This Twitter thread was posted by Chris Owens (@ChrisO_wiki) on 1 Aug 2022. He’s billed as an independent military history author and researcher and author of “Ron the War Hero,” a true story of L. Ron Hubbard’s military career.
Overnight news of a devastating Ukrainian HIMARS strike against a Russian ammunition train suggests to me that the Ukrainians have been rather clever in exploiting the limitations of the local rail network. The attack took place at Brylivka railway station, south-east of Kherson. Coincidentally, it’s an area I remember from a visit many years ago. The whole area is a vast, flat, arid and frankly monotonous farming region watered by irrigation canals. Brylivka owes its existence to the railway line, which was built in 1944 under Stalin to provide a second rail route to Crimea (the main line is further east, running from Melitopol to Simferopol). The village was founded the following year, presumably to house railway staff.
But the line at Brylivka has three peculiarities. First and most importantly, the entire line from Kherson to Dzhankoy is only a single track line. Single track lines have a very limited capacity to carry trains. (Thanks to http://bueker.net for the map.)
There had been a plan to upgrade the line to double tracks with electrification during the 2010s, but this fell through due to Russia’s seizure of the Crimea in 2014. Second, Brylivka is equipped with a large set of passing loops (or passing sidings) which are long enough for large freight trains. Passing loops allow trains to pass in both directions on a single-line track. The Russian ammo train would have been stopped here. Third, Brylivka is just south of the North Crimean Canal, which waters the entire area (and Crimea). The railway line crosses it on a single-track bridge – given its strategic importance, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr HIMARS paid it a visit soon.
The line has not been very busy in recent years. Russia’s takeover of the Crimea meant that long-distance and freight traffic ceased in 2014. Prior to the 2022 invasion, it reportedly only had 2 passenger trains a day between Kherson and Vadim, the last Ukrainian-held station. However, given Russia’s dependency on railways for its military logistics (as noted by @TrentTelenko and others), the Russians are likely to have been making heavy use of the line to resupply their forces in occupied areas of Kherson oblast. They have also within the last month reopened the line from Kherson to Dzhankoy for passenger traffic, though I would imagine the timetable will be somewhat disrupted now.
So I think it’s likely that the Ukrainians could predict where the ammo train would be stopping, because the single-track layout of the line likely required a stop at Brylivka’s passing loops.
Whatever else happens, the track is likely to remain single, there will continue to be a need for a passing loop at Brylivka, and trains will continue to need to stop there to allow other trains to pass. So this vulnerability isn’t going to go away. /end
Comment: This wasn’t the only train mishap that day. Another train carrying military equipment and ammunition arrived at the Kalanchak railway station further south on the same Kherson line. The Russians began unloading the train the following morning. In order to mask the unloading process and protect against HIMARS strikes, the Russians employed a smoke screen. A few hours into the unloading process, an explosion rang out in the work area. It was not possible to accurately determine its nature due to the thick smoke screen. However, immediately after the explosion, the train took off back towards Crimea. A video shows Russian troops scattering in panic. This appears to be an “own goal” due to an accident in the unloading of ammunition or generating the smoke screen. Or it could have been sabotage or a raid by the local partisans and/or Ukrainian SOF.
The Brylivka strike involved a train of forty or so cars carrying ammunition, equipment and troops. Judging by the videos available, the ammo included a good amount of rockets. Well, at least the Russians don’t have to worry about the difficulty of ferrying that ammo across the Dnieper. This strike is part of Ukraine’s preparation of the battlefield. They are wisely concentrating on the weak links in the already weak Russian logistics situation on the Kherson front. Here the rail lines are few and the supply routes are long. Another month or two of this and the Russian troops west of the Dnieper may be reduced to a bunch of hungry rock throwers.
In the Donbas, Russian supply routes are far shorter and more routes are available. This is evidenced by the Russians’ continued ability to shell Ukrainian positions. Granted the rate of shelling has diminished largely due to the interventions of Saint HIMARS, but the continued shelling does allow the Russians to make minute gains on this front at a great price. But even here, the Ukrainians may also be able to mount limited offensive actions, as the Russians inexplicably abandon some of their positions around Izyum without a shot. Are they shortening their lines to reinforce the Kherson front? Are some Russian and DNR/LNR troops just walking away?
The Ukrainians are still bleeding in the Donbas, but they are not hemorrhaging like they were at the height of the battles for Lysychansk and Severodonetsk. They now have the time to patiently wait until the Russian logistic situation at Kherson is so degraded that a Ukrainian offensive advance will not result in the horrendous casualties of those earlier Donbas battles. If the offensive is undertaken by unmounted infantry rather than armored formations, they could wait until Rasputitsa or the Winter snows. No hurry. Fight smarter, not harder.