Soviet Military Strategy in the Second World War, common misconceptions.

I'm constantly amazed by the lack of any sort to knowledge about the eastern front by people who claim to pass critical judgement on “the failures” of World War II soviet military strate-

-oh wait, actually i'm completely unamazed by that

Anyway, having just read a good chapter by an American military historian on exactly that subject I thought it would be worth covering some of the uneducated reckons people have about the greatest military conflict ever to have occurred – between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.


First a refresher:
The Great Patriotic War was the greatest conflict the human race has ever known, and gods willing it will remain that way.

The scale and the numbers involved are incomprehensible

Millions under siege in the city of Leningrad,1 million casualties

1 million casualties in the battle of Moscow

2 million casualties in the battle for Stalingrad

the battle of Kursk, over 10,000 tanks and 3.5 million soldiers, 1 million casualties

2.8 million soviet prisoners of war deliberately starved to death by the Nazis

26 million soviet people dead in 4 years

see, the numbers are too big to really comprehend,


There's a lot of words floating around about Soviet military strategy in WWII, most of it complete rubbish put forward by people who don't know shit, and then there's the Trotskyites. So here's a bourgeois military historian to set the record straight.

Edward Earl Meade doesn't seem like the sort of person you would find praising Stalin and the USSR – Special Consultant, Army Air Forces. Lecturer, Army War College. Professor in the institute for Advanced Study in Princeton and chairman Princeton military studies group. B.S. and Ph.D. Columbia. But military history has changed a lot over the decades since the end of WWII.

Writing in Summer 1943 just after the turning point of the war, Meade, like most astute military observers, could see that the war was lost for the Nazis, his essay – Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin in Makers of Modern Strategy – Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler, Edward Mead Earle (ed.), Princeton University Press presents a view of Soviet strategy which was completely uncontroversial at the time, even among the avowed enemies of communism. How times change, this chapter was excised from the updated version of the book, still published by Princeton, and the current anti-soviet paradigm would result in anyone writing this essay today being labelled as a “Stalinist” or “Stalin apologist” in certain circles.

Military history is a funny subject though, and military historians are a funny bunch, and while liberal circles would dump this essay in the dustbin of “Stalin apologetics”, the book remains widely respected and on numerous military strategy reading lists. I guess when your area of expertise is the study of war – humans killing each other for political reasons – its hard to avoid facts if you want to avoid making predictable mistakes in future bouts of political slaughter ^_^.


So what does Meade have to say about certain myths that now pass for facts about the eastern front among many historians, liberals and “first world socialists” alike?

FAIR WARNING: this is written by an American bourgeois military historian, and therefore may not be hagiographic about cmd J. Stalin and the USSR for your liking, deal w/ it.

Myth 1. The invasion of the Soviet Union by the Nazis in operation Barbarossa, launched in summer 1941, was unexpected.

Stalin seems to have realised from the very beginning that at the back of the new industry of the Soviet Union must stand a united nation keenly conscious of the immanence of war and prepared to take an active part in it to the last man and last woman. As already has been said, the Russian people have been war-minded ever since the foreign interventions of 1919-1920. This war-mindedness has been sedulously cultivated by the government and through the press, the radio, the party organisation, the Red Army, and the great annual celebrations of November 7 in Red Square. The theme of the official propaganda has been the USSR, a nation of workers and peasants, is encircled by capitalist states. The “capitalists and imperialists”-that is, the whole non-Soviet world-are, by the nature of things, hostile to Soviet society and the Soviet state. Naturally enough, the existing fear of war was enormously increased after the advent of the Nazis, with their revival of German imperialism, their anti-Bolshevik propaganda, their anti-Comintern Pact, and their ascendant military power. By 1938 Hitler had at his command the most formidable army in Europe, which he stated repeatedly was for use in securing Lebensraum at the expense of the Soviet Union. Every reader of Mein Kampf knew that Hitler denounced the leaders of Russia as “common bloodstained criminals... the scum of humanity,” belonging to “a nation which combines a rare mixture of bestial horror with an inconceivable gift of lying.” Strident voices shouted these and similar sentiments over the German radio from 1933 to 1943, with the exception of the brief interval of the Hitler-Stain agreement of 1939-1941.

Myth 2. The Soviet Union was unprepared for the Nazi invasion

Stalin's role in Soviet war doctrine and in modern military history is to be found not in statements of tactical and strategic theories but in his achievements in industrializing the Soviet Union, in training its men, women, and children for industry and modern mechanized war, and in fostering in the population as a whole that psychological preparedness which has been so invaluable in the resistance to the Nazis. Stalin's regime prepared for total war on a scale which few persons in the outside world even remotely suspected or comprehended.

2a. Preparation of the industrial base

That the principal motivating force of the Five Year Plans was the fear of war and defeat is highly probable, if not certain. As far back as 1924 Frunze had pointed out that because of the backwardness of Russian industry as a whole, the primitive character of its automotive industries in particular, the Red Army could not be increased in size or improved in quality and could hardly hope therefore to compete with others on anything like equal terms. Furthermore, the Russian soldier was almost entirely without mechanical training or mechanical sense, which only the large-scale industrialisation of the nation could provide. Voroshilov was even more aware of the technical backwardness of the Red Army; he described the state of the war industry before 1928 as “chaos and disorganisation” and as “the sore spot of our economy,” a potential cause of military defeat. He warned, also, that the railways and other internal communications in Russia were altogether inadequate to the needs of modern war. He wanted the Red Army raised to the efficiency of other armies without any increase in numbers, because quantity in war is no adequate substitute for quality. Hence, in his judgement, the first and principal aim of the First Five Year Plan should be to build those basic industries which were related to the production of war materials and to lay the foundation for the technical education of Soviet manhood. Throughout the period of industrialization, the equipment of the Red Army was given priority over all other demands for manufactured and semi-manufactured goods, raw material priorities, and the allotment of skilled labor. A great many observers of the Russian scene during the years 1928-1938 thought that the scarcity of consumers' goods in the USSR was due to the inefficiency in the administration of industry. As events proved, however, the primary cause was a war economy which sacrificed everything to the interests of the army and military preparedness.

Almost innumerable figures could be used to to show the intensity and extent of industrialization during the years 1928-1941. Perhaps the most graphic single fact is the movement of people from country to town, from agriculture to industry, between 1926 and 1939, the greater part of which came after the initiation of the First Five Year, plan in 1928. In about a decade the industrial population of the Soviet Union increased from about sixteen percent of the total to about forty-six percent-almost threefold. This was made possible by a decline in farming groups from almost seventy-seven percent of the total to less than forty-seven percent. No such drastic shift in the economic centre of gravity of a nation, in so brief a time, is recorded in the whole of the history of mankind, certainly not in modern times.


It is improbable that any leader in the USSR other than Stalin would have possessed the iron will required to give effect to a planned economy which so thoroughly uprooted humanity. The Russian people made a terrifying investment in their future during those awful years, but, seen in the light of later developments, they undoubtedly saved the revolution and their national independence.

For the war potential of the Soviet Union is built upon its geographic position, its resources, and the quantity and quality of its manpower. But its resources would be of no military value unless converted by modern industry into the instruments of war, and its manpower would be ineffective without the mechanical aptitudes which only an industrialized country can transmit to its youth, the raw material of the armed forces.


The Fire Year Plans involved other objectives of importance to the Soviet military effort. A vast reservoir of skilled and semi-skilled labor was created, partly by industrial conscription; war industries were dispersed and thereby rendered less vulnerable to an invading army; ghost factories were brought into being and whole new cities sprang east of the capital and even beyond the Urals; plans were laid for the eastward migration of industrial plants in wartime; the largest possible measure of self sufficiency was sought. Out of the expanded national income, an increasingly large proportion went to expenditures for the armed forces. All of this and more was achieved at enormous sacrifice to the population as a whole, for not even in Nazi Germany was the butter of civilians so completely converted into guns for the army. The test of any policy is, of course, its ultimate results. Only the Russians themselves can say whether their survival as a nation was worth the price they paid over the years 1928-1941.

2b. Preparation of the population

Stalin was able to make “military preparedness, the art of warfare, and the science of war the every day occupation of Russia's workers, peasants, students, and civil servants.” A quasi official organisation-Osoaviakhim-formed by the merger in 1927 of Oso (for defense) with Aviakhim (aviation and chemistry)-was the principal agency through which the mobilisation of the civil population was effected. Osoaviakhim was founded on the principal that, as the entire population must take part in the coming war, the entire population must be actively and adequately prepared for it. It helped make the nation mechanically minded for the era of mechanized warfare and defense minded for the tasks of active resistance to the enemy. It had a membership of about eleven millions in 1931, and the goal for the following year was almost twice that number. It taught courses in technical warfare, in marksmanship (including sniping), various phases of military aviation, gas warfare, air raid defense, meteorology, gliding and parachuting, military communication and administration, and almost every other subject which could conceivably be related to the war effort-all of this for civilians. To cite specific achievements, literally hundreds of thousands of Russians were instructed to handle firearms and hundreds of thousands more more were taught to drive motor cars and trucks. In short “a general knowledge of warfare was provided to the whole population, and specialized knowledge was made available to substantial numbers of Soviet citizens through organized instruction and training.” Nothing quite like Osoaviakhim exists outside of the USSR. To it must be assigned a large share of the credit for the heroic resistance of the entire population of the Soviet Union to the German invasion. Without it, it is difficult to believe that the bright pages of Leningrad, Stalingrad, and Sevastopol could have been written or that mobilisation and defense against air raids could have preceded so efficiently and smoothly.

It would be impossible to pay adequate tribute to the magnificent contribution which women have made to the total defense of the USSR. By the statute of August 8, 1928, they were accepted as volunteers in the armed forces and were subject to conscription for specialized duties. Although their greatest service has been in non-combat work, they have served in the ranks of the army on the same basis as men in several branches of the service. And as about sixty percent of all the physicians and surgeons in Russia are women, their contribution to the medical corps has been indispensable. In no country of the world have women done so much, so soon, and so efficiently for the cause of national security. From the very beginning the Soviet concept of total war has recognized no barriers of sex. The enlistment of women in war activities was in accordance with the Marxist ideal of the nation-in-arms and the Marxist belief that the army must be inseparable from the whole people.

2c. Preparation of the Red Army

Radical changes were being effected in the Red Army. In March, 1934, as soon as the first material results of the Five Year Plan permitted, the number of troops in the standing army was increased from 560,000 to 940,000. The following year there was a further increase to 1,300,000. In 1935, also, the Far Eastern Army was made an autonomous and self-sufficient force. By January, 1936, seventy-seven percent of the Red Army were in the regular forces and only twenty-three percent in the militia-reversing the ratio of 1924. In March, 1939, the Red Army was put entirely on a regular basis. “The territorial system, as the foundation of our armed forces,” Voroshilov told the Party Congress, “came into contradiction with the requirements of the defense of the state, as soon as the principal imperialist countries began to increase their armies in size and to place them on a war footing even in peacetime.” While expansion and changes in organisation were going forward, the Red Army was being completely re-equipped and again re-equipped, as the dividends of industrialization became available; to all intents and purposes it became an entirely new army. The Red Air Force was being built up at a rapid pace and, despite the gloomy comments of some foreign critics, was becoming a formidable weapon. Enormous reserves of munitions, ordnance and materiel were accumulated


Discipline was tightened and compulsory salutes were restored. Every opportunity was given younger officers to earn promotion. As a result of the poor showing made by the Red Army in the early phases of the war with Finland, Marshall Timoshenko was charged with the responsibility of bringing the armed forces to a higher state of efficiency. This he succeeded in accomplishing by the strictest enforcement of the foregoing and other reforms, so that by the time the Germans launched their attack on the USSR in June, 1941, the Red Army had acquired a high degree of effectiveness

Myth 3. The purges damaged the Red Army’s ability to resist the Nazi invasion

One of the striking features of the Russo-German war has been the high quality of the staff work in the Red Army. This has been the more remarkable because it had been freely prophesied by persons outside of the Soviet Union that the great purge of 1937, which removed Marshal Tukhachevsky and others from the rolls, would disrupt the high command. Such might have been the case had it not been that the progress of the Five Year Plans, the mobilization of the whole population for war, and the drastic changes made in the composition of the Red Army gathered increasing momentum after 1937 and offset any consequences, psychological or otherwise, of the purge. Furthermore, the new chief of staff Shaposhnikov assured a certain continuity of policy and strategy

Myth 4. The Red army retreated in disarray in the face of the Nazi onslaught

Before the German successes in Poland, the Red Army had evolved a fairly coherent military strategy. As has been seen, it was a predominantly offensive strategy which had been outlined by Tukhachevsky, although both he and Shaposhnikov had visualised the possibility that a European war would become so vast in scale and of such a degree of intensity that it would become a war of attrition in which Russia might have to resort to the defensive for a time. A doctrine for such a contingency had therefore been worked out with some care and had been incorporated into the new Field Service Regulations of 1936. It was based upon the concept of defense in depth. Resistance to an invader was not to be based upon fortifications and position but was to be elastic and founded upon manoeuvre. Modern weapons, especially the tank, it was pointed out, could be used by an army on the strategic defensive as well as by an army on the attack. In fact, the Regulations of 1936 placed great emphasis upon the importance-indeed the imperative necessity-of close integration of all arms in both offensive and defensive operations. This applied especially to aviation; and although the Red Air Force was coordinate with the army, it had not developed the theory of independent air power as advocated by Douhet and others, but was closer to the Luftwaffe's role of cooperation with ground troops.

The German campaign in France in the spring of 1940, which was not that different from the campaign of 1939 in Poland, provided the Red Army with a blueprint of the attack against them which was to come a year later. The Germans, the Russians reasoned, would depend upon surprise and speed, aerial assault upon communications and services of supply, mobile warfare aimed at encirclement and annihilation-the most gigantic Cannae in all history. Hitler was determined to try what Falkenhayn, Seeckt, Leeb and other had always thought could not be done-to deliver a knock-out blow to Russia within a relatively brief time. The Russians were reasonably sure that unlike the Low Countries they could not be overrun and that unlike Poland they could not be paralysed by by aerial assault. But they knew that they had a prodigious task on their hands of meeting an invasion of such tremendous scale and intensity. It is doubtful, however, that they could have imagined even vaguely the purgatory through which they were to pass before, in the summer of 1943, they could seize the initiative.

What the Russians had to do was fairly obvious. They had to keep the Red Army intact, “in being,” at all costs. They had to avoid encirclement as far as possible; such units as could not escape were to resist to the last. They must trade space for time-that is to say, they must bring about protracted war by compelling the Germans to punch deep into Soviet territory without obtaining a decision. But the territory which the Wehrmacht acquired must be made virtually useless by wholesale devastation and rendered insecure by incessant guerilla warfare. The resulting warfare of attrition and extended lines sooner or later would give the Red Army the great opportunity for which it had been trained and indoctrinated ever since the civil war-the opportunity to destroy the enemy by an offensive. “according to the {new} Soviet concept, blitzkrieg came at the end of the war, not at the beginning.”

In evolving a strategy of retreat for 1941 the Red Army was completely unaffected by the defeatism of Weygand and Petain, but rather was adopting the policy of active defense which ha been ably advanced by Field Marshal Ritter von Leeb of Hitler's Army. The facts of geography and the force of historic tradition must have been almost equally persuasive. Space and cold and rain and mud have always stood in the way of the would-be conqueror of Russia-natural barriers perhaps even more formidable under the conditions of mechanised war, than rivers or mountain ranges. When the storm broke over the Soviet Union in June, 1941, the minds of people everywhere travelled back to 1812, the name of Napoleon was on the lips of millions.

Under the guidance of the Kremlin and under the leadership of brilliant young generals who won recognition in the inexorable tests of combat, the Red Army preceded to carry out its long-range war plan. Active defense as conducted by the Soviet forces meant, in the words of the Soviet analyst Professor Minz, “fighting for every inch of territory, holding on to every village and town for as long as possible to gain time, bleeding the enemy as much as possible, inflicting the greatest possible losses upon him, wearing down his forces and launching frequent and impetuous counter attacks.” Marshal Timoshenko's chief of staff, General Sokolovsky, described these tactics by the picturesque and illuminating term “blitzgrinding.” Active defense required and encircled unit, large or small, to continue to give unrelenting battle to the invader-what the Germans, in frustration, called “senseless resistance.” It also included carefully organised guerrillas warfare, of which the Russians have been past masters throughout their history-a type of warfare to which modern armies are particularly susceptible because of the complex character of their weapons, equipment, communications, and supply. It meant devoted and courageous sacrifice by tents of millions of people in every walk of life. The USSR in fact has come nearer the goal of the nation-in-arms than any other nation in history.

One of the stupidest myths about operation Barbarossa is that the Nazis were on the brink of victory, that if Hitler had just reached Moscow the Nazis would have won; or that if Stalin had “fled” Moscow the Nazis would have won. Dumb dumb dumb, any non idiotic observer could have seen that 1) the soviet counter-attack would have occurred regardless of whether the Nazis had taken Moscow. 2) the Wehrmacht was so strung out by this point that they had no chance of taking Moscow in the first place, especially considering the later demonstration of city warfare at Stalingrad; and 3) Kutuzov retreated (n.b. retreated) from Moscow, taking every single scrap of food and supplies, burning the rest, and for good measure took the entire population of 270,000 with him leaving Napoleon with an empty, useless city, which Russian guerillas then burn to the ground once Napoleon had entered, and then then went on to drive Napoleon all the way to Elba. Anyway, point is that if the Nazis had captured Moscow they still would have lost.

Myth 5. The Red Army was a monolithic entity bound by dogma which stifled innovation and prevented adaptation to the Nazi invasion

Of great value in the tactical execution of the strategic defensive was the emphasis which the Field Service Regulations of 1936 put upon the individual soldier and the junior officer. “All sensible initiative of subordinates must be encouraged through all possible means,” said the Regulations, “and must be exploited by the commander in the general interest of battle. Sensible initiative is based upon an understanding of the commander's intentions.” The problem, then, was to relate the purposes of high command to the company commander and his men. Stalin himself understood the difficulty, although he suggested no definitive solution: “We leaders see things, events, people, from one angle only, so to speak from above. Therefore our horizon is more or less limited. The masses, on the other hand, see things, events, people from another angle, that is to say from below, and their horizon also is limited to a certain extent. To find a right solution of problems we must combine these experiences. Only then will management be correct.” It was undoubtedly a keen appreciation of the importance in individual initiative that led to so high a standard of competence of the Red soldier and hence to such a great effectiveness in the defensive operations of 1941-1943

It was fortunate of the USSR that, despite almost idolatrous worship of the offensive, it had made adequate preparations for defense and, particularly defense in depth. For the German conquest of Poland in 1939 and the collapse of France the next spring required a complete re-examination of all former military doctrine. A characteristic of Soviet attitude in domestic affairs had been adaptability, a willingness to change the party line, and an absorbing interest in attempting the new and untried. This flexibility, easily applied to the military sphere, has stood Stalin in good stead. Readiness, indeed eagerness, to alter existing plans in the face of new conditions has been an outstanding virtue of the Red Army and its personnel during the stresses and strain of 1941 and 1942. Even the junior officers seem to have understood the necessity of constant adaptability to the unprecedented problems which arose in meeting the German assault.

6. Bonus Question. Stalin should have attacked Germany in 1939

are u a fukkin idiot?

I'll leave with this final quote from Meade:-

Stalin is a titan in his own right. It took a heart of oak, nerves of steel, and veins of ice to assume the responsibilities which were involved in the Great Retreat. The stature of Marshal Stalin may be measured by the fact that his decisions were military decisions, not decisions of prestige for himself and his regime. There must have been doubts in many minds as to whether any dictatorship could stand up under the long series of blows which threatened to pulverize the Soviet Union during 1941 and 1942. But not once did Stalin, unlike Hitler, distort the fundamental truths of the situation or subordinate the goal of ultimate military victory to the momentary demands of popular morale. There is something awe-inspiring in Stalin's broadcast to his people of July 3, 1941, exhorting them to scorch the earth and to fight as a nation of guerillas. It was magnificent, it was terrifying-and it was war.

“In case of a forced retreat of Red Army units,” he said, “all rolling stock must be evacuated; to the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway car, not a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel.

“collective farmers must drive off their cattle and turn over their grain to the safekeeping of State authorities for transportation to the rear. All valuable property including non-ferrous metals, grain and fuel which cannot be withdrawn, must without fail be destroyed.

“In areas occupied by the enemy, guerilla units, mounted and on foot, must be formed, diversionist groups must be organised to combat enemy troops, to foment guerilla warfare everywhere, to blow up bridges, roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines and to set fire to forests, stores and transports.

“In occupied regions conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy and all his accomplices. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step and all their measures frustrated.”

Edited by drcat ()

Very carefully, OP.
good post, thanks
this almost makes me want to forgive stalin for hacking the election
really good read. thankies

tears posted:

How times change, this chapter was excised from the updated version of the book, still published by Princeton, and the current anti-soviet paradigm would result in anyone writing this essay today being labelled as a “Stalinist” or “Stalin apologist” in certain circles.

Not only was out excised, it was replaced by "the making of soviet strategy" by the Condoleezza Rice. Don't these people have any shame at all? Anyway good post will help me a lot in the future.

A+ post would read again
yes great post. but i'm pretty sure americans actually won the war through the lend-lease program. little piece of history you might not have heard of.
overview of what happened in great patriotic war

some of the same myths, eg
Myth 5. The Red Army was a monolithic entity bound by dogma which stifled innovation and prevented adaptation to the Nazi invasion

were still around during the Peoples Afghanistan/Soviet counterinsurgency campaign analsysed & disproven here

babyhueypnewton posted:

tears posted:

How times change, this chapter was excised from the updated version of the book, still published by Princeton, and the current anti-soviet paradigm would result in anyone writing this essay today being labelled as a “Stalinist” or “Stalin apologist” in certain circles.

Not only was out excised, it was replaced by "the making of soviet strategy" by the Condoleezza Rice. Don't these people have any shame at all? Anyway good post will help me a lot in the future.

The Condo Rice peice is worth reading as it sums up pretty well the entirity of shit historiography about the eastern front. On the other hand its not worth reading becau se it reads like a grade school paper written by an idiot

here's the bibliography pages for the chapter, which are good if anyone is looking for further reading:

finally, E.M. Earle's essay ends with a poignant passage, I didn't include it as it wasn’t related to WW2 but here it is

Time alone will tell whether Stalin will be judged in the future as more Russian than Peter the Great or more Communist than Lenin. But there are straws in the wind by which the student of politics may chart his course. And chart a course every statesman must, for the existence of Russian military power of the present magnitude is an entirely new factor in European and world politics. Russia has all the elements of fundamental strength, all the essential factors of the ear potential. She has a vast territorial domain, superabundant natural resources, a vital and growing population, an industrialized society, and a dynamic political system. Other nations may wane, but the USSR and USA will emerge from the present struggle in overwhelming strength. It is even probable that before the twentieth century has run its course, the Soviet Union will be the most powerful nation in the world. How she uses her vast power is portentous for the future of all mankind The Moscow and Tehran conferences have given us reason to hope that Russian power may be a stabilizing influence in peace, as it has been a determining influence in war

makes a nice change from reading “Putin: the neo-Soviet Hitler” or whatever passes for military-strategic writings these days


xipe posted:

overview of what happened in great patriotic war

i always get sucked in to watching the whole thing

red salute to all the good dead ones