During the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union developed an unusual track vehicle to address a problem that few considered to exist. Despite the initial ingenuity, the artillery didn’t perform well on the battlefield nor had a long-lasting legacy. Today, while some ex-Soviet nations continue to use the distinctive battery, it has been largely omitted from service in the Russian Army. Meet the Red Army’s amphibious howitzer – the 2S1 Gvozdika.
The Ambitious Amphibious Howitzer
The 2S1 Gvozdika (“Carnation”) is a self-propelled howitzer developed in the late 1960s, based on the MT-LBu multi-purpose chassis armed with a 122mm 2A18 howitzer. It is fully amphibious, with its seven road wheels on each side capable of propulsion on both land and water. Unlike the American DUKW (an amphibious truck), however, the Gvozdika required at least twenty minutes to prepare for amphibious operations instead of just driving directly into the water. Before entering the water, the bilge pump is activated (this would pump out water that enters the hull, the trim vane at the front of the hull is raised, shrouds above the drive sprocket and front roadwheels are installed, and water deflectors on the rear track covers are lowered.
When on the water, the 2S1 could barely carry ammunition, only 30 rounds, because the vehicle itself was already heavy at 15,700 kg. Having more could risk sinking it.
The Gvozdika entered service with the Soviet Army in the early 70s and debuted publicly at a Polish Army parade in 1974. A large number of production followed up to 10,100 units. Its main role includes amphibious assault and fire support to allied forces through direct and/or indirect fire. Additionally, assisting assault in forwarding positions and during breach missions in fortified areas in the combat field.
It had a standard layout, with the engine in the front and the turret in the back, and it was manned by a four-man crew that included the commander, driver, gunner, and loader. Soldiers inside the amphibious howitzer were protected from small arms fire and shell splinters by all-welded steel armor, in addition to the NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) system (no smoke grenade system, though) and infrared night vision. Though, it doesn’t have a smoke grenade system.
Recognized by the West as “M1974,” the engine fitted in the front of the Gvozdika was a 300 hp V8 engine coupled to a manual transmission that is capable of generating a maximum speed of 38 mph on the road, 18 mph off-road, and roughly 2.8 mph on the water within the 500 km range.
It used a 2A31 howitzer as its main armament, adapted from a towed D-30 howitzer and equipped with a power rammer, a double-baffle muzzle break, and a fume extractor. It can chamber all type-related 122mm munitions with a normal shell reaching up to 9.5 miles, while rocket-assisted projectiles have a range of 13.6 miles. Moreover, the amphibious howitzer can also be used with fragmentation, High Explosive – Fragmentation (HE-FRAG), High-explosive anti-tank (HEAT), cluster, smoke, and illumination missiles.
Throughout the Cold War and into the Warsaw Pact era, countries including former Czechoslovakia (the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary, and Romania were among the largest exporters of the 2S1. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, countries with amphibious howitzers in their storage placed them on reserve status or passed them on to allied states. Ukraine, Bulgaria, Belarus, Poland, and India still use the Gvozdika in their military inventory, each owning and utilizing hundreds of the type in their respective armed forces.
Meanwhile, the Russian Army has long replaced the Gvozdika with 152mm 2S19 “MSTA,” which entered service in 1989. But, a few dozen of the 2S1 were seen on the battlefield since the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
Russian forces reportedly lost dozens of soldiers, equipment, and weapons during its recent efforts in southern Ukraine, including a Gvozdika. Other than that, the amphibious howitzer has only been used by reserve units and in training exercises.
Besides the Russia-Ukraine War, the Gvozdika was also seen participating on the battlefield during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989), First Chechen War (1994–1996) and Second Chechen War (1999 to 2000) in Russia, Gulf War: Operation Desert Shield (1990-1991) and Operation Desert Storm (1991), South Ossetia War (2008), First (2011) and Second Libyan Civil War (2014-2020), and Syrian Civil War (2011-present).