Density of Deployment in Ukraine

One thing that stands out on this battlefield is that there is not a lot of troops covering a lot of area. As far as I can tell, for this war in Ukraine, each side has about 200,000 or so regular troops, after all new recruits and old losses are counted for. I actually have never seen any strength figures since the war has started. On the other hand, the Ukrainian Army has said that they have a front width of 2,450 kilometers (1,522 miles) of which 1,105 (687 miles) are active fighting. By active fighting, I assume that means the area from Kharkov to Severodonetsk to Kherson. The border with Belarus is 891 kilometers (554 miles), which I assume is part of the “inactive area.” The Ukrainian border with Russia is 1,974 kilometers (1,227 miles). Anyhow, not sure exactly how this active front is calculated, but I will use the Ukrainian Army figures for now (until I get the energy to pull out a ruler and painstakingly measure it myself). 

So, 200,000 troops divided by 1,105 kilometers is 181 men per kilometer, except: I suspect that some of those people are protecting Kiev and other such places away from the active front, and some are in reserve and rear positions. So, it might be two-thirds of that figure (121 men per kilometer). This is less than a tenth of World War II standards for this area.

During the Battle of Kursk before 5 July 1943, in the south around Belgorod, the frontage from the German 332nd Infantry Division through Totenkopf (the main two-corps German attack) covered 54 kilometers. This was covered by 146,443 troops, for a density of 2,712 troops per kilometer. In contrast, the part of the Soviet Sixth Guards Army’s first echelon that was facing them consisted of only 46,412 troops or 859 troops per kilometer (see page 148 of my big Kursk book). This Sixth Guards Army defense, considering both echelons, came in at 1,301 men per kilometer covering 66 kilometers of front, while the neighboring Seventh Guards Army had 1,568 men per kilometer of front covering 55 kilometers (see page 210). 

Just do a spot check of several division-level engagements (yes, I do have all this data for the southern Kursk and the Kharkov battles in 1943 in our database, the Division-Level Engagement Data Base or DLEDB): 1) the linear density of the LSSAH Panzer Grenadier Division on 12 July 1943 at the tank fields of Prokhorovka was 1,922.64 men per kilometer of front. The attacking Soviet 18th and 29th Tank Corps came in at 3,151.27 men per kilometer of front, 2) The linear density of men for the GD Panzer Division, 332nd ID and 3rd PzD attack on 5 July 1943 was 2,204.88 men per kilometer of front. It was 612.89 for the defending Soviet 71st Guards Rifle Division. Going to the battles around Kharkov, 3) the linear density of the Soviet 40th Army at Prudyanka-Dergachi on 12 February 1943 was 203.65 while the defending German GD ID was 510.38. 4) The linear density of the LSSAH assault on Kharkov on 12 March 1943 was 753.04 while the defending Soviet 19th Rifle Division, 17th NKVD Brigade and 86th Tank Brigade was 472.65. By the 14th, this had increased to 2,436.43 for the Germans and 1,739.29 for the defending Soviets, 5) The most sparsely deployed unit I have in my database for the fighting in and around Kharkov in February to August 1943 was 280.00 men per kilometer for the attacker and 169.75 for the defender at Merafa III engagement on 13 March 1943. 6) the densest is the 106th ID Defense III on 20 August 1943 with the attacking Soviet 48th Guards Rifle Corps and 375th RD deployed at 3,457.80 men per kilometer of front while the defending 106th ID was at 1,766.00 men per kilometer of front (I do have 3,649.13 for the attacker South of Kharkov on 15 March, but the defender only has 424.38). 7) The most sparsely deployed engagement I have for the Kursk fighting is nominally Soldatskoye VIII on 18 July 1943, where the attacking Soviet elements held a front of 392.25 men per kilometer and the defending German 255th ID held the front at 319.33 men per kilometer (there are a number of other engagements where one side had less density than these) 8) the densest engagement is LSSAH Division’s clash with the 31st Tank Corps on 7 July 1943, where the Germans had a density of 8.,475.00 men per kilometer and the Soviets were at 4,328.85 men per kilometer. This is mostly driven by the LSSAH frontage being temporarily reduced to 2.6 kilometers. This is all drawn from 256 division-level battles on the Eastern Front in February-August 1943 (192 from Kursk and 64 from Kharkov), with all the data drawn from the unit records of both sides. The average for the front now in Ukraine may be 121 men per kilometer, and they are not evenly distributed.

So, what does this all mean?

Well, from a theoretical point of view, it is showing the changes in linear density over time. As firepower increases, density of troop deployments decrease. This has been occurring for hundreds of years. See  Dispersion versus Lethality | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org) and TDI Friday Read: Lethality, Dispersion, And Mass On Future Battlefields | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org) and The Effects Of Dispersion On Combat | Mystics & Statistics (dupuyinstitute.org).  Also see my book War by Numbers.

From a more practical point of view, that means that there are many places that are holding their lines with less than 121 men per kilometer. Does this mean that any concentrated offensive force can push through these areas “if they achieve surprise.” So, should we be seeing more fluid lines?

But, in fact, we are not seeing more fluid lines. This looks less fluid than I expected. So why? Is it because U.S. intel assistance is so good that any concentration of force is immediately fired upon? Is it because any concentration of force is immediately spotted and responded to, by either firepower or movement of reserves?

I don’t really know for sure, just looking at linear densities.

This entry was posted in Eastern Europe, Eastern Front, Kursk, Russia, War by Numbers, World War II by Christopher A. Lawrence. Bookmark the permalink.

About Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience. ... Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation. ... His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024). ... Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

7 thoughts on “Density of Deployment in Ukraine

  1. Does reduced density of deployment automatically translate into reduced casualty rates? One assumes that daily casualties in the Donbass – while tragically high by the standards of the past seventy-five years – don’t begin to approach those experienced on the Eastern Front during the Second World War and certainly not with those on the Somme.

  2. What perplexes me somewhat is the Russians’ enormously high destructive frenzy without any countable success. The Russians have been fighting for 1 month with a strength ratio of 1 to 10 for a single city (Severodonetsk). Firing thousands of artillery shells and rockets at this one point. It was similar in Mariupol and will certainly be the same in Lysychansk.
    And the senseless siege of Kiev with an infinite number of vehicles, tanks and military equipment, only to withdraw again later, like silly little boys.

    Their focus is on taking over a now completely destroyed, uninhabited area without economic power and benefit. The biggest losers in this war are curiously the two separatist areas, if Russia does not agree to rebuild everything with a lot of money. Ukraine and all its partners will not invest a cent as long as the area does not become Ukrainian territory again. Probably a forever destroyed, never internationally recognized territory. This will be a nightmare for Passetschnik and Pushilin at the end…

    • Agreed. Even granting the propaganda value, it’s hard to see from where Russia could secure the resources necessary to rebuild the Donbass. If they’re prepared to cannibalize the Azov steel plant for ready cash they seem unlikely to be interested in restoring the region’s economic prosperity. The appalling separatist casualty rate demonstrates how much they’ve been reduced to canon fodder. You have to wonder how the Donbass would now vote in a truly free plebiscite on being part of Ukraine.

      • It is quite unusual that for the Russians the most destroyed and damaged territories (Luhansk, Donetsk, Mariupol) are among their most important conquests and greatest successes.

        According to their claim, these are their own territories, but they are now erasing them from the map. A sign that Putin is no longer the master of his senses.

        • Short term thinking. In 30 years, even the Russians will have managed the recovery of the Donbass. Well, probably…

  3. Severodonetsk is just a political trophy for Putin. The loss of this city doesnt change any of the military metrics. Massive RU effort for so little gain.

    I wonder how bad the RU infantry situation is. It cant be good. Im willing to believe 10K KIA for the RU, but could it be even 15K ?

    Does anyone have a good handle on RU replacement rates ? How many new troops have been introduced since May (as in forces not originally part of the invasion forces) ?

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