REPORT: The Soviet Military-Political Leadership’s Evaluation of the Level of Combat Skills of the Red Army’s Personnel during the Late 1920s—Early 1940s (in Russian)

A report made at the Third Conference in Honor of Tamara V. Bataeva at the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (Moscow) on November 27, 2010. Published in Multikul’turnaia i mnogonatsional’naia Rossia: Materialy III Mezhdunarodnoi mezhdistsiplinarnoi konferentsii, posviashchennoi pamiati zasluzhennogo deiatelia nauki, pochetnogo professora RUDN, akademika MAN VSh Tamary Vasil’evny Bataevoi. Moskva, 27 noiabria 2010 g., part 1, Aktual’nye problemy otechestvennoi istorii i istoricheskoi nauki: II polovina XIX—nachalo XX veka (Moscow, 2010), 227–39.

Abstract

In the modern history of our country, “the problem of 1941,” that is the beginning of the war on the Eastern Front and the events preceding it, remains one of the most painful issues. What are the causes of catastrophic defeats of the Red Army in the summer/fall of 1941? Who bears personal responsibility? Were these defeats unavoidable or might there be other scenarios? Was the Soviet Union planning to attack Germany? Finally, what factors contributed to the failure of the Operation Barbarossa at the end of 1941? All of these issues continue to attract the unrelenting attention of researchers. It must, however, be noted that even the latest publication on the subject for the most part is devoted to the event history, particularly the events of 1939–1941 (Soviet and German force development and operational and strategic planning, preparation of Germany’s invasion of the USSR, the Soviet Union preparing for the impending war with the Third Reich, foreign policy, intelligence activities, and so on). Much less studied is the history of Soviet military policy during the inter-war decades and almost unexplored remains the intellectual and mental background of the processes listed above, first of all—such an important problem as the ideas of the Soviet military-political leadership of the next war that determined the direction and content of the preparations for it. Their component parts are the ideas about the strategic and military-technical nature of the future war, which, in turn, make the basis for the assessments of the army’s preparedness for war, including the assessment of the level of training of its personnel.

The question of whether the Red Army was ready for war with Germany remains the subject of heated debate, the participants of which, unfortunately, often overlooked two facts. First, the definition and criteria of readiness for war, at least if we talk about history and not current force development, have not been methodologically researched. Secondly, our current estimates of the Red Army’s readiness for war are due to our knowledge of the course and results of the fighting in 1941–1945 and do not necessarily coincide with the estimates of the state of the armed forces that existed in the Kremlin and the Soviet military during the prewar years.

This article focuses on how the level of combat skills of soldiers and officers of the Red Army was assessed by the Soviet military-political leadership in the age of the first five-year plans, that is, in the late 1920s—early 1940s.

At least since the early 1930s, the Soviet leadership’s concepts of the strategic nature of future war contained two key provisions: unconditional preference for the “strategy of annihilation” (that is of permanent active operations in order to defeat the enemy as soon as possible) before the “strategy of attrition” (prolonging the war in order to exhaust the enemy) and the underestimation of the role of defense in modern warfare—regardless of whether it was an attack on another country or simply repelling aggression. The consequence of such a position was not only a military planning living no alternative (not coincidentally the first response to the Nazi invasion became suicidal Main Military Council Directive No. 3 dated June 22, 1941 for an immediate transition to the offensive on all fronts), but one-sided, unbalanced combat training troops. One cannot say that the Soviet military leaders overestimated the level of military skill in their units and formations. On the contrary, they always payed attention to a number of serious and, even worse, chronic gaps in combat and operational training. The main “weak points” of the Red Army throughout the 1930s remained control of the troops in combat, staff work, the organization of intelligence and logistics services. Symptomatically, however, the future military leaders of World War II have not seen the main problem: the army was not prepared for defensive forms of combat, which it had to conduct in the summer of 1941 in conditions of Germany’s surprise attack. This stems directly from the Soviet leadership’s military-doctrinal concepts in 1930s and therefore was realized only with the beginning of the war, which was quite different from what it had been expected to look like during the previous years.

Continue reading ‘REPORT: The Soviet Military-Political Leadership’s Evaluation of the Level of Combat Skills of the Red Army’s Personnel during the Late 1920s—Early 1940s (in Russian)’ »

ABSTRACT: V. N. Garbuzov, The Revolution of Ronald Reagan (in Russian)

V. N. Garbuzov, The Revolution of Ronald Reagan (Moscow: Nauka, 2008). Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 4 (Moscow, 2010), 159–62 (in Russian). Continue reading ‘ABSTRACT: V. N. Garbuzov, The Revolution of Ronald Reagan (in Russian)’ »

JOINT ABSTRACT: The History of the Russian–American Relations (in Russian)

Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 4 (Moscow, 2010), 162–68 (in Russian). Continue reading ‘JOINT ABSTRACT: The History of the Russian–American Relations (in Russian)’ »

ABSTRACT: E. P. Simaeva, The Formation of the Canadian State System (in Russian)

E. P. Simaeva, Stanovlenie kanadskoi gosudarstvennosti (Volgograd: Izdatel’stvo VolGU, 2008). Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 3 (Moscow, 2010), 134–38 (in Russian).. Continue reading ‘ABSTRACT: E. P. Simaeva, The Formation of the Canadian State System (in Russian)’ »

REPORT: Soviet Strategic Planning, August 1940 – June 1941: the ‘Strategy of Annihilation’ in Practice (in Russian)

Theses of a report made on 21 April 2010 at the conference “The USSR, its Allies and Adversaries in World War II” at the Russian State University for the Humanities. Published in the proceedings of the conference: M. M. Mints, “Sovetskoe strategicheskoe planirovanie, avgust 1940 – iiun’ 1941 g.: ‘strategiia sokrusheniia’ v deistvii”, SSSR, ego soiuzniki i protivniki vo Vtoroi mirovoi voine: Politicheskii diskurs, istoriograficheskie diskussii, problemy prepodavaniia: Materialy Mezhdunarodnoi nauchno-prakticheskoi konferentsii, priurochennoi k 65-letiiu Pobedy v Velikoi Otechestvennoi voine 1941–1945 gg., 21–22 aprelia 2010 g. (Moscow, 2010), 242–46. The presentation for the report Microsoft PowerPoint, 3.2 Mb). Continue reading ‘REPORT: Soviet Strategic Planning, August 1940 – June 1941: the ‘Strategy of Annihilation’ in Practice (in Russian)’ »

ARTICLE: “Strategy of annihilation”: strategic and military technical conceptions of the future war in the structure of the Soviet military doctrine in the 1930s—early 1940s (in Russian)

Published in Rossiiskaia istoriia, no. 3 (Moscow, 2010): 3–18. The full text of the article (PDF, in Russian).

Abstract

The circumstances of the beginning of the war on the Eastern Front of 1941–45 are still the subject of close attention mostly by Russian researchers, but also by other researchers as well. Modern historiography, unfortunately, is still dominated by papers concerned with only a relatively short period immediately preceding the war (1939–41). Apparently, the effects of the heated debate of the 1990s remain, namely those of the “unplanned discussion” around the books of Victor A. Suvorov. From the beginning, the main subject of this discussion was his key idea that in 1941, the Soviet Union was preparing for an attack on Germany.

Meanwhile, a better understanding of the history and the prehistory of the war on the Eastern Front is only possible if we consider these issues in a broader context that includes not only the events themselves, but also their intellectual, cultural and psychological background. The USSR began to prepare for future confrontation with “world imperialism” well before the Second World War. The scale of the war with Germany, a war which broke out in June 1941, was in keeping with the expectations of those years; thus the war happened to be a kind of test for the Soviet state and its armed forces after the work done during the interwar period. Therefore, the study of measures to improve the armed forces and to prepare for the next war, measures in effect in our country in the 1920s—1930s, is no less important than the study of the events of 1939–41. Of equal importance is the study of ideas and concepts that underlie the most important political and strategic decisions made during this period.

Active research of such a problem as the Soviet leadership’s and their military elite’s ideas of the next war in 1929–41, that is, during the first Five-Year plans, is relatively recent and is, to a certain extent, still in the initial stage. Meanwhile, the value of the issue cannot be underestimated, because it is the perceptions of future war, combined with the current situation, that determine the direction and content of the preparations for the upcoming battle. Man’s actions depend not so much on the objective conditions as such, but on his understanding of these conditions, and, as the experience (including the experience of the Second World War) demonstrates, the perception of the circumstances may diverge from reality.

It is therefore important to find out how the Soviet leaders saw the future war in the 1920s and especially in the 1930s during a large-scale reconstruction of the armed forces. This would allow us to create a really coherent picture of many discrete events, to clarify the logic of decisions being made, and ultimately to understand in greater depth the origins of the Red Army’s defeats during summer and autumn 1941.

In fact, what is at issue is the military doctrine of the Soviet leadership, a doctrine which formed during the interwar period, but was never issued in an official document. Of additional interest are other, more practical, ideas based on the military doctrine such as assessing the level of training of the armed forces’ personnel as well as estimates of the army’s technical equipment as compared with that of the armies of potential enemies, and with the anticipated requirements of the future large-scale war. Especially interesting subjects for study are the materials of strategic planning in peacetime; in a sense, they are an attempt to draw a more concrete and detailed image of the coming war.

Within the structure of military doctrine, it has traditionally been assumed that this would specify the political component and the actual military component (in the former Soviet terminology—military-technical). This article deals just with the last one that contains ideas about how to wage future war and about the use of various types of weapons and military equipment, as well as with practical conclusions made on the basis of these ideas.

***

Throughout the interwar period the dominant view remained, that the impending war would be a protracted war, which would require general mobilization and complete reconstruction of the whole of the country on a war rhythm. The experience of the First World War played its role, together with the continued rapid development of military technology. The same fixed idea concerned the extremely important role of technical arms in a future war. The concept of small, super-mechanized armies was not widespread, and the predominant belief was that during the forthcoming technological era, a massive army would remain.

All of these ideas were worked out by military theoreticians, and were accepted by military and political leaders as part of the military doctrine. A consensus on the question of whether the future warfare would be positional or moving was not developed. Observations on the further improvement of weapons and analysis of the experiences of new wars and conflicts happened not to be enough to determine with reasonable certainty which of these trends was predominant. As a result, a compromise solution was chosen that the Army must be prepared both for a war of maneuver, and to act in conditions of trench warfare.

Major changes during the interwar period occurred in fact only within those representations, the content of which was mostly determined by empirical experience. Thus, with the development of military technology, greater importance was attached to armored troops and air forces in a future war. If at the end of the 1920s, tanks were considered only as a powerful new tool to support the infantry, in 1930s, there appeared self-contained armored units, which in turn helped to modernize radically the tactics and operational art, developing a theory of “deep battle” and “deep operations.”

However, in understanding the role of technology in modern warfare the Soviet leadership was still rather conservative. Despite the constant talk about the fact that the Cavalry, given modern conditions, was steadily losing its value, the Soviet Union continued to maintain numerous Cavalry units, even in the European part of the country.

Another example of ideas arising from concrete experiences were the concepts of the opening stage of war, ideas which underwent a radical change for the first time in the early 1930s, and then, belatedly, in 1939–41.

It is important, however, to note that the basis for the Soviet military doctrine in the interwar period was the theory of “annihilation:” that is, of permanent active operations in order to defeat the enemy as soon as possible. The strategy of “attrition,” which aimed to prolong the war and exhaust the enemy without inflicting crushing blows at the front, was rejected. Moreover, chronic underestimation of the role of defense in modern warfare was typical of the official strategic vision of future war. It is significant that, in the Soviet sense of the war in those years, aggression and repulsion should have been developed almost equally (the concept of a “response strike”—mobilization and deployment of the main body under the protection of active and, if possible, offensive operations by covering forces, then transition to a crushing offensive).

In spring 1941 the idea of a sudden invasion of the main forces as the most likely way to start the war finally prevailed over the old theory of “creeping into the war,” which led to the rejection of the doctrine of “response strike,” but not of the concept of “annihilation” as such. Apparently, this explains the fact that the last known at the moment draft strategic plan for war with Germany (developed in May 1941), suggests, again, not a strategic defense, but a surprise attack on the Wehrmacht by the Red Army’s main forces. Adopted military doctrine simply did not allow for other options.

Apparently, the theory of “annihilation” was adopted in the USSR, a priori, and no specific realities of the existing situation could persuade the Soviets to abandon the theory. This approach made military training and strategic planning one-sided and unbalanced with no alternative. However, this fact was never realized. As a consequence, in a surprise German attack, Soviet leaders, forced to improvise, still operated under the doctrine of the prewar period, giving the troops the order to counterattack (Main Military Council Directive No. 3, 22 June 1941). In this new situation, the decision led to a disaster.

ABSTRACT: V. O. Pechatnov, From Jefferson to Klinton: the Democratic Party of the USA in the Struggle for a Voter (in Russian)

V. O. Pechatnov, Ot Dzheffersona do Klintona: Demokraticheskaia partiia SShA v bor’be za izbiratelia (Moscow: Nauka, 2008). Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 2 (Moscow, 2010), 155–59 (in Russian). Continue reading ‘ABSTRACT: V. O. Pechatnov, From Jefferson to Klinton: the Democratic Party of the USA in the Struggle for a Voter (in Russian)’ »

REPORT: Theory and Methodology of Tolkien Studies (in Russian)

The report was made at the 6th Tolkien Seminar in Saint Petersburg on 30 January 2010. I am analysing the existing approaches to the fiction of J. R. R. Tolkien and trying to form a new synthetic approach that could resolve various issues of Tolkien studies using methods of different academic disciplines on the basis of a common methodology. The text of the report (PDF, in Russian).

ABSTRACT: T. V. Alent’eva, The Role of Public Opinion on the Eve of the Civil War in the USA (1850–61) (in Russian)

T. V. Alent’eva, Rol’ obshchestvennogo mneniia v kanun Grazhdanskoi voiny v SShA (1850–61) (Kursk: Izdatel’stvo Kurskogo gosudarstvennogo universiteta, 2008). Published in Sotsial’nye i gumanitarnye nauki. Otechestvennaia i zarubezhnaia literatura. Seriia 5, Istoriia, no. 1 (Moscow, 2010), 139–42 (in Russian). Continue reading ‘ABSTRACT: T. V. Alent’eva, The Role of Public Opinion on the Eve of the Civil War in the USA (1850–61) (in Russian)’ »