As I was gathering notes for this article, I found a damned fine writeup by Tom Cooper that describes the action and delves fairly deeply into why the fighting here is the way it is. Rather than reinventing the wheel, I give you Cooper’s article. This is just the first part.
Up front, it is obvious this operation was prepared in a much better fashion than the one from late August — even if its aims, probably even axes of advance, remained largely the same.
First problem was that during operations in northern Kherson in late August and early September, involved ZSU units quite quickly run out of artillery ammunition. The reason is that the ammunition expenditure in this war remains far higher than anybody expects. That said, the ammo was not spent for nothing: it severely depleted the opposition. Moreover, the ZSU offensives into eastern Kharkiv have forced the Russian Armed Forces (VSRF) to re-route lots of reinforcements and supplies in that direction: the concentration of VDV (Russian airborne units) and Separatist forces in Kherson Oblast — the two are commanded by the 49th Combined Arms Army (southern and western Kherson) and the XXII Army Corps (northern Kherson) – could not yet receive similar reinforcements.
The next problem was improving both electronic warfare (EW) support and reconnaissance. That the severe EW was deployed can be deducted from Russian reports about a break-down in communications and lack of air support. Almost certainly, this caused a break-down in the artillery support, too. Certainly enough, overpowering the under-equipped 205th Cossack Motor Rifle Brigade (Separatists) in the field of electronic warfare was easier than overpowering a crack VDV outfit, but still: this was so effectively cut off from the communications network that it found no way to call for help.
Reconnaissance was improved in so far that the ZSU took better care to find and neutralize Russian combat vehicles before launching its own attack. As a result, early reports indicated a loss of only one or two T-72Ms of the (‘destroyed’) 128th Mountain (compared to almost half a company during initial assaults of early August), in exchange for about half a battalion tactical group of the opposition (AFAIK, the total number of destroyed Russian vehicles reported by now includes about a dozen of tanks, a similar number of infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers, and twice as many of other vehicles).
Another problem was that some of ZSU brigade commanders were still ‘leading from the front’: was ‘in’ — indeed: a sort of ‘status symbol’ — over much of the last 70 years, but is not ‘perfect’ for modern day warfare. Nowadays, COs are best serving if coordinating their troops from the safety of their HQs. They’ve got UAVs and the Kropyva automatic tactical management system, can monitor the battle ‘live’ and ‘from vantage point’, and see what’s going on much better than from the ground. Furthermore, I’m certain the ZSU deployed its special forces (apparently SSO Centre South Branch) behind enemy lines — in advance, and in order to provide additional info on enemy troop movements.
Finally, the opposition was of different ‘quality’: back in late August, the 128th Mountain was assaulting well-prepared positions of two BTGs of the crack VDV. As reported at the time, these suffered such losses that one had to be withdrawn from Kherson Oblast, completely. Thus, this time, the 128th Mountain was facing the (comparatively) poorly-armed 205th Cossack Motor Rifle Brigade (Separatists), and the depleted 83rd VDV Brigade.
Finally, this attack was to be supported by advances of the 35th Naval Infantry from the Inhulets Bridgehead, in northern (Davydiv Brid) and eastern direction (Bruskynske).
On Sunday, 2 October, the Initial, multi-prong assault quickly collapsed positions of the 205th Cossack in Myroliubivka and Ljubymivka, causing its survivors to flee (reportedly: all the way to Beryslav, some 80km further south). This exposed the strongholds in Khreshchenivka and Zolota Balka: the 83rd VDV was meanwhile knocked out by a hit on its headquarters (causing at least the death of its deputy commander) and its survivors prompted into a quick withdrawal in direction of Dubchany.
The Russians ‘regrouped’ from Mykhailivka by Monday, 3 October, morning. When the VKS attempted to intervene, it quickly lost a Su-25, somewhere in the Novovoskresenske area. By the time, the ‘regrouping’ turned into a rout, with the Russians abandoning Ukrainka and Bilvaivka, and fleeing south: as of yesterday, Ukrainians have liberated Novooleksandrivka, Havrylivka, and the Russians — after blowing up the local bridge on the T0403 road — abandoned even Dubchany, pending ‘complete and successful regrouping in Beryslav’.
Further east, as a sign of its goodwill, and in confirmation of Shoygu’s statement that everything is going along the plan, the VDV regrouped from Arhanhelske and Myrolyubivka.
The 35th Naval Infantry seems to have had a had a bad start when one of its columns was pinned down by the Russian artillery, and lost a number of vehicles (this video is played up and down the Russian social media for at least three days now). However, eventually, it came through and seems to have liberated Davydiv Brid, capturing a few Separatists.
Comment: From Cooper’s writeup, you can see that what looks like perfect tank country is anything but that given the weaponry, observation and target acquisition capabilities available to both sides. Not to mention that artillery is truly the king of battle on both sides due to their Soviet heritage. From as far back as my initial stay at the Benning School for Boys, we were taught that if you can be seen, you can be killed. That was when the Dragon and TOW ATGMs were introduced. The battlefield has only gotten more deadly since then. In northern Kherson, both defenders and attackers remained widely dispersed as a way to preserve combat power. Thus for weeks the Kherson offensive seemed failed, static or slow moving at best. In actuality, a reconnaissance battle was in full swing. Partisans and Ukrainian SOF were active in this reconnaissance battle, as were a host of drones. As Cooper said, it was a massive game of hide and seek. And the Ukrainians won.
Once this latest offensive kicked into high gear, the Russians were both visually and electronically blinded to Ukrainian intentions. They were also being slowly starved of food, fuel and ammunition. The Ukrainian dismounted infantry led the combined arms assault even in this wide open tank country. As I mentioned to JK/AR recently, effective infantry can take advantage of the minute folds in the ground for both cover and concealment, even in tank country. Most of the videos I’ve seen of this offensive show Ukrainian infantry dismounted in towns, paralleling roads and even in open fields. They are often accompanied by tanks and APCs/IFVs, but they are dismounted. This capability has been bred out of the Russian Army over many decades. This is going to continue to bite the Russians in the ass until they’re all dead, captured or back in Russia.
As I wrote this, I believe the Russians were trying to reestablish a defensive line generally from Berislavski on the Dnipro to Snihurivka, the only real fortified strongpoint north of the Dnipro. The Russians were in the process of withdrawing their command and control elements from this strongpoint. Being that between the two, there is little but open tank country, I doubt this line will hold. If the Russians are forced back to bridgeheads at Kherson and Berislavski, Ukrainian artillery and MLRS will pound the snot out of them and any remaining connection they have to the left bank of the Dnipro. The only options left to the Russians will be to die in place, surrender or drop their boots and swim the mighty Dnipro.