The Siege of Mariupol & modern urban combat
A short analysis of urban battles in the last 30 years & the battle for Mariupol
Let's compare the battle for Mariupol with the main operations to seize major cities conducted over the past thirty years.
The city of Grozny - a population of about 200,000 people (in the 90's, for obvious reasons, it was constantly fluctuating in numbers, but let's assume that there were about 200 thousand)
The first assault took place in 1995-96, during the First Chechen War. There were three other assaults by Chechen opposition forces backed by Russian troops in 1994, all three were unsuccessful and the third with heavy casualties.
Assaulted by Russia - 15,000 people
Defenders - Chechnya-Ichkeria - 7,000 to 10,000 people
The assault lasted for 75 days.
Result: success, victory of Russian troops.
Second Chechen war and the second large-scale assault of Grozny in 1999-2000.
Assaulting troops: Russia - 21,000 people
Defenders - Chechnya-Ichkeria and Islamists - 3,000 to 5,000 people
The second storming of Grozny lasted 43 days.
Result: success, victory of Russian troops
The city of Fallujah, near Baghdad, has a population of about 300,000.
The first time it was stormed in the spring of 2004, after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Then it turned out that if you bomb the country and even disperse the army, it sometimes resists.
Assaulting: U.S. and Iraqi (collaborators) - 2,000 to 6,000
Defending: Iraqi insurgents - 2,000
The first assault lasted 27 days.
Result: failure, withdrawal of U.S. troops "under international pressure"
Second Fallujah assault - late 2004.
Assaulting: U.S., Britain and Iraq - more than 10,000 people
Defenders: Iraqi insurgents - 2,000 to 4,000 people
The second assault lasted 48 days.
Result: success, victory for Coalition forces
Third assault on Fallujah: 2016, Iraqi army reclaims territory from ISIS.
Assaulting: Iraqi army and various militias, Iranian and Lebanese spets - 11,000 to 14,000
Defenders: ISIS - about 4,000 fighters
The third assault lasted 39 days.
Result: success, victory for Iraq.
City of Mosul, capital of ISIS, 2016-2017, population - about 1,500,000 people.
Assaulting - Iraqi army with militias, Kurdish militia, air and artillery support from the U.S., England, Canada and France - 30,000 to 35,000 fighters
Defenders - ISIS, banned in the Russian Federation - 10,000 - 15,000 people
The assault lasted 267 days.
Result: success, victory for the Coalition.
The city of Aleppo, an important city for the "Syrian opposition," the capital of Idlib province. Population: 1,800,000.
It was a bit more complicated, part of the city has always been with the Syrian Army, and the fighting was about 4 years, so I'll count from the moment when the Russian Air Force got involved (which is, of course, not very correct)
The Syrian Army, the Russian Army, Iran, Hezbollah, and whoever else was there. The numbers are about 10 000 people.
The defenders - a conglomeration of Salafist groups - the number - 8,000
Since the Russian air force entered the war, the assault lasted 62 days, not counting the month-long truce. All in all, things are complicated with Aleppo.
Bottom line: success, a victory for the pro-Assad Coalition
Marawi City, Philippines - population 200,000. The city was stormed during the war with the Philippine branch of ISIS in 2017.
Assaulting - the Philippines - 6,000 people
Defending – ISIS - 1,000 people
The assault lasted 153 days.
Bottom line: success, victory for the Philippines.
And finally, Mariupol.
Population 430 000 people
Assaulting - Russia and DPR - the number is not known, something around 10 000 people
Defenders - Ukraine - the number is also not known, definitely more than 5,000 people, at the beginning it was stated about 14,000, but that doesn’t seem correct either.
The assault has lasted for 88 days, if we count from March 1 and is nearing completion.
The outcome has long been clear.
Of course, all these comparisons are very tentative. Mariupol's panel buildings, Grozny's five-story buildings, narrow Arab streets and Filipino slums - each city is a different environment, dictating its own rules of war.
Moreover, the storming of Mariupol is unique in many ways.
First, unlike all of the aforementioned urban battles, two regular European armies, which are on the same technical level and are more or less equal in combat training, fought here. Both Russians and Ukrainians had tanks and powerful artillery, a huge number of various weapons.
Second, the attacking side here was extremely varied: of course, the main fist of the assault was the elite units of the Russian Armed Forces and DPR People’s Militia, but many of those involved in the battle were not military, but police. Moreover, part of the DPR army consisted of mobilized reservists wearing old Soviet helmets and with amusing Mosin-Nagant rifles instead of normal Kalashnikovs. It should not be forgotten that part of the Russian army is made up of Chechens, many of whom simply do not speak Russian well. The Ukrainians, on the other hand, were much more monolithic.
Third, aviation was used on a very limited scale and strategic bombers were "unpacked" only in the last weeks of fighting.
Fourth, despite assurances from Ukrainian politicians that Mariupol is “patriotic”, the residents have no love for Ukraine and, in particular, the Ukrainian army and, in particular, the Azov regiment and consider Russian and DPR soldiers their own. Although, of course, there is a “patriotic” minority in Mariupol. But, on the whole, for Ukrainians it was an enemy city.
Fifth - the position of the city. Mariupol quickly found itself cut off from Ukrainian supply lines and caught in a blockade. In addition, it is a port, and the Russian Navy has superiority in the Black Sea, which greatly facilitated the blockade of the city. But it must be said that due to the small number of attackers, the blockade was very "leaky" - helicopters flew through it with supplies for the defenders.
Finally, and most importantly, there was no numerical advantage for the Russian and DPR forces. Moreover, the forces of the parties were approximately equal, and at the beginning of the operation the Ukrainians even outnumbered them.
But taking all this into account, it turns out that the battle for Mariupol was one of the most successful urban operations of the past 30 years. For the Ukrainian command to surrender Mariupol is a disgrace. The Ukrainian fighters held out to the last man and surrendered only when there was no way out, the blame for the fall of Mariupol rests entirely on the shoulders of the military leadership. For the Russians, Mariupol was a heroic feat. Without numerical superiority and air power, it took just three months to defeat the enemy's elite units in a dense, multi-story post-Soviet urban area. The soldiers are heroes, the command - well done. And no propaganda howl can drown that out.