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Elite Russian tank unit defending Moscow falls back on reservists amid ‘heavy casualties’

An abandoned military tank in Kherson Oblast. The 1st Guards Tank Army is believed to have suffered heavy losses - Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
An abandoned military tank in Kherson Oblast. The 1st Guards Tank Army is believed to have suffered heavy losses - Metin Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russia has been forced to patch up an elite tank unit formed to defend Moscow with newly mobilised troops after suffering heavy casualties in Ukraine.

The 1st Guards Tank Army (1st GTA) has been dispatched along the defensive line in Luhansk Oblast but is still well below its usual strength of 25,000 personnel, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in its daily intelligence report on the war on Thursday.

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The illustrious unit traces its origins back to the Second World War and fought as part of the Red Army on the Eastern Front and in the Battle of Stalingrad.

Believed to have been made up of at least 500 tanks and other combat vehicles before the war began, the unit has suffered heavy losses in battles around Kharkiv.

The 1st GTA lost 131 tanks and 409 troops in the first 19 days of fighting, according to a Russian casualty log, revealed by Ukraine’s military intelligence unit in May.

From the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, Western analysts and officials noted that the 1st GTA has struggled to capture cities and territories key to the leader’s pursuit of overthrowing Kyiv.

Elements of the 1st GTA had been given the task of helping with the efforts to capture Kyiv and Kharkiv.

The 4th Guards Tank Division (GTD), part of the elite ground forces headquartered near Moscow, failed to isolate the city of Kharkiv in the first hours of the invasion - something described as “hesitant and amateurish” by intelligence officials.

Following this Gen Lt Sergey Kiel, the 4th GTD’s commander, was suspended.

Some of the 1st GTA was ordered to seize the capital, but this resulted in another humiliating defeat for Russia.

It is believed that the unit failed to organise a coherent retreat as Ukraine recaptured some 6,000 sq km of territory.

Abandoned tanks and other military equipment were captured on video footage either burnt out or being towed away by tractors.

In September, the MoD estimated that rebuilding the 1st GTA could take years.

The MoD added that Russia now has an “almost continuous trench system” stretching 37 miles between the Russian border and annexed Svatove in the area to defend against Ukrainian advances.