In the opening weeks of the war, Ukraine managed to stop Russia’s advances near the border of Kherson and Mykolaiv oblasts, preventing passage of Russian forces across the broad Southern Bug River. Many times during that period, Russia tried to move toward the city of Mykolaiv, or to circumvent that location and pass across the Bug where it narrows to the north, but Ukraine dug in hard against these efforts. They held the line in this area at a time when Russia was steadily driving through cities and towns in other areas of Ukraine.
By halting Russia’s advance east of the Bug River, Ukraine managed to deny Russia one of the truly great prizes that it was seeking in this illegal invasion: the beautiful, ancient, and richly multicultural city of Odesa. Not only does that city have a population of over 1 million, it has enormous political, historical, and cultural significance. Capturing Odesa in addition to Crimea and cities like Mariupol on the Sea of Azov would also allow Russia to effectively make Ukraine landlocked.
With the value of the target, it’s not surprising that as Russia was running into issues on land, rumors began to circulate that the invasion would continue by sea, with Russia staging an amphibious landing at one of several suggested sites near Odesa. That never happened, for reasons that kos explained more than once.
Now the worm has completely turned, and there are reports that Ukraine is contemplating an amphibious landing in Crimea that would likely be launched from Odesa.
Here’s a good explanation of that current rumor by Ukrainian airline pilot-turned-war commentator Denys Davydov.
Davydov, who is from Sevastopol, seems almost dead certain that this “big landing operation” is coming soon to Crimea, and he presents reasons why he thinks it will happen some time in November. He’s far from the only one pushing this idea. Russian Telegram sites and military blogs are caught up by concerns that Ukraine is out there, loading up the ships, preparing to hit their coastline. Ukraine may not be able to take control of a major city like Sevastopol, but maybe they could at least liberate some small military bases at locations like Yevpatoriya or Fedorivka. That would be an absolutely shocking event for Russia.
On the surface (pun optional), there are several reasons to think that this could happen. First, Ukraine has been on a tear lately when it comes to taking out Russian resources in Crimea and reducing Russia’s dominance of the Black Sea.
Included in that was Ukraine regaining control of two Black Sea oil and gas rigs in early September, which had been captured by Russia over eight years ago. These two platforms, known as the “Boyko Towers,” are positioned almost perfectly midway between Ukraine’s western Black Sea coast and the coast of Crimea. Following this event, Ukrainian naval vessels have been seen patrolling the area of the Black Sea west of these towers, and Ukraine has reportedly been able to use these platforms to support helicopters and drones as well as provide detailed surveillance.
Days after the platforms were taken, Ukraine staged a series of attacks both on the Russian Black Sea fleet and against Russian bases in Crimea. This included two attacks on modern Russian “Project 22160” patrol ships, a Russian S-400 missile defense system taken out by drones at Yevpatoriya, a gas pipeline and storage facility blown up at Saratov, and, most impressively, a Russian landing ship and Kilo-class submarine damaged beyond repair in the dry docks at Sevastopol.
On top of all that, Ukraine has already conducted an amphibious landing in Crimea. The landing happened back at the end of August when a small number of special forces operatives landed in one or more small boats near the town of Olenivka, at the tip of Crimea’s northwest peninsula.
That small landing was preceded by additional rounds of damage to Russian military bases and facilities in Crimea, including some spectacular damage to Saki Air Base near Novofedorivka. To do all this, Ukraine employed a mixture of drones and missiles, including longer-range missiles like Storm Shadow and the originally anti-ship Neptune. There has also likely been involvement from Ukrainian partisans in Crimea.
It’s easy to read the combination of all of this as preparation: damaging Russian air bases in the area and driving Russia to move air resources to another location, damaging storage and energy facilities, attacking Russian ships in the western Black Sea, and damaging Russia’s highly valuable Sevastopol dry docks (as well as that $300 million sub). These could be “softening-up actions.” They could be a prelude to an amphibious landing in the same way an artillery barrage often precedes a front-line assault.
However, going back to the update that kos wrote in March 2022, there are some very strong factors weighing against a big landing coming soon to Crimea. As with Russia, Ukraine has no experience with large-scale amphibious landings, and as the Modern War Institute makes clear, such landings are extraordinarily difficult. Despite holding a huge advantage in naval power on the Black Sea at the start of the conflict and holding those bases at Crimea that seem ideally situated for launching an assault on Odesa, Russia couldn’t pull it off.
Amphibious landings are widely regarded as one of the most difficult military operations to stage. They require coordination between every aspect of the forces involved, and are still subject to sabotage by weather, by potential failure of critical equipment, and by intelligence failings. In World War II, the Allies went to extraordinary lengths to protect information about the D-Day landings. If Ukraine were going to send forces to Yevpatoriya in November, as Davydov discusses, the odds are very good that this plan would not be spread across the internet right now.
In fact, a 2014 article in The Diplomat argues that the D-Day landings would fail if they were staged under similar circumstances today. That’s largely because man-portable anti-tank weapons would likely be extremely effective against slow-moving landing craft approaching the shore, and anti-ship missiles would not allow the ships to come nearly as close to the beach as they did 79 years ago.
Amphibious assaults were always extremely hard. Ask Napoleon. Ask Phillip II. And now they are even harder.
In addition to the challenges of getting troops onto the beach and taking Russian positions inland, Ukraine has another big issue: How could it sustain a force in Crimea, even if it did land? Unless it’s extremely confident of its ability to dominate the Russian Navy as well as prevent Russia from exploiting advantages in air power, any force landed in Ukraine would soon run into difficulties acquiring even the most basic supplies.
That’s not to say Ukraine can’t stage more, or larger, raids on Russian facilities. However, on a Viking Age scale, we seem to be a lot closer to Lindisfarne than The Battle of Maldon.
If Ukraine proves this wrong and captures a chunk of Crimea, that’s fantastic. If Russia treats it as possible and moves forces off the lines in Zaporizhzhia to line the beaches at Sevastopol … that’s almost as good. In fact, it may be better.
The number of Russian civilian jets that are either going down or are out of service is amazing. Vladimir Putin better hope someone hasn’t stolen the engines out of all the trains.
Back in August, Forbes reported on how Ukraine had modified aging S-200 surface-to-air missiles into potent weapons against ground targets. Partnering these missiles with newer components results in a missile with a range of around 400 kilometers (or more, according to Russian military bloggers).
This appears to be the first glimpse we’ve seen of this missile being deployed.
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