Friday 7 July 2023

Battle of Kursk: deja vu in Ukraine?

map of battle of kursk
The Kursk Pimple

During the early months of 1943, the Nazis were rolled back hundreds of miles from Stalingrad, until they finally stabilized their defensive lines in Ukraine. The line was relatively straight, except for a large bulge into the German side, centred around the city of Kursk. 

The Germans decided to squeeze this obvious like a ginormous pimple.

But the Soviets could read a map, too, so they new exactly where the Nazis were going to attack (also thanks to intel from the British Ultra program and the Red Orchestra).

Hitler hemmed and hawed, waiting until more of his Wonder Weapons were ready before attacking. The Soviets used that extra time to pack the pimple with troops, tanks and artillery, wrapped them in pillboxes, trenches, and mines, and tied a great big kill zone bow on top.

One of Porche's Not-So-Wonder-Weapons: The Ferdinand Dud

When the Nazis finally did attack, they made slow and costly progress against fierce and entrenched Soviet resistance. The new Nazi tanks proved unreliable: they hadn't been tested long enough to work out all the mechanical problems, and many broke down and were abandoned before they even encountered the enemy.

Once the Nazis had spent their offensive power, the Soviets launched a massive counter attack, overwhelming the exhausted Germans and paving the way to Berlin. 

A painting of the carnage at Kursk

Sound disturbingly familiar?

The Ukrainian offensive is trying to cut off Russian supply lines to Crimea. The Russians know exactly what the Ukrainians want to do, and where they are likely to attack. 

And while the Ukrainians have been waiting for Western tanks and equipment (and better weather), the Russians have been creating multiple defensive bands, with pillboxes, trenches, mines, kill zones, etcetera. 

A zoomed out view of multiple Russian defensive lines in Ukraine

The Russians are really good at this, and they don't need especially skilled soldiers to pull it off.

Speaking of which, the Russkies just moved some 300,000 more men into the area.  

Heck, take a look at the Reuters page on the Russian defenses, they describe it better than I ever could.

Pundits set unrealistic expectations for the Ukrainian counter offensive during the spring (and no thanks to the spectacular Ukrainian success last year around Kharkov), and as such people are now looking in askance at seemingly lacklustre Ukrainian progress. Ukraine is reportedly going slow to preserve the lives of their troops and inflict Russian casualties. Fair enough!

Yet the longer the war goes on, the more damage to Ukraine, its people, and its economy. 

US General Ben Hodges was suggesting that Russia might be thrown out this summer, leading to an armistice. While that might still happen (Ukraine is cutting of Russian supply bridges to Crimea using missiles), it seems increasingly unlikely. 

But hope doth spring eternal!

The superficial view shows Ukraine bogged down in attritional fighting. Which is bad. Very bad.

What happens if Ukraine falls? Some pundits say that's as far as Putin and Co. will go. Which would be bad, especially for Ukraine, but not catastrophic. 

Others claim he's going to keep going, and will hit Moldova next, then the Baltic states. Which are in NATO. Which means potentially catastrophic escalation.

Which is bad for everybody.

It's in Russia's interests to sow fear and division in the West, to amp up escalation worries, and in so doing deprive Ukraine of needed assistance, so maybe that's all these fears are.

I think I'll go watch some TV.

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