A matter of logistics – TTG

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

https://twitter.com/ChrisO_wiki/status/1554025026822803456?cxt=HHwWgMC4_efhgJErAAAA

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.

TTG 

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29 Responses to A matter of logistics – TTG

  1. Babeltuap says:

    I hate Russia but they are taking the coast. A slow methodical boa constrictor. I’m watching this thing and at no point have they retreated, only slowed to again advance. I know this is hard for many on here watching this agonizing grind but it is a a grind nonetheless. It could go on for years but I doubt it. No way the US can produce weapons and keep writing this level of checks. Not possible.

    • TTG says:

      Babeltuap,

      Russia’s high water mark in the south was in the first weeks of the war. Since then Ukraine has retaken around 45 towns and 15% of the previously held territory back just on the Kherson front. The US and the rest of the West has plenty more weapons and ammunition for the Ukrainians. The Russians are not getting to Mykoliev or Odesa. And they’ll probably lose Kherson. Whether they can keep the land bridge to Crimea through the Winter is an open question.

      • Bill Roche says:

        In your professional opinion has there ever been a single weapon which has had more impact on the battlefield in the last 20 years than the HIMARS?

        • TTG says:

          Bill Roche,

          HIMARS has been around for a while. The BM-30 Smerch MLRS is similar in capability, though probably not with the same accuracy, and it hasn’t changed the war for Russia or Ukraine. It didn’t do us a hell of a lot of good in Iraq and Afghanistan. But in this war, against this enemy, the Ukrainians are employing the few HIMARS they have very well. They are making a difference and I doubt the Russians can adjust their logistical and command systems to negate their effect.

          IMO a weapon that had a similar impact was the infantry AT weapons like the TOW, Dragon and LAW. The first battlefield these kinds of weapons made a difference on, that I know of, was during the battle of the Chinese Farms during the 73 Arab-Israeli War. I knew an Egyptian officer who commanded a motorized rifle company in that battle. They formed a battalion sized fire pocket employing Sagger AT weapons. They beat the hell out of an Israeli armored brigade. These man-portable AT weapons served the Ukrainians well early in this war. They’re still pretty damned effective.

      • Jake says:

        The beauty of predicting the future, is that you can always blame your fellow men when they don’t come true. They lied to you. Or they took a wrong turn. They fell asleep behind the wheel. The car broke down. And then there is unforseen misfortune. The weather preferably.

  2. Simon Stadly says:

    Of course only time will tell,
    but i do wonder when the time of reality will start to sink in for you.
    There may be a few good news stories to grasp at but the facts don’t lie.
    No Ukie offensive in August, continued territorial losses and front line crumbles.
    Maybe Saint Vlad will have a Merry Christmas.
    let us know when you hear the lady singing

  3. jim ticehurst says:

    TTG I found this Interesting…The Single Rail Data..Especially..Thanks
    JT

  4. Fred says:

    “The Russians began unloading the train the following morning.”

    That sounds like a waste of time. Just like with those ships that were sunk at the pier months ago. The screen sounds like a poor idea when it is well known the Ukrainians are receiving receiving intelligence from satellite observation. They obviously need to unload outside artillery range and shuttle the material forward.

    • TTG says:

      Fred,

      I doubt the unloading operation at Kalanchak was a planned move. I think the Russians came up with that plan only after the strike at Brylivka. Russian logistics is manpower intensive with manual transloading of ammo and other supplies from railcars to trucks. It took them all night to get the required trucks and personnel to Kalanchak. The smokescreen was probably an off the cuff idea of some local officer who thought he would get a medal for his initiative.

      The train at Brylivka was probably at a planned transhipment point given that good roads to both Kherson and Kakhovka converge there. Brylivka also avoids the obvious chokepoint and target of the single track bridge over the Crimean Canal. However, no one apparently took a compass and map and drew out the range radius of the Ukrainian HIMARS before settling on Brylivka as a transhipment point.

      • Fred says:

        TTG,

        “no one apparently took a compass and map and drew out the range radius of the Ukrainian HIMARS ”

        After they got shot up the first time? They probably haven’t figured out how to look at their own satelite photos to see how those things move around either.

      • Leith says:

        TTG – “no one apparently took a compass and map and drew out the range radius of the Ukrainian HIMARS”

        No need. DefMin Shoigu has said that Russians are destroying the HIMARs. So they have nothing to worry about (snark).

  5. A. Pols says:

    It appears to me that TTG methodically presents only local Ukrainian tactical successes and infers from them that Ukraine has some brilliant strategic operational plan that will eventuate in a stunning rollback of all Russian gains.
    Is he right and does he possess deep insight into the future? I tend to doubt it and suspect he’s consumed with confirmation bias. The future will of course reveal all in the end.
    It took us the better part of 2 years to grind our way through Italy between 1943 and 1945 and the Germans had many local tactical successes like the Rapido River incident. Nevertheless we persisted, confident in our eventual success, and we slowly and steadily pushed them back bit by bit. It took the best part of half a year to push the Germans out of Casino, but we did. What we see now in Ukraine is a war more typical of the above example where industrial power determines the outcome and soldiers are only marionettes on a conveyer belt whose individual acts of will and valor may delay, but not forestall the conclusion. Preeminence in supply of fuel, food, ammunition, and machines will prevail in the end unless the Russians just give up, but nothing in their long history suggests that is likely.

    • Jovan P says:

      You make a fine point, but I think it’s not only industrial power, magnitude of machines and etc, but there also is a fight for the values.

      Some day ago a mercenary openly bragged wounding a Russian souldier, then forcing him to swim across the Seversky Donetsk while shooting at and killing him. You can’t win a war by torturing and murdering POW’s, shelling the centre of Donetsk and murdering kids, etc. and you can have all the weapons you want.

      BTW, the picture in the text is a sacrilege.

      • Leith says:

        Jovan –

        I agree that the pic of Himars as a saint is sacrilege. But then so is Patriarch Kirill’s KGB affiliation. And his blessing of the torture and executions in Bucha make him a heretic.

        Would you care to share a reference for your story of the Seversky Donetsk swimmer? It smells fishy to me, perhaps true or perhaps phony baloney by Putin’s agitprop guys.

  6. Leith says:

    I’ve seen many OSINT twitter accounts that tend to validate Chis Owens insight on Brylivka and Kalanchak. I know nothing about the guy myself. But I would hope that his book title on L. Ron Hubbard is tongue-in-cheek. Hubbard was no war hero, he during his short lived naval career. He was relieved of command and never left CONUS territorial waters: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L._Ron_Hubbard#Military_career

    • TTG says:

      Leith,

      The Owens book on Hubbard exposes Hubbard as a prolific liar and a hero only in his own mind.

      Trent Telenko is another one who has some good insights on Russian logistics.

  7. TTG, your erstwhile colleague at this website, Larry Johnson,
    as you probably know,
    has a quite different view of the situation in Ukraine.
    E.g., this piece of his on Thursday, August 4:
    https://sonar21.com/new-batches-of-ukrainian-troops-quitting-the-fight-as-russia-grinds-on/
    How would you respond to the claims in that specific column?
    (Just seeking enlightenment.)
    Thank you.

    • TTG says:

      Keith Harbaugh,

      I see Larry is still chugging the Moscow koolaid, although he has modified his earlier predictions of imminent Ukrainian collapse and Russian victory to claims that Russia is moving slow in a deliberate strategy. That’s progress.

      Assuming those videos are legitimate, I see two platoon sized elements of what appears to be territorial defense troops. Employing them on the main defensive line under heavy and prolonged artillery fire is a mission they were not trained or equipped to handle. Under those conditions, I would expect some to withdraw. The earlier Donbas fighting was horrendous and bloody for both sides. I doubt Ukraine would last very much longer if they continued to fight on those terms.

      However, with the arrival of M777s, HIMARS and other Western artillery pieces, the situation has changed fairly dramatically. Ukrainian artillery is still concentrating on Russian logistics, even in the Donbas. These tactics have resulted in Russian withdrawals from several towns around Izyum. The Ukrainians were able to retake the towns without a fight. They can keep up these tactics indefinitely. The Russians seem to only be able to manage limited offensive actions south of Bakhmut and around Avdiivka and Piski with still substantial artillery bombardments, but only limited ground advances. The Ukrainian lines aren’t breaking.

      https://www.yahoo.com/news/village-dibrivne-kharkiv-oblast-liberated-093500328.html

      https://m.dailykos.com/stories/2022/8/5/2114556/-Ukraine-Update-Russian-lines-recede-south-of-Izyum-as-Russia-rushes-to-potential-Kherson-trap

      • Jake says:

        My own theory and associated analysis is not suffering, yet. But it may collapse ‘tomorrow’, like any theory. In January I noted on my own Dutch blog that Russia was done waiting for NATO to live up to its obligations as laid down in the Minsk accord. Certain people on this website may object that I’m referring to NATO, while that organization was not a party, though Germany and France were. But I maintain that Ukraine was NATO’s baby after the coup Victoria Nuland and her team pushed through in 2014, which aborted the ‘Russian’ part of the population, while enhancing the position of ‘radical elements’ within Ukraine. And no lack of evidence that NATO used these past eight years to ‘fortify’ Ukraine, and prepare it for war with Russia.

        My theory, supported by plenty of indirect evidence, and public statements by Russia itself, is that Russia didn’t want to go to war. But it couldn’t let NATO get away with yet another lie (abandoned treaty). Thus, in January, I wrote that if NATO refused to help Ukraine fulfill its promises to create a federation along the lines laid out in this Minsk accord, they would act to enforce it, and most likely occupy the entire Black Sea coast as well. Careful to leave a landlocked ‘Ukrainian shell-state’ so as to avoid having to deal with ‘stay behind’ terrorists. (Mind you, terrorism is a military strategy, and refers to violent acts executed by people not wearing a uniform, and unrecognizable as a military unit, not recognized by the Geneva conventions as military combatants. Which is why this entire ‘War on Terror’ was a stupid concept to begin with. You cannot defeat a military strategy).

        Within this theory I assumed that NATO was never interested in saving Ukraine. It wanted to use Ukraine as a ‘mass grave’ for Russian ambitions, causing Russia to keel over and allow ‘Financial Capitalism’ back into Russia, thereby isolating China, the other opponent to this imperialistic drive to create a unipolar world, run out of ‘Davos’. (‘Davos’ to be seen as ‘Financial Interests’ running governments, whether elected or not). Militarily NATO prepared massive defensive structures which would require a three-to-one majority in force levels in favor of the attacking party, according to models used widely within NATO. Because of the sheer mass of the Ukrainian army, dug in to welcome them, this would have led to tremendous bloodshed on the Russian side, and could not have been done without a nationwide mobilization. Together with stealing every Russian asset within reach of NATO countries, and murderous economic sanctions, that would have resulted in destabilizing Russia to the point where Putin would have been sent on his way, or killed in a coup, opening up a wide avenue for NATO-bankers and ‘investors’. If not, the ‘stay behind’ gladiators would have made life miserable for the occupying force, with the same result eventually.

        So, while Russia didn’t want this war, it came prepared. In a material sense as well as in a strategical sense. Though I accept that it is possible that the massive force-projection in the direction of Kiev was not merely meant as a diversion, but an attempt to convince Kiev that they needed a negotiated settlement. If that was the case, it failed, and clearly NATO kept telling Zelensky that talking to the Russians was out of the question. But that little episode did showcase Russia’s control of the ‘war-theatre’ when they parked a long line of military vehicles on a long, straight road, not even using camouflage, without Ukraine being able to do anything about it. Next up was the artillery war, with NATO and associated analysts proclaiming Russia would run out of shells and missiles within weeks. But they didn’t, and they are still hitting targets daily with precision. The Ukrainian forces siting in those trenches and fortifications paid an enormous price already. And even today, Russia is making ‘kills’ each and every day, erasing forces and their equipment even before they reach the battlefield, as far away as Lviv.

        Nothing worked as it was designed to do on the side of NATO. Don’t get me started about this economic warfare, since I’m in Europe, and this failure is going to be extremely painful, and may result in ‘revolutionary tendencies’, and/or dictatorial suppression coupled to a forced redistribution of wealth, simply to keep people from starving. Not because of some egalitarian zeal, as it is bound to leave the ‘1%’ retain their personal wealth and power, only erasing the ‘middle class’. It could cause the entire unipolar world to implode under its own weight, and not just Europe as a concept.

        Now, TTG and Pat, and the ‘Kagan-administration’ producing truckloads of cheerful announcements about the war, as well as numerous other commentators, are certain that recently introduced weapon systems will enable the battered Ukrainian proxy-soldiers to regain the upper hand. I’m watching this closely, and I understand how destroying critical infrastructure, clearly directed (at the very least) by NATO, is critical for such a plan to work. At the very same time, I see TTG explaining to us that it may take months for this heralded counter offensive to take off. While rumor has it that the Russians not just broke the defensive lines facing Donetsk, which is suffering from indiscriminate shelling and anti-personnel mines raining down from the Ukrainian side, but that they are also getting ready for their own offensive in the direction of Nikolaev and Odessa, completing the occupation of those lands formerly identified as Yanukovych’s electoral strongholds, ‘culturally Russian’. I’m not in the business of predicting the outcome of pure military clashes, but I’m leaning towards accepting the point of view that the Russians will be victorious, based on past performance, and assuming NATO doesn’t interfere any more than it has done already. But I do not have a model which says so, nor privileged information which enables me to speak with confidence. Bio-terror, introducing strategic bombers to level the ‘playing field’, or various disruptions which are difficult (impossible) to include, from ‘regime changes’ in Russia, China, Ukraine, Europe, or the US, to the weather, could have a make-or-break influence on the outcome. But I see Russia holding most, if not all of the aces.

        Assuming a NATO victory as the ‘default position’ for all those involved within NATO, and working to advance a NATO victory as trained professionals, or as a fanclub, or out of fear for a Russian/Chinese takeover of our ‘Safe-Space-Fairytale-Woke’ paradise, comes naturally. But I think it would be wise to develop a ‘Plan B’. And that is an understatement.

    • Pat Lang says:

      KH

      Larry Johnson? Ah, you mean Publius Tacitus.

  8. Worth Pointing Out says:

    The Russians have announced that they have seized control of Pisky, meaning that they have cracked open the main defensive line in Donetsk region.

    Apparently the Ukrainians moved the bulk of their artillery out to support the “Godot offensive” against Kherson, and the Russians have taken advantage of that to punch a hole through Pisky.

    A matter of logistics, I suppose.

  9. SRW says:

    Interesting article on what the average Russian thinks of the war.

    A Russian Sociologist Explains Why Putin’s War Is Going Even Worse Than It Looks
    https://jacobin.com/2022/07/russia-ukraine-war-media-public-apolitical-vladimir-putin

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