Before summarizing the overall results of the campaign of winter 2015, lets summarize the results of the battle for Debalcevo, which became the central battle of the campaign and determined its results.
The battle for Debalcevo. Results.
The campaign began after systematic shelling of the Donbass cities by the artillery of the fascist junta, following which the "2nd truce" was torn apart and the high-intensity military action with the use of all available means of destruction resumed.
The first stage of the campaign was associated with the fighting for the Donetsk airport, which was captured by the NAF forces. The junta's counter-offensive on the airport failed miserably and led to major personnel and materiel losses. After repelling the junta's counter-offensive, the NAF transitioned to offensive again and tried to penetrate the junta defensive line at Peski – Opytnoye – the air defense unit – Avdeyevka.
This offensive was generally unsuccessful for the NAF: despite suffering serious losses, they failed to even solve the problem of capturing Peski. They couldn't fortify themselves in Avdeyevka either. So, after capturing the installations to the north of the airstrip in the airport, the NAF gradually transitioned to defensive actions and repelled the junta counter-attacks directed at capturing the settlement of Spartak.
Simultaneously with the fighting for Peski and Avdeyevka, the NAF started active offensive measures on the Debalcevo direction, which led to the battle for Debalcevo. This battle continued for about a month, between the last 10 days of January and the last 10 days of February.
The main goals of the attacking forces were:
1. Intercepting the M-103 road in the area of Svetlodarsk and surrounding the Debalcevo group.
2. The capture of Debalcevo and restoring control over the key transport hub of Novorossia.
The offensive was carried out from several directions by the DPR and the LPR forces. This was in essence the first large-scale operation where a serious coordination between the armies of the people's republics was established on the operational level, even though the attempts to set up such a coordinations were made earlier. For instance, we may recall the attempts to coordinate the actions of the DPR and the LPR forces during the process of finishing off the South Cauldron 1.0 and the unsuccessful "Bolotov's counter-offensive", which was supposed to mitigate the difficult situation after abandoning the Lisichansk wedge.
The Debalcevo wedge was formed during the NAF counter-offensive in late summer-early autumn, when an attempt to use Debalcevo as a bridgehead for strikes with the goal of encircling Donetsk failed after the failed attempts to capture Shakhtyorsk, Miusinsk, and Krasnyi Luch. During the NAF counter-offensive the junta forces were forced to engage in defense, holding the bridgehead for the better times. Effectively after September 2014 the forces were concentrated here for resuming offensive operations from the Debalcevo bridgehead. The strongholds on the anticipated directions of the NAF strikes were also created. Nevertheless, the configuration of the group didn't have a clear defensive nature, the junta was preparing to attack and the defensive measures ended up being insufficient in the end.
The most interesting thing is that back in the autumn of 2014 Tymchuk described http://podrobnosti.ua/1003381-uglegorsk-mozhet-stat-tochkoj-proryva-boevikov-karta.html possible NAF strikes, suggesting that Troitskoye and Uglegorsk were the most threatening directions.
The directions of the main strikes by the NAF that were expected by the junta in October 2014.
The junta group in the area of Svetlodarsk and Debalcevo consisted of about 9-10 thousand people. Among them there were up to 6-7 thousands in fighting units. The constitution of the group was not uniform: there were full brigades and separate units of the AFU, territorial battalions, punitive units like "Donbass", the units of the MIA and of the SBU. The NAF deployed about 5-6 thousand people in first-line units. The NAF also had an assorted collection of various units: the regular army units combined into a corps, semi-autonomous Cossack units, special units of the security structures of the DPR and the LPR. Later both sides actively engaged their reserves in this area. During the first stage the operational reserve of the junta that consisted of three battalion-tactical groups was located near Artyomovsk. One of these groups was used in the fighting at Popasnaya, another one was used at Troitskoye and Krasnyi Pakhar.
The situation at the front by January 27.
Initially, the NAF offensive on Debalcevo had the goal of encircling the whole Svetlodarsk-Debalcevo group of the enemy, so the main efforts were focused on a thrust through Troitskoye and Krasnyi Pakhar towards Mironovka and the M-103 road. The key goal wasn't even Svetlodarsk, which was located to the south of the road, but rather the adjacent settlements (Mironovka, Mironovskyi, Luganskoye), by capturing which it was possible to densely intercept the communications of the forces that were located to the south of Svetlodarsk.
The offensive on the bottleneck of the Debalcevo protrusion was carried out from two sides. From the south-west and the South the offensive off Gorlovka got stuck in the fighting in the area of Dolomitnoye, Travnevoye, and Novoluganskoye; the enemy mostly held the front here. Over the whole battle, the NAF failed to achieve significant successes in this area. The offensive of the LPR forces was developing more successfully. The strike was carried out on Troitskoye and Krasnyi Pakhar and also on Popasnaya to the north of the Debalcevo wedge. Besides creating a threat of a break through Popasnaya to Artyomovsk, this strike was also supposed to disorient the enemy, which couldn't determine for a long time from where the main threat is coming: from the side of Popasnaya or of Troitskoye. The enemy had to deploy reserves both to Popasnaya and to Svetlodarsk. After capturing Krasnyi Pakhar and the NAF approaching Mironovka, the enemy finally understood that the main strike is delivered in exactly this area and started to hastily deploy its reserves, pushing 1 battalion-tactical group towards Svetlodarsk. After stopping the NAF offensive the enemy here engaged in a counter-offensive and recaptured Troitskoye and a part of Krasnyi Pakhar by a strike of mechanized units. Fierce fighting unfolded in the area of Krasnyi Pakhar, which slowed down the development of the offensive to the west of Mironovsky reservoir and later altogether led to the disruption of the offensive. In heavy fighting the NAF managed to hold on to Krasnyi Pakhar, but the threat of the NAF breakthrough towards the M-103 road was mitigated by the enemy, which was more or less successfully containing the NAF offensive actions by the end of January.
The actions on the perimeter of the Debalcevo wedge developed together with the offensive on Mironovka. Through fierce fighting, the army of the LPR managed to capture the area of Sanzharovka and approach the numerically labeled high points from which the M-103 road could be shelled. Fierce fighting in the area of Novogrigorovka, the eastern outskirts of Debalcevo and Chernukhino didn't deliver any decisive results in January. The enemy defense had sufficiently robust organization here and the NAF suffered serious losses during the attempts to push it back. Preliminary offensive engagements in the area of Nikishino, Uglegorsk, and "Orlovkas" also didn't deliver.
By the end of January it became clear that the initial plan for encircling the Svetlodarsk-Debalcevo group is failing. The NAF advance was accompanied by serious losses and the operational goals remained unachieved. The whole operation was threatened. The suffered losses both in the area of the Debalcevo wedge and on other locations led to the need to pull reinforcements from rear commandant's offices and even to pulling some of the forces off the border. Meanwhile in the LPR some of the rear units refused to deploy to the front. This was a continuation of the internal conflicts between the LPR authorities and the Almighty Don Host, which continues since autumn. Major losses of the "August" battalion, major losses in "Ratibor's" squad, the arrest of "Biker", the story of the wounding of "Almaz" — all of these were manifestations of a crisis encountered by the NAF during the offensive. On the one side these issues are typical growing pains, when disparate militia learned to become a regular army during the fighting, on the other side it reflects various internal conflicts in the DPR and the LPR, which reflect negatively on the effectiveness of conducting military action. All of these issues had to be paid for in blood. Furthermore, the enemy stopped forgiving some of the mistakes, which remained unpunished during the summer and even in autumn.
To the credit of the leadership of the operation, they figured out that the original plan is not working quite quickly and transitioned to plan B.
Under the cover of the continued fighting near Krasnyi Pakhar and of the offensive from the north-east, the preparation for the strike on Uglegorsk began. There was already fighting in the area of Uglegorsk after the start of the winter campaign by that time, but they weren't very successful for the NAF and apparently the sector command decided that there's no direct threat in this area. Otherwise, the subsequent events are hard to explain. By and large, there were no reserves left for a strike on Uglegorsk. so a joint assault group made of various units was formed — starting from the GRU DPR Spetsnaz and ending with small volunteer squads from various units that stood on calm locations. The arriving fighters were fully equipped and prepared for the offensive. It began on January 30. A tank attack on the checkpoint that covered the entry into Uglegorsk was successful — after losing 3 vehicles to mines, the DPR tank crews penetrated the enemy defense and entered Uglegorsk proper. To develop this success, the joint assault group on APC, IFV, and trucks deployed through the captured checkpoint into the city, where it engaged the local garrison. The city itself was badly prepared for the defense (there was obvious negligence of the officer who organized the defense of Uglegorsk and of the sector command, which wasn't bothered by this situation). As a result, in less than a day of fighting the enemy was repelled to the south-eastern outskirts of Uglegorsk. Meanwhile, one of the territorial battalions that defended the city ended up in an encirclement. The appearance of a large amount of the NAF forces in the city created a serious operational threat for the whole Debalcevo group. Also, Zakharchenko's visit to Uglegorsk had a serious demoralizing effect on the Ukrainian society, because the war propaganda of the enemy continued to state that the city is still holding for several days after the loss of Uglegorsk. Yet, the footage from Uglegorsk, where Zakharchenko was giving interviews and the NAF assault infantry were regrouping, spoke for itself.
The situation at the front by February 5.
On the next day after the effective fall of Uglegorsk, the sector command finally became concerned with the situation in the city and organized a counter-offensive on Uglegorsk by the AFU units and the punitive battalion "Donbass" that were located to the west of Debalcevo. The junta strike allowed them to reach the positions on the outskirts of Uglegorsk and enter the city from the south-east, which saved the encircled territorial battalion, which quit the encirclement. During this counter-offensive (which some people in Ukraine even rushed to call "the Semenchenko counter-offensive") the famous story occurred where, after getting some of his men killed, the "Donbass" commander Semenchenko panicked and ran into an APC and killed two more of his fellow servicemen during an attempt to desert into the rear. After this he fled to a hospital in Artyomovsk, pretending to be WIA. While being at the hospital, he was writing communiques from the front that had nothing to do with the reality. In this way Semenchenko effectively ruined the remains of his reputation among the junta supporters in just a few days.
Naturally, the junta failed to recapture the city (the counter-offensive was horribly organized), which triggered subsequent consequences. While repelling the junta attacks from the south-east and holding on to Uglegorsk, the NAF started to push their forces to the north-east of the city, trying to get closer to the M-103 road from the South. Because from this direction the road was supposed to be covered by the Uglegorsk garrison, which was redeployed to the south-east, the NAF here had effectively free access to the road, which was only protected by weak screens of the enemy. Naturally, after fortifying in Uglegorsk, the NAF started to move into this empty space. After the capture of Kalinovka and the adjacent high points, no more significant obstacles remained between the NAF and the road. Meanwhile, the road itself was already subjected to artillery shelling from the numerically labeled high points near Sanzharovka and from the positions in the area of Lozovoya, although it was still possible to drive on the road. Together with developing the success at Uglegorsk, the NAF forces finally managed to squeeze the enemy out of Nikishino and Redkodub and also started the fighting inside Debalcevo and Chernukhino, where the main hubs of the resistance of the Debalcevo group were located. Despite the threatening situation, the enemy didn't perform timely measures on redeploying reserves towards Svetlodarsk and on fortifying Logvinovo, which played its fatal role. Despite the numerous announcements of closing the cauldron, there was certainly no cauldron until February 9. There was an operational pocket with a shelled bottleneck through which the supplying of the Debalcevo and the Svetlodarsk groups was nevertheless conducted. They were supplied both by the army supply units and by the volunteer organizations.
The overall configuration of the front on the eve of the fall of Logvinovo.
On February 9 the group of "Olkhon" emerges right in Logvinovo, where there's effectively no enemy and intercepts the M-103 road. Enemy vehicles and armor start to get massacred on the road during the attempts to slip through Logvinovo. High-ranking officers from the leadership of the Debalcevo group perish.
The command of the encircled group had effectively a whole week to take measures for the case of an obvious strike on Logvinovo, but they did nothing. Only the high points adjacent to Logvinovo were occupied from which they thought it was possible to establish fire control over Logvinovo itself and over the slice of the road that passed next to the village. The NAF quickly redeployed the GRU Spetsnaz into Logvinovo, which met the strike of the unblocking group that tried to recapture Logvinovo and unblock the road. In the process of heavy combat, the enemy forces (including a part of the "Donbass" battalion) managed to reach the outskirts of Logvinovo, where it even got down to CQC, but our Spetsnaz stood its ground (despite solving the tasks of repelling the strikes by mechanized enemy units, which are in general not common for Spetsnaz). The enemy, after losing 18 armored vehicles, rolled back from Logvinovo, which was pretty much completely ruined by massive artillery fire during the first couple of days after its capture by the NAF forces. Upon repelling the counter-strikes on Logvinovo, the NAF forces started to occupy the adjacent high points, establishing redundant control over the M-103 road. This formed a full-fledged lid of the Debalcevo cauldron, which stretched between Uglegorsk and Logvinovo. Meanwhile, the fighting at Novogrigoryevka and the eastern outskirts of Debalcevo led to the capture of the key high points to the north-west of Debalcevo. As a result, the Svetlodarsk-Debalcevo group was split in two parts and the agony began. Already by February 11 the NAF concentrated sufficient artillery in order to cover the majority of the road between Svetlodarsk and Logvinovo, due to which the AFU had problems even with deploying towards the line of attack. The attempts of unblocking were extinguished already on the approaches to Logvinovo and even the hasty arrival of the AFU General Staff chief Muzhenko, who personally led the operation for saving the encircled troops, couldn't change the catastrophic situation that unfolded through the fault of the General Staff and the sector command.
February 9, 2014. By the evening the Debalcevo cauldron became real.
The fact that the NAF managed to close the ring before the Minsk talks served a very important role, because the stubbornness of Poroshenko and the AFU General Staff, who didn't recognize the existence of the cauldron and sought to keep Debalcevo for themselves, led to the creation of a negotiation collision of sorts, where the Debalcevo area ended up effectively outside the scope of the Minsk agreements. The NAF continued to rout the Debalcevo group, covering themselves with the fact that the status of Debalcevo remained indeterminate. If they hadn't been able to create the lid of the cauldron on time, this would have been much harder to do and the Debalcevo wedge might still exist. Bypassing the political problem in this way, the NAF started liquidating the encircled group. The plan was fairly straightforward: impede unblocking of the encircled group by holding on to the area of Logvinovo and the adjacent high points, meanwhile attack Debalcevo and Chernukhino directly, at the same time squeezing the enemy from the South and the south-west of the cauldron towards the stronghold that the AFU built near Olkhovatka. Everything was working out fairly well with respect to holding the lid of the cauldron, but the situation in Chernukhino and Debalcevo ended up being much more difficult: the enemy defense had to be broken with great difficulty by gradually recapturing these settlements. Because the Debalcevo group couldn't continue resisting for a long time on the same level without supplies, the officers who remained in the cauldron (a part of the command fled into Artyomovsk and Svetlodarsk back on February 9-11, some perished on the road) started to work on the ways of saving the encircled troops.
There were 2 possibilities for escaping the encirclement:
1. A negotiated retreat, following which the forces were allowed to exit the encirclement without their weapons and materiel, which had to be surrendered to the NAF.
2. A breakthrough through the fields and the country roads between Logvinovo and Novogrigorovka.
There was no way to count on a centralized retreat and the help from Svetlodarsk: Debalcevo was declared to be the heart of the "Ukrainian Stalingrad" and the "core of the Debalcevo foothold", which was meant to end up just like the Donetsk airport. The senior officers of the junta had no intent of turning into "cyborgs", especially dead "cyborgs", and so they started to plan a breakthrough on their own. The commander of the 128th brigade, who took the responsibility upon himself, made the final decision to break. In the end, some of the encircled troops managed to exit through the fields and the country roads to the north of Logvinovo, abandoning up to 300 various vehicles in the cauldron (tanks, IFVs, APCs, SpH, MTLB, BRDM, artillery systems, MLRS, various trucks, etc.) About 500 people couldn't get out of the cauldron after abandoning their positions, some are still being caught. About 500 more of them were captured as POW.
The lid of the Debalcevo cauldron. The road from Debalcevo to Nizhneye Lozovoye, along which the remains of the Debalcevo group were breaking through, can be clearly seen on this map. They were subjected to shelling from the numerically labeled high points and from Logvinovo.
The overall number of the junta's KIA in the fighting for Debalcevo and the adjacent areas were up to 1500, 900-1100 more KIA the junta lost in the fighting near Logvinovo, Nizhnyaya Lozovaya, Sanzharkovka, Dolomitnoye, Mironovka, Krasnyi Pakhar, and Troitskoye. Overall, according to the preliminary data, the junta lost up to 2400-2600 KIA and MIA in the battle for the Debalcevo wedge (perhaps the number of KIA is somewhat lower, because some of them may still roam somewhere in the area of the former Debalcevo cauldron), about 4500 WIA, up to 650 POW. The NAF losses were about 700-800 KIA, up to 2-2.5 thousand WIA. The majority of irrevocable losses of the sides was due to the artillery fire. If in the area of the airport the junta was confidently ahead with respect to the losses, then in the area of Debalcevo the losses of the sides were quite comparable up until the first week of February. Only when the encircled group started to get routed, the junta became a clear leader with respect to the personnel and materiel losses. If not for the initiative of the Ukrainian commanders who led some of the people out of the encirclement (in spite of the criminal passivity by the AFU General Staff and the sector command), the personnel losses could be much higher. The junta soldiers who were leaving the encirclement were helped by the fact that some of the locations between Logvinovo and Novogrigorovka were only under fire control without the presence of nearby NAF strongholds. A significant part of retreating units manage to make it, although many soldiers remained in the fields. Overall, the lid of the Debalcevo cauldron was more thin and flexible than the lid of the Ilovaysk cauldron, where an attempt of breakthrough ended up being much more tragic for the encircled troops.
After the battle for Debalcevo the group of the enemy that was stationed at Debalcevo was liquidated. It was partially destroyed and the units that broke out of the cauldron will not be combat-capable in the short run, plus the majority of materiel was lost. Significant stocks of ammunition and gear were also lost. The so-called Svetlodarsk wedge was formed as a result of this fighting, which is currently under the same threat of encirclement through the strikes from the side of Troitskoye, Krasnyi Pakhar, and Dolomitnoye. This configuration of the front creates a serious opening for the NAF if the military action resumes because it is possible to repeat the attempt of encirclement north of Svetlodarsk (up to 3-4 thousands of the AFU service members may end up in a cauldron) in a more advantageous configuration of the front line.
Naturally, we cannot refrain from touching the questions of "voentorg" and of the "north wind". The "voentorg" was fully engaged during the campaign, providing the flow of ammunition and fuel that was necessary for the military action, even though with respect to logistics and distribution the increased scale of military action and the consumption of ammunition and fuel triggered certain issues with timely supply of the front line units, there's still work left to be done in this area. Despite the junta's announcements that it fights the Russian army instead of the NAF, the "north wind" effectively wasn't blowing, even though in January it was expected that the NAF actions will receive more substantial direct support like it was in August of 2014. So, if speaking about the winter campaign, we can confidently state that this was primarily a clash between the NAF and the AFU. The second tier of the war, associated with covert confrontation of the RF and the USA in Ukraine remained in shadows in this campaign to a significant degree, which doesn't fully satisfy the USA as shown by the remarks of the American officials. The USA would rather like to make this confrontation more direct, which Russia avoids in every way. The information campaign in military respect was won by the RF, because over 1.5 months of fighting the junta failed to clearly demonstrate that it fights against the Army of the RF, the Americans didn't have much in terms of arguments either. It was precisely the defeat in this information component of the battle for Debalcevo that triggered a whole series of censorship limitations against the Russian media in Ukraine and led to the creation of the "information forces". The junta is trying to hastily mitigate the consequences of its informational defeat, which — just like on the front lines — led to the collapse of two modern myths of "cyborgs" and of "the Ukrainian Stalingrad".
By mid-February the answer to the question "Is this a foothold or a cauldron?" became obvious.
After capturing Debalcevo the NAF obtained control over the principal transport hub, which will allow them to maneuver with forces and will free up significant forces for the operations in the area of Svetlodarsk, Popasnaya, and Gorlovka. The captured trophies substantially compensate the NAF materiel losses that were suffered in over a month-and-a-half of fighting.
The defeat at Debalcevo became the culmination of the winter campaign, which concluded successfully for NAF. The junta attempts to engage in an offensive were parried. Meanwhile, the NAF solved two important operational tasks over a month-and-a-half of fighting: the Donetsk airport was fully captured and the Debalcevo protrusion was eliminated. So we can safely say that the operation was a success, even though we must not forget about the unsuccessful offensive on Krymskoye, Avdeyevka, and Peski. The enemy resisted very fiercely and no decisive success was achieved in those places where the enemy command didn't commit obvious mistakes. The mistakes of the AFU command in the area of the airport, Uglegorsk, and Debalcevo were skillfully used, which led to the positive results that overrode the tactical issues of late January.
Following the results of the campaign, it is possible to say without a doubt that despite the continuing growing pains and structural military and political problems, the militia is now effectively an army and it is quite capable of engaging in a large-scale offensive against a regular army that had several months of combat experience. Of course, not everything went smoothly and some losses could be avoided, but we must pay tribute to the command and the fighters of the NAF, who managed to carry out a very difficult campaign under harsh conditions — and win it.
Original article: http://colonelcassad.livejournal.com/2074422.html (in Russian)
Note from the translator:
Why "junta"? This word is used here to refer to the fascist regime in Kiev for historical reasons and because of our respect for the people of Donbass, who tend to use the Russian word "хунта", which sounds exactly the same, to refer to the regime. While not a perfect match for the meaning of "junta" in English, the Kiev regime is sufficiently close to classical military juntas in its behavior to make using this word to refer to them appropriate from our point of view. If you don't like the word, then you can simply replace all instances of "junta" with the word "regime".
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