I have followed the war in Ukraine from a distance, and my impression has been that the conflict has settled into a stalemate that is unlikely to be broken. That being the case, I have thought that our goal should be to push toward a cease fire and a political settlement.
But former British tank commander Hamish de Bretton-Gordon sees it very differently. He foresees an imminent Ukrainian breakthrough. I pass on his take for what it is worth:
As a former tank commander, I can say one thing for certain: Putin’s demoralised conscripts are utterly unprepared for the shock action now hitting their lines. Ukrainian armoured formations are beginning to meet Russian forces in battle, and they are going to pulverise Russia’s defensive lines. I am confident for one simple reason: Ukraine will follow the Western ideology of manoeuvre warfare in a combined arms context, while the Russians will follow Soviet doctrine, relying on attrition and numbers. The Russians will find that the armour of Western tanks is far more resilient than flesh and bone, they will die in great numbers, and they will lose.
Kyiv’s forces have proved far superior in their adoption of combined arms warfare. This means using tanks, infantry, artillery and air power in harmony to achieve their objectives. Each element brings its own capabilities, and together they are far greater than the sum of their parts. The effect is devastating. Nearly 4,000 Russian tanks have been destroyed because they were not properly protected by infantry and air defence. Tens of thousands of Russian soldiers have died because they were not properly supported by artillery and tanks.
Getting this form of warfare right takes intelligence and training. You need the right equipment, and effective doctrine. The Ukrainians have this. I estimate that their tank brigades have had around eight weeks to perfect combined arms warfare, around the same time I would have allocated to train the Royal Tank Regiment under my command to be an effective combined arms fighting force. And they certainly have the right equipment. The Challenger and Leopard tanks leading the spearhead vastly outmatch what’s left of Russia’s heavy armour, while sophisticated precision artillery is providing withering fire for the advance.
Conversely, Russian recruits appear to be given a few days of training, a little ammunition and are then thrown into the meat-grinder with a life expectancy surely measured in days. They might as well be gunning them down on the training fields; it would be faster, cheaper and about as combat effective.
De Bretton-Gordon notes that Russian pilots seem to have chosen to sit out the conflict rather than risk being shot down. And of course, morale is of paramount importance:
The final and perhaps the most important element of an effective armoured fighting force is morale. The Ukrainians have this in spades. The Russian conscripts have virtually none. From personal experience, having fought a number of battles, I know you need to really want to get out of the trench to fight the enemy. It’s certainly not an easy or natural act.
Here de Bretton-Gordon echoes General John Vessey, a Minnesotan who was Chairman of our Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the first Gulf War was about to begin, I heard the then-retired General Vessey interviewed from his northern Minnesota lake cabin on a local radio station. At that time, the U.S. Army hadn’t fought seriously since Viet Nam, and there was widespread concern about how it would fare. General Vessey said he thought our troops would do very well. I have never forgotten how he put it:
The hardest thing in warfare is to train and motivate your soldiers so that they have the will to close with the enemy and kill him. Very few armies have that quality. Fortunately, ours is one of them.
De Bretton-Gordon concludes:
With Ukrainian canniness, Western intelligence and equipment and a smattering of good fortune, I expect what’s left of the Russian army to be nothing more than a speed bump on the way to liberating Crimea, pushing to the Russian border and chucking Putin’s war criminals out of Ukraine once and for all.
I hope he is right.