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Ukraine Strikes Russian Positions Using OTO Melara 105 mm Light-Towed Howitzer.

On June 10, 2024, Ukrainian forces released a picture revealing the use of a 105mm OTO Melara Model 56 mountain howitzer, provided by Spain in 2022. Despite its age, the Model 56 howitzer offers exceptional portability as it can be dismantled into 12 pieces and transported by pack animals or light vehicles, making it ideal for difficult terrains. Although its maximum firing range is only 10.5 km, which may seem limited, its ability to be quickly and easily deployed in challenging terrains makes it a valuable option for the Ukrainian armed forces.

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Oto Melara 105 mm Light-Towed Howitzer (Picture source: Ukraine MoD)

It is worth noting that in 2022-2023, Spain donated 6 OTO Melara Model 56 howitzers to Ukraine. The Spanish armed forces have 161 units of these howitzers in their army and 24 in their marine infantry. These howitzers have since been complemented or replaced by the L118 light gun.

The Model 56, also known as Mod. 56, is a 105 mm towed howitzer developed by the Italian military manufacturer OTO Melara and is also known as a mountain howitzer. It can be broken down into 12 pieces for transport by animals such as mules, horses, or camels, making it perfectly suited for areas inaccessible by road, typically in mountains where only trails are available. Designed in 1956 by Italian artillery General Salvatore Fuscaldi, the Mod. 56 met the needs of the "Alpini," the Italian army's mountain brigade, for a light, maneuverable, and compact howitzer suitable for rugged mountainous terrain. Its maximum range is 10.5 km, and it is versatile enough to serve as an anti-tank gun or mortar. Its hydropneumatic recoil reduction system under the barrel allows it to achieve an elevation of +65 degrees, enabling it to fire shells in a parabolic trajectory for near-vertical impacts. Equipped with an integral five-baffle muzzle brake and two foldable trails directly connected to the axle, it offers increased stability and an 18-degree traverse capability, ideal for direct fire. The howitzer is also equipped with a safety mechanism that protects against accidental firing and crew injuries.

Lightweight at just over 1,200 kg, the Mod. 56 howitzer can be towed by light utility vehicles at speeds up to 70 km/h, and can also be airlifted, notably by helicopters like the UH-1 Iroquois. It can be towed by animals or transported disassembled in pieces, with the largest piece weighing 125 kg, allowing great flexibility in case of limited transport resources. Able to be dismantled in just 3 minutes, it can also be carried inside an M113 armored personnel carrier once its defensive shield is removed.

Low-cost to produce, easy to maintain, and repair, the Mod. 56 has gained widespread popularity worldwide. Chosen by NATO in the 1950s as a light field gun, it outperformed the French 105/22 artillery system during trials and replaced the American M1 75 mm mountain howitzer. Adopted by military powers such as Germany and the United Kingdom, the latter even purchased military equipment from Italy for the first time. Exported to countries such as Argentina, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, it has been acquired by over 30 nations and remains in service in most of them. China, through NORINCO, also produces an indigenous version of the Mod. 56.

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