Academic journal article Military Review

ULUS-KERT: An Airborne Company's Last Stand

Academic journal article Military Review

ULUS-KERT: An Airborne Company's Last Stand

Article excerpt

In four days of desperate fighting, from 29 February to 3 March 2000, a large force of Chechen fighters wiped out a Russian paratroop company in the harsh defiles and ridges of the Argun Gorge in the mountains of southern Chechnya. Although the battle was a catastrophic tactical defeat for the Russian airborne force, the company's stubborn defense to the last man and the concentration of Russian relief forces inflicted a strategic setback on the Chechens. The Russians stumbled into this catastrophe through poor unit leadership, but Russian blood and valor transformed it into victory.

Hatred to the Bone

In Fall 1999, the Second Chechen War began. The Russian Army sought to reimpose the Russian Federation's authority in lawless, breakaway Chechnya. The Rus sians and Chechens' shared 200year history had been punctuated by convulsions of blood and cruelty. The First Chechen War, from 1994 to 1996, had ended in the Russian Army's humiliation and left Russia with its highest loss of resources and professionalism since the Soviet Union's demise. The loss of basic combat skills also had been horrific. This second round was the Russian Army's opportunity to show that it had recovered something of its former ability.

Nothing expressed the depth of Russian-Chechen animosity more than the battle cries hurled back and forth across the firing lines during the siege of Groznyy. To the Chechen shouts of "Allah Akhbar!" the Russians would respond, "Christ is Risen!"

After Gromyy fell, Chechen forces regrouped in the rough, mountainous areas of southern Chechnya. By late February, a large Chechen force of from 1,600 and 2,500 fighters had concentrated in the town of Ulus-- Kert, where the Abazolgul and Sharoargun rivers join.I The area was one in which the Russians had not dared enter during the First Chechen War. This time, they did not hesitate to follow.

A Russian Airborne Forces (VDV) tactical group attacked Chechen forces at Ulus-Kert, forcing them southeast. One of the VDV tactical group's regimental task forces, based on the 104th Guards Parachute Regiment (GPR) of the 76th Guards Airborne Division (GAD), was to block the gorge while the VDV tactical group encircled the Chechens.

Area of Operations

The small town of Ulus-Kert is surrounded by extremely steep, mountainous terrain. Approximately 6 kilometers south of the town and extending far to the southeast are the Dargenduk Mountains. A road leading generally south out of Ulus-Kert and up the northeastern edge of the Dargenduks crosses over a 1,410meter hill, referred to as Hill 14 10. Approximately 1.5 kilometers directly southeast of Ulus-Kert is Hill 705.6. Just about one-half kilometer south of Hill 705.6 is a narrow opening to a small gorge. Three and one-half kilometers southeast of Ulus-Kert, on the gorge's easternmost side, is Hill 776. Hill 787 is only 1 kilometer farther south.

A road leading southeast from Ulus-Kert over Hill 705.6 turns south into the gorge. Another road intersects the first then leads to the western edge of the saddle between hills 776 and 787 where it divides into mountain paths crossing the saddle. Hill 787 is approximately 4.3 kilometers north of Hill 1410. At the time of the operation, the weather was foggy and cold, with snow on the ground.

The Chechens planned to escape advancing Russian forces by using the advantage of the mountainous terrain southeast of Ulus-Kert. After slipping through the passes, the fighters could seize the strategic population centers of Makhkety, Elistanzhi, Zaduli, Kirov-Yurt and Vedeno, which provided a west-to-- east corridor in relatively low, flat terrain through which remaining Chechen forces could withdraw to Dagestan.2 From Dagestan, they could renew the struggle on more favorable terms.

The VDV tactical group's mission was to counter the Chechen force's objectives by blocking its escape through the mountains then encircling it so artillery and combat air support could be used. …

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