Observations on the war in Ukraine – the South II

The dog that caught the car?

Following up from a few days ago, an update, and a positive revision. It is important to note (again) that I am an amateur, and am trying to pierce together the information available from a range of sources. As the situation evolves, I will amend my views with it, as I see it.

A changing picture

Based on what happened in the last 48 hours around Mykolayiv it is possible to speculate a bit more. First off, I was wrong to assume the Ukrainians would trade space for time. They have obviously decided to fight, and seem to have eliminated Russian spearheads west of the Southern Bug river (the river that flows into the Black Sea at Mikolayiv. This is good news, as it protects Odessa and Uman, and prevents a deep envelopment in this direction.

Fighting in this sector seems to have been hard, with considerable losses for the Russian forces. I am assuming that the defeated supply column at Voznesens’k (see last entry) indicates a limit as to how far the Russians got towards the west before having to give up the attempt. Whether they then pulled back from there due to e.g. lack of supplies, or were tactically defeated, or a mix of both, is neither here nor there. As of today, Ukraine seems to be in control of Mykolayiv and the area of the west of it, and an attack on the Mykolayiv international airport to the north of the city at Balovne was defeated today, according to Ukrainian sources.

Instead, what we have seen is a push north on the eastern bank of the Southern Bug, with Russian forces entering the village of Kashpero-Mykolaivka, straight west. This is the road to the west of where clashes happened around Bashtanka yesterday, and it is standard practice to try another way if you got a bloody nose the first time. The important question is how far this Russian column will make it, and more importantly, whether its supply will be able to make it through as well.

Southern direction – cutout is area of detail below. Red are main directions of Russian forces around Mykolaiv. Author creation.

Not so fast now

So the Ukrainian forces have had good successes in the Mykolayiv sector west of the Southern Bug, destroying a number of columns and capturing what looks like two batteries of D20 howitzers in their firing positions. Moreover, the Ukrainians also claim to have been able to heavily bombard Kherson airport at Chornobaivka, just west of Kherson today, which if correct indicates that rather than Russian forces controlling the territory west of Kherson and east of Mykolayiv, it remains contested. On the whole, the Russians seem to be unable to push their way towards either Uman or Odessa at this point in time.

I suspect that overextension as well as the continued heavy fighting at Mariupol weigh on the Russian logistics to the point that they had to throttle back and cannot overcome Ukrainian resistance. For how long this continues is anyone’s guess. A wild card in this regard are the Russian proxy and actual Russian forces across the Moldovan border in Transdnistria.

Mykolaiv/Kherson sector. Red shows main thrusts of Russian forces, blue estimated Ukrainian defense lines. Author creation.

About those Battalion Tactical Groups

One of the big innovations of the Russian army over the last decade was the creation of Battalion Tactical Groups (BTGs), of which about 115 are engaged in the illegal war against Ukraine. These were hailed as major advances in modern warfare, integrating mechanised infantry, tanks, artillery, recconnaissance and supply and C3i assets in a single neat package.

It turns out that it’s as always not the size of the ship, but the motion of the ocean that matters. The BTGs did not deliver the expected success, the Russian soldiers forming them seem to suffer training, procedure and doctrine weaknesses, and they just aren’t successful at getting past the Ukrainians. In consequence, the Russian army has been reduced to using terror tactics against the civilian population, something it is arguably better at than tactical fighting against a modern opponent, and which it has practiced over the last decade in Syria and prior to that in Grozny.

The new Russian tactical motto seems to be: “If you don’t succeed with indiscriminate terror shelling of civilians, you’re not using enough indiscriminate terror shelling of civilians.” The tactic may have worked in Syria, where at least the Russians had a local force supporting them, but it is highly unlikely to work in Ukraine.

Battalion Tactical Group Overview (in German) by an instructor at the Austrian military academy.

Where is the VKS?

As of the last two days, the Russian air force (the VKS) has decided to put in an appearance, but it could be doing better. While they are throwing their most modern planes, such as the Su-34 ground attack bomber against the Ukrainians, they are losing them at a rate that is presumably raising questions amongst whoever is in charge. While the loss of 2-3 of these planes may not appear much to the casual observer, keep in mind that only 125 of them are reported to be operational with the VDV. This isn’t a sustainable rate of losses for the Russians.

Confirmation of Su-34 kill over Ukraine. Twitter, @JimmySec (well worth following)

The situation in the evening of 5 March

Thanks to Itdan on the WW2 forum for supplying me with these. It appears clear that the momentum of the Russian advance has been lost, and that the supply of 17,000 anti-air and anti-tank missiles is reaching frontline fighters, and that these weapons are being used to devastating effect.

OSINT map Ukraine war, situation 5 March 2300 hours. Twitter @jominiw
OSINT map Ukraine war, estimates of Russian objectives. Twitter @jominiw

The first study of war

For general overview purposes, a relief map of Ukraine with Russian advances as of 4 March superimposed, provided to me by Itdan. This shows quite well that once you are north of Kherson, the terrain becomes more broken and thus easier to defend, and it explains the rapid seizure of the sector south of the Dnepr.

Relief map of Ukraine.
OSINT Map Ukraine war 6 March 1500 EST. Institute for the Study of War. Twitter @jennycaffarella

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