A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jun 19, 2024

Vovchansk Has Become Russian Infantry Killing Field As Kremlin Preserves Its Armor

The Russians have lost so much armor in Ukraine this year that they are attempting to preserve what they have left for more important battlefields like Chasiv Yar, leaving their exposed troops in Vovchansk to die without armor support as Ukrainian stocks of artillery and drones decimate their ranks. 

The Kremlin can make good its monthly losses for the time being, but even a country as big as Russia cannot afford to lose 30,000 soldiers a month forever. Putin is hoping Trump will win the US election inn November - five months and 150,000 casualties from now - but that is not looking like a sure bet. JL

David Axe reports in Forbes:

The battlefield in and around Vovchansk has become extremely dangerous for Russian armored vehicles. So Russian infantry march into battle on foot—and die in huge numbers as Ukrainian drones and artillery take aim while Ukrainian air force fighters are lobbing American or French-made precision glide bombs at the Russians. Ukrainian brigades finally have the firepower they need to strike every Russian vehicle their surveillance drones spot. Russia has the vehicles, it’s just not willing to risk them just to save a few hundred soldiers. Vovchansk is an infantry killing field, and the Russians are doing most of the dying.

Five weeks into Russia’s northern offensive in Ukraine, the battlefield in and around Vovchansk—the locus of the fighting just south of the Russia-Ukraine border—has become extremely dangerous for Russian armored vehicles.

So Russian infantry march into battle on foot—and die in huge numbers as Ukrainian drones and artillery take aim.

It’s not for no reason that the Russian casualty rate—both wounded and killed—increased this spring and summer. Total casualties may now exceed half a million. Ukraine’s own casualties are much lower.

Perversely, this bloodbath doesn’t portend an imminent end to the wider war. The Kremlin recruits, and rushes through cursory training, around 30,000 fresh troops every month—just enough to make good monthly losses.

So even as Russians die in shocking numbers in Vovchansk and other contested towns, the Russian army continues to replenish existing units and even form new ones. “They are preparing new forces for future advances,” explained Kriegsforscher, a Ukrainian marine corps drone operator supporting the Ukrainian 82nd Air Assault Brigade fighting in Vovchansk.

Vovchansk was the first big target of Russia’s northern offensive, which kicked off on May 10 with simultaneous attacks in several places along Ukraine’s northern border with Russia. But the Russian northern grouping of forces, tens of thousands of soldiers strong, never got past the industrial town four miles south of the border.

Several Ukrainian brigades, including the 82nd Air Assault Brigade, raced north to meet the Russians. Rearmed with American munitions, the Ukrainians fought the Russians street by street, building by building—and halted their advance in late May.

Today, Vovchansk is an infantry killing field, and the Russians are doing most of the dying. “Russians are using only infantry without armored vehicles,” Kriegsforscher wrote.

It’s not that the Russian military doesn’t have some vehicles that, like the Ukrainian 82nd Air Assault Brigade’s American-made Strykers, are optimized for chaotic urban combat. Russian BTR-82 wheeled armored personnel carriers are broadly similar to the wheeled Strykers, albeit less sophisticated.

Russia “has armored vehicles ... which are perfect for fighting in the city (at least for [medical] evacuation),” Kriegsforscher noted. “But they don’t do this.”

“Their choice to use infantry without armor is strange,” Kriegsforscher wrote. In fact, it makes perverse sense—especially for Russian commanders who don’t place much value on the lives of their soldiers.

In 28 months of hard fighting, Russia’s military has lost around 4,000 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles—the two types of armored vehicle that haul troops into battle. That’s around 150 destroyed Russian APCs and heavier IFVs a month, on average, that the analysts at Oryx have confirmed.

Ukraine’s losses are much lower: around a thousand APCs and IFVs since Russia widened its war on Ukraine in February 2022. That’s approximately 30 vehicles a month.

The Russian loss rate is increasing, fast. With fresh consignments of American-made artillery shells, as well as expanding production of explosive first-person-view drones, Ukrainian brigades finally have the firepower they need to strike every Russian vehicle their surveillance drones spot—a major change from this spring, when the Ukrainians often located Russian vehicles but had nothing to fire at them.

In May, Russian vehicle losses spiked to a staggering 288 APCs and IFVs, according to analyst Andrew Perpetua, who tallies vehicle losses in Ukraine. “This is only what we could see and count,” Perpetua stressed.

The problem for Russia is that its industry can build, or regenerate from long-term storage, just a thousand or so APCs and IFVs a year. That’s a quarter of the vehicles the military would need in a year if it continued losing them at the current rate.

It’s apparent there’s growing pressure on Russian commanders to conserve their heavier armored vehicles. More Russian assault groups are riding into battle on motorcycles or in all-terrain vehicles that are little better than heavy-duty golf carts. And those are the lucky groups that have any vehicles at all.

Even support units are parking their heavier vehicles, such as Kamaz trucks, in favor of ATVs. “In combat, delivery on Kamaz trucks is impossible—same as other vehicles,” one Russian soldier noted in a video translated by Estonian analyst War Translated.

The ATVs are vulnerable, too, of course. The soldier in the video points out one ATV with extensive shrapnel damage—the scars of a Ukrainian strike that he said killed three officers riding in the flimsy vehicle. But for many Russian commanders, losing a $19,000 ATV is preferable to losing a $100,000 Kamaz truck—or an APC or IFV that might cost millions of dollars.

And losing a squad of infantry is preferable to losing any vehicle as long as infantry are plentiful and vehicles are increasingly scarce.

This dearth of heavy vehicles might explain why a Russian infantry assault in central Vovchansk over the weekend ended with as many as 400 Russians surrounded in a chemical plant and under bombardment by the Ukrainian air force.

“The Russians are surrounded here with zero chances of evacuation or reinforcements,” another Ukrainian drone operator reported—possibly because the Russian force in Vovchansk lacks heavy vehicles that might break through to the surrounded troops. Or, if it has the vehicles, it’s not willing to risk them just to save a few hundred soldiers.

The Ukrainian air force has joined the battle. The air force’s fighters—Mikoyan MiG-29s, Sukhoi Su-27s or both—are lobbing American- or French-made precision glide bombs at the plant. Rob Lee, an analyst with the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, identified three videos depicting Ukrainian glide bombs striking the plant’s main complex recently.

One Russian blogger likened the fighting in Vochansk to two of the most brutal battles in Russia’s 28-month wider war on Ukraine: the long Russian sieges of Bakhmut and Avdiivka. The Russian air force dropped scores of glide bombs a day on Avdiivka, gradually reducing the city to rubble and compelling the Ukrainian garrison to retreat in February.

“The bad news,” the blogger wrote, “is that the enemy has a lot of his own guided Hammer bombs, which also pose a serious problem.”

France pledged 50 Hammer glide bombs a month to the Ukrainian war effort. The United States has given Ukraine presumably thousands of similar bombs with pop-out wings, satellite guidance and—depending on the model—potentially hundreds of pounds of explosive fill.


By flying low and fast and climbing at the last minute before releasing their munitions, Ukrainian fighters armed with up to six glide bombs apiece can avoid Russian air defenses and hit targets from 25 miles away or farther—40 miles in the case of the U.S.-made Small Diameter Bomb. “It’s not easy to fight them,” the Russian blogger explained.

In pummeling those hundreds of troops cowering in the chemical plant, the Ukrainians are giving the Russians a taste of their own medicine. It’s standard practice for the Russian air force to glide bomb Ukrainian positions before a ground attack.

It’s a terrifying experience for the Ukrainians. “These bombs completely destroy any position,” wrote Egor Sugar, a trooper with the Ukrainian army’s 3rd Assault Brigade, which fought in Avdiivka.

Now it’s the Russians’ turn to be afraid—and get buried in concrete.


Post a Comment