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Bakhmut & The Ukraine Trench War – fortifications, attrition, and lessons

As always, please check the pinned comment for any notes or corrections.

For months now, a city with a pre-war population of 70,000 has been the focus of relentless artillery and infantry attacks by the Russian military and the “Wagner PMC.”

For many commentators, the attacks seem nonsensical. At a time when Russia is pivoting to defence just about everywhere else along the line, why keep pouring men and materiel into a city that simply doesn’t have value relative to the effort expended trying to take it.

In this video I zoom in on the battle for Bakhmut, and explore its history, implications, and some of what we have heard about the tactics there.

At the same time, we also look at Russia’s campaign of fortification building across much of the rest of Ukraine (and Russia). As the world focuses on Russia’s Bakhmut attacks, Russia is throwing up belts of defences that…for now at least…seem to have some of the hallmarks of typical Russian defence procurement.

Many thanks to the people who provided input into this episode, with a special thanks to Sgt. Kates – USMC, for giving the kind of input only a combat engineer can (I do not have any idea how to clear a minefield)

As always, this video represents merely person views based on imperfect information gathered during an active war.

Patreon:
https://www.patreon.com/PerunAU

Caveats:
While I have attempted to discuss the factors I consider when evaluating casualty claims – the reality is that the error bars around any estimates are still extremely wide. Estimates of 1:10 ratios in some sectors at certain times are paired with claims consistent with very different situations elsewhere.

Even that Ukrainian Govt estimate on Russian losses may be low – simply because of when the estimate was made and the limited territory it may have covered. This is the problem of uncertainty when viewing a war from afar.

While I am confident in the analysis of matters at the overarching strategic level – be aware that the smaller you get in this war, the less certain things often become.

Notes and further reading:

Thanks as always to various OSINT aggregation channels whose work is critical to analysis like this. A non exhaustive list includes:
https://twitter.com/oryxspioenkop
https://twitter.com/UAWeapons
https://twitter.com/JuliaDavisNews?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor
https://twitter.com/DefMon3/status/1602059972103348225

I do not generally link directly to Russian Telegram channels – but they provide an important source of information on how views of the war are evolving on that side.

“Arty Green” – Ukrainian artillery officer:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5hmhU5LvC8

Examples of constant media coverage:
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/dec/09/ukraine-russia-war-cold-donetsk-frontline

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/dec/10/russia-ukraine-war-bakhmut-meat-grinder-deadlock

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7kwy5BVTdo4

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/27/world/europe/ukraine-war-bakhmut.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g51oovaB_Ss

Timestamps:
00:00:00 — Opening Words
00:01:40 — What Am I Talking About
00:02:37 — DIGGING TO VICTORY
00:02:43 — Fortification and Entrenchment
00:03:59 — Search for Movement
00:04:47 — Always a Risk of Reversion
00:05:17 — THE UKRAINIAN EXPERIENCE
00:05:22 — The War in The Donbass
00:06:12 — War of Movement
00:07:07 — Transfer of the Initiative
00:08:16 — Russia Digs In
00:08:38 — Even in Russia…
00:09:52 — There’s Bakhmut
00:10:49 — TIMELINE
00:10:58 — Core Objective
00:11:36 — “Protecting the Donbass”
00:12:42 — The Donbass Offensive
00:14:06 — It Isn’t Just Bakhmut
00:15:16 — Wagner’s Verdun
00:17:05 — A Brutal Back and Forth
00:17:14 — Encirclement Plan & Ukrainian Rotation
00:18:57 — FEATURES AND EVOLUTION
00:19:08 — Entrenchment
00:20:03 — Traditional Model
00:21:04 — Wagner Waves
00:21:42 — Wagner Tactics
00:24:47 — War by the Meter
00:25:42 — The Gas Station
00:26:13 — The Garbage Dump
00:26:55 — War Made Small
00:27:46 — Infiltration Assaults
00:28:47 — Myths
00:31:18 — WHY BAKHMUT?
00:31:31 — Road to Sloviansk
00:32:47 — “Smashing Their Foreheads”
00:33:22 — So Why?
00:34:34 — IS IT WORTH IT?
00:34:38 — We’re Talking About It
00:35:19 — A1: Offensive Potential
00:36:05 — A2: Attrition
00:37:10 — A3: Politics
00:37:52 — Opportunity Cost
00:38:39 — Other Options?
00:39:04 — Real Cost of Bakhmut
00:40:46 — What if Bakhmut is Taken?
00:42:04 — ASSESSING THE COST
00:42:23 — Illustrating the Point: Causality Scale
00:44:35 — Medium-high Confidence Inputs
00:45:33 — Consistency and Assumptions
00:46:18 — The Picture
00:49:45 — FEATURES AND OBSERVATIONS
00:50:05 — Wat Defaulting to Attrition
00:51:12 — Drone & Artillery Warfare
00:52:45 — “Mines are the Worst”
00:54:53 — Challenges of Breaching
00:55:53 — Sidenotes on Options…
00:56:33 — “Wagner Line”
00:57:25 — The Ugly
00:58:36 — The Significant
00:59:25 — CONCLUSIONS
01:00:47 — CHANNEL UPDATE
01:00:47 — CHANNEL UPDATE

Written by Perun

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  1. I get the credit for these, but thanks to the people whose input makes it possible.

    Thanks to those in Ukraine who take the time out of, you know, fighting a war in order to correspond with someone in Australia about their experiences with this kind of fighting.

    Also, since I know absolutely nothing about the practicalities of clearing a minefield under fire and how you could do it without vehicular support – special thanks to a USMC combat engineer (cheers Sgt Kates) for sharing some combat engineering 101 with me and discussing the implications that overhead threats have for entrenchments and ammo storage (plus introducing me to the APOBS).

    Note: on one slide I say that EU sources estimate approx 100,000 Ukrainian killed + wounded over the course of the war. that means 100,000 casualties including killed and wounded (large majority wounded). it doesn't mean 100,000 killed plus some extra number of wounded /endnote

  2. Part 1: Putin's change of age limits to include men as young as 18 to 30 (Ha!) will remove more working age males from the workforce may affect the defense industry even more. What would the removal of another million working age men do to the economy. Is Putin "shooting himself in the foot"?

  3. When ursula was saying more than 100k kia form Ukrainian side, more is what the most interesting part. I know quite few ukrainians that are mia some even since March. Ukraine says 55k mia, and no one can find them, not even as pow. It seems like those 55k can be added to those those people I know just dissapeared. All of them went as a contart soldiers.

  4. So the EU/NATO estimates of Ukraine military casualties are just those put out by the Russian MoD. No wander Ursula von der Leyen actually retracted her remarks citing that number.

  5. I feel like the refusal by the Russians to stop trying to take Bakhmut is partly the sunk cost fallacy, but also about what it would mean to fail to take Bakhmut in political terms.

    The past few months have seen a number of stunning military defeats by the Russians, losing large swathes of ground that they have paid dearly to capture. The amount of materiel they've expended is extraordinary, as is the number of lives they've thrown into the meat grinder of the war machine. And the combination of mobilization plus the ongoing effects of economic sanctions have started to bite even in Moscow, where Russia has taken great pains to limit the impact of the war.

    With growing dissatisfaction among the people, Putin needs a win. Something he can show to the Russian people that he's still in it to win it, that he's got the situation under control and victory is still on the table. And the longer he goes without a major military victory, the more people may start to ask if Putin should continue to be the leader after all- or if one of his various subordinates or erstwhile allies might do a better job.

  6. Could someone link UN report of civilian causalities in Donbass, since Russian trolls and Pro-Kremlin cretins living amongst us (but won't go back to their dilapidated motherland) ove to talk about "thousands of Russians dead by Ukrainian shelling during 2014 – 2021"

  7. Ukraine provide arms industry with big and profitable market,plus free advertising in mainstream media.

    From major supplier in UK,America,EU,Russia,Australia to newcomers like Korea and Iran can generate high Roi from this war.

    Everyone, not just government can exploit this conflict for their own interest,DJI drone manufacture for example,they're doing business with ukraine & russia..or PMC like wagner or Mozart,they see opportunity,they smell money.

    Dont take too emotional when talk about war..ukraine,iraq,afghan,syria, no different..war is very profitable investment.,ukraine should remember, no such thing as a free lunch.

  8. Thank you Perun.

    It takes an Aussie to make posts such as yours , haven't yet found anyone with coverage so detailed and intuitive.

    You touched briefly on the Wagner group and it struck me , as previously suggested I wonder if they are having military equipment supply issues.

    We have seen this with Russian logistics , but not Wagner.

    Keep up the excellent work.

  9. Great video, as always. I appreciate your analysis. A possible explanation for the buildup of defenses in Belgorod and to defend against an amphibious assault in Crimera – this would support the Russian propaganda claims that Russia is really fighting NATO (which is capable of amphibious assault). So, this could be posturing for the Russian people in alighnment with Russian propoganda that they are really fighting NATO directly and Russia is in danger of invasion (which we know is not true).

  10. I understand that Ukraine has mobilized every single man between the ages of 18 and 65 (or is it 80?, unsure), that may mean millions of troops, at least in theory, what allows perfectly well for 100K or more casualties. Also initially at least the Ucranian high command did not seem to care much about their soldiers, what led to some mutinies.

    As for emphasizing so much that Wagners are not allowed to retreat without orders, you're assuming that their commanders don't know nor care about their soldiers lives and that would push for attacks even when it makes no sense anymore. I'm certain that's not the case: Wagner is an elite force and they don't want to waste a single life among their "stormtroopers": they just prioritize orderly retreats when command decides so.

  11. I reckon the Crimean beach defences are for the Russian domestic audience to stop the massed NATO Black Sea fleets doing amphibious landings, because it's all about the NATO threat to justify Putin's war, not any real threat from the Ukrainian Coast Guard flotilla. I'm sure Russian media will have 20 NATO Aircraft Carriers in the Black Sea alone

  12. We have returned to the quigmire of trench warfare because contemporary military thought is entrenched to ideas of the past that are no longer relevant. The best example being the entrenchment of the "experts" around the idea that the tank is still relevant. Or the idea that the artillery is the King of Battle, especially the "artillery on steroids". Well the tank failed to bring about mobility on this battlefield due to its fragility and vulnerability to everything down to a party of schoolboys throwing stones and molotov cocktails to their refuelling trucks. And the supposedly mystical construct of the "artillery war" is just another name for a static positional war of WW1 fame. "We are led by fools".

  13. 35:18 Damn a government would willingly sacrifice the lives of thousands of "their own" people for good press? Totally wild. Damn. I could never imagine politicians sacrificing the plebs for their own gains. No sir.

  14. This video assumes that the Russians are incompetent idiots who don't know what they are doing. But the greatest taboo in in the martial world is underestimating your enemy.

  15. these wideos are insanely well put together, everyone who had the luck to put together a few uni assignments that are worth of 10 minutes of talking will understand how insane it is to put together 1 hour of concengtrated information with very little ballast, and to do this every few days is quite a job.

  16. 7:20 You said why just a few mintues ago.
    The Dobas has been fortified since 2014. There the Russians face fortifications 100-150 kilometers deep.
    No army could shock and awe its way through such defenses. Only artillery power can break it.

  17. 10:27 Simply not true and entirely based on Ukropian copium.
    Russia is using small assault units to attack one Ukropian fortification after another as it is neutralized by artillery. Meanwhile, drones and artillery are working on Ukropian defenses and supply effort behind the frontline. Thus the only ones being grinded by the battle are the Ukros as their men get blown to pieces in the trenches and behind the front.

  18. one of Russia goal is to demilitarize Ukrine. In Bakhmut 8-10 Ukraine on every 1 Russian i say Russia is pretty happy they keep sending men and doesn't care if they advance or not sa long thy keep coming…

  19. A philosophy question for you to ponder. We have seen videos where the Russian propensity for lying and for theft is absolute. This kind of behavior is viewed as barbarous by cultures which value honour and personal virtue. It appears that both India and China are turning their backs on the Putin regime and treating him as just a classless thug. The same with Turkey.
    The Russian Empire collapsed, the Soviet Union collapsed, and it looks like the Russian federation could collapse. Could the problem with Russian culture. If so what does that mean for the future of Russia as a state?

  20. 36:57
    Then provide it.
    With a 8-10 times superiorty in artillery for Russia and the Ukros sitting in the trenches and defensive position it means the Ukros are being blasted to bits with no cost for Russia.

  21. This push is simply an opportunity for Russia to kill off minorities and convicts while wearing down Ukrainian forces. Nine days after the release of his video Ukraine is actually pushing Russian lines back.

  22. I've seen some videos from Ukraine of old trenches with full grown pine trees in the middle of the trench. My guess is, coinsidering how shallow and with gentle slopes they are, that the are from the time of WW2. It makes one think of the future of the humankind or lack of it.

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