O you. Calliope, and all the Muses,
do you, I pray, inspire me: I must
sing of the slaughter and the deaths that Turnus
spread with his sword across the field of battle,
of those each fighting man sent down to hell;
unroll with me the mighty scroll of war.
You, goddesses, remember, you can tell.
The historical record revealed in Bryan Fugate's account of the German and Russian strategic planning for Operation Barbarossa, together with his commentary on it, offers a number of lessons to be learned relevant to military operations today. One of the favorite themes of U.S. Army doctrine today is the value of the exercise of initiative by subordinate commanders. Yet we can see in Guderian's activities the other side of this concept at work when a strong-willed commander exercises initiative to pursue his own vision of what is desirable at the expense of his superior's overall concept of operations. Local success can position forces so as to negate or at least drastically alter the original strategic plan. When the military organization is not imbued from top to bottom with a common understanding and unity of purpose with respect to strategic principles and goals the effect of the natural tendency to follow one's own ideas is sure to be magnified. The German officer corps, as highly trained and carefully indoctrinated as it was in a uniform mold based on a single philosophy still harbored the divergence of opinion on critical strategic, operational, and tactical issues that Fugate indicates led to disaster. What might we expect from reliance on initiative to solve problems in a multinational NATO force, when even the U.S. Army alone does not possess such a uniform philosophy or the means to indoctrinate it?
The German high command's activities also bear witness to another all too common reality of war not sufficiently emphasized in textbooks, namely, that personal and institutional rivalries within a military force will lead to disaster. It is easy to say such rivalry [XII] must not be tolerated, but unfortunately, in practice it is frequently the authorities who ought not to be tolerating it who are the very ones perpetuating it.
Can we say that our armed forces today are guided by such unity of purpose and understanding of strategic goals as to preclude the problems generated by initiative? Are our institutional and personal rivalries so under control in peacetime that the increased propensity for rivalry during war will not cause a similar disaster? Russell Weigley's book Elsenhower's Lieutenants depicts some of the results of rivalry within American forces during WW II. Can we say that the Army, Navy, and Air Force are any less rivals today than they were then?
The institutional rivalry of OKW and OKH and the personal rivalry of various individuals in these staffs are well known. However, Bryan Fugate draws special attention to the way in which Guderian's independence of will and his ability to act accordingly contributed to the fatal lack of unity of strategic purpose so apparent in the execution of Operation Barbarossa. He also reveals in part how the subsequent apologetic memoir literature penned by the guilty generals has attempted to pass all the blame to Hitler.
In today's world all manner of critical decisions for, not only specific operational war plans, but also force structuring and weapons procurement, rest on war games and simulations. Fugate describes the German planning procedure prior to the campaigns in Russia, which also involved war gaming and analysis. General Paulus directed studies that showed that the supply system would not be able to cope with the requirements of a campaign in Russia -yet Halder suppressed these views. The tendency to see such mundane issues as logistics with "rose-colored glasses" remains with us today. One wonders how many inconvenient technical difficulties are being assumed away or suppressed now, especially by people who make a career of always saying they "can do" any mission they are assigned.
Another issue that stands out in Fugate's study is the difference between the operational and tactical levels. This record shows why tactical success does not necessarily lead to operational success and why tactical failure does not necessarily lead to operational or strategic failure. Soviet literature on WW II stresses the claim [XIII] that their appreciation of the operational art was greater than the Germans and Fugate's account bears this out, at least for this campaign.
Students of Russian military literature and practice are familiar with the extraordinarily pervasive atmosphere of secrecy and deception that has shaped the Russian system for centuries. This secrecy and its counterpart, the effort to achieve surprise, have been ingrained in the Russian national character. A particularly subtle aspect of this is denoted by the term reflexive control. This refers to a peculiarly Soviet concept for a plan that attempts to go far beyond the mere springing of surprises through deception to the complete control over the enemy's actions through long-term manipulation of the mind of the opposing leadership. This kind of "control" is difficult to prove in the case of WW II, because secrecy still hampers research and the historical record has been distorted and carefully controlled to serve the same purpose. It is known that Dr. Pavlov of conditioned response fame lectured to the Soviet political/military high command in the 1920s on this concept. One wonders how many of the German moves that now appear as blunders were made in reaction to this kind of Soviet's manipulation. The critical switch of the objective from Moscow to the Ukraine and back again comes particularly to mind?
The Soviet military has always had an acute awareness of the importance of space and time and of ways to use one to gain the other. From their point of view the people and equipment lost in the defense of the Ukraine were a necessary sacrifice required to ensure that the loss of that space would cost the Germans even more in terms of time. A premature withdrawal, even if it preserved more forces, would have defeated this purpose-space would have been lost without gained time. Stalin gambled that his first strategic echelon would hold long enough for full mobilization of the strategic reserve, even if mobilization was delayed until after D day. Delayed mobilization was part of the overall deception plan. But the disasters suffered in Belorussia during the first weeks of the war exceeded even Soviet expectations, as the impact of inadequate leadership in the wake of the purges told on Soviet tactical effectiveness. Thus it was essential from the Soviet viewpoint that the German thrust on Moscow be diverted for a time while that city's defenses were prepared. [XIV]
A lesson that seemingly needs repeated relearning is the inherent weakness of a cordon defense when penetrated by highly mobile attackers. The first Soviet defense line was easily penetrated and defeated. But the Soviet three-echelon system enabled them to position reserves effectively even though they were less mobile than their attackers. The campaign shows the need for operational-level mobile reserves capable of blunting the attacker's penetration and containing it while the third echelon delivers a decisive counterattack.
Among the more narrowly military lessons the Soviets have derived from their study of this campaign is the critical importance of communications and their extreme vulnerability to surprise attack. Much of the Soviet tactical and operational failure can be laid to the chaotic nature of command and control when communications sabotage attack. Since World War II the Soviet armed forces have placed great emphasis on creating an elaborate, highly redundant communications network that is designed to prevent a recurrence of this debacle.
Another lesson vividly impressed on them was the vulnerability of air forces on the ground to surprise attack at the beginning of a war. In reaction to this they have paid especial attention to protecting their airfields and aircraft while at the same time devising methods and plans to strike their opponents a massive surprise air strike as the opening stroke of any future war.
From the German successes and failures at encirclement warfare the Soviets learned the necessity of combining the high speed and mobility of the forces that strike deep to develop an encirclement with the ability to occupy the ground with sufficient density of forces that must fill out the arms of the encirclement. By the end of WW II Soviet forces were regularly achieving encirclements much less porous than those attempted by the Germans during Barbarossa.
Bryan Fugate's organization has brought together several threads heretofore separately treated in accounts of either the German or Soviet side of WW II. Into this contextual framework he has placed a wealth of detail gleaned from careful study of the actual daily records of the German forces and postwar literature on the Soviet forces. Detail and conceptual framework complement each other to make this account a welcome addition to the [XV] literature. Individuals concerned with potential warfare in Europe in the future will find much to contemplate in the lessons to be learned here.
20 February 1983