Comparing the Hundred Days Campaign of 1918 to the Ukrainian Counteroffensive
A historical perspective on long, hard battles
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“The Germans may have lost the war by July, but the Allies had certainly not won it and there was much still to do, as the staggering toll of losses reveals all too clearly,” Nick Lloyd writes in his 2014 history Hundred Days: the Campaign That Ended World War I. The War to End All Wars did not sputter to a halt out of exhaustion. Instead, “between 18 July and 11 November the Allies sustained upwards of 700,000 casualties while the Germans lost at least another 760,000 men.” Rather than decline, “casualty rates among British units were some of the worst of the war, leading many commentators to assume that nothing had been learnt from previous offensives; that it was the same old story of fruitless slaughter and sacrifice in 1918 as it had been in earlier years.” So slow was the perceived advance at times that to many “it was plain that the fighting was reverting again into trench warfare.”
Now in its second week, the Ukrainian counteroffensive in Zaporizhzhia began with similar anguish, mainly expressed on Twitter, after a breaching operation went wrong near Mala Tokmachka. Attempting “one of the most dangerous and complex maneuvers possible … without air support and questionable suppressive artillery fire,” a mechanized company hit mines and took fire from Russians at close range. Yet “under the circumstances the Ukrainians performed as well as could be expected and as close to established doctrine as possible,” according to one expert in Bradley tactics who talked to Howard Altman at The Drive. Combat is chaos and the commander was trying to save his command in the hardest circumstances imaginable. “You get jacked up all the time” in offensive operations against prepared defenders, the unamed official tells Altman. About “90% of breaches that we do for the first time [in training] are failures.” Even with western training and equipment, the best unit can end up reinforcing failure.