A small unit of young Russian Army soldiers being transported to the frontlines in Ukraine (above). While greatcharlie has spoken against the Russian Federation’s wrongful invasion of its once peaceful neighbor, it does not look stony-hearted at the reality that Russian conscripts, dubbed Mobiks, rushed into Ukraine’s frontlines, are victims of the Kremlin’s caprice, too. Using soldiers repeatedly in ways that guarantee massive losses with little gain on the battlefield, as commanders of Russian Federation Armed Forces have, is the worst sort of negligence and points to possible incompetence. If poor acumen is not the case, one is left to imagine what sort of odd line of thought resides in the minds of Russian Federation commanders that would allow them to use their troops so carelessly and callously. Despite the nearly 160 year span that exists between the two circumstances, by briefly examining the Battle of the Crater alongside the Russian Federation’s special military operation in Ukraine, aspects are revealed from which some perspective might be gained.
As a result of the wrongful decision of the Kremlin to invade Ukraine, members of the Vooruzhonnije Síly Rossíyskoj Federátsii (the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation Armed Forces) have suffered immensely. Interestingly, there is a strange buoyancy and caustic ebullience that seems to have overcome some in the Western newsmedia over the video recorded slaughter of members of the Russian Federation Armed Forces in Ukraine. It broadcasted and streamed online by several newsmedia houses without end. (At the time of this writing, one would need to make a serious effort to evade news about Ukraine in the US.) The fact that greatcharlie’s sympathies are with the people of Ukraine has not been concealed. Still, while greatcharlie has spoken against the Russian Federation’s wrongful invasion of its once peaceful neighbor, and wants the war and all its attendant ills to end, it does not look stony-hearted at the reality that Russian conscripts, dubbed Mobiks by the Ukrainians, who have been imprudently, ruthlessly and reportedly in some cases, illegally rushed into Ukraine’s frontlines, are victims of the Kremlin’s caprice, too. Through its often morbid coverage, the newsmedia has done well to cast light on just how bizarrely Russian Federation forces are being handled in the war. Using soldiers repeatedly in ways that guarantee massive losses, estimated at 100,000 by the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Army General Mark Milley in November 2022, with little gain on the battlefield is the worst sort of negligence and possibly points to incompetence. If the absence of acumen is not the case, one is left to imagine that some odd line of thought resides in the minds of commanders of Russian Federation Armed Forces on the battlefield that would allow them to use their troops so carelessly and callously.
On first blush, the comparison of wastage of human lives in war that initially comes to mind for greatcharlie is the Battle of the Crater (July 30, 1864), a calamitous episode of the US Civil War (April 12, 1861 to April 9, 1865), remembered for over 150 years, and well-trodden by historians. So horrifying is the story that for many years it was labeled as fiction by some. Surely, there are countless cases in military history when frightfully high casualties have been suffered in actions on the battlefield that never held hope of accomplishing anything except the destruction of the units sent out to fight. However, the Battle of the Crater stands out as an epic display of a commander’s negligence and inexplicable disregard for his soldiers’ well-being. Despite the nearly 160 year span that exists between the two circumstances, by briefly examining the Battle of the Crater alongside the Russian Federation’s Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation) in Ukraine, aspects are revealed from which an image emerges of what it is that leads to such.
Covering this subject, greatcharlie understands there is a thin line between parsing the problem and suggesting a better way forward and subsequently providing advice to the Russian Federation Armed Forces in its effort in Ukraine. Although greatcharlie does not believe that anyone in Moscow would be interested in its scribblings, it nonetheless states unequivocally that nothing which could possibly provide advice or solutions, is offered here. What is provided are a few brief reflections resulting in all truth from greatcharlie’s near daily, unintended contemplations on the Ukraine War. The hope of greatcharlie is that its readers will remain willing to follow along, even stumble along, with its cautious discussion on this subject.
Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin with the Chief of the General Staff of the Russian Federation General Valery Gerasimov. Putin’s singular emotional wants and wishes were the cause of the war. Pursuit of his much desired objective of eliminating the government in Kyiv, repeatedly expressed before the February 24, 2022 invasion and afterward, caused obedient military commanders to put their forces in impossible situations and on occasion at the mercy of their Ukrainian opponents. Well-understood now by most is the fact that everything was organized in a dimidium gluteus maximus way! Much of what was done initially by his top commanders was beyond what was strategically logical and apparently militarily unachievable for the Russian Federation Armed Forces despite their size, strength, and given its quality.
Overview of the Situation of the Russian Federation Armed Forces in Ukraine
No easy answers are available to Moscow that would allow it to repair or reverse its situation in Ukraine. There is no possibility to put the toothpaste back in the tube. It seems necessary to note, without the intention of delving too deeply on the matter, that Putin’s singular emotional wants and wishes were the cause of the war. Pursuit of his much desired objective of eliminating the government in Kyiv, repeatedly expressed before the February 24, 2022 invasion and afterward, caused obedient military commanders to put their forces in impossible situations and on occasion at the mercy of their Ukrainian opponents. Well-understood now by most is the fact that the Spetsial’noy Voyennoy Operatsii (Special Military Operation) was organized in a dimidium gluteus maximus way! Much of what was done initially by his top commanders was beyond what was strategically logical and was apparently militarily unachievable for the Russian Federation Armed Forces despite their size, strength, and given its quality. Much vaunted once as a titanic war machine, the Russian Federation Armed Forces hardly lived up to that billing. Showing itself as something less than an authentic 21st century fighting force, it unexpectedly collided with two obstructions in Ukraine: reality and Zbrojni syly Ukrayiny (Armed Forces of Ukraine, hereinafter referred to as the Ukrainian Armed Forces), well-assisted by the US, other NATO countries, as well as countries from around the world.
Omnia inconsulti impetus cœpta, initiis valida, spatio languescunt. (All enterprises that are entered into with hasty zeal may be pursued with great vigor at first, but are sure to languish in the end ) Planning the invasion of Ukraine may have actually been beyond the faculty of those deemed to be the best trained, experienced, and informed senior officers in the Russian Federation Armed Forces today. Though inconceivable, It is apparent that there were no contingency plans drawn up by senior officers for the invasion of Ukraine, that would have made available a variety of good solutions for possible challenges, all of the what-ifs. Such contingency should have been thoughtful, calibrated, well-calculated for redirecting military resources in a measured way, and possibly creative ways, to achieve more favorable outcomes. Apparently, nothing of the kind was likely kept close at hand by the Russian Federation General Staff. Perchance, the possibility of failure and the need for contingency plans were subjects that could not be openly expressed within the likely tense and certainly authoritarian political environment in which the original plans were developed. (The thought occurs, given what has been observed since the withdrawal from Kyiv; is that some contingency plans have been implemented, but they were all worthless. If one always does what one always did, one will always get what one always got.) Once the poor performance of Russian Federation Armed Forces became undeniable, even Putin was compelled to address the matter of its deficiencies in a December 21, 2022 video message to Russia’s security services. Referring to unspecified problems in the military, Putin said that constructive criticism should be given attention. He stated: “I ask the Ministry of Defense to be attentive to all civilian initiatives, including taking into account criticism and responding correctly, in a timely manner.”
As explained to the Guardian by a United Kingdom intelligence service, Russia’s unprofessional military practices were likely in part to blame for the high casualties.. It is understood by commanders in US Armed Forces, the key to achieving success is the integration of combined arms warfare with air power, electronic warfare, deception, speed, maneuver, and concentration of power. Armored and mechanized systems remain essential tools on today’s battlefield, despite the threat that armed drones can pose to them proven in Ukraine. In a primitive way, Russian Federation commanders continually attempt to overrun Ukrainian positions through the use of masses of troops, ensuring huge losses of troops daily. Yet, in addition to the failed, near criminally incompetent utilization of troops and weapon systems by commanders of Armiya Rossii (Russian Army, hereinafter referred to as such) and Morskaya Pekhota Rossii (Russian Naval Infantry, hereinafter referred to as Russian Naval Troops) in Ukraine, too many other pieces appear to be missing from the Russian Federation Armed Forces prosecution of the war and may likely prevent it from ever being effective. Assuredly, Russian Federation failures on the battlefield have not come merely as a result of some string of miscalculations and mistakes or persistent unfortuitous coincidences in the conduct of a war. When denuded of all political aims, strategy, tactics, science, and so on, at its nub, war amounts to the wastage of human life. As a reality, men and women are certain to die unnaturally during war. Still, it is difficult to comprehend how in the Russian Federation, an ostensibly advanced industrialized country with, to all intents and purposes, a civilized society, apparent profligate decisions concerning the use of soldiers could be made. Moreover, it is hard to imagine that any of it could at all be deemed permissible by top military commanders and, on the face of it, be sanctioned by national authorities. Contra naturam. (Against nature.)
When Russian Federation General of the Army Sergei Surovikin was promoted to overall commander of the special military operation, he began to make moves that brought some positive results and good news for the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Surovikin surely understood that leveling everything and starting from scratch is certainly not the answer, although he may have wanted to do so in many areas. Despite shortcomings of his forces in the field and accepting the situation as it actually was, Surovikin sought to solidify the position of the Russian Federation Armed Forces in Ukraine. His defensive moves reportedly raised worries among US military officials and officials in the administration of US President Joe Biden that Russia Federation troops might be able to withstand renewed Ukrainian offensives. Perhaps his efforts, which were bearing fruit, were not enough to satisfy his superior, or maybe his apparent ability to establish order from chaos, convinced others they could grab glory from his success, claim his success as their own. Either way, Surovikin was replaced on January 11, 2023 after only three months as overall commander in Ukraine by none other than the Chief of General’nyy shtab Vooruzhonnykh sil Rossiyskoy Federatsii (General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, hereinafter referred to as the Russian Federation General Staff) Russian Federation General of the Army Valery Gerasimov. When Gerasimov arrived to take command of the special military operation from him, Surovikin, now one of three deputies to Gerasimov, had begun the process of stepping up better organized localized attacks to have a cumulative effect and push back on recent advances by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. While that tactic continues, it would seem the valve has again been shut on the flow of big ideas from commanders of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. One should at best expect a return to the idea of overrunning Ukrainian frontline positions with masses of troops with predictable results in terms of killed and wounded.
Destroyed Russian Federation military vehicles and casualties strewn across a Ukrainian street in 2022 (above). In a primitive way, Russian Federation commanders continually attempt to overrun Ukrainian positions through the use of masses of troops, ensuring huge losses of troops daily. Still, in addition to the failed, near criminally incompetent utilization of troops and weapon systems by Russian Federation Army and Naval Ground Force commanders in Ukraine, too many other pieces appear to be missing from the Russian Federation Armed Forces prosecution of the war and may likely prevent it from ever being effective. Assuredly, Russian Federation failures on the battlefield have not come merely as a result of some string of miscalculations and mistakes or persistent unfortuitous coincidences in the conduct of a war.
The Battle of the Crater
Military actions of decades ago are often difficult for one to fully understand with certainty when one is so far away from where and when those decisions were made, and how it all fit into the way of life of the period. Examining much of the material concerning the Battle of the Crater in preparation for this work, greatcharlie was astounded by how stirring, nuanced, edifying, illuminating, and instructive the bulk of the work is on that tragic battle and that dreadful war in general. So impressive were the impeccably researched and elegantly written works of Douglas Freeman, Shelby Foote, James McPherson, William Marvel, Drew Faust and lots of others reviewed that greatcharlie at one point was convinced it should halt its attempt to cover the battle, feeling unable to meet their standard. However, as its aspects so readily offered an apposite measure to examine the wasteful use of Russian Federation troops in the Ukraine War, the choice was made to carry on. With that being stated, without pretension, greatcharlie asks that those Civil War scholars among its readers look upon this effort with sympathy. (A few superb academic and state government online sources were used here to ensure readers could quickly follow-up on information provided and would have easily accessible points from they could start their own research on the battle. )
The Plan of Attack
In May 1864, an offensively-minded Lieutenant General Ulysses Grant, who US President Abraham Lincoln had appointed the commander of all Union Armies in March, launched a series of costly battles in an effort to move his forces south. Though little was attained by those battles, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, North Anna River, and, especially, Cold Harbor (collectively known as the Overland Campaign), they would be given greater meaning if Grant could find a way maneuver his forces to cut the Confederate supply and communication lines through Petersburg. If Petersburg fell, so would Richmond. However, Grant was apprehensive about mounting a frontal attack against 9,500 Confederate troops in well-fortified positions even though by late June, he had successfully covered most of the eastern approaches to Petersburg with the 16,500 troops he had available. Interestingly enough, in a rather prescient June 21, 1864 Richmond Examiner commentary, it was suggested that Grant “plunge with his whole force into the crater of the volcano and make an end of it—Let not the campaign linger. All parties are tired of this monotonous slaughter of Yankees.”
Grant was open to suggestions, and came across a recherché proposal from Lieutenant Colonel Henry Pleasants of the 48th Pennsylvania Infantry, in the Union Army’s IX Corps Major General Ambrose Burnside. Pleasants’ regiment was composed of anthracite miners from Schuylkill County. One of his men looked out at the Confederate position from his trench and declared, “We could blow that damned fort out of existence if we could run a mine shaft under it.” Pleasants’ proposal was passed up the chain of command to Burnside, who (on June 25, 1864, enthusiastically recommended it to Major General George Meade, Commander of the Army of the Potomac. Meade reacted with austerity upon learning of Pleasant’s proposal. It was hardly conventional and perhaps the use of the was too alien for Meade’s ears. He already had little faith in Burnside’s military judgment or ability to manage a complex operation. (Burnside’s reputation as a commander had suffered from his 1862 defeat at the Battle of Fredericksburg and his under performance earlier in 1864 at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.) On top of that, Meade and Burnside, as commander and subordinate, had a toxic relationship. Burnside had seniority, and had previously commanded the Army of the Potomac, but lost his command, and Meade had it. Meade’s chief engineer, Major James Duane, dismissed the project as “claptrap and nonsense.” He believed it was impossible to dig a military mine of the proposed length—more than 500 feet from the mine-head behind the front line to the salient opposite. At the same time, even if a breach were created at that point, the ground would remain in the sights of Confederate artillery batteries located north and south of the salient. Yet, still eager to do something, Grant apparently viewed Pleasants’ project as being clear, logical, and plausible, and green-lit it. Aware of the nature of their relationship, Grant issued separate orders to the two commanders in order not to avoid having Burnside receive direct commands from Meade. On Meade’s orders, the miners would receive no support from Army headquarters. Thus,, on June 25, 1864, without the help of the Union Army’s professional engineers, his troops began digging, using improvised tools.
The Picture As Seen From The Top
Despite his ambivalence about the plan, Meade began creating a battle plan with Burnside once orders were given. As Burnside envisioned the attack, on July 30, 1864, it would be led by his freshest soldiers, the 4th Division USCT, “United States Colored Troops”–Black Union Army soldiers–in two segregated brigades with a strength of 4,300, under Brigadier General Edward Ferrero. (Interestingly, Ferrero was a ballroom dance instructor who, as Meade, was born in Spain.) The 4th Division USCT would have to pass through or around the crater and the large debris field left by the mine; re-form for attack on the far side; then advance to seize the high ground along the Jerusalem Plank Road against whatever reserves of infantry and artillery the Confederate force might have at that point. Burnside consulted with the 4th Division USCT ’s brigade commanders in planning the assault, and arranged for the regiments that would lead the attack to receive special training in maneuvers required to pass the breach such as using ladders and by fighting around it and storming the high ground. Meade did not think Black soldiers were good enough soldiers, and he feared political repercussions if he gave them such an important and dangerous task. If they failed with heavy casualties, expectedly Radical Republicans in the US Congress would condemn his use of Black soldiers as cannon fodder. Democratic politicians would likely find fault with him no matter what happened. Democrats opposed the recruitment and use of Blacks in combat; the more extreme demanded that those already in service be dismissed. They reportedly sought to stir racial hatred as an aspect of the 1864 US Presidential Campaign. The Democratic Party’s platform, as described by one of its partisans, was “the Constitution as it is, the Union as it was, and the niggers where they are.” Meade consulted with Grant about the 4th Divisions role in the plan of attack. Grant conceded to his wishes, and the day before that attack, he overruled Burnside’s plan to have the 4rh Division lead the assault.
There were three other understrength divisions in the IX Corps. Three other divisions consisted of White troops; but these divisions had been exhausted and demoralized by months of combat and heavy losses. In compliance with his new orders, Burnside asked for one of his three other divisional commanders—James Ledlie of the 1st Division, Robert Potter of the 2nd Division, and Orlando Willcox of the 3rd Division–to step forward and accept the mission. None would volunteer for it, thus the commanders were ordered to draw straws. The short straw went to Ledlie. Ledlie, a New York railroad engineer, was considered the least competent of IX Corps four divisional commanders. He had been accused by some of being drunk during the Battle of North Anna, fought from May 23, 1864 to May 26, 1864. Burnside ordered Ledlie’s 1st Division to charge through the breach made by the detonation, and take the high ground along the Jerusalem Plank Road. By achieving that, they would split the Confederate Army, and Union Army guns would command Petersburg. However, Ledlie never sent such orders to his brigade commanders. He simply instructed them to take and hold the ground around the breach, and wait for the 4th Division USCT to assault the heights. Apparently in the confusion of changing arrangements, Burnside and his staff also failed to detail engineers to accompany the assault troops, to assist them by fortifying the high ground once they had seized it, and to make pathways through the trench lines so that artillery could be sent forward. Absent those arrangements, holding the high ground if reached, would be made more challenging.
Likely presuming all else was being done correctly, Grant sought to assist and exploit the attack following the detonation by negating an apparent Confederate advantage with a tactical ploy. Grant ordered 25,000 infantry and cavalry under his most aggressive commanders, Major General Winfield Hancock and Major General Phillip Sheridan, to attack north of the James River to Deep Bottom on July 28, 1864 and July 29, 1864. Hancock and Sheridan attacked with such strength that General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Confederate States Army, believed Richmond was in danger, and sent his entire reserve north of the James to defend it. That left the trenches directly opposite Burnside’s 16,000 infantry (IX Corps and a division from X Corps) held by 4,400 soldiers in Confederate States Army Major General Bushrod Johnson’s Division. The only available reserves were three brigades of Confederate States Army Brigadier General William Mahone (approximately 2,300 men), who would need an hour or more to reach Johnson’s front. Once Union Army Intelligence reported that Lee’s reserve had gone north of the James, Grant issued orders for the mine to be blown and for Burnside to launch his attack.
An inset from Alfred Waud’s pencil sketch of the Battle of the Crater (above). The image courtesy of the Library of Congress–shows Union Army soldiers advancing into the breach created when four tons of gunpowder exploded beneath the Confederate lines. Most likely as a result of last minute changes by Union Army Major General George Meade, Commander of the Army of the Potomac. to a well-planned operation by Union Army’s IX Corps commander, Major General Ambrose Burnside, the attack was doomed from the start.
After a delay of an hour and thirty-five minutes from when the fuse in the mine was lit, at 4:44AM on July 30, 1864. the earth below Confederate States Army Brigadier General Stephen Elliott’s South Carolina brigade reportedly bulged and broke, and an enormous mushroom cloud rose up. As one Union soldier described the scene, the sky was filled with “Earth, stones, timbers, arms, legs, guns unlimbered and bodies unlimbed.” The explosion blasted a crater 130 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 30 feet deep, with sheer walls of jagged clay. The bottom was ‘filled with dust, great blocks of clay, guns, broken carriages, projecting timbers, and men buried in various ways . . . some with their legs kicking in the air, some with the arms only exposed, and some with every bone in their bodies apparently broken.”
An estimated 278 Confederates troops were killed instantly. At the same time, 110 Union Army guns and 54 mortars all opened fire. The delay had actually been to the artillerymen’s benefit; as the dawn allowed them to see what they were firing at. This is the moment when Ledlie’s men were supposed to advance, but just as the surviving Confederate troops, they were briefly paralyzed by the force of the blast. Still, despite creating the breach and inflicting losses upon the Confederate defenders, the effect of the explosion was not what Burnside hoped. The Crater itself was an impassable barrier, and the debris-clogged trenches to either side did not permit swift forward movement. When Ledlie’s soldiers finally reached it, they discovered that the earth that had fallen back into the Crater had become a mash that trapped the men who attempted to march through it. One New Hampshire soldier described his struggling comrades as “a mass of worms crawling over each other.” Ledlle’s soldiers also spent time attempting to rescue Confederate defenders buried in the dirt.
Although a third of Elliott’s South Carolina brigade, which manned the strongpoint, was destroyed in the blast, behind the main line, Confederate troops rallied in the communication trenches and the ravine half-way up the slope. To reinforce them, Lee ordered the three brigades of Mahone’s Division forward. On the north side of the breach, Elliott’s survivors were joined by units of Confederate States Army Brigadier General Matt Ransom’s North Carolina Brigade, and on the south side by elements of the Virginia Brigade led by Confederate States Army Colonel David Weisinger. Confederate artillery batteries placed heavy cross-fire of canister and case shot that pinned Ledlie’s division in the breach. The Confederate troops fully capitalized on Ledlie’s mistake of advancing the 1st Division through the Crater and his soldiers slow movement.
What had previously been mere glimmers of problems within the Union Army’s command structure began to shine effulgently as the battle commenced. Once the situation began to break down with Union Army troops charging directly into the Crater, there was a need for authentic leadership and necessary corrections. However, the commanding officer of the imperiled soldiers of the 1st Division, Ledlie was well to the rear of the frontlines in a sandbagged bunker, sharing a bottle of rum with Ferrero, commanding officer of the 4th Division USCT. As the situation worsened, Meade and Burnside began trading angry telegrams, with Meade implying that Burnside was not telling him the truth and Burnside accusing Meade of insulting his honor.
At 7:30AM, in an effort to get a handle on the situation, Burnside ordered the 4th Division USCT to charge and carry out its original mission. In order to attack they were required to cross what became a no-man’s-land under fire, then force their way forward through the mass of demoralized 1st Division troops around the Crater. Nevertheless, the assault of the 4th Division USCT accomplished that and far more. Lieutenant Colonel Seymour Hall and Colonel Delavan Bates, commanding the two leading regiments in Lieutenant Colonel Joshua Sigfried’s first brigade, improvised a pincer attack that drove the Confederate troops back, capturing 150 prisoners. The regiments in Colonel Henry Thomas’ second brigade also worked their way through the maul and under heavy artillery fire and tried to advance in conjunction with some 1st Division regiments. Small groups of soldiers from both divisions managed to rally, side-by-side, in the trenches,
The Battle of the Crater was the first combat experience of soldiers of the 4th Division USCT , and reportedly some of them cried as they sensed triumph, “Remember Fort Pillow!”, in reference to an April 1864 battle in Tennessee during which USCT soldiers had been murdered by their Confederate captors. That cheer seemed to almost “summon demons on to the scene” and manifest far greater monstrous behavior during their own battle. US President Jimmy Carter, during a Nobel Lecture, in Oslo, Norway, on December 10, 2002, explained: “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children.” As events unfolded in the battle, Carter’s words, uttered nearly 150 years later, stand most apposite regarding the Battle of the Crater.
Once two of the three Confederate brigades from Mahone’s Division established themselves at the Crater, they counter-attacked. Though at first, in the morning,, the Union Army soldiers holding the outer berm of the Crater and the trenches around it checked Mahone’s charge, they lacked the strength to mitigate a stronger Confederate push in the afternoon. The Confederate troops displaced the soldiers of the 1st Division and 4th Division USCT. The Union Army soldiers pulled away from the trench line and down towards the Crater with Confederate troops in hot pursuit. With the aid of Confederate artillery, Mahone’s troops kept the Crater under fire. They fired down into the Crater and reportedly in some instances even hurled their muskets with bayonets-fixed at the Union Army soldiers. Except for those soldiers of the 1st Division and 4th Division USCT who at that point were falling back, between 800 and 1,000 soldiers had remained packed at the bottom of the Crater. Most were demoralized, having been trapped in an indefensible position, without food or water, in oven-like heat, unable to fight but vulnerable to mortar-fire.
Grant, himself, visited the front in the morning, observed and evaluated the situation, and then ordered Burnside to pull everyone back. Grant supposedly stated: “It is slaughter to leave them here.” Amazingly, for whatever reason, Burnside ignored the commanding general’s order. Refusing to admit his attack had failed despite the overwhelming evidence of routed troops and broken organizations, Burnside rode to Meade’s headquarters to demand reinforcements. It was then that the two generals got into a furious argument over the need to retreat and Burnside’s honor. Meade being Burnside’s superior, gave the peremptory order for Union Army units to withdraw in order to avoid further losses. Reportedly, at 10:30AM, Grant and Meade just packed up and left the scene. Instead of developing a plan for withdrawal, Burnside left the matter to his officers struggling in the Crater.
As the battered and tattered Union force retreated, many of the wounded or surrendering Black soldiers of the 4th Division USCT were singled out for murder by Confederate troops wherever they found them. Based on its research of near impeccable sources, Encyclopedia Virginia states that the Confederate troops viewed the deployment of Black soldiers of the 4th Division USCT as an ugly provocation. Reportedly one Virginia officer stated as the Confederate troops charged: “Boys, you have hot work ahead; they are negroes and show no quarter.” At 2:30PM, the Confederates launched their final assault, during which the attackers chanted, “Spare the white man, kill the nigger.” Encyclopedia Virginia further revealed Major Matthew Love of the 25th North Carolina wrote, “such Slaughter I have not witnessed upon any battlefield anywhere. Their men were principally negroes and we shot them down until we got near enough and then run them through with the bayonet . . . we was not very particular whether we captured or killed them, the only thing we did not like to be pestered berrying[sic] the Heathens.” Additionally Encyclopedia Virginia cites Major John Haskell of the Branch Battery (North Carolina) observed, “Our men, who were always made wild by having negroes sent against them . . . were utterly frenzied with rage. Nothing in the war could have exceeded the horrors that followed. No quarter was given, and for what seemed a long time, fearful butchery was carried on.” Some of the officers tried to stop the killing, “but [the men] kept on until they finished up.” Reportedly, 1st Division soldiers witnessed Confederate troops killing wounded or surrendering 4th Division USCT soldiers as they retreated from the berm of the Crater. At the moment the defense at the berm and in the trenches completely collapsed, a number of 1st Division soldiers astoundingly turned against their comrades-in-arms in the 4th Division USCT , shooting or bayonetting them, ostensibly believing, as explained by Encyclopedia Virginia, that Confederate troops would not grant quarter to Blacks in arms, or to White troops serving with them. As one Union Army soldier reportedly stated, “we was not about to be taken prisoner amongst them niggers.” Records indicate the killing went far beyond the excesses that occur in the heat of battle. Many wounded and prisoners of war from the 4th USCT soldiers under escort were shot, bayoneted or clubbed to death as they were moved to the rear. The Confederates would eventually sweep the Union Army units from man-made gully moving from the right side by late afternoon. N’importe qui trouverait cela cruel et sauvage. Peut-être Alexis de Tocqueville ne trouverait guère surprenant. Certains en Amérique diraient: “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!” Quel dommage!
The Battle of the Crater was a demoralizing defeat. After eight and a half hours of fighting, Union Army casualties were 3,798 (504 killed, 1,881 wounded, 1,413 missing or captured). Confederate casualties were 1,491 (361 killed, 727 wounded, 403 missing or captured). The 1st Division was engaged for the entire eight and a half hours and suffered 18% casualties. The 4th Division USCT was engaged for less than half that time, but lost 31%. Since many of its wounded were murdered, the ratio of killed to wounded was more than double that of any Union Army unit. Meade brought charges against Burnside, and a subsequent court of inquiry censured Burnside along with Ledlie, Ferrero, Willcox, and Colonel Zenas Bliss. Burnside was never again assigned to duty. Although he was as responsible for the defeat as Burnside, Meade escaped immediate censure. However, in early 1865, the US Congressional Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War exonerated Burnside and condemned Meade. Although Meade was against the operation, it was recognized by. Congress that he very likely sabotaged it by disturbing carefully laid plans Burnside formulated for it,
What began as a well-planned military operation devolved into a haphazard manifestation of a feud between Meade and Burnside with the soldiers being used as pawns. Burnside lost his head in his struggle with Meade. If he had kept his head, he more likely would have selected his best divisional commander for the assault, ensured that commander understood the concept and intent of the operation and issued him clear orders for the mission. On top of that he could have counseled the divisional commander and his subordinates with suggestions on how to tackle challenges. Ledlie proved to be a worse commander than originally thought. He had little concern for the well-being of the soldiers of his 1st Division or the terrible predicament in which they found themselves. The notion of inspirational leadership in battle was clearly alien to him. The lack of discipline and fratricidal behavior displayed by Ledlie troops also spoke volumes about Ledlie’s leadership. One cannot say Ledlie never gave a thought to his mission as he knew when the fighting would be underway, stationed himself safely away from the shooting, and made the effort to pay no heed to events. Ferrero, never having led his 4th Division USCT in combat, seemed to follow Ledlie’s lead. He, too, remained safe from bullets, bombs, and any sudden shock in Ledlie’s bunker while his soldiers suffered immensely and needed him the most. If Ferrero had observed their advance, he could have made the necessary adjustments. If he had observed what the soldiers of the 1st Division were doing to his men, he may have been able to resolve the matter. The errors are too many to recount in this essay, and one might imagine a possible list of likely and possible challenges the attacking forces would face and solutions for them. However, most may agree that the central problem during actual battle was the failure of those in charge to be leaders and do their jobs.
Photo of the Crater battleground taken in 1864 (above). The Battle of the Crater was a demoralizing defeat. After eight and a half hours of fighting, Union Army casualties were 3,798 (504 killed, 1,881 wounded, 1,413 missing or captured). Confederate casualties were 1,491 (361 killed, 727 wounded, 403 missing or captured). The 1st Division was engaged for the entire eight and a half hours and suffered 18% casualties. The 4th Division USCT was engaged for less than half that time, lost 31%. Since many of its wounded were murdered, the ratio of killed to wounded was more than double that of any Union Army unit.
Preempting Likely Reactions to the Aforementioned Discussion
True, as alluded to earlier here, throughout history, there have been battles in which losses were far greater than that of the Crater. Attention would very likely be called to the battles of annihilation, usually part of the course of study of the military academic institutions. Among those usually examined are the following.
The Battle of Cannae
At the Battle of Cannae during Second Punic War, a force of Carthaginians and their Libyan, Numidian, Spaniard and Celt mercenaries, all under the command of Hannibal, faced off against a larger Roman and Italian force along the River Aufidus on August 2, 216 B.C., near Cannae in Apulia, Italy. The Roman force was led by both Lucius Aemilius Paulus and Giaus Terentius Varro, who exchanged overall command of the force daily. When Hannibal discovered Varro was the more aggressive commander, he moved his force of 40,000 infantry and 10,000 cavalry into position against the Romans while he was in command. Upon engaging the Romans’ 80,000 troops and 6,000 cavalry, Hannibal had his force feign collapse, anticipating the more aggressive Varro would rush his troops forward. When the Romans reached the appropriate depth Hannibal’s forces proceeded to double-envelop and annihilate the Roman force. An estimated 60,000 to 70,000 Romans were lost.
The Battle of Tannenberg
At the Battle of Tannenberg in World War I, the Imperial German Army and the Russian Army clashed between August 23, 1914 and August 30, 2014. Exploiting the ability to transport troops by rail and their opponent’s poor communications security, German Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg rapidly fielded the German Eighth Army at Olzytyn in East Prussia and well-deployed troops in superior position to delay the oncoming Russian First Army and concentrate upon the Russian Second Army. The large Russian force found itself in a meat grinder and was completely destroyed. The Russian Army suffered between 122,000 to 170,000 casualties. The commander of the Russian Second Army, General Alexander Samsonov committed suicide. A follow-on battle known as the Masurian Lakes resulted in the destruction of the First Army as well. Consequently, the Russians were essentially knocked out of World War I until the Spring of 1915.
The Minsk-Smolensk Pockets
As the story of the Minsk-Smolensk Pockets during World War II goes, immediately following the launch of Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, the German 2nd Panzer Group under Colonel General Heinz Guderian and the 3rd Panzer Group under Colonel General Hermann Hoth destroyed Soviet frontier defenses, received and defeated Soviet attempts to counterattack, and subsequently encircled four Soviet Armies near Bialystock and Minsk by June 30, 1941. By July 9, 1941, Soviet forces within the pocket were decimated, resulting in the loss of 420, 000 troops. Between July 10, 1941 and September 10, 1941, during the second phase of Operation Barbarossa, the German 2nd Panzer Group and the 3rd Panzer Group rapidly advanced on Smolensk. In a pincer movement, mirroring their action at Minsk, encircled the Soviet 16th, 19th and 20th Soviet Armies. Though many troops of the 19th and 20th Soviet Armies exfiltrated the German encirclement successfully, the battle left the Soviet Union’s defenses in the West in tatters a lá Tannenberg.
The Falaise Gap
At the Falaise Gap in World War II, the Allied Armies developed a multi-phase plan to break out of Normandy following their successful landings in France on June 6, 1944. On July 18, 1944, under Operation Goodwood, British and Canadian Armies would attack along the eastern line around Caen. On July 25, 1944, under Operation Cobra, US forces would drive forward into a corridor created by thousands of US heavy and medium bombers on the western end of the German lines around Saint-Lô. Against Goodwood, the German Army responded by committing a large portion of its armored reserves to the defense. Against Cobra, disoriented German defenders could not establish an organized defense. Seizing the opportunity created, the Ground Forces commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe British Army Field Marshal Bernard Mongomery ordered Allied armies in the vicinity of Goodwood to converge on the Falaise–Chambois area to envelop the German 7th Army and 5th Panzer Army of Army Group B. The Germans began to withdraw on August 17, 1944 but the Allied Armies completed the encirclement two days later at Chambois. Although the Germans managed to force through gaps in Allied lines via counterattacks, by the evening of 1 August 21, 1944, the gap was closed. An estimated 50,000 Germans were sealed inside the “Falaise Pocket.”. Remnants of Army Group B outside of the pocket retreated across the Seine.
A portion of the “Corridor of Death” in the Falaise Pocket (above). Seizing the opportunity created while breaking out of Normandy two months after the June 1944 landings, the Ground Forces commander of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe British Army Field Marshal Bernard Mongomery ordered Allied armies in the vicinity of Goodwood to converge on the Falaise–Chambois area to envelop large elements of the German’s Army Group B. The Germans began to withdraw on August 17, 1944 but the Allied Armies completed the encirclement two days later at Chambois. Although the Germans managed to force through gaps in Allied lines via counterattacks, by the evening of August 21, 1944, the pocket was closed. An estimated 50,000 Germans were trapped inside. Remnants of Army Group B outside of the pocket retreated across the Seine.
Among the commonalities of these battles beyond the successful enveloping of opponent by the victorious commanders, their outcomes were mainly shaped mainly by the well laid plans of the commander on one side allowing for the proper use of resources, information, communication, speed, mobility, terrain, time available, superior maneuver, well-placed fires, decisive action, the exploitation of opponent’s confusion resulting from the fog of war, the friction of battle, and the opponents failure to expect the unexpected and to act accordingly in response to what was unforeseen and unpredictable. More apt parallels to the Battle of the Crater and the Russian Federation special military operation in Ukraine, mutatis mutandis, are battles in which losses are self-inflicted as a result of poor and very often rash decisions made by those in charge of units in a battle. A seemingly never-ending list of battles blaze on the pages of history in which such behavior was at the crux of their tragic outcomes for one side. Among those that come to greatcharlie’s mind most immediately are the following.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Charge of the Light Brigade on October 25, 1854, at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War was a tragic attack by the cavalrymen of charge was made by the Light Brigade of the British Army cavalry, which consisted of the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons, the 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars commanded by Major General James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan
against an estimated 20 battalions of infantry supported by over 50 artillery pieces under the Russian commander, General Pavel Liprandi. Obedient to orders–ex post facto called a miscommunication–from the overall commander of the British Army Cavalry,General George Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan, with whom he had a toxic relationship, Cardigan led a frontal assault with his 670 troops against a Russian force organized in a semi-horseshoe defense of the Russians who enjoyed excellent line of sight over a mile in length and supported on the left and right side sides of the Horseshoe by artillery batteries providing enfilading fire from elevated ground. Although Cardigan’s troops scattered some of the defenders, they were too badly battered and tattered to complete their mission and retreated without any decisive gain at the cost of 110 killed and approximately 161 wounded.
The Battle of the Little Big Horn
The Battle of the Little Big Horn on June 25, 1875, was an engagement of what was known as the “American Indian Wars” during which US Army Colonel George Armstrong Custer of the US 7th Cavalry led his battalion in an attack on the main Sioux Tribe encampment at Little Bighorn. Ignoring the advice of scouts, dividing his force into three parts, and expecting the Sioux to scatter at his approach, Custer, at the head of one element of his divided force, was surprised to encounter a Native American force of 3000 warriors from Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho Tribes under the dual command of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull. Custer’s element was destroyed, suffering 268 killed and 55 severely wounded, with Custer, himself, among the dead. Native American losses were reported to be 18 killed.
The Second Battle of Ypres
The Second Battle of Ypres fought from April 22, 1915 to May 25, 1915 during World War I was ignited by an diversionary attack by the German Fourth Army against British Second Army, several French divisions and the Belgian Army, planned an attack towards Ypres, not to capture the city, but merely to cover the transfer of German troops to the Eastern Front where Germany had achieved great success in the aforementioned Battle of Tannenberg and Battle of Masurian Lakes. Notably, the diversionary attack was used to test a deadly chlorine gas weapon,secretly installed in chemical tanks across their front line and did so with great effect, collapsing unprotected Allied forces before the German advance. The success of the chemical attack was unexpected, and no reinforcements were made available to exploit it, and the battle ended after only minor territorial gain with 35,000 German troops lost and 60,000 Allied forces lost primarily due to the chlorine gas.
The Battle of the Somme
The Battle of the Somme fought from July 1, 1916 to November 18, 1916 during World War I by the armies of the United Kingdom and France against the Germany was initiated on the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. as a means to reduce Intense German pressure being placed on the French at Verdun. The advance of a force of 11 divisions of the British 4th Army advanced along a 15-mile front north of the River Somme, while five French divisions advanced on an eight-mile front to the south, was preceding by a week-long heavy artillery bombardment, using some 1.75 million shells, which aimed to cut the barbed wire guarding German’s trench defenses and destroy the enemy’s positions. Although German positions, many of which were in trenches deep underground, proved to be stronger than anticipated, and the barbed wire remained intact at many points, British Army Field Marshal Douglas Haig decided to press on with the attack. Along the line, German machine gun and rifle fire cut down thousands of the attacking British troops, many of them caught in “no man’s land” between the two sides, British casualties on the first day numbered over 57,000, of which 19,240 were killed. Over the next 141 days, the British advanced a maximum of seven miles, even after an attack on September 15, 1916 of 12 divisions accompanied by 48 Mark I tanks which made their first-ever appearance on the battlefield. More than three million men fought in the battle, of whom one million were either wounded or killed.
The Schweinfurt Raids
The First Schweinfurt–Regensburg raid on August 17, 1943 was a “double-strike mission” strategic bombing mission during World War II carried out by 376 B-17 heavy bombers of the US Army’s 8th Air Force to cripple German ball bearing production and the German aircraft industry. Without fighter escort for force protection, two large forces of bombers attacked Schweinfurt and Regensburg respectively in order to disperse fighter reaction by the Luftwaffe, but subsequently 60 B-17s out of 376, each crewed with 10 airmen at a minimum, were lost over German-controlled territory, in Switzerland, or ditched at sea, and despite some success at Regensburg, the commander of the 8th Air Force, General Ira Eaker assessed the Schweinfurt raid was a failure. On October 14, 1943, a second long-range unescorted raid on Schweinfurt was launched despite the fact that everyone who flew the mission stressed the importance of the escorts, which were not available, in reducing losses. Another 60 B-17s, this time out of 291, were lost during the attack, resulting in the suspension of deep raids for five months.
Japanese Banzi Attack on Saipan
There were countless wasteful Banzi attacks of the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Marines in the Pacific Theater during World War II. After the third week of fighting on Saipan, the 2nd Marine Division, the US Army 27th Infantry Division, and the 4th Marine Division had put the Japanese defenders backs against the wall, driving them into the northern corner of the island. For Imperial Japanese Army Lieutenant General Yoshitsugu Saito, the overall commander of Japanese forces on Saipan, the only choice was to order his remaining 4,000-plus troops and all civilians to participate in a final Banzai attack before daybreak on July 7, 1944. The Banzi attack continued for some 12 hours before the Japanese were wiped out. The Japanese had advanced over 1,000 yards before they were stopped. By the evening of July 7th, the soldiers and Marines had regained all of the ground lost during the Japanese attack. A total of 4,311 Japanese troops were killed. US losses were high, too. The first and second battalions of the 105th Regiment od the 27th Division suffered 406 killed and an additional 512 wounded.
The Battle of Arnhem
The Battle of Arnhem fought from September 17, 1944 to September 26, 1944 during World War II was the result of a plan proposed by British Army Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, that an airborne assault would support a single drive north over the branches of the Lower Rhine River,which would permit the British Second Army to bypass the Siegfried Line and attack the industrial Ruhr. Before the airborne assault, planned as Operation Market Garden, was launched, it was discovered that would likely land on top of two German divisions, the remains of the 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” and the 10th SS Panzer Division “Frundsberg” from the Eastern Front as well as several smaller German units. However, the commanding officer of 21st Army Group dismissed the information. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force upon receiving the information via Ultra intercepts choose to ignore it as well. The mission failed as planned and Allied losses were approximately 1,984 killed, 6,854 captured, while German losses were approx 1,300 killed and 2,000 wounded. (The Battle of Arnhem was recently discussed briefly in greatcharlie’s November 30, 2022 post entitled, “Ruminations on the Russian Federation’s Failure To Close the Door in Western Ukraine to Foreign Military Assistance as Part of Its Invasion Plan”.)
Russian Federation troops in Ukraine appear to have experienced many of the worst aspects of not only the Crater, but every example here, except contending with chlorine gas as in the second Battle of the Somme. Yet, looking over this relatively short list of abysmal actions that compounded tragedies of war in which they occurred, greatcharlie believes that in selecting the Battle of the Crater to focus upon in order to find parallels with the situation of Russian Federation troops in Ukraine given the many choices, it may very well have selected the ugliest of the lot given the blue-on-blue hen house racial murder spree that was part of it.
German troops positioning themselves to engage Allied airborne units at Arnhem in September 1944 (above). Before the Allied airborne assault, planned as Operation Market Garden, was launched on September17, 1944, it was discovered that would likely land on top of two German divisions, the remains of the 9th SS Panzer Division “Hohenstaufen” and the 10th SS Panzer Division “Frundsberg” from the Eastern Front as well as several smaller German units. However, the commanding officer of 21st Army Group dismissed the information. The Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force upon receiving the information via Ultra intercepts choose to ignore it as well. The mission failed as planned. By September 26, 1944, Allied losses were approximately 1,984 killed, 6,854 captured, while German losses were approx 1,300 killed and 2,000 wounded.
Poor Circumstances of Russian Troops in Ukraine
Negligentia sempre habet infortunam comitem. (Negligence always has misfortune for a companion.) Delinquent, seemingly feckless Russian commanders who failed to properly train their troops to face conditions on today’s battlefield for months have looked with shock and awe at the environment in which their soldiers are being slaughtered. Any blame and shame concerning their overall performance falls squarely on the commanders at the top rungs of the Russian Federation Armed Forces. So unaware was the Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces of the situation that Russian Federation troops were thrown into since February 24, 2022, that Ukrayinska Pravda, on January 23, 2023, that Gerasimov, seeing for himself how intense the hostilities were, and “being immersed in the newness of it all,” complained the special military operation has put Russian troops in conditions that they have never encountered in the history of modern Russia. Gersaimov was sent down from his perch as Chief of Staff of the Russian Federation Armed Forces by Putin on January 23 2023. Rather examine one of the Russian Federation Armed Forces’ many catastrophic engagements with Ukrainian troops, as done with the Battle of the Crater, a measured picture of the désastre de trés grande ampleur is presented.
Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide
As aforementioned, on November 10, 2022, the US Department of Defense announced an official assessment that over 100,000 Russian soldiers have been killed in action or wounded in Ukraine. Thus, the US Department of Defense figures indicated that during 260 days of fighting to that point, an average of 385 Russian soldiers had been killed or injured each day. The official figure issued by the Russian Federation Ministry of Defense in September 2022 put the number of Russian troops killed at 5,937, a figure Western officials said grossly underestimated the country’s losses. Further, the US Department of Defense figure suggested that the daily fighting along the 1000-mile front line that winds around the eastern edges of Ukraine is very intense. A significant part of the struggle is being fought from World War I-style trenches in which soldiers dug into muddy fortifications suffer relentless artillery onslaughts until their units are destroyed or displaced. So apparently horrible is the situation for Russian Federation troops on the frontlines that Ukrainian soldiers have expressed empathy for them. They have witnessed firsthand how Russian Federation troops–invaders in their country–have been forced to sacrifice themselves when ordered to advance on their lines. A word often heard from Ukrainian frontline soldiers commenting on how Russian Federation troops were handled by their commanders is “cruel.” Ineffective frontal assault tactics are endlessly repeated. Ukrainian troops typically remark that “Russian soldiers advance, Ukrainian artillery destroys them, then more come the next day. Captured Russians say their comrades face execution on desertion charges if they don’t keep moving.” Reportedly, some Ukrainian soldiers have gone as far as to describe Russian Federation troops as being “like zombies.” The Kyiv Post, citing an Agence France-Presse interview of a Ukrainian soldier, provided the quote: “You shoot them and more come.” The indications and implications of what they say is that even incremental advances achieved through localized attacks begun by Surovikin have come at a high price for the Russian Federation troops.
Disco inferno. (I learn by suffering.) According to Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at Center for Naval Analyses and a fellow at the Center for New American Security, and Rob Lee, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program, in the Russian Federation Armed Forces, conscripts receive most of their training from the units to which they are sent rather than centralized training bases. (The Mobiks are offered only the most basic lessons during a reported short two weeks at their initial training bases.) However, given exigent circumstances, officers and non-commissioned officers that would provide that training in units have mostly been redeployed and in some cases they have likely been used to form additional battalions. Thereby, Russian Army regiments and brigades have unlikely had the personnel in their remain-behind elements available to properly train newly arrived Mobiks. There is apparently no crawl, walk, run training for the Mobiks. Such methods of training that could be used even under the very challenging circumstances they face appear to be alien to Russian unit commanders. It seems that even lessons on what to expect and what not to do are rarely applied in the Mobiks training in their units. At least Burnside initially had a viable plan for the Crater attack and well-prepared the troops that he originally planned to use in the assault for their specific task.
One might imagine that when casualty figures presented by the West reached the ears of those 300,000 Russians mobilized for the Ukraine War surely created a greater sense of uncertainty among troops being mobilized for the Ukraine War long before reaching the battlefield. En tremblant! The likely indications and implications of the figures to most Mobiks were that they would have a small chance of surviving the war unscathed. Once on the battlefield and seeing the realities of the situation, the sense of uncertainty and fear surely increased exponentially and appears by accounts to have put a good number of them in a state of shock. Poorly trained, unable to escape their circumstance, they have only had their commanders with whom to turn. To the misfortune of the Mobiks, that better enabled their commanders to exert influence on them that was strong enough to compel them to charge into death in an instant. For those who have refused to do so, reportedly death threats would serve to coerce them to advance, a positively nightmarish Sylla and Charybdis scenario. Peior est bello timor ipse belli. (Worse than war is the very fear of war.
Mobiks during their brief training at a Russian Army base (above). So horrible is the situation for Russian Federation troops on the frontlines that Ukrainian soldiers have expressed empathy for them. They have witnessed firsthand how Russian Federation troops–invaders in their country–have been forced to sacrifice themselves when ordered to advance on their lines. A word often heard from Ukrainian frontline soldiers commenting on how Russian Federation troops were handled by their commanders is “cruel.” Ineffective frontal assault tactics are endlessly repeated. Ukrainian troops typically remark that “Russian soldiers advance, Ukrainian artillery destroys them, then more come the next day. Some Ukrainian soldiers have gone as far as to describe Russian Federation troops as being “like zombies.”
The Professionals Saw Trouble Coming
Memores acti prudentes futuri. (Mindful of what has been done, aware of what will be.) The received wisdom often heard from military analysts in the West is that what is being observed is the way “Russia conducts a lot of its warfare — by overwhelming the enemy with volume, with people.” Moreover, it is accepted that “The Kremlin view, unfortunately, is that soldiers’ lives are expendable.” In a report from the Institute for the Study of War assessed that Moscow is not properly utilizing the reservists it began calling up last September. As for the cause, it was explained that “Systemic failures in Russia’s force generation apparatus continue to plague personnel capabilities to the detriment of Russian operational capacity in Ukraine.”
Yet, professional members of the Russian Federation Armed Forces would likely disagree that there has been anything standard or normal about the manner Russian Federation Armed Forces have handled their soldier Marines, airmen, and sailors in Ukraine. As the war reached the 100-day mark, there was evidence that high-level casualties were growing. Professional soldiers in the Russian Army were making public appeals to Putin to investigate battlefield conditions. Units have faced exhausting tours on the frontlines. In a June 7, 2022 article, the Guardian cited two videos, fighters from Russian-controlled east Ukraine complaining about poor conditions and long terms of duty at the front leading to exhaustion. the Guardian quoted one soldier from the Russian-controlled 113th regiment from Donetsk from one of the videos as commenting: “Our personnel have faced hunger and cold,” The soldier was quoted further as saying: “For a significant period, we were without any material, medical or food support.” The soldier reportedly went on to state: “Given our continuous presence and the fact that amongst our personnel there are people with chronic medical issues, people with mental issues, many questions arise that are ignored by the higher-ups at headquarters.”
Another Russian soldier who had fought near Kyiv, Kharkiv, and was now in eastern Ukraine in an interview complained of exhaustion, saying he had even contacted a lawyer and complained that he had not seen his wife for months.
He was quoted as saying: “I have been fighting in Ukraine since the start of the war, it has been over three months now.” A soldier from the 37th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade headquartered in Buryatia in Siberia, told the Guardian. “It is exhausting, my whole unit wants a break, but our leadership said they can’t replace us right now.” The soldier continued: “The three months of fighting already feel longer than the four years I spent serving in the army during peacetime.” The soldier boldly admitted: “I have already contacted a lawyer online who told me that by law the general can keep us here until our contract runs out so there isn’t much we can do.” Russian Federation Armed Forces do not have sufficient numbers of troops available to adjust or to rotate forces. Once units became heavily engaged with the Ukrainians, they were usually left in contact with them.
Meanwhile, casualties among Russian officers keep mounting. Western officials have said that Russia’s mid and junior ranking officers have also taken heavy casualties “because they are held to an uncompromising level of responsibility for their units’ performance.” Company grade officers, lieutenants and captains, have had to lead the lowest level tactical actions, as the Russian Army does not staff units with highly trained and empowered noncommissioned officers. Western armies typically have such senior leaders staffed in units who can fulfill that role. At the time those interviews were made, four Russian Army generals were reportedly killed in combat. Professional Russian Army units have been more fortunate than others, particularly those soldiers recruited from the Russian-controlled republics in Donetsk and Luhansk. They say their units were thrown into battle with little training at all. Videos have shown that some fighters have lacked basic gear for combat Kevlar vests and they are armed with older rifles. A soldier allegedly serving in Donetsk’s 107th regiment complained to the Guardian: “Our mobilization was done unlawfully, without medical certification.” Another soldier from Donetsk said: “Over 70% of those here were previously decommissioned because they physically can’t fight. Over 90% have never fought before and saw a Kalashnikov for the first time. We were thrown on to the frontlines.”
When weary and weakened, mistakes become more commonplace among commanders and soldiers in the Russian Federation Armed Forces, and that has become a significant part of Russia’s problems in Ukraine. Ukrainian commanders have often capitalized on those mistakes, creating even greater losses among Russian troops. At the turn of the new year, on January 4, 2023, Ukrainian Armed Forces claimed a strike upon a vocational school building in Makiivka where hundreds of Russian troops were reportedly clustered carelessly in a building close to the frontline. The Ukrainians claimed that around 400 Russian soldiers of one regiment were killed and around 300 more were wounded. The Russian Federation Armed Forces sought to blame the soldiers for their own deaths. Russian Army Lieutenant General Sergei Sevryukov said in a statement that their phone signals allowed Kyiv’s forces to “determine the coordinates of the location of military personnel” and launch a strike. The Russian Federation Defense Ministry, in a rare admission of losses, initially said the strike killed 63 troops. However, as emergency crews searched the ruins, the death toll mounted. The deputy commander of the regiment struck was among the dead. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence revealed on Twitter: “Given the extent of the damage, there is a realistic possibility that ammunition was being stored near to troop accommodation, which detonated during the strike, creating secondary explosions,” United Kingdom intelligence officials said: “The Russian military has a record of unsafe ammunition storage from well before the current war, but this incident highlights how unprofessional practices contribute to Russia’s high casualty rate.” It would seem that many Russian commanders are made with the same substance as Leslie and Ferrero
In their analysis of the Russian Federation Armed Forces capabilities mentioned earlier, Kofman and Lee also explained that the Russian military is well suited to short, high-intensity campaigns defined by a heavy use of artillery.” They explained further that “By contrast, it is poorly designed for a sustained occupation, or a grinding war of attrition, that would require a large share of Russia’s ground forces, which is exactly the conflict it has found itself in.” Yet, even troops trained for short, high-intensity actions as the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, have faced great challenges against the Ukrainian Armed Forces while performing that role. According to reports based on what was observed, the Russian Federation Armed Forces plan of attack against Hostomel Airport included its rapid occupation, with the intention of using it as an assembly area for Kyiv’s encirclement and capture. The airport is a bit over 6 miles north of Kyiv. The Initial February 24, 2022 assault on Hostomel Airport was a success, catching its Ukrainian defenders by surprise apparently due its speed. Mi-35 and Ka-52 attack helicopters operating out of Belarus struck the airport’s defenses and opened a way for helicopter-borne VDV units in Mi-8 transport helicopters that followed. However, despite being caught off guard by the initial assault by the attack helicopters, the attack itself was ineffective as the Ukrainian defenses were left largely intact. Without any meaningful air support–it was very likely not included in formulation of the attack plan, VDV units on the ground faced counterattacks by Ukrainian forces almost immediately.
Having secured Hostomel Airport to the extent possible on February 25, 2022, the VDV and Russian Army unit that linked up with them, proceeded to push into the nearby town and then advance to Bucha and Irpin. Their poorly organized movement encountered ambushes in Hostomel and Bucha which resulted in significant losses of personnel and equipment. When those in command decided to hold their positions, digging in on the roadsides, they became sitting ducks to night attacks by special forces units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and suffered heavy casualties. On March 29, 2022, the order was given for the Russian Federation forces at Hostomel to withdraw from the Kyiv oblast, but they did so under continuous artillery fire from Ukrainian forces. Left with little choice if they were to survive, Russian Federation troops damaged equipment that had to be abandoned and made a break for it. What was supposed to be an organized withdrawal became a hasty retreat.
Russian Federation Airborne Ttroops during their verticle assault on Hostomel Airport (above). The received wisdom expressed is that Russian military is well suited to short, high-intensity campaigns defined by a heavy use of artillery, and is poorly designed for a sustained occupation, or a grinding war of attrition, that would require a large share of Russia’s ground forces as in Ukraine. Yet, even troops trained for short, high-intensity actions as the Vozdushno Desantnye Voyska (Russian Airborne Forces) or VDV, have faced great challenges against the Ukrainian Armed Forces while performing that role. The Russian Federation Armed Forces plan of attack against Hostomel Airport, a bit over 6 miles north of Kyiv, nearly became a complete disaster. Professional members of the Russian Federation Armed Forces would likely say that there has been anything standard or normal about the manner Russian Federation Armed Forces have handled their soldier Marines, airmen, and sailors in Ukraine.
The Wagner Group
A most apparent act of archaic wartime callousness is the Russian Federation’s tactic of throwing units from Gruppa Vagnera (Wagner Group) against Ukrainian positions. The Wagner Group is a private military contractor owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, a millionaire restaurateur and entrepreneur, nicknamed “Putin’s chef” due to his close ties with the Russian Federation President. Wagner Group units have been deployed to bolster the number of Russian Federation forces in Ukraine. Russia has used paid fighters to bolster its forces since the start of the special military operation. It was estimated in April 2022 to have initially deployed between 10,000 and 20,000 mercenaries, including Wagner Group troops in the offensive in the Donbas.
To increase the organization’s strength even further, Prigozhin began to create new Wagner Group units composed mainly with violent convicts from prisons–gangsters, murderers, and rapists. However, it is those Wagner Group “penal units” in particular that have suffered high-profile casualties. Much as the Union Army soldiers at the Crater, typically, the penal units are rushed into withering fire by Russian Army commanders perfunctorily without real the goal of attaining true military objectives or even success against their opponents most of the time. To that extent, the Wagner Group troops can rightfully be characterized as mere cannon fodder rather than trained and organized assault units. If there is any “worthwhile” purpose in sending the Wagner Group units to attack Ukrainian positions in such a manner, it is to allow them to identify defenses for Russian Army artillery to bombard. To a degree, this tactic has proven effective, but nonetheless it is a most apparent display of archaic wartime callousness. The Wagner Group troops’ display remarkable courage and obedience to authority, but their acts of sacrifice have been looked upon with indifference by Russian Army commanders. Given the backgrounds of the Wagner Group prison recruits, the common wisdom is that they are desensitized to violence. They are depicted as fighting hard because they have nothing left to lose. According to the US, out of an initial force of nearly 50,000 Wagner troops, including 40,000 recruited convicts, More than 4,100 have been killed in action, and 10,000 have been wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December near Bakhmut. There have been no reported incidents of members of different Russian units murdering each other on the battlefield. However, it would seem joining Wagner Group troops with Russian Army troops would create an elevated risk for a blue-on-blue attacks, as Russian Federation Armed Forces commanders may be willing to do anything to thwart WWagnerGroup troops from showing-up their own.
Special Problems of Winter
Weather conditions in eastern and southern Ukraine have been unfriendly to Russian Federation troops since the start of the special military operation. However, in the winter, “troops on the frontlines moved from being cold and wet to frozen and drenched.” They reportedly have inadequate sleeping bags, inadequate clothing and suffering from the cold. but they are kept in fight. Citing an interview of security expert in the United Kingdom, Robert Fox in the Daily Express, FoxNews reported “For the Russian troops, there is now quite significant evidence of ill-equipped, particularly recruits getting . . . even in the training camps, dying of hypothermia.” Fox commented further to the Daily Express: “That is really quite something. Inadequate sleeping bags, inadequate clothing and suffering from the cold. They find it difficult fighting in the cold but the fighting is going on.” Quoting Rebekah Koffler, a former DIA intelligence officer, FoxNews reported: “Russian soldiers dying from hyperthermia in winter is nothing new.” Koffler continued: “This is what happens when you have a fashion designer, such as Valentin Yudashkin [designer for former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev’s wife Raisa Gorbacheva], develop Russian military uniforms.” Koffler further stated: “Unlike the Soviet Army uniforms that were designed for severe Russian winters, modern Russian military uniform is not optimized for freezing temperatures.” Koffler additionally remarked: “Instead of using natural textiles like cotton, linen, and heavy and coarse wool, synthetic materials were used, which kept the soldiers cold in winter and hot in summer,” and “Bulky and baggy style was replaced with fitted styles.” When Shoigu was appointed Russian Federation Minister of Defense, he halted use of the traditional Russian footwear made of felt, valenki, which was worn by military and civilians for hundreds of years.
Gruppa Vagnera (Wagner Group) fighters pose before rode sign at Bakhmut (above). The Wagner Group is a private military contractor operating in Ukraine that is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, nicknamed “Putin’s chef” due to his close ties with the Russian Federation President. In a clear act of archaic wartime callousness, Russian Army commanders often send the Wagner Group units to attack Ukrainian positions in frontal assaults, allowing them to identify defenses for the artillery to bombard. Wagner Group units have suffered high-profile casualties. According to the US, out of an initial force of nearly 50,000 Wagner troops, including 40,000 recruited convicts, More than 4,100 have been killed in action, and 10,000 have been wounded, including over 1,000 killed between late November and early December near Bakhmut.
Leadership Attributes Seemingly Absent among Russian Federation Commanders
An important feature that top Russian Federation commanders by all appearances repeatedly walked past in every training exercise, either as vast as Zapad and Vostock or in independent training exercises at the division, brigade, regiment, and battalion levels, prior to February 24, 2022: was the lack of authentic military leadership displayed by officers at the field and company levels. While de rigueur as it may have been for decade, the absolute dependence upon the direction of superiors and voiding officers any freedom to be agile in thinking and flexible in action, to name only two impactful ills from a long list that beset the Russian Federation Armed Forces, would assure the death of fighting force on today’s battlefield. Such ways doubtlessly manifest the overly controlling and strict authoritarian government for which the Russian Federation Armed Forces serve and reflective of the nature of the country’s despotic political leadership.
To outline the attributes and expectations of military officers in a 21st century fighting force, on its face it would seem most efficacious to examine US Army leadership manuals online. (Seeking up-to-date expressions on military leadership, greatcharlie has refrained from using the leadership guides it retained after it military service far more than three decades ago! Wie die Zeit vergeht!). In reviewing materials available, an essay entitled “Eight Essential Characteristics of Officership” posted on a positively enlightening military blog, The Field Grade Leader, caught greatcharlie’s attention as it provides a superb, concise explanation of the pertinent attributes and expectations. Much of the information presented in the essay would very likely be alien to the ears of commanders in the Russian Federation Armed Forces. Presumably, there would also unlikely be a point of reference upon which officers in the Union Army or Confederate Army in the US Civil War, would have been able hypothetically to fully comprehend much of it.
The eight characteristics are paraphrased here: 1) Lead: Being a leader and being in charge are often conflated, but they are really two different things. Beyond knowing where you are, where you want to go, and how you are going to get there, officers must inspire soldiers to take the journey with you. Officers must be prepared to make decisions, move the mission forward, and lead by example, never ordering a subordinate to make a sacrifice that he or she is unwilling to make. All officers no matter what their assignment must be leaders; 2) Listen: As nearly every team will have a resource of experienced senior leaders, officers should listen to their insights and suggestions wi/h an open mind and at times seek their advice. members that are an extremely valuable resource. Stories of their experiences in situations can provide examples of decisionmaking from which one can learn, be guided, and possibly mimic. To that extent, subordinates should not feel they are walking on a knife’s edge when approaching the leader with their ideas, but instead should feel comfortable doing so; 3) Support Your Commander: A leader must have clarity concerning the commander’s concept and intent for a mission. Once a legal and lawful order is issued, it must be executed within the parameters of the authority given. Commanders make decisions and assume the risks. Orders for action from commanders must not be questioned, or worse be disobeyed, but it should be permissible for officers to advise or make recommendations to superiors; 4) Learn and Improve: Officers must be acutely aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. To that extent, they must work hard to build on their strengths and correct their weaknesses. Goals for improvement should be realistic and achievable. Officers should never find comfort in remaining stagnant. Complacency is a fatal leadership flaw in the profession of arms; 5) Require Minimum Supervision: High operational tempo organizations that perform in complex environments suffer when officers within them require constant supervision. Officers in such organizations must understand their responsibilities and execute them without continual oversight. Commanders should not be overly burdened with questions from subordinates that should be able to answer themselves. The time for asking questions about performing tasks is the classroom and training exercises, not the actual battlefield; 6) Counsel Subordinates: Officers must well-communicate expectations and standards to subordinates for doing so provides a baseline for measuring performance and ensures that both the rater and rated officer understand what they should be doing. The most important tool that leaders have at their disposal to accomplish that is counseling; 7) Serve Those You Lead: Officers who take a genuine interest in their subordinates will see their teams achieve exceptional feats. Empathetically listen to what others are saying. Taking such interest must be attendant to counseling. Officers should circulate and be in contact with their soldiers. Getting to know one’s soldiers includes being ready to assist them not only professionally, but personally. Once an officer discovers a soldier’s goals, it is advisable to assist them in developing a course of action to reach them. Taking care of your soldiers leads to them taking care of the mission; and, 8) Be a Student of History: Professional officers must immerse themselves in their profession. Military history is replete with episodes that will relate to nearly every situation in which an officer may be in and offer much for them to learn from. By taking the opportunity in the present to learn from the past, officers can better prepare themselves to respond to situations, expected and unexpected, when they arise in the future. These characteristics must be worked at.
Russian Army commander prepares Mobiks to move to the frontlines (above). The visage of the young commander (center) says it all. There must be a true purpose for the sacrifices soldiers make on the battlefield. Soldiers should know what that purpose is. Any sort of logic that would cause a commander to so absolutely toss aside the sacred duty to care for the welfare of the troops they command, to violate the trust their soldiers have put in them,and throw them without purpose into the terror of the battlefield, is not faulty, but rather daylight madness. Committing them cavalierly to hopeless and meaningless offensives, localized attacks, and counterattacks could at best be attributed to delinquency and incompetence, and at worse, brutality, something very wrong up top, or telepathy from Hell, the despotic intrusion of Satan’s will.
Likely Professional Thinking Behind the Respective Commanders’ Choices at the Crater and in Ukraine
Omnia mala exempla ex rebus bonis orta sunt. (Also, omnia mala exempla orta sunt ex bonis initiis.) (Every bad precedent originated as a justifiable measure.) Available to officers of both the Union Army and Confederate Army before the Battle of the Crater was The Officer’s Manual Napoleon’s Maxims of War. The book provides a translation of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte’s maxims by Sir George Charles D’Aguilar, British Army officer serving as the Lieutenant Governor of Hong Kong, The entire manual reflects the received wisdom on the conduct of warfare at the time of its publication. The book’s “Recommendation”, included in the text’s first published in the US in 1861, was written by none other than Winfield Scott. Known as the Grand Old Man of the Army for his many years of service, US Army Major General Winfield Scott’s military talent was highly regarded by contemporaries, and viewed by historians as one of the most accomplished generals in US history. In 1855, he received a brevet promotion to the rank of lieutenant general, becoming the first US Army officer to hold that rank since US President George Washington. Scott was popular not only as a soldier among the public, but also as a statesman–in 1859 he resolved the Pig War, peacefully halting the last of a long series of US-United Kingdom border conflicts–and as a politician–a 4-time presidential candidate for the Whig Party. When the Civil War began, Scott, a Virginia native, stayed loyal to the Union, and served as an important adviser to US President Abraham Lincoln during the opening stages of the war. He developed a strategy known as the Anaconda Plan, but retired in late 1861 after Lincoln increasingly relied on General George McClellan for military advice and leadership. In his comments on Napoleon’s Maxim’s of War, Scott wrote: “After refreshing my memory by looking over again, ‘Re Officer’s Manual,’ or ‘Maxims of Napoleon,’ I think I may safely recommend republication, in America, of the work in English, as likely to be called for by many officers, regular and volunteer. It contains a circle of maxims deduced from the highest source of military science and experience, with practical illustrations of the principles taken from the most celebrated campaigns of modern times. The study of the book can not fail to set all young officers on a course of inquiry and reflection greatly to their improvement.”
Among the maxims in the work, most apposite to the discussion here is Maxim XV which states: “The first consideration with a general who offers battle, should be the glory and honor of his arms; the safety and preservation of his men is only the second; but it is in the enterprise and courage resulting from the former, that the latter will most assuredly be found. In a retreat, besides the honor of the army, the loss of life is often greater than in two battles. For this reason, we should never despair, while brave men are to be found with their colors. It is by the means we obtain victory, and deserve to obtain it.” Napoleon expressed similar sentiments earlier in the book in Maxim VI in which Napoleon states: At the commencement of a campaign, to advance or not to advance, is a matter for grave consideration; but when once the offensive has been assumed, it must be sustained to the last extremity. However skillful the manœuvers in a retreat, it will always weaken the morale of an army, because in losing the chances of success, these last are transferred to the enemy. Besides, retreats always cost more men and material than the most bloody engagements; with this difference, that in a battle, the enemy’s loss is nearly equal to your own–whereas in a retreat, the loss is on your side only.” Napoleon left no doubt in his writings that he believed war was governed by principles. Yet, as with the principles in other fields, no matter how rare they may be, circumstances can arise in war which may pose challenges to strictures developed from its accepted principles.
Fallacies non causae it causae. (Fallacy to accept something as fundamental when it is not.) There are often situations that require more than just barreling ahead regardless of losses. To crack on en masse into oblivion is just madness. In modern armies in 2023, one would imagine commanders in modern armies have trained and fully grasp the need to rely upon one’s training and studies in military philosophy but also one’s talents, practicality, flexibility, creativity, and ingenuity. As discussed in greatcharlie’s August 31, 2022 post entitled “Would the Ejection of Russian Forces from Ukraine Lead to a Thermonuclear Response by Moscow?: Some Meditations on Putin’s Likely Thinking”, Ukrainian commanders have proven themselves to be formidable opponents by displaying amazing knowledge of their battle space, foresight and agility acumen, managing to block in one place, counterattack in another. Most relevant here is the fact that Ukrainian commanders fully comprehend the benefits of withdrawing their units when conditions are most unfavorable instead of demanding troops hold on to untenable positions until they were forced to retreat in order to survive or surrender.
Remaining dedicated to the unit’s mission and the overall mission of the team as a priority is an idea driven into the minds of all soldiers, noncommissioned officers and officers in basic training and throughout their careers. For officers,, in terms of priority, first comes the mission, next the soldiers come, then themselves. It is true a mission can only be achieved through high morale, aggressive action and perseverance. The spirit must be indomitable. Through great displays of such tenacity, battles are won. Fortis est non pertussis in revise asperis. (The strong do not falter in adversity.)
Reputation and honor have also been motivating factors among officers. To display audacity, gallantry before peers has typically been an objective of utmost importance. In accounts of battles in the lyrics military marches, it is most often expressed that the indications and implications of such qualities are of utmost importance. The Régiment de Sambre et Meuse (1870), for example, is a song about a French regiment that fought against the Austrians in 1794 to defend the fledgling Republic. It was written in 1870 to try and boost French patriotic feelings after the rather ignominious defeat against Germany that would deprive France of the Alsace and Lorraine provinces until the end of WWI. Sambre et Meuse is the name of a former French province that is currently part of Belgium. The poignant, pertinent third verse of the march is as follows: “Le choc fut semblable à la foudre / Ce fut un combat de géants / Ivres de gloire, ivres de poudre / Pour mourir, ils serraient les rangs ! / Le régiment par la mitraille / Était assailli de partout, / Pourtant, la vivante muraille / Impassible, restait debout.” (The clash was like a lightning strike, / it was a struggle of giants. / Drunk with glory, drunk with gunpowder, / they closed ranks to perish together! / The regiment was assailed / by a hail of bullets from all sides. / And yet the living wall, / impervious, remained standing.) It seems apropos to make note of a more renowned piece about patriotism, war, and glory also from France, composed by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792, that begins as follows: Allons enfant de la patrie / Le jour de gloire est arrivé! (Let’s go children of the fatherland, / The day of glory has arrived!)
Attendant to the preceding, often political leaders and senior commanders have insisted upon the continued astonishing sacrifices of soldiers in a battle, believing the reputation and honor of their armed forces and their country was at stake.
All of that having been stated, at the Crater, Grant saw the horror of it all and ordered Burnside to retreat, but oddly he disobeyed his command. Meade also saw the futility of the attack and refused to reinforce failure by agreeing to Burnside’s request to commit additional troops to it. In one episode in October 2022 in Ukraine, Surovikin made the unpopular decision to pull Russian troops away from Kherson to more stable positions on the eastern bank of the Dnipro River. According to Reuters, Surovikin explained: “I understand that this is a very difficult decision, but at the same time we will preserve the most important thing – the lives of our servicemen and, in general, the combat effectiveness of the group of troops, which it is futile to keep on the right bank in a limited area.” Despite his honorable and noble intentions, Surovikin was at first denigrated by conservative political leaders and by conservative newsmedia outlets as being defeatist and unnecessarily ceding captured territory to the Ukrainians.
There must be a true purpose for the sacrifices soldiers make on the battlefield. Soldiers should know what that purpose is. Any sort of logic that would cause a commander to so absolutely toss aside the sacred duty to care for the welfare of the troops they command, to violate the trust their soldiers have put in them,and throw them without purpose into the terror of the battlefield, is not faulty, but rather daylight madness. Committing them cavalierly to hopeless and meaningless offensives, localized attacks, and counterattacks could at best be attributed to delinquency and incompetence, and at worse, brutality, something very wrong up top, or telepathy from Hell, a despotic intrusion of Satan’s will.
Recognizably, Russian Army commanders are known, expected, and applauded in their organization for displaying sternness or severity of manner or attitude. A feature of Surovikin’s record as he rose as a commander was his behavior in that regard. Some might point to the fact that several Russian Army generals and colonels have lost their lives while serving as inspirational leaders in attacks against Ukrainian positions. However, such efforts, though impressive and admittedly valorous, seemed to be less acts of committed leaders, and more acts of desperation as responsibility for the success or failure of their units’ actions rested on their shoulders. It would appear such actions by generals and level commanders ever did much to change outcomes on the battlefield. The situations of the respective units were rarely made much better after the sacrifices. It would seem fortunate enough for them if the situation remained essentially the same. After their tragic loss, the situation for those units for the most have deteriorated in their absence. The Ukrainian advance has not been effectively slowed or stalled following their actions..The indications and implications of results on the battlefield are that Russian Army commanders reeled in 2022 from effects of their dereliction concerning training and preparing their units. While they may not have expended fuel and petroleum oil lubricants and other resources to training not ordered from above, they could have regularly scheduled sand table and map exercises with officers and noncommissioned officers in their respective units in case something akin to he “special military operation” were launched. Noncommissioned officers could have counseled soldiers on movement technique in the field and reviewed as many “what ifs” as time allowed. The idea of the Russian Federation invading Ukraine was hanging in the air in January and February of 2022. It would be a charitable assumption to say Russian commanders were unaware that action was possible and they needed to begin thinking “even more” about the soldiers’ well-being.
Mobiks in Crimea receiving blessings from a Russian Orthodox priest as part of a departure ceremony In November 2022 (above). In 2023, a young man or woman who volunteers, is conscripted, or is pressed into service via conscription to serve in the armed forces of their country in war has much to reasonably expect from their faithful service. Soldiers of every country should be able to believe their political leaders have concluded that some objective of great value, that is just, will be attained by the selective application of their fighting skills. They should be able to believe when they are sent into harm’s way that the decision was founded on the best advice of senior military leaders. Soldiers must believe they are being utilized by senior commanders in the best possible way to achieve victory in battle. Further, soldiers must feel assured that their commanders, in planning military action, will attempt to increase their chances of survival and minimize, to the greatest degree possible, to potential loss of life.
As has been the case for centuries, citizens have chosen to serve their countries when at war due to a variety of motivations. Surely, greatcharlie is not breaking any new ground in explaining that. The following list offers a mere handful of 14 likely motivations based on empirical evidence: 1) Exigence circumstance: seeing understanding actual need to protect their families and communities and country; 2) Allegiance: Duty respond to their country’s call, perhaps while uncertain and fearful of outcome; 3) Honor: refusal to avoid the call to serve their country in war regardless of whether most citizens view find the need to fight reasonable and just or based on disagreeable political objectives of their government; 4) Patriotism: a love of country in general and willingness to protect it; 5) Romanticism: rushing off to war with a romanticized view of serving ones country in war based on stories of the past deeds of others on the battlefield; 6) Escape from unpleasant circumstances; the opportunity to serve one’s country at war provides reason to escape an environment or undesirable circumstances an individual may be in; 7) Venal: impelled by monetary gain or promises of other gains no matter how meager; 8) Insecurity: going to war impelled by the feeling one have something to prove to family, community,, or the world, desperately seeking validation in other people’s approval; 9) Excitement: Seeking some personal thrill from wartime experience and the chance to engage in daredevil activities; 10) Obedience to authority: obeying the demand of government to report for service in war due to a fear of reprisal; 11) Nationalism: an excessive or prejudicial support of country’s interests or historic enmity toward another country or other countries, that may lead to the support of expansionist actions as much as, as dictated by political leadership that are to exclusion or detriment of other countries interests; 12) Ethno-religious nationalism an excessive or prejudicial support of country’s interests or historic enmity toward citizens of another country or other countries based primarily on respective ethnic, racial, religious differences that would cause one serve in an expansionist military action against the other country, or support for one’s own ethnic, racial, religious group to the extent that one would be willing to go war to defend or support the expansionist aims of those of one’s group in other countries against an opposing ethnic racial or religious group; 13) Revolutionary zeal: being impelled by a country central revolutionary philosophy to serve in war to defend one’s country thus ensuring the survival of the ideals of one’s country or support one country’s expansionist aims to ensure the propagation of the central revolutionary philosophy of one’s country or group, being certain of the philosophy’s correctness; and, 14) Recherché or outré reasoning, philosophy, or ideate: to welcome the chance to fight in war for anomalous, eccentric, perhaps even unsound, personal reasons.
Whatever the underlying motivation or rationale for their choice, even those of whom reasonable individuals could hardly call noble, those choosing to serve in war are placed under the authority of their respective country’s political leadership, under the control of the military chain of command from the country’s top generals and admirals down to the commanders of their respective organizations and units, and under the complete direction of their immediate organization and unit officers. However, they were not born with an intrinsic purpose to have their lives extinguished, bodies torn to pieces, at their officers’ whims and megrims. In his renowned work New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis, trans. by W. J. R. Sproutt (W. W. Norton & Company, 1933), Sigmund Freud, the 20th century Moravian born neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, explains: “It is asking a great deal of a man, who has learnt to regulate his everyday affairs in accordance with the rules of experience and with due regard to reality, that he should entrust precisely what affects him most nearly to the care of an authority which claims as its prerogative freedom from all the rules of rational thought.” Nevertheless, Herr Doktor, near complete submission to the control of superiors has been an essential, immutable requirement of military service throughout the ages.
In 2023, a young man or woman who volunteers, is conscripted, or is pressed into service via conscription to serve in the armed forces of their country in war has much to reasonably expect from their faithful service. Soldiers of every country should be able to believe their political leaders have concluded that some objective of great value, that is just, will be attained by the selective application of their fighting skills. They should be able to believe when they are sent into harm’s way that the decision was founded on the best advice of senior military leaders. Soldiers must believe they are being utilized by their commanders in the best possible way to achieve victory in battle. Further, soldiers must feel assured that their commanders, in planning military action, will attempt to increase their chances of survival and minimize, to the greatest degree possible, to potential loss of life. Of course, big mistakes can be made even by the most experienced and best prepared commanders in prosecuting a war. Additionally, no commander can possibly promise that none of their soldiers will not be wounded, captured, or killed in war.
Not only will morale suffer, but performance will surely degrade when soldiers are: uncertain of mission if the overall concept of a military action is unjust, invalid by law; uncertain of the purpose of a military action: the political authority’s concept and intent for the action is unclear and their commander’s concept and intent are unclear; uncertain their leadership is dysfunctional: commanders are hamstrung by superiors and confined to parameters of action by political systems or they are simply delinquent and negligent; uncertain of their capabilities versus the opponent–soldiers are provided poor equipment, their force has readily observable vulnerabilities, their opponent possess superior, seemingly invincible, and unlimited supplies of weapon systems; and, uncertain of victory–on a daily basis, soldiers experience heavy losses in equipment, exceedingly high casualties in their ranks, the regular loss of comrades, the influx of untrained replacements, and they sense their sacrifices will prove to be meaningless. Such strains and trauma placed upon soldiers could prove to be irreparable.
One can only imagine thoughts churning within the minds of so many young conscripts, nel massimo dolore, most having barely discovered what life has to offer. Many young soldiers at the Crater and in during other battle in other wars have surely felt the same. What comes to mind are the words of the character Floria Tosca in Act II of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, “Tosca” (1899). The Chief of the secret police, Scarpia, has thrown Tosca’s beloved into prison for treason and tortures him. She vehemently protests. Scarpia tells her she could save him by submitting completely to his ugly amorous advances. Tosca sings “Vissi d’Arte” after avoiding dodging him repeatedly she asks God why has He abandoned her during this terrible time. A portion of the haunting soprano aria is as follows: Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore, / non feci mai male ad anima viva!… / Con man furtiva / quante miserie conobbi, aiutai… / Sempre con fe’ sincera, / la mia preghiera / ai santi tabernacoli salì. / Sempre con fe’ sincera / diedi fiori agli altar. / alzandosi / Nell’ora del dolore / perché, perché Signore, / perché me ne rimuneri così? (I lived for art. I lived for love: / Never did I harm a living creature! … / Whatever misfortunes I encountered / I sought with secret hand to succour … / Ever in pure faith, / My prayers rose / In the holy chapels. / Ever in pure faith, / I brought flowers to the altars. / In this hour of pain, why, / Why, oh Lord, why / Dost Thou repay me thus?)
The Way Forward
For the Russian Federation, the Ukraine War is a war of conquest. The tissue of lies leaders tell their citizens, and tell themselves about the war, has become further attenuated. With the Russian Federation Armed Forces being exposed for the inefficient forces they truly are conventionally, little is left in the way of words alone for the country’s political leadership to sway any listeners, much less their armed forces. Nevertheless, as they now despotically control their soldiers through threats of reprisals, promise to destroy the whole wide world if the war in Ukraine is lost, they have also turned those techniques upon the global audience, threatening thermonuclear war and encouraging fear mongering, while insisting the Russian Federation is the victim, the country threatened.
Even before the special military operation began, political leaders, newsmedia political commentators and bloggers touted the prowess of the Russian Federation Armed Forces pointing to the indomitable spirit and durability of its fighters while denying the Ukrainians had any real capabilities to prevent the Russian Federation’s inevitable victory. Yet, they now ironically point to the success of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against theirs to prove that the US and NATO are the engines behind the Ukraine threat, and prove it is all part of a longstanding US and NATO plan to encroach on Russian Federation with their sights trained on its natural resources, and eventually take full control their country. Hyperbolic to the end, political leaders in Moscow insist that Ukraine, the US, the EU, and NATO will be destroyed. Flashing a bit of optimism, they view keeping the US directly out of the fight is in itself a victory, and a sign Washington fears the Russian Federation’s true power: its nuclear arsenal. It all seems to have real meaning for them, yet it all rings very hollow. Putin promises to replenish the arsenals of the Russian Federation Armed Forces and insists a new era of weapon systems development has been embarked upon during which the world will witness Russian Federation industries produce systems “decades ahead of their foreign counterparts.” To students and scholars familiar with the German Third Reich’s history, Putin’s rhetoric on superweapons–Wunderwaffe–surely sounds terribly familiar. It is all stupefying to the eyes and ears of the reasonable. It would have been “cheaper” for Putin to pay the full price of training and fully equipping his Russian Federation Armed Forces and ordering an orderly mobilization of an additional 100,000 conscripts and preparing them for war in a military fashion. Yet, Russian Federation commanders might even have been the wild card in all of that. It is hard to know if they are really capable of anything impressive or even average militarily, given the shortcomings they have put on display in Ukraine..
Soldiers cannot hold much hope to be treated fairly, for victory, or survival fighting for a country whose political leadership makes fantastic claims about unseen super-weapons and secret military capabilities and regularly makes false statements on the situation in war they are fighting. Naturally, a close eye must be kept on what Putin is saying and doing regarding Ukraine, to include expressions of that kind. Equally naturally, focus must be kept on what will most likely come next. In all honesty, it has become increasingly difficult for greatcharlie to see how this entire episode will end “peacefully” for any country involved.