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  • Critique my essay

    I would like to bring to the attention of this subforum something (a 3500 word paper) I wrote on my blog. I think you would be interested to read it, as it is very much "on topic", and I would be interested in any comments/critique you may have.

    Originally posted by National Defense in the Great Patriotic War
    In the Second World War the Soviet Union suffered an incalculable number of war death that is usually put at 27 million.i It was the largest death toll suffered by any country in any war. The war razed 1,710 cities and towns, 70,000 villages and hamlets and 100,000 collective farms on Soviet territory.ii In terms of protecting its citizens against other states the USSR can only be judged an utter failure.

    The failure of the Soviet Union was all the greater because it was not a power that was simply powerless to do so. On the eve of the Second World War the USSR was larger by land mass than any other political entity in the world exempting the British Empire. It ranked third in the world by population size and by gross domestic product. It could boast the largest, most mechanized army in the world, an enormous heavy industry output and highly competent weapon designers.

    To be sure the Soviet Union was also faced with its challenges. It had a very long border to secure. It had to contend with a two-pronged threat emanating from Tokyo on one side of the world and Berlin on the other. Enormous distances and subpar infrastructure impeded transport and communication. Most of its populace had little education and rarely handled modern machinery. What was to be its chief opponent, the German military, was experienced and proficient in the conduct of war.

    These difficulties, however, were hardly insurmountable given the aforementioned strong points of the Soviet Union. Yet it would suffer a series of military defeats so catastrophic that at the greatest extent of Axis advance 68 million of its citizens would be subject to a deadly foreign occupation.iii What was the cause of Soviet military debacles that paved the way for suffering on such a scale?
    CLICK TO READ MORE
    Last edited by bricklayer; 17 Sep 11, 08:18.

  • #2
    This seems to me to be an excellent summary of the facts. On one point I would take issue - you state that

    "Passivity of the Soviets in view of German border violations was interpreted as a weakness and made the war Stalin was hoping to avoid all the more certain."

    The decision to invade in May 42 had been taken in December 41, before the border violations became prevalent. Soviet passivity in this regard made no difference to the timing or scale of the invasion.

    An additional factor that you have not raised is lack of prepared defences in the newly acquired territories, and that much of the defences that were in place had been procured by stripping the 'Stalin Line'.

    You state that

    "In demanding ever more sacrifices from its people to make up for its incompetence the USSR was indeed expert."

    The Soviet state was indeed expert at wielding the stick, but much of the sacrifice was made willingly by a deeply patriotic people. I don't think you have given that sufficient weight in your analysis.
    "Freedom of thought is the only guarantee against infection of peoples by the mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demagogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorships."
    Hero of the Soviet Union, Andrei Sakharov 1968

    Comment


    • #3
      Thanks, Slim.

      Originally posted by Slim Fan View Post
      The decision to invade in May 42 had been taken in December 41, before the border violations became prevalent. Soviet passivity in this regard made no difference to the timing or scale of the invasion.
      That's a valid point, I guess I was going more for the counter-factual. Had the Soviets adopted a different, more self-assured stance in relation to the border violations, could this have given the Germans pause? On its own almost certainly not, but deterrance was certainly the only thing that may have worked to avoid war and this could have been one element of that.

      Originally posted by Slim Fan View Post
      An additional factor that you have not raised is lack of prepared defences in the newly acquired territories, and that much of the defences that were in place had been procured by stripping the 'Stalin Line'.
      You are right, I agonized over including this or not. In the end I did not, mostly because I was trying to keep it as short as possible length wise, but I easily could have.

      Originally posted by Slim Fan View Post
      The Soviet state was indeed expert at wielding the stick, but much of the sacrifice was made willingly by a deeply patriotic people. I don't think you have given that sufficient weight in your analysis.
      I don't dispute that. I think that in the end any "wielding of the stick" was more counterproductive than helpful. I hope readers won't come away feeling the paper gave out a contrary signal.

      Comment


      • #4
        Regarding the phrase "Soviet incompetence" this should be addressed as it crops up numerous times in regards Soviet performance in 1941. It is interesting to note that when it comes to evaluating the performance of the Polish and Western forces in 1939-1941, their failures in the face of the German onslaught are usually attributed to superior German tactics, training, coordination of forces and leadership - not to Polish, French, British or Greek incompetence. However, when dealing with the war in the East, "incompetence" on the part of the Soviets rears its head. This is interesting, since even the string of German defeats from 1943 onwards is not ascribed to "German incompetence". Keep in mind, that whereas the Western armies had the luxury of some 9 months foreknowledge of a state of war before the opening of real hostilities on the Western Front, the Soviets fell victim to a surprise attack of - to use Hitler's phrase - world historical proportions. Still, the USSR was able to upset the German timetable for Operation Barbarossa, prevent the capture of two of the three main German objectives - Leningrad and Moscow, succeeded in evacuating under the most trying circumstances a substantial amount of industrial material and skilled workers, and inflicted upon the German forces a level of casualties that they had not experienced heretofore. All in all, significant achievements in the face of apparent "incompetence".
        Last edited by Skoblin; 19 Sep 11, 07:25.

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by skoblin View Post
          Regarding the phrase "Soviet incompetence" this should be addressed as it crops up numerous times in regards Soviet performance in 1941.
          I did not come across such a phrase in my sources. Are you objecting to my use of the word specifically? I don't talk about any general Soviet incompetence. I use it in relation to the state leadership, which certainly demonstrated a level of incompetence that should have seen them placed before a wall and shot.

          Originally posted by skoblin View Post
          Keep in mind, that whereas the Western armies had the luxury of some 9 months foreknowledge of a state of war before the opening of real hostilities on the Western Front, the Soviets fell victim to a surprise attack of - to use Hitler's phrase - world historical proportions.
          Well who was at fault for allowing this to be a surprise attack? How does one fall surprise to a military offensive that necessitates a build up of 4.7 million troops? The Russian Empire did not allow itself to be surprised by Napoleon's invasion of 1812. It correctly interpreted its intelligence reports to conclude it would be invaded and planned and prepared for it in advance (brilliantly I may add). How did the USSR allow itself the "luxury" to be surprised?

          Originally posted by skoblin View Post
          Still, the USSR was able to upset the German timetable for Operation Barbarossa, prevent the capture of two of the three main German objectives - Leningrad and Moscow, succeeded in evacuating under the most trying circumstances a substantial amount of industrial material and skilled workers, and inflicted upon the German forces a level of casualties that they had not experienced heretofore.
          Jet there is no doubt that given what was available the USSR should have done much better than it in fact did. Given the qualities of the Soviet soldier, the morale of the Soviet people, the size of its industrial base and of its manpower pool I certainly don't see that the Germans advancing as far as they did should have been likely. The extent of the German advance is not a credit to the Soviet Union, it is sooner a fluke event only made possible by catastrophic blunders of the Soviet state that criminally failed its people who then paid for its many failings.

          Simply the Soviet state did not deserve its heroic people, whose spirit and skill deserved a far better system and leadership.
          Last edited by bricklayer; 19 Sep 11, 07:52.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
            I did not come across such a phrase in my sources. Are you objecting to my use of the word specifically? I don't talk about any general Soviet incompetence. I use it in relation to the state leadership, which certainly demonstrated a level of incompetence that should have seen them placed before a wall and shot.
            Regarding incompetence on the part of the Soviet leadership, this would only hold if no precautions had been taken in regards a possible German attack. The record does not bear this out. The Soviet leadership realized that the quick fall of France would hasten the possibility of an outbreak of war with Nazi Germany. However, the Soviet leadership – in line with most foreign observers as well as members of Hitler’s own military command – expected that Hitler would at least neutralize Britain in some manner, either through a conclusive invasion or some sort of negotiated peace, before embarking upon a major conflict with the USSR. After all, it was a war on two fronts, which helped stymie German chances in World War I. That the Soviet Union fell victim to a seemingly irrational and extremely risky move on Hitler’s part does not warrant any claim of “incompetence”. The main shortcoming of the Soviet leadership was that they calculated Hitler’s possible moves in a “too rational” manner, leading them to believe they had more time to prepare then they actually did. Still, the Soviet Union had already undertaken steps to deal with the looming possibility of war with Germany: a new military plan had been drawn up by Zhukov and Timoshenko in May-June 1941, the fortification of the new frontier with Germany was placed in high gear, and the rearming of Soviet mechanized forces with the new T-34 and KV-1 tanks was given high priority. Plans were also devised to deal with the possible need to evacuate industrial equipment and labour assets from the western regions.

            Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
            Well who was at fault for allowing this to be a surprise attack? How does one fall surprise to a military offensive that necessitates a build up of 4.7 million troops? The Russian Empire did not allow itself to be surprised by Napoleon's invasion of 1812. It correctly interpreted its intelligence reports to conclude it would be invaded and planned and prepared for it in advance (brilliantly I may add). How did the USSR allow itself the "luxury" to be surprised?

            If a maskirovka operation is successful – is it solely due to incompetence on the part of the side that is surprised? Or does the side practicing the deception deserve some credit? The Germans were quite skilled at deceptive operations. One only has the recount the concentration of armoured forces opposite the Ardennes forest in the spring of 1940 and the same in the winter of 1944 as well as the transfer of an entire panzergruppe on the eve of Operation Typhoon. It helps when the purpose of the maskirovka seems to be irrational in and of itself – such as sending armoured forces through wooded, hilly terrain or transferring forces when the capture of a major objective – such as Leningrad – would be placed at a disadvantage. In the event, the Soviets were aware of the German build-up in the East in the spring of 1941. However, reconnaissance and intelligence information regarding the movement of enemy forces do not necessarily disclose the purpose of such a movement or concentration. German military intelligence went to some pains to disguise the build-up in the East as a ruse to deflect attention from an impending invasion of Britain. German military personnel were even uncertain as to what the build-up meant, presuming everything from the cynical - an attempt to extort greater concessions from the USSR – to the fantastic – that German forces had been given the green light to pass through Soviet territory in order to strike at British forces in the Middle East.
            Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
            Jet there is no doubt that given what was available the USSR should have done much better than it in fact did. Given the qualities of the Soviet soldier, the morale of the Soviet people, the size of its industrial base and of its manpower pool I certainly don't see that the Germans advancing as far as they did should have been likely. The extent of the German advance is not a credit to the Soviet Union, it is sooner a fluke event only made possible by catastrophic blunders of the Soviet state that criminally failed its people who then paid for its many failings.
            You underestimate the sheer power of the German blitzkrieg at the time. In short, no foreign army was prepared for the intensity of combined operations introduced by the German military in 1939-1941. The main focus – besides effecting a breakthrough of the enemy’s front – was the endeavour to keep the enemy off-balance by striking at his transportation and communications centers through the use of air power. Hence, the focused operations against Soviet air assets in the first hours of the war. Once off-balance, a military force is condemned to play catch-up, throwing in whatever forces are available in piecemeal fashion while simultaneously trying to deduce the enemy’s intentions in the absence of significant reconnaissance and intelligence information. This becomes even more difficult when the enemy has the initiative on a front extending several thousand kilometers.

            Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
            Simply the Soviet state did not deserve its heroic people, whose spirit and skill deserved a far better system and leadership.
            It was the Soviet leadership – like it or not – which engineered and organized the victory on the ground. That they made mistakes goes without question, but their management of the war economy especially is what made victory possible.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
              Critique my essay "That the country in the ensuing struggle nonetheless emerged victorious is a testament to the spirit and sacrifice of the Soviet people. That it needed to bear such gruesome losses to do so, is a condemnation of the Soviet state that had nearly brought about its downfall."
              this essay sounds more like a pamphlet/lampoon to me... you hasn't proven that there was any other state at the time capable of fighting the Nazis without such losses ...indeed, it is hard to think what would Britain or America do, had they had a border with then Germany!

              Comment


              • #8
                Originally posted by stalin View Post
                this essay sounds more like a pamphlet/lampoon to me... you hasn't proven that there was any other state at the time capable of fighting the Nazis without such losses ...indeed, it is hard to think what would Britain or America do, had they had a border with then Germany!
                I certainly concur: how can the defence of the USSR be deemed an" utter failure" ?

                It was tragically costly certainly, and it's easy to be wise when equipped with 20/20 hindsight, but who actually won the war ?
                "I dogmatise and am contradicted, and in this conflict of opinions and sentiments I find delight".
                Samuel Johnson.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by stalin View Post
                  this essay sounds more like a pamphlet/lampoon to me... you hasn't proven that there was any other state at the time capable of fighting the Nazis without such losses
                  Sure there was. A better led Soviet Union. One that did not supply Hitler's armies, killed its own officers, prevented its army from taking defensive positions, etc, etc.

                  I would sooner say that your statement that it was impossible to combat the Nazis without such losses is deeply insulting to the Russian/Ukrainian/Belarusian and other nations that were in the Soviet Union. If you think such losses were inevitable and such disasters as Barbarossa unavoidable then you must think that the German is some kind of an ubermensch compared to the Russian? Here we disagree, I think the Russians/Ukrainians/Belarusians and others would have been able to repel the Germans at a smaller cost to themselves had they not been saddled with the Soviet state. I think the Soviet system was at fault for the early disasters and casualties, not inherent German superiority.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by BELGRAVE View Post
                    I certainly concur: how can the defence of the USSR be deemed an" utter failure"?
                    Maybe you should read better so that next time you won't put words into my mouth. Don't strawman me, adress what I actually state.

                    I was not talking about "the defence of the USSR". That was done successfully by the Soviet people.

                    I called the USSR an utter failure, specifically in terms of protecting its people. The people defended the USSR well, the USSR however failed to extend the same service to its people. Tens of millions of dead, maimed and a third of the national wealth lost, and all against a weaker power say that I am right.

                    Originally posted by BELGRAVE View Post
                    It was tragically costly certainly, and it's easy to be wise when equipped with 20/20 hindsight, but who actually won the war ?
                    The Soviet people.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
                      I called the USSR an utter failure, specifically in terms of protecting its people. The people defended the USSR well, the USSR however failed to extend the same service to its people. Tens of millions of dead, maimed and a third of the national wealth lost, and all against a weaker power say that I am right.
                      If you call all other countries like France which were steamrolled by Hitler as utter failures, I might agree with you. And had Hitler had the same plans and attitudes for the French as for the Russians, they'd have lost a comparable number of people.

                      The Soviet people.
                      Let's make an experiment by pulling your brain out and making you accomplish some task, like writing an essay. I'm sure your hands, fingers and other body parts can work independently much better than when they are coordinated by the ever-meddling brain.

                      Ooops, looks like you've just done it this way
                      www.histours.ru

                      Siege of Leningrad battlefield tour

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by skoblin View Post
                        Regarding incompetence on the part of the Soviet leadership, this would only hold if no precautions had been taken in regards a possible German attack. The record does not bear this out. The Soviet leadership realized that the quick fall of France would hasten the possibility of an outbreak of war with Nazi Germany. However, the Soviet leadership – in line with most foreign observers as well as members of Hitler’s own military command – expected that Hitler would at least neutralize Britain in some manner, either through a conclusive invasion or some sort of negotiated peace, before embarking upon a major conflict with the USSR. After all, it was a war on two fronts, which helped stymie German chances in World War I. That the Soviet Union fell victim to a seemingly irrational and extremely risky move on Hitler’s part does not warrant any claim of “incompetence”. The main shortcoming of the Soviet leadership was that they calculated Hitler’s possible moves in a “too rational” manner, leading them to believe they had more time to prepare then they actually did.
                        This is all fine, however, the fact remains there were very many people in the Soviet Union who nonetheless correctly concluded that Germany was going to strike. Red Army commanders Zhukov and Timoshenko did so albeit they were privy to fewer intelligence reports than Stalin was. So it should have been possible for the political leadership to reach the same conclusion.

                        Originally posted by skoblin View Post
                        If a maskirovka operation is successful – is it solely due to incompetence on the part of the side that is surprised?
                        Maskirovka was not successful as it did not critically hinder Soviet intelligence gathering. The Soviets gathered plentiful information on the German buildup as well as on their intentions. It was in the interpretation of the gathered information that lay the problem.

                        In any case thank you for your comments. It makes me believe perhaps I should revise the paper and add something that I was going to include but then did not in the end that talked more about this surprise episode.

                        Originally posted by skoblin View Post
                        You underestimate the sheer power of the German blitzkrieg at the time. In short, no foreign army was prepared for the intensity of combined operations introduced by the German military in 1939-1941. The main focus – besides effecting a breakthrough of the enemy’s front – was the endeavour to keep the enemy off-balance by striking at his transportation and communications centers through the use of air power. Hence, the focused operations against Soviet air assets in the first hours of the war. Once off-balance, a military force is condemned to play catch-up, throwing in whatever forces are available in piecemeal fashion while simultaneously trying to deduce the enemy’s intentions in the absence of significant reconnaissance and intelligence information. This becomes even more difficult when the enemy has the initiative on a front extending several thousand kilometers.
                        I agree, some level of early German advance was always likely, but not of the sort that ends up capturing an area of the Soviet Union home to 45% of its population.

                        Originally posted by skoblin View Post
                        It was the Soviet leadership – like it or not – which engineered and organized the victory on the ground.
                        That is a basic fact, the question is were they good at it? Did results come more because of its leadership or despite of it? At least early in the war it was despite of it.

                        Originally posted by skoblin View Post
                        That they made mistakes goes without question, but their management of the war economy especially is what made victory possible.
                        Well that is a whole different issue that actually I don't want to touch with a six foot pole. It leads right down to never ending debates on the efficiency of planned vs market economy. I'll just mention that the fact the populace forsake industrial consumer goods, and the effort of the individual worker also played a part.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by ShAA View Post
                          If you call all other countries like France which were steamrolled by Hitler as utter failures, I might agree with you. And had Hitler had the same plans and attitudes for the French as for the Russians, they'd have lost a comparable number of people.
                          Duh, obviously enough the French state utterly failed to protect its people against Germany. All the French ended up occupied and at the mercies of the Germans didn't they?

                          Originally posted by ShAA View Post
                          Let's make an experiment by pulling your brain out and making you accomplish some task, like writing an essay. I'm sure your hands, fingers and other body parts can work independently much better than when they are coordinated by the ever-meddling brain.

                          Ooops, looks like you've just done it this way
                          Very funny.
                          Last edited by bricklayer; 20 Sep 11, 06:52.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            "(...) a defeat in detail in which much of the massive Red Army was destroyed piecemeal. Numerous units were ground to dust attacking in appalling conditions that were crying out for defense or withdrawal.

                            By December 5th, when it was finally stopped, Barbarossa had advanced more than 1,200 kilometers into the interior of the Soviet Union. It reached the outskirts of Moscow and delivered millions of people to the mercies of a lethal occupation. On the way it inflicted cumulative losses of 4.5 million on the Red Army including 2.3 million captured.(...)"
                            Your analysis seems quite factual,

                            your conclusion however, i.e. to blame the defeat of '41 on the "soviet" system comes across as unsupported imho.

                            "In the Soviet Union more of life went through the state than anywhere else in the world and still the state in a spectacular manner failed to protect its people against a power that could approximate neither the size of its armed forces"
                            A sentence like this makes me suspect a predetermined conclusion - nowhere in your essay do you present arguments to support your claim that the "soviet" system was a detriment to the russian war effort.

                            You'd have a stronger case if you concluded that *Stalin* himself was a major cause of the russian misfortunes - Stalin doen't equal "Soviet" however.

                            As pointed out above - france, poland, britain, belgium etc - none of them fared "proportionally" better against the early blitzkrieg, no military in europe performed as numbers and pre-war estimates would have predicted, even when not hampered by a soviet system.

                            Grtz.
                            Last edited by Snowygerry; 20 Sep 11, 07:52.
                            Lambert of Montaigu - Crusader.

                            Bolgios - Mercenary Game.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
                              This is all fine, however, the fact remains there were very many people in the Soviet Union who nonetheless correctly concluded that Germany was going to strike. Red Army commanders Zhukov and Timoshenko did so albeit they were privy to fewer intelligence reports than Stalin was. So it should have been possible for the political leadership to reach the same conclusion.
                              You should read the actual plan submitted by Zhukov and Timoshenko to the Soviet leadership. It is clear that although they expected the possibility of a war with Nazi Germany - as did Stalin himself - it is clear that they did not consider it to take the form of a surprise attack minus any warning signs. The actual military plan which they drafted presumed a preexisting state of hostilities with Nazi Germany with Germany requiring some lead-off time to finish its mobilization. The model was evidently German operations in the West which was proceeded by months of preparations. Thus, the military leadership and the political leadership were both taken by surprise - not that war would break out - but rather how that war would break out.
                              The relevant text is as follows:
                              I am reporting for your consideration the details of a plan for the strategic deployment of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Union in case of a war with Germany and her allies.
                              ...

                              In order to forestall (a German attack) [and destroy the German Army], I consider it necessary in any case not to give the German command the initiative in operations, to hinder the deployment of the enemy and to attack the German Army at that moment when it is in the stage of deployment, not having the opportunity to organize a front and coordinate its forces.
                              What Stalin objected to regarding Zhukov and Timoshenko's military plan was not the premise of war breaking out between Germany and the USSR - which Stalin agreed with - but rather the strategy to pursued when it would occur, which - as is clear in the draft military plan - presumed a breakdown in diplomatic relations and a declaration of war preceding the event. That both were in error in this regard is not a sign of incompetence, but rather an underestimation of Hitler's perfidy and level of risk-taking.

                              Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
                              Maskirovka was not successful as it did not critically hinder Soviet intelligence gathering. The Soviets gathered plentiful information on the German buildup as well as on their intentions. It was in the interpretation of the gathered information that lay the problem.
                              Which is exactly what I stated:
                              In the event, the Soviets were aware of the German build-up in the East in the spring of 1941. However, reconnaissance and intelligence information regarding the movement of enemy forces do not necessarily disclose the purpose of such a movement or concentration.
                              Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
                              I agree, some level of early German advance was always likely, but not of the sort that ends up capturing an area of the Soviet Union home to 45% of its population.
                              If this is an indication of incompetence, then how does one describe Western Allied leadership when with 9 months forewarning France managed to lose 100% of its territory? The cause lay in the fact that Western and Soviet military doctrine were incapable of dealing with the Blitzkrieg at that time.

                              Originally posted by bricklayer View Post
                              That is a basic fact, the question is were they good at it? Did results come more because of its leadership or despite of it? At least early in the war it was despite of it.
                              Numerous Soviet counter-attacks in the summer and fall of 1941 held-up the German advance and upset the German timetable for Operation Barbarossa. Did these counter-attacks occur spontaneously - or were they the results of decisions made by the Soviet command? Same with the numerous transfers of forces from one sector to another in response to German operations. Was the evacuation of industrial plants, equipment and labour assets a spontaneous development? Who gave the orders? Who organized the transportation resources? Who reorganized military production in factories in other areas of the country? Who organized the training and equipping of new military formations?

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