Operation "Antonov" and Operation "Market Garden": planning errors in the use of airborne troops

(To NC)
17/05/22

The Russian Airborne Forces (Vozdushno-Desantnye Voyska rossii - VDV) - likewise to the decanted Spetsnaz, however, always a little shrouded in an aura of mystery - they represent theelite of the Russian Armed Forces. In the technical-tactical procedures of contemporary Russian conventional warfare, the VDVs are the units called first to be infiltrated into enemy territory on the premise of large-scale operations conducted by other regular units. In recent times we have found them used within the Russian sphere of influence, in the case of the now famous "Little Green Men" who took part in the annexation of Crimea.

The VDVs attempted to replicate the success achieved in Crimea during the early days of the Russian-Ukrainian war of 2022, but had to contend with the dire reality of modern air assault operations. In fact, at the end of February 2022, the action carried out along the northern route that extended from Belarus towards Kiev and along which the VDV raids developed was not crowned with success and has many similarities with the operation. conducted by the Allied paratroopers in 1944 and went down in history with the name of Market Garden.

Great was the hope and optimism that could be felt in the autumn of 1944 in the European theater of operations. The general objective of the combined operation Market Garden, Where is the market" (Market) represented the aerial component and the "garden" (Garden) the terrestrial one, was to create an entrenched foothold in the Ruhr valley to allow the destruction of the German industrial base, thus decreasing Germany's ability to fight and create the conditions for its rapid surrender by Christmas of the same year .1

The airborne component was composed of some allied units well equipped and already previously engaged in battle: the 1st Airborne Division British and the 82nd and the 101st Airborne Division American and the 1st Independent Airborne Brigade Polish, for a total of about forty-two thousand paratroopers.2

Land units, deployed under the 30th Army Corps, were composed of ten motorized and armored brigades, which numbered about fifty thousand men.

In front of them were nearly XNUMX German soldiers, including two Panzer divisions of the Waffen-SS that Berlin had rearmed and reorganized.3

At the beginning the operation was successful, with the conquest by the airborne forces of important roads and k-terrain,4 but the inability of the 30th Army Corps to reunite with the paratroopers, together with the resistance opposed by the Germans which proved to be more tenacious than expected, caused the collapse of the plane.

The operation Market Garden it went down in the annals of history as a bitter defeat, causing some sixteen thousand casualties among the Allies and delaying plans to capture the Ruhr Valley by at least seven months and at the cost of many more tens of thousands of deaths.

Let us now proceed to a comparison between the operation conducted by the Allies in 1944 and the very recent assault of the 76th Air Assault Division of the VDVs at the Antonov airport, planned for the conquest of Kiev.

The initial assault of the VDVs at Antonov Airport was conducted by a battalion-level unit of the11 ^ air assault brigade of the Guards with about 300 men, transported by Mi-8 helicopters and escorted by Ka-52 helicopters for fire support.

The purpose of the assault was to create an air bridge for the influx of subsequent units of the 76th air assault division of the Guards, aimed at the overthrow of the Ukrainian government and thereby quickly end the war with the victory of Russia.

Deployed against the wards of the 76 ^ division there was the National Guard of the 4th rapid reaction brigade Ukraine, a combined unit trained to NATO standards, which includes a tank battalion, an artillery battery and a section of intelligence with assets signt e imint, in support of the two infantry battalions that complete the staff.

On the Russian side, the lack of air support, the underestimation and the poor quality ofintelligence availability and the inability to counter the reaction of a combined unit, ultimately sealed the fate of the operation and subsequently set the conditions for the Ukrainians to make Antonov airport unusable.

A first observation is that, on a tactical level, both the Allies in 1944 and the Russians in 2022 suffered from the failure to exploit theintelligence appropriately. In both circumstances, the attacking forces believed they were going against the battered remains of defeated enemies. Despite the abundance of information coming from the decryption program Incredibly ,5 Allied intelligence officers were unable to convince their commanders6 of the dangers for the airborne forces represented by the deployment of German troops. The Allies believed that the fighting spirit of the Germans had been crushed in the summer offensives of 1944, on the Normandy bridgehead and that it remained only to destroy the industrial area of ​​the Ruhr to end Germany's physical ability to wage war. The Allied commanders were convinced that the bulk of the German army had retreated to Germany and that the area along the route of the Market Garden it would have been defended by the remains of weakened units and by inexperienced soldiers of the Hitler Youth.7

The perception of the enemy by the VDVs employed in Ukraine for the assault on the Antonov airport was not very different from that of the Allies in 44. When interrogated, the captured Russian soldiers said they believed they would be welcomed as heroes by the Ukrainians, that they yearned for a reunification with the Russian motherland, and that they were tired of a corrupt, Nazi-held Ukrainian government. All this based on the propaganda narrative disclosed by the Kremlin in the framework of a powerful info-campaign intended for its own troops before their use for the invasion of Ukraine.8

A second reflection it concerns the modalities of the maneuver implemented. In 1944, the land component of the Allies - the units of the 30th Army Corps - he managed to gain control of all the crossings of the watercourses along a route of about 100 km, so as to preclude the Germans from any possibility of successfully counterattacking.

The plan of attack from the third dimension provided for the execution of a daytime launch, so as to allow the allied paratroopers to mass rapidly in the assigned landing sectors and move in the direction of their initial objectives. The Allies had estimated that the enemy forces concentrated in the operational sectors of the 82 ^ and 101 ^ division Americans would be overtaken within a day and that the 30th Army Corps he would have alternated the divisions without problems in the continuation of the operation.

The British and Polish airborne forces located at the northern end of the penetration sector of the allied forces, as mentioned extended for a depth of 100 km, were ordered to resist for four days9 before being, in turn, replaced by the units of the 30th Army Corps. The aerial insertion of the 1st Airborne Division allied took place during the day, with the first launches made between 12.30 and 14.0010 and allowed the occupation of bridges and others k-terrain to allow the subsequent inflow of 30th Army Corps which was to break into the Ruhr.

We come to the present day and to the operation of the Russian airborne troops in Ukraine, where even the commanders of the11 ^ brigade they carried out an air infiltration using, as mentioned, thirty-four Mi-8 multirole transport helicopters, escorted by Ka-52 attack helicopters, in an operation carried out in broad daylight. The Russians wanted to infiltrate their soldiers to create an air bridge that would allow the forces prepared for the continuation of the effort towards Kiev to arrive at the Antonov airport. In the middle of the morning,11 Russian forces had secured the airport and eighteen Il-76MD transport aircraft had made their way to Kiev after taking off from Pskov, Russia, base of the 76th air assault division of the Guards. A troupe CNN reporter even chatted with one of the VDV commanders12 arrived at the airport only thirty-six minutes after the first helicopters were spotted on the Dnieper River. At noon, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky confirmed that the airport was in Russian hands.

We have seen that both operations were successful in their early stages. In both cases, however, the defensive actions on the drop zone implemented by the defenders proved fatal for the attackers.

The "surprise effect" is fundamental for airborne and air assault forces and, especially at the start of an operation, audacity often leads to victory, however a professional paratrooper must also be prepared for the reaction of the enemy. . Initially the Allies had great success in the defined part Market,13 but the forces engaged in the part Garden they managed to cover only half the distance planned on the first day.14 Meanwhile, the Germans too soon realized what was happening and what the Allies thought were too old, young or sick defenders to fight effectively, were actually two SS Panzer divisions. These war-hardened German units immediately went into ferocious counterattack, creating wide gaps in the device of Allied paratroopers, equipped with light armament and unable to quickly receive reinforcements. Using combined armored forces against airborne light infantry units, the Germans had no problem isolating and destroying Allied units.

At Antonov Airport, the Russians used the speed and surprise of their planned assault for the initial phase of the invasion of Ukraine to give the VDVs a psychological edge and confront the Ukrainians with a fait accompli. Russian planners, however, did not take into account the strong resistance encountered both along the route to the airport and after its initial securing.15 Conducting a daylight attack then allowed Russia to overcome the problem of a lack of night vision equipment and to increase coordination in the maneuver, but also left Russian forces vulnerable to portable air defense systems (MANPADS). ), resulting in the loss of two Ka-52 and three Mi-8 helicopters.16 Furthermore, the Ukrainians quickly realized what the Russian plan was and, without wasting time, counterattacked with the 4th rapid reaction brigade of the Ukrainian National Guard, employing Su-24M attack aircraft for close air support.

Despite the Russian use of both rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft to counter the armored vehicles of the 4th rapid reaction brigade, the Ukrainian counterattack was a success. At 22.00 on February 24, the Russian paratroopers had been chased from the airport and dispersed in the surrounding woods.17

When the Allies were unable to achieve their main strategic objective, which was to cross the Rhine, they were left with an uncovered salient.18 sixty miles deep. The salient left the Allies exposed to counterattacks that had to be constantly repelled. The need to defend the salient further slowed the Allied momentum as the troops were now blocked on an auxiliary area of ​​the European theater. The Operation Market Garden, with its significant shortcomings inintelligence and in leadership, had among other consequences the prolongation of the occupation of the Netherlands for another nine months and a further sixteen thousand deaths among the Dutch.19

After the successful Ukrainian counterattack, the Russians attacked Antonov Airport again the next day with a combined air and ground attack.20 who, in the end, managed to be right about the Ukrainian defenders, but they had time to destroy the runway and other infrastructure, thus preventing the Russians from being able to use him for the airlift on their advance towards Kiev.21 The Ukrainians then continued to keep the Russians under pressure22 in the Hostomel area, where the airport is located, and have repeatedly attacked the Russian armored columns, blocking any possibility of movement from the airport in the direction of Kiev. On an operational and strategic level, the inability of the VDVs to develop a rapid attack meant that the Russians were blocked for weeks, until their final withdrawal in early April.

In the analysis of the Transaction Market Garden and the assault on the Antonov airport, the similarities are quite evident and lend themselves to a series of considerations regarding the way of wrapping from the third dimension.

A unit of lightly armed paratroopers can certainly exploit the swiftness and violence of action to force an enemy to capitulate, but it must be able to exploit the "surprise factor". The enemy must not have time to react en masse before the "bridgehead" on the objectives achieved has been established and consolidated.

Knowledge of the terrain, objectives and enemy fire support is essential in the time between the first landings and the influx of reinforcements, when the assault is in its most vulnerable phase.

When planning an airborne operation the first aspect to consider is the sustainability of the mission. Airborne forces are not designed to hold out for long periods of time.

The Operation Market Garden it was supposed to last anywhere from forty-eight to ninety-six hours, and the assault on the Antonov airport ended up taking about the same amount of time. It is necessary to consider the physical distance between the inflowing ground forces and the "bridgeheads" established with the air infiltration. Nonetheless, the potential obstacles and the level of resistance that may be encountered must be known and to do this theintelligence plays a key role. Only with such knowledge can a vertical wrapping plan achieve more realistic goals and increase the chances of success.

The air assault, whether by air launch or by helicopter transport, places the soldier in a very precarious position. It is up to the leadership of airborne units ensure that the modalities, means and purposes of an operation are congruent and that no airport or target is too far away.

2Ibid.

3Ibid.

5 JJ Jeffson, Operation Market-Garden: Ultra intelligence ignored, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, 2002.

6 DP Houghton, Understanding Groupthink: The Case of Operation Market Garden, Parameters 45, no. 3, 01/09/2015.

7 S. Badsey, Arnhem 1944: Operation "Market Garden", Ospery Publishing, 1993.

8 N.Cristadoro, The Russian infowar, Online Defense, 04/04/2022. https://www.difesaonline.it/mondo-militare/la-infowar-russa

10 S. Ritchie, Arnhem: Myth and Reality: Airborne Warfare, Air Power and the Failure of Operation Market Garden, Crowood Press Ltd., Ramsbury, 2011.

11 J. Marson, Putin Thought Ukraine Would Fall Quickly. An Airport Battle Proved Him Wrong, the Wall Street Journal. 03/03/2022.https://www.wsj.com/articles/putin-thought-ukraine-would-fall-quickly-an...

12 S. Roblin, Pictures: In Battle For Hostomel, Ukraine Drove Back Russia's Attack Helicopters And Elite Paratroopers, 1945, 25/02/2022. https://www.19fortyfive.com/2022/02/pictures-in-battle-for-hostomel-ukra...

13 SJ Zaloga, Operation Market Garden 1944 (1). The American Airborne Missions, Osprey, 2014.

14 S. Ritchie, on. cit.

15 J. Marson, ibid.

16 S. Roblin, ibid.

17 S. Roblin, ibid.

18 JB Fox, Lessons learned from Operation Market Garden, Lucknow Books, 2014.

19 JB Fox, ibid.

20 L. Lewis- W. Stewart, Russian paratroopers' doomed raid to take airport: Video shows elite troops before they were wiped out at battle of Hostomel at the start of invasion as Russia admits five were killed in 'special operation', Mail Online, 12/03/2022. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-10606279/Russian-paratroopers-d...

21 J. Marson, ibid.

22 L. Lewis- W. Steward, ibid.

Photo: MoD Russian Federation / web / MoD Ukrainian