How The Russians Lost Grozny And Then Won It Again.

by Daniel Russ on June 21, 2011

The dissolution of the Soviet Union was not the reason why the army was in bad shape. It certainly didn’t help, but armies often show resilience even after empires fall. The Afghan war was the reason. Widespread desertions, low pay, worn out

Dzhokhar Dudayev, Chechen Leader

equipment, and a horrible defeat at the hands of people living the same lifestyle they lived for five centuries destroyed the remaining moral of a broken army. It also didn’t help that the Mujahdeen (today, the Taliban) shot down over 200 top Soviet aircraft with the new US Stinger missile, or that the million or more soldiers and their heavy armored divisions in Afghanistan meant little. When the Soviet Union collapsed, its hollowed out support by client states was revealed and those who had suffered under the thumb of Soviet Communism rebelled. As far back as World War II, the Chechens rebelled against the Soviet Union, and after the war, Stalin had hundreds of thousands of them deported to Siberia, Russian’s own natural prison state. Khruschev allowed many to return to their native lands but the damage was done. As if World War II didn’t hide enough horrors, the depredations and murder inflicted upon the Chechens by Soviet Russia came to light. Mass graves in their new encampments were adumbrated when the winter snows thawed. Stories of mass poisonings were rehashed. That said, in 1991 when the union collapsed, the Khazaks wanted to be Khazaks. The Uzbeks wanted to be Uzbeks, not Russians. And the Chechens wanted to be Chechen.

The Chechens had long traditions as a warrior people in the steppes of Central Asia. Fighting was in their blood and they proved this in 1994 by defeating a large Soviet invasion force, sent by Yeltsin to avoid losing any more territory than the Soviet Union had already lost. Chechnya’s leader, Dudayev, was an ex Soviet Air Force officer who donned the vestments of leadership and while not entirely accepted by Chechnya, he was at the very least, one of their own.

When Yeltsin decided to invade on December 11th, 1994, the Chechens had only the weapons left behind by the former Soviet empire: 50 T-62 tanks and T-72s, 650 grenade launchers, 25 Grad multiple launch rockets, 50 BMPs, 30 122mm howitzers, and less than 20 aircraft, mostly L-29 Delphins and L-39 Albatrosses.

With a much larger armored force, the Russians plan was to surround Grozny, achieve air superiority, and then invade from the north, the northwest and the east. They left a southern escape route open because they really did not think the Chechens would stand and fight when faced with an overwhelming force.

The Russians marched in with 38,000 soldiers,  350 BMPs, 230 tanks, and Mi-8 armored rotorcraft. The problem was these soldiers were mostly new recruits who had never fired a shot in conflict. Many of the tankers were cooks and administrative

Grozny Chechens

staff re-assigned to beef up thin reserve units. Many of the soldiers were only students weeks before. As we know many combat plans fail the second the war starts. No exception here. Instead of escaping to the south, the Chechens brought in reinforcements. Yeltsin grew impatient hearing reports that the Chechens were not leaving, but instead were re-arming. These tribal people were not the least bit pusillanimous. In fact there was a sort of cultural pressure on them to fight and to fight well. Finally Yeltsin ordered an all out assault and did so despite protestations of senior commanders.

The Chechens gave little resistance when the 1st battalion of the 131st armored brigade stormed the presidential palace. It was a trap.

The Russians were not just poorly outfitted and poorly trained; they were also poorly led. They had out of date maps into the city. The infantry rode on top of the armor instead of walking and patrolling to stop anti-tank sappers. BMPs would ride down a street, stop because of rubble that fell during the initial bombing, and all hell broke loose. Eight to ten man anti-tank teams and snipers hidden in buildings picked off Russians sitting in their tank cupolas. RPGs fired at tank treads left tanks immobile in the streets and the men inside were all to often killed inside their own armored vehicles blown to smithereens by Chechen rebels. Russian soldiers escaping from burning vehicles were hunted down and killed, entire tank regiments were surrounded and picked off for days at a time until there was no one left except those that surrendered. The Chechens also coordinated their attacks so RPG rounds would land on armored vehicles from both sides of the BMP, from basement apartments and from the rooftops.

Poor combat leadership on the Russians part led to missed opportunities despite their overwhelming firepower. Poor training led to bad combined arms coordination and any advantage they had was forfeited.

We saw this happen to Russia before in 1940 when 20,000 Finns decimated a one-million man invasion force.

The aftermath of the Russian defeat we also saw in Finland. After the initial embarrassing perdition, Yeltsin threw in massive reinforcements, and began a bombing campaign that went on for weeks. Some days, up to 4000 rounds an hour landed in Grozny. This was World War II all over again: surround and pound and grind the city into dust until the sheer weight of the force size was too much for them.

Dudayev was killed in 1996 and a new pro-Moscow government was installed. Enemies have been assassinated, or disappear mysteriously. Subterfuge,  the Russian’s strong suit, became the new way to win. Dudayev, by the way, was targeted by guided missiles using his location talking on a satellite phone and uplinked to a missile from a SU-24 Fencer. Some say the US helped the Russians achieve this hit. Of course he and the Chechens were branded as terrorists, not freedom fighters, despite the fact that they were fighting our once arch enemy.

Sukhoi 24 Fencer

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

GarryB August 30, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Why would the US help the Russians kill Dudayev?

…they wouldn’t.

AFAIK it was an Iskander attack that killed Dudayev and it had nothing to do with the US… unless Dudayev was talking to CIA operatives at the time.

The second Chechen conflict was fought in a totally different way, mostly using MVD and internal ministry forces, and using fire power rather than untrained conscripts.

Massacres like the Moscow Theatre Siege and Beslan revealed these so called freedom fighters’ true character.

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