Russia’s Most Elite Tank Army Captures Two Ukrainian Units: Intel. Highlights Influence of British SAS Tactics

Russian Army 1st Guards Tank Army units of the Russian Battle Group West on October 2 captured two Ukrainian Army conscript units near Bakhmut in the disputed Donetsk region, with the Ukrainian personnel coming from the 77th Airmobile Brigade and the 56th Separate Motorised Brigade. Guards units have had an elite status since the Soviet era, with the 1st Guards Tank Army having served in multiple key battles in the Second World War and consistently been prioritised for receipt of the most advanced hardware available. This notably included the first T-90M tanks delivered in April 2020. The capture of Ukrainian units notably follows multiple reports from both Russian and Western sources that conscripts have been surrendering in growing numbers, amid reports from Ukrainian sources of extreme casualties on the frontlines. Former senior Pentagon adviser Colonel Douglas MacGregor reported in the second week of September: “The numbers of Ukrainian units and soldiers that are giving up is increasing daily, most of it happens at the lowest level because these people have had no effective training. They’re not prepared for this and they’re being sent to their deaths.” This was in line with reports from American military personnel and Ukrainian servicemen who served on the frontlines and reported life expectancies at times measured in the hours due to the tremendous rates at which casualties were taken.

Both the intensity of Russian artillery fire and the very limited training Ukrainian conscript units receive have consistently been highlighted as key reasons for the extreme casualty rates Ukrainian forces have endured. Western sources have increasingly widely observed the very limited training that Ukrainian conscripts have been given before being sent to the frontlines, with the Wall Street Journal reporting in May that poor men from villages were sent to the frontlines after just two nights at a base. According to the Journal, Ukrainian officers insisted conscripts learned on the battlefield to compensate for the almost total lack of training. A notable recent Ukrainian source on the extent of casualties which conscript units have endured was senior conscription officer in Ukraine’s Poltava Region Lieutenant Colonel Vitaly Berezhnyon, who stated on September 15: “Out of 100 people who joined the units last fall, 10-20 remain, the rest are dead, wounded or disabled.” This indicated casualty rates of 80-90 percent in conscript units within the past year.

An unnamed Russian intelligence officer on duty in the area where Ukrainian units were recently captured reported to state media that Ukrainian forces’ operations had increasingly utilised tactics influenced by the British Special Air Service (SAS), which has been widely reported to have made widespread deployments to the frontlines. In late July, for example, as Ukrainian Military and supporting paramilitaries escalated offensives against Russian positions in the west of the Zaporizhzhia region, retired Russian Army colonel Anatoly Matviychuk reported: “The most interesting thing is that there are many English-speaking military personnel in the UAF being spotted in this area, including advisers, instructors, and even the UK army’s ‘Special Air Service’.” He accordingly referred to the new offensive as “the fruit of creativity of the U.S. and the UK’s joint headquarters.” British personnel have served on the frontlines since the outbreak of the conflict in early 2022, and while initial Russian government reports that British combat troops had been deployed were initially widely ridiculed by Western sources, they was confirmed in December that year by the head of the British Royal Marines. The Marines were deployed for high risk operations near the frontlines from April 2022. It remains uncertain whether any kind of official confirmation from British sources will ever emerge regarding SAS operations on the frontlines.