Tag Archives: mortars

Syria update: the attack on Hama

Here below you can find the latest update from Syria based on the details that Bjørn Holst Jespersen, a contributor of The Aviationist, has continued to post on his blog.

But, first of all, let’s have a look at a map of Syria, in order to understand why some cities are more important than others for the outcome of the uprising.

M-5 Damascus – Aleppo

In the map below Bjorn has highlighted the special geographical look of the present conflict in Syria. As can be seen, the two largest cities – Damascus and Aleppo – are placed relatively far apart, and keeping those two cities connected is a central part of maintaining control of the country. A scenario where Aleppo is cut off from Damascus would significantly increase the chance/risk of the regime loosing control of the city. And that would most probably seal their fate.

The M5 highway/motorway (red line on the map below) is quite illustrative of this specific phenomenon, and the importance of controlling this route is easily understood.
What also becomes clear from studying the map is that the cities Hama, Homs and Rastan are placed in key positions. Loosing control of those cities will to a large degree isolate Damascus from Aleppo, which must be considered extra critical to the regime.

Screen shot from Google Maps with markings by me. Red line is the M5 highway linking Damascus to Aleppo

Aleppo is equal to Damascus in size.Moreover, if the metropolitan areas of Homs and Hama are combined with the city of Rastan (61,000) the population reaches about 1.28 million. Given the strength of opposition in these cities it’s a quite considerable number to have placed in this strategic area.

2S1, 122 mm self-propelled artillery

Stitched together frames from a video on YouTube channel. Uploaded May 24. 2012. *note: there are five artillery pieces, but one is hardly visible behind the tent from this angle. Video and help identifying the weapon via @markito0171.

On May 24. a video came out. It is said to show an artillery position firing at Hama and, according to Bjørn it shows five 2S1 Gvozdika. These are self-propelled 122 mm howitzers and at the 1:55 min video the position fires six times.

According to Wikipedia, Syria operates about 400 of these, and according to images released on Feb. 10. 2012 by U.S. Department of State, such weapons are known to have been deployed by the Syrian regime, though at that time in an other position.

Frame from video on YouTube channel. The ID on the 2S1s in this video is certain. Uploaded May 26, 2012.

From another video uploaded on May 26. there is more evidence of this weapon being used by the regime.

The image above is a frame from that video showing a number of 2S1s are being moved on trailers. The date of this recording is unknown and according to the title of the video (and Google translate) this movement has to do with Homs refinery. But still this – besides substantiating some weapons id – gives an idea of what kind of military force is being deployed against the opposition.

In the image below, to the left is a 2S1, and to the right – for comparison – Bjørn placed a photo of the larger calibre 2S3 Akatsiya. The 2S3 is mounted with a 152.4 mm howitzer and is considerably heavier than the 2S1 (16 vs. 28 ton). His main basis for the identification is that the light makes it possible to see that the hull-sides of some of the pieces have an unbroken vertical wall above the tracks.

This matches the 2S1 better. Also only the 2S1 have two hatches on top of the turret. The best id-view will be to freeze a frame at about 1:26 min. in the video from the firing position.

Left a Polish 2S1 seen from an angle that resembles that of the vehicles in the video. Image from Wikipedia. Right: for comparison, a 2S3 Akatciya. Source: Dishmodels.ru

BMP-1, ZPU-4 and troops

On May 27. the Syrian regime closed in on the city (Hama), especially the North Eastern neighbourhood, Al-Arbaeen, which was surrounded from about 5 am until the evening. Several other neighbourhoods were targeted too and according to activists, snipers were positioned on roof-tops preventing the population from moving – and from helping those wounded by shelling.

According to those same sources, on May 28. the assault was still ongoing, and a number of videos are coming out showing some of the deployments of regime forces.

The videos together show the high level of deployment of military in the city (in contrast with the Annan six point plan).

Left: a frame from a video showing what Bjørn has IDed as a BMP-1. Right: a frame from video showing more BMP-1s. Both videos uploaded to Youtube channel on May 28, 2012. Videos via @markito0171.

The BMP-1s, that can be seen above, in the frame to the left, have been extensively used by the regime throughout this conflict, and before 2011 the Syrian Army was believed to have around 2,000 of these. They are armed with a 73 mm 2A28 Grom low pressure smooth-bore gun that fires rocket assisted grenades.

Images show fragments of two different models of these grenades. The most common model together with a BMP-1 can be seen here, and the other here.

The frame to the right, has two more BMP-1s passing through. They both seems to have an unusual arrangement above the rear hatches. It might be meant to give the rear-end the same ski-tip profile as the front. It would make some sense according to Bjørn.

In the last part of the video one of the BMPs also gives a fine demonstration of the turret capabilities.

In the image below, to the left, is a truck mounted ZPU-4. It’s a four barrel 14.5 mm heavy machine gun originally intended for anti aircraft use, and this video corroborate reports from @HamaEcho that these weapons had been seen by this source for the first time only a few days ago.

However back on Apr. 11 here at The Aviationist we had a post showing a video of opposition forces firing at a regime helicopter. The weapon used is not visible but an expert makes a very convincing case identifying it as the ZPU-4.

The frame to the right gives an impression of what kind of deployment of troops this also involves.

Left: a frame from a video showing a ZPU-4 mounted on a truck. Right: a frame from video showing troops. Videos uploaded on May  27. & 28. 2012. to Youtube channel. videos via @markito0171.

A group of UN observers is currently stationed in Hama, but there are no reports of what they might have done during these attacks.Helicopters

Although there have been claims of helicopters shot down by the Free Syrian Army, at the time of writing the news has not been confirmed. There is a footage allegedly showing a Mi-8 helicopter being hit by anti-aircraft fire, but its quality is extremely low.

Even if they don’t show helicopters being hit and downed by the FSA, the following videos, respectively filmed on May 23 and Jun. 2, seem to document the use of Mil Mi-8 choppers to attack rebel positions from medium-low level.

Update from Syria: amphibious armoured vehicles, heavy mortars and tanks.

In this article you can find some new details that Bjørn Holst Jespersen, a contributor of The Aviationist, has continued to post on his blog, as he keeps collecting and analyzing images and footage from Homs, Hama, Idlib, Damascus and other Syrian towns made available on Social Media.

Hence this is an update to the original Special feature: all the weapons used by the Syrian regime on Homs and following posts about the Syrian uprising published on The Aviationist.


Another weapon has been seen used by the Syrian regime in Homs. It’s a four wheel amphibious armored vehicle with a turret mounted heavy machine gun. The weapon is shown in a video that was linked-to in a tweet from an activist:

“Police” armored car shooting at Khaldiyah neighbourhood of Homs today. [ YouTube link ] #Homs #Syria (4:02 PM – 13 May)

A frame from video on MyAbotarek’s YouTube channel showing the vehicle firing towards the camera.

In the video the vehicle is seen firing at least 15 rounds in the direction of the rather courageous camera man. To identify the vehicle, Bjørn stitched together two frames from the video in the image below:  it’s a Russian (or Soviet) made BRDM-2.

The BRDM-2 is an amphibious armoured patrol car, and its main weapon is a 14.5 mm KPV heavy machine gun.

Apparently, its blue color and the absence of tracks are meant to make it a police vehicle. But even if such vehicles have been used for police purposes in other countries, keeping on the 14.5 mm machine gun makes it a military weapon.

Left: two frames from  video on MyAbotarek’s YouTube channel stitched together. Right: photo of a BRDM-2 in Polish service from Wikipedia.

According to Wikipedia, Syria is estimated to have some 950 of these vehicles, even if it was rarely spotted during the uprising. Bjorn believes that a possible explanation is that the armour of the BRDM-2 is significantly thinner than that of the BMP-1: the thickness of the armour of the hull floor is 2-3 mm and the hull sides 7 mm (also according to Wikipedia) makes it quite vulnerable in urban warfare.

And with an estimated number of BMP-1s for Syria of 2,100 (by 2005) there have been plenty of these until now. Although someone saw the use of the BRDM-2 as an attempt to make it appear as if the regime is complying with the Annan ceasefire agreement (and not as the result of either a decreased level of tension or a lack of better armoured vehicles) the BRDM-2 was used as a police since at least Nov. 10, 2011, as shown in a post on the Military In The Middle East.

Left frame: Under “Police” the Arabic lettering can be translated literally as “maintaining security and order forces”. Images and caption from Military In The Middle East.

240 mm mortar updates

Two M-240 mortars believed to be used against Old Homs. The one to the left has its barrel tilted to horizontal position. From a video uploaded on Mar. 28 to 434343aaa’s YouTube channel (via @GRAFIXEL and @ArabSpringFF)

The frames above are from one of the first video documenting presence of the 240 mm mortars. In the video there are two of the towed M-240 mortar model. The footage also shows at least 3 tanks at the start.

The two mortars are placed West of Homs close to the Al-Waer neighbourhood at this position. Please notice as well that all the areas in Homs that have been shelled are within the 9.5 km range of this weapon (see post linked-to at the end of this section for map).

In a video uploaded on Apr. 14 that Bjørn has just recently discovered, the mortar to the left has been covered (image below). The video does not show the one to the right. His guess is that if it was still there it would have been filmed. Possibly it has been moved and covered.

Also in this video the tanks mentioned above have disappeared. Instead a number of tanks can be seen in two buildings close by at this position.

Left frame: something covered in the exact same position as the M-240 in the earlier recording. Frame to the right: tanks hidden/parked in building. Source:  video uploaded on april 14. to 434343aaa’s YouTube channel.

The area where the mortars are placed is part of a military academy and contains more artillery positions. Bjørn has a closer look at the area in this post.

T-62 tank

A tank has been extensively used in Syria by the regime: the T-62. The main gun on this model is a 115 mm smooth-bore.

Here below you can find an image depicting a T-62 tank. According to the uploader the tank is positioned on the edge of the Baba Amr neighbourhood, at Homs.

A T-62 tank on the edge of Baba Amr, Homs. The T-62 and the T-55 both have five road wheels, but the T-62 has larger gaps between the last three wheels while the T-55 has a large gap between the first and second. Image source: engahns546‘s Panoramio account.

Browsing Panoramio, Bjørn has found anoter interesting photo showing three tanks located not far from where Baba Amr borders to the Inshaat neighbourhood in Homs. The one to the right is a T-72. The tank in the middle is some kind of road clearing vehicle based on the T-72, and the one to the left should be another T-72.

Three T-72 tanks in Baba Amr, Homs. The number of road wheels is the easiest way to tell the T-72 apart from the T-62 and T-55. Image source: engahns546‘s Panoramio account.

Latest from Syria: mortars, anti-aircraft vehicles and (maybe) chemical weapons

After publishing the Special feature: all the weapons used by the Syrian regime on Homs, Bjørn Holst Jespersen, a contributor of The Aviationist, has continued to analyse the footage of the Syrian uprising made available on Youtube, Social Networks and blogs to update the article he originally posted on his blog while I’ve posted several articles about the made-in-Iran drones, helicopters, anti-aircraft systems used by the loyalist forces or the Free Syrian Army.

Click here to see all the posts about the Syrian uprising published on The Aviationist.

Unidentified artillery or tank shell casing:

The tweet below is from a Syrian activist, and contains links to images of the destruction to Homs:

@ArabSpringFF: Take a tour of destroyed Homs. Inshaat photo set 1 & photo set 2. The least damaged area of Baba Amr photo set 3.

Image from arabspringff’s flickr photostream.

This image is the last in the first set of photos. Given that it seems to have been found inside the city, Bjørn’s guess is that it could be the casing from a tank round, but can anyone read what is written on it?

Mortars, 120 mm and 160 mm

This part is an analysis of the content of a video whose link was tweeted on Apr. 14.

@tweets4peace: 14/04/2012: Homs: The artillery used to shell #Homs and positioning of regime forces. Alghabeh – Alwaar neighbourhood. http://t.co/C9ivCly8

Stitched frames from video on 434343aaa’s YouTube channel

In the image above, a number of frames from the video were stitched. The resulting image shows what looks like an artillery position with four mortars: two 120 mm and two larger mortars that Bjørn believes to be 160 mm models. During the video the 120 mm mortar to the far left is fired three times (sec. 1:05, 3:09, 5:32) with grenades that seem to be stored in the tent next to it.

Top left: image of 2B11 Sani from wikipedia. Bottom left: image of 120 mm mortar round from here. Right: frame form video on 434343aaa’s YouTube channel.

The previous post about the weapons used by the Syrian regime on Homs contained some images of the 120 mm 2B11 Sani model, which most likely is the one used here as well. The size of the mortar looks right. Also the grenade that is being prepared in the frozen frame seems to be of the right size.

Left: image of 160 mm mortar from Worldwide Defence. Right: frame from video on 434343aaa’s YouTube channel

The larger mortar seems too slim to match the M-240, pointed in the previous post. Instead it might match the Russian M-160, which replaced the M1943 after WWII.

Imagery from Google Earth and Wikimapia

In the above image Bjørn has marked an area that could be the place where the mortars are positioned. In the above mentioned tweet, the video is said to be from the Alwaar neighbourhood, and according to Wikimapia the neighbourhood to the South East of the marked position is called Al-Waer. That is likely to be a match. And, as can be seen in the enlarged image, the area is framed by some kind of ditch-like structure matching the concrete structure that is visible in the video.

As indicated on the satellite image, the distance from this position to areas in Homs that have been shelled heavily is about 5-6 km, which is within the 7,2 km range of the 2B11 Sani.

Still, what exactly is being targeted by the mortar in the video it’s hard to say.

To the North East of the position is a military training academy. This leaves open the possibility that this is some kind of exercise, but most probably it isn’t. The main reason for this is that the mortar is aimed in the (general) direction from where the video is recorded. Bjørn believes that the elevated filming-position would be somewhere on the edge of Al-Waer facing the open field with the mortar position. If so, the grenades would pass over the heads of those filming, and fall somewhere behind them.

ZSU-23-4 “Shilka”

When the opposing forces can’t rely on planes or helicopters, anti-aircraft weapons are put to different use.

Frame from a video on SyrianDaysOf Rage’s YouTube channel.

There have been several reports about the Russian made Shilka being used in urban fighting in Homs as well as other cities.

The Shilka is a self-propelled anti air craft weapon armed with four 23 mm machine guns (or auto cannons). It has a fast moving turret – as can be seen in this video said to be from Douma, Damascus. The system also has radar guidance, but this has been dismantled on the Shilkas that have been filmed.

According to Wikipedia, Syria has received 400 Shilkas, but there is no estimate of the number still in service.

ZPU-4 quad 14,5 mm are also believed to be in the opposition’s hands.

Three frames from a video on bolna66’s YouTube channel. The video is said to be from Douma, a Damascus suburb.

Chemical weapons or White Phosphorus?:

These tweet are from a Syrian activist:

‏ @tweets4peace: Rastan co-ord said new weapons were used today, 10 confirmed dead, they said chemical too, can anyone tell? [video from hospital#Homs

@tweets4peace: If anyone can analyse to see what was used on these people I’d be grateful – 1st time since 15th March 2011   #Homs

According to the titles, both videos are from Al-Rastan (25 km north of Homs). And since some of the victims appear in both the one mentioned in the tweet and that posted below, they should be from the same attack.

Bjørn says he is unable to determine what has caused the injuries to the people in the videos and I concur the rest of this paragraph should be considered speculations and taken with grain of salt.

The blistering and reported respiratory problems could correspond with symptoms of mustard gas, but at the moment the reports are far too uncertain to draw any conclusion.

Another suggestion is that these injuries are from white phosphorus.

Since white phosphorus often causes deeper wounds, Bjørn has tried to see if I there is any evidence of such in the video. In the image below I point to some deeper and more sharply defined wounds, but I don’t believe this amounts to proof of white phosphorus being the cause – “ordinary” burns and shell fragments still remains a possibility.

Three frames: the one to the right is from the video linked-to in the first tweet of this section. Left and centre frames are from the video posted above.

Anybody willing to provide information useful to identify the cause of these injuries, please post a comment.

Special feature: all the weapons used by the Syrian regime on Homs.

Update May. 27, 2012 20.15 GMT

Bjørn Holst Jespersen (@bjoernen_dk on Twitter) is a long time contributor of The Aviationist.

He has helped me preparing the daily reports about the Libya Air War and has provided valuable analysis of the images of the U.S stealthy drone captured in Iran, to determine, using perspective drawing techniques, both the size and the orientation of the building where the RQ-170 was showcased.

This time, based on the article he has posted on his blog,  the Danish architect has offered the readers of  this website an interesting analysis of some (if not all) the weapons used by the Assad forces in Syria based on the images and footage he has collected in the last two weeks.

[Read also: Mysterious drone overflying clashes in Syria could be a new type rarely seen outside Iran. And here’s a new picture (maybe)]

240 mm mortar – either M240 or 2S4

The images below are screen-dumps from a video (@Brown_Moses must be credited for the head up).

They seems to be stems of large calibre mortar rounds. And by comparing to the size of the persons carrying the ordnance-parts they appear to be more than 200 mm.

Wikipedia has a list of heavy mortars. It is not long, and the only “active” mortar listed of a calibre of this size is the Russian made towed 240 mm mortar M240 or the later self-propelled 2S4 (also 240 mm calibre).

Image and drawings of mortar round form British Ordnance Collectors Network.  image of  2S4 mortar is screen-dump from video on BitnikGr’s channel.

The shell (or grenade) is about 1.5 meter long and has a weight of 130 kg with 32 kg of explosives.

Bjørn says this is the largest calibre mortar still being used worldwide. And even if it is said to have some accuracy in this context he believes it can be categorized as an “indiscriminate weapon”. Probably aiming at terrorizing the people in the besieged areas through general destruction.

122 mm howitzer – 2A18  (D-30)

Image credit: U.S. Department of State

On Feb. 10. 2012, the U. S. Department of State published a series of satellite images showing artillery deployed by the Syrian regime against different cities. The image above is one of two related to Homs.

According to the image presented as identifying the type of artillery deployed it is a Russian 122 mm howitzer.

Howitzers are characterized by having a muzzle velocity of the projectile that is slower than other cannons. They fire their projectiles (shells) at a higher angle which makes the projectiles hit at a steeper angle. This makes a Howitzer capable of hitting targets where the direct line of fire is blocked – in this case – by buildings.

By looking at Wikipedias list of howitzers it appears that they are made in three sizes: 155/152.4 mm, 122 mm and 105 mm, with the 105 mm size being less common.

Shell fragment

Left image is from @ArabSpringFF. Drawing credit wiki.

The image above shows a fragment of a stabilizer-stem from an artillery shell. For comparison purposes, a drawing of an example of a 122 mm grenade is on the left on the same illustration. But please notice: the specific weapon it was fired has not been identified.

Bjørn comments: “I haven’t seen any certain photo-documentation of 122 mm grenade fragments found inside Homs.”

About artillery shells

Artillery shells are NOT just oversized rifle projectiles: as can be seen in the illustration above, they are complex objects launched by a cannon using an explosive charge. For easier understanding they could be called cannon-bombs.

Just to give readers a basic idea, a typical shell carries an amount of high explosives (maybe 25% of total weight) that is detonated at impact by a fuse-mechanism. When the shell explodes the steel case is blown apart – fragmented – into melting hot pieces of shrapnel. And the purpose of the shrapnel is to kill or wound persons, which it does. The blast itself will also kill or wound people, but within a smaller radius compared to the shrapnel. Primarily it will cause material damage were it hits.

BM-21 Grad

Image credit: U.S. Department of State

According to the photo above, the weapons deployed here is the Russian made multiple rocket launcher BM-21. It launches the 122 mm so-called Grad missile. Here is a link to a video showing how it is operated.

Grad missiles are a continuation of a rocket type Russia/ Soviet Union began producing during WWII. Back then the Soviets nick-named it Katyusha which is still sometimes being used. Generally speaking, Grads are relatively powerful, cheap to produce, fast to fire, slow to load and inaccurate.

Today’s Russian Grads are about 3 meter long and weight about 70 kg. They have a range of up to 40 km (Iran has made models with range up to 75 km). Typically they will explode and fragment on impact (see description of shells above), but they can also be used to carry cluster bombs, mines or chemicals.

“To my knowledge, firing Grads into a city can only be described as an indiscriminate attack,” Bjorn says who also adds “I haven’t seen any photo-documentation of Grad missile fragments found inside Homs, but Katyusha rockets have been mentioned in reports.

73 mm rocket, RPG-7 and more

The image above is a screenshot from France 24, February 22/23. A group of Syrian opposition fighters/defenders in Homs showed some of the ordnance fragments they have collected.

Here’s Bjorn explaination of what A, B, C, D and E could be:

A: I’m quite sure this part is from a munition like the one in the image below. If so; then it’s a 73 mm grenade. Here is a link to a Pakistani version. I have also noticed that that the Russian made  BMP-1 (an infantry fighting vehicle) has a 73 mm gun. And since the BMP-1 have been in several videos I believe those are the ones that have been firing them.

B: stabilizer from a RPG-7 (Rocket Propelled Grenade, mainly used against tanks and other armoured vehicles).

C: sustainer motor from an RPG-7 grenade/rocket.

D: tail end of a 73 mm PG-9. This too is main gun ammunition for the BMP-1. Notice the two broken off fins in the center frame below. Fragments of this ammunition seems to be less common than those of the grenade/rocket under “A“. An explanation for this could be cost: by the look of it this type of ammunition appears much more sophisticated in design and must be significantly more expensice to produce.

E: this one has an unusual colour. It seems to me like it is some kind of tube with holes that have been cracked and partly flattened. The original diameter of this part can not have been more than about 5 cm. I don’t expect to be able to id this one, but I believe it is from the rear-end of either a mortar shell or a small missile/rocket.

Image credit: Pakistan Ordnance Factories web site

Cluster munitions?

Screenshots from this video on syriapioneer’s channel

Two frames stitched together showing a series of explosions said to be from the same shell or rocket. Although some believe that cluster bombs could have caused them, according to Holst Jespersen this video linked by @ArabSpringFF seems to show that the number of sub-munitions is lower and more separate than usual cluster bombs.

107 mm rockets and more

Photo tweeted by @ArabSpringFF on february 8. for identification.

Here’s Bjorn explaination of what A, B, C and D could be:

A: these are parts of a mortar stem, and judging from the images I’ve seen it’s a type of shell that is used very often in this conflict.In another photo, I believe I have been able to measure the size of the fins to be more than 100 mm and less than 130 mm. And to my knowledge this will make it a shell for a 120 mm mortar. That is the largest caliber among the mordern infatery mortars in Wikipedia’s list and it could look something like this.I have not been able to determine the specific shell-type but here is an example.

B: according to this video (at about 1:02) this part is from a 107 mm rocket.

C: these two parts seems to match a 107 mm rocket that have been identified by New York Times journalist C. J. Chivers in this blog post. And here is a video to get an idea of how it works. And another that I just couldn’t resist linking to.
Apart from flying in the general direction it is pointed, this weapon has no precision, which will make it an indiscriminate weapon in this context.

D: when comparing this to the one marked “C” there is no doubt this is of a larger calibre. To my knowledge there are only two to choose from (more or less): 122 mm and 152.4 mm. And since I believe the step up to the 152.4 mm to be too large I’m leaning towards this being from some kind of 122 mm calibre shell or rocket.

S-5 Rockets

The following video was sent to The Aviationist from another source. It shows what look like S-5K rockets. These rockets could come from the Mi-24 Hind helicopters seen overflying the area of the clashes, even if this is just speculation since no video of aerial attack has emerged so far .

Tank shelling

This video was uploaded on Mar 30 and is said to be from Homs. Bjørn believes the tank has fired one round just before the video starts – and later the footage shows three more rounds being fired.

The tank seems to be a T-72, but the video is a low-resolution one to rule out any other Russian T-model.

Four frames from the video posted above showing smoke after one tank shell fired (sec 0:01) and three more shell being fired (sec 0:13, 0:41, 1:17). Source: hoole19 YouTube channel.

Left: image of a 125 mm tank shell from here. Right: frame from video posted above.

Assuming it’s a T-72 it will most likely have a 125 mm smoothbore main gun, and it could be firing shells like the one in the image above. More examples here.

It is not clear to me what has happened up to this, but during the video there is no sounds of other weapons being fired or any other sign of provokations, which make it look like this shelling is random terror.