Jump to content

What really happened to the Russians in 1941

Recommended Posts

Rather than jump into page 11 of the "German losses" thread - which is in the wrong forum anyway, since it isn't about scenarios but is largely about what happened in Russia - I thought I'd just start a new one here. It won't be about how the US won the war in Russia, nor about how Germany did. Nor will I cite outsized Russian losses as proof of their tactical mastery.

The subject is things I think I've figured out recently about what really happened in WW II in Russia. Others who have been here a while probably know my basic thesis and are tired of hearing it - that Germany lost a war of attrition by failing to mobilize its own economy, out of hubris. I haven't changed that basic conclusion. But I've noticed several new things, especially about 1941 (which I'll stick to here, for this first round).

The first big one I realized reading Glantz's more recent book on Barbarossa, mistitled "Before Stalingrad" (it actually ends with the early Battle for Moscow period, aka the end of 1941). He doesn't harp on it, but it comes through in various places. As usual with Glantz, it is not his own judgement that is most interesting but the depth of operational narrative and occasional flashes coming through from the original sources he (and so far, it appears, pretty much only he) has looked at. It is Russian logistical weakness.

The basic story of 1941 is the Germans chop the Russian army into pieces and gobble those pieces up. By the time they finish swallowing, there is a new Russian army in front of them. Repeat until the Germans miss a step and stall. People debate which step was the one that missed. But the overall picture is operational and tactical skill vs. "numbers", understood as including "supplies" or "reserves". Germans win at the front, Russians win in the rear.

It is an easy enough picture and it does capture the most essential bits. But on western expectations, mobilization and supply logistics are so closely connected, we just assume (I just assumed, in the past anyway) that the Russians are strong in all the rear areas, just lousy at the front. What comes through in flashes in Glantz is that this is not remotely so. Their combat service and support are god-awful, in 1941.

I think this is the real answer to the standing mystery, what happened to the Russian tank fleet? Glantz had shown from previous operational studies that basically half of it is gone by the end of the summer. At places in this one, it is quite clear they are outnumbered in armor throughout the fall battles. Even though the Germans don't have much (3300 to start and falling). Did the Germans just kill every tank in battle, because T-26s are so bad? I don't think so.

You find there are serious Russian counterattacks with armor. Tank corps strength, and prewar TOEs thus those are big formations. One operation on the Smolensk axis involves well over 1000 tanks. Occasionally there is some early effect, but never anything real to show for any of it. What's going on? Well, that is where the flashes come through. Whole mechanized corps report they are out of gas.

We are not just talking failure to use combined arms in a doctrinally correct manner. We are talking about launching attacks with major formations that push ahead for 2-3 days, and nobody has organized their regular resupply. As in, CSS non-existent.

An early case is Dubno, where initial lack of preparation is still plainly a factor. The operation looks sensible on a map and the forces available include mech formations with 3200 tanks (! - the size of the whole German fleet at the same date. Hardly penny packeting).

The narrative does cite lack of tank infantry cooperation. But it also says air attacks and swamps. Then 2 corps try together, without their motorized infantry division components. We hear of a force with 979 tanks, 426 of them modern models, reduce to 65 in a matter of days. Off in a footnote. "Largely due to technical problems". Another corps cites swamps and air. It reads like the Russian commanders are excuse factories. It also positively screams CF.

And it isn't the only one. Some of that may have been tanks never really operational to begin with, "breakdowns" that consist of the officer in charge asking if it will actually move for the first time since peace ended. But later ones, in front of Smolensk e.g., don't have that explanation really. But the same sort of thing keeps happening.

We read that 5th and 7th Mech have 1036 tanks apiece (!), and their attack fails. Glantz offers that many of them are T-26s or BTs (so what? If half of them were BTs it would still be awesome. Lack of adequate recon and tank infantry cooperation is cited for their failure, against the well prepared AT defense of - one panzer division. That is the footnote version. The main text explains that 7th Mech alone lost 832 tanks within five days and withdrew in disorder "beset also by a host of command and control and logistical problems". CF.

Higher ups gave nonsensical orders. Lower officers obeyed them to the letter. They drove off to point B. No gas arrived to meet them (the route may not have existed, the enemy might have been between, any of a hundred reasons the original order was errant nonsense). They screamed for gas. The front moved. The crews got out and walked. That is my diagnosis of some of these collosal stuff ups. That is how "swamps" consume entire Mech corps.

Later I see a pattern in the encirclement fights. The higher ups are issue counterattack orders, hold at all cost orders. They fear the whole front in collapsing, smell fear, think it is morale and nobody is willing to stand and fight. They are authorizing blocking detachments, cashiering officers for defeatism. The overall effect is to shove units west and drive them into the ground with spikes. When they should be backpeddling like a linebacker trying to get angle to the outside corner, they are thrusting their heads straight forward.

The predictable result is they run out of ammo. The resupply doesn't get as far forward as the men most willing to obey these orders and stand. The Germans get between, or there is no gas, or the guns have shot off their immediate ammo. And nobody knows where to get more. The "near rear" is complete chaos. Off in Moscow, off in the Urals, the trains may be running on time producing new guns and divisions. But 10, 20 miles behind a front, that is moving east by leaps, it is bedlam.

The result is a breakaway force. They can make new formations, but those thrust into action melt rapidly. The mech units are the hardest hit. They are the most dependent on reliable coordination, supply, and CSS. There isn't any. As a result, they fall apart within days, in action. Cadres are all that limp away from the easiest brushes with real combat.

The infantry divisions are much steadier. They die of ammo starvation a week after they are surrounded. There is no fire discipline. They don't know to horde ammo. If not surrounded they live, melting somewhat from casualties to be sure, but not declining in supply related readiness on a exponential half life of days, like the mech stuff does.

The big moves on the map aren't sound. Zhukov is almost relieved when he advises the correct backpedal in the south. He is given a reserve command, taken out of the line. The result is the Kiev pocket and a million men lost. As a rule, the placement of the new armies makes sense and the orders to the existing ones are stark raving mad. (Attack, stay west, fight, blow up Guderian's whole panzer army with an air strike, out of touch and panicky).

The German move south is not a mistake. It works, nearly breaks their back. The lost time is no biggie.

Glantz gives figures sufficient to watch the running strength of the Russian side, in its essentials. The Germans are wiping out over three quarters of a million men per month and the Russians are replacing it, but not gaining. The Russian force in the field has a half life on the order of 60 days. And it isn't the October mud pause that stops this - October is just as disastrous as the months before it, and the respite from the mud is too short to matter.

No, the key thing is that the Germans aren't getting anything themselves. 50k replacements in a time period when the Russians get more like 3 million. It is the sheer scale of the Russian mobilization rate that is the strategic shock to the Germans, and they don't even know it is happening. Every million men they wipe out, they think is the last. When it is just another month or so.

November is the month when Russian field strength soars. There is no Russian odds at that point. The Germans have 2.7 million men in the field and the Russians have only 2.2 million, on November 1. A month later the Germans are weaker not stronger, and the Russians have 4 million. The Russians just don't lose a million men in November - that is all it takes.

Did all of these men come from outnumbering the Germans 10 to 1? No not really. First, Russia's population before the war was about 150 million, Germany's was 80 million. That is 2 to 1, not 10. Second, Germany had help - Romania, Finland, millions of foreign workers in Germany to replace men serving in the army, etc. Third, The Germans overran areas that contained half of the Russian prewar population. While something like 12 million workers were evacuated and men inducted beforehand and refugees, still around 50 million people passed under German rule. There wasn't any numerical discrepancy left to speak of, in the two population bases, by November.

The numerical edge is there at the outset but gets cut to pieces. It has reversed by October and the Germans have an actual edge in numbers, despite no mobilization of their own. If they had mobilized as they attacked, they'd have had double the Russian force by November. What happens in November is the German logistics start giving out, that let's the loss rate fall and the front stabilize, the rear area chaos clears up somewhat (or at least, is matched by equal chaos in German logisitics by then), and front line strength soars.

Before then, the Russians had been treating formations like ammo. The rear area economy and mobilization machine are working - they aren't right up against the battle zone. They field and equip whole armies, and trains drop them at appropriate points ahead of the Germans. And they shift there, in total chaos, until destroyed - under cockamamie orders and utter confusion. The next lot are getting off the trains 100 miles further east.

Not anybody's preferred picture of things, I suspect. But vivid enough and believable enough.

I hope this is interesting.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • Replies 152
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

lol. Well the truth be told, the CMBB thing I'd really like to do is a CMx10 campaign about (a particular corner of) Kursk that I've been working on. To run that is, if others want to play in one of those. But I am not yet sure I'll have the time to do it justice. (Forces, operational map, briefings - all that I've got, basically. Time to run it on the other hand...)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wonder how many people beside myself have actually ran a CMx10 campaign. MikeyD and I ran what I considered a highly entertaining CMx10 campaign - for about 3 turns. After that, RL seemed to swallow everybody's time.

What worked well about it was that the rules were defined very loosely. Basically I had the players draw orders on the CM campaign map 'We-Go style', and I would just resolve them myself (I had movement distance guidelines of course). We had a substancial amount of role-playing, and I encouraged the players to ask for things not mentioned in the rules. That resulted in some fun counter-intelligence from one team, and a lively round of prison interrogation.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

From what I have managed to glean from the Soviet accounts the early stages of the war, from the Red Army side obviously the early war experience could be lumped into a great big "every unit for itself."

It sort of reminds me of France 1940. Like the French infantry anyway, the Soviet companies, battalions, and regiments actually fight credibly, if you look at the actual combats.

The German Blitzkrieg however in both cases tears its opponent into pieces, first big and then smaller, by massed armor and tear into the enemy's operational rear, where it creates havoc and, if combat occurs, it is a fluid engagement.

On the Red Army line, in a lot of ways, the effect of German "deep operations" must have looked like appalling bad supply and support by the rear area pukes to the Soviet combat units. Supplies don't get forward, communications go down, intelligence doesn't get collected, coordination with adjacent units never mind formations of other combat arms doesn't happen, etc. etc. The further back you go, it seems, the more chaos.

Add into that a general "stand and fight" order to the combat units, and it's a pretty good recipe for big masses of a Soviet combat units getting surrounded and chopped up by the Germans. Although, it is of course questionable as to whether the Soviets were capable of maneuvering on the operational level - I mean divisions to corps - in the first years of the war.

Add into that the military mind-set prevailing in the Red Army in 1941 - roughly speaking that the front will be more or less stable and operations if fluid will be based on rail lines, not roads -and the Red Army works out to be a big fat target for a German Blitzkrieg, in some ways all the more vulnerable for its size. The way I see it the works of Frunze and Tukhashevsky hadn't become anything like the gospel they later effectively turned out to be, once the Red Army got its act together.

I would however make a distinction between the operational supply problems the Soviets experienced and in some cases aggravated during the first 4-5 months of the war, and the strategic supply operations, which I think they displayed remarkable skill.

Concentration and formation of a 3rd strategic echelon, removal of a huge chunk of the country's manufacturing capacity to the Urals, and moving the people and material needed to gear up to wartime production - while all the while under the onlslaught of the patented German Blitzkrieg -are achievements of no mean skill. Granted, the Soviets had a lot of practice; they basically fought and won their Civil War along the rail lines.

So maybe the lesson here is strategic trumps operational, yet again.

[ March 09, 2005, 01:44 AM: Message edited by: Bigduke6 ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Very interesting read. Bottom line is, the Germans lost the war because, while being prepared to start it, they weren't prepared to endure it beyond 1941/42. Fits in together with other things I read about (like, not focussing on mass-producability of the tanks they designed, halting development past Pz IV and Bf109, stuff like that).

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Strategic errors like invading Russia without mobilizing the economy matter most, sure. But on several of the things you said, I don't agree BigDuke. You said two things in particular that I think miss the point. First that the farther back you go the worse the chaos, which is the opposite of what I think I've noticed recently as the real issue. And second, you said you don't think the Russians were capable of operational maneuver. Now, this just clearly isn't so. Glantz gives the actual operational orders in many cases. The conceptions are clear, and the scale is front to army, not tactical. They aren't frozen in place by command paralysis.

No, see, a misdiagnosis of the problem is occurring, and it is setting up one nasty feedback. Stavka gives orders that correctly place tank formations with 1000, 2000, 3000 tanks opposite the shoulders of German spearheads. They counterattack. They *evaporate*, not in massive attrition that reduces the Germans, just "gone in days", poof.

Stavka makes the diagnosis, "morale failure". It thinks everyone is just running away the instant they "see the elephant". It cashiers people, it orders more aggressive actions, it forbids withdrawal, it authorizes blocking detachments etc. It is not doing this instead of maneuvering operationally. It is doing this in response to clear operational conceptions falling apart utterly in days.

Operational conceptions rely on a certain predictable stability of performance of subunits. Sound, modern looking ones ask a lot from large armor formations. When the Germans hit a targeted sector with a panzer corps, the infantry division hit collases in hours and they are in the house. When a Russian tank corps hits a German infantry division, the tank corps disappears. The higher ups are looking at each other, going "WTF?"

The Russians take to giving orders to infantry armies instead because infantry armies are still on the map a week after an attack order.

The front and army level commanders get the message to fight to the last man because their superiors in Stavka (and, as they communicate this, at the front level) have the diagnosis "morale failure". There is a quote in Glantz, front commander to army commander "fight on stubbornly. Exclude any and every notion of a mobile defense. Revise your operational plan". The army commander had proposed a sensible fighting withdrawal. His front superior assumed any attempt to impliment such a thing would lead to immediate dissolving rout. The front commander was almost certainly wrong. Glantz suggests the front commander's main lesson to date was "Stavka required his forces to fight to the death and not abandon their positions".

What happens with the Russian operational conceptions? The ones they make when they still have armor try to do things you'd do if they were German units. And fail utterly, because the armor is not a sword but a floppy piece of string (that's on fire). The later ones are broad front infantry attacks at army to front scale. They have to be, because (1) only infantry formations last (2) smaller ones take losses when they attack instead of defend (3) huge infantry forces need sections of front or there isn't any front (which is often!). (There are second echelons, but forming and behind critical sectors, not stuff to throw away).

As for Russian operational defense conceptions, placement of an army (or whole front, even, occasionally) by rail behind the important sector works just fine. The army commanders and best front commanders see the need for withdrawals when there is such a need. But ring all the wrong alarm bells with their superiors. When the sensible thing to do is in fact to stand and fight stubbornly - at the operational level, mind - and Stavka has any reserves to send to make this realistic - then it works. Examples are Smolensk area in August (Guderian overstretched logistically, then heading elsewhere), right around Leningrad, Moscow front in November.

When instead the absolutely essential thing is to pull back an army or front, there is no lack of people seeing it on the map and advising it. But Stavka doesn't listen, most of the time - or too little, too late. E.g. the south is holding out better, the bright spot. Then an AG South spearhead gets through. The guys along the Romanian border should retreat to the Dnepr immediately. Instead Stavka is ordering Mech counterattacks that fail, without issuing such a withdraw order because it expects the Mech to either work, or at least smash into the Germans and halt both in large scale attrition.

But oops, they just disappear instead, and the Germans push on. Commanders scream to pull the men back. Stavka smells defeatism. Some armies are given the order but rather too late. (Meanwhile, Zhukov, for being right, is off with the Moscow reserve front instead of Southwestern). Barely out of that hook (several armies don't make it), Guderian comes down from the north with a larger one.

This is supposed to be some mistake, to monday morning QBs. It isn't, it creates the worst command crisis of the war on the Russian side. Staff tells Stalin southwestern front must withdraw. "Stalin reproached us, saying that like Budenny we took the path of least resistence - retreating instead of beating the enemy". They wring half measures out of him - 2 armies can pull back a little. We must abandon Kiev - rage. Orders to wipe out Guderian, utterly unreal (an air strike? A few units tossed in his path?).

Front commander says reserves must be sent to slow him and a general withdraw ordered. Moscow, for Stalin, says they must fight from existing positions. His direction superior seconds the motion. Result? "Do not abandon Kiev" and the direction commander is relieved. His successor says he'll hold Kiev, great. SW front chief of staff can't be fooled, says the result will be disaster within days. Result -

"Major General Tupikov has submitted a panicky report to the general staff. On the contrary, the situation requires the maintenance of extreme coolness and steadfastness on the part of commanders at all levels. Avoid panic... You must compel (2 army commanders) to cease their withdrawal. You must instill the entire front with the necessity to fight on stubbornly..."

This surreal order is issued as the trap closes. They fight as stubbornly as they please for the week their ammo lasts, then collapse to nothing. Two thirds of a million men, a million if you count the battles that lead to it. Including that pesky staff general who said "I told you so".

That is what I mean by nonsense orders to operate under. The high command thinks the front line soldiers are just running away and does not understand why its sensible seeming orders have lost the war. The front line can't get the high command to issue realistic orders that it can actually impliment.

The whole planning loop depended on a level of performance from operations ordered, that the close to front CSS and C3 could not deliver. The resulting failure set of one off the world's great blame games, which then ricocheted through the Russian command structure for the whole fall campaign, wrecking everything it touched.

This is not just the result of tanks in the rear spreading panic - on the contrary, very often the tanks are in the rear because of it (withdrawals not authorized etc). And panic is exactly the wrong diagnosis, what the high command thought, and was so wrong about. (Proof - how the infantry armies fight around Smolensk etc). No, a prior failure of subunits to perform as expected wrecks planning and sets up collossal distrust (on a fertile and well plowed field for it) and miscommunication.

There are some sound plans at Stavka, but they ask too much of the front line forces. There is no lack of bravery in the front line forces - if anything they aren't scared enough and are fighting too far to the west instead of backpeddling. The disconnect comes from incredulity over the huge disparity in observed unit performance, that German tank corps with 300 tanks create breakthroughs at will, and Russian mech corps with 1000 tanks disappear days after they are committed to actions that look just as sensible on a map.

World's biggest CF, that's how that disparity got started. That at any rate is my present opinion.

[ March 09, 2005, 06:48 AM: Message edited by: JasonC ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

JasonC, this all seems very, very convincing.

What is your opinion concerning the main reason for "the disappearing act" Soviet tank corps seemed to perform so well?

Most of texts I read indicate that they ran out of fuel, ammunition and even most banal spare parts. But why this happened? The Soviets held large-scale manoeuvres before the war, they must have been aware of logistical requirements.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Soviets certainly had a big logistical challenge given the large distances and relatively low level of infrastructure development present in the Soviet Union at the time, but as you mention, the Red Army had run large-scale mechanized manoeuvres before the war, and a fair number of the senior officers had had the experience of fighting a highly mobile war across vast distences during the Civil War (albiet not very mechanized). So they should have known what they were up against.

Unfortunately for the Soviets, many of the officers who knew what they were doing with logistics probably fell victim to Stalin's infamous purges on the officer ranks of the Red Army.

From what I've read, the purges hit the skilled, trained & educated mid-level officer corps very hard. Those who replaced these officers were undertrained and probably too scared for their own skins to pipe up if they did recognize naescent logistical problems.

I'm going off memory here, but IIRC Glantz makes this point in several works. I also recall him putting forth evidence that the Soviets recognized some of these logistical problems (as well as others) after the disasterous experience of the Winter War against the Finns, but didn't have enough time to fully implement fixes before the Germans invaded.

Overall, I think Jason's logistics argument makes a lot of sense. Another supporting piece of evidence is the sheer volume of equipment captured by the Germans. Much of it was relatively easily moved, high-value equipment like field artillery -- the fact that the Russians weren't able to withdraw this stuff quickly enough to avoid it's capture suggests they had major problems with transport in some way.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

It is obvious the Soviets got badly mauled in 1941, they were pretty much clueless and the Stavka launched many attacks that were doomed from the start, but they still had a few successful counterattacks.

For instance in july 41 at Sol'tsy (Zoltsy) near the lake Il'men south of Leningrad, the Soviets launched a powerful attack from the north into the flank of the 8th Panzer Division while another group attacked the german lines of communication from the south. The bulk of 8th Panzer Division were cut off from the division's rear echelons and HQ.

Manstein wonders if he has not taken too great a risk by advancing so fast. The Germans are almost trapped and have to fight 4 days to break the encirclement and regroup to the west. They lost in the process 70 of their 150 tanks. (Glantz - battle for Leningrad p44-46)

The same thing happened at Tikhvin in november 41.

I wonder if the Soviets really had the choice.

Could they really manage a fighting withdrawal?

And weren't their active defense and merciless counterattacks succesful in producing the required attrition to weaken the wehrmacht?

Also the experience from these setbacks was surely useful later. The russians didn't magically become proficient with their operations in 1944. It took them some time to adapt but it seems that they had the right idea from the start.

[ March 09, 2005, 09:19 AM: Message edited by: Zveroboy ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I suppose the Soviets did not want to lose the best territory they had. They could have tried a fighting withdrawl but if they could not supply Tank Corp with fuel/ammo, a distributed defense would have been more of a logistical nightmare.

The Germans did bite off more than they could chew and the success of early 'quickees' had gone to their heads.

Both sides, in retrospect seem stupid.

The Germans could have tried to stop at a major river and sue for Peace. Stalin would not have gone for it because he knew the Germans would just try it again.

If the Germans had tried to Allie with the Turks instead of the Italians (gave Libya back to Turkey), perhaps they could have had another invasion route int the Soviet Empire.

The inability to stop the US and other countries from supplying the Soviets is as abad as not totally mobilizing.

Hitlers last thoughts were "Perhaps in the long run, I was just too nice to the Germans". he was not the strict German father he should have been.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by David Chapuis:

I wonder how many people beside myself have actually ran a CMx10 campaign. MikeyD and I ran what I considered a highly entertaining CMx10 campaign - for about 3 turns. After that, RL seemed to swallow everybody's time.

What worked well about it was that the rules were defined very loosely. Basically I had the players draw orders on the CM campaign map 'We-Go style', and I would just resolve them myself (I had movement distance guidelines of course). We had a substancial amount of role-playing, and I encouraged the players to ask for things not mentioned in the rules. That resulted in some fun counter-intelligence from one team, and a lively round of prison interrogation.

What is a CMx10 ?? To JasonC, great reading, as usual!
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by Wartgamer:

If the Germans had tried to Allie with the Turks instead of the Italians (gave Libya back to Turkey), perhaps they could have had another invasion route int the Soviet Empire.

That would have sucked. The Soviets would have captured Istanbul and had their all weather port that had always been the Russian dream.

Would have made for a much more interesting Cold War with the Bosphorus open to the Soviet Navy.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If they won.

The Germans had to isolate the Soviets, They should have converted the 'white' Russians and others against their former masters.

They might even have tried to 'give up' France by saying it was a neutral country and sue England for Peace. Keeping the US factories out might have worked.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hitler was handicapped by his own dogma.

The Nazi party considered anyone east of central Poland to be subhuman an worthy of little more than peasant slaves. As Germany rolled east in 1941 they were greeted as liberators in many places, but they lost all good will among the 'liberated' through their wanton cruelty which often surpassed Stalin's own (which was a tough act to follow!). The Russians were given no option but to fight on. The devil they knew looked considerably better than the devil they didn't.

Another aspect of Nazi dogma was the Russian populace - and by extension the army - was considered unworthy of respect. If Hitler had respected his opponent more perhaps he would have thought-out the long-term consequences of his actions more thoroughly.

Insufficient reserves for occupation; not shifting the society to a war footing; underestimating the enemy's resolve; a level of hubris that blinded them to the consequences of their actions. There's lots of modern parallels going on here.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Originally posted by Wartgamer:

If they won.

The Germans had to isolate the Soviets, They should have converted the 'white' Russians and others against their former masters.

They might even have tried to 'give up' France by saying it was a neutral country and sue England for Peace. Keeping the US factories out might have worked.

But thats the rub isn't it, Russians and satellite Countries were only too happy to be freed from Soviet control, until they found that Nazi control was even worse in most cases, one of the biggest mistakes the Germans made was so heinously mistreating the inhabitants of the Eastern countries they occupied thus sowing the seeds of a partisan movement that posed all sorts of problems for supplies. They were also unlucky to cop particularly harsh winters in 41 and 42.

As for the Russians as I believe somebody else pointed out, didn't Stalin wipe out most of the smart officers himself before they even got started?

Giving up France wouldn't have worked unless it was combined with a similar move on Poland.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Purges and reorganization may have something to do with it, and a general level of strategic surprise, perhaps. But my diagnosis, CSS failure for the mech units in particular, does not turn on those. They may have contribute to it. I think we just underestimate how hard it is to do correctly and how much rides on it.

What is CSS for a modern mobile force, and its supporting C3? It is all the management level planning and gritty detail involved in making sure everything gets where it is needed just before it is needed, in an elaborate waltz. It is all those miles of tanker trucks you see in the desert (recent times), the forward fuel supply points, planned tank laagers every night. It is calculating road space and reconned routes, realistic march schedules, proper interleaving of arms and formations, and every sort of rear support at the appointed place when it is needed. It is lots of trucks actually running every day and bringing everything right where it is needed and when.

Now, I had a previous insight about one of the "rate determiners" for the Russians, early, reading their staff study of the battle of Moscow, on a different subject. Artillery, its proper use and coordination with other arms, and the limits on it. We all know the Russians got a lot better at that over the course of the war. I was looking in part (previously, understand) for why it was weak early. I found some of the expected things, and some things a bit similar to the above. But also one point that just floored me when I realized it.

We have a bright general staff officer analysing why the front line units didn't get more out of their arty. They were always using it direct, and it got knocked out faster or didn't get away if they didn't win, more often. He dug a little into why. Answer, most of the units didn't have anybody to coordinate indirect fire. What was the hold up? Nobody in the typical battery even knew trig. (Whoa. Slow down there.)

The smart kids who knew trig were either off designing new airplanes or doing planning economics. They weren't out with the firing batteries calculating angles for firing solutions. If the gunners couldn't see the fall of shot, they had no idea how to point the guns to hit things. "What's an arctan, Dmitry? Darned if I know." Understand, I am talking early, low level units. This was one reason the Russians centralized guns so much. It made the most of the scarcest factor, trained technical personnel.

Ok, now imagine you are in charge of a Russian 1941 Mech corps. A monster of a formation, 3 divisions - two tank (very tank heavy ones) one motorized infantry plus supporting arms - up to 1000 AFVs. And just suppose you have your understudy staff officer Yvgeny, bright but just the one and fifteen years your junior, half a dozen high school graduates (with four pens, one typewriter and a pack of index cards), a support pool that looks like a mom-n-pop's accounts receivable department, and any desired quantity of bodyguards and no-necks to fetch and carry.

Now your mission is, get the majority of your (2000+ vehicle) combat force in integrated subunits to move 150 miles through a mud-track criss-crossed swampy forest (don't show up piecemeal), make sure everyone has gas, repair units within a few miles of whoever needs it, ammo POL maintenance (watch out for that Messerschmidt!) within 48 hours.

And oh, a new report just came in, it turns out the last one (when you gave your previous orders) was based on information 12 hours old, and actually the Germans have reached Wheresville (Yvgeny, where is Wheresville? You have the map, right?) and cut the road to Ohnosk.

The thing that was puzzling me is the common explanation is just "obsolete tanks" and this made no sense to me. That should at least result in large scale attrition to the Germans as they are taken out. Moreover, the BTs were about as good as the lighter half of the stuff the Germans were riding around in. And the modern stuff put the heavier half of the German fleet to shame, and outnumbered it.

I kept looking for where these heavy half, were. I mean, they had as many KVs and T-34s as the Germans had IVs, IIIs, and StuG, and they are way better. You get a few "checked by..." from tiny numbers of them from time to time, but not operational results. I was thinking, "look, if the T-26s were paperweights you'd still have a monster tank fleet. How can you get nothing out of the good half, just because you also have a bad half? How can having a T-26 and a T-34 be worse than just having the T-34?

Answer - the T-26 can burn your gas, take up your road space, take all your commander's time and babysitting to shepherd hither and yon on the mud trails, etc. Especially if you don't remotely have any of those things to go around.

What does Stavka do? They abolish the Mech corps. This is usually regarded as a big step back to penny packet thinking, but I believe it was correct, indeed absolutely essential. It is vastly harder to move a 1000 AFV glob in a coordinated fashion than it is to move a brigade of 50 T-34s. A reliable brigade of T-34s at the right place and time is more valuable than a wallowing CF of an out-of-gas Mech corps. Let alone half a dozen of those brigades.

This retied the tanks to the infantry formations. Which were lasting long enough to protect and use them. It restored tank infantry cooperation. (Why wasn't there in the mech corps? They had motorized divisions, right? They did, but often left them behind. More on that below). It gave the mobile commander a managable CSS task. It reduced the strain on whatever passed for roads in the area. It put that task more within the likely managerial capacities of Yvgeny and company.

Yes, eventually men who had learned how to manage these brigades and mesh their fighting with infantry formations they supported, had to learn further, how to coordinate several of them as a mech "corps" - on more like a division scale. And once those were behaving reliably (though still pushed too hard, to supply failure, in some rather important instances e.g. in 1942-3), higher muckity mucks could push around whole tank armies again. But the road to all of that was long, a lot had to be learned on the way, and no the men did not remotely know how to do any of it in the summer and fall of 1941.

As for why some of the mech corps trashed their own doctrine and lost tank infantry cooperation, there are some occasional tidbits on the subject in Glantz. Truck shortages cited. Not a lot of detail, but if CSS is the real culprit it will start to make sense.

Which unit has priority for road space? What is the most urgent task for trucks, hauling infantry or hauling gas? In CF supply and C3 conditions, are you stronger for having an extra 1000 soft vehicles strung out on the roads under the Luftwaffe, burning gas? An extra division of men to coordinate and supply? A whole extra passel of muckity mucks insisting on Y and Z once things fall behind plan?

The answer is probably yes, anyway. Triage, leave the weaker tanks, keep combined arms. But green commanders aren't going to see it that way. To simplify, they subordinate everything to getting tanks to A. They manage to get tanks to A. A is a road to nowhere. And a mech corps is eaten by the swamp monster.

Are people who would be factory managers or clerks in a western economy, middling officers in a Russian mechanized corps, in 1941? Is that sort of managerial skill selected for? Remember that one needs in particular to be able to improvise, to plan in detail but also to throw away the plan the instant friction set in.

Why do we have daily returns of tank strength for every German mobile formation, and on the other hand only get occasional end-of-operation, front-wide assessments by elaborate staff studies, on the Russian side? Somebody in the former is presenting a (readable, concise) sheet of paper every day to a professional staffer, who informs the CO exactly what strength he may expect for the coming task. Is are being dotted and Ts crossed.

As a result, German units have notoriously long tails per unit of teeth. Later when they are on the defensive and need trench strength above all, that will come back to bite them. But as a result their modern mech units also go exactly where you tell them to go, arrive on time in a coordinated fashion - and do not get eaten by swamp monsters.

[ March 09, 2005, 07:51 PM: Message edited by: JasonC ]

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Herr Kruger asked about CMx10. It is a way of using CM itself as an "operational layer" for larger scale campaigns, with individual battles that occur on that larger scale, resolved as CM scenarios (typically played TCP/IP to speed resolution and move things along).

The basic idea is to use the powerful CM scenario editor as a "virtual sand table".

The x10 means the scale is increased by a factor of 10, like zooming out. A small single tile thus becomes 200x200m instead of 20x20, and a 5x5 block in the editor becomes a square kilometer.

Then units are put on the map with the editor just as in a scenario set up. But they represent units one echelon level higher than their CM counterparts (or two, for bigger fights). A squad on the "operational map" is a platoon in CM, a tank is a tank platoon, etc. Panzerblitz scale, effectively.

The CM game engine is not used for the operational level, only the editor. Players receive new operational maps each turn (from a referee, running the campaign) as scenario files, containing only their own forces and intelligence estimates of enemy ones. The side commander move their units in the editor - this represents his orders - and returns this new map to the ref. With both in hand, the ref moves the units on his master copy of the map (with both side's units on it), and notes collisions as battles. Basically when two sides move into the same square km a scenario is triggered.

The ref makes a scenario with a quick-generated map whose terrain is based on the type in that operational area. The forces present on both sides are put in, coming from the right directions, sometimes staggered in entry to represent a line of march etc. The sides nominate tactical commanders for that fight (those whose subunits they are, whoever has the time, etc).

They fight, and report the results including in game AAR screen and last file, to the ref. (They are supposed to both cease fire at the last turn, to avoid "free" intel, etc). The ref decimates their forces on the operational map accordingly. Then he makes new half blind maps by removing the other side's units, leaving some scattered intel perhaps. And sends out new operational maps to the players, for the next operational turn.

Other things can happen on the operational map. Airstrikes, operationally bombardments, occasionally "pinning" fire at long range to halt units moving in LOS of distant enemies. But by and large, the combat is CM and the operational map provides context to the fights, goals, force mixes, etc. Oh and a realistic incentive to avoid excessive losses - dead units don't grow back, live ones fight again!

Op turns typically represent something like 2 hours of real time. We managed to get off 1 a week when things went smoothly, with occasional delays letting that slip once a month or so. The Bulge campaign I did (in CMBO) featured something like 25 tactical battles. The Germans (Wreck was their side commander) were running away with it at the end. Took out the US "aces", their arty batteries, by infiltration and infantry attack. US was running low on tanks, too, and falling back. Wasn't technically finished, but I am sure those who took part had fun with it.

The one I want to do this time would be Kursk, a particular corner of it, semi historical but loosely so. Meant to be representative in a way. Also part of my own theory about why it failed. (Roughly, the subject is 3rd Panzer division's attack on the left wing of 48th Panzer Corps. Which was pinched inward and held up that edge of the drive. Narrowing inward from the shoulders is part of my diagnosis, and this bit was the left shoulder of the southern attack).

I have forces, map, briefings, set up maps for both sides to tinker with. I don't have players, and at the moment I can't guareentee I'll have the time to do it justice. Anyway, that is what CMx10 is.

Link to comment
Share on other sites


Fine posts. If I understand it right, it seems to me you and I really don't disagree. Just to keep things neat this is your paraphrase of what I said:

"First that the farther back you go the worse the chaos, which is the opposite of what I think I've noticed recently as the real issue. And second, you said you don't think the Russians were capable of operational maneuver."

As to operational maneuver I am only talking about the first phase of the war, and what I mean is EFFECTIVE operational maneuver. Like you, I am trying to figure out how the Soviets managed to fail during the early months of the war to get almost any bang out of all their combat power. Like you, I think the criminal is massive C3 failure, or maybe, failure plus absence of modern C3 in an enviroment demanding it.

For the sake of pickiness and just for the record I was talking about how the rear area SEEMED to troops/units in the line. Chaos is a pretty nebulous concept, after all.

Ok, that't the quibbles out the way.

This to a certain extent is preaching to the choir, but what I was getting at is that if you're colonel Nishagunazadov and you are in charge of a mech corps, and when the war starts it looks to you like the real problems are behind you in the Soviet rear - supply, intelligence, orders, transport - all that stuff the rear area is supposed to take care of so you can fight Germans is failing catastrophically.

Sure when your boys shoot it out with Germans sometimes they lose, but sometimes they win. And when they lose somehow it's always that something went wrong outside of your area of responsibility: the Germans showed up in the wrong place, fuel didn't get delivered, higher told you to do (a), you prepared for it, and when you finally got to fighting it wasn't (a) it was about (g) or (h).

From the neat vantagepoint of hindsight we know a good part of this impression is the result of German action; i.e., panzers and Luftwaffe dominating the Soviet operational rear, which the Germans - being very competent - frequently converted to a mass encirclement before the Red Army command managed to figure out the degree of the actual operational problem, and what was the right solution. Stalin's inclinations to stand in place caused havoc on the tactical/operational level, although you can of course argue that approach gave the Soviets time to assemble a third echelon.

Me, I don't buy that as it seems to me being on the losing end of the the largest encirclements in history can't be a rational military policy.

Back on the battlefield it was simpler: things sucked for our colonel Nishagunazadov, and within the limited responsibilities the Red Army entrusted him with at the time, he likely was doing his job.

Of course, the mechanised warfare pros - including our Nishagunazadov himself if he survived the next 18 months - would have a pretty different opinion on all sorts of aspects of the mech division commander's responsibilities, much more "modern" and "complete," as I think most of us can agree the Red Army got pretty good at mobile warefare after two years at war.

But at the outset of the war Nishagunazadov was in a military that had little idea (past the writings of Frunze and Tukhashevsky, which did not exactly penetrate down to all regiments) on how to conduct mobile operations. What's more, purges had at best destabilised the command structure of a typical Soviet mobile formation, which as JasonC explains is in itself a really unwieldy organization to start out with.

At worse purges and heck, military tradition dating back to about Peter the Great had convinced the Nishagunazadovs within a typical Red Army mech unit at the beginning of the war it that the only way to survive as an army officer - by which I specifially mean without being shot by one's own side - is to execute every order from higher to the very best of your ability. Periond. Don't question why, don't think, don't draw attention to yourself, don't complain, don't suggest and above all avoid initiative as personally life-threatening.

C3 failure pretty much sums it up, but there is so much going wrong for the Soviets to contribute to that, that sometimes I am more amazed that the Soviets managed to pull of any counterattacks at all, rather than at the Germans' supposedly astounding victories.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So, Jason, if I interpret you correctly, you are saying this:

Before the war, under ideal peacetime conditions, favourable weather, months of preparations, no enemy, all tanks checked and rechecked before the event - the Russians were capable of conducting a large-scale armoured exercise. But only barely and with probable occasional embarrassing failures.

When conditions started stretching their command&control capabilities beyond that point (far beyond, in fact), under Luftwaffe attacks, with higher HQs in total confusion, rear areas sliced to ribbons by German motorized columns and with orders to make that attack yesterday things started to fall apart, and so badly that in many cases corps commanders lost 90% of their 1,000 tanks in 48 hours, most of them to non-combat causes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Unfortunately, your content contains terms that we do not allow. Please edit your content to remove the highlighted words below.
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...