Ukrainian Bridges are Playing a Vital Role in Both the Defense and the Offense in the Ukrainian-Russian War
By Daniel Rice
In most modern wars, bridges are fought over, defended, and attacked. They can be decisive to both battles and wars. In military terms, bridges are " key terrain.” Capturing a bridge can allow an attacker the means to quickly cross with large numbers of troops, depending on the capacity of the bridge. Bridges are also key terrain along lines of communication in support of logistics. The loss of a key bridge, on the other hand, can trap forces in a dangerous situation. Many of the most pivotable battles in history have had bridges as the key terrain, leading to either victory or defeat. The bridges of Ukraine, and a superior Ukrainian strategy with regards to the bridges, will likely prove to be one of the keys to defeating Russia.
The end of the Viking era was heralded when the British won at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1066. The American Revolution began on April 19,1775, first at Lexington and later at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts. The Battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day in the Civil War and many of the casualties were Union soldiers attempting to take a stone bridge over Antietam creek, which was later named “Burnside’s Bridge”. The First War of Scottish Independence was fought at the Sterling Bridge in 1297. Pegasus Bridge was the first object liberated in Normandy by British Airborne forces on D-Day 5 June 1944, securing a bridge that helped the allies get off the beaches. Operation Market Garden in Holland in 1944 was a complex land and airborne attack to capture three bridges. This was later depicted in the movie “A Bridge Too Far”. The bridge at Remagen, the Ludendorff Bridge, was captured intact, but damaged, by the American Army and allowed the Americans to cross the Rhine into Germany, prior to it collapsing 10 days later.
When the history of this Russian-Ukrainian war is taught, bridges will likely have played a key role throughout the war- from 2014 until the end of the war, whenever that is. The Russian army is being destroyed because of superior 2022 Ukrainian strategy focused on bridges, in both the Ukrainian defense and offense. One of the reasons that Ukraine has 1/3 of the arable land in Europe, is because of the many rivers running through it providing irrigation and sustenance. The Dnipro, Dnieper, Danube, Kharkiv, are some of the largest, but a total of 23,000 rivers wind their way throughout Ukraine, with countless bridges over nearly all of them. Therefore, the bridges of Ukraine become the key terrain for any defensive or offensive military operation. And the Ukrainians have done a far better job, destroying their own infrastructure at critical times and in the decisive points of this war.
In 2014, when Russia first invaded the Donbas and Crimea, Ukraine did not drop their own bridges. The logic at the time was that the Ukrainians didn’t want to destroy their own infrastructure and they wanted to be able to use the bridges when they came back to liberate the Donbas and Crimea. General Zaluzhnyi regretted that decision to not drop their own bridges and he ordered his Army in 2022 to drop all the bridges as the Russians approached them. This is territorial denial, denying the Russians the use of these bridges slowed the Russian advances forcing them to undertake dangerous and complex river crossings, which the Ukrainians became skilled at defeating.
As Russia attacked Kyiv in March 2022, all the bridges were dropped by local commanders who understood General Zaluzynyi’s “commanders’ intent”. Deny the Russian enemy the use of all bridges in the defense of Ukraine. Force them to undertake very dangerous river crossings and destroy the Russian Army in the process. It worked and Kyiv was saved. All of those bridges that were dropped around Kyiv have now been repaired and Kyiv is free and thriving. Denying the Russians, the use of the bridges, by destroying their own infrastructure, helped Ukraine survive.
Now on the offensive, and the Ukrainian strategy is to destroy key bridges at decisive points in the battle, trapping Russian units from escaping. Commanders in all wars would like to have been able to do this, but often lacked the ability to do so. Bombing bridges in World War II was extremely difficult given the aircraft and weapons at the time. Now, with precision guided weapons, Ukraine has the capability to do so. The HIMARS rockets can be fired from 70 kilometers and strike within 2 meters of the intended target. So Ukrainian commanders can take out bridges at the exact time of their choosing. Down in the Kherson region, the use of precision guided munitions has allowed Ukraine to take out bridges from significant distances. The loss of these bridges could trap Russian units on the wrong side of the Dnipro River.
The 12-mile Kerch Bridge from Crimea east to Russia has been a major target for the Ukrainian military for the entire war. It’s too far from Ukrainian lines to hit with the current rockets from HIMARS. It could have been hit by ATACMS, which Ukraine has requested, but the west has not provided Ukraine with this longer-range rocket for fear of escalating the war. How Ukraine successfully attacked the bridge is not known. The news that the Crimean Bridge has been hit, both the rail line as well as the automotive bridge, will be terrifying to the Russians west of the bridge, who are now potentially trapped and will have difficulty being supported and resupplied. The Russians have occupied Crimea since 2014 so have considerable supplies and ammo already on the peninsula, which is attached by land to the west, but is now not connected to the east with the loss of the Crimean Bridge.
The Kerch Bridge is also very symbolic of the Russian annexation of Crimea. The bridge was opened in 2018 with Putin himself driving a truck over the bridge. The destruction of the Kerch bridge now severs Crimea from Russia, and Ukraine has every intention of liberating Crimea. The fate of the Russian army in Crimea is now at more risk and will likely be decided before the Kerch Bridge can be repaired.