I pulled this account of the battle of Voznesensk together from snippets available on twitter of a WSJ article on the battle by Yaroslav Trofimov. For those of you who have full access to the WSJ, here’s the link. I doubt I have the full article, but you’ll get the gist of it. It’s a classic infantry versus armor tale, a glorious tale to this old light infantryman. At some point I hope Infantry Magazine does a full battle study. Even better, it could be treated as a tactical text in the spirit of “The Defence of Duffer’s Drift.”
VOZNESENSK, Ukraine — A Kalashnikov rifle slung over his shoulder, Voznesensk’s funeral director, Mykhailo Sokurenko, spent this Tuesday driving through fields and forests, picking up dead Russian soldiers and taking them to a freezer railway car piled with Russian bodies—the casualties of one of the most comprehensive routs President Vladimir Putin’s forces have suffered since he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
A rapid Russian advance into the strategic southern town of 35,000 people, a gateway to a Ukrainian nuclear power station and pathway to attack Odessa from the back, would have showcased the Russian military’s abilities and severed Ukraine’s key communications lines. Instead the two day battle of Voznesensk, details of which are only now only emerging, turned decisively against the Russians.
Judging from the destroyed and abandoned armor, Ukrainian forces which comprised of local volunteers and the professional military eliminated most of a battalion tactical group on March 2 and 3. The Ukrainian defenders performance against a much better armed enemy in an overwhelmingly Russian speaking region was successful in part because of widespread support for the Ukrainian cause, one reason the Russian invasion has failed to achieve its principal goals so far. Ukraine on Wednesday has announced it was initiating a counter offensive on several fronts. “Everyone is united against the common enemy,” said Vozsenensk’s 32 year old mayor, Yevgeniy Velichko, a former real estate developer turned wartime commander who, like other local officials, moves around with a gun. “We are defending our own land. We are at home.”
Mayor Velichko worked with local businessmen to dig up the shores of the Mertvovod river that cuts through town so armored personnel vehicles couldn’t ford it. He got other businessmen who owned a quarry and a construction company to block off most streets to channel the Russian column into areas that would be easier to hit with artillery.
Ahead of the Russian advance, military engineers blew up the bridge over the Mertvovod and a railroad bridge on the town’s edge. Waiting for the Russians in and around Voznesensk were Ukrainian regular army troops and members of the Territorial Defense force, which Ukraine established in January, recruiting and arming volunteers to help protect local communities. Local witnesses, officials and Ukrainian combat participants recounted what happened next.
As darkness fell March 2, Mr. Rudenko, who owns a company transporting gravel and sand, took cover in a grove on the wheat field’s edge under pouring rain. The Russian tanks there would fire into Voznesensk and immediately drive a few hundred yards away to escape return fire, he said. Mr. Rudenko was on the phone with a Ukrainian artillery unit. Sending coordinates via the Viber social messaging app, he directed artillery fire at the Russians. So did other local Territorial Defense volunteers around the city. “Everyone helped,” he said. “Everyone shared the information.”
Ukrainian shelling blew craters in the field, and some Russian vehicles sustained direct hits. Other Ukrainian regular troops and Territorial Defense forces moved toward Russian positions on foot, hitting vehicles with US supplied Javelin missiles. As Russian armor caught fire, including three of the five tanks in the wheat field, soldiers abandoned functioning vehicles and escaped on foot or sped off in the BTRs that still had fuel. They left crates of ammunition.
Russian forces retreated more than 40 miles to the southeast. where other Ukrainian units have continued pounding them. Some dispersed in nearby forests, where local officials said ten soldiers have been captured. Russian survivors of the Voznesensk battle left behind nearly 30 of their 43 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, multiple-rocket launchers and trucks, as well as a downed Mi-24 attack helicopter, according to Ukrainian officials in the city. The helicopter’s remnants and some pieces of burned out Russian armor were still scattered around Voznesensk on Tuesday.
“We didn’t have a single tank against them, just rocket propelled grenades, Javelin missiles and the help of artillery,” said Vadym Dombrovsky, commander of the Ukrainian special forces reconnaissance group in the area and a Voznesensk resident. “The Russians didn’t expect us to be so strong. It was a surprise for them. If they had taken Voznesensk, they would have cut off the whole south of Ukraine.”
Ukrainian officers estimated that some 100 Russian troops died in Voznesensk, including those whose bodies were taken by retreating Russian troops or burned inside carbonized vehicles. As of Tuesday, eleven dead Russian soldiers were in the railway car turned morgue, with search parties looking for other bodies in nearby forests. Villagers buried some others.
Mr. Rudenko picked up a Russian conscript days later, he said, who served as an assistant artillery specialist at a Grad multiple-rocket launcher that attacked Voznesensk from a forest. The 18 year-old conscript, originally from eastern Ukraine and a Crimea resident since 2014, suffered a concussion after a Ukrainian shell hit near him. He woke the next morning, left his weapon and wandered into a village. Mr. Rudenko said. There, a woman took him into her home and called the village head, who informed Territorial Defense. “He’s still in shock about what happened to him.” Mr. Rudenko said.
The Russian troops reportedly came from the 126th Coastal Defense Brigade, and the operation involved a helicopter insert for some Russian troops.
US Military News describes javelin anti-tank missile.
The WSJ article you linked to noted that there were 400 Russian soldiers in that column. Is that a large force to take a town of 35,000 people? How did the Ukrainians know that this column was headed north from Kherson to take those defensive measures like blowing up the bridges?
It appears they were spread out in groups with 4-5 tanks, some who came into a nearby village and ate whatever food were in those houses? Is that normal to disperse like that?
What do you think was their attack plan? It appears the Ukrainians ambushed them and once they came under attack they retreated back south. In situations like this what does an attacking force do as those who escaped would no doubt now be afraid to get back in the fight?
The road through Voznesensk was an obvious line of advance to get to bridges across the Bug in order to encircle Odesa. It was obvious to both the Russians and the Ukrainians. I’m not surprised that a single Russian BTG tried to seize that route. It was worth a try. Perhaps that’s all the forces the Russians had available at the time. I would think a force of 2 or 3 BTGs would have made the push, but those extra BTGs just may not have been available. What most surprised be is the lack of engineering and bridging equipment. That should have been planned for before the invasion started. That mistake is evidence of criminal incompetence among the Russian command.
Beyond the lack of bridging assets, the entire invasion force seems to lack the engineering support to maintains roads or install roads to support that invasion. They needed truckloads of gravel and PSP, bulldozers and graders and the engineering troops to properly use that material. The mud and poor roads of Ukraine should not have surprised the Russians. With proper engineering support, the Russians could have bypassed Voznesensk and forced the Bug anywheres else. As I said, criminal incompetence and probably evidence of the extent of kleptocratic rot in the entire system.
Thanks for sharing that WSJ article. I continue to be astonished by the poor performance of the Russian army. As you imply, the Bug should not be a significant obstacle to a properly resourced force. What on earth do the Russians practice in their massive military exercises? Seems like yet more signs they thought it was going to be a cake walk.
I am reminded of the exchange between Elliott Gould’s character and Michael Caine’s in A Bridge Too Far concerning what Gould refers to as “Bailey crap”. Or as Caine counters; “When you refer to Bailey crap I take it you mean that glorious, precision-made, British-built bridge which is the envy of the civilized world?”
Totally off topic but very relevant,
Happy St. Patrick’s Day@
Thank you for the sentiment of the day. May you be three days in Heaven before the Devil knows your gone. Happy St. Pat’s to all correspondents.
Just played it. Some consider it the Irish Nat’l Anthem.
Yes, very relevant today and therefore not off topic.
Nancy too getting into Paddie.
Whodathunkit? Remember that the Ukrainians have their own near-disastrous national and societal defects. Nevertheless, I have to respect the courage and determination they have brought to the fight for of their homeland . Слава Україні!
I have yet to read of a single Russian military success. Does anyone know of one?
Ummm….a simple look at a map of the war shows the Russians have captured territory the size of the UK, they have isolated the port of Mariupol & possibly destroyed one the most elite brigades in the Ukrainian military at Andreevka. Eastern Ukraine (where most of its professional military is located) is becoming strangled and keep in mind the attrition of the Ukrainian military…
just because we aren’t seeing pictures of knocked out Ukrainian convoys and tanks does not mean its not happening & that the war is going well for Ukraine. Of course they would rather exaggerate their victories and play down Russian ones.
Yes it appears the Russian army is very inept but don’t let the western pro Ukraine hype blind you from the potential realties of what is actually happening…
The Russians have killed over 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed plenty of Ukrainian tanks and IFVs. They have advanced as far as they have, so they must have had battlefield successes. But they’ve also killed many more children, women and elders and destroyed so many homes, schools and hospitals. Whatever battlefield successes they had are bitter and pointless.
“But they’ve also killed many more children, women and elders and destroyed so many homes, schools and hospitals.”
How do you know THIS if you cannot account for their “battlefield success” either?
I enjoy this blog, but the numbers simply don’t add up. Up until a day or two ago, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reported less than 600 civilian deaths, while supposedly 7K Russian soldiers had been killed according to some “reports” and now 1,300 Ukrainian soldiers.
The ratios don’t make any sense. Once the UN # started leaking guess what they did, they took the site down….
All these numbers are based on what can be verified. Most events in a conflict cannot be verified in real time. Fog of war exacerbated by all parties seeing advantage in distorting the picture. Some things that happen will never be verifiable in detail. Welcome to warfare.
There is a core of known casualties based on a body count that should be accurate. But there are natural temptations on both sides to manipulate them in their favour.
Beyond that it is educated guesswork based on experience as to how many died, like when a tank burns. But there is probably not a lot or experience out there in estimating casualties in this kind of war.
Followed by complete guesses where for example a city is attacked.
The sad fact is that the dead and especially injured are likely to be much higher than any estimates.
TTG – we’re very definitely getting two pictures here. A version of the alternative picture is given here. Also submitted it to Dr North’s site in England. Dr North, I should say, is very much of your view – that the Russians are losing. Makes me unsure, that, when I find experts in a field that’s not mine coming to such a very different conclusion!
Don’t agree with what he says about nuclear but when he says of NATO “They want to fight the Russians to the last Ukrainian” and when he says of the Russians “They will use as much firepower as Zelensky wants them to use” that for me about sums it up.
Thanks for the link to Duffer’s Drift.
Regarding Voznesensk, it was my understanding that the Russian troops there were going after the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant at Yuzhnoukrainsk less than 15 miles N of Voznesensk on a National Trunk roadway. Like what they did at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Facility. That makes more sense than an undermanned flanking attack on Odessa, which is more than 90 miles from Voznesensk on secondary roads. The threat to Odessa was from Mykolaiv. In any case Putin seems to have given up on the nuclear power plants ever since the EU started urging the Ukrainians to hook up to the European grid .
It was reported originally to be an air envelopment by Russian air-assault troops to hold Voznesensk while an armored column drove up from Mykolaiv. The air-assault story jibes with JominiW’s maps which for weeks had shown elements of the 7th GALD stalled there. He now shows them pulled back at Nova Odesa halfway between Mykolaiv and Voznesensk.
Additional stories of the battle at: