The Daily Telegraph
Kyiv’s Humvee push rips up the rule book
Zelensky’s bold move to win back Kharkiv pays off as rapid advances take the Russian forces by surprise
The Ukrainian army has ripped up both Western and Soviet tactical rule books in its lightning offensive against Russian troops. Light Humvee vehicles have been used to punch through enemy defence and then race behind enemy lines and bypass but mark Russian positions for destruction. Frantic messages on the Telegram social media platform, posted by Russian war bloggers, described Ukrainian flying columns that charged into villages on a rush to Kupiansk.
“AMMO!” screamed the man on top of the vehicle as it charged headlong across the east Ukrainian plain. “Give me ammo!”
A colleague below misheard, and handed up an anti-tank rocket launcher.
Without time to argue the gunner took it, fired it at his target, and repeated his demand for more 50-calibre rounds – only to be handed another rocket.
The episode, captured on the English-speaking gunner’s body camera, provided a comic, frightening and, as yet, rare glimpse of the fast-moving battle for Kharkiv region last week.
It also embodied the elements that seem to have made last week’s remarkable offensive possible: speed, aggression and a good deal of improvisation.
Before he stopped to fire, the gunner was streaking across the flat land in a Humvee, one of the lightly armoured, rapid vehicles donated by the US that are said to have been vital to the advance.
“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week” – so said General George Patton, the legendary fire-breathing commander of the US 3rd Army during the Second World War.
When Ukraine decided to launch its counteroffensive in the east, there were no doubt some calling for more time to polish the plan and to allow the latest intelligence updates about Russian locations and strengths to filter in.
Kyiv undoubtedly had good intelligence on the enemy they were facing. Even so, it was a bold move, possibly launched with vehicles lighter than Kyiv would have wished, but preferable to going on the attack in a few months time with sturdier kit.
Like the machine gunner handed a bazooka, they decided to forge ahead with what they had. They also threw orthodoxy to the wind by ripping up both Western and Soviet military rule books for a plan most generals would have dismissed as insanely risky.
Western forces prefer to conduct reconnaissance by stealth; even armoured vehicles can sneak around to acquire a better view of enemy dispositions if handled by competent crews.
By contrast, Soviet, and later Russian, doctrine, prefers to fight for information. Russian units send tanks into reconnaissance missions and are happy to be engaged by enemy guns; all the better to understand what is out there.
The Ukrainian military leadership seems to have adopted a hybrid of these views when planning last week’s attack.
They appear not to have been overly concerned about staying hidden, preferring to use light, mostly wheeled vehicles such as the Humvee and Australian Bushmaster armoured personnel carriers, as well as civilian trucks such as Toyota Landcruisers.
After an initial armoured punch through the crust of Russian defences, these much faster vehicles raced behind enemy lines, avoiding heavy fights and marking Russian positions for destruction either by artillery or heavier units following behind.
Frantic messages on the Telegram social media platform, posted by the Russian war-blogging community, described Ukrainian flying columns that charged into the centre of villages, refusing to engage strong points, and making headlong for Kupiansk.
In just a few days the Ukrainians had captured both Izyum and Kupiansk, critical railway junctions long considered Russian strongholds.
By yesterday, just a week after the assault began, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky stood in Izyum’s central square to give an improvised speech to his troops. He paused, only briefly, for a distant explosion.
There is debate about the wider impact of this lightning assault.
General Eberhard Zorn, the head of the German army, said the “brilliant” operation had destroyed Russia’s hopes of achieving its stated war aim of conquering the rest of Donbas.
“Two weeks ago, I would have said that the entire Donbas [region] would be in Russian hands in six months. Today, I say they won’t manage that,” he told Focus magazine yesterday. But he cautioned that was not the same as turning back the Russians on a broad front.
Another Western official also cautioned against viewing the offensive as a “turning point”.
This has also been extremely risky. If Russia had more and properly equipped troops behind the frontline “crust”, the charging Toyotas and Humvees might quickly have come to grief.
But it was not just speed of the vehicles that made the difference, said Andrei Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defence minister. “The Russians’ greatest weakness is their centralised decision-making,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “No one wants to make a decision because no one wants to take the blame. So they have to send things all the way up to Moscow and back.”
Moscow yesterday destroyed a dam in missile strikes on Ukrainian-held territory behind the frontlines, causing extensive flooding in the central city of Kryvyi Rih.
Oleksiy Arestoyvich, a top adviser to Mr Zelensky, said the bombardment on vital infrastructure was designed to hamper the Kherson offensive.