By Tony De Burghe,
Published on NCW, Sept 10, 2022:
In this article, the second of two written by Tony Deburghe exclusively for New Cold War, he reports the specific issues faced by the Ukraine military and explains the equipping of the two sides, and how logistics and manpower is shaping the eventual outcome. He details the serious problems regarding the NATO, US and EU weapons being used, and how this is impacting on the country’s military engagements. He concludes that while the propagandised western media is claiming success for Ukraine, in military terms—due to unsustainable loss of life and equipment—the reverse is true.
Small Arms and Small arms Ammunition
Initially the Ukrainian army of February 2022 was uniformly armed with the 7.62 mm x 39 mm Kalashnikov assault rifle. The ‘special’ forces such as the Azov and Kraken regiments under the control of the Interior Ministry and SBU security service used NATO supplied small arms chambered at the standard NATO calibre of 5.56 mm x 45 mm. Although the majority of the small arms used by these forces used a different calibre, they were all based upon the basic Kalashnikov design, licensed to manufactures in the EU and USA.
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The different effects of the two calibres must be explained a little more fully in order that the effectiveness of these two weapons is fully understood.
The 5.56 calibre bullet powered by a 45 mm long cartridge has very high initial velocity as it leaves the muzzle of the gun firing it. In tests, this bullet at 150 m range can pass through a man, pass through a brick wall behind him, and still kill another man hiding behind that wall. It is therefore very effective in urban conflicts, anti-terrorist actions and mopping up operations, very typical of the types of warfare undertaken by the USA and its allies in the past few decades. In open warfare it has limitations. Due to the low mass of the bullet, velocity drops off sharply at around 300 m. At 600 m it is incapable of inflicting a severe wound, and at 800 m it may only cause a severe bruise. The length of the cartridge and the power of the explosive force in the breach of the gun along with the heat generated by repeated firing have presented problems to the manufacturers of weapons designed to fire this round. These problems will become apparent later in this article.
The 7.62 calibre bullets fired by a 39 mm long cartridge has a lower initial muzzle velocity that lacks the overall short range penetration capability of the 5.56 calibre round. However, its greater mass compensates for that in its ability to inflict severe wounds at ranges up to 800 m and minor wounds up to a range of 1,000 m. It is therefore suitable for open rural conflicts as well as urban conflicts, and can be used as a medium-range snipers’ weapon with good effect. The design of this round is based upon technology that is over 40 years old, and, therefore, weapons designed around it tend to be highly reliable and effective in action.
In all other respects both the Ukrainian and Russian armies were similarly equipped with machine guns, mortar tubes, grenade launchers and pistols.
Artillery and Rocket launchers
At the outset of the conflict both Ukraine and Russia had similar arsenals of both of these types of weapons. Russia had a numerical superiority of around 20:1.
Tanks and Armoured vehicles
Again, at the outset of the conflict both sides were armed with similar weapons Ukraine’s battle tanks consisted of T70 and T52 models, whereas Russia had T72 and T80 models, with a small number of the new T90 models. Russia had a superiority of 5:1 on paper, but this was in fact much larger, closer to 10:1, because Ukraine had failed to maintain its main battle tanks, and many of them were broken down and awaiting repair.
The Early Conflict
The initial clash between Russia and Ukraine took Ukraine by surprise. The Russian feints towards Kiev caused panic, and the Ukrainian artillery and rocket launchers in the Donbass were deployed in open fields, expecting light opposition from the under-armed Donbass militias. It is no exaggeration to claim that they were wiped out very early in the conflict. In the following weeks the Ukrainian army was decimated both in terms of fighting manpower and military hardware.
NATO and Western Military aid
The US-led NATO and EU support for Ukraine opened a multi-million dollar, soon to be multi-billion-dollar flow of weapons into that country. On paper this looks like a good idea, but the reality was a little different. European countries were glad to release redundant and outdated small arms into Ukraine, resulting in a logistics nightmare of ensuring that the right ammunition got to the right weapons. Many of the Ukrainian home guard units now being thrown into the front line were armed with obsolescent O.30 inch calibre American automatic rifles from the 1950s. These M14 carbines had short-range top-loaded five-shot magazines and worse still only 50 rounds of ammunition per gun. Not surprisingly these home guard units either died on the front line or ran at the first sign of a Russian attack. In the logistical chaos Ukrainian units using 7.62 calibre ammunition were given 5.56 ammunition and vice versa.
The more modern weapons were also supplied from redundant stocks of weapons put into store because they had known problems. The German G36, an excellent weapon when factory fresh, developed severe accuracy problems with prolonged use. The UK SA80 was very prone to jamming after ten or more rounds were fired, while its front hand-guard got so hot as to be untouchable after very little use. The US assault rifles fared little better with bolt failures after moderate use and cracks and breakages occurring in the plastic hand grips.
The shoulder mounted anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons were slated to be state of the art and were supplied in their thousands. Again, they became white-elephants as the batteries they used ran out of power before they could be used in battle. As the Ukrainian army retreated, many of these weapons were abandoned by the retreating soldiers.
The donated artillery posed the biggest headache to Ukrainian logistics. Theoretically, guns of the same calibre should be able to use any NATO approved shell of the same calibre. This proved to be untrue: the German guns needed German shells; the French needed French shells, and so on. The UK heavy artillery donated to Ukraine posed several problems. As a gun it was excellent, accurate and powerful. But it took too long to set up, exposing it to Russian reconnaissance drones, its muzzle blast deflectors tended to tear down surrounding trees each time it was fired, thus exposing its position, and once fired, it took too long to get it hooked back up to its tow vehicle, so that it was easily exposed to counter battery fire.
As a result, despite all the weapons pouring into Ukraine, its army made no headway against the Russians and Donbass militias.
In June 2022 Ukraine began to send large numbers of conscripts to the EU and UK for military training and equipping. Although no official figures have ever been released, there is considerable evidence to suggest that once in Europe or the UK significant numbers, claimed to be around 7% of the total, deserted, helped by friends and relatives in the Ukrainian refugee community.
These recruits were supplied with American manufactured Kalashnikov rifles (made under licence from the Russian Kalashnikov company, but due to American sanctions no royalties are paid to Russia). These assault rifles are chambered for NATO 5.56 mm ammunition.
The equipping of these recruits was total from weapons to socks, boots, underwear, summer and winter clothing, medical kits, Kevlar body armour, Kevlar caps and Kevlar helmets. Platoon weapons such as light and heavy machine guns, light mortars, and anti-tank weapons were provided. They were also supplied with modern encoded communications systems.
The training courses lasted six weeks and were intensive. But, as any experienced soldier will tell you, you cannot turn a civilian into a soldier in six weeks. Doubtless these raw conscripts were never made aware of that fact.
One other factor must be taken into account here. Poland had been covertly supplying tanks and manpower (in the form of ‘volunteers’). Ukraine therefore now had almost 1,500 tanks along with western supplied armoured personnel carriers and medium and heavy artillery in sufficient quantity to mount a counter-offensive.
The Ukrainian Offensives
Before going any further there are some issues to put that non-military readers of this report need to understand.
1) Raw recruits will often attack strongly-held targets with more apparent bravery than experienced soldiers, simply because they cannot imagine the risks they are taking.
2) These same part-trained soldiers will allow the exultation of apparent victory to make themselves incautious in placing flank guards and rear guards to prevent themselves from becoming encircled.
3) These raw Ukrainian troops had been trained by European armies that had little experience of fighting well-armed enemies. Most of their wars had been fought against poorly armed tribesmen, and, even then, they had not achieved total success. In short, the battle tactics of these armies, taught to the Ukrainian army were not relevant to the actual situation encountered in Ukraine and made assumptions that there would be heavy air support.
In fact, the Ukrainian offensives would have been unlikely to achieve any success were it not for the tactical errors of the Russian commanding General.
The Ukrainian plan consisted of two offensive thrusts at each end of the Russian lines: in the west a major attack on the Kherson Region; and in the east a major attack in the Kharkov region. The entire strength of the newly-minted Ukrainian conscript army was to be committed along with mercenary units and Polish volunteers. They were to be supported by the mass of NATO artillery given to Ukraine along with such aircraft and attack helicopters as had survived earlier Russian attacks.
The Kherson attack was launched first, and, on a very narrow front, the Ukrainian and Polish troops broke through the defensive crust. The Russian military steadily withdrew in front of them for some 20 km, and then stood firm, as other Russian and allied militias closed the neck of the salient, covered its flanks, and then, in a storm of artillery and rocket fire, wrecked the Ukrainian and Polish units in the salient. It was a disaster as some 2,000 Ukrainian and 1,300 Polish soldiers were destroyed along with their tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery. The Ukrainian supporting attacks that were meant to widen the bridgehead were easily beaten back as they tried to manoeuvre across open country, and, within three days, the bulk of the Ukrainian army in the west was reduced to little more than wreckage. Ukrainian hospitals reported that they were overwhelmed with casualties.
It was at this point that the Russian commanding General in the region committed his tactical blunder. Despite the success in the Kherson region, he ordered that the Russian mobile armoured reserve be moved to the west along with Russian infantry units that had been holding the line in the Kharkov region. This action thinned out the defensive lines of the Kharkov region and left the bulk of the defences in the hands of the lightly armed Donbass People’s Republic (DPR) militia. When the Ukrainian attack broke over them, they were unable to hold their lines and were ordered to retreat. They staged a fighting retreat and inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing Ukrainian infantry. It took two days for the Russian reserves to reach the east again and stabilise the defensive line. Meanwhile the Russian artillery and air force had been steadily shelling and bombing the Ukrainian command centres, ammunition stores, and armoured formations.
In the west, the significant difference between the two different calibres of NATO and Russian small arms was demonstrated on a daily basis, as company strength groups of Ukrainian infantry, supported by tanks, tried to break through the Russian lines. In that open country the longer killing range of the Russian assault rifles took a deadly toll on the opposing infantry and the inexperienced Ukrainian tank crews travelling nose to tail down exposed country roads were quickly knocked out by Russian artillery. The Ukrainian infantry found to its horror that prolonged firing of their NATO standard assault rifles made them too hot to handle and aim properly.
As the major offensive ground to a halt the Russians continued to pound the Ukrainian positions, taking out troops, armoured vehicles and logistics. As of September 1, 2022 the Ukrainian army had suffered in excess of 30,000 additional casualties, lost another 800 tanks and had had its major logistic supply bases in the east destroyed.
Despite the media propaganda in the west touting the Ukrainian advances as a major success, in military terms the reverse is true. The cost of regaining land with no strategic use beyond its propaganda value has absorbed and destroyed a very large part of the conscript army so expensively put together in the West. In the cold and rainy conditions of the Ukraine autumn, it has left a frontline army exposed, without hope of full logistical support, and with the full knowledge that, as the ground freezes, the full weight of the Russian army will fall upon them. The Ukrainian offensives spelt the death-knell of the Ukrainian army. Zelensky has cancelled the release of time served soldiers, but also abandoned the call-up due in January 2023. Both are signs that the bottom of his manpower reserves barrel has been reached. He dare not commit his last 40,000 men to the Donbass, as that would leave the rest of the country unguarded, making it simple for Russia to attack from the northeast and take Kiev unopposed. Russia will launch a major offensive in the winter and will aim to have the war over by the end of January 2023.
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