I'm not even mentioning the whole "Black Sea Fleet" issue. With Russian marines onboard. And numerous surface-to-surface missiles.
Ah. Problem number five. You see, the Georgians clearly had assumed that their brave troops, trained by equally brave Western advisors (the U.S., Britain, Turkey - the Ukraine, even - all pitched in to one degree or another), as well as their brave officers, would actually conduct themselves with a modicum of tactical skill. Because, you see, a lack of said skill could present a problem insofar as any Blitzkrieg goes. Especially if they happen to run smack into veteran enemies. Put differently, in a conflict involving a Panamanian Army Battalion and a USMC Battalion you'd want to be on the side of the USMC, not the brave Panamanians. In theory, at least.
These problems delineated, we return to the action of August 8-9.
As mentioned previously, one way or another the Georgians barged their way into Tskhinvali while pounding the city from the heights above. Meanwhile, a second column lunged to cut the road north of Tskhinvali to the Rok Tunnel.
The Ossetians were not idiots. They expected pretty much this exact turn of events. Roughly 300 "kamikaze" light infantry remained in Tskhinvali itself, their job to keep the Georgian main column busy for as long as possible. Meanwhile, virtually every other man under arms and every functioning piece of equipment was thrown at the smaller Georgian force attempting to cut the road to the Rok Tunnel.
By midday on August 8 (or thereabouts), this smaller Georgian force (quite likely outnumbered by the Ossetians attacking it, though certainly not outgunned) was pushed back away from the north road, though the Georgians could still subject portions of it to artillery and sniper fire. In Tskhinvali, the 300 "Spartans" fought a vicious battle as the Georgians barged their way into town, nearly reaching its center before becoming bogged down in street combat. At least some of the Georgian tanks became separated from their supporting infantry, with three being destroyed in the first hours of the fighting. The total Georgian force - estimated at 3,500-4,000 men - milled about largely in the southern half of the town while artillery pounded the northern side.
The Russian peacekeepers around Tskhinvali also proved a tough nut to crack; most of the battalion's buildings and vehicles were destroyed quite quickly, however a good three quarters of the troops remained combat capable and putting up whatever resistance were possible in the face of tank and self-propelled artillery fire over open sights. Still, the battalion CO gave the order to destroy all documents and radios, clearly expecting to be overrun sooner rather than later.
In the air, the Georgians sent the occasional SU-25 flight to drop bombs on Tskhinvali or the surrounding villages. The Ossetians' one military airfield, however, remained largely unmolested, and their helicopters began raiding Georgian reinforcement columns. Thus, by some time in the afternoon on August 8, a column of 3 Georgian tanks and 8 APCs or IFVs was completely destroyed from the air as it approached the Georgian group in Tskhinvali. Field reports at this juncture indicate that the Georgians aren't following basic "air security" procedures; their vehicle columns are streaming forward with no AA protection of any kind, while their artillery and MRLS crews are piling stacks of shells and rockets right next to the guns and launchers themselves, such that one cannon burst in the general direction of the firing position was usually enough to completely obliterate the gun or launcher and its crew. At the same time, reports also surfaced that the 300 "Spartans" in Tskhinvali manag
ed to somehow trap a chunk of the Georgian force in the town, and had even captured a few of their BMPs and one Humvee (suggesting that the Georgian soldiers had fled rather than put up a fight against an outnumbered and outgunned enemy). The announcement of a captured Hummer drives the Russian general public (as represented by Internet postings of all shapes and sizes) even more up a wall than it had already been. Of course, the "Spartans" are pretty jumpy - the 3 UH-1s beloging to the Ossetians seem to all be shot down by friendly fire from the captured BMPs (who, in turn, had thought that these were Georgian attack helos making a run).
By around 1400-1500 hours local time, the Russian 19th Motor Rifle Division - mobilized that morning - begins to rush through the Rok Tunnel and south towards Tskhinvali. The delay took place partly because it took until morning to determine that this was a full-scale Georgian attack rather than just an especially powerful raid - and because the UN meetings called at Russia's behest could not meet much earlier. By this time, of course, Russian television channels were broadcasting full-on images of frightened Ossetian civilians fleeing the area or digging themselves out from under the rubble of Tskhinvali, crying into the camera about lost loved ones and begging for help. How I love effective TV blitzes...
At any rate, by late afternoon on August 8, the Russians engaged the Georgians, first linking up with the Ossetian troops on the northern road and detaching a force to contain the smaller Georgian column, and then pushing into the northern outskirts of Tskhinvali itself. Meanwhile, Russian aircraft and helicopters - plus artillery detachments - began counterbattery fire against the heights around Tskhinvali, although this was not extremely successful.
By midday on August 9, the situation in South Ossetia had changed dramatically. Russian and Ossetian troops surrounded and began to reduce the Georgian pocket in the north, as well as a portion of the Georgian troops in Tskhinvali proper. Meanwhile, the first Russian reinforcements reached the peacekeeper battalion further south, and Russian artillery and aircraft continued to pound the heights around the city. Georgian reinforcement columns were also vigorously attacked.
The Georgian troops from the main column - those who had not been trapped in Tskhinvali, at least - began their retreat almost as soon as they saw the Russians entering the town. Certainly some detachments stood and fought, but the majority went back to their "second line" positions to regroup. During the night, the artillery duel continued, and by the morning of August 9 several Georgian tank and infantry attacks had been launched to reach both the trapped Georgian detachments (the one in Tskhinvali and the one alongside the road north); these proved unsuccessful, with the Georgians losing 12 tanks in one attack on Tskhinvali proper. The Georgian government began to move reserves into position, although reports indicate that by this time, the bulk of these were "reservists" who did not have much fight in them. Some ethnic Georgians also began to flee South Ossetia, fearful of reprisals (justifiably so). All throughout, detachments of Georgian troops that had fanned out to the vill
ages on either side of Tskhinvali continued to raze them to the ground with tanks and artillery; mass executions of the civilian populations were reported but not independently confirmed.
On August 10, the main Russian forces were still semi-stuck around Tskhinvali, trying to push the Georgians off the heights while reducing the pockets of resistance in the town proper. The Ossetian troops by now were largely moved to help with securing Tskhinvali and with escorting refugees out of the city and the surrounding areas. In addition to the 19th Motor Rifle Division, several Paratrooper detachments (from the 58th Air Assault Division, I believe) were arriving by aircraft while Russian marines landed in Abkhazia, ostensibly to support the Russian peacekeepers there. Other 58th Army units were also streaming into the area, as were the two Chechen battalions (whose arrival was a welcome surprise some time around the morning of August 10). The Chechen battalions quickly managed to capture enough Georgian BMPs to ferry themselves about and launched an attack towards Gori, which ran into a massive Georgian ambush that caused few casualties but took most of the day to resolve.
By this juncture, the 4th Air Army had had enough and began to bomb and strafe airfields in Georgia proper while also patrolling the skies with Su-27 fighters. Reports of solitary Georgian Su-25 aircraft ineffectually strafing Ossetian and Russian positions continued through August 11, however these may have been able to sneak in "through" the overall aircraft traffic in the region (given that both sides were relying primarily on Su-25s for ground attack mission at this point, not entirely surprising); it is at this juncture that the Russians discover, to their considerable displeasure, that the Georgians are fielding next-generation SA-11 SAMs (one of which brought down a Tu-22 bomber flying a reconnaissance mission, although the crew was, apparently, extricated one way or another). These are presumably hunted down and suppressed over the next couple of days, together with their (presumably Ukrainian - because the Georgian army simply did not have any qualified or "trained-up" per
sonnel to use these systems) crews, as well as any other air defenses in the region, but the Russians still lose about a half-dozen birds in the process. Nevertheless, massive strafing of Georgian reinforcements continues.
Tactically, Russian infantry is content to follow tanks and 152mm "Akatsias" firing over open sights while helicopters support from overhead; the Georgians are unbelievably outgunned on just about every front.
To make matters worse for the Georgians, on August 10 or thereabouts, the Abkhazi begin moving troops into the contested Kodori gorge (prior to which the Russian peacekeeper battalion deployed there politely moved out of the way), with tanks and artillery leading the way, at precisely the point when the Georgians were shifting all available troops and equipment (right down to cramming men of draft or reservist age into buses, threatening them with 4-year jail terms if they "desert" and driving them to the front) to try and stabilize the South Ossetia front. Much unpleasantness ensues. Also by August 10, the Russian Black Sea Fleet takes positions around the Georgian coastline, sinking initially one Georgian missile boat and eventually two or three more before the next day dawns.
By August 11, the Georgian army in South Ossetia is completely and thoroughly routed; its artillery and heavy equipment blown away or abandoned, its troops suffering massive casualties from air and artillery attacks. The pockets in Tskhinvali and along the northern road pretty much cease all resistance, though to date there is no word on prisoners. The Georgians' two combat brigades thrown into the assault at the start effectively cease to exist, while the remaining army and reservists - those who were back in Georgia or had managed to escape to Gori - continue fleeing. The remaining Georgian regular army is pulled back to protect Tbilisi itself, while most Georgian military installations are being abandoned; the brigade that had been stationed in Iraq is being flown back in (reportedly in U.S. transport aircraft), however it, too, is positioned primarily to defend Tbilisi against a Russian strike.
Meanwhile, the Russians continue to push south, as do the Abkhazi. The latter clear out the Georgian defenses (and 11 villages) on the southern side of the Kodori Gorge and dig in against any counter-assault. The Russians launch a full-scale air and sea bombardment of just about any military structure or facility in Georgia - the port facilities of Poti are damaged (though not Batumi - which is a city not of ethnic Georgians but of a recently-"pacified" pro-Russian Adjari minority); Russian aircraft blow up the military depots in Gori (the secondary explosions from which damage the surrounding civilian buildings, which are then showcased in CNN and BBC reports on the subject of "Russian airstrikes against innocent civilians"); Russian troops move towards Gori and Sugdidi. Georgians are leaving Tbilisi to the east, hoping to escape to a somewhat-more friendly Azerbaijan.