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Great dangers rise up when you least expect them.
Lately I’ve been reading one of the most fascinating war-related books I’ve ever come across:
A New Conception of War – John Boyd, The U.S. Marines, and Maneuver Warfare, by Ian T. Brown.
(The book has been out of print for some time, but is available in pdf format from Marine Corps University at the following link: A New Conception of War.)
John Boyd was one of the most brilliant and celebrated modern military theorists, and his concepts were extremely influential among many in the post-Vietnam officer cadre of the United States Marine Corps.
In particular, the highly regarded USMC General Paul K. Van Riper became a zealous disciple of Boyd’s conceptions of war. I have previously written of Van Riper’s legendary exploits, and most recently his observations of the ongoing war in Ukraine.
Also, in a recent article I published, I described how, during the Second World War, the Red Army had frequently employed deception to lure the Wehrmacht into situations where they could then be cut off and destroyed in detail.
Of course, the German commanders were brilliant in their own right, and they frequently turned the tables on the Soviets in the same fashion. A New Conception of War makes specific reference to such a case – one I believe is particularly apropos to ongoing events in Ukraine:
One example Boyd provided of using terrain as a medium for mentally unhinging an enemy, and not simply as a military objective in itself, came from Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s “Donetz counterstroke” against the Soviet Red Army in World War II. Manstein deliberately took a “long step backward,” giving up large swathes of territory to make the Soviets overconfident and overextended. When Manstein finally counterattacked, the surprise caused complete mental and moral disorientation on the part of the Russians, netting Manstein all the territory he had voluntarily surrendered and, more important, large numbers of Russian prisoners.
(A New Conception of War, p. 108, emphasis added)
Manstein’s “long step backward” had the effect of drawing the Soviets out of well-prepared defensive positions, and into the open field of battle, where the Germans repeatedly resisted, then withdrew even further, until Soviet supply lines had been stretched dangerously thin, and their forces were extremely diluted in the large “bulge” their advance had created.
This is precisely the scenario we have seen play out in the Kharkov region over the past month.
For weeks now, the vastly outnumbered Russian forces have been executing a fighting retreat – ceding territory to the advancing Ukrainians, briefly occupying strong prepared defensive positions from which they inflict severe losses on the Ukrainian attackers, and then retreating yet again to another line of prepared positions.
As is always the case during an ongoing battle, reliable casualty numbers are difficult to ascertain. But the nature of the terrain, the strength of the prepared Russian defenses, and the Russians’ overwhelming superiority in terms of air power and artillery have afforded them a huge battlefield advantage.
Contributing to this advantage has been the frequently displayed rashness of almost suicidal banzai-like Ukrainian assaults on hardened Russian positions which, although their significant numerical superiority ultimately permitted them to compel another Russian retreat, hugely disproportionate losses of manpower and military equipment have been inflicted on the Ukrainian attackers.
Late last week, in my article entitled Turning Point, I described how the Ukrainians had expended thousands of troops and hundreds of vehicles in their quasi-fanatical attempts to take both Kupyansk and Liman.
Nevertheless, those two towns were taken, and the Ukrainians have continued to make modest advances since then while the Russians prepare yet another hardened defensive line several kilometers further east.
I’ve also been reporting for weeks now regarding the never-ending trains of Russian equipment and troops streaming into the region from various directions – and yet few if any of these major reinforcements have found their way to the front lines, much to the chagrin of those cheering on the Russian cause, and who have been devastated by what appear to be repeated Russian defeats.
However, in just the last few hours, reports have been leaking out that western intelligence has detected a major buildup of Russian forces in and around Belgorod, just across the border of the Kharkov Oblast, and immediately north of the current line of contact.
The reliability of this intelligence is not yet determined, and even if true, its significance remains as yet unknown, but I will share two of the reports I’ve seen on Telegram in the past couple hours – reports that are circulating among both Russian- and Ukrainian-friendly sources with a reasonable degree of established credibility.
First from a Ukrainian-friendly channel that has long exhibited connections to a source within the Ukrainian government:
“Our source reports that the Office of the President received a warning that the risk of a Russian strike and counter-offensive behind Ukrainian lines remains.
“The only thing is that no one can say exactly when, how, and where it will happen. The movement can abruptly begin along the entire border of Ukraine. The Russians know that Zelensky instructed everyone to remove reserves from the border regions and send them to the front line for an offensive (blitzkrieg).
“That is, once again entering the Sumy region, the RF Armed Forces can easily take hundreds of kilometers under them, not to mention an attack on the northern part of the Kharkov region, or Belarus joining the game.”
A Russian-friendly source (presumably also relying on a Ukraine-friendly source) reports as follows:
“MI6 has passed intelligence to the Office of the President (Zelensky) and the General Staff (Zaluzhny) that Russia continues to amass forces in the Belgorod region and appear to be in no rush to use them as a reserve.
“British intelligence has warned the General Staff that these forces may be concentrating for a Russian counter-attack along the border of the Oskol River to cut off the increasingly stretched Ukrainian forces grouping that has only a few supply routes available to it.”
In my estimation, there is good reason to lend credence to these reports. And although the timing and location of a Russian counter-attack cannot yet be confidently predicted, I continue to be persuaded that “something big” is afoot, and that the Ukrainian army and its large numbers of NATO-affiliated “volunteers” are going to suffer the biggest catastrophe so far in this war as a result of their militarily imprudent last-gasp “counter-offensives”.