An rarely used munition was found following the Russian attack and later withdrawal from Bucha, Ukraine, over the past month of fighting. Residents in the city found small arrows or darts called fléchettes scattered on the ground, a projectile rarely used in modern combat.
A woman named Svitlana Chmut from Bucha found these mini-arrows in her yard after Russians had repeatedly shelled their area before they withdrew to focused their invasion on Donbas, The Washington Post reported. Many of these darts punctured the tarp of her vehicle and directly nailed the tarp to her car. They were allegedly fired sometime between March 25 and March 26.
“If you look closely around my house, there are a lot more of them,” Chmut said.
One Russian 2S1 Gvozdika SPG can be seen totally destroyed, along with many 3Sh1 122mm flechette and 3BK13/3BK6 series HEAT-FS-T projectiles. (Thank you @blueboy1969 for assistance) pic.twitter.com/NJM3fuYyOD
— 🇺🇦 Ukraine Weapons Tracker (@UAWeapons) April 10, 2022
But what are these small darts? These fléchettes are steel projectiles with tails much like modern darts. They were previously used in ballistic munitions in World War I, typically as antipersonnel weapons. They were dropped from an aircraft and did not contain explosive charges during that time, relying on just their kinetic energy to pierce through the helmets and other protective gear.
Weapon and military enthusiasts alike would remember that the US used these weapons for a time, with the most famous being the Lazy Dog (or a Red Dot Bomb, or a Yellow Dog Bomb). These unguided, kinetic projectiles were used mostly in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. They were also dropped from an aircraft without explosive charges and were used against infantry.
Why use them? Well, they were cheap, simple, and quite effective. If it works, why change it, right? These 1.75-inch darts would garner enough kinetic energy to pierce through a person’s helmet, jungle canopy, light armor, and even sand. Plus, you could drop them in the thousands in a single flyby.
These fléchettes (now Lazy Dog projectiles) could be employed by any aircraft, dropped by hand, in a bag, or a Mark 44 cluster adaptor (which had a time delay fuze). It reportedly had speeds of 700 feet per second or 480 mph. Some shapes of the dart could even be compared to the firepower of a .50 caliber bullet, to which we say… “Ouch.”
Later on, special artillery rounds would be made for 105mm howitzer batteries. Famously known as the “Beehive” anti-personnel round, otherwise known as anti-personnel tracers (APERS-T), these little darts packed a punch! If fired from a 105mm howitzer, the enemy could expect some 8,000 fléchettes flying directly to them. Beehive rounds would also be made for the recoilless anti-tank weapons such as the 90mm and 106mm mounted on the M50 Ontos. APERS-T would also be made for M79, M203, and M320 grenade launchers.
They would be so effective that another variant of the fléchettes would later be used as small-arms ammunition. The US would develop a variant of the dart that could hold poison or harmful chemicals, with the dart having grooves to carry substances. The USSR would have their AO-27 rifle and the APS amphibious rifle that would also utilize flechette rounds.
We do not know why the Russians are using this in combat today. However, military experts who inspected the rounds said that the fléchettes came from a Russian 122mm 3Sh1 artillery round. We’re sure that these rounds came from the Russians as the Ukrainians do not use fléchettes of any kind. In fact, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian forces, Major Volodymyr Fito, also confirmed they did not use these shells.
Given the known supply problems the Russian army is having, the use of these rounds may simply be the Russians using everything they have in their warehouses to make up for a lack of other more conventional munitions.
According to Fenix Insights Group munitions Expert Neil Gibson, the Russian 3Sh1 is a true shrapnel projectile filled with fléchettes and wax binder. The darts are then pushed out of the projectile by its base, a black powder charge ignited through a DTM-75. He also determined that other uncommon projectiles were also used in Bucha, namely the direct-fire 122 mm 3BK13 or 3BK13M HEAT-FS-T projectiles & their V-15 fuzing system. He claims that these types of munitions are perfect for hitting troops in an open area as they are designed to scatter.
While old and uncommon in modern warfare, these munitions are not illegal under the rules of armed conflict. However, they have drawn the ire of several human rights groups in the past as the darts are unguided area effect weapons and should not be used in densly packed civilian areas. During the time of the munitions being dropped on Bucha, Ukrainian troops did not have a large presence in the town, which suggests the the deployment of the fléchettes was merely a weapon being used to terrorize civilians
Nonetheless, Chmut, who looked on the brighter side of things, said that the ammunition crates that the Russians brought would be helpful in making a fire in the winter, and the artillery shells would make a “lovely fence.” Looking at the brighter side is difficult in Bucha, where the city had gained international attention for being one of the first areas in Ukraine to suffer a mass execution at the hands of the Russian forces.