Status: 27/09/2023, 13:13 p.m.
By: Patrick Peltz
In the Ukraine breakthrough on the southern front, a NATO-trained brigade probably played a major role. However, the soldiers' assessment of the training is mixed.
Kyiv – Ukraine can report further progress in its counteroffensive, which has been underway since June. After successful attacks on key positions of Russia's army in Crimea, the Ukrainians broke through the defensive line near the village of Verbowe last week.
The so-called "Suroviking Line" has so far posed a major challenge to the progress of the counteroffensive. Experts see it as a yardstick against which Ukraine's efforts must be measured when they come to a standstill due to depleted resources and the onset of winter.
The Ukrainian news portal The Kyiv Indepedent now attributes a decisive role in this breakthrough to the NATO-trained 47th Mechanized Brigade. However, NATO training – including in Germany, Latvia and Slovakia – has met with a mixed verdict among the soldiers.
Ukrainian soldier with drone.jpg © IMAGO/Kirill Chubotin/Avalon
Brigade formed for counteroffensive - now its advance in the Ukraine war has succeeded
The 47th Mechanized Brigade is considered an advanced model of the future of the Ukrainian army and has apparently led the advance south of Orikiv. The main target of the advance is still the strategically important cities of Tokmak and Melitopol.
The brigade was set up about a year ago for the Ukrainian counteroffensive and trained in NATO countries. With superior equipment, the soldiers were to be the spearhead of the advance. Of all the areas that Ukrainian forces have advanced since then, the targeted area was considered the most important and best defended: the attacked defensive belt consists of minefields, trenches, anti-tank trenches and concrete barriers. After a long period of grueling fighting and much criticism, the 47th Brigade, together with other units, has now succeeded in the long-awaited advance.
The main architect of the new brigade was Valerii Markus, a 30-year-old non-commissioned officer of the then 47th Rifle Battalion. He was invited in October 2022 by Commander-in-Chief Valeriy Zaluzhny to create the brigade together with battalion commander Ivan Shamalaha.
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Thanks to his notoriety as the young, progressive face of the Ukrainian army, Markus should attract a new wave of volunteers. "The brigade had a public image as a place where you fight not only in the classical sense, but with your head, with ideals, with modern technology and with intelligent people," one of the soldiers told The Kyiv Independent. The prospect of NATO training was also attractive.
NATO training for Ukraine war also meets with criticism from soldiers
However, the assessment of NATO training was mixed among the soldiers of the brigade and the other units. A soldier who was trained in Latvia spoke very positively. "The Latvians were great instructors," he said. "They guided us step by step, from the basic understanding of what war is to the use of weapons and grenades, I really liked the program, it was always interesting."
Other assessments of NATO training were more critical. According to the report, many soldiers of the Ukrainian army complained that the courses had not adequately prepared the soldiers for the Ukrainian trench warfare without air superiority.
Criticism of NATO training for Ukraine war: "No idea what the war looks like here"
"What I didn't like about the training is that the Americans have no idea what the war is like here," said one soldier. "They give us exercises where we have to climb a building, shoot down a helicopter with a Stinger, and rappel down ropes. We said: Have you gone crazy? All the buildings will be blown up by tanks and bombs from the air as soon as we get in."
Some soldiers told The Kyiv Independent that NATO training had prepared them for a war that does not exist in Ukraine. The NATO officers would not understand the reality on the ground. NATO warfare envisages massive preparatory air strikes, artillery shelling and mine clearance before the infantry is deployed.
NATO training of Ukrainian soldiers: Conditions in Ukraine war partly ignored?
However, the reality during the Ukrainian counteroffensive is different: given the country's currently small air force, the old T-64 tanks and the ongoing shortage of artillery pieces and infantry vehicles, it is often the infantry that has to act against the defensive line of the Russian army. Russia's troops, in turn, would be supported by overwhelming artillery and a large number of drones.
The Ukrainian troops also reported that it was sometimes difficult for them to use the small group tactics of NATO units, as there was often insufficient cover for this. That is why the army is increasingly deviating from NATO tactics.
Another soldier explained that instructors in Germany attached great importance to training in urban warfare. However, there was a lack of teaching skills on how to force the enemy out of the trenches, create an assault group and coordinate it with artillery and drone support. The nature of the battles in Ukraine is a mixture of the trench warfare of the First World War and the technology and tactics of the 21st century.
Soldiers express criticism of NATO training – expert considers it "indispensable"
Retired U.S. Major General Gordon Davis told The Kyiv Independent that training by NATO allies has nevertheless been "indispensable" in the Ukraine war so far. There are many reasons why certain tactics taught by the allied instructors may not have produced the results expected by the Ukrainians. In any case, the training of soldiers abroad is still better than the training that Ukraine can currently offer itself. It will take huge investments to imitate Russian tactics in training.
According to the report, the NATO-trained 47th Brigade first had to adapt to the situation when attacking the Surrovikin Line. Lack of combat experience and lack of training initially caused the brigade, equipped with Bradley and Leopard 2 tanks, to fail.
What looked like a suicidal tank attack on the first minefields soon provided Vladimir Putin and the Russian media with images of destroyed Leopards and Bradleys. Frightening drone footage of soldiers and equipment blown up by landmines quickly spread on the Internet.
Ukrainians first suffered bitter setbacks against Russia, then a breakthrough was achieved
The Ukrainians closely followed the first setbacks, analyzed their mistakes and gained combat experience. In mid-August, the 47th brigade was again on the march, and this time it began to achieve real success: the breakthrough through the Surrovikin line was the long-awaited success on the Southern Front.
This must now be expanded. Although the successful attack was a success, it was "not a tactical breakthrough," military expert Franz-Stefan Gady told Der Spiegel. To do this, the Ukrainians would now also have to secure the flanks and heights around the village of Werbowe. The offensive, according to the expert's assessment, is nearing its climax. It is questionable whether, after months of fighting, Ukraine still has reserves to achieve significant success. (Papel)