In Southern Ukraine, Kyiv’s Artillery Drops Bridges And Isolates A Whole Russian Army

The 49th Combined Arms Army is the main Russian force in southern Ukraine’s Kherson Oblast.

That makes it the Ukrainian army’s main target as the Ukrainians put more weight behind their counteroffensive in Kherson.

The Ukrainian army in recent days systematically has cut off the 49th CAA’s main supply lines. The Russians are adapting. But the tension, in the 49th CAA’s headquarters, must be palpable. And not just because the Ukrainian army has become fairly adept at blowing up those HQs.

The 49th CAA is one of a dozen field armies that oversee the bulk of the Russian army’s front-line forces. The Kremlin has committed 10 of these armies to Russia’s wider war in Ukraine.

The 49th CAA on paper is a powerful force. It draws its roughly 10 battalion tactical groups—each with several hundred soldiers and dozens of vehicles—from motorized, air assault and costal-defense regiments, brigades and divisions. In all, the 49th CAA might oversee 10,000 troops.

Those troops struggle with unfavorable geography. The port city of Kherson with its pre-war population of 300,000 is the center of gravity of the oblast the 49th CAA occupies. Holding Kherson is central to Russian war aims. Liberating it is central to Ukrainian war aims.

But Kherson is surrounded by water. The city lies on the northwest bank of the wide Dnipro River, which winds south through Ukraine before emptying into the Black Sea. The Inhulets River, a tributary of the Dnipro, cuts south across Kherson Oblast and merges with the Dnipro east of the port.

There are three main bridges that connect Kherson to territory south and east: the Antonovsky Bridge across the Dnipro on the southern edge of Kherson as well as a nearby rail bridge, plus the P47 highway bridge across the Inhulets just outside the city.

Ukrainian artillery—possibly 155-millimeter guns firing Excalibur GPS-guided shells—in the last week at least temporarily has knocked out all three bridges. The Antonovsky Bridge became impassable on Wednesday.

“Kherson city, the most politically significant population center occupied by Russia, is now virtually cut off from the other occupied territories,” the U.K. Defense Ministry reported on Thursday.

“All of them will be rebuilt, but by us,” Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said of the bridges. “We are doing everything to ensure that the Russians do not have any logistical opportunities on our land.”

Russian engineers quickly erected pontoon bridges across the Dnipro adjacent to the Antonovsky Bridge as well as alongside the P47 bridge. Engineers recently dismantled the latter pontoons after repairing the P47 bridge. But the pontoon bridge next to the damaged Antonovsky span, along with a ferry in the same area, remains the only way for vehicles to cross the Dnipro into Kherson.

It should go without saying that pontoons and ferries are extremely vulnerable to Ukrainian artillery. The Dnipro pontoon bridge clearly is visible in satellite imagery.

Ukraine’s counterbridging operations have an explosive corollary. Dropping spans blocks future supply. Meanwhile, blowing up supply dumps eliminates current supply. Ukrainian artillery and rockets in the past couple of weeks have struck several Russian supply dumps, with predictably fiery results.

The Ukrainians’ aim is obvious. To starve the 49th CAA and its 10 or so battalions so that, if and when Ukrainian brigades reach the outskirts of Kherson, the Russian units will be incapable of mounting a serious defense.

Whether, when and to what end that battle might take place is hard to predict. The Ukrainians for months slowly have been advancing south from free Mykolaiv, 40 miles northwest of Kherson, as well as south from their bridgeheads across the Inhulets.

It’s unclear just how close the Ukrainian formations are to Kherson. Close enough, obviously, to lob 155-millimeter shells at bridges south of the city. Fifteen miles? Twenty miles?

In any event—they’re not far. And as they close the distance, they’re tightening the logistical noose around the 49th CAA.

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