How the Soviet Union Developed an Amphibious Howitzer

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by Peter Suciu

Last year the Virginia Army National Guard conducted what was described as an extremely unusual artillery exercise that involved the firing of a 105mm M118 howitzer from on board a U.S. Army landing craft. The Drive reported at the time that the operation was to highlight how mobile fire support could be provided during amphibious operations and during missions in littoral environments.

Typically small vessels would provide the firepower, but some military planners had other ideas and during the Cold War the Soviet Union’s Red Army developed the 2S1 Gvozdika (“Carnation”), a self-propelled howitzer that was based on the MT-LBu multi-purpose chassis that mounted a 122mm 2A18 howitzer. What was especially unique about this tracked vehicle is that it was fully amphibious and required little preparation to go from land to water.

Once in the water, it can be propelled in the water by its tracks with a maximum speed of 4.5 km/h. Before entering the water a bilge pump is switched on, a trim vane is erected at the front of the hull and shrouds after fitted to the hull above the drive sprocket and the front roadwheels while water deflectors are lowered on the rear track covers.

It reportedly takes about twenty minutes to prepare for amphibious operations, so unlike the American DUKW, which was developed during the Second World War, it isn’t as simple as driving into the water. Moreover, given the weight of the vehicle the Gvozdika can only carry thirty rounds while in the water.

Conventional Layout

The 2S1 Gvozdika was developed in the late 1960s and entered large scale production in 1971. Its full armor skin can protect the crew from small arms fire and shell splinters. It was fitted with an NBC system, which protects the crew from mass destruction weapons by sealing and overpressure generation, however it lacks a smoke grenade system.

The self-propelled howitzer is fitted with a 300 hp V8 diesel engine couple to a manual transmission. It has a maximum speed of thirty-seven mph on the road and eighteen mph offroad.

It features a conventional layout with the engine in the front and the turret at the rear. It operates with a crew of four that includes the commander, driver, gunner and loader.

Its main armament is a 2A31 howitzer, which is an adaption of the towed D-30 howitzer. It is compatible with all 122-mm munitions developed for that platform, and with normal shells has a range of approximately 9.5 miles, while rocket-assisted shells can be fired to a range of 13.6 miles. It can be used with fragmentation, HE-FRAG, HEAT, cluster, smoke and illumination projectiles.

The 2S1 was exported during the Cold War to Warsaw Pact nations including Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania. Since the end of the Cold War most of those were phased out. Its largest operators in recent years were the Ukraine, Belarus and India. Even in Russia the Gvozdika has largely been replaced by the 152mm 2S19 MSTA, which entered service in 1989. It has been largely relegated to reserve units and for use in training exercises.

However, it remains a most unusual example of Cold War weapon’s technology that offered a solution for a problem few nations saw existing.

-- This story first appeared in The National Interest --

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

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