The War on the Dnieper Bridges Rages
But it is being waged by Ukraine
The Antonovsky Bridge has been hit by Ukrainian artillery again.
Something is on fire – most likely the construction equipment the Russians were using in an attempt to repair the earlier damage… 🇺🇦🔥 pic.twitter.com/pJvyR846XF
— Jimmy Rushton (@JimmySecUK) August 22, 2022
— Special Kherson Cat 🐈🇺🇦 (@bayraktar_1love) August 21, 2022
In April-May when Russia was experimenting with waging a war on Ukrainian rail (link, link, link) by way of hitting electrical substations I wondered why she didn’t attempt that by the more obvious choice of targeting bridges over the giant Dnieper river that bisects the country.
Russia hit the Zatoka bridge in the southwest of the country over the Dniester (a different river) estuary on at least four separate occasions until the bridge was well and truly battered.
It was estimated it would take months of repairs for it to be reopened for rail, but Russia retargeted it again in July for the fifth time.
— MilitaryLand.net (@Militarylandnet) July 19, 2022
But of the Dnieper bridges Russia attacked only one and only once, in an attack that barely did any damage. For all intents and purposes, Russia has not touched the strategic Dnieper bridges.
But Dnieper crossing points are being hit now — only it is the Ukraine that is showering them with missiles.
Russia holds the two southernmost crossings over the Dnieper, captured in the first few days of the war. The bridge in Herson and the dam in Nova Kahovka. And since getting the HIMARS system Ukraine has been relentlessly bombarding the two, especially the bridge.
The bridge which lies just 40 km from the front putting it in range of artillery-level weapons is now disabled and the river is crossed via barges instead.
It is quite ironic. I imagined that if anyone it would be the Ukrainians who might be reduced to crossing the Dniper in barges. Instead it is the Russians.
As someone who made river crossings on barges in the 90s when some bridges went up in a different war I can testify that floating on a plank pushed by a rusty tug is not without its charm, but one that even for an 11-year-old doesn’t quite make up for the miles-long lines to get to the other side.
When a bridge gives way to the 19th century that naturally leads to bottlenecks.
In April-May I suspected that by not going for the bridges Russia was committing a tactical blunder. I no longer think that.
At the time I anticipated that the Russian retreat from Kiev would be followed up by an ambitious, large-scale Russian offensive in the south. In such a case supporting the offensive by frustrating Ukrainian supplies, replacements, and redeployment with attacks on bridges would indeed be of great value. But since Russia subsequently proved capable only of lethargic and local offensives whether the bridges stand or not becomes a moot point.
The loss of bridges would lead to bottlenecks and delays, but Russia’s advance isn’t fast enough or broad to make that matter. Whether a battalion from the Polish border needs three days to arrive to Donbass or thirty doesn’t matter all that much when Russia’s daily advance is marked in yards. In each of the cases, the unit will arrive plenty soon enough to see fighting.
Also since the Russian force is small, the opposing force doesn’t need to be particularly large either. Forces involved are 10 times smaller than the forces that confronted each other in Ukraine 80 years ago. On top of that, only a tiny section of the front between Donetsk and Izyum sees serious fighting. So the logistical strain on the Ukrainians isn’t all that high to begin with. It’s quite possible they could still get enough ammo across for such a localized war via barges and dams.
Another thing is that at the time it was not yet clear how great would the flow of US supplies grow. The US went on to bill its aid “Lend-Lease” but this is no Lend-Lease as history knows it. It’s useful yes, but doesn’t even belong in the same sentence with Lend-Lease. A real Lend-Lease would make the targeting of bridges an imperative, but this does not.
One question to ask might be why the large offensive in the south that I anticipated after the Kiev retreat never materialized. I think it is because I underestimated by how much the Russian army had already weakened itself by that time.
It did not suffer catastrophic human losses, but it did suffer quite staggering material losses. It turns out the reports of hundreds and hundreds of fighting vehicles lost (many abandoned) in the first two shambolic weeks of the war were largely true. So although all energies were now refocused on the south, because the army had already weakened itself when it was pursuing disparate objectives, this was no longer enough.
So as it tried to break through at Izyum it was not equal to the task, forcing the command to progressively downscale their ambition moving the planned breakthrough further and further east, — and thus aiming for a smaller and smaller pocket.
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) July 19, 2022
— MilitaryLand.net (@Militarylandnet) July 31, 2022
Video of the line for the ferry in Kherson after Ukrainian strikes disabled the Antonovskiy bridge. https://t.co/07lCTmZv8N
— Rob Lee (@RALee85) July 30, 2022
Two people from the repair team were killed during the shelling of the Antonovsky bridge in the Kherson region, said the deputy head of the VGA
— ДражаМ (@DrazaM33) August 22, 2022
— Primrose St.James (@primrosestjames) August 22, 2022
This is how Antonovskyi bridge in Kherson looks like after this night’s shelling by Ukraine’s Armed Forces. The bridge is now impassable for heavy equipment, which makes Russia’s task to resupply its forces in Kherson way harder #StopRussia pic.twitter.com/q68FiY8679
— UkraineWorld (@ukraine_world) July 27, 2022
— Thomas C. Theiner (@noclador) August 10, 2022