THEY BLEW THE RUSSIANS BACK TO 1980
The Russian 810th Marine Brigade is back to riding in 70-year-old T-55 tanks
January 31, 2024
In 1980, the Soviet navy’s 810th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade, based in Sevastopol on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, owned a battalion of 1950s-vintage T-55 tanks. In 2024, the Russian navy’s 810th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade, fighting in Kherson Oblast in southern Ukraine, owns a battalion of 1950s-vintage T-55 tanks. And not the same T-55s. No, the 810th Brigade went to war in Ukraine in February 2022 with reasonably modern T-80 tanks. But then the brigade got destroyed—twice—by Ukrainian troops, and lost many if not all of its T-80s.
So the brigade, like much of the Russian military, traveled back in time—and reequipped with old weapons the Kremlin pulled out of long-term storage. The 810th Brigade’s T-55s appeared in a recent report from Russian T.V. “news” program Zvezda.
How the 810th got blown back to the 1980s is no secret. The 2,500-person brigade—once considered “elite”—was in northern Kherson Oblast when Ukrainian forces launched their first major counteroffensive in the fall of 2022.
In mid-September 2022, the Ukrainian general staff claimed the 810th Brigade was down to 15 percent of its original manpower, and the survivors were refusing to fight. The Kremlin reconstituted the 810th Brigade in late 2022 and early 2023 and redeployed it back to southern Ukraine—this time to Zaporizhzhia Oblast, east of Kherson.
In June 2023, a Ukrainian corps launched a counteroffensive—Ukraine’s second in two years—and, in a slow and costly assault across trenches and minefields, advanced 10 miles toward Russian-held Melitopol, 50 miles south of the previous front line. The Ukrainians suffered thousands of casualties and lost hundreds of vehicles. But, in defiance of historical precedent, they inflicted just as many losses on the defending Russians.
The 810th Brigade got demolished. “That brigade was completely defeated, completely smashed,” Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s intelligence chief, told The War Zone in September.
Paratroopers replaced the marines in Zaporizhzhia, giving the 810th Brigade an opportunity to rebuild for the second time.
By the fall of 2023, the brigade had returned to Kherson. The Ukrainians by then had advanced to the Dnipro River, which bisects Kherson Oblast from east to west.
In October 2023, marines from Ukraine’s 35th Marine Brigade motored across the Dnipro and seized a bridgehead in Krynky, a narrow fishing village on the river’s muddy left bank.
The outnumbered Ukrainian marines, supported by an aggressive drone group and defended by electronic jamming, thrashed the 810th Brigade on the left bank, dealing the unit its third serious defeat in 20 months.
The Russian units on the left bank—the 810th Brigade, the 104th Air Assault Division and attached army regiments—together have lost at least 157 vehicles including at least 19 tanks.
By now, the 810th Brigade probably has lost and replaced, several times, all three dozen or so tanks in its original tank battalion. It’s apparent the Kremlin no longer can generate enough 43-ton, three-person T-80s fully to replace the T-80s the 810th Brigade keeps losing.
This should come as no surprise. According to the analysts at Oryx, the Russian armed forces since February 2022 have written off around 2,500 tanks of all types. That’s nearly as many active tanks as the Russians had before the wider war.
The Kremlin in 2022 and 2023 managed to build, or recover from storage, at least 2,000 replacement tanks. But hundreds of them were 1960s-vintage T-62s and T-55s from the 1950s.
While some of those aging tanks got some modest upgrades before rolling toward the front, at least some of the 810th Brigade’s T-55s didn’t. The 36-ton, four-person tanks have their original 100-millimeter main guns, original infrared spotlights and original steel armor with no add-on reactive armor blocks.
Apparently the only extra protection the marine T-55s enjoy comes from crude screens technicians welded onto their turrets in the hope of detonating Ukraine’s explosive drones before they strike the tanks themselves.
In devolving back to its 1980 state, the 810th Brigade is a microcosm of the wider Russian military, which—after nearly two years of grinding warfare in which it loses three or four people or vehicles for every one the Ukrainian military loses—maintains its front-line strength by cutting corners.
Less training and older equipment for older and less-qualified new recruits and draftees. There once was a time when the Kremlin could call the 810th Brigade “elite.” Today, it’s a loose mob of poorly-trained troops riding in museum-grade tanks.
David Axe – Forbes Staff. Aerospace & Defense. He is a journalist, author and filmmaker based in Columbia, South Carolina. Axe founded the website War Is Boring in 2007 as a webcomic, and later developed it into a news blog. He enrolled at Furman University and earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 2000. Then he went to the University of Virginia to study medieval history before transferring to and graduating from the University of South Carolina with a master’s degree in fiction in 2004.