Denmark Gives Up All of Its Artillery

Denmark recently gave Ukraine all of its artillery. ALL of it. The armories are bare. Ditto Estonia, ditto the UK, ditto France. UK armories are so bare the rats have no place to hide. Germany hasn’t given away much in the way of artillery, but it’s given away all its Leopard II tanks to the point it is sending an “elite” armored brigade to the Baltics without tanks. The UK has only 40 Challenger II tanks remaining. The UK refers to its cavalry squadrons as “squadrons of troop strength.” The US and Canada have given away dozens of M-777 howitzers. With all this assistance, Ukrainian guns are falling silent. Why?

One reason is a shortage of artillery shells. We’ll leave the economics of artillery shell production to another post, but in simple terms, Russia is capable of firing 60,000 rounds a day. Ukraine, at its peak, was firing 6,000. Ukraine couldn’t keep up, and neither could NATO.

M-777  Wearing Out

Another reason is the fragility of the NATO systems. The M-777 155mm howitzer is an extremely accurate gun that can outrange the Russian D-20 152mm field pieces. The M-777 was not designed to fire hundreds of rounds a day. Under continuous firing in Ukraine, barrels overheat, warp, lose accuracy, and burn out. They need to be changed, and can’t be maintained by Ukrainian gunners in the field. The parts of the carriage and breech wear out.

M777 HOwitzer
Figure 1: M-777 Howitzer. Light, long-range, and accurate.

Compare Figure 1 to Figure 2, and you can see how the M-777 has a lighter and less dense construction than the D-20. It was built for a different kind of war. It’s designed to be light, airmobile, long-range, and highly accurate. It is less rugged, less resistant to the wear and tear encountered under sustained firing on the Ukrainian battlefield. Wear and tear can lead to catastrophe. The high chamber pressures of these guns can result in burst breech failures.

The More Rugged D-20

The Russian D-20, which hasn’t changed much since the 1950s, is far more rugged. It traces its lineage to World War I. In fact, 152mm has been a standard Russian caliber since the early 20th century. It is also the standard caliber of North Korea. Until recently, it was the standard caliber of China. China has transitioned to 155mm. That means both China and North Korea have warehouses full of 152mm ammo they can sell to Russia. Russia is producing up to 5 million rounds a year on its own, and continues to expand production. The US and NATO are having difficulty producing 1 million. It will take a major effort to ramp up.

russian D20 152MM Howitzer
Figure 2: Russian D-20 152mm Howitzer. Simple, rugged, dense construction

Russian doctrine has always regarded artillery as the king of the battlefield. Those dramatic massed artillery barrages Zhukov delivered in Operation Bagration were dealt by the father of the D-20.

Figure 3: King of the Battlefield. Massed Soviet artillery in WW2

But there is one more reason Ukrainian guns are falling silent. They are being destroyed by counterbattery fire.