The opening days of Ukraine’s offensive in the South towards Kherson seemed to be directed ultimately at driving into Crimea where Russia hasn’t had six months to position troops and fortifications. This initial attack may have been a feint to draw Russian forces to the South away from the actual objective, Kharkiv. In the last 24hrs Ukrainian forces have made an armored supported attack in the North in the direction of Izyum and Kupinsk. and are driving towards Severodonetsk. The Ukrainians used tanks and armored personnel carriers in approximately regimental strength to drive on the town of Balakleya following a prolonged artillery barrage. Izyum sits on logistics and communications lines to Kharkiv. To give some idea of how badly things are going for Russia in this sector, the Ukrainians managed to capture a live Russian LT Colonel, for once.

A Lt Colonel would be the commander or the executive officer of a battalion-sized formation in the Russian army and would not be alone. He would have a staff of other officers assigned to him, so he may not be the only officer they scooped up.  We note that he is injured on the bridge of his nose and his unit insignia and name tapes have been removed from his uniform.  He may have tried to get rid of them himself to try to evade capture or Ukrainians took them upon capture. We do not make him as a regular Russian army or local militia officer but as an officer of the Rosgvardia which is a kind of internal security force Putin set up in Russia that answers to him and only to him.

 

As for the advance itself, in some places, it extends some 31 miles into occupied Ukraine. A Twitter user named Nathan Russer, @Ngr8000 has thumbnailed a decent map of the offensive so far that we are going to use to make a point about the Danger the Russians are in right now in this area.

The arrows we added above show that if the Ukrainian forces drive north from their positions west of Izium and west from their position in Kupiansk to the north, they will trap every Russian soldier in a bubble with their backs to the Oskil river shaded in light blue. If Ukraine manages to also take Severodonestsk they will capture a major rail and road hub. Ukraine will have cut Route 66 and Route 07 to prevent Russian resupply or movement from the south.  A drive of some 32 miles into Russian-held territory suggests Russia was unable to man or even build multiple defensive lines to hold this area.  Some photos showing up on Ukrainian social media channels suggest the speed of the advance caught the Russians flatfooted.

The photo below of the damaged Russian BM-21 “Grad” captured somewhere near Kharkiv may be an indication of this. It should be well to the rear of the front lines.

 

 

This captured MT-12 Rapira 100mm anti-tank gun is a relic of the cold war, entering service with Soviet and Warsaw Pact armies from the 1960s to the late 1980s.

 

As Ukraine advances further it will extend its lines of supply and begin to have problems supplying its own armored columns with fuel, ammunition, and food. It surely knows this and hopefully has planned its logistics to keep pace with the advance.

Russians Lose Momentum Amid Massive Losses, Ukraine Continues Counteroffensive in Izyum

Read Next: Russians Lose Momentum Amid Massive Losses, Ukraine Continues Counteroffensive in Izyum

The depth of the penetration also suggests Ukraine has sufficient infantry to line the advance on both sides to keep their lines of supply open and to clean up pockets of resistance.

This has the makings of a major military disaster for Russian forces trapped in the pocket who are eating maybe one meal a day, are lightly armed militia formations, and are facing well-armed and well-supplied Ukrainian troops.

If the Ukrainian tanks and APCs can keep moving they can avoid Russian artillery which can take as much as two hours to complete the “kill chain” that brings down artillery on a target.  By the time the shells fall, Ukrainian tanks will be long gone.

By moving quickly Ukraine can also negate Russia using the Scorched Earth tactics that are a feature of their way of war in Ukraine. When Russian troops are pushed from a town or village by Ukrainian forces, they then reduce it to rubble using explosives or artillery.

If there was ever a time for the Russian air force to show up in force, it would be now. Their absence in force so far suggests Russian air assets are unable or unwilling to invest significant numbers of aircraft in the fight.  Combat sorties accelerate the need to repair and replace parts in operational aircraft.  It’s possible(even likely) that the poor state of the Russian army, in general, extends to the air force as well, they may not be able to get their planes and helicopters in the air.

 

 

The Tank is Dead/The Tank is Back!

Various talking heads out there who were opining that the “Tank is dead” are now saying the “Tank is back!” The actual truth is that the tank never went anywhere.  From its very beginning in WWI, the effectiveness of tanks was always dependent on supporting infantry which the tank itself was originally invented to support.  As tanks grew in size and number it became apparent that tanks would also have to fight other tanks as well. This led to a sort of arms race where the three factors of tank design, Mobility/Firepower/Armor we constantly being tweaked to try and make tanks more effective.  In WWII, the Germans favored big, heavily armored but slow tanks with really good guns. The Russians and the US favored fast, lighter-armed, and armored tanks with good road speed.  But whatever the design, the performance on the battlefield of any tank is most effective with support from air and infantry on the ground under the doctrine of Combined Arms.

In the early weeks of the invasion of Ukraine, the Russians were very short on infantry, and thought tanks and APCs could win the fight for them.  ATGMs like the Javelin, Matador and the Stugna B proved that was wrong and Russian tanks and APCs were slaughtered by the hundreds by small, highly mobile units of infantry on ATVs, pickup trucks, and even motorcycles. Critics announced the tank was dead and we might as well turn ours into scrap.

Now, Ukraine has employed tanks to break through Russian defenses in several places and has encircled a sizable Russian garrison in the town of Balakleya.  This garrison includes some Spetznaz forces along with militia raised in Donetz and “Rosgvardia” which is Putin’s personally loyal troops armed mostly like the local police are.  The Ukrainian attack that broke through was precipitated by a long artillery barrage and when the tanks and APCs attacked, they moved quickly and did not stop for anything apparently, driving right over their lines with infantry on foot following behind. When they encountered resistance, they called down artillery, helicopter air support, and precision-guided HIMARS missiles to clear the way forward. The result was an encirclement of Balakleya and its garrison.  This is Combined Arms doctrine and it worked just like it was supposed to.

The Russian troops were also not the standard(if there is such a thing) Russian infantry but militia and internal security troops, which have very different equipment.  Apparently, they did have some heavy weapons but didn’t know how to employ them or operate them properly.  With the Ukrainian tank columns moving very quickly, Russian artillery wasn’t able to pin down their location and the Russian air force was a no-show again. In truth with Ukrainian tanks and troops inside their lines, unless the Russian attack aircraft and helicopters had very good ground control and spotting from their own troops on the ground, they would be just as likely to kill their own people as Ukrainians.

As Ukraine is demonstrating in its offensive, the demise of the tank is greatly exaggerated. As long as it is used properly with supporting infantry, artillery, and air support it remains a formidable weapon on the battlefield.