The Return to Trench Warfare
Recently in the Ukraine War, we've seen the return of trench warfare. World War 1 style, bogged down, slow, and brutal engagements that involve extremely heavy artillery expenditures.
Why Has Trench Warfare Returned
Trench warfare began to fall to the wayside when tanks became commonplace in World War 2. They were heavily armored and could hold vast open ground easily, combined with airpower rapid advances could be made and an immobile solution was no longer viable. In World War 2, France was defeated quickly because they were prepared to fight World War 1 again, relying on immobile defense, but the German command stressed Panzer doctrine. Despite both sides having about 4 million soldiers, the captured/kill ratio was around 10:1.
In many modern conflicts, NATO militaries have outmatched less equipped armies. For example in Desert Storm, a quick storming with tanks was used to quickly game battlefield supremacy over the Iraqi army. NATO generally prepares for more mobile conflicts and has highly advanced aircraft and armored land vehicles.
What makes Ukraine different? Both sides are pretty evenly matched with similar types of equipment, and using airplanes is difficult in the conflict due to the high level of air defense systems. Additionally, man-portable anti-tank weapons like the Javelin have become extremely effective, striking from above and able to in some cases take out a tank in one hit, causing all the ammunition within the turret to explode.
Because of the reduced role on the battlefield of tanks and aircraft, and lack of air control on either side, mobility has decreased and battles have returned to the trenches. Artillery duels have become prolonged and Russia is believed to fire around 20,000 artillery shells a day.
How Effective Are Trenches?
According to this Quora post, during the Battle of Verdun, for every 500 shells fired on the German side, only 1 French soldier was killed.
A 155mm Howitzer shell has a kill radius of 50 meters out in the open. The cause of death is by shrapnel and the overpressure wave. Being lower to the ground reduces both of these effects significantly, and digging is even more effective. I have read that being in a trench can decrease the kill radius of an artillery shell to 10%.
Another reason trenches are used for defense is that they can be built at almost any place in the battlefield and it is easier to excavate dirt than to construct standing fortifications with stone or other materials. Most hard materials can also create their own fragments in a blast which can potentially turn defenses into traps.
Note that from this photo of a Russian trench network, that trenches are often curved or have ridges. This is to reduce shrapnel and overpressure, meaning that if an artillery shell lands in one section, the wave and shrapnel will be stopped, preventing deaths even in sections that are very close by.
What Does It All Mean?
Trench warfare is a very brutal way of fighting and can cause battles for small areas to last for weeks or even months. Currently the most heavy fighting is going on in the city of Bakhmut, with extremely heavy casualties on both side. Ukraine is definitely gaining momentum, but a clear end to the war is not in sight yet and there is much fighting still to come.
It's important that the West keeps supporting Ukraine and the defenders that are fighting, sleeping, and living in these trenches day by day. This is an incredibly difficult form of warfare and many foreign fighters that have visited the front have attributed to how brutal the situation truly is. It's heavy artillery shelling day by day with constant explosions.
Although Ukraine is likely to continue to advance, the pace can be improved if the West sends more advanced weapons like ATACMS. Ukrainians have made excellent use of the HIMARS system, a precision missile system with a range of 70km. ATACMs have a range of 300 km and would give Ukraine a heavy advantage in striking Russian ammunition depots, putting strain on Russian supply lines and forcing them to retreat.
Russia still controls a lot of territory in Ukraine, but if they are to lose areas like Melitopol than it could open up Crimea for retaking by the Ukrainians.
Want to support directly on the battlefield? If you want to have a signed rocket sent to the Russian invaders, you can here:
Дуже дякую, слава Україні!