Old-school trench warfare, with new-school anti-tank weapon, somewhere on the eastern Donbas front.

Hey, look at that, the Pentagon finally admits that a Russian BTG is not really a BTG.

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Pentagon keeps saying stuff like “Russia has 106 BTGs in Ukraine,” but that’s literally gibberish. On paper, a Russian BTG should have 600-800 soldiers, 10 tanks, and 40 infantry fighting vehicles (along with assorted artillery, air defense, and logistics/support vehicles). In reality, deployed BTGs rarely, if ever, arrived at full strength, in large part because of grift, but also because conscripts assigned to those units weren’t legally allowed to deploy outside of Russia (though it happened sometimes, it wasn’t widespread). At this point, Russian BTGs are mostly shattered remnants. To prove that point, let me tell you the story of Dovhenke, just 26 kilometers (~16 miles) southeast of the Izyum salient. 

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Russians know the town as Dolgen’koye, and it’s currently blocking Russia’s southern advance. Just a few kilometers south of the town, a rail line still feeds supplies to Sloviansk (and Kramatorsk). Its value is obvious. More ambitiously, any attempt to encircle those Ukrainian strongholds at Slovyansk and Kramatorsk run through Dovhenke. The town had a pre-war population of 850, so we’re talking a few farmhouses and sheds. This is not an urban stronghold. 

Meanwhile, estimates put Russia’s presence in the Izyum front at 22 BTGs, Russia’s largest concentration of firepower in the entire country. 

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Remember, 22 BTGs technically should mean 220 tanks, 880 infantry fighting vehicles, a buttload of artillery, and close to 18,000 soldiers. Dovhenke is just down the road from Izyum. Should be an easy pickings, right? Russia took Izyum on April 1, there’s been plenty of time for progress! 

Dmitri on Twitter has been dutifully translating Russian-language accounts of the war, and he stumbled onto a real treasure, the diary of a Russian contract volunteer. Part I talks about how Viktor ended up in Ukraine in the first place. It’s interesting, for sure, particularly in his discussion on how little training and preparation volunteers received. But Part II is something else. You see, Viktor spent a month with units fighting the battle of Dovhenke. 

On 10 April, myself and 4 more people ended up in the first company of the 752th regiment located on the defence in shrubbery at altitude 200 to the south of Kamenka village. Commanding the company was Sr. Lieutenant Guzaev. A real officer and a very good person… Kind and humane… In the company (if it can be called a company) there were 8 people together with company’s starshina who never went into assaults. After we joined, the company consisted of 13 people. 

A company is four platoons, each of which should have 30-40 infantrymen. Each platoon normally has four sections, so around 7-10 soldiers each. So, what should’ve been a company with 120-160 soldiers, in fact had 13. That’s, at best, just 10% of full strength. It was section pretending to be a company.

Anyway, Viktor set out for an attack on Dovhenke, but they got lost or something. Maybe it was intentional sabotage by the “company” commander. They lost a guy because he was so out of shape that he started to have “heart aching.” That proved fortuitous for Viktor, because he was ordered to stay back with the “injured,” despite not having been hit by anything other than indirect mortar fire. The next morning…

Many company commanders in the two battalions of the 752th regiment told their fighters that we are being sent to a sure death, since the Ukrainians are well prepared. So they said – decide for yourself if you want to go or not. Four fifths of us (if not more) refused to go. So did I.  

They’re already what, 90% understrength, and then another 80% decide not to proceed. This was the closest to combat Viktor got. The rest of this info he got second-hand from other fighters. 

Also, who says “sign me up!” with that pitch? 

They left at 10AM and only by 4PM managed to reach 600 meters from the village. They were exhausted. All this time they marched under heavy mortar and artillery shelling. Dead and wounded started appearing. When we reported to our battalion commander Major Vasyura about dead and wounded, he cussed: ‘leave them and keep advancing!!!’.

Remember, Russia supposedly has 22 BTGs in the area—220 tanks and close to 1,000 infantry fighting vehicles. Lots of trucks too. What are they doing rucking six hours merely to get to the outskirts of town, without any armor support, and no vehicles to transport them? So of course, as predicted by those commanders, they got smashed, suffered heavy casualties, and had to retreat. 

So they retreated. Everyone was exhausted. It was very difficult carrying the wounded. We came back at 11PM. One of the volunteers, Andrey from Kursk who came together with me said that many simply ran off while retreating. He yelled at them to help pull out the wounded, but they didn’t help. He said he wanted to grab an assault rifle and start shooting in their backs… Thus, the grenade launcher platoon commander, Captain Nikolaev who was dragged for 4 hours, died from blood loss… I didn’t know him personally, but everyone said he was a very good person… So that was an attack on Dolgen’koye on 20 April…

Seriously, not a single infantry fighting vehicle or truck to help carry the wounded back? You’re going to tell me they have all that supposed combat power, and they made these guys march 4-6 hours each way, with no vehicle support? Or maybe Ukraine has done such a good job interdicting fuel supplies, that Russia literally can’t move its vehicles.  

Looking ahead, I’ll say that based on the fact that different units tried to take Dolgen’koye, I think that our command simply had the task of taking Dolgen’koye and simply sent in everyone they could. It got to a point where in early May they started sending only 7 people to attack!!

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New volunteers were immediately thrown onto Dolgen’koye upon arrival to Ukraine. There were no more officers so they were picking the most hardened ones among the volunteers (ones who fought in Chechnya and Syria), appointed them as seniors, gave them radios and sent them to assault… At the end of April they brought to us around 18 people who advanced as a large group of 120. They said that apart from them some other unit attacked Dolgen’koye from another direction. Perhaps that is why they reached Dolgen’koye without any mortar shelling. They had 300-400 meters to go when they came under crossfire from two machine guns… Even closer to them were positions of Ukrainian assault riflemen. They started combat. Our guys also had machine guns and RPGs. As I understood they killed at least 6 assault riflemen but had to retreat due to Ukrainian machine guns which they couldn’t suppress. Most likely the machine guns were located in well-fortified positions. The guys said that if they had a little help, if the machine guns were suppressed with helicopters or tanks, then they would have entered Dolgen’koye…

If Russia had 22 functioning BTGs in the Izyum salient, they wouldn’t be throwing the freshest meat into that grinder. Their own officers say “it’s a suicide mission,” and yet they keep executing the order from who-knows-what-general who got his rank by being so stupid, he would never pose a threat to Putin’s regime. “We got 120? Throw them in! Frontal attack. Oh, only 18 returned? Smush them with those other survivors, and let’s do it again!”

Note that Russia lost over 100 men in this attack … because of two machine guns. Two. A tank would take out those prepared machine gun nests. But again, Russia couldn’t spare a single one. (And to be fair, if they had, it likely would’ve been taken out by an NLAW or Javelin. But at least Russia would give those poor souls a fighting chance.)

At the very least, you’d think Russia would do them the courtesy of a ride to their death, instead of letting them arrive to the front line wiped after a 4-6 hour march, lugging all their weapons and ammunition with them.

In May they brought the remnants of ‘Bars’ (trained reservists from all of Russia) – 14 people. They assaulted Dolgen’koye for a month and remained in the area. As I understand it, they were attached to the leadership of our wicked division. In total, 340 of them arrived to Ukraine. After a month of shelling only 57 remained. Moreover, half of the survivors were at the headquarters. Most of them were wounded. They never had a single firefight, all the losses came from Ukrainian artillery fire…

This is what happens when you don’t protect your flanks, and it’s the reason I always said the Izyum salient would fall. Remember this image from back in April? 

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I wrote at the time how Ukrainian artillery could set up shop to the west and whittle away Russian forces. Viktor confirms that’s exactly what’s happening. 

Now the Pentagon say Russia has “switched to smaller units,” which is hilariously understated. This is after spending the last two months predicting a big Russian combined-arms massed offensive in the Donbas that was just around the corner. It was clear from the start that this this was never going to happen. Russia’s only play, from the very start of the war, has been drip-drip-drip attacks, never able to open any spigot. Can you imagine those Ukrainian defenders at Dovhenke watching another wave of untrained, under-equipped, infantry stumble in, half dead from their brutal march, with zero armor or air support? It’s a turkey shoot.

And then people wonder 1) why Russia never advanced from their initial Izyum positions, despite all that supposed massed firepower, and 2) why Mark and I aren’t panicking about the Popasna salient. 

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I really wish we had a better way to gauge Russia’s combat forces aside from “x number of BTGs.” When Russian companies sit at 13 untrained volunteers, 90% understrength, it’s clear the term “BTG” has zero meaning. 

As for today’s progress, the bigger story continues to be the Popasna salient. 

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However, this corner of Ukraine has something we haven’t seen anywhere else this war—hills. For an army that has struggled to advance on flat terrain, this will present a whole new challenge. 

We’ll take a look at the area’s geography in a future update. 

Friday, May 20, 2022 · 3:08:33 AM +00:00

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All that action Mark saw earlier today, around Kharkiv’s Rubizhne, turns out it was Russian advances. 

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The Popasna salient is more protected from Ukrainian artillery than the Izyum one, but the area is geographically hillier, offering more protection to defenders. And those lines are starting to stretch out, and we know what happens to Russian advances when their lines stretch out. Just compare the size of the Izyum salient to the expanding Popasna one.




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