May 14, 2005

DON'T FEAR THE REAPER:

Cannon fodder won the war (CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV, 5/15/05, Japan Times)

The enormous sacrifices made by the Russians and other Soviets between 1941-1945 was the center of media coverage from Moscow. But I am not sure the Russian hosts provided the full picture.

For starters, the nation still doesn't know how many citizens it lost -- 20 million, 27, or 50. In the first days of war, the Red Army was losing a soldier every two seconds -- 600,000 in all in the first three weeks. [...]

Yes, the Soviets still won the war -- but they did so rather by good luck than by good management. The Soviet regime, led by the whimsical maniac Josef Stalin, was frightfully inefficient.

The secret police, believed to be the perfect instrument of terror and intimidation, failed to intercept hundreds of German commandos who successfully interrupted practically all cable communications in the western part of the country on the eve of the attack. Railway dispatchers did not know how to send a military echelon to the right destination; the military industry did not know how to make time bombs.

Stalin himself, famously paranoid about his safety, did not have an underground bunker, and when a German air raid was reported, he had to run to a Moscow subway station to hide like a rat.

Throughout the first days of war, the dictator kept sending his troops into suicidal counterattacks, wasting hundreds of thousands of lives, instead of organizing viable defense lines in the rear. His generals proved to be yes-men, willingly supporting such madness.

The sacrifices the Soviets made were horrendous not just because the Nazis were brutes but also because the country and the army were led by imbeciles.

The eventual victory over Germany was due, first of all, to the immense size of the country. In the first 10 days of war, Germans advanced 500 km; a year earlier, France's loss of exactly the same amount of territory had meant that the whole country had been occupied. In the case of the Soviet Union, only the western borderland was lost. The Red Army could keep rolling east toward Siberia -- and it could also keep drafting millions of soldiers from the immense population pool.

Used as cannon fodder, those millions of men eventually won the war, but this is hardly worth a celebration.


So Fat Man would have taken out Stalin and the rest of the Party leadership and the only advantage the Soviets enjoyed--spaciousness and cannon fodder--would't have come into play.


MORE:
Remembering World War II: Revisionists get it wrong (Victor Davis Hanson, 5/13/05, National Review)

It is true that the Russians paid a horrendous price. Perhaps two out of every three soldiers of the Wehrmacht fell on the Eastern Front. We in the West must always remember that such a tragic sacrifice allowed Hitler to be defeated with far less American British, Canadian, and Australian dead.

That being said, the Anglo-Americans waged a global war well beyond the capability of the Soviet Union. They invaded North Africa, took Sicily, and landed in Italy, in addition to fighting a massive land war in central Europe. We had fewer casualties than did the Russians because we fought more wisely, were better equipped, and were not surprised to the same degree by a treacherous former ally that we had supplied.

The Soviets invaded the defeated Japanese only in the last days of the war; the Anglo-Americans alone took on two fronts simultaneously. Submarine warfare, attacking the Japanese and German surface fleets, conducting strategic bombing over Berlin and Tokyo, and sending tons of supplies to Allied forces — all this was beyond the capability of the Red Army. More important, Stalin had been an ally of Hitler until the Nazi invasion of 1941, and had unleashed the Red Army to destroy the freedom of Finland and to carve up Poland.

Do we ever read these days that when the Luftwaffe bombed Britain, Russia was sending the Nazis fuel and iron ore? When Germany invaded Russia, however, Britain sent food and supplies.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 14, 2005 4:53 PM
Comments

The USSR was profligate of life on and off the battlefield. In this, as in just about everything else, it was the inheritor of tsarism.

That's what you get from a population of illiterates.

They cannot be given sophisticated weapons because they cannot use them. They are badly led because the intelligentsia is too small to provide enough competent officers.

The Red Army was as badly led as the tsarist army not because one was capitalist and one was socialist but because both were Russian.

At Masurian Lakes, the tsarist army used radios but sent it messages in clear, and it fired off all it artillery shells the first day, not saving any for later.

By 1945, a darwinian process had produced a large corps of competent battlefield commanders in the Red Army at all levels. This was something the tsarist army never managed.

Hanson, as always, has to be watched carefully.

The reason the sea powers were able to use sea power was that they were sea powers. That the USSR was not a sea power is neither here nor there, although even the tiny Red Navy gave the Germans many sleepless nights in the Black Sea, where the maritime power of the Axis comprised one Italian motorboat.

Hanson's citing of N. Africa and Sicily is naive.

In N. Africa, a small, battered German army assailed on both sides beat the crap out of the Americans, who ran like rabbits.

In Sicily, a small German force, betrayed by its allies, fought a moderately successful holding action, then escaped unscathed.

The same force, regrouped in Italy, held off numerically superior US and British armies for a year.

Calling the US-British affair in 1944-5 a 'massive land war in central Europe' is actually funny.

The western allied armies were about the size of one of the three army groups then used by the Red Army. And while 500 kilometers may (or may not) be much, think how long it took the American-British armies to move that far -- almost a year, including four months in which they did no fighting at all, because it was cold. Not something that ever slowed the Red Army.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 14, 2005 10:14 PM

Ah, your bondless faith in the efficacy of Bolshevism and the haplessness of the democrats is always good for a laugh.

Posted by: oj at May 14, 2005 10:17 PM

Not to mention the intelligentsia as the wellspring of the officers' corps.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 15, 2005 12:09 AM

In the U.S. military, the intelligentsia is still the wellspring of the officers' corps.

In fact, our entire military might be considered "the intelligentsia" by the Russians of 1940.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at May 15, 2005 12:38 AM

Michael: By 41, the Red Army officer corps had been slaughtered, rebuilt and slaughtered again. It was not a professional officer corps and, of course, was kicked all the back to Leningrad before someone started listening to the few left over professionals. The nomenklatura were not in the officer corps, although they were in the commissariat.

As for our army, both the officer corps and the enlisted ranks are the most intelligent and well-educated in history. Famously, a sergeant in the US Army has better training, education, skills and responsibility than a colonel is any Arab army. "Intelligentsia", however, is something of a pejorative. The intelligentsia is not in the Army; it is those grimy people in the street with the giant puppets. Give me the Army, any day.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 15, 2005 9:23 AM

It helps if the lieutenants and captains can read a map, or an order.

I have commented in the past about the term 'intelligentsia,' which has almost no meaning in America. It certainly had meaning in Russia.

Is somebody going to claim that the tsarist armies in 1914-17 did not use up a lot of cannon fodder? Orrin?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 16, 2005 1:43 AM

Harry:

So did the French and British. What's your point. It was a stupid war that only an idiot president would have involved us is in. The Germans did demonstrate though how to defeat Russia.

Posted by: oj at May 16, 2005 7:09 AM

It helps if the lieutenants and captains can read a map, or an order. Came as a surprise to Stalin.

In any event, the nomenklatura was a very specific group of people, and they weren't in the Red Army, though they were behind it all the way -- with their guns cocked.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 16, 2005 8:17 AM
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