Modern Artillery Means There Are No Quiet Days at the Front
Try preparing an offensive while under constant bombardment into depth
He fell in October 1918, on a day that was so quiet and still on the whole front, that the army report confined itself to the single sentence: All quiet on the Western Front.
A weapon that can lob grenades 20 miles into the distance is a neat thing. But traditionally that didn’t really mean that everything from the contact line into the depth of 20 miles was under threat.
Guns could fire 20 miles out, but there were few ways to see anything beyond the first line of defense. (There were artillery-spotting balloons and planes, but numbers and usefulness were limited.)
So if your side was in the process of rearranging forces and building up stockpiles, and the other side wasn’t conducting an offensive either, then the front entered into a period of calm. Aside from aerial battles, the shelling of the first line, sniper duels, reconnaissance patrols, and other low-level tactical stuff not much would be going on that was casualty-producing.
The Ukrainian 59th Motorized Brigade targeted Russian artillery emplacements in Kherson Oblast pic.twitter.com/xxCYLHVQmW
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) May 10, 2022
I've geolocated this video showing Ukrainian strikes on Russian positions within 10 km of the Russian border!
📍Vesele, Kharkiv Oblast, Ukraine
50°09'09"N 36°32'06"E pic.twitter.com/uuqthz64BD
— Moshe Schwartz (@YWNReporter) May 8, 2022
That has all changed. Small drones have given artillery eyes. Now bombardment into enemy depth is trivial and everything that is in range of enemy guns is also very credibly under threat. Neither side has to be attempting an active offensive and yet casualties can be very high as targets abound.
Troops on the first line are usually heavily entrenched and not very vulnerable to artillery bombardment, but if the eyes of the artillery extend well into the enemy rear other, better targets will be found.
It has created a situation where quiet, low-casualty days are few and unlikely. Just rearranging forces or trying to amass them in preparation for an offensive can lead to high casualties. Now the active part of an offensive really begins as soon as you start assembling your forces for one. All of that has to be done under enemy long-range fire. (Part of the reason offensives on day one from Russian territory were far more successful than what we are seeing now.)
For whatever reason, the pre-war expectation of Western military experts that the Russians would be able to silence Ukrainian long-range guns has not panned out. This has had a very significant negative impact on the Russian ability to stage dramatic offensives because they’re not able to prepare for them in peace. The challenge is almost like the challenge of preparing an offensive while under constant aerial attack (albeit only into the depth of 10 to 20 kilometers).
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) May 10, 2022
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) May 11, 2022
Now, the Russians do have their own guns, and many more of them. That means that they can back much more of the 800-km front with artillery, and can deliver much more devastating initial salvos.
However, the number of tubes is not everything. Situational awareness, target availability, ammunition availability and shells fired are all just as important. The Ukrainians may have fewer guns but what if they are able to find more targets of the juicy kind?
The Russians are expending vast quantities of artillery ammunition but they are mainly firing it at the fortified Ukrainian first line of defense. That is because as the defending side the Ukrainians can get away with presenting relatively few vulnerable targets in the rear. They can get away with moving in small dispersed groups and on foot, or in individual light vehicles. The Russians do not have that luxury. If they want to force a breakthrough they have to amass with heavy equipment and prepare stockpiles close to the front. Such preparations are much more easily disrupted by guided artillery than is infantry in trenches.
So the Ukrainians are firing fewer shells but a higher proportion of theirs is against the more vulnerable targets like ammo depots, supply trucks, and tanks out in the open.
— BlueSauron👁️ (@Blue_Sauron) May 3, 2022
⚡️ The video shows the destruction of equipment and manpower of the Russian troops by the fighters of the reconnaissance and artillery units of the 81st separate airmobile brigade of the DShU of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/Ta2sCV8TAv
— Flash (@Flash43191300) May 9, 2022
This is all to say that there are *objective* reasons why the Russian effort since the withdrawal from Kiev to the present has advanced at a snail’s pace. The lack of speed is explained neither by deep-seated or all-around Russian incompetence, nor by the laughable notion that the Russians are going it slow “on purpose”.
They are going it slow because anyone in their position could only go slow. The Russians have potent air defenses but these are geared toward countering a relatively small number of high-performance aircraft. But to a flood of disposable drones they don’t have an answer (especially when the drones know exactly where to fly to because of US-provided satellite imagery). They entered the war unprepared to tackle this new weapon (ironic considering how much they have relied on small drones in Syria and at Debaltsevo themselves) and are doing as well as would anyone at a similar level of preparedness. (Anyone without America’s air-to-ground capability.)
And once again: truly a lot is being asked of the Russian soldier. They are asked to amass in preparation for offensive while constantly under threat of coming under fire from 10 to 20 kilometers away.
Attempted Russian crossing of the Siversky Donets river didn’t go to well, images from the Ukrainian 17th Tank Brigade. pic.twitter.com/CjqzwqCn6w
— OSINTtechnical (@Osinttechnical) May 11, 2022
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) May 11, 2022
— Arslon Xudosi 🇺🇦 (@Arslon_Xudosi) May 11, 2022