For months, after Ukraine destroyed much of its first-line weaponry, Russian forces turned to whatever they could drag out from the bowels of their storehouses to replace their losses. First came T54/55 tanks, then MT-LB tracked vehicles fitted with an assortment of strange weaponry, and now M-46 towed field guns that first came into service during Josef Stalin’s time.

The milblogger WarNoir, among others, has recently posted images on X/Twitter that showed Russian artillerymen loading and firing M-46 / M1954 field guns with high explosive fragmentation ammunition produced in North Korea (DPRK). On some of the ammunition the words “for Sevastopol” had been scrawled. This is a reference to the incident on Sunday, June 23 when fragments fell on to a beach near the Crimean port city that killed six and injured more than 150 holidaymakers.

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Three North Korean 130mm HE Frag shells inscribed with “for Sevastopol.” Photo: X / WarNoir

The M-46 field gun is a relic of the Stalin era, having been produced in the USSR after World War II as a replacement for the M1931/37 122 mm towed gun. The weapon was created when the M-36 naval gun was mounted on a base and carriage, sporting two large road wheels and supported by legs that fan out to the rear and are angled to accept the violent recoil. An angular shield to either side of the barrel base provides limited protection from small arms fire. IT has a large, vented muzzle brake on the barrel end designed to reduce muzzle flash.

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It was not an ideal design but was relatively easy to maneuver manually and the 130mm gun with its seven meter (23 feet) long barrel gave it a high muzzle velocity and a range of around 27 kilometers (17 miles) using standard ammunition and up to 40 kilometers (25 miles) with “assisted” ammunition.

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Past experience has shown the quality of much of the ammunition supplied to Russian forces by Pyongyang is “questionable” but the need to deploy the M-46 guns suggests Moscow is getting near the bottom of the barrel (no pun intended). Nevertheless, the standard 3OF33 130mm fragmentation round can throw 3.6 kilograms (8 pounds) of TNT out to 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) while the North Korean version of China’s Extended Range Base Bleed (ERFB -NUBB) round reduces its payload to 3.2 kilograms (7 pounds) TNT, with a range of 38 kilometers (23.5 miles).

According to the 2023 issue of the International Institute for Strategic Studies publication “Military Balance,” Russia held up to 350 of the M46 guns in warehouses at the time of publication. The first sighting of an M-46 in Ukraine was in January 2024, as reported by the Ukrainian military issues publication Defense Express.

The article said while there may be limited stocks of the non-standard 130mm ammunition used by the guns still in Russian storage (they rarely throw anything away) it asked the question where would Russia acquire more? It suggested at the time, with some apparent prescience, that Moscow could turn to North Korea which it was known still held the Chinese Type 59 gun, a copy of the original M-46, as well as three types of self-propelled guns that employed 130 mm ammunition.

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The need for Russia to bring these guns “out of mothballs” is another indicator of the serious level of force degradation that Ukrainian forces have inflicted on Moscow’s troops since the 2022 full-scale invasion.

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