Russian Marines Are Getting Killed And Wounded By The Hundreds In Ukraine

David Axe Forbes Staff

I write about ships, planes, tanks, drones, missiles and satellites.Follow

Nov 7, 2022

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In April 2021 the Russian navy’s 40th Naval Infantry Brigade, based on the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Russia, was busy showing off what it could do on an Arctic battlefield.

In one photo opportunity, brigade troopers wearing white camouflage boarded An-12 and An-26 transport aircraft, parachuted onto a snowy Arctic expanse and donned skis in order to march across the frigid landscape.

A year later, the brigade was en route to eastern Ukraine, far more temperate country than it had trained to fight in. The Kremlin, which buried or sent to hospitals as many as 50,000 of the 200,000 or so troops it had deployed to Ukraine in February, was desperate for reinforcements.

The 40th Naval Infantry Brigade, one of several Russian marine corps units that had spent years preparing for Arctic warfare, was available. A few months later, it would suffer devastating casualties in a doomed assault on the Ukrainian garrison in Pavlivka, 28 miles southwest of Donetsk in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

The 40th Naval Infantry Brigade along with the 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade, its sister formation in the Russian Pacific fleet, lost as many as 300 troopskilled, wounded or missing in assaults on and around Pavlivka no later than Friday. 

At their peak, the two brigades together oversaw some 6,000 troops. The 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade lost much of its strength trying, and failing, to capture Ukraine’s capital city Kyiv in February and March. 

The 40th Naval Infantry Brigade—which like its sister brigade includes several motorized battalions, a tank battalion and supporting engineers, artillery and air-defense troops—arrived later, after the 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade already had redeployed from Kyiv Oblast to eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

The 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade and 40th Naval Infantry Brigade arrayed along the sector of the eastern front stretching the five or so miles from Pavlivka to Yehorivka. They faced battle-hardened Ukrainian forces including the 72nd Mechanized Brigade.

On paper, the Russian marines at least were an even match for the Ukrainians. In reality, the Ukrainians were better armed, better supplied and better motivated than the Russians were.

The Ukrainians with their new Polish-made howitzers and American-made rocket-launchers in May began targeting Russian supply lines. By August, the Russians were starving and running out of ammunition—and the Ukrainians knew it.

Ukrainian brigades counterattacked in the south and east. The Russians reeled, leaving behind many hundreds of tanks, fighting vehicles and artillery pieces as they fled. In a heady few weeks of relentless attacks, the Ukrainians liberated thousands of square miles of Russian-occupied territory. 

While most of the Russian forces in Ukraine retreated, a few airborne and marine brigades—as well as mercenaries working for The Wagner Group, a shadow mercenary firm—in recent weeks launched isolated attacks that, in the wider scheme of things, made little military sense. Analysts assumed The Wagner Group was trying to project strength in order to grow its market-share in the Russian war industry.

What the 40th Naval Infantry Brigade and 155th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade were trying to achieve last week in their lonely assaults on or around Pavlivka is unclear. In any event, they both failed. Russian sources claim at least 63 of the 155th GNIB’s troopers died in four days. That apparently is more than perished in the worst fighting in Chechnya more than 20 years ago.

Another 240 or so marines from the 155th and 40th Brigades were killed or wounded or went missing, Russian sources claimed. The same sources reported the two brigades lost half of their equipment—potentially scores of T-80 tanks and BMP and BTR fighting vehicles—in the dead-end attacks on Pavlivka.

Brigade troopers blamed the new commander of Russia’s Eastern Military District, Lt. Gen. Rustam Muradov. 

But the problem is wider than that. Ukrainian troops are advancing. Russian troops are falling back. A few isolated counter-counter-offensives can’t change that. “Once again we were thrown into the incomprehensible offensive,” the 40th Naval Infantry Brigade veterans moaned on social media.Follow me on Twitter. Check out my website or some of my other work here. Send me a secure tip.

David Axe

I’m a journalist, author and filmmaker based in Columbia, South Carolina.

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