“Ammunition!” shouted the man atop the vehicle as it charged headlong across the plain of eastern Ukraine. “Give me ammunition!” »
A colleague below misheard and handed over an anti-tank rocket.
Without time to argue, the shooter picked it up, fired it at his target, and repeated his request for more .50 caliber rounds – only to be handed another fuze.
The episode, captured on the English-speaking gunner’s body camera, provided a comical, chilling and still rare insight into the swift battle for the Kharkiv region last week.
He also embodied the elements that seem to have made last week’s remarkable offense possible: speed, aggression and a healthy dose of improvisation.
Before stopping to fire, the gunner would cross the flat terrain in a Humvee, one of the fast lightly armored vehicles donated by the United States that would have been vital to the advance.
“A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
So said General George S. Patton, the legendary fire-breathing commander of the US Third Army during World War II.
When Ukraine decided to launch its counter-offensive in the east, some doubtless called for more time to refine the plan; more time to allow the latest intelligence updates on Russian locations and forces to filter through.
Kyiv undoubtedly had good intelligence on the enemy they faced. Even so, it was a bold move, perhaps launched with lighter vehicles than Kyiv would have liked, rather than a few months from now with more robust kit.
As the machine gunner held out a bazooka, they decided to go ahead with what they had.
They also threw orthodoxy to the wind – tearing up Western and Soviet military rulebooks to produce something most generals would have dismissed as incredibly risky.
Western forces prefer to carry out stealth reconnaissance; even armored vehicles can sneak in to get a better view of enemy dispositions if handled properly by skilled crews.
On the other hand, Soviet doctrine, then Russian, prefers to fight for information.
Russian units push tanks on their reconnaissance missions and are happy to be engaged by enemy guns; to better understand what is going on.
Ukraine has adopted a “hybrid approach”
Ukraine’s military leadership appears to have adopted a hybrid of these two viewpoints when planning last week’s attack.
They don’t seem to have been too concerned with staying hidden, preferring to use light, mostly wheeled vehicles such as the Humvee and Australian Bushmaster armored personnel carriers, as well as civilian trucks such as the Toyota Land Cruisers.
But although they were on display, they did not look for a big fight in the style of a Russian or Soviet combat reconnaissance.