Russia Has Launched a Strategic Campaign vs Rail but Still Won’t Target Railway Bridges Over Dnieper
Started wrecking rail on a big scale just as Blinken and Austin were in Ukraine by train
In early April Russia started a sustained war against rail hubs directly behind the Donbass battlefield.
It also targeted rail elsewhere in Ukraine, particularly in the west of the country, but only sporadically so.
This recently changed.
The Russians did not target rail itself, but transformer substations that keep rail lines electrified.
The Russian military, using long-range precision weapons, destroyed six traction substations at the railway stations of Ukraine, “through which foreign weapons and military equipment are supplied to the Ukrainian group of troops in the Donbass.” This was announced on Monday by the representative of the Russian Ministry of Defense Igor Konashenkov.
This gave heart to some Russian commentators:
The echelons that transport goods for the Armed Forces of Ukraine are pulled mainly by electric locomotives, noted the military analyst Yuri Podolyaka. Therefore, the decommissioning of traction power plants is of great strategic importance.
“If the Russian command continues to strike at Ukrainian substations, this could be a much more effective solution than hitting railway bridges,” Podolyaka said.
I am not so sure that de-electrifying Ukrainian lines is that valuable.
De-electrification would mean that Ukraine would have to fall back on using diesel locomotives alone. And according to the Russian commentator Sergei Sigachev its fleet of diesel locomotives is rather small. (Apparently 1627 electric vs 301 diesel. Another breakdown has it at 1738 electric and 756 diesel in 2017.)
So if complete de-electrification could be achieved and maintained that would doubtlessly have serious consequences for Ukraine’s industry and economy. (The main users of rail.)
However military trains are always going to be given highest priority so with 301 diesel engines around it might be entirely possible to keep moving military cargoes around without much fuss.
It sounds like in order to interrupt high-priority transports the rail lines would have to be cut, not just de-electrified.
Also, it is not clear how successful Russia’s de-electrification salvo was.
This is not conclusive since we don’t know if passenger trains are pulled by diesel or electric locomotives. Nonetheless, it would seem to eliminate the possibility that Ukraine’s ability to supply the military by rail was dealt a particularly grievous blow.
If it is able to move civilians (and on time!) — it is likely also able to move weapons and ammunition.
Particularly interesting is the Ukrainian Railways reporting — a day after the strikes — that its passenger train all way from the Slovak border in Uzhgorod to Lozova in Donbass arrived just 2 hours late.
Lozova is just 50 kilometers from the Russian positions south of Izyum from which the main Russian attack vs Donbass is proceeding.
That Ukrainians are apparently still able to reach Lozova casts a question mark, not just on the de-electrification strikes of April 25th, but even on their longer-fought campaign vs rail in Donbass.
It seems more and more certain that hitting the Dnieper bridges presents the best chance of actually crippling Ukrainian rail by far. Yet this has not even been attempted. The Us has so far counted 1900 precision-guided missiles fired by the Russians. Only one has ever targeted a Dnieper bridge.
Is there some kind of Russian taboo against targeting bridges? Apparently no. The very next day the Russians hit a strategic bridge in the southwest. The strike didn’t deal critical damage so the very next day it was retargeted, after which the Ukrainians in a roundabout way admitted the bridge was rendered unusable.
📷Russian cruise missile hit a bridge at Zatoka. It's the only Ukrainian bridge connecting Budjak with the rest of Ukraine. Other roads lead through Moldova. #Ukraine #UkraineRussiaWar pic.twitter.com/f2kT7yJGMM
— MilitaryLand.net (@Militarylandnet) April 26, 2022
The strike leaves Ukraine’s Budjak region cut off from the rest of the country, reachable only by road through Moldova.
The strike against this bridge came on the same day as giant antennas were blown up in nearby Transnistria probably by Ukrainian special forces. The destruction of the bridge may have contributed further to the fuel glut being felt in Odessa and elsewhere in Ukraine.
So then, there is no taboo on striking bridges per se just on striking the most strategically important bridges across the Dnieper? Very strange.
Since the 25th there has been some retargeting of transformer substations (albeit not on the scale of the first day) so it seems the Russian side thinks this is the way to go.
Ironically the 25th coincided with the visit to Kiev by the US secretaries of Defense and State. Austin and Blinken. They had traveled to Kiev by train. Yes, just before their return trip Russia wrecked Ukraine’s railway infrastructure in regions they were to pass. Somebody in Moscow has a sense of humor?
NEW: Zelensky met Austin & Blinken in Kyiv yday in 1st visit by Biden admin since 🇷🇺 invasion.
• Biden will tap Bridget Brink as ambassador to 🇺🇦
• 🇺🇸 plans to reopen embassy in Kyiv ASAP
• 🇺🇸 will send $322m MORE in military aid for 🇺🇦 for advanced weapons & new air defense pic.twitter.com/58vAg6eSLE
— Jack Detsch (@JackDetsch) April 25, 2022
In late 1944 the Allies thoroughly wrecked Germany’s railway system with a campaign against her railway marshaling grounds. Marshaling grounds represent big targets that are easier to hit than a solitary line. Also it is far more work to rebuild 20 or 30 parallel rails than a single track. Void of marshaling grounds to break up and rebuild compositions, to get slower trains out of the way of faster ones, and to unload them without obstructing trains just passing through the station, German railways became clogged with trains. The Germans at times resorted to derailing trains on purpose just to free up tracks — not that it made a difference.
It is doubtful that Russia could repeat this. Even counting just the bombs that hit (a small minority) the quantity of ordnance expended to accomplish this was enormous by today’s standards.
Electric substations are more delicate than marshaling grounds and more difficult to reconstruct. If you only have so many precision-guided missiles to expend on railway wars, then substations are probably the weak point to go for ahead of marshaling grounds.
That said, there is really no weaker point than a bridge. Especially in Ukraine where the country is bisected by a giant river crossed by just 9 railways. Russia’s persistent attempt to reinvent the wheel and disable rail without going for the one thing that is sure to work is puzzling.
Its Iskander ballistic missiles have a powerful 700-kilogram warhead and in advanced configurations are 50% accurate to 5-7 meters.
Video footage of a rocket hitting a railway bridge in Odessa Zatoka, across the Dniester Estuary. pic.twitter.com/wOo8Yxw2w0
— AppleSeed (@AppleSeedTX) April 29, 2022