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Modern Somaliland Armor

Fiat 6616 in Somaliland Service

Somaliland (1991-Present)
Armored Car – At Least 2 in Service

Somaliland is one of several unrecognized sovereign states in existence in the world. This means that it is an organization that exercises control over a definite area of land with the usual apparatus a recognized nation would have, including a military, but is not internationally recognized as a country by most other states. In the case of Somaliland, no other countries recognize it as a sovereign state, though official relations nonetheless exist with a number of countries, notably neighbouring Ethiopia

Somaliland broke away from Somalia in 1991 as, following the overthrow of dictator Siad Barre, the country fell into a civil war. Comprising the north-west of Somalia, the part of the country that had previously been colonized not by Italy but by the British Empire, the equipment of Somaliland’s military would largely come from the equipment which was operated by the Somali military in the region. Hargeisa, the capital and largest city of Somaliland had previously hosted a significant military presence. This included a number of Fiat 6616 armored cars of Italian origin which Somalia had acquired in the late 1970s. These have seen continued use in the Somaliland military and even an odd field conversion in the form of mounting a UB-16 57 mm rocket pod on top of the turret.

One of Somaliland’s Fiat 6616s, with the masked-crew showing this photo was taken during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic (as of September 2021). Source: Hammer of War on twitter

Fiats in the Horn of Africa

Somalia achieved independence in 1960, when the trust territories of Italian and British Somaliland were united into the independent Somali Republic. The country would operate as a democratic republic until 1969, when a coup saw the rise of the Supreme Revolutionary Council under General Siad Barre. He would, for a time, align Somalia with the Eastern Block and see the country receive considerable amounts of Soviet equipment, notably to face-off against neighboring Ethiopia, by this point still an empire under Haile Selassie. This alignment with the Soviet Union would change during the second half of the 1970s though. 1974 saw a coup by the Derg, a communist junta, in Ethiopia. When tensions between Somalia and Ethiopia over the Ogaden region, located in Ethiopia but housing a large Somali population, boiled over into a war in 1977, the USSR stopped all support of Barre to instead side with the Derg. Barre then abandoned the front of Socialism; his regime had to seek support from the West.

In this context, Somalia passed a large order to Italy for wheeled armored fighting vehicles. This mostly concerned the Fiat 6614 armored personnel carrier, of which 270 were purchased, but 30 of the closely-linked Fiat 6616 armored cars were also acquired by Somalia. These would only arrive in 1978-1979, largely after the conclusion of the Ogaden War with an Ethiopian victory, seeing Barre’s expansionist dreams squashed.

The Fiat 6616 is a light, 4×4 armored car based on the hull of the Fiat 6614 armored personnel carrier. It is crewed by a driver in the hull, and a commander and gunner in the turret. The main armament of the armored car is a Mk 20 Rh202 20 mm autocannon supplemented by a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun. The armored car runs on a 160 hp Fiat turbo-diesel engine, which, with a combat weight of 8,000 kg, gives it a high power-to-weight ratio of 20.20 hp/tonne and a high maximum speed of 100 km/h. It is also fully amphibious, though slow on water, at just 5 km/h. At 6 to 8 mm, the vehicle’s armor is minimal, only protecting against small-caliber bullets and artillery shells splinters. In general, the Fiat 6616 is geared towards reconnaissance duties, though in the context of a country subject to internal disorder, it can also couple as a decent patrol vehicle thanks to its high speed and long-range of 700 km on road with a speed of 70 km/h.

The Birth of an Independent Somaliland

After the failure of the Ogaden War, Siad Barre remained in power through the 1980s, but internal tensions were progressively rising through the years. Especially after a failed coup against Barre in 1978, the regime’s dictatorial and oppressive policies intensified. Abandoning Socialism, the Somali regime became more and more embroiled in tribal politics, supporting friendly clans while becoming increasingly repressive against the ones seen as opposed to the Barre regime. In the north, repression was extreme against the Somali National Movement (SNM), founded in 1981 and operating mostly in former British Somaliland. Communities of the northern Isaaq clan, viewed as friendly to the SNM, were notably subjected to genocidal policies by the Somali military from 1987 onward, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths (from 50,000 to 200,000 according to some estimates).

The situation eventually became untenable for Barre, who was ousted from power and fled abroad in 1991. Following this, the formerly Italian part of Somalia became embroiled in internal conflicts, becoming the Somali Civil War, which is still ongoing as of September 2021. In the formerly British Somaliland though, the SNM managed to seize power with relatively little opposition, the region having been very hostile to the Barre regime and made independently-minded by the years of repression. On 18th May 1991, the independence of Somaliland was declared by the SNM and northern clans, with the newly-formed state exercising control over all of former British Somaliland outside of some contested areas held by the Puntland state of Somalia in the east.

A map of Somalia showing Somaliland as well as the region of Puntland, and the border area contested between the two. Source: BBC

The Fiat 6616s in Somaliland

The repressive policies held in the north of Somalia during the Barre regime had resulted in a large military presence in the region, notably in the city of Hargeisa, the second largest city of Somalia and the largest of Somaliland, which saw enormous destruction during the Isaaq genocide. With the collapse of the Barre regime, the equipment used by the Somalian Army in the region fell into the hands of the newly established Somaliland, which used it to equip its own armed forces.

The most common armored vehicles of Somaliland’s military were several dozens of T-54/T-55 tanks of Soviet origins (though many were also delivered by Egypt during the years of the Barre regime), but a number of Fiat wheeled vehicles also fell into the hands of the newly established military. Most were Fiat 6614s, but a number of Fiat 6616s fell into the hands of the regime as well. The precise number is pretty much impossible to establish. There are at least two, simply due to the fact that two at most were spotted simultaneously, but the presence of a couple more vehicles is not outside the realms of possibility. The number likely remains very low though, as only 30 Fiat 6616s were purchased for the whole of Somalia.

A side view of a Somaliland Fiat 6616 on parade before the vehicles were refitted with UB-16 rocket pods. Notice the wheels that are poorly painted in white. Source: facebook

Sadly, the Somaliland National Army (SNA) is not a very well-documented topic, and as such, there does not appear to be any available information on which units operate the Fiat 6616. What is known is that a large portion of the military is based around the capital Hargeisa, perhaps encompassing the Fiats. The large parts commonality with the Fiat 6614 likely means the vehicles are operated together, which is reinforced by footage of the vehicles together in training and exercises. As Somaliland’s main wheeled armored fighting vehicles, the types likely form some sort of rapid motorized force.

Somaliland National Army vehicles parading in Hargeisa. The two lead vehicles are Fiat 6614s, followed by a 6616. Source: Wikimedia commons

Refitting with UB-16s

Around the early 2010s, footage of the Fiat 6616s having been modified from their original configuration started appearing. Seemingly in 2013, a Fiat 6616 was paraded with its main armament, the 20 mm Rh 202, removed. The last photo of a Somaliland Fiat 6616 without the UB-16 rocket pod appears to be dated from 2014, and as such, the refit was likely conducted at some point in the mid-2010s.

The UB-16 rocket pod is originally intended for Soviet planes and helicopters. Its appearance in Somalia likely dates from the country acquiring the compatible MiG-21 from the Soviet Union during the 1970s, a squadron of 24 of these being operated by Somalia during the Ogaden War. The UB-16 fires the S-5 57 mm rocket. A number of different models, either HE-FRAG (High Explosive Fragmentation) or HEAT-FRAG (High Explosive Anti-Tank Fragmentation) exist. The S-5M, the standard HE rocket, has a launch weight of 3.86 kg and a warhead of 860 grams of explosives. The HEAT S-5K weighs 3.64 kg, with a 1.1 kg warhead that grants armor-piercing properties against up to 130 mm of armor. More modern models of both HE and HEAT rockets exist, with the latter rated against up to 250 mm of armor. They are not likely to be found in Somaliland due to the supply of Soviet armament being cut short in the mid-1970s.

The UB-16 rocket pod features 16 of these S-5 rockets. It is a 1,678 mm long pod with a diameter of 321 mm, and weighs 138 kg when fully loaded with rockets. The added weight to the Fiat 6616 likely is slightly superior due to the need for a mount that holds the weight of the rocket pod.

On the Fiat 6616, the UB-16 is mounted towards the rear of the turret, on its central axis. It appears to be mounted using a very simple mount that likely does not feature any means of elevating or depressing the rocket pods, meaning that they can only be aimed horizontally by rotating the turret, reducing the angles at which they may be fired.

A side view of a Somaliland Fiat 6616 fitted with the UB-16 rocket pod during a parade in Hargeisa. The mounting of the rocket pod is quite simple. Source: Hammer of War on twitter

The addition of a rocket pod was likely meant to give the Fiat 6616 better firepower against fortified positions and structures which may not be structurally threatened by the 20 mm gun. In this sense, despite their ad-hoc nature, they add some non-negligible high-explosive firepower to a swift and nimble armored car like the Fiat 6616.

Conclusion – A Likely Long Service Ahead

In recent years, all Fiat 6616s of Somaliland that have been seen have featured the UB-16 rocket pods, comprising at least two vehicles refitted. These have regularly featured in military parades of the Somaliland National Army in Hargeisa, alongside the Fiat 6614s.

Somaliland, considering its unrecognized status, has a hard time acquiring any military equipment abroad, especially armored fighting vehicles. As such, it is likely the country’s current fleet of armored vehicles will be maintained for the coming decades without many changes. Due to the instability in neighboring Somalia and tensions around the border with the Puntland region, the need to maintain a decently large armed force for Somaliland is likely to stay. As such, despite the small number of vehicles in service, the Fiat 6616s will most certainly be in service for many years. Whether they will be subjected to any changes other than the fitting of the rocket pod remains to be seen.

Two Fiat 6616s along with technicals during exercises of the Somaliland National Army. As the country likely struggles to acquire an armed vehicle heavier than a technical, the AFVs acquired during the birth of Somaliland are likely very precious to the country. Source: Hammer of War on twitter
Fiat 6616 in Somaliland service, illustrated by Ardhya ‘Vesp’ Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Sources

Ciidanka Qaranka Somaliland (official facebook page of the Somaliland National army): https://www.facebook.com/Somalilandmilatry/
Somaliland Armed Forces on twitter: https://twitter.com/SLArmedForces
SIPRI Arms Transfer Database
Army Guide: http://www.army-guide.com/eng/product947.html
Hammer of War on twitter: https://twitter.com/HammerOfWar5/status/1420373404193017856
Somaliland Independence Day parade, May of 2018: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oE8yVgD9U_A
https://youtu.be/tk02FMrCNzU