Looks like Russia’s latest Vuhledar disaster has shown up in Ukraine’s daily claimed kills:
Apparently, Ukraine claimed over 1K dead the first few days of the war, but it’s been a long time since.
Here is an example of one of those eight-man infantry assault groups I discuss below (although I think I count nine):
Holy shit. You know Vuhledar, where Russian naval marines are getting their ass kicked, time and time again? Well, it happened YET AGAIN.
Update: More video from that scene above. Viewer discretion advised.
Last week I wrote about the importance of combined arms warfare, and how the U.S. was working to improve Ukraine’s military coordination between armor, infantry, engineering, artillery, intelligence, electronic warfare, and air assets. That skill will be critical to Ukraine’s success, with thousands of new Western armor pieces flooding into the country over the next three months in preparation for a springtime counteroffensive.
Meanwhile, on the Russian side, the supposed “second army” of the world doesn’t give a rat’s ass about combining its military elements into anything even vaguely resembling coordination.
Russia never managed to do combined arms, not even before they lost more than 9,000 pieces of heavy equipment. It was one of the earliest war shocks—just how incompetent Russia’s military was. This Popular Mechanics story, on the eve of the war, spoke of a mighty juggernaut that would steamroll its way into Ukraine.
Let’s assume that a [Battalion Tactical Group, BTG] is attacking an enemy infantry company of about 100 troops at a key bridge. The BTG commander could first send reconnaissance patrols and his flying drones to probe enemy lines, then call up his self-propelled howitzers and mortars to pound their positions. Two motor rifle companies of 20 BMP vehicles, plus infantry, rumble toward the front line, protected by Pantsir-S1 air-defense vehicles watching the skies over them. Once the motor rifle troops penetrate enemy lines, the BTG commander calls up his ten T-80 tanks, ordering them to exploit the penetration and push on. The BTG’s air defense and anti-tank troops then defend the bridge against enemy counterattacks.
Sounds amazing, huh? One analyst even suggested that Russia was ahead of Western armies in terms of combining these various disciplines in smaller units like the 600-800-man BTG.
“Having supporting arms at lower levels provides commanders with more tools and flexibility,” Cancian says. “Western armies have been moving in that direction for decades. As the Russian Army gets more professional, its leaders can handle these more difficult responsibilities.”
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.
HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.
In reality, Russia’s Air Force ended up MIA, and their armor, unsupported by infantry, was easily chewed up by Ukrainian infantry with shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles like NLAW and Javelin. Then the war settled into its artillery-attritional phase, where Russia’s definition of “combined arms” was to flatten a town, then send small units forward, usually 3-4 armored vehicles at a time, to see if any defenses were left standing. If so, it sucked for those now-dead “reconnaissance by force” Russians, but their commanders didn’t care. They’d just repeat the whole process all over again, lather, rinse, repeat.
Eventually, Russia ran out of armor, and we stopped hearing about BTGs. But they had plenty of cannon fodder to call up, both from its prisons (to the Wagner mercenary outfit) and from its general populace. And that led to their now-ubiquitous human wave tactics:
At first, the first group, usually of 8 people, is put forward to the finish line. The whole group is maximally loaded with [ammunition], each has a "Bumblebee" flamethrower. Their task is to get to the point and get a foothold. They are almost suicidal. Their [ammo] in case of failure is intended for the following groups.
The group gets as close as possible to the Ukrainians and digs in as quickly as possible. A white cloth or other sign is left on the tree so that the next group can navigate in the event of the death of their predecessors and find where shelters have already been dug and where there are weapons.
During the fire contact, the "Wagners" detect Ukrainian fire positions and transfer them to their artillery. As a rule, 120-mm and 82-mm mortars work in them. Up to 10 mortars simultaneously begin to suppress the discovered Ukrainian position. Artillery training can last several hours in a row.
During this time, 500 meters from the first group, the second group concentrates. It has lighter equipment. And under the cover of artillery, this group begins an assault on the Ukrainian position. If the second group fails to take a position, it is followed by the third and even the fourth. That is, four waves of eight people for one Ukrainian position.
Russia will claim the tactic is a huge success, given that Bakhmut is teetering on the edge of capture. Yet the human cost is massive (not that Russia cares), and even with hundreds of thousands of Russian mobiks flooding into Ukraine, the tactic is ultimately unsustainable in the long term.
And assault documents unearthed after Russia’s retreat from Kherson suggest that Russia’s ability to coordinate, even at the most basic level, is non-non-existent.
The salient observation on the fire plan is that it belongs to the early 20th century. There is no direct relation (an artillery officer or party) between the assaulting unit and the units allocated to provide the offensive support (in Russian terms the rocket and artillery fires). The latter are controlled at divisional level and provide the fires for but not with the assaulting unit. It is entirely possible for the assaulting unit not to have visibility of the fire plan other than the timings shown in the orders (which may contribute to fratricidal incidents).
In WWI-style (and in the practice of the Red Army in WW2), a lengthy bombardment is laid on for the assaulting unit, in this case lasting all day. At the conclusion of the fire plan the unit assaults. It has no further call on artillery or rocket fires.
The fire plan is indiscriminate. As witnessed in many scores of villages across Ukraine, the aim is to level the settlement and force the defenders to leave (because ‘there is nothing left to defend’ as a weary defender of Popasna in the Donbass remarked; this settlement [Kyselivka], incidentally, pre-war home to 20,000 residents, has been completely erased from the map and will not be rebuilt).
Combined arms require the various branches to talk to each other and coordinate. In this case, there is no coordination. Zero. Zip. The schedule says, “between these hours, artillery will bombard target,” and once the schedule says “stop,” the artillery stops. Those assaulting infantry (and any armor) are then on their own. If they get pinned down, tough shit. They can’t call air or artillery support, or another nearby unit to bail them out. Each piece of the puzzle is self-contained.
In hindsight, that Popular Mechanics article on Russian combined arms warfare is particularly funny. Never mind coordinating among 6-7 branches (armor, infantry, artillery, air, engineering, intelligence, electronic warfare), they can’t even manage a simple two-branch operation, their attacks scripted like a stage play.
It’s no wonder Russia is in this predicament. And doubling down on their human-wave strategy isn’t going to get them out of it.
Markos and Kerry are joined by University of St. Andrews Professor of Strategic Studies, Phillips P. O’Brien. O’Brien, an expert in military history, explains how we got to where we are right now, what is unique about the world’s reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the parallels between the conservative movement’s isolationism in World War II and now.