UKRAINE could use its new British Challenger 2 tanks to spearhead a counter offensive to finally end the war’s “bloodiest battle” in Bakhmut.
Russia had been making gains in the key city known as “Fortress Bakhmut” – but their progress has ground to a halt as its soldiers are now facing a “slaughter fest”.
The battle in the city – once home to more than 70,000 people – has been raging for nearly seven months, and has seen some of the most vicious fighting of the war since Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
Trench warfare, hand-to-hand combat, and “meat grinder” style death tolls have characterised the bloodshed – which has been compared to combat seen in World War 1.
But after stalling their enemy’s advance, it is believed the Ukrainians could be readying to launch their long-awaited counter offensive.
And it has been suggested the new Challenger 2 battle tanks could be a key part of this renewed push.
Liberating the city and driving out the Russians would be a major embarrassment for Putin.
Challenger 2 main battle tanks have now arrived in Ukraine- and its expected after a final round of training they could soon see combat on the frontline.
War analysts at the Conflict Intelligence Team said the main goal of the counter offensive will be to “unblock” Bakhmut.
And they believe that Ukraine will be keen to use their new armour, especially the Challenger 2s.
“The vehicles are already on the territory of Ukraine at the disposal of its military and may be used in combat in the nearest future,” the team wrote in their situation report on March 28.
“We expect that the primary goal of the Ukrainian counter-offensive will be to unblock Bakhmut.”
Challenger 2s have been praised by Ukrainian tankers as “diamonds” and “beasts” as crews travelled to the UK to train with them on in a three week course on Salisbury Plain.
“I think it is the best tank in the world,” said one Ukrainian.
And one of the two units who were in the UK to train on the Challengers – the 80th Air Assault Brigade – is holding position just outside Bakhmut, reports Forbes.
Meanwhile, the second unit is stationed some 40 miles north of the key city – so it’s unclear if they will be able to play a part in the battle.
“These fantastic machines will soon begin their combat missions,” Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted on Tuesday.
Ukraine has long been building for its new push to try and defeat Putin.
Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander of Ukraine’s ground forces, said this week it might come “very soon”.
US General Mark Milley this week described Bakmut as turning into a “slaughterfest” for the Russians.
“They are suffering an enormous amount of casualties in the Bakhmut area,” he said.
“The Ukrainians are inflicting a lot of death and destruction on these guys.”
Ukraine is buying time for their counter attack – but are continuing to call for more weapons.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has said they continue to need more weapons before they can push into the east of Ukraine.
And meanwhile, UK defence secretary Ben Wallace warned this week the Ukrainian crews still need training on operating the Challenger 2s.
“There is still quite some considerable amounts of training to go before Ukrainian forces are ready to use them in battle,” said Wallace.
Russia has also been bullish about the arrival of the British tanks.
Putin’s spokesman vowed the tanks would “burn like the rest” when they arrived in Ukraine.
But despite their fighting talk – Russia is reported to have lost more than 170,000 men along with 3600 tanks.
And it is believed Putin is rolling out obsolete tanks – some as old as the late 1940s – to try and replenish his forces.
The Sun Online was taken on exercise with the mighty Challenger 2 tanks back in February.
Major Nick Bridges led us through a guided tour of the vehicle, which weighs in at 64 tons and costs £4.2million.
“Much like a boxer in the ring, the Challenger 2 can take hits and continue to fight, whereas other tanks around the world might be knocked out after one round,” said Major Bridges.
Maj Bridges explained the tank’s steady ride on advanced suspension allows for more accurate shots from the main gun.
And he revealed its clever exhausts allow heat to be better dispersed around the tank, making them harder to detect with infrared cameras.
The 1,200bhp tank’s 120mm cannon can be armed with armour piercing shells that fly towards the enemy at 4,250mph.
It can also be armed with high explosive bunker busting shells that can blow up light enemy vehicles or entrenched positions.
The Challenger 2 can carry up to 1,800 litres of diesel, giving them an average 341 miles range at a speed of 37mph.
If needed, additional fuel can be sprayed on the hot engine to produce a smoke screen, providing cover for the tank.
The tank driver controls the vehicle with two sticks from an almost lying down position.
On each side are five smoke grenade dischargers, with can be fired as a smoke screen to the front, protecting against laser beam-riding missiles.
It also has a chain gun spitting out 7.62mm rounds to rip through soft-skinned vehicles such as trucks, or dismounted infantry.
Kyiv continues to call for Western support to help them defeat Putin, who has so far lost more than 150,000 soldiers.
Vlad foolishly believed his forces would be welcomed into Ukraine as liberators when he invaded last February.
But instead the initial attack ended in a disaster which saw his forces devastated and thrown back to Russia.
Putin’s future is now believed to be tied to the success or failure of his war in Ukraine – with an arrest warrant being issued for him over war crimes.