Nov 5, 2022
A Russian marine brigade reportedly lost 63 troops in a doomed, two-day assault on Ukrainian positions in eastern Ukraine on or before Nov. 4.
It apparently was one of the worst single-operation losses for the small Russian marine corps since before the Chechen wars in the 1990s.
Worse for the Kremlin’s war effort, Russia’s marines—or “naval infantry,” if you will—are some of its best remaining troops after eight months of grinding warfare against an increasingly determined, experienced and well-armed Ukrainian military.
Russia’s best forces are getting ground up in Ukraine, leaving the worst forces—including the 300,000 unhappy, unfit draftees the army rounded up this fall—to do more of the fighting.
The doomed Russian assault targeted the Ukrainian garrison in Pavlivka, 28 miles southwest of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region. The garrison repelled the Russian attack, the Ukrainian general staff reported on Friday.
The Russian Pacific Fleet’s 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade has been the main Russian formation along that sector since this summer. The brigade, based in Vladivostok, has been in Ukraine since Russia widened its eight-year war on Ukraine back in late February.
The brigade with its 3,000 troops and hundreds of T-80 tanks, BMP-3 and BTR-82 fighting vehicles, mortars and artillery was part of the Russian force that tried, and failed, to capture Kyiv in the early weeks of the wider war.
Battered by stiffening Ukrainian defense, its supply lines fraying, the brigade in April joined the Russian retreat from Kyiv Oblast. The 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade withdrew to Belarus then redeployed to Donbas, where it threw its remaining battalions at Ukrainian defenses between Yehorivka and Pavlivka.
It didn’t always go well for the marines. A video that circulated in August depicts two of the 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade’s BMPs racing across a field in the direction of Yehorivka—and triggering powerful anti-tank mines.
Another video, from the Ukrainian army’s 72nd Mechanized Brigade, in essence is a montage of destruction as 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade T-80s and BMPs explode.
But the worst losses came later, as the marine brigade tried to pry the Ukrainians from Pavlivka. The Ukrainians reportedly had artillery superiority—a reversal of the pre-war balance of forces and a testimony to the Ukrainian military’s months-long effort to target Russian supply lines and artillery batteries.
Without enough 122-millimeter shells of its own, the 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade can’t suppress Ukraine’s big guns. Its troopers are defenseless. “Either the country will mass-produce 122-millimeter shells, or it will mass-produce coffins,” a Russian officer told one blogger in reference to the Pavlivka fight.
It’s worth noting that, along most of the front extending all the way from Donbas south to Kherson Oblast on the Black Sea coast—a distance of hundreds of miles—Russian forces mostly are retreating or digging in, not attacking. Twin Ukrainian counteroffensives that kicked off in the east and south back in late August have got them on the run.
In the few places where Russian troops are attacking—Pavlivka and also Bakhmut—they’re suffering heavy casualties … and gaining nothing.