Russian forces attempted to cross the Siverskyi Donets river in eastern Ukraine this month using a pontoon bridge, but their tanks and armoured vehicles were picked off by Ukrainian artillery. So they tried it again. And again. And again. The Russian army made nine attempts to cross the river in the second week of May, according to Ukrainian defence chiefs. Russia lost about 80 tanks or other vehicles and more than 400 men in the ill-fated operation … It is part of a pattern of Russian behaviour since the invasion began three months ago. By contrast, Ukraine’s forces have proved to be agile, using the leeway afforded to company and even platoon commanders to shape their tactics according to the conditions on the ground.
A whole lot of "extrapolation" from one military blunder. playing into the pre-conceived stereotypes of "western agility" vs. "eastern rigidity". The failed crossing of Seversky Donetsk was much discussed as an exemplary failure of command in Russian Telegram channels (behind some of which are some very well informed and connected military persons), but it is an exception that proves the rule - in this war the Ukrainian side has been the rigid and inflexible one (dig in, defend anything to the point of encirclement and annihilation), while the Russians moved and maneuvered over a 800km length of battlefield, changing axis of attack and intensity many times.
The results are slowly becoming visible - the Ukrainians are losing the war.
Why do people believe this obviously biased Ukrainian view of what happened at that river crossing? The Russians are clearly winning the war and the Ukrainians have not shown any special "agility". There is a reason why Ukraine release no information on casualties. Just look at the maps (from Ukrainian sources) of where engagements are happening and it is very obvious that Ukraine is retreating everywhere. Believing propaganda can be very dangerous to the soldiers on the front lines.
The Ukrainian Army has had eight years to build the defences of the Donbass, and also Russia has not committed anywhere near a majority of its armed forces. Instead, after the initial few weeks it has relied upon its massive advantage with artillery to slowly pulverize the Ukrainian positions whilst minimizing its own casualties. The result was the breakthrough at Popasna and the developing envelopment of Slavyansk, as such defences tend to hold in place until they break, and then they break quite quickly.
To extrapolate from a single incident, the attempted river crossing, commits a fundamental scientific and statistical error. Looking at the bigger picture of the war in general, the Russians are winning in a very loss-effective manner. Once beyond the in-depth defences of the Donbass, and with much of the professional Ukrainian army under the ground, a prisoner of war, or injured beyond recovery to the field (or refusing to fight as has been shown in multiple cases), the war tempo will move much faster.
Zelensky and his government have made a major strategic error in pouring in men and arms into a salient thats will inevitably collapse, a meat grinder being used by the Russians to destroy the Ukrainian army. This is a major reason why the fight is slow, as Zelensky throws more and more of his army into this cauldron. Once the cauldron, and much of the Ukrainian Army, is finished who will be left to defend the rest of Ukraine?
The recent calls for the mobilization of women and children shows a significant level of alarm by the Ukrainian authorities at the losses (probably at least 1,000 a day). Let's also remember that the Soviet Army destroyed the vast majority of the Nazi forces (85%) in WW2, while the rest of the allies fought only a small proportion.
Anyone who thinks that the NATO forces are superior to the Russian army should take the time to read Andrei Martyanov's books for a rude awakening.
"According to Ukrainian defence chiefs" pretty well sums it up. Ukraine is losing the war that it has been preparing defensive positions for during the past seven years. Its casualties are far greater than Russia's. It is reduced to conscripting women. It has sent its local part time defense forces to fill in the gaps in its defensive positions... and this is 'agility' learned from the Wehrmacht and, of course, the legendary Prussian General staff tradition.
I would be much more cynical about information derived from the Ukrainian leadership, either military or political. The major influences on both are certainly German but more from the SS than from the Wehrmacht tradition.
The Ukraine military has been defeated for two months already. I don't know what kind of funding you are smoking, Adam, but the only successes in Ukraine are the people cleaning up all the dead Ukrainian soldiers.
It is beyond disgusting that people are pretending that those facts are not real. You are killing these men and women. They all should have surrendered long ago and every death is just another mark of American hubris.
I'm confused. If the Germans were so much better than the Russians, why did the Russians win the war in the East? Why are those NATO trained Ukrainians getting mauled everywhere?
You wrote that: "The open secret amongst military experts is that NATO’s “mission command” concept so widely touted as a precious gift from “West” was, in fact, taken directly from the German military tradition and most immediately from Hitler’s Wehrmacht." In fact, Prussia (not so much the rest of Germany) is the source of this military philosophy and the Hitler period was in contrast to this tradition as Hitler micro-managed the war, frequently overruling the military professionals, creating the type of inflexibility you rightly decry.
When you wrote about mobile defense, I'm surprised you didn't mention Erich von Manstein who was a master of it. But Hitler upbraided Manstein for giving up the territory involved in setting up counterstrikes and greatly preferred commanders such as Model who dutifully held on to every inch of territory and completely adhered to Fuhrerprinzip (leader principle). Fuhrerprinzip was the opposite of the philosophy you rightly laud.
Leaders like Halder were regularly overruled and disparaged by Hitler. They maintained their Prussian training to the end, but with diminished influence and results. They did have a positive influence on Nato doctrine, but one thet should not be over-emphasized. US doctrine had already relied on empowered NCOs during WWII.
Very interesting with much learning displayed. Unfortunately, you are about a month behind a shift in Russian tactics to a lower risk (fewer riskier attacks like the fiasco of the river crossing) to all out numerical superiority in artillery and rockets brought to bear on strong points in Ukraine's Donbas lines, after light probing attacks meant to discover the strong and weak points. With an advantage of some say 10:1 in artillery/rockets, Russia is inflicting 100-300 deaths per day on U kraine, and 500 per day wounded. That is unsustainable; meanwhile it took the US two weeks of back and forth to decide to send longer range rocketry to Ukraine and finally with stipulations that they would not (range of up to 50 kil., not 200 although that may be hidden at this point) and accounts I've read in the NYTimes says it hasn't arrived yet (first ten day of June) and so Ukraine infantry is "fighting" an enemy they never see except for the shellbursts coming from 10-30 miles away and much further when it is some form of missile or rocket attacks (the rockets vary widely in range).
This may not be "imaginative" warfare by western standards, but it is the historical, WWII based Russian strength and the Biden and NATO imposed limitations - no troops on the ground, no planes in the air - is showing its great weakness, and, by the way, that NY Times account indicated Russia has aircraft fly over dominance over the battlefield in Donbas, just to clarify or countermand all the media coverage in line with the US party line: no Western Planes needed, Ukraine is doing fine without us in the air.
Contrary to the flow of your writing Professor Tooze, I think Ukraine is losing, and Joe Biden and the American fear of facing Russia directly is the cause, which could have been prevented by US troops to Ukraine in Dec.-Jan. of 2021-2022, since we were so sure of invasion.
To me the most important take away from the war in Ukraine is the importance of supplies, and technologically superior (or at least adequate) equipment. Ukraine is not itself producing the weapons that are keeping it in the fight. These weapons are supplied by the West. I am not a military strategist but it is difficult for me to imagine Ukraine hanging on for as long as it has without this support.
In business there is a concept sometimes referred to as your daily nut. What is the bare minimum you need to keep the lights on and the business going? I think that’s what we are talking about with the weapons supplies.
Of course the next logical question is, once Ukraine gets these weapons, what do they do with them? And here talk of military strategies becomes relevant.
I am just guessing but I suspect Russia was clearly unprepared for the resistance shown by Ukraine, which was made possible by these weapons. So perhaps the deficiency in Russian strategy was due to deficiency in their assessment of the facts and expectations regarding Western material support for Ukraine. I think it is fully possible that Russia will adapt, and I am not convinced that a war of attrition favors Ukraine. Finland too performed well in the beginning but eventually ceded territory. Of course, I don’t think they were supplied to any great extent by other countries, so Ukraines case may well turn out better (at least that’s my hope.)
Fascinating. I was an unwilling NCO in CI at a corps HQ in the early 70s, and I once asked the young officers who were war gaming two questions: why didnt the Russians nuke us first instead of letting us nuke them and what had we learned from the German retreat from Russia in 43, 44, & 45? The answers were that they didnt have tactical nukes and hand waving. I hated the goddam army and couldnt wait to get out and only learned years later that not everyone in it other than the unwilling werent actually morons. A great post. Thank you.
It's been a week and look where this is at. Ukraine is losing and will lose another major city, as reported. It no longer affects the Black Sea. It WILL NOT do anything with the million-dollar HIMARS, because those did very little for the outcome in Afghanistan, be it ISIS or the Taliban.
For Europe, they have been sucked in by Biden. They buy Russian oil from India. They are returning to coal. Brussels in protest. The UK, as well. They are PROVING that NATO cannot win a war, but not for might, but for economical reasons.
And then the reality of it all. Russians have rallied around Putin. He is not dying (fake news by the US). The ruble propped up. Half of the $600 billion of gold resevres in tact. Russia finding new markets.
And the deafening of how the world cannot dick around with the Biden administration on foreign policy.
Admit it. Russia has won, will win, will demand all sanctions removed. And Ukraine, for its efforts better remove crooked Zelenskyy and admit that their sacrifices were in vain.
Folks, don't follow America and it's crooked agenda to control the world through wars, covert actions and thru central banking. Replace your politicians and now. America has attacked emerging nations thru a weaponized dollar and has engaged in actions against every oil and gas leader- Russia, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Libya, Syria. It will seek to disrupt Turkey, destabilizing that region. It has even disrupted semi-innocent Ukraine.
At home, America wants to get people's guns, but doesn't want to go into the inner city to get those guns. DC is crooked.
Real simple... Putin wins and wins with sanctions lifted.
Alternate View: https://www.moonofalabama.org/2022/06/ukraine-bits-no-ammo-more-casualties-thin-lines-propaganda-and-passing-the-buck.html#comments
"Auftragstaktik has had a convoluted history. ...it is, like the term blitzkrieg, one of those German terms that has had more of a life outside of Germany than inside it. For the record, it appears hardly at all in the professional literature of the twentieth-century German army...". Robert M. Citino, Death of the Wehrmacht: The German Campaigns of 1942 (Kansas, 2007) p.16 n.9.
Great history and perspective.
A couple of weeks ago, alternative media sources posted a series of videos purporting to be Ukrainian soldiers.
In each, a group of about 30 men would pose as if for a group photo, and the leader would speak to the camera. Generally the message was "you've sent us here with no support or clear mission, so we're quitting the war." I think they were shared on Telegram amongst the soldiers (why they are all so similar).
If these are real (and alternative media has lately been walking back a lot fewer claims than the western-approved), it goes directly to one serious downside to mission control. The mission leader can override the larger purposes of central command.
American reporting in with a little bit of proud nationalism. New reader, loving the perspective.
In the Revolutionary war, the European detachments learned from the Colonists barbaric ambushes of British troops, our guerrilla warfare against columns that faced each other and “FIRE’ed” ;)
True of the British but also of countries with no real stake, who were merely observers.
edit: wouldn’t be surprising if the Colonists learned the style from the Native Americans
Mission command. You do not give that history the nod it deserves, my dude. Otherwise, carry on, your lucidity is a gift and I very much appreciate it.
God save us from our modern rebels, fed a diet of incessant trash, made up and meaningless TRE45ONs.