The first 24 hours of Ukraine’s much anticipated counteroffensive may be the longest day for the Ukrainian Armed Forces. As German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel said to an aide before the expected Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944: “The first 24 hours of the invasion will be decisive. … For the Allies, as well as Germany, it will be the longest day”—a statement immortalized by the blockbuster Hollywood film about the Normandy landings, The Longest Day. Rommel knew that the initial phase of an attack often shapes the character of the subsequent fight, decides victory or defeat, and determines the strategic impact of an offensive.
Most of the speculation and debate is about when and where Ukrainian forces will strike, how big an attacking force Ukraine has assembled, and how much of an impact newly supplied Western weapons will have. It’s unlikely that anyone outside Ukraine’s high command knows whether Ukraine now has a decisive advantage in firepower, munitions, troop numbers, and battlefield logistics. What we do know is that in recent months, the war has increasingly been defined by attrition—neither side appears to have a decisive advantage, and each is trying to wear the other down. Whatever happens on Ukraine’s D-Day, it will not be easy for Ukrainian forces to avoid the war’s character as one of attrition, even if they are large, well-prepared, and well-equipped.