During September 1965, not long out of the Army, I witnessed at that time the biggest tank battle since the Kursk salient in 1943 – of all places on the Punjab Plain. Over the summer Pakistan had infiltrated 30,000 soldiers into Indian Kashmir ( Kashmir was divided in half after Partition in 1947 ) in the belief – wait for it – that the people were unhappy with rule from New Delhi and would welcome Pakistan’s soldiers as liberators.
Whatever one thinks of the politics, both armies fought by the rules of the Geneva Convention. The senior NCOs, officers and generals on both sides were experienced professional soldiers who had fought in World War Two, many with the Eighth Army in North Africa and Italy or the Fourteenth Army in Burma. Oddly nearly all the Pakistani generals were infantry soldiers including the best tank general. And for the Indians the best tank general was an engineer. Their soldiers were highly disciplined, fit, well-trained and motivated by patriotism. Both armies were and no doubt still are the complete opposite of the shabby, reluctant, raping, murdering, looting and littering army that Vladamir Putin has inflicted on Ukraine.
India’s infantry was 700,000 strong supported by 700 tanks. Nearly 200 were British Centurions delivered as aid after China invaded across the Himalayas in 1962 – I had been taking care of the programme from London. Pakistan was counter invaded by the tanks we supplied to deter China! India’s air force had over 700 aircraft, many British Hawker Hunters. Pakistan had 260,000 infantry, 750 tanks and an air force with 750 aircraft including some Lockheed Starfighters. The United States and Britain placed an arms embargo on both countries hoping to stop the fighting. The only result was a sales coup for Russia and China ever since but we could not have done otherwise.
Three huge tank battles took place during the seventeen days war. White gun flashes gobbled half the night sky and the thunder of gunfire shook the baked ground 24 hours a day. From Lahore we saw the first tank and infantry attack cross the River Ravi only eight miles from the city centre. A few days later the Indian tanks almost reached the airport about 2 miles from my bungalow. The Pakistanis counter attacked with a huge tank battle at Khem Karan, about 30 miles north-west, the noise and flashes as though just up the road. There followed an even bigger battle around a town called Chawinda, a few miles further north, near Sialkot. When the ceasefire finally silenced the guns, the Indians had lost around two-hundred tanks and the Pakistanis three-hundred. Very little ground had changed hands.
Which brings me to the next round in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Our media are making a great fuss about Vlad’s new general, Dvornikov, who earned a reputation for atrocious tactics in Syria. I’m less convinced that his experience and skills – bombarding and gassing civilians to reduce their cities and villages into poisonous rubble – will conjure victory from well deserved, indeed with hindsight, inevitable defeat.
Unlike those Pakistani and Indian commanders in 1965 today both sides can draw on satellite photos near enough in real time.
The new Russian General may bring about a much lacking unity of command but has no experience of warfare against a competent opponent nor of combined arms warfare. His main qualification is membership of Putin’s court through his ruthless murder of civilians in Syria. Flattening cities in the Near East does not teach you how to break up and destroy in detail large armoured attacks, nor does it teach you how to smash through defences where capable and determined infantry are well dug in behind screens of minefields.
Syria and Ukraine are entirely different political and actual battlegrounds.
The Washington Post carried a very shrewd analysis. Throughout the Syrian civil war Putin was able to rotate his best units/regiments – although I don’t regard Wagner as a disciplined regiment – without many problems. Most of Russia’s army was not involved. Those sent to Syria fought against resistance groups who took years before they worked together as an alliance, mind with totally different political ambitions. That is not the situation in Ukraine. A united country with an effective government, loyally supported by the people, backed by the Americans, British and some EU countries, fights back so well that the Russians withdrew from around Kiev.
Russia’s air force had no opposition over Syria.
Syrian resistance groups did not have access to the combined intelligence gathering of the United State and United Kingdom. Putin’s plans for murdering Syrians were not broadcast on global media.
Has the Russian army improved their tactical skills and discipline overnight?
So far Dvornikov seems content to present world TV with targets over five miles long that anyone with an air force would take out in five seconds. Such is the confidence of the Russian Army that no one will strike them from the air.
Or is it further incompetence?
The Russians have not taken enough time to regroup properly.
The Russians have lost more than a third of their original attacking force – perhaps as many as 20,000 killed and possibly three times as many wounded or injured. There comes a point when any military formation can fight no longer because it doesn’t have enough leaders and soldiers to do its job effectively. That’s happened to about forty of the Russian battlegroups that invaded. Russia’s army leadership is scraping around for trained soldiers but most of those moving east are the same troops defeated around Kiev only two weeks ago.
Consequently the reinforcements are the remnants of the formations that withdrew from around Kiev and conscripts. I see no reason for the Russian Army to perform better along the eastern line of contact; expect more of the same, plus reliance on massed artillery and numbers. Reports about capturing forty towns and villages should be taken with a pinch of salt. While it’s possible, the cause may have been the Ukranians tidying up their own line of defence and not wasting strength defending ruined towns and villages long abandoned by their inhabitants.
There are also reports of Wagner Group deploying Syrian and Libyan mercenaries on the eastern line of contact.
Ukraine has all the intelligence that American satellites and US/UK sigint can provide and after six weeks of warfare the teams that gather and feed the customers are well shaken down. Contrast the Ukrainians welcoming the contributions of the nation’s nerds – one group makes better and cleverer drones – with officers in the Russian Army using their mobile phones because they work and their military signals equipment does not.
Tu 22 MM3 Backfire (NATO identification name) supersonic bombers attacked Ukrainian positions in Mariupol over the weekend. The free-fall bombs remind of RAF’s wartime Tallboys and need a big aircraft to carry one. This may also reflect not only desperation to seize Mariupol but a shortage of long range precision strike missiles. Russia has lost a huge amount of equipment and fired tons of very expensive ammunition. Keep in mind that a few days ago the Russian Air Force launched several cruise missiles that cost $ 6.5 millions each from fighters airborne over Russia, which flew hundreds of kilometres – and hit a bike repair shop. I might add that both sides ran out of ammunition during the 17 day war in September 1965 and the UN sent the Canadians to monitor the ceasefire!
At present the Ukrainians are trying to ambush Russian convoys – the bridge that was blown with a convoy crossing it, possibly was prepared for demolition before the war started. In my youth I was a sapper officer and have done a few demolitions. Preparation takes much more than a few minutes. That only happens on film sets.
Will Putin’s next pincer movement fare any better than the last one? I am doubtful. There’s a sound political reason for arming the Ukrainians with as much as possible of the requests on their shopping lists. They can win. The Russians have to know they lost and badly. Otherwise they will sulk, plot and rearm for another smash and grab raid.
I wish NATO political leaders would abandon this silly distinction between defensive and offensive weapons. Attack is the best form of defence. Give the Ukrainians all the tanks, guns and MIGs that fill up stores all over the former Warsaw Pact countries that today are members of NATO. The idea of sending a British tank regiment to Poland so the Poles can send their T 72s to Ukraine is very good. Let’s just do it.
The Times front page has a story about the SAS giving on the spot training on how to fire our new batch of anti-tank missiles.
The Americans are training the Ukrainian gunners in Poland, how to fire the towed version of the 155mm M777 made by BAE.
As for Herr Scholz and Germany, read the article by Filipp Piatov of Der Bilt in the Comment column of The Times on Saturday 23 April.
The Siege of Mariupol
Mariupol’s courageous, cunning and stubborn defenders still hold out despite all that has been hurled at them, proof of great deal of thoughtful preparation for a long siege. Russia’s claim of victory – they will starve the defenders rather than fight – does not mean that their forces besieging the steel works can leave. They are still there and probably in no condition to go anywhere else.
The only ways to relieve the defence of Mariupol are an attack that catches the Russians from behind, off guard, by driving through their vulnerable rear areas. Alternatively, come in from the sea because the steel works is beside the beach. To pull off the latter requires some fast boats armed with anti-ship missiles to take out the rest of the Black Sea fleet and another batch of fast boats to deliver reinforcements and supplies. As Clauswitz said, ‘Reinforce success.’
Black Sea Flagship
Perhaps the missile cruiser Moscva sitting on the bottom of the Black Sea will provide a salutary lesson for those Russians on shore engaged in Putin’s noble cause. Russia’s defence ministry says it was an accident that caused the fire on their cruiser, also the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship. This is almost certainly half the truth. Slava class cruisers were built in the 1980s and their superstructure wears a necklace of launch tubes loaded with cruise missiles armed with high explosive warheads. I suppose at a stretch there was a fire – more likely two fires – because Ukraine says she was hit by a pair of their cruise missiles. Neptune missiles are made near Kiev and based on a Russian copy of America’s Harpoon. They are sea-skimming cruise missiles and one launched near Odessa can reach Sevastopol. The Ukrainians found a way through the long range air defence of the cruiser, her close in defences were 1980s and near enough obsolete even by Russian standards.
Russia’s navy has lost its Black Sea flagship with its command and control communications. If the flagship can be sunk the risks to amphibious landings have just risen steeply.
We’ll know if she was carrying nuclear weapons by the amount of effort the Russians make to salvage her.
Russia’s defense ministry says the ship’s complement were taken off but a Russian politician claims that 450 went down with their ship. If correct, Putin may try a horror attack in revenge but will find it much harder to conceal the real casualty list. At present we don’t know how many lost their lives or were seriously wounded. There is a wave of awesome shock and sadness when a big ship goes down and even the propaganda spoonfed Russians may find the official story hard to swallow.
Ukraine has one her uncompleted sister ships rusting, tied to the bank of the River Bug at Mykolayev – her name, until Parliament in Kiev removed it – was Ukrayna!
On Good Friday the Russians tried to destroy the Neptune missile factory near Kiev which rather undermines their story about a fire! Has that political poker player, Zelensky, kept Neptune in the bath tub until he’d landed promises for the latest US and UK hardware?
If so, I take my hat off.