Ukraine News

We Should Have Predicted Ukraine’s Bomb Shortage

The apparent shortage of arms supplies for Ukraine bears unsettling similarities to the situation in World War I. Unless we learn from the lessons of the past, Ukraine too may be left to fight a trench war without enough bombs.

USA made old cluster bomb weapon, banned since 2008 by 132 countries, landscape displayed at Vietnam Military History Museum – Hanoi 6 May 2009 © Voyage View Media /

July 24, 2023 23:29 EDT

I was watching MSNBC a few days ago. The discussion was about why the US was supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions.  These weapons are banned in the US itself. 

If Ukraine uses these munitions on Ukrainian soil, it will be endangering its own children, who may come across some of these explosives years from now when out playing.

One of the participants on the MSNBC show, New York Times columnist David Brooks, was asked why the Biden Administration was supplying such munitions to Ukraine.  His answer really startled me.

It was,

I guess they have no other munitions to send.

So, after a few months of artillery-intense trench warfare, the West has run out of supplies of shells and missiles and cannot replenish its stocks quickly enough. This reveals acute vulnerability.

How on Earth did the US, and its European allies, find themselves in this situation?

If munitions have run out after a few months of artillery warfare, that does not bode well for Europe’s capacity to defend itself in the long term in the event of a wider confrontation with Russia.

We’ve seen all this before…

It seems as if the West has been taken by surprise by this munitions shortage. There is no excuse for that. There are ample warnings from history.

There is a clear precedent in relatively recent history for the style of war now being waged in Ukraine: the artillery bombardments, followed by assaults on deep entrenchments, that characterized the Western Front in the First World War. Only after heavy bombardment of the enemy front line could troops advance.

Like the war in Ukraine, World War I started out as a war of movement.

The Germans made rapid advances in 1914 until the French halted them on the Marne.  After that, the war quickly became a static artillery war, where advances of as little as 100 meters were celebrated as triumphs.

These small advances would involve huge casualties among the advancing forces unless they had been preceded by heavy artillery barrages that employed a caliber of shell that destroyed barbed wire as well as larger fortifications.

In general terms, casualties among the attacking forces were three times as great as they were among the defenders. That is probably the ratio in Ukraine now too.

It is becoming plain that Ukraine does not have sufficient supplies of either the type or amount of munitions required needed to make a big breakthrough and to preserve the lives of the brave Ukrainian soldiers sent in to attack the Russian lines. Meanwhile, Russia has air superiority, which is more important now than it was in World War I.

I do not understand why the counter-offensive was announced at all, without adequate supplies of artillery and munitions already being in place. A worrying lack of strategic foresight is evident.

…and we didn’t deal with it very well back then, either.

The political precedents from World War Iare far from encouraging.

Within a couple of months of that war starting, there was already an acute shortage of shells and heavy artillery in the British Army. (France and Germany were better supplied.) David Lloyd George described this situation in Volume One of the War Memoirs.  He described the war as a war between German “mechanics” ( i.e., munitions manufacturers) and British manufacturers, and said that, in 1915, the German “mechanics” were winning.

Radical action was required. There was an acute shortage of people available to work in munitions and artillery factories. State enterprise had to be brought into play because private enterprise was too slow in setting up the required factories.  State-owned “Royal Factories” were set up all over the British Isles, including in Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Galway.

There were not enough men to work in the factories, so women had to be employed in this dangerous work. The war became an industrial war.

The West is facing similar choices today. Notwithstanding the fact that the NATO counties, especially the US, outspend the Russians on military hardware by a large multiple, they have yet to mobilize society for the existential struggle which their chosen ally, Ukraine, is undertaking.

But even the opening of the Royal Factories, and the recruitment of thousands of women workers, was too slow in delivering the necessary shells in 1915. This was because there was an acute labor shortage then, just as there is in 2023.

The Daily Mail went on the warpath. There was a political crisis.

The Liberal government, led by H. H. Asquith and supported by the Irish Party, which was committed to Home Rule, was replaced by a coalition of Liberals and Unionists, led by David Lloyd George. We are living with the consequences of the munitions crisis of 1915 to this day.

Returning to 2023, the EU may face a similar political crisis because it has not matched its needs with the necessary resources.

Member governments need to simultaneously ramp up arms production for Ukraine, pour money into the Green Deal, provide for healthcare for an aging population and manage the debt inherited from the Covid epidemic, all while still respecting the Maastricht budgetary criteria.

If Trump wins the 2024 Election in the US, he may stop supplying arms to Ukraine. Europe will then be alone facing Putin.

[Anton Schauble edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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