1 January 2024

In One Brutal Tank Battle Outside Avdiivka, The Russians Lost As Many As 21 Tanks. The Ukrainians Lost Two.

David Axe

Starting on Oct. 10, a powerful Russian force—a dozen regiments and brigades with around 40,000 people—attacked toward Avdiivka, a key Ukrainian stronghold just northwest of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine.

The Ukrainian garrison, anchored by the 110th Brigade and later reinforced by the 47th and 57th Brigades, was ready for the Russians. In 10 weeks of costly attacks, the Russian force advanced a mile or so north and south of Avdiivka. In the north, the Russians captured the village of Stepove.

But then, this week, the Ukrainians counterattacked. It’s possible they’ve liberated Stepove. At the very least, neither side controls the village. And in pushing back, the Ukrainians provoked a hasty countercounterattack that ended in disaster for the Russians.

In just a day or so, the Ukrainian 47th Brigade dismantled the lead Russian formation, reportedly a reinforced battalion with dozens of tanks and fighting vehicles and probably more than 500 people. “Preliminary reports are indicating that over half the Russian force failed to return to its starting positions,” analyst Donald Hill wrote in fellow analyst Tom Cooper’s newsletter.

Open-source intelligence analyst Andrew Perpetua’s rolling tally of Russian losses seems to confirm the disaster. On Wednesday alone, Perpetua verified the destruction of 21 Russian tanks as well as 14 infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers.

Given current production rates for new vehicles, the entire Russian force in Ukraine can afford to lose just 50 tanks a month without depleting the Russian armed forces’ overall inventory of around 3,000 tanks. The regiments and brigades attacking Avdiivka lost nearly half that number in a single day.

It’s apparent how the Ukrainians won. Ukrainian scouts sneaked out at night to lay mines along the likely approaches between Russian positions and Stepove. Ukrainian drones targeted the attackers, even striking one BTR fighting vehicle laden with ammunition, triggering a massive explosion.

Any Russian vehicles that got past the mines and drones met the American-made M-2 Bradley fighting vehicles belonging to the 47th Brigade.

“Bradleys of the 47th Mech were scything the Russians to the left and right like there was no tomorrow,” Hill wrote. Against the M-2’s powerful 25-millimeter autocannons, the Russian fighting vehicles “stood not much chance.”

The battle cost the Ukrainians, too. The 47th Brigade probably had just a dozen or so German-made Leopard 2A6 tanks left out of the 21 it got as donations early this year. The brigade abandoned two more Leopard 2s outside Stepove this week. The only consolation is that the tanks might be recoverable and fixable.

But even if the Leopards are write-offs, it was a good trade. At the cost of two tanks, the Ukrainians destroyed dozens of Russian vehicles and killed potentially hundreds of Russian troops, adding to the 13,000 casualties Russia has suffered trying, and so far failing, to capture Avdiivka.

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