For decades it’s been considered one of farmers’ favorite all-terrain chariots: built to haul heavy loads across fields, but nimble enough to navigate Tesco’s car park. Sturdy, reliable and cheaper than a Land Rover, the humble Mitsubishi L200 pickup is the workhorse of the country dweller.
Surprisingly, after a life of hard service on a farm and with 100,000 miles on the odometer, an L200 doesn’t usually attract much attention on the used market. But now farmers across the UK are seeing a surge in demand for their aging carts – for use as mobile rocket launchers in Ukraine.
Volunteers helping Ukraine’s armed forces are scouring Britain’s rural areas for L200s and other pick-up trucks to be adapted as combat vehicles. After being driven into the war-torn country, they are camouflage-painted, armed with machine guns or rocket launchers, and brought to life on the front lines against Russia. The UK appears to be the largest source of pickups because they are cheaper to buy here than on the continent.
Among the suppliers is “Freddie,” a retired West Country businessman who began organizing volunteer aid convoys to Ukraine when the war began in February. Under his watch, half a dozen L200s that would otherwise have rusted in farmers’ fields in Cornwall or Devon have gone to war in Ukraine.
“Ukrainians seem particularly interested in the L200s, especially the older ones, as they’re tough, cheap and easy to repair,” he says. “They first take them to an engineering shop and then they go to the front. The units that use them sometimes send us videos of them in action to thank our donors: one had a multiple rocket launcher system firing from it. “
It shows footage of an L200 in action on the southern front of Ukraine near Cherson in the summer. Although the Ukrainian military has not released exact details of the operation, it was certainly a step up from its previous farm duties: instead of hauling bales of hay or logs, it delivered a payload of 24 missiles in half a minute.
The converted L200s are part of a vast arsenal of makeshift weapons Ukraine has used to even the odds against its larger neighbor, most of them crafted in the workshops of volunteer mechanics. The lightweight frames of Soviet-era Ladas were used to make all-terrain sniper buggies. Commercial drones have been fitted with pincers capable of dropping grenades behind enemy lines.
It’s not the first time pickup trucks have entered service as improvised war chariots. As seen in the BBC drama series SAS Rogue Heroes, which ended on Sunday, the fledgling SAS first outfitted jeeps with mounted machine guns for hit-and-run attacks in North Africa – a technique that has since been continued by guerrilla armies . In the 1990s, Somalia’s warlords invented their infamous “Technical” – an anti-aircraft gun welded to a pickup truck. The Taliban’s trademark is a similarly equipped Toyota Hilux.
The L200 is far from the only pick-up truck used in Ukraine: Mazda BT-50, Nissan Navaras, Ford Rangers and Jeep Gladiators are also trying action. But it is by all accounts one of the most popular.
In June, Ukraine’s Defense Ministry posted a video on Twitter showing an L200 equipped with a rocket launcher recovered from a downed Russian helicopter. So, at the risk of sounding like a reviewer for Combat Car Fleet Monthly, what makes the L200 such a hit? According to Freddie, those same attributes make them popular with farmers and builders. Especially the older ones have fewer electronics that can go wrong. And the chassis, designed to carry a ton of cargo, is tough enough to cope with a rocket launcher or a heavy machine gun, as well as armor. “They built stabilizers on the trucks with the rocket launcher system and it was very solid,” says Freddie. “You don’t want it rocking around.”
Organizations helping to customize the vehicles include Cars4Ukraine, a Ukrainian volunteer organization that is one of hundreds providing additional support for the country’s war effort.
“You can easily turn an agricultural truck into an armored vehicle,” says Cars4Ukraine spokesman Ivan Oleksii. “It won’t be like a Bushmaster (a mine-proof Australian vehicle being shipped to Ukraine), but it’s still pretty effective. Soldiers told us that a pickup truck with a heavy machine gun mounted on it could be like 20 infantry troops.”
Cars4Ukraine has a team of Ukrainian mechanics who customize the pickup trucks for front-line use – a militarized version of Pimp My Ride, the TV show that gives battered sedans a spectacular makeover. The designs have evolved based on feedback from soldiers. Weak points such as coolers and batteries are armored. Armored strips are also fitted to the windows just above shoulder height, reducing the risk of neck injuries from shrapnel.
“There’s a balance between armor and speed: some of these vehicles sometimes have to go insanely fast so you can’t put too much stress on them,” says Oleksii. “But sometimes soldiers who come under shellfire call the guy who armored the car and say, ‘Thanks, that saved our lives.'”
Of nearly 150 trucks Cars4Ukraine has acquired, around 100 are from the UK, where aging models can be sold second-hand for less than £2,000. That’s partly because Mitsubishi pulled out of the UK market last year, limiting future demand. As right-hand drive, they are also more difficult to sell abroad, says Oleksii.
On the battlefield, however, right-hand drive has its advantages, as Russian gunners are more likely to assume the driver is sitting on the left. Two of Freddie’s trucks were hit by Russian gunfire: on both occasions the bullets passed harmlessly through the vehicle’s unoccupied passenger side.
Cars4Ukraine even has its own network of agents tasked with sourcing used pickups across Europe. The British ending is handled by Nika Ostratyuk, a Ukrainian film producer. She left Ukraine in March when her home in the Kiev suburb of Irpin suffered the brunt of Russia’s failed attack on the capital.
“We scan websites like Autotrader and when we see a suitable pickup truck for sale, we immediately try to get in touch with the seller – sometimes we drive 200 miles to view a car,” says Ostratyuk, who shares many of their vehicles procured from Wales and rural Shropshire. “Some are getting very rusty because the weather is so wet here and the price is going up now because they are in such high demand in Ukraine. But the farmers are usually happy to sell when we tell them why we want them: half dozen times they’ve said ‘okay, that’s a gift for you’ and sold it to us for just £1.”
While the L200’s success on the battlefield is unlikely to be seen in Mitsubishi’s sales campaigns, it can be quietly welcomed by the company, which used to market it as “all off-road work in its stride”. First produced in 1978, it was at one point Britain’s best-selling pick-up truck.
Freddie says some of the ones he bought are still roadworthy despite having 150,000 miles on the clock. As with any used car, however, the following always applies: be careful with the buyer. “Two that I bought turned out to be corroded brake lines on inspection,” he says. “They shouldn’t have passed their MOT in the first place.”
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/news/farming-news/from-the-farm-to-donbas-farmers-trucks-in-combat-42240281.html From Farm to Donbass: Farmers’ Trucks in Battle