«Военная Литература»
Военная история

Chapter 1.

Prewar Soviet Defense Planning And Strategy

The Development Of Soviet Military Doctrine

The unique features of what became Soviet military doctrine took time to develop after the October Revolution due to the fact that the new regime had to cope with immediate and pressing problems that did not permit the luxury of long reflection. The most urgent problem, of course, was concluding the war with Germany, and this was done quickly, if haphazardly, by March 1918. The next military task was to build a new Red Army and protect the Soviet state from its enemies at home and abroad. Since by 1918 the lines were being drawn for what would become a full-fledged civil war, it was clear to Lenin that the organizer of the Red Army would have to be a man of rare administrative and military talents. Lenin's choice for this challenging assignment was Leon Trotsky, a man who had not even joined the Bolshevik Party until July 1917 but who had proven himself with his unflinching devotion to the revolutionary cause.

Trotsky's main contribution to the early Soviet state came out of his ability to achieve his goals despite chaotic conditions. The old imperial army had simply ceased to exist, both through attrition ("voting with their feet") and through the virtual collapse of [15] discipline after the Bolshevik decrees of elective command and equalization of rights. In February 1918, Trotsky took over the new Workers' and Peasants' Red Army (RKKA) as the commissar for war. Being ultimately pragmatic, he quickly grasped the situation and became a strong advocate of using former imperial officers in the ranks as "specialists." In doing this, he laid himself open to the charge of adhering to the old, traditional methods of warfare. In fact, Trotsky himself was able to admit this resemblance between the Red and imperial armies, but the expeditious winning of the civil war was what interested him, not meaningless and ill-formed platitudes about revolutionary war. By August 1920, the Red Army had taken in almost forty-eight thousand former tsarist officers, although many of them were in service relatively briefly{1}.

The civil war in Russia got into full swing in May 1918, after the abortive attempt to disarm the Czech Legion. The Czechs soon became a nucleus for the White forces in Siberia, and from then until the end of 1920, the Red Army was engaged in a bewildering and complex series of struggles, with a variety of opponents, that swayed back and forth over the huge country. The main foreign opponents included an Anglo-American expeditionary force, the Japanese, and the French-backed Poles. A detailed discussion of these events here is unnecessary (an inquiring reader can find many sources to draw from); the subject at hand is the development of - military philosophy{2}.

One of Trotsky's prote'ge "specialists" in the Red Army was Mikhail Tukhachevski, an aristocrat educated in the Corps of Cadets and the Alexander Military School-hardly the stuff of which revolutionaries are born. Yet after the revolution, Tukhachevski threw himself with great ardor into the Bolshevik cause and quickly distinguished himself as one of the Red Army's ablest commanders and strongest theoreticians. After winning his spurs against the White general Denikin as commander of the First Red Army on the southern front, Tukhachevski began to strike out on his own and take positions that were in direct opposition to Trotsky's. As might be expected, much of the debate about doctrine and strategy was carried out on two levels-a high, theoretical plane and that of a low, vicious struggle for mastery over the armed forces. [15]

The opening shots in the doctrinal battle were fired essentially over what would later become a side issue: the question of the territorial militia. In their writings, Marx and Engels had espoused the idea that irregular militia-type forces were better than maintaining a large standing army{2a}. Whatever the real significance of these writings may have been, the arguments over them quickly evolved into a bitter and personal feud that turned out to have very high stakes. It was Tukhachevski who initiated the fray by making a number of statements in 1920 calling for an "international general staff of the proletariat," which would lend assistance to the embattled revolutionaries of other countries. In taking this extreme position regarding revolutionary wars and the participation of the Red Army, Tukhachevski preempted the "left" position that Trotsky had sought to carve out for himself with his theory of the "permanent revolution." Trotsky here allowed himself to be out-maneuvered and forced to adopt a position to the "right" of Tukhachevski.

Trotsky had already been in a state of siege defending his use of the "specialists," and now he made matters much worse by saying that nothing was wrong with emulating traditional bourgeois military methods once the Soviets had seized power. Trotsky might have had his way with the upstart Tukhachevski in 1920, but he stayed his hand, probably not realizing how serious was the threat to his power. A new figure now emerged on the doctrinal scene in the role of mediator and holder of the middle ground between the feuding camps. This occupier of the center position had proven himself in the civil war in April-June 1919 in the counteroffensive against Kolchak in the Urals. His name was Mikhail Vasilievich Frunze; his patron was Joseph Stalin{3}.

In March 1921, Frunze and S. I. Gusev, then chief of the political administration of the Red Army, presented twenty-two theses to the Tenth Party Congress in Moscow. Gusev is reputed to have composed the first sixteen points and Frunze the remaining six. Gusev homed in on a few specific ideas, calling in the main for remedying qualitative deficiencies in the Red Army, especially in the command apparatus, and for strengthening the army political [16] apparatus to enable it to guard against the danger of "Bonapartism"-that is, a potential takeover of the government by a military strongman. For his part, Frunze submitted a range of proposals that were breathtaking in scope. The central part of his idea was that a so-called unified military doctrine should be developed on the basis of Marxist teachings. This development would be undertaken by a general staff or "brain of the army," which would become "the military-theoretical staff of the proletarian state." To the congress, Trotsky objected that the Frunze-Gusev theses were not specific enough and so they were officially withdrawn, but these were merely skirmishing shots, the main battle between the forces of Stalin and Trotsky was yet to come. One might suppose that this debate was nothing more than a smoke-screen behind which Stalin was seeking ways to gain political leverage against his rival, but even though the debate only makes sense within this context, the issues were real and they did reflect the turmoil and confusion in the young Soviet state about the future direction of military thought.

The world had a chance to see how far Frunze's thinking had advanced with the publication of his article "A Unified Military Doctrine and the Red Army," which appeared in the July 1921 issue of Army and Revolution. Frunze stated that wars were no longer waged by professional armies but by the entire population and productive means of the state and that there was a definite link between military science and the productive forces and class nature of the country. Frunze used Germany as an example; its state goals and foreign policy were aggressive, hence its military doctrine was offensive-minded. It was, by contrast, the basic goal of the dictatorship of the proletariat to smash capitalist relationships. Temporary coexistence with capitalism was possible, but "the common, parallel existence of our proletarian Soviet state with the states of the bourgeois capitalist world for a protracted period is not possible." Frunze, thus, like Lenin, believed that the force of arms must eventually decide the outcome in a battle of class enemies. Frunze favored seizure of the initiative by the proletariat and the carrying out of an offensive against the bourgeoisie. Clearly, he was an advocate of preemptive war. This kind of war had the advantage of surprise and would make up for the Red Army's technical inferiority vis-a-vis the armies of western Europe. Such an offensive should make use of the Red Army's ability to [17] maneuver on a huge scale, enhancing its natural advantages. Should, however, the army of the Soviets not strike the first blow, then it was possible to retreat over great distances, as Kutuzov did in his campaign with Napoleon. The offensive, though, was always the instrument that would defeat the "enemy, and a withdrawal should only be carried out while awaiting an opportunity for a counteroffensive when the enemy least expected it. Here, Suvorov was held up as the model for offensive tactics. In particular, Frunze stressed that field-maneuverable armies were more important than static fortifications and that preparations could be made in advance to conduct partisan operations behind the lines of an advancing enemy. Frunze put the strongest emphasis on deep maneuver utilizing cavalry (later, he said armor). And finally, he noted that, for the best effect, the military organization should be patterned after the Communist society: the authority of the officers should not be lessened, and there should be no equality between them and the enlisted masses.

Trotsky's rebuttal appeared in December 1921, in an article entitled "Military Doctrine or Pseudo-Military Doctrinairism?" Trotsky stated that there were no ready recipes in Marx's writings for developing a unified military doctrine for the Red Army. As for the ability of the army to take offensive action, Trotsky pointed out that much of the civil war required maneuvers of defense and retreat-a comment that was bound to spark resentment in the military ranks. He also said that the Red Army used whatever manpower resources were at hand, not just the proletariat. Objective conditions alone shape military doctrine, not some universal laws of military science.

When the Eleventh Party Congress was held in Moscow in March-April 1922, the debate over the military question continued in an even more serious vein between Trotsky and Stalin's proxies. This time it was K. E. Voroshilov, long a hand-picked protege of Stalin's, who took up the cudgels in favor of a unified doctrine and continued the emphasis on revolutionary wars. Undaunted, Trotsky scored a telling point with the argument that an army primarily made up of peasants could not be trained to support an international proletarian revolution. As for a universal or unified doctrine based on Marxist principles, Trotsky paraphrased Suvorov's "seven laws of war" and proposed that Frunze's ideas were a parody of these. How, said Trotsky, could the serf army of [18] Suvorov's day compare with the modern, politically conscious Red Army? He also took issue with the notion that the Red Army could participate in offensive wars in support of revolutions beyond Russia's borders. It was all-important that a war be made to appear defensive in nature, otherwise the peasants would not be convinced that the war was a just cause.

This last view of Trotsky's must have been particularly galling to those who cherished the internationalist cause, although it came close to some of the goals stressed later by Stalin in his program of "socialism in one country." Trotsky's assertion that there were no universal laws of war was not in agreement, either, with Lenin, who had put forth six fundamental laws of Soviet military strategy as follows: (1) Understand the significance of choosing the direction of the main blow against the enemy. (2) Create a superiority of forces and resources in the direction of this blow. (3) Change forms and methods of combat depending on the situation. (4) Organize troops depending upon the methods of warfare. (5) Understand the significance of strategic reserves. (6) Stress the importance of strategic leadership. Lenin also said, "To have an overwhelming advantage of forces at the decisive moment at the decisive point- that is the 'law' of military success{4}".

Trotsky's campaign for continued control of the military and its doctrine may have ended in personal tragedy for himself, but it cannot be said that others did not heed his warnings. The fact was -that he was right about the peasant composition of the army, and all the ideologues aside, nothing could change that basic reality. The competition between the groups supporting Stalin and Trotsky intensified after May 1922, when Lenin suffered the first in a series of paralytic strokes that would eventually kill him. By then it was obvious that a major struggle for succession would not long be postponed.

The struggle over control of the military became more clear when Trotsky's man, V. A. Antonov-Ovseenko, was removed as the head of Main Military Political Administration (PUR) in January 1924. In January 1925, Trotsky was removed from the Revolutionary Soviet, and in the same month Frunze succeeded him as commissar for war. Frunze's personal triumph was, however, brief. By the summer of 1925 he was seriously ill with an intestinal ailment, and he also suffered from a weak heart. Against his wishes, Frunze submitted to an operation on the orders of the Central [19] Committee, and by the end of October he was dead. His death was officially said to have been caused by an allergic reaction to chloroform, but there is some reason to believe that Stalin had him killed in order to replace him with Voroshilov. At any rate, in November of that year Voroshilov succeeded Frunze, thus completing another step in locking the support of the military in Stalin's hands. His grasp for power was furthered in November 1927, when Trotsky and his associate Zinoviev were expelled from the Party; soon afterward the former commissar for war was exiled to Central Asia{4a}. By December 1929, after the public condemnation of Bukharin, Tomsky, and Rykov, Stalin became the undisputed vozhd, or leader of Russia.

Stalin's accession to power as supreme ruler was heralded by the launching of the Soviet Union into the industrial age through the inauguration of the first Five-Year plan. The military purpose of the Five-Year plans can be seen in the following statement by Stalin: "The basic task of the Five-Year plans was to create such an industry in our country as to be able to rearm and reorganize not only industry as a whole, but also transportation and agriculture-on the basis of socialism." It can be seen from the data currently available that under Stalin defense-related expenditures were given a higher priority than investment in heavy industry. During the period 1928-1952, the years of Stalin's rule, funds designated for military purposes increased by a factor of twenty-six times, while the real investment in heavy industry increased by only half as much.

After 1933 and the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany, even closer attention was paid to defense planning, in terms both of theory and practical application. The relationship of the Soviet Union with Germany was one of both love and hate in the 1920s and 1930s: Love, because both sides had been losers in the First World War and because they had nowhere else to turn but to each other for allies. Hate, because Germany was clearly the Soviet Union's greatest potential rival in eastern and central Europe and because Hitler's Nazi party ideology was unreservedly hostile to bolshevism. The Nazis classified the Slavic peoples as inferior to the Germanic; they described them as suitable only for slavery and their countries as fit only for German colonization. An [20] attempt was made by well-meaning Russians and Germans to arrive at some sort of military collaboration, which, after 1921, took the form of joint training exercises in the Soviet Union. The Treaty of Rapallo in 1922 publicly declared the two underdogs' mutual interest in cooperation, but the friendship was always strained and could never last. The social and political systems of Germany and the Soviet Union diverged and then became rabidly antagonistic. It is against this varied background of turmoil and change in a country in the throes of massive economic upheaval, the consolidation of a rigid personal dictatorship under Stalin, and the growing potential threat from a hostile and rearming Germany, that the development of military doctrine in the Soviet Union in the 1930s must be understood.

By 1922, the main concerns in military theory were twofold: (1) how to make use of the coming economic and political collapse of the West and the resulting revolutionary situation and (2) how to make the most out of the experiences gained by the Red Army in the civil war. It did not take long for the blind faith in the immediate decline of the West to die. It took longer, however, for those who wished to exalt the lessons of the civil war to lose their voice. The first attempt at putting these lessons to practical use came with the issuance of Provisional Field Service Regulations in June 1925. Much of what was said in this document could, it seems, have been taken from Suvorov. These regulations called for close cooperation of all types of arms and described the offensive as the main form of warfare. The goal of any defensive action was to gain time for delivering the crushing offensive blow, to hold the enemy in a static position and smite him on the flanks. Close attention was also paid to the investing and holding of critical zones. The emphasis on the offensive and its relationship to defensive operations, dating back to Suvorov, could be described as uniquely Russian. These teachings were not lost on Zhukov and the general staff in 1941, as will be seen later.

After the implementation of the 1925 provisional regulations, it became clear to some thinkers that it was not enough to study the lessons of the civil war. One expert emerged who began to advocate some patently classical solutions, which is not surprising, since he had earned his credits as an officer in the imperial Russian army. His name was A. A. Svechin and his book, first published in 1927, was entitled Strategy. In a very conventional way, [21] reminiscent perhaps of Falkenhayn's strategy at Verdun, Svechin advocated a large-scale war of attrition. One of the interesting aspects of this approach was, so it appeared to Svechin, the possibility of devastating the morale in the enemy camp with a war that dragged on interminably with mounting casualties. This was, of course, precisely what Russia had suffered in the period from 1914 to 1917, and the underlying assumption, however false it might have been, was that the new Communist society in Russia would impart a moral courage to the nation and the people that it had lacked earlier{4b}.

As might be supposed, this theory of attrition flew in the face of logic to many who still cherished the belief that a strong enemy could be vanquished only through force of arms in a great offensive action. One of the parties rankled by Svechin's approach was Tukhachevski, who became very bitter about the criticism of his bungled offensive toward Warsaw in 1920. Tukhachevski also disagreed with A. I. Verkhovskii, the former imperial minister of war, who accepted the ideas of the British military thinker J.F.C. Fuller about tanks and aviation being the new wave of modern warfare. By referring to these new ideas cropping up in Russia as "the small mechanized armies of the type of the Fascist police," Tukhachevski showed himself a strong advocate of the mass concept of armies that Russia had always professed to rely on. When Verkhovskii spoke of the need for small professional armies, as de Gaulle had advocated for France, Tukhachevski said that such an "elitist" concept denied the advantages of mass, mobile, offensively trained armies.

During the course of the 1930s, the "one-weapon elitists" were defeated, largely due to Tukhachevski. Such theories as the overweening reliance on the tank or the airplane ran completely counter to the philosophy of the social-political foundations of the Red Army. In 1941, Zhukov would build on Tukhachevski's ideas and develop a harmonious concept of defense, offense, and attrition that would go beyond the understanding of the leaders of the German Wehrmacht and that is, in fact, poorly understood in the West even today. There are still many in our part of the world who [22] believe that the Nazi concept of blitzkrieg would have worked in Russia without a political and economic program that would appeal to the Russian people to back it up. It can be hoped that a clearer understanding of the real situation in the Soviet Union will eventually emerge.

In 1927 the first of three volumes of a major work of military theory was published: The Brain of the Army, written by B. M. Shaposhnikov. The subject of this book was the organization and role of the Red Army general staff. There can be little doubt that the book influenced the thoughts of Voroshilov and Stalin; in 1937, Shaposhnikov was made chief of the general staff. The Red Army general staff underwent a gradual evolution, and although it was superseded by the STAVKA, Stalin's personal military staff from 1941 to 1945, it became extremely significant after the war, having much more responsibility and authority than the U.S. Joint Chiefs{5}.

By 1929, the Red Army command was ready to attempt a partial application of some of the new philosophies of war that were then being advanced in the West. The embodiment of this experiment was contained in Field Regulations of 1929 (PU-29). The PU-29 was a document authored mainly by the theoretician V. K. Triandafilov, but the commission that finally approved it had been appointed by Voroshilov. One of the non-Western innovations put forward by PU-29 was the elevation of the political commissars in the hierarchy of the Red Army; they were to be the backbone of military morale. The meat of the new regulations, however, was a flirtation with the opportunities presented by the tank as demonstrated by J.F.C. Fuller. PU-29 went a half-step toward adopting the view that independent armored operations were the wave of the future, but it maintained some of the more traditional features of Russian military doctrine. Some months before his death in a plane crash in 1931, Triandafilov amplified his stand on tactics in a special report to the general staff entitled "Basic Questions of Tactics and Operational Art in Connection with the Reconstruction of the Army{6}.

Triandafilov's report was a curious amalgam of purely Russian doctrine, heavily flavored with the somewhat faddish ideas then current abroad. The Russian elements could be seen in the concern given to combined-arms tactics and the theory of deep battle, whereas the Western elements were visible in the attention [23] paid to the use of armor. Triandafilov envisioned an integration of combined-arms and independent armored operations. He stated that the new forms of technical equipment then available would allow the enemy to be attacked "in the entire depth of his tactical deployment." Several echelons of tanks can attack the enemy's first line of defense in cooperation with infantry supported by artillery and close air support. Conditions could thus be created that would be favorable for simultaneous operations over broad expanses of front and at great depth. Even though the doctrine presented in Triandafilov's report was Sacking in specifics and the philosophy behind it was somewhat murky, the general tone it set did have some influence. In February 1933, the war commissariat approved and issued to the armed forces a program entitled "Provisional Regulations Regarding the Organization of Deep Battle," which was based on Triandafilov's work as well as that of the new chief of the general staff, A.I. Egorov, and his operations officer, I. P. Obysov.

The work of Triandafilov and Egorov was carried further toward a workable solution by M. N. Tukhachevski, Trotsky's old foe, who became the deputy chief of the general staff in 1924 after serving as head of the Red Army Military Academy. Although Tukhachevski was a man gifted with a talent for theory, he was, apparently, politically naive. He eventually aroused the suspicion of Stalin (in spite of his rank as marshal) because of his wide contacts in the West, particularly within the German Wehrmacht. He was executed on the dictator's orders in June 1937. His accusation and trial led off what became a blood purge of the officer corps in that year that resulted in the liquidation of about half of the Red Army's commissioned staff.

Key elements in the evolution of Tukhachevski's thinking were the large-scale military maneuvers held in western Russia during the mid-1930s. Some of these exercises, such as the one held in the fall of 1936, were attended by Western observers. In these maneuvers, experiments were conducted with mechanized infantry and armored units used in an independent fashion. Although the information gathered then was not made public, the evidence is that the "bourgeois" theories of small armies and highly mobile armored elite units were rejected by Tukhachevski and the Red Army high command. This decision in favor of a massive armed force built around the assumption of the cooperation of all forms [24] of units utilizing combined-arms tactics was made easier by the fact that the Russian industrial base was too weak to admit a heavy investment in armored vehicles and wheeled transport. Certainly, after the calamitous harvest of 1933, the idea of limiting tractor production in favor of tanks could not have been seriously considered. It is a basic reality of military planning in Russia's centralized economy that a failure in one sector, such as agriculture, will have an immediate and pronounced effect in other areas, such as military production. This is a lesson that the West has repeatedly ignored.

In 1934, Tukhachevski wrote an article entitled "The Character of Border Operations" in which he stated that the traditional method of moving mass armies up to the border areas by rail was now outmoded due to the danger of disruption by air attack{7}. According to Tukhachevski, the previously planned character of battles along the frontier no longer conformed with actual conditions. The only tactic that could succeed would be that of preparing a defense in depth, leading to a protracted conflict with broad fronts and deep operations. The initial struggle along the frontiers would be important but would by no means decide the issue. The new form of deep battle would allow the enemy to be destroyed by a series of actions in a given strategic direction, not just by defending the borders. In this respect, Tukhachevski remained true to the philosophy of Lenin, who believed that wars between states that had the capability of mobilizing their entire productive and population resources would always be protracted conflicts.

Tukhachevski went on to say in the article that, because of the danger of concentrating mass armies in the border sectors, it would be best to place there forward armies only strong enough to be considered the first operational echelon of the main force. In his opinion, the main force armies were to be concentrated secretly in areas that were most likely to be on the flanks of the advancing enemy. He attached much significance to fortified zones positioned along the border, which would serve as the shield, absorbing the initial shock of the enemy's offensive and covering the concentration of second echelon armies-the hammer-which would deliver blows to the enemy's flanks. The fortified regions were to offer more than just passive resistance. In Tukhachevski's plan they were to be organically connected with the maneuvers of the field army and act as support for its carrying out a general offensive [25] operation. It is impossible here to overstate the importance of these conclusions; it was on the basis of them that Zhukov and Stalin implemented a plan for defense against Germany in 1941, as will be seen later in the chapter.

On the use of armor, Tukhachevski's ideas followed Triandafilov's to a certain extent as he attempted to describe specific ways in which independent tank operations could be carried out. Tukhachevski proposed that armored units be divided into different categories depending upon the operational characteristics of the tank and the specific combat mission that was to be carried out. Essentially, there should be three echelons of tanks: (1) tanks for close support of infantry (NPP), which could be slower models of relatively limited range, (2) tanks for distant support of infantry (DPP), which could move faster and farther, and (3) independent long-range striking armor (DD). In the period before the infantry attack in the offensive operation, the artillery and air cover should be used to support the tanks in their initial breakthrough of the enemy lines. Here, Tukhachevski tried to bridge the gap between a combined-arms philosophy and a new tactic based on independent armored operations. The general tenor of this plan, as one future chief of the general staff would put it, was "to assign a mistaken importance and priority to the tanks." As will be seen, however, events leading up to the German invasion of 1941 compelled Stalin and the then chief of the general staff, Zhukov, to reject this concept and to rely almost totally on close infantry-armor cooperation. It should be mentioned also that a parallel attempt was being made in the early 1930s to come to grips with the use of independent strategic air power, the virtues of which had been extolled by the Italian general Douhet. Triandafilov and B. M. Feldmann had written an article entitled "Characteristics of New Tendencies in the Military Sphere" in which they advocated the creation of a strategic air arm. This approach was roundly criticized by R. P. Eideman, Tukhachevski's successor as head of the Frunze Military Academy, who believed that the air force's major role should be to support the army{8}.

After some degree of debate and study, in December 1934 the defense commissariat decided that the "deep battle" scenario proposed by Tukhachevski was not merely a type of tactic but a wholly new and different strategy that included many tactical variants. During a meeting that month, Voroshilov declared that this new [26] theory should be put into practical use at once. Egorov agreed, saying that tanks were to be considered "core units" in the "deep battle" concept. These theories were, in fact, embodied in Field Regulations of 1936 (PU-36). However one might try to apply the new ideas of using armor, the reality was that Russia still lacked the industrial base to mechanize the Red Army as fully as its potential opponents in the West. Germany had already begun its program of full-scale rearmament in 1934, and there were other ominous clouds on the horizon: the Spanish civil war was being waged in full fury by the summer of 1936, and both Russia and Germany would become progressively more involved in this conflict. A more chilling portent for the future was also visible in 1936; in August the trials began for the so-called Trotsky-Zinoviev center, events that proved to be preludes to the massive purges in the party, in the NKVD state security apparatus itself, and finally, in the military.

PU-36 fully reflected the main ideas about deep battle worked out by Tukhachevski and his colleagues. PU-36 stated, in part, that "The enemy is to be paralyzed in the entire depth of his deployment, surrounded and destroyed." PU-36 seemed in tune with the rest of the world when Heinz Guderian's book Achtung Panzer was published early the next year. In the offensive operations, tanks were to be employed on a mass scale in echelons, as Tukhachevski had already proposed. Taking a leaf from the books of the Western theorists, PU-36 called for aviation to be used also on a large scale "concentrating the forces according to the times and targets which have the greatest tactical importance." The new field regulations assigned a leading role to artillery in achieving tactical breakthroughs of enemy defenses.

The day of the "artillery offensive" so effectively employed by the Red Army had not yet arrived, but still, PU-36 attempted to come to grips with the problem of the spatial gaps that would widen between fast-moving armored groups and slower artillery units. The Germans tried to get around this problem by using the JU-87 Stuka dive-bomber in a close support role in cooperation with the tanks. The Russian planners, too, favored this approach for their aviation, but the distances in Russia proved too great for the air force (VVS) to manage. The fact is, neither side had enough aircraft to make up for the lack of self-propelled artillery support for long-distance drives by armored spearheads. The Germans [27] found this out to their sorrow after penetrating to the Dnepr line in July 1941. The Germans paid their price in blood for his lesson and, after the reverses in the Army Group Center area in December 1941, were not able to recoup their offensive posture on this strategic front.

The Soviet General Staff Academy, which was founded in 1936, took the new regulations to heart, but there were those who sensed the need for caution. G. Isserson, then a lecturer at the academy, later pointed out a fatal flaw in the deep battle concept. The whole plan was predicated upon the assumption that it would be the Red Army that would be carrying out the offensives and that a future war would be fought mainly on the enemy's territory. In other words, little or no thought was openly being given to deep battle defensive operations. One only had to cast one's eyes to the West-the growing power of Germany and the swelling storm in Spain-to see that this future war might have a different beginning. Isserson's comments about this are very interesting in light of the events of 1941 that will be examined later.

On the other hand, it was the deepest awareness of the highest officers of the general staff that the beginning period of the war could commence quite differently. In some circles of the general staff and in the General Staff Academy these problems were discussed concretely and the necessary calculations were made. However, these discussions took place only behind closed doors and were not given an official airing{9}.

Isserson also says that Stalin's "cult of personality" was responsible for the gap in defense planning, but clearly the problem was a great deal larger than that. Stalin had not yet grasped firm hold over the military, nor had he succeeded in finding people he could trust who would give him objective advice about the whole direction of military strategy, let alone tactics. Voroshilov turned out to be a plodder and a yes-man as the 1939 war against Finland would show, and Tukhaehevski proved to be a gadfly, constantly flirting with his contacts in the West. Eventually, these contacts were used by Reinhard Heydrich of the Nazi SD secret police to fabricate false evidence against Tukhachevski showing him guilty of treason. Whether Stalin actually believed the counterfeit documents prepared by Heydrich or not is immaterial; Stalin came to believe that Tukhachevski had become too immersed in the West and was no longer to be trusted. When the old Bolshevik Karl [28] Radek was brought to trial in January 1937, a collective shudder went down the spine of the officer corps at the mention of Tukhachevski's name in connection with certain evidence bearing on treasonable activities. The end could not be long in coming. By the summer of that year Tukhachevski had been arrested and shot, and by the end of the year a dreadful blood purge of the officer corps was taking place. The instrumentality for this purge was the NKVD security apparatus then headed by N. I. Yezhov, known as the "bloodthirsty dwarf" (he stood only five feet high), whose reign of terror is called the "Yezhovshchina" in the Soviet Union. By the end of 1937 Stalin ruled the military with an iron hand through the person of Lev Mekhlis, the head of the military main political administration (PUR). Even today, Mekhlis's name is used as a synonym for terror in Soviet military publications. The final figures of the purges reveal the fearful consequences: About thirty-five thousand officers were killed, or roughly half the corps. Three out of 5 marshals were killed, 13 out of 15 army commanders, 57 out of 85 corps commanders, 110 out of 195 division commanders, and 220 out of 406 brigade commanders{10}.

But like the phoenix from the ashes, the officer corps rose again from the ruins of the former organization. The new group of men owed their careers and even their lives to Stalin. Those who had been spared the purge, like G. K. Zhukov, S. K. Timoshenko, and B. M. Shaposhnikov, were able to move up swiftly in rank provided they had the natural instincts and abilities to survive in a very tough environment. The Red Army had not been battle-tested on a large scale since the war with Poland and the abortive advance on Warsaw in 1920, but this peaceful lull was soon to be sharply broken. Russia's old enemy, Japan, had been increasing its forces rapidly in China since 1934, and now it was ready to test the sinews of the Red Army in a place where its supply lines were stretched thinnest: in Mongolia, which had become a Soviet satellite in 1922. First at Lake Khasan in the summer of 1938 and then at Khalkhin-Gol in the spring of 1939, the Japanese strove mightily with infantry, armor, artillery, and air power to push the Red Army back into the Soviet Union proper, but these attempts failed.

The Japanese attack at Lake Khasan was thwarted by Mai shal Blukher, a curious man who may have wished to become potentate of Siberia-until he was cut down by Yezhov's henchmen virtually on the morrow of his victory in Mongolia. The Japanese assault at [29] Khalkhin-Gol, by contrast, was broken by a man who received high awards from Stalin and was much trusted by him, Georgii Zhukov. Zhukov was probably successful under Stalin first of all because, at least in his early years, he was unassuming and unpretentious. Zhukov also had two other characteristics that the dictator valued: he had the habit of telling the blunt truth when asked (as we shall see he did in 1941) and he had the habit of being right.

At Khalkhin-Gol Zhukov used a combined-arms counterof-fensive to sweep the enemy from the battlefield. It has been said that here he demonstrated the effectiveness of an independent armored thrust, but this is not really true. There was a freewheeling armored encirclement of some Japanese units, but this was carried out on a narrow front with limited range and depth, hardly to be compared with the great German panzer "cauldrons" of 1941. After Khalkhin-Gol, Zhukov was definitely a comer. He gained more experience in Finland and in Bessarabia in 1940. Finally, he was relied upon by Stalin to pull Russia out of the worst crisis it had faced since the seventeenth century.

As a result of Zhukov's experiences against the Japanese and the tank commander D. G. Pavlov's difficulties in Spain, in November 1939 the order went out to disband the tank corps, which had been first created in 1932 (then called mechanized corps), and use the tanks in close cooperation with the infantry. Pavlov's attempts to employ armor independently had come to grief in Esquivas, south of Madrid, where tanks operating inside a town with narrow streets without infantry support had proven to be quite ineffective{11}. But the controversy regarding tanks was far from over, especially after the failure of the Red Army to achieve a decisive victory in Finland in the winter war of 1939-1940 and after Guderian's rapid blitzkrieg defeat of France in May-June 1940{12}. The debate was stirred anew in an article by I. P. Sukhov entitled "Tanks in Contemporary War" published soon after the fall of France{13}. Sukhov was a senior lecturer, and later head, of the Military Academy for the Motorization and Mechanization of the Red Army in Moscow. He denied that tanks operating in the depths of the enemy's forces, either on his flanks or in his rear, were risking disaster. Also, he discounted the potentially disastrous supply problems armored units might face operating far from their own bases. All of these difficulties could be overcome, he said, by [30] creating masses of motorized infantry that would ride tracked vehicles and would be capable of keeping up with the advancing armor. Motorized artillery also would be necessary, but here the proper use of support aviation would make up for deficiencies in long-range firepower. Sukhov's article is interesting for several reasons. First of all, this was precisely the theory that the Wehrmacht attempted to put into practice in Russia a year later. Secondly, although the Red Army undertook a rapid about-face and tried to implement some of these ideas, precious little time was allowed to acquire the necessary level of motorization for the Red Army. Thirdly, this theory is very close to what the Soviet Army actually is able to do today.

As shall be seen later, the Red Army underwent a powerful wrenching in the second half of 1940 and the early months of 1941 in trying to deal with the problem of the mechanized corps. As has been stated, economic realities forced a certain logic on the Red Army as far as strategic and tactical planning was concerned. Now the question should be asked. What were the Russians doing with their economy? Needless to say, the answer is difficult to find, but it is possible to make a few shrewd guesses. Of all the major branches of military industry on the eve of 1941, the greatest development had been achieved in artillery, especially the production of cannon. This was not an accident, for artillery was considered of primary importance. Aside from a brief episode in 1941, artillery was considered by the army high command to be the main striking weapon in warfare. The real "god of war," as Stalin called artillery, was the superb Soviet 76mm gun, which fired twenty-five 6.21kg shells per minute with muzzle velocity of 680 meters per second. This gun was produced in countless thousands throughout the war in many variations, including being mounted in the T-34 tank with devastating effect. The Soviet artillery arsenal in June 1939 was 45,790 guns, and from May 1940 to the end of June 1941 production of artillery was stepped up 150 percent{14}.

There were some deficiencies in artillery, however. Khalkhin-Gol and Finland had shown the need for more mortars, and the lack of good antiaircraft and antitank artillery was also recognized, but these deficiencies were largely remedied by June 1941. There were also problems with handheld infantry weapons and a need for a good workable submachine gun that could be made in large quantities. This was eventually obtained with the development of [31] the famous PPSh1941 "burp gun." But, try as it might, the Soviet economy was able to increase production of rifles and carbines by only 16 percent above what it had achieved in 1940, clearly an unsatisfactory level, and indicative of the load placed on the industrial base.

With regard to armor. Soviet sources give the following production figures for the latest model tanks before the war:


First half of 1941

KV heavy tanks



T-34 "medium" tanks



The heavy KVs (Klement Voroshilovs) were produced in the Kirov factory in Leningrad and in the Cheliabinsk tractor factory in the Urals. The T-34s were produced at the Stalingrad tractor factory, which also manufactured diesel motors in large numbers, as did the Kharkov diesel works{15}. The total size of the Soviet tank park in 1941, believed to be the world's largest, is difficult to estimate, but it was clearly greater than the German intelligence estimate of about ten thousand. In July 1941, Stalin sent a letter to Roosevelt giving the figure twenty-four thousand. This figure tallies well with the best current Western estimate (22,700){16}. During the military-oriented Five-Year plans, the Soviet Union had been pouring over 26 percent of its capital investment into defense, which allowed it to accumulate vast stores of arms. By contrast, in 1941 the Germans had equipped twenty-one panzer divisions, each with about 165 tanks. Of this number, seventeen were deployed on the eastern front in June. The Germans began the war in the east with only 3,580 tanks and self-propelled guns, and of these, just 439 were the modern Panzer IVs. For all of 1941 Germany produced only 3,796 tanks and self-propelled guns{17}.

Perhaps the area of greatest deficiency in Soviet armaments was that of motor transport. In 1941 the mechanized corps had approximately a third of their necessary trucks. This lack of vehicles acted as a serious handicap to the Red Army's ability to maneuver rapidly throughout the entire war. At the end of the war Russian tank armies were still 10-25 percent short of vehicles, but even this advance in numbers was not due to indigenous production. In the spring of 1945 the Soviet armed forces were estimated to have about 665,000 motor vehicles of all types; of these, some 427,000 [32] had been shipped to the USSR from the United States through the Lend-Lease agreement. It is believed that in 1945 fully 50 percent of all vehicles actually in service in the Soviet armed forces were American. This aid, plus hundreds of locomotives and thousands of railroad cars, large numbers of aircraft, and other kinds of equipment, such as radios, gave the Russians the transport, the mobility, and the communications they needed to defeat the Wehr-macht. Without this aid, their full and strategic victory would have been made extraordinarily more difficult, if not impossible{18}.

The huge Soviet investment in weapons manufacture was bound to put a strain on an economy that produced in 1940 only 18.3 million metric tons of steel versus the United States' 62.5 million, Britain's 13.2 million, and Germany's (with its occupied territories) 31.8 million tons. After the war began for Russia in June 1941, even higher levels of armaments were produced. In the second half of 1941, the Soviet Union produced 4,177 tanks. In 1942 Russia produced 25,000 planes to Germany's 14,700, 24,700 tanks and armored vehicles to Germany's 9,300, 29,500 artillery pieces over 75mm to Germany's 12,000, 4,049,000 rifles and carbines to Germany's 1,370,000{19}. These graphic statistics alone spelled doom for Germany after the failure of its blitzkrieg campaign in Russia. The reasons for this failure will be examined in the following chapters.

In summary, the period of the 1920s and 1930s was a dynamic one for the development of Soviet military theory. The advocates of the mass theory of war, such as Svechin, seemed to give way to other theorists, like Verkhovskii and Triandafilov, who were enamored of the concepts of war being advocated by Fuller, Douhet, Liddell Hart, Guderian, and others in the West. There were those, mainly Tukhachevski and Shaposhnikov, who advocated a more nearly Russian approach, relying on the mass army concept and the use of combined-arms tactics. Still, the attempts to bridge the gap between the native Russian way of war and the Western methods proved to be awkward and perhaps largely ineffective. The root of most of this wasted energy rested in Stalin's rigid [33] consolidation of personal power, which led to too many conflicts in the society and the economy that could not be patched up in time to allow the Red Army to mechanize properly. How these contradictions were resolved enough for Russia to repel the Nazi invaders will be examined next.

The Strategy for the Defense of the Soviet Union in 1941

The astonishing success achieved by the Wehrmacht in the summer and fall of 1941 has prompted most military experts in the West to assume that Russia was caught off guard by the sudden-ness of the German assault. It has been assumed by the most knowledgeable generals and historians that the USSR did not have a strategy for defense in 1941 and that the Red Army was pushed back by the invaders pell-mell into its own hinterland, where it was eventually saved by the miraculous combination of an early, severe winter and some incredible blunders, mostly Hitler's, on the part of the Germans{20}.

As easy as these interpretations might be to accept, nevertheless they leave several questions unanswered: (1) After suffering severe losses so close to the frontier in June 1941, how was the Red Army able to regroup so rapidly and offer such a tenacious resistance a month later at Kiev-Korosten, Gomel, Smolensk-Yelnia, and Velikie Luki-Staraia Russa? (2) How could the desperate situation that existed in the area of German Army Group South and on the southern flank of Army Group Center in July-August 1941 possibly have permitted the rapid continuation of an offensive in the direction of Moscow? (3) Why did large numbers of the newer T-34 and KV tanks, along with the latest model MiG-3 aircraft and others, begin to appear only in October, after the bulk of the Soviet armor and air force supposedly had been destroyed in the earlier battles of encirclement and annihilation at Bialystok-Minsk, Smolensk, and Kiev? (4) How was the Red Army able to mount a counteroffensive in early December at the very gates of Moscow with a force of seven armies, a force that enabled it to enjoy a 50 percent numerical superiority over the Wehrmacht along some key axes of the attack{21}? If the answers to these questions are ignored or glossed over, then the facts themselves will have to be tossed aside or deliberately distorted. It will not do to offer the weather or Hitler's blunders to explain what happened to the [34] German Army in 1941. Only by probing more deeply into the events of the summer of 1941 will it be possible to explain what led to Germany's disaster.

By the end of 1940, the amalgamated deep operations and combined-arms method of tactics, as developed and modified by V. K. Triandafilov and M. N. Tukhachevski between 1929 and 1936, had come dangerously close to becoming a one-edge sword, honed for cutting at the enemy in sharp offensive thrusts, but ill designed for parrying strokes in a defensive maneuver. The reason | for this was that, after the purges in the military in 1937-1938, defense planning was allowed to languish. If the Soviet Union had continued to place its hopes on being able to begin a war with Germany at a time and place of its own choosing, presumably in 1943 or 1944, after Germany had again become locked in a ground war on its western front, then, no doubt, great trouble would have resulted{22}. That the country found its salvation before it was too late was not due to luck or fate-it was due to the steady vision of a remarkable man, Georgii Zhukov. It was Zhukov who took the basic precepts of the combined-arms-deep operations tactics, worked out in many of their essentials in the 1930s, and gave the Red Army a concrete and workable plan for defense in 1941. Zhukov would have only four-and-a-half short months to put his ideas into effect. That the Soviet state exists today is testament to the correctness of his vision, although he received an extraordinary amount of help in the form of egregious blunders made by Hitler and the German high command.

Tukhachevski's theories of offensive action, joining the combined-arms and deep operations tactics, have been discussed many times and in great detail by Soviet historians{23}. There are also some excellent Western commentaries on this subject, but none of them. Eastern or Western, attempt to show the close interrelationship of theory and fact in 1941, for the combined-arms-deep operations tactics provided a unique basis for the formulation of a defensive strategy for the Soviet Union{24}. It is true that the line-separating strategy from tactics seems somewhat metaphysical, but the development of the theory of deep operations had already opened the way in Soviet military thought for tactical planning on a grand scale. Due to the efforts of Tukhachevski, by 1936 the USSR had already evolved two separate offensive and defensive strategies founded on the precepts of the deep [35] operations-combined-arms theories of tactics. But after Tukhachevski's execution in 1937 little effort was spent on the defensive aspect of a future war, or on a war on the territory of the Soviet Union itself. By early 1941, Zhukov had succeeded in uniting these offensive and defensive strategies into one harmonious concept of war that went beyond the simple, straightforward plans of their future adversaries. But all was not to be easy for the Red Army or the Russian people. Zhukov had to make some critical guesses about the Germans' schemes for achieving a strategic victory over their country. He was nearly proven wrong.

In working out the plans for a strategic defense on a large scale, Tukhachevski and subsequent theoreticians made the most of the two commodities that the USSR had in abundance, distance and manpower-much of which could be sacrificed in the beginning (if necessary) in order to regain the initiative and hand the enemy a setback at the proper moment. In developing a suitable method for carrying out a strategic defense against an invasion from the west, Tukhachevski and his successors used the deep operations theory of echeloning the phases of an offensive in reverse. In a deep operations offensive each arm or branch of arms was assigned a position in the attacking echelons according to the characteristics of speed, armament, and firepower they each possessed. The strategy for defense essentially mirrored this concept, envisioning the theater of battle as being divided into three zones of maneuver: (1) the tactical zone of defense, the area initially affected by the enemy's attack; (2) the operational zone of defense, the area behind and up to 250 kilometers to the rear of the main line of resistance; and (3) the strategic zone of defense, in an area from 250 kilometers behind the main line of resistance{25}. In Tukhachevski's original plan the frontier armies positioned farthest to the west, protected by their fortifications, would be only the first, that is, the tactical, zone of defense. It would be the duty of the operational group behind the first tactical zone to attack the flanks of the enemy army as it advanced farther east, exhausting the opponent and draining his strength while awaiting the proper moment for committing the third echelon, the strategic reserve, in an all-out counteroffensive maneuver{26}. The political-strategical situation in 1941 had changed a great deal from what it had been in 1934, but it was on the basis of Tukhachevski's theories that the General Staff Academy began work in 1936 preparing the country's [36] future high military officers for the approaching war{27}. Unfortunately, however, the preparation of a thoroughgoing defense plan prior to 1941 was not possible, for several reasons.

Throughout the year 1940, the political and military leadership of the Red Army was on a false track, guided by the assumption that the most likely kind of operation the armed forces would be required to undertake would be to break through an enemy fortified zone, as had been the case in the winter war in Finland. In an article published in February 1941, Maj. Gen. K. D. Golubev, commander of the Tenth Army, positioned within the Bialystok salient, declared that the Red Army was studying in detail the experiences of breakthrough operations in 1914-1918, 1939-1940, and "the exceptionally rich experience in the breakthrough of the Mannerheim Line"{28}. Another factor that delayed proper defense preparations was the momentary panic in the summer of 1940 that affected everyone, apparently also Stalin, following the swift German victory over France. In June 1940, the commissar for defense, S. K. Timoshenko, reported to Stalin on the results of the German blitzkrieg campaign. During this same month Timoshenko ordered, with Stalin's approval, the reestablishment of the large armored units that had been disbanded in November 1939. In February 1941, the formation of twenty mechanized corps was authorized, each to be composed of two tank divisions and one motorized, more or less on the German model. The new mechanized corps were to be particularly large organizations, each tank division having 375 tanks, 11,343 troops, and 60 guns. The motorized division, in addition to two motorized regiments and other units, would have 275 light tanks. The total for the corps was intended to be 37,000 men, 1,025-1,031 tanks, 268 armored cars, and 358 guns and mortars from 76 mm to 122 mm. By way of contrast, the 1939 tank corps were supposed to have 660 tanks, 118 artillery pieces, and 12,710 men{29}. Such spasmodic, kneejerk reactions to events could not help but have an adverse effect on the coordination of plans for defense. As a matter of fact, the Soviet Union had not nearly enough time to carry out such a massive mechanization of the Red Army; Soviet sources note that in June 1941 only four of the nine existing mechanized corps were fully battle ready{30}. Another more practical solution for countering the German threat had to be found in a hurry. [37]

It is not easy to explain the Red Army's consistent preoccupation with methods of offensive warfare during the years 1939 and 1940 without supposing that Stalin harbored the secret intention to send it, sooner or later, on an advance westward. It has been said that it was Stalin's personal decision that forced the Red Army to base its combined-arms-deep operations tactics on the premise that it would be the Soviet Union that would take the offensive and carry the war immediately into the enemy's territory{31}. For this reason, the controversy over an offensive versus a defensive strategy to meet the German threat was not finally resolved until a series of Kremlin conferences and war games held in late 1940 and early 1941. It was then, during the methodical examination of alternatives available to the Red Army and the playing out of various solutions to tactical problems on the map, that Zhukov came into his ascendancy. In Stalin's eyes, Zhukov had correctly foreseen the course of coming events, and from January 1941 on, this man's destiny and the fate of the Soviet Union were inextricably intertwined.

The first round of conferences was held December 23-31 and was attended by the commanders of the military districts and armies, members of the military councils, the chiefs of staff of the districts and armies, commanders of the military academies, professors of military science, ranking general staff officers, and others, including members of the Politburo{32}. Virtually the entire emphasis of this conference was on the conduct of offensive operations. It is significant that even in Timoshenko's summation report there was not a word on defensive strategy or tactics{33}.

Zhukov, present as head of Kiev Special Military District, had been notified as early as September to prepare a report for the conference entitled "The Nature of Modern Offensive Operations." It is not likely that Zhukov was assigned this topic accidentally, for his reputation as a leader of offensive operations had already been well established at khalkhin-Gol against the Japanese in 1939, and he had gained more experience in the summer of 1940 when the Soviet Union occupied northern Bukovina and Bessarabia. From the content of this report, it can be seen that Zhukov had progressed a long way toward uniting the combined-arms and deep operations tactics into a new kind of offensive strategy{34}. The reliance on combined-arms "shock armies" to achieve breakthroughs [38] that could be pushed to depths of up to two hundred or three hundred kilometers was far more reasonable than the German plan for exploiting a strategic breakthrough for distances up to a thousand kilometers inside Russia.

The character of Zhukov's assignment also reveals the importance the Kremlin attached to the area south of the Pripet Marshes as an area for a future offensive. This was why the premier commander of offensive operations in the Red Army had been appointed to head the Kiev Special Military District. The concentrations of troops gathered in the Western and Kiev military districts in 1940 were committed to an offensive mission. Soviet sources, of course, do not say the USSR would have begun the war with an act of aggression; nevertheless, they make it clear that the forces in the Lvov and Bialystok salients had an offensive purpose. A German general staff intelligence report of May 20, 1941 forecast a Soviet offensive from Czernowitz-Lvov into Rumania, Hungary, and eastern Galicia, with a supporting operation from White Russia toward Warsaw and East Prussia. The offensive was to occur immediately after the beginning of hostilities with the powerful forces deployed in the two western salients. In assembling a strong force in the Ukraine, Stalin hoped to be able to deprive Germany of 90 percent of its oil at once, if war came suddenly, or to intimidate Rumania for as long as possible, if war were to be delayed{35}. Playing a double game such as this so close to the demarcation line with Germany was, however, playing with fire, for although the Bialystok and Lvov salients were good to occupy in strength from an offensive point of view, from the standpoint of defense these positions were a distinct liability{36}.

Following Timoshenko's summation report at the Kremlin conference, on December 30 Stalin called together a group of generals and began to query them about the war game scheduled for the next day. Although Zhukov, who was present, mentions this meeting, he does not explain Stalin's reason for convening it, but it must have been to discuss some grave matter. It could be that Stalin intervened in the program for the exercise before it got under way and hand-picked Zhukov to play the part of a German aggressor, but Zhukov is vague on this point, stating merely that this choice was made without saying by whom{37}. At the end of the December conference, it is evident that Stalin was beginning to have serious second thoughts about what the Germans were preparing to do in [39] 1941. Stalin had based his plans on the hope that the Red Army would have another two or three years' respite before being committed to a full-scale war, but he must have realized that time was running out. According to a reliable Soviet source, the Russian military attache in Berlin received detailed information about Hitler's Barbarossa directive (ordering an invasion of Russia) from an anonymous letter on Christmas day, 1940, or a week after it was issued{38}. If it is assumed that Stalin considered this information to be authentic, this could have been the basis for his instructions to Zhukov about his role as a German aggressor in the war games.

Before Stalin's intervention in the war game, it is probable that Zhukov was supposed to participate in a single exercise involving a Soviet offensive from the Ukraine into Rumania and Hungary. The evidence to support this conclusion is circumstantial, but it is a fact that two war games were played out in the first half of January 1941, instead of the one game that Zhukov mentions in his memoirs. In the first game, the one probably ordered by Stalin, Zhukov led a "blue" (German) offensive from the western side of the board against the "red" side led by Gen. D. G. Pavlov, then commander of Western Special Military District. Stalin had now decided to see whether the forward strategy based on using the western salients as springboards for future offensive operations could be adapted for defense in an emergency. If Stalin's advisors such as Pavlov and the chief of the general staff, K. A. Meretskov, were correct, the strong mobile forces grouped in these areas would be able to serve in a defensive operation, if need be, by threatening a German breakthrough from the flanks{39}. Zhukov's brilliant handling of the play and analysis of the two war games demonstrated, however, how catastrophic such a forward strategy would have been.

During the first theoretical passage at arms, Zhukov won a crushing victory over Pavlov, which was not surprising considering the neglect of defense planning for the previous four years. In choosing among the possible avenues of attack against the Soviet Union, Zhukov elected alternatives that apparently closely corresponded to those favored by the German general staff. Zhukov himself is unclear about what his plans for the game were, but reports from other sources indicate that he launched three simultaneous blows against the USSR, with the main weight falling north of the Pripet Marshes. This "German" offensive broke [40] through the Soviet fortified zone along the frontier and destroyed the Grodno and Bialystok groups of the Red Army and then pushed east to the region of Lida. It was at this point that the game was called to a halt because the "blues" had succeeded in establishing the necessary prerequisites for a victory{40}. In a swift series of maneuvers, Zhukov had once and for all exposed the fallacy of a forward strategy that placed the main part of the Red Army too close to the demarcation line with Germany, a policy that did not allow the kind of echeloning needed to ward off a German assault employing strong armored thrusts in the area of the Bialystok salient. After so easily dismantling the Pavlov-Meretskov forward strategy by an attack from the west, Zhukov would now prove how risky this strategy would have been for carrying out an offensive from the east.

In the second game, most likely the only one originally scheduled, Pavlov and Zhukov switched sides, but this time the action was confined to the area of the southwestern front in the Ukraine, and the "blue"-controlled territory across the border. No account has been published of how the second war game was conducted, but it is evident from comments made about it in the subsequent analysis presented to Stalin that an offensive from the Ukraine into Hungary and the Balkans would have been extremely hazardous, considering the small number of modern tanks and transport vehicles the Red Army had at its disposal in 1941. With such limited forces, Zhukov was compelled to maneuver his tanks in a single offensive echelon and was able to gain a superiority in strength in the main direction of attack only by weakening the so-called passive sectors of the front{41}. Zhukov does not say what the results of the "reds' " efforts were during the second game, but he does remark that Stalin was quite perturbed about its outcome{42}.

In his explanation to Stalin of the method of the "red" offensive operation carried out in the second exercise, Meretskov displayed a hypothetical map showing a situation in which sixty to sixty-five Soviet divisions overwhelmed a defending German force of fifty-five divisions. In reply to Stalin's question about how victory could be achieved with such a slight advantage in strength, Meretskov answered that the Red Army did not have a general superiority in manpower and firepower, but a local superiority could be gained in the main direction of an offensive by pulling in units from quiet sectors. Stalin contradicted this and said that the [41] Germans had enough mechanized forces to maneuver rapidly and redress a temporary unfavorable balance of strength to their favor. He also advised Meretskov to dispense with hypothesis and get down to specifics, asking him, "Who won, the reds?" The chief of the general staff avoided giving a direct answer, however, saying only that the "blues" were very strong in tanks and aircraft. Stalin then sealed Meretskov's fate by dismissing his claims of qualitative superiority for Soviet divisions, particularly the rifle divisions, as being "the stuff for agitators, not realists{43}".

For his part, Pavlov tried to explain the "reds' " failures in the two war games by making a small joke about how things such as unexpected defeat often happen in map exercises, but Stalin was a deadly serious man and his sense of humor was lacking when it came time to decide grave issues{44}. Pavlov would eventually have to pay the ultimate price for his inability to understand this.

After some additional inconclusive or muddled reports by Timoshenko, G. I. Kulik, and others, in what must have been a state of utter frustration, Stalin then asked if anyone else wished to speak. It was Zhukov who answered. The commander of the Kiev district pointed out, quite correctly, that the Bialystok fortified region, crammed far to the west into an indefensible salient, was at the mercy of the enemy forces located around Brest Litovsk and Suvalki. In response to a question from Pavlov, Zhukov replied that he also considered the fortified regions in the Ukraine to be positioned too close to the frontier. It was his earnest recommendation that the first main line of defense be constructed no closer than one hundred kilometers from the border. The importance Stalin attached to these recommendations may be judged by the fact that on the day following the final reports on the war games, January 14, 1941, Stalin announced the Politburo's decision to replace Meretskov with Zhukov as chief of the general staff{45}.

In securing Zhukov's new appointment, Stalin was, in essence, preparing to abandon his plans for the deployment of the Red Army's offensive forces in the exposed regions far to the west. The evidence regarding German intentions in 1941 had been mounting with increasing reliability as spring drew closer, and after early March no thought would be given to massing more men and materiel up close to the demarcation line. The objective now would be to concentrate wholly on means of repelling the imminent invasion. After the war, Stalin, and later Zhukov, came under sharp [42] criticism for failing to position enough strength along the state border to repel the invaders as soon as they set foot on Soviet soil. According to the interpretation put forth by Khrushchev at the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, Stalin was afraid to heed the warnings of the impending attack and neglected to fortify the border properly because he was reluctant to do anything that might provoke the Germans into aggression{46}. In answer to this charge, Zhukov has argued as follows:

In recent years it has become common practice to blame the General Headquarters for not having ordered the pulling up of our main force from the interior zone in order to repulse the enemy. I would not venture to guess in retrospect the probable outcome of such an action. ... It is quite possible, however, that being under equipped with anti-tank and anti-aircraft facilities and possessing lesser mobility than the enemy forces, our troops might have failed to withstand the powerful thrusts of the enemy panzer forces and might, therefore, have found themselves in as grave a predicament as some of the armies of the frontier zone. Nor is it clear what situation might then have developed in the future on the approaches to Moscow and Leningrad and in the southern areas of the country{47}.

Here Zhukov has eloquently refuted the contention that the Red i Army could have stopped the Wehrmacht on the frontier in 1941. It is plain to see that Zhukov never intended to place the main body of the Red Army close to the initial shock of the onslaught, depriving it of the ability to maneuver while leaving it in a position highly vulnerable to being cut off and then annihilated. Zhukov knew that the German armored thrusts would have to be continually drained of energy by successive echelons of defense located deep within Russia. After a period of active defense, of absorbing and blunting the enemy's momentum, conditions would become favorable for the launching of a counteroffensive by the last echelon, the strategic reserve. Such a plan, of course, would mean that terrible disaster would befall the forces of the first echelon, which would have to stand their ground while the German armor flowed around them{48}.

It might be wondered how a military strategy could be countenanced that would concede so much territory and place the populations of the occupied zones under such extreme danger. The Jews, in particular, among the Soviet minority nationalities, many of whom lived in White Russia and in the western Ukraine, could [43] be expected to suffer greatly from a Nazi occupation. There is evidence to support the belief that Stalin's general attitude toward the Jews was not much different from that of the Nazis. In August 1939, at the time of the negotiations over the German-Soviet "Treaty of Friendship," which led to the dismemberment of Poland, Stalin told Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister, that the Jews were only tolerated in Russia because there was no native Russian intelligentsia and that, when such a class developed in the Soviet Union, the Jews could be disposed of{49}. With regard to the other nationalities, there may have been other than purely military reasons for Stalin's preoccupation with the defense of the Ukraine. In his secret speech to the Twentieth Party Congress in 1956, Khrushchev remarked that Stalin would have relocated the Ukrainians, the largest non-Great Russian minority in the USSR, as he had done some of the smaller peoples (such as the Kalmyks and the Chechin-Ingush) during the war, but that "there were too many of them and there was no place to which to deport them." Stalin's concern about the loyalty of the Ukrainians to the Soviet regime was justified, as the civilian population there was, in general, well disposed toward Germany. Harsh German occupation policies such as the maintenance of the collective farms and the transportation of forced labor to the Reich, however, quickly used up the reservoir of good will.

Stalin, then, counted on the minority nationalities to fight the Nazis because he believed that the treatment the Germans would mete out to them would cause resentment and fear. In this respect, Hitler made the same mistake as Napoleon, discounting the need for winning a political war in Russia as well as a military one. How could Stalin assume that Hitler and the Nazis would be so stupid as to play right into his hands in such a manner? The answer is that the Nazi leadership had already given evidence in Poland of how it would treat the Slavic and Jewish people, and Hitler had already set down in writing an official policy toward Russia that left little doubt about what kind of occupation would be carried out there.

On March 30, 1941, Hitler addressed his military commanders at the Reich's Chancellery in Berlin and laid down the rules for what eventually became the infamous "Commissar Decree" issued on June 6. In this address, Hitler said that the Red Army political commissars, many of whom were Jewish, were not to be treated as soldiers when captured but were to be turned over to Himmler's [44] SD (Security Service) organization for execution. The fuhrer went on to say that if the SD could not do the job for any reason, the army itself had this responsibility. Hitler then offered some "justifications" for this edict, stating that, since the USSR had never signed the part of the 1929 Geneva Convention that dealt with the treatment of POWs, German prisoners could not expect to fare well in the hands of the Red Army. Also, he said that the conduct of the Red Army, particularly the commissars, in Poland, in the war against Finland, in the Baltic, and in Rumania showed no reason to spare them{50}.

When the decree was officially issued on June 6, 1941, under Gen. Wilhelm Keitel's signature, it contained the following language:

In the struggle against Bolshevism, we must not assume that the enemy's conduct will be based on principles of humanity or international law. Political commissars have initiated barbaric, Asiatic methods of warfare. Consequently they will be dealt with immediately and with maximum severity. As a matter of principle they will be shot at once, whether captured during operations or otherwise showing resistance. The following regulations will apply: ...on capture they will be immediately separated from other prisoners on the field of battle. ...After they have been segregated they will be liquidated{51}.

The German army had already placed itself in a compromising position in Poland by allowing the SS and SD units to operate outside of its jurisdiction. Now, after June 6, Halder, the chief of the German general staff, and Walther von Brauchitsch, the army commander in chief, accepted the Commissar Decree without open dissent. To their credit, they did try to soften its effect by issuing an order that stated that the duty of the troops was to fight and there would be no time for special searches or mopping-up operations. No soldier would be permitted to act on his own; soldiers must always follow the commands of their officers. Even though the Commissar Decree was put into effect only in limited measure in 1941, there can be no doubt that the results of it-the excesses of the "Special Units" (Einsatzgruppen) and the SD in the rear areas, as well as the treatment of the mass of POWs-were catastrophic morally, politically, and militarily. This was especially true during the first weeks and months of the war in Russia; the effect was truly devastating. The following comment is from a report by [45] "Einsatzgruppe A," which operated in the rear areas of Army Group North, and shows how far things had gone even in the first few days of the war in Russia:

To our surprise it was not easy at first to set in motion an extensive pogrom against Jews. ...During the first pogrom in the night from 25 to 26th June, the Lithuanian Partisans (with German encouragement) did away with more than 1,500 Jews, set fire to several synagogues or destroyed them by other means, and burned down a Jewish dwelling district consisting of about 60 houses. During the following nights about 2,300 Jews were made homeless in a similar way.

These self-cleansing actions went smoothly because the Army authorities who had been informed showed understanding for this procedure{52}.

After the Commissar Decree, Stalin could rest assured that his forces would remain true to the Soviet cause, for it showed a total lack of understanding by the Germans of conditions in Russia and of the need to wage a political war. In the first few weeks of battle there were stories of minority army units, particularly Lithuanians, shooting their commissars and going over to fight with the Wehrmacht. Soon after the fall of Vilna in late June 1941, the Lithuanians attempted to found their own provisional government and cooperate with the Germans, but Hitler ordered this group suppressed as soon as he heard about it. Space here does not permit a detailed account of how the Germans lost the political war in Russia; the reader who wishes to inquire further should investigate Alexander Dallin's German Rule in Russia, 1941-1945, in which the chronicle of these blunders is more or less complete.

The most immediate problem that Zhukov had to face after becoming chief of the general staff was the critical situation along the Bialystok salient. A way had to be found to make the best use of the troop concentrations already in the salient for defense. Since no force on earth could have saved the Red Army units there from being cut off and surrounded soon after the war began, this would mean that they would have to be sacrificed. If handled properly, however, this sacrifice could be expected to pay big dividends later on, much in the way a "poisoned pawn" is offered up as a victim in a chess game. The loss of a small piece is relatively unimportant if the opponent can be placed in a difficult strategic posture. It would require no small amount of skill, planning, and [46] deception in order to ensure that the sacrifice would cost the Germans a maximum amount while still remaining rather "cheap" for the Soviet side.

In a decision that has remained painful for the Red Army to this very day, Zhukov and Stalin decided that the deception would have to be good enough to deceive not only the Germans but also their own front-line forces. The front-line commanders and their units could not be told in advance what their true role would be or what fate awaited them once Hitler unleashed his army. It could be that even Pavlov, the commander of the Western Special Military District, was not informed of the real defense plan for 1941, but toward the end he may have suspected the truth and attempted to protest, thus explaining Stalin's decision to have him and his chief of staff executed in July. Although the military districts in the west were not officially warned of the impending German attack until 3:00 on the morning of June 22, apparently some front-line commanders had already taken matters into their own hands and had begun to make final preparations for defense before the defense commissariat's warning was issued{53}. Soviet sources have never offered a concrete reason for Pavlov being killed. The fact remains that he was the only front commander on the Soviet side to be liquidated during the entire war, therefore it must be assumed that his case was an extreme one. Clearly, the size of the disaster in White Russia had little to do with Pavlov's fate when the considerably larger catastrophes at Kiev and Briansk-Viazma are taken into account. After these debacles, also in 1941, neither S. M. Budenny nor I. S. Konev received anything worse from Stalin than a reassignment{54}.

Knowing in advance that two panzer groups would lead the main thrust of the German offensive north of the Pripet Marshes in closing off the Bialystok salient, Zhukov decided to allow these armored spearheads to pass around the main body of Soviet infantry relatively unimpeded. Nothing could be done, anyway, to stop the panzer groups along the border; they would have to be dealt with later by specially constructed antitank strongpoints (PTOP) and detached tank brigades in the second echelon{55}. The combined-arms units in the salient, however, could be expected to hold their ground and fight effectively against the German infantry coming in from the west, while at the same time acting as a threat to the rearward areas and supply lines of the rapidly advancing panzer [47] groups. Zhukov's tactics were to allow the German armor to separate itself as much as possible from the following infantry and then deal with each group, armor and infantry, separately{56}. Later, when the larger combined-arms units would begin to disintegrate under intense pressure, smaller formations of infantry and cavalry could be expected to take to the forests and continue to operate in groups as partisans{57}.

In fact, the Germans were never able to seal off the large pockets of Soviet troops successfully, and many formations eventually managed to escape almost intact to the east. The phenomenon of the "floating pockets" that drifted steadily toward the east and south would cause the Germans no end of trouble in 1941, and they constantly acted as a bone caught in the throat of the armored jaws, which could snap shut but not chew or swallow{58}. Surrounded units or groups of units were thus intended to continue to function as organic entities of the tactical echelon and play an important part in checking the German advance. The composition of forces in the Bialystok salient would, therefore, have to contain just the proper balance of tanks, artillery, and infantry if the desired result were to be achieved economically and effectively.

One of the more important questions to be considered in deciding what to do with the Bialystok salient concerned the construction of fortifications in the west, which had been continuing since the occupation of eastern Poland in September 1939. By June 22, 1941, some twenty-five hundred fortified points had been built; however, all but a thousand of them were equipped only with machine guns. The Mobilization Plan (MP-41) approved in February called for accelerating the new construction, but this was not enough to suit some individuals who still believed the German invasion could be checked at the border. In late February-early March, the Supreme Military Council of the Red Army met in Moscow, and G. I. Kulik, deputy commissar for armaments, B. M. Shaposhnikov, deputy commissar for fortified areas, and Politburo member A. A. Zhdanov argued for stripping the fortifications along the old pre-1939 frontier and sending the material to the recently built defense line farther west. Zhukov and Defense Commissar Timoshenko vigorously opposed this action, insisting that the old fortifications could still be useful{59}. The key element of contention was the artillery, which could not be moved easily once it was put into position. [48]

Although Zhukov does not specifically say that he was trying to keep all but the minimum amount of artillery and hauling-equipment out of the Bialystok salient, it is evident that this was his intention. Stalin wavered on this question temporarily and then sided with his chief of the general staff. The question of the artillery was, therefore, partially resolved in favor of the pre-1939 fortifications. This so-called Stalin Line of defense proved to be of little use after the war began, but some of the artillery, at any rate, was saved from certain destruction. As for the artillery already in the salient, much of it was pulled back a considerable distance eastward under the pretext of the need for "firing practice." In addition to artillery pieces and tractor-haulers, most of the engineers and the pontoon bridge battalions of the tank divisions were also sent rearwards for "training missions{60}". It is true that many of the big guns and artillerymen were not in front-line positions on June 22, but this had nothing to do with Stalin's failure to heed the warnings of the imminence of war. Stalin would make several mistakes during the course of 1941, but leaving masses of artillery in the Bialystok salient was not one of them.

After the problem of the artillery was met and solved to a more or less satisfactory degree, the question of what to do with all the armor in the salient still remained. For several reasons it was impossible to shift tanks out of Western District's forward zone. To do this would be to arouse unneccessarily the suspicions of the Germans, who would be sure to discover the redeployment by means of their continuing overflights of Soviet territory. A significant removal of tanks from the salient could also be expected to cause undue panic among the infantry units there by making the officers and men feel as if they were about to be abandoned to fend for themselves, without sufficient artillery or armor to give support in case of a German attack. The three armies in the salient, the Third, Tenth, and Fourth, had to be left with their armor intact if the soldiers there were to be expected to stand and fight, not flee or surrender en masse. According to the official standards set by the State of Military Readiness decree issued in April 1941, each Soviet combined-arms rifle division was supposed to have 16 light tanks and 13 armored vehicles. A Soviet mechanized corps nominally consisted of two tank divisions, each with 375 tanks, and one motorized infantry with an additional 275 light tanks{61}. [49]

It was Pavlov, the tank expert, probably unaware of the true nature of the defense plan being put into effect by Zhukov and Stalin, who unwittingly provided the solution to Zhukov's problem. Pavlov, still convinced that it was Stalin's plan to stop the Germans along the border, proposed that three of the four operational mechanized corps be concentrated on the flanks of the two German panzer groups that were to operate against the salient. The plan was substantially the same one Pavlov had used against Zhukov in the December war game, and Zhukov must have known full well what the outcome of it would be. Nevertheless, Pavlov's proposal suited Zhukov, even though any chance for success it might have had in rolling back German panzer groups was very small.

Pavlov believed that three of his mechanized corps-the VIth and the XIth in the north around Grodno and the XIVth near Kobrin in the south-positioned to threaten the flanks of Hermann Hoth's Panzer Group 3 debouching from Suvaiki and Guderian's Panzer Group 2 advancing from the direction of Brest Litovsk, would be sufficient to halt the German drive until enough reinforcements could arrive from the operational echelon and the strategic reserve, if need be, to set up a stable front and drive the invaders back. Zhukov was willing to accept Pavlov's plan for his own reasons, for he had reckoned that the three mechanized corps used in this fashion would cause the Germans some trouble and retard the speed of their armored spearheads, but he had no intention of committing the operational echelon, much less the strategic reserve, to the battle for the Bialystok salient. He was prepared to expend armor so abundantly during the early stage of war because the large mechanized corps, with their many obsolete BT and T-26 tanks were not intended to be the backbone of the Red Army's armored force{62}. The new T-34 and KV model tanks that were being produced would outclass anything the Germans had in the field at the time, so it was decided to reserve them in order to stiffen the back of the operational echelon along the Dnepr-Dvina line and to provide the cutting edge for the eventual counteroffensive by the strategic reserve whenever an opportune moment should arise. Western historians have chided the Russians for not immediately forming the new tanks into proper formations and bringing them to the border areas in June, but there was a method to their seeming madness{63}. In the meantime, in June, July, and August the [50] greatest possible benefit would have to be derived from the use of the older tanks in the tactical and operational echelons to slow down the German panzer groups and harass their infantry.

At the end of March 1941, at Zhukov's request, half a million men were brought up from the reserves held in readiness, ostensibly to intensify their training. Nearly all of these men were sent directly to the four western military districts, a vast territory that included most of European Russia west of a line running between Kharkov and Kiev, then north and east to the west of Moscow and to the east of Lake Onega. In addition, three hundred thousand other reservists were called up a few days later{64}. These reinforcements were not moved right up to the frontier but were deployed in an intermediate zone between the tactical echelon, which was already in place and would have to receive the initial shock of the German offensive, and the operational echelon, which would be brought into its final areas of concentration after mid-May.

In June 1941, on the front line of an area that stretched some two thousand kilometers, were stationed nine armies composed of forty-eight divisions within ten to fifty kilometers of the frontier. In the area immediately behind the front and up to three hundred kilometers east of the border, between the tactical and operational echelons in the intermediate zone, were another fifteen divisions and two brigades, making a total of around sixty-three divisions for the forces that would come into contact with the Germans during the first few days of the war. Zhukov states that only forty-eight divisions were in the first echelon, but another Soviet source gives a higher figure, sixty-three divisions and two brigades. The difference of approximately fifteen divisions stems from the fact that Zhukov does not include the forces in the intermediate zone, behind the forward echelon, in his total. These backup forces for the first echelon could be considered a tactical reserve, and they further enhanced the impression made on the Germans-and probably on Pavlov as well-that the Supreme Command intended to fight a major battle for the Bialystok salient. In White Russia, most of the tactical reserve was located in assembly points west of Minsk{65}.

These units, of course, would be badly overmatched by the 154 divisions the Germans would commit to their attack, and this discrepancy was enhanced by the fact that the tactical echelon was purposely left under strength in firepower, as has been mentioned, [51] and manpower. Of the approximately 170 divisions deployed in European Russia west of Moscow and east of Kiev, most had only eight thousand to nine thousand men each, and several had even fewer, five thousand to six thousand men. Since the beginning of the war caught the forces of the operational echelon still in a stage of deployment, it is likely that most of the divisions that were better fitted out, in manpower at least, were located farthest to the west in the tactical echelon{66}. It was hoped that the operational echelon would be protected from the main thrust of the enemy's blow and could be ready in time and positioned properly to threaten the flanks of the German Central Army Group. The Red Army lacked the mobility to make rapid readjustments in the deployment of the operational echelon, and after the war began there would be precious little time for second guesses.

The question of exactly where to deploy the operational echelon was a problem that caused some concern for Stalin and his general staff. Zhukov notes that in 1940 Soviet strategic planning was based on the assumption that the southwesterly direction, the Ukraine, would be the most likely avenue for a German invasion{67}. The 1940 plan for operations was revised under the supervision of Zhukov and Timoshenko in the spring of 1941, and they, no doubt, were well aware of what the Germans' intentions were, insofar as they had been set down in the Barbarossa directive of December 1940. Zhukov says that the general staff intelligence chief, F. I. Golikov, "accurately summarized the evolution of the 'Barbarossa' plan by late March 1941." According to Guderian, "the plan for operation 'Barbarossa' was almost certainly known to the Russian command{68}". Taking the directive itself at face value, the Soviet Supreme Command logically concluded that the Germans were more interested in reaching Leningrad and seizing the Ukraine before taking Moscow, and Stalin himself was convinced that this would be the most rational course for the Germans to follow. In the spring of 1941, during a discussion of the operational plan for that year, Stalin told Zhukov, "Nazi Germany will not be able to wage a major lengthy war without those vital resources [i.e., in the Ukraine, Donets Basin, and the Caucasus]{69}. Before the war, then, Stalin believed that Hitler would elect to turn his powerful Central Army Group southward and fight a large-scale battle for the Ukraine before allowing the advance on Moscow to continue. This belief was based on his personal estimation [52] of Hitler as a shrewd man who took no unneccessary chances, and was confirmed further by the language of the Barbarossa directive.

On the basis of all the information thus at their disposal, Stalin and Zhukov decided to make the operational echelon very strong in the areas that would threaten the northern and southern flanks of Army Group Center as it pushed through White Russia north of the Pripet. It was hoped that the operational echelon could exert enough pressure on the flanks of the Army Group, from around Gomel east of the Pripet and from Velikie Luki north of the Dvina River, to force the Germans to halt their advance along the Dnepr-Dvina line. In this respect the battle for the Bobruisk-Mogilev-Rogachev triangle northwest of Gomel between the Berezina and Dnepr rivers was considered to be particularly important{70}. In any case, the Soviet Supreme Command was probably well aware that the Germans considered it necessary to allow time for an operational pause in their offensive after reaching Smolensk, a short one, at least, in order to regroup their forces and remedy the supply situation. The Soviet Supreme Command had studied closely the German tactics in France in 1940 and presumably were familiar with the operational capabilities of their opponent's large tank units. If properly handled, it was believed that Soviet attacks from Velikie Luki to the north and from Gomel to the south of Smolensk could transform this operational pause into a major delay{71}.

It was Stalin's conviction that the Soviet forces on the Baltic and in the Ukraine would have to bear the brunt of the German offensive from this point on and that the Red Army units in the tactical and intermediate zones escaping from the German advance in White Russia would be enough to arrest the Germans on the approaches to Moscow{72}. It was for this reason that the decision was made to deploy the most important components of the operational echelon deep within the western Ukraine, west of Kiev, and also due east of the Pripet Marshes, where they could be expected to perform three functions: (1) to intensify the direct assaults on the southern flank of Army Group Center if it were, indeed, checked in its forward movement at the Dnepr-Dvina line, or even if the Germans decided to continue the advance straight on to Moscow; (2) to cut off an expected turn from north to south of part of Army Group Center toward the important industrial areas of the eastern Ukraine and the oil-rich Caucasus region; and (3) to meet head on [53] a German push into the Ukraine from the west if the forces in the Lvov salient proved unable to withstand the pressure from Army Group South.

Much of the careful planning carried out by Zhukov in the spring of 1941 had to be undone by early June for reasons that will be explained later, yet the fact remains that the operational echelon was positioned properly in the interior of the Soviet Union in order best to confront all possible contingencies. Zhukov can be criticized for many things, but he cannot be faulted for his lack of prescience. The German army high command's ability to act independently of Hitler's wishes later caught him by surprise, in just the same way they managed to deceive their own commander in chief.

On May 13, 1941, a general staff directive was issued that ordered the movement westward from the interior of the units destined for the operational echelon. The Twenty-second Army was moved from the Urals to Velikie Luki north of the Dvina, the Twenty-first Army from Volga District to Gomel, the Nineteenth Army from the northern Caucasus to Belaia Tserkov south of Kiev, the Sixteenth Army from the Transbaikal District to Shepetovka in the central-western Ukraine, and the XXVth Rifle Corps from Kharkov District to the Dvina River. When these forces were joined with the Twentieth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-eighth armies already in the four western districts' reserves, they would swell the size of the operational echelon to about ninety-six divisions, though not all of these would be fully deployed before June 22. In addition, eleven more divisions were held back as a reserve directly under the Supreme Command{73}.

The hefty size of the operational echelon belies the assumption that the general staff was caught napping by the German attack. Quite the contrary, the careful positioning of operational echelon on what would become the flanks of Army Group Center would cause the Wehrmacht no end of difficulty in the summer of 1941. Army Group Center would have a great deal to contend with, especially from the southerly direction, by the time it reached the Dnepr-Dvina line with its long and exposed flanks. The Soviet Supreme Command could hope for good results from the strong forces located around Gomel, which were shielded from the west by the protective cover of the Pripet Marshes. They also hoped that the German push from the west into the Ukraine could be [54] contained entirely by the tactical echelon there, a force that included one fully equipped mechanized corps. Had this happened, the operational echelon in the south would have had full freedom to maneuver and face the right wing of Army Group Center if, as expected by Zhukov, Hitler attempted to push down into the Ukraine from the north, east of the Pripet. These plans would be shattered during the first days of war, but no one, no matter how farseeing, could have been any wiser in predicting the course of action the Germans would follow after June 22.

The last element in the Soviet Supreme Command's plan for defense was the strategic reserve. Soviet sources are penurious enough with information about the size, composition, and disposition of the forces in the tactical and operational echelons, but the cloak of secrecy that surrounds the strategic reserve is the tightest of all. Some recent Soviet commentators have attempted to disguise the true defense plan for 1941 by claiming that the only strategic reserve available in the early summer had already been deployed as the Nineteenth, Twenty-first, Twenty-second, Twentieth, and Twenty-eighth armies, which have been described here as belonging to the operational echelon, not to the strategic reserve{74}. To a certain extent these commentators are correct, for had the tactical echelon been able to cripple or seriously retard the progress of the German panzer groups, and had the German infantry been delayed for a protracted period in the battles close to the frontier, the operational echelon could have successfully fulfilled the role prescribed for the strategic reserve by launching a counter-offensive in the area of the Dnepr and Dvina rivers that could have rolled the enemy backward. This did not happen, however, particularly because of the savage effect of the Luftwaffe raids on Pavlov's tank columns and on communications, and so the only maneuvers the operational echelon could undertake were those that had a purely defensive character{75}.

The rather primitive state of telecommunications in the USSR in 1941 cannot be documented in detail here. In general, the communication cable and land lines were operated by the People's Commissariat for Communications. In other words, to a large degree the Red Army depended on the civilian network to handle its message traffic, for it was the post office system that managed long-distance telephone and telegraph communications. There was a high-frequency net (VCh) that used land lines with a carrier frequency [55] of 6.3 and 25.5 MHz for voice and telegraph. This system, which was manned by the NKVD, had the advantage of being non-interceptable aurally at transmission rates over 15 MHz without special equipment. Shortly after the war started, the management of the high-frequency net was handed over to the military, but access to it was limited to the higher command structures. By and large, the Luftwaffe attacks on the Soviet communications centers on June 22 threw the overland civilian system into confusion and disorder. A very large part of the problem that the general staff and Stalin faced in the first few days of the war was trying to make an intelligible whole from the fragmentary reports that were transmitted. As an example of how bad conditions were, on the day of the invasion only one signal was wired from V. I. Kuznetsov, the commander of the Third Army in the Bialystok salient. Such prolonged silence from the frontier areas was hardly conducive to good planning either at Western Front headquarters in Minsk or in Moscow. Fortunately, the Leningrad radio net command headquarters remained intact and proved invaluable in collecting reports from cut-off Red Army units{76}.

The overall effectiveness of the Luftwaffe may be judged from the damage reports given in Russian sources. Luftwaffe raids were carried out against sixty-six airfields in the western border areas and by midday June 22 fully twelve hundred Soviet aircraft had been destroyed, nine hundred of them on the ground. From June 22 to June 30 the Western Front alone lost 1,163 aircraft or 74 percent of its total complement. By 10:00 A.M. on June 22 all telephone and telegraph communications with the three air divisions based in western White Russia had been completely broken, and this also contributed to the general disorganization and the high rate of loss. But as bad as the situation seemed at first, there was some hope for the future. Only 30 percent of the planes based in the Western Front were newer models such as MiG-3s, IL-2s and YAK Is. Also, even though many older planes were lost, the number of pilots killed apparently was not great. Soviet sources indicate that, although the aircraft were neatly parked on the fields at the time of the German attack, many of the pilots were elsewhere undergoing training. This charade was worth its high cost because it did succeed in deluding the Germans about the Soviet preparedness. Stalin was willing to take some early losses while not ruining chances for a future rapid buildup of the air force{77}. [56]

The fact remains, however, that the shock of the Luftwaffe assault, especially the effect on communications, was much greater than the Supreme Command had anticipated, and as a result, Zhukov's plans were placed in jeopardy. The true strategic reserve had been only partly mobilized prior to the outbreak of the war, and now the Red Army would have to pay the penalty for this seemingly costly blunder. These delays in mobilization have been attributed to Stalin and his fear of provoking Hitler into attacking the Soviet Union, and there is, no doubt, some truth to this argument. Stalin had intended to wait another two or three years before committing the Red Army to war with Germany, but from December 1940, he had no choice left in the matter. War would come to Russia in 1941 despite all that Stalin had done to avoid facing the conflict so soon{78}.

On June 14, Zhukov and Timoshenko appealed to Stalin to order a full mobilization for the Red Army and asked that the country's military forces be brought to a state of war readiness. Stalin's reply was stern: "That means war! Do you two understand that or not?{79}" He had still not relinquished his cherished hope that Hitler would ultimately decide to avoid a further expansion of the European conflict in 1941. One might say that to rely on such prospects, with all the evidence to the contrary, was to clutch at the slenderest of reeds. Yet Stalin must have known that his country would have been placed in a most serious predicament by a German invasion even if the reserves had been fully mobilized before June 22. The strategic reserve could not have saved the situation along the border for the Red Army anyway, and Stalin believed that the fighting power of the tactical and operational echelons, already in the final stage of deployment by June, would be enough to allow the full mobilization of the strategic reserve in time to deal the Germans a crushing blow before they penetrated into the major population centers and industrial heart of the country{80}.

The risk that Stalin took by not mobilizing the strategic reserve in May or June 1941 must be weighed against the disadvantages such an early mobilization would have had. In the first place, Soviet mobilization might have provoked Hitler into military action if his mind had not already been made up in favor of war. In the second place, if war came, Stalin could reasonably suppose that the Red Army's well-echeloned, in-depth defenses in the tactical [57] and operational zones would act as an effective brake in slowing and perhaps halting the German offensive before substantial damage had been done to the country or the army. Third, the military districts in the west were already bulging with forces, and there was a lack of space to quarter newly created formations. Also there must have been a considerable strain on the carrying capacity of the railroads in the western districts after Zhukov's first call-up of eight hundred thousand reservists in March and the movement forward to the west of four armies and one rifle corps in May-June{81}.

The burden on the railroads may have been increased further by the evacuation of certain key factories and economic enterprises from the west to the east before the war began. Although there is no confirmation that such dislocations took place at this time, one Soviet source testifies that during a three-month period in 1941 (the months are not specified) a total of 1,360 large enterprises, mainly war factories, were evacuated from the western regions. How this feat was accomplished in a country supposedly suffering from the chaos engendered by a surprise attack has never been explained by Soviet historians{82}. Finally, a full mobilization of all reserves in the Soviet Union would have meant forfeiture of the important elements of deception and surprise that the Supreme Command believed would catch the Germans off guard. Everything possible had been done in 1941 to convince the German high command that the Red Army was unprepared for war. A mobilization of reserves would have been easily detected by the Germans and would have made them more cautious in their plans for aggression. The greater the chances the German high command were willing to take to win a blitzkrieg victory, the better the opportunity would be for the strategic reserve to catch the Wehrmacht unawares in a difficult situation.

When all factors are thus considered, it must be concluded that the decision not to mobilize the strategic reserve before June 22 was the correct one at that time. The war mobilization plan worked out in March and April 1941 by the general staff was thorough and provided for a rapid increase in the size of the army immediately after the start of hostilities. For various reasons, however, the strategic reserve would not be used properly, and much of it had to be thrown into battle in an uncoordinated fashion. In all, between June 22 and December 1, 1941, the Soviet Supreme Command was able to send 194 newly created divisions [58] and 94 newly created brigades to the various fronts. In addition, 97 other divisions, including 27 divisions from the Far East, central Asia, and the Transcaucasus, were sent to the western regions from the interior of the Soviet Union. The well-prepared Soviet plan for mobilization enabled the country's military forces to increase in size from 5 million men in June 1941 to 10.9 million in 1942, despite the large number of casualties sustained in the summer and fall of 1941{83}. The German high command never dreamed that such feats would be possible. Had the German advance been held at the Dnepr and Dvina rivers, and had the Russians been able to concentrate their strategic reserves properly on the flanks of Army Group Center, in all probability, the war would have been over for Germany as far as any offensive efforts were concerned. The worsening weather-first rain then ice-in October and November would have been the curtain raiser for the counteroffensive by the strategic reserve against the exposed flanks of the Central Army Group. This counteroffensive, as fate would have it, came neither in October nor in November, nor did it come in the area of the Dnepr and Dvina rivers. Rather, it came in early December and at the very gates of Moscow. By early July 1941, Stalin and Zhukov were forced to make several important changes in the original strategic concept for defense, but the essence of the concept, the idea that Army Group Center must be assailed by attacks on its prolonged flanks as it pushed deeper inside Soviet territory, remained, as fortune would have it, unchanged.

Viewed from any standpoint, the USSR was as well-prepared for war in June 1941 as it possibly could have been, considering the late start the general staff under Zhukov's direction had in implementing a strategic defense plan. The tactical echelon on the frontier, some sixty-three divisions in all, although not well equipped with artillery and modern tanks, was theoretically strong enough to cause the Germans some trouble. The operational echelon was also well positioned to fulfill its mission of weakening the main body of the German offensive north of the Pripet Marshes, mainly by flank attacks, and of arresting the eastward progress of the Wehrmacht at Smolensk in the central area. The operational echelon would also serve to prevent the southern wing of Army Group Center from pushing down into the Ukraine east of the Pripet. The capstone of Soviet defense planning was the strategic reserve, which by some force of logic ought to have been made [59] ready before the war. For reasons put forward earlier in the chapter, however, Stalin delayed mobilization until after Hitler made the first move. This decision nearly lost the war for Russia in the early stages, but later in the summer it paid big dividends as fresh forces were continuously being sent to, or directly behind, the battlefronts. Even as early as July 10, the Soviet Supreme Command could count on reserves of thirty-one divisions. S. I. Bogdanov's Reserve Front alone in mid-July included parts of six armies{84}. The deception of the German high command was greatly enhanced by Russia's delayed mobilization, and it led Halder's general staff to draw many erroneous conclusions about the strength of the Red Army, conclusions that cost the Wehrmacht entire divisions and mountains of material in December. In the words of a German field marshal hanged at Nuremberg, "A mistake in strategy can only be made good in the next war{85}". [60] [61]