The Ukrainian armed forces are trying to push back the Russian troops with a counter-offensive in the south of the country around the city of Cherson. Bridge-laying armored vehicles from German stocks are also to be used.

The counter-offensive in southern Ukraine has been underway since Monday (August 29). It was officially confirmed to “Welt” by Oleksandr Tkachenko, the local Minister for Culture and Information Policy. Liberating the city of Cherson, the first that Russian troops occupied in March, he considers elementary: “After we have already expelled Russia from the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions, this would be the beginning of the liberation of the entire Ukraine,” so Tkachenko.

In order to achieve this goal, however, weapons are needed – also from Germany. However, the minister is anything but satisfied with the commitment in this area so far and explains: “The weapons from Germany are not enough. In Berlin there is a lot of talk but little action. We need anti-aircraft, tanks and artillery to protect us. But what we have now been promised is not enough. The quicker we get Leopard, Marder and more Gepard tanks, the quicker the war will be over.” However, the Ukrainian forces will first get the “Biber” from the old stock of the Bundeswehr.

Sixteen of these bridge-laying armored vehicles are to be delivered so that larger obstacles such as ravines and rivers can be more easily overcome by the entire vehicle convoy. A process that should not be underestimated and can quickly become dangerous. “River crossings are always very sensitive moments,” said the head of the German Tank Museum in Munster, Ralf Raths, to “Spiegel”. At the moment of crossing, the troops are clearly visible and hardly protected.


Around Cherson, a river should also play a central role, as military historian Bastian Matteo Scianna from the University of Potsdam emphasizes. In an interview with the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung” he predicts a brutal clash in southern Ukraine. He assumes that the Ukrainians will try to stop the reinforcements of the Russian troops in this area: “In case of doubt, the Russian units that cannot get back behind the Dnieper River will fight a bloody battle in Cherson,” says Scianna. And the Australian military expert Mick Ryan also mentions the importance of the river for the strategic development of the counter-offensive: “Maybe the Ukrainians have to cross it – and that will be difficult”. The German bridge-laying tanks would at least make that easier.

According to Raths, the “beaver” is an offensive device, because “bridge layers are mainly used when you want to move forward”. However, the “beaver” is not armed. It only has smoke grenades and looks very little in common with assault tanks like the Leopard. Instead of a turret with a cannon, the model features bascule bridge elements on the roof. These are twelve meters long, weigh ten tons and can be deployed and set down within two to three minutes. A support is anchored to the ground at the bow of the tank to stabilize it and prevent it from tipping over, while a hydraulic laying arm pushes the two parts of the bridge over the obstacle.

“Such tanks were only developed in lengthy processes from the time of the Cold War,” says Raths. And the development process was challenging. In the previous M48 model, the bridge was not extended horizontally forwards, but vertically upwards, thus offering a clearly visible target for enemy troops. The “Biber”, on the other hand, is now successfully exported and used in many armies around the world.

For the Bundeswehr, however, it is to be replaced in the future by the “Leguan”, which is approved for transporting military equipment of up to 60 tons. The “Biber” is “only” 55 tons, which is sufficient for Ukrainian tanks, which weigh just under 40 tons on average. It is not yet clear when the bridge-laying tanks will arrive in Ukraine. According to the federal government, the delivery is currently in “preparation or implementation”.

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