NewsMajor threat to Ukraine: Military commander raises alarm

Major threat to Ukraine: Military commander raises alarm

War in Ukraine. Serious threat.
War in Ukraine. Serious threat.
Images source: © The text "DW" is not translatable as it appears to be an abbreviation or a proper name in Polish., East News
ed. KBŃ

12:23 PM EST, November 5, 2023

The Ukrainian counteroffensive has hit a standstill. Kyiv's supreme commander of forces warns of years of grueling trench warfare, illustrating the devastating potential of this type of war.

The names Bakhmut, Avdiivka, Robitne have been frequently mentioned for months in relation to the ongoing conflict on the Ukrainian front. Reports of intense battles and significant losses come consistently, overshadowing any news of success or marked territorial gains by either side. The Ukrainian counteroffensive that started with much hope in June has now stagnated. Progress in Robitne, despite being the greatest, amounts to a mere 11 miles. General Valeriy Zaluzhny, the supreme commander of the Ukrainian army, warned in his guest article for The Economist of a potential "war of attrition" that could "drag on for years".

Understanding trench warfare

The current frontline is around 620 miles long. Recently, attacks and breakthrough attempts have occurred only in specific frontline areas, enabling soldiers stationed in the remaining areas to enhance and expand their defensive positions systematically.

Territories annexed by Russia in eastern Ukraine
Territories annexed by Russia in eastern Ukraine© The text "DW" is already in American English as it is an abbreviation that could stand for a number of things depending on the context. Therefore, it does not require translation.

Deep trenches, widespread minefields, as well as destroyed roads and bridges, backed by artillery support deep inland, make it extremely challenging to break through enemy lines. Any attempts result in heavy losses for the attacking side.

This immobilization of the front is typical of trench warfare. Unlike maneuver warfare, where the goal is quick advancement, trench warfare primarily aims to defend one's territory. The British Ministry of Defence confirms that this is precisely what is happening in Ukraine now.

The transformation of armed conflicts into prolonged trench warfare started in the 19th century. New types of weaponry were developed that gave the defending army clear advantages. The invention of the machine gun allowed defenders to repel attackers from a stationary position at a great distance.

The Crimean War, the Civil War, and World War I

The Crimean War is considered the first example of trench warfare in history. During this war, neither side was able to secure an advantage despite tens of thousands of casualties.

In the Civil War, armies used so-called "Chevaux de frisé", wooden beams arranged crosswise to slow down attacking forces, which were supported with rifle fire. This technique evolved into the use of barbed wire and increasingly sophisticated land mines during World War I.

During World War I, both sides observed each other from trenches. Each attack in the open field became a frontal attack, encountering barbed wire, mines, and other barriers. Such attacks met with heavy resistance from well-entrenched defenders using machine guns and grenade launchers, generating heavy losses. By the end, neither side could secure a military advantage.

Inhumane battles in a war of attrition

In the 20th and 21st centuries, defensive techniques were further developed, offering additional security to the front lines. However, the core nature of trench warfare has remained largely unchanged.

A particularly cynical aspect of trench warfare was apparent in Verdun. Commanders on both sides prioritized forcing the enemy into capitulation over minimizing their losses. By this logic, several million explosive shells and at least a hundred thousand poison gas shells were fired during the Battle of Verdun. Even today, almost 110 years later, about 11 lbs of shrapnel per square meter litters the former battlefield of Verdun.

The potential for the tragic consequences of this warfare to repeat is what led the supreme commander of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to warn his country about the prospect of a prolonged trench warfare. Gen. Zaluzhny is right to be concerned that the longer it lasts, the more danger it poses for the Ukrainian army and the state of Ukraine. Without further military support from the West, it would be hard for Ukraine to withstand such a war.

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