Beaten Twice In Ukraine, Russia’s Elite 1st Guards Tank Army Is Poised To Attack Yet Again
The Russian army appears to be redeploying heavy forces ahead of a widely anticipated winter offensive in the Luhansk region of Donbass in eastern Ukraine.
The force includes elements of the elite 1st Guards Tank Army, which spent several months in Belarus recovering from near-total annihilation by Ukrainian brigades in two previous large-scale operations.
The Lugansk offensive will be the third chance for the 1st Guards Tank Army to prove itself in Ukraine. Or, alternatively, a third chance for Ukrainian forces to break the line.
“Ukrainian intelligence also noted that units of the 2nd motorized rifle division of the 1st Guards Tank Army of the Western Military District were withdrawn from Belarus and partially transferred to the Luhansk region,” the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said. Wednesday.
The 1st Guards Tank Army includes two advanced divisions – the 2nd Guards Motorized Rifle and 4th Guards Tank Divisions, as well as several separate brigades. In total, perhaps 25,000 or 30,000 soldiers.
With hundreds of T-72, T-80 and T-90 tanks and BMP-2 and BMP-3 combat vehicles, the Moscow-based army is on paper one of the most powerful ground combat formations in the world.
In fact, it suffers from the same poor leadership and lack of logistics that plague all Russian forces in Ukraine.
The 1st Guards Tank Army’s first confusion came in the first few weeks of Russia’s wider war with Ukraine, as Russian forces rolled south from Belarus and southern Russia, seeking to capture Kyiv and bring the war to a speedy end.
The tank army met fierce resistance in the Chernigov region, 60 miles north of Kyiv. The 1st Ukrainian Tank Brigade moved its 100 T-64 tanks into the woods around Chernigov and opened fire at the passing Russians at point-blank range.
The Russians outnumbered the Ukrainians around Chernigov. But the Ukrainians fought harder and smarter, explain analysts Mikhail Zabrodsky, Jack Watling, Oleksandr Danilyuk and Nick Reynolds in a study for the Royal United Services Institute in London.
“Better crew training, combined with close range combat where their armament was competitive, and the faster automatic loader on the T-64 allowed Ukrainian tankers to inflict significant damage on Russian units taken by surprise,” wrote Zabrodsky, Watling, Danilyuk and Reynolds.
For six weeks, the Ukrainian brigade and the territorial units supporting it held out in Chernigov. It is important to note that the Russian battalions passing by Chernigov never completely cut off the city.
In late March, the Kremlin ordered its battered troops around Kyiv to retreat. It was then that the 1st Tank Brigade, still holding out in Chernigov, launched a counterattack.
By the time the Russian army retreated back to Belarus and southern Russia, the 2nd motorized rifle division of the 1st Guards Tank Army had suffered “heavy losses”. according to British Ministry of Defense.
1st Guards Tank Army Another Six months later, the division, the 4th Guards Tank Division, suffered its own catastrophe near Kharkov, Ukraine’s second largest city, located just 25 miles from the Russian border in northeastern Ukraine.
In late August and early September, Ukrainian brigades stationed in free Kharkov launched a major counter-offensive that, in weeks of heavy fighting, routed Russian forces in the northeast, including the 4th Guards Tank Division.
The T-72s and T-64s of the Ukrainian 4th Tank Brigade hit hard on the Russian 4th Guards Tank Division near Izyum.
By the time the Russian division retreated north to the Russian border, it had lost about 90 T-80U tanks, which independent analysts can confirm. This is half of the tanks that the division should have at its full strength.
The twice-beaten 1st Guards Tank Army settled in Belarus for a long winter reload. But heavy sustained losses in Ukraine prevented the Kremlin from sending the best men and equipment to the tank army.
The Army’s 2nd Motorized Rifle Division “is now mostly made up of conscripted personnel operating old equipment removed from storage,” the UK Department of Defense said. “Its combat effectiveness is likely to be limited despite several weeks of training.”
Ready or not, but the units of the 1st Guards Tank Army, redeployed to Lugansk, are obviously ready for a major offensive. “The distribution of conventional forces along the front line in the Lugansk region suggests that Russian troops can prepare for a decisive offensive in this area,” the ISW explained.
The time is probably not chosen by chance. Ukraine’s allies have donated hundreds of modern tanks and combat vehicles to the Ukrainian military effort in recent weeks. Among them are American M-1 tanks, German Leopard 2 tanks, British Challenger 2 tanks and some of the best Swedish fighting vehicles and mobile howitzers.
The Ukrainian army could form several powerful new tank and mechanized brigades around these vehicles. But the Russian Lugansk offensive may begin before these new forces are ready for battle.
Now or never for the 1st Guards Tank Army. The army’s outlook is uncertain at best in this possible third major operation in Ukraine. But they will even smaller sure as soon as the Ukrainians deploy their new tanks.