday. The video shows the destructive blast force extending outward from where the munitions strike, almost reaching the Russian troops that fired them. The strike shows the adaptation of indirect fire weapons to immediate tactical considerations on the ground.
Additional photos have emerged of an improvised pickup truck-mounted launch system that allows 80mm S-8 unguided aircraft rockets to be used in surface-to-surface strikes. The rocket launchers are reportedly operated using improvised controls mounted in the front-seat console.
Video footage, seen below, was posted over the weekend showing an unidentified jet being shot down. First identified as a Russian fighter, the aircraft actually appears to have been a Ukrainian Su-27 Flanker based on certain features, as well as paint colors and markings on the remains of the fuselage seen in pictures that subsequently appeared online.
Russian forces continue their targeting of civilian and commercial infrastructure. Over the weekend, photos emerged of the aftermath of an airstrike on a civil airfield in Kharkiv Oblast. The strike damages several hangars and civilian aircraft. While it might seem a waste of ordnance, it's likely the Russians saw an airfield — which could potentially be used for military purposes — and shelled it to ensure it could not be used by Ukrainians for any reason.
We will continue to update this post with new information until we state otherwise.
Contact the author: Dan@thewarzone.com