Artillery price

Russia now depends on heavy artillery – Stalin’s “God of War” – in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin had clearly hoped that his invasion of ukraine would end quickly and not involve prolonged battles for major cities.

Putin and other Russian leaders know well the high cost of fighting for cities, both in Soviet history and in recent Russian history. While there is talk about a peace agreement – and Putin might be looking for a exit strategy to save face — fighting continues and Russian attacks on civilians intensify.

Read more: Why Russian attacks on innocent Ukrainian citizens are likely to escalate

As the battle to take Berlin in World War II and newer fighter for the Chechen capital of Grozny in 1994-1995 and 1999-2000 show, fighting for urban areas usually results in heavy casualties among combatants and civilians.

Fights for towns are also slow. In light of Russia’s experience with this type of warfare and the ferocity of the Ukrainian resistanceneither Putin nor his generals probably expected quick results in Ukraine.

To take cities like kyiv or Kharkiv without incurring unsustainable casualties, Russian forces will have to continue to make widespread use of artillery – something the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin once described as “the god of war”.

During the Second World War, artillery usually involved unguided munitions taken from one or the other guns, howitzers Where rocket launcher. Today, artillery is also shooting guided ammunitionbut the cheapest form of artillery remains the unguided shell or rocket.

Soviet artillery shells German positions at the start of the operation to capture Berlin in April 1945.
(Deutsch Bundesarchiv Bild), CC PER

Soviet experience

Russian forces have a long history of capturing towns after heavy fighting. Perhaps the most famous example is the capture of berlin by the Red Army in May 1945 after two weeks of fighting.

The widespread use of artillery was crucial in limiting Red Army casualties against the sometimes fanatical German defenders. Whole blocks of the German capital were razed by artillery and bombardment from Soviet planes. Nevertheless, the Red Army still suffered horrible losses while capturing the heart of the Third Reich – nearly 80,000 were killed.

Soviet tanks had a role to play in the capture of Berlin, but by the end of World War II tanks were extremely vulnerable to newly developed infantry anti-tank weapons such as the german panzerfaust.

men in a black and white photo hold anti-tank weapons on their shoulders
Militiamen in Berlin hold Panzerfausts.
(Deutshe Bundesarchiv Bild), CC BY

During the final stages of the fighting for Berlin, a soviet commander had to hit from the side of the Soviet tanks to wake up the tank crews inside and encourage them to move forward when they didn’t want to move towards the Reichstag building in the city center. In front of these young tank crews stood three burnt-out tanks, testimony to the dangers posed to tanks operating in urban environments.

Losses among senior Russian commanders in Ukraine suggest that they too had to leave the front to motivate their troops.

Second Chechen War

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Chechen separatists wanted to leave the Russian Federation. But the Russian leader Boris Yeltsin had just overseen the collapse of the USSR and was not about to let go of what was technically part of Russia.

the fight for the Chechen capital Grozny in late 1994 and early 1995 was a stark reminder for Russian forces of how difficult it was to fight for urban areas.

A soldier's face is seen between two black columns.
In this photo from 1995, a young Russian soldier stands guard from his anti-aircraft gun position in Grozny, Russia.
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

The Russian troops suffered heavy casualties in the face of a stubborn defense. After an initial attempt to capture the city, the Russian army then had to regroup and engage in a much more systematic destruction of enemy resistance, making extensive use of artillery and air power.

Civilian casualties were high – up to 27,000 people were killed. The Russian military would officially acknowledge the deaths of 1,376 Russian soldiers in the fighting for the city, with 408 others missing.

A gray-haired woman cries and holds on to a tree amid the rubble.
Chechen citizens look at the rubble of houses destroyed during a lull in fighting in Grozny in January 1995.
(AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis, File)

During the Second Chechen War in 1999-2000 – with Vladimir Putin in charge – Russian troops had learned the lesson of the first. Rather than trying to rush the city’s defenders, the Russian forces took a more systematic approach.

Russian artillery and air power systematically pounded the city before Russian ground forces confronted well-prepared defenders block by block. A corridor for civilians to flee the besieged city was established, but it was dangerous and many chose to stay.

It still took more than a month for Russian forces to capture the city of Grozny during the Second Chechen War – and even then they had to deal with guerrillas after they had done so.

Read more: Chechen fighting in Ukraine: Putin’s psychological weapon could turn against him

The war in Ukraine

Logistically, the Russian army was unprepared for a long war when it invaded Ukraine. The Russian army also did not expect to have to use the artillery means who are now employed against cities like Kharkiv.

Russia started using its artillery when it became clear that the war was not going well, but it plays for the Russian military nonetheless. artillery force.

The stubborn defenders of Ukraine — well equipped with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons West — are proving difficult to eradicate from urban areas. To send Russian infantry and tanks into cities without first “remove” or “neutralize” defenses, as the attacking defenders are called in military jargon, would undoubtedly lead to unacceptable losses for Russian tanks and infantry.

with Russian aircraft vulnerable to anti-aircraft weapons supplied by the West, this leaves the Russian artillery. Stalin’s God of War is now, in many ways, Russia’s main weapon in Ukraine.

A self-propelled howitzer during parade rehearsals.
A Russian self-propelled howitzer, an example of Russian artillery, during training for the 2014 Victory Day parade.
(Vitaly V. Kuzmin), CC PER

In practice, conventional artillery is blind. The Russian forces therefore resort to blindness artillery-oriented strategy which was used to subjugate Grozny and will be difficult for Ukrainian forces to counter.

Russian commanders are no doubt aware that it takes time to conquer a well-defended city. However, they have the advantage of a recent historical precedent in Grozny to finally “win” against an entrenched defender in an urban environment. Always, the key coastal city of Mariupol has been under siege for weeks and still has not been captured.

A mother on a train platform hugs her crying son who is wearing a yellow jacket.
A mother hugs her son who escaped from the besieged city of Mariupol and arrived at the train station in Lviv, western Ukraine, March 20, 2022.
(AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)

Is Russian society willing to accept the kind of russian losses what will likely result from the capture of kyiv and other major Ukrainian cities remains to be seen. The cracks are already appearing in Russiabut there is probably still a long way to go before Putin feels he must make peace on less than desirable terms and lose face.

Unfortunately, the bloodshed could continue for some time. If so, many more soldiers and civilians will be killed and maimed in the hell of what is essentially old-fashioned urban warfare.