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No purges of the Red Army in 1937-1939?

Discussion in 'What If - European Theater - Eastern Front & Balka' started by little_katyusha, Sep 11, 2010.

  1. little_katyusha

    little_katyusha recruit

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    The Great Purges of 1937-1939 undoubtedly inflicted a massive blow to the Soviet Union's military capability. Up until that point, the Soviet Union embraced the rather nebulous ideas that embodied the German Blitzkrieg, (combined-arms cooperation, maneuver, mechanization, and concentrated attacks into the enemy's operational and strategic depth) and crystallized them into a formal military doctrine: deep battle. However many of the Red Army's best thinkers, including those who had formulated deep battle, were swept up in Stalin's Great Purges, and deep battle was thrown out of Soviet military strategy. This is but one of many effects that the purges had (including a loss of an experienced officer corps, a wave of early promotions, the disbandment of the mechanized corps etc.), but I feel it is one of the most important, since it changed, in a very fundamental way, how the Red Army fought. Therefore, my question is: what if the purges were never carried out? What if the Red Army retained it's sophisticated strategic, operational, and tactical doctrine and had it's old cadre of military thinkers commanding it? What if the Red Army fought with the same competence that marked their performance during the latter periods of the war, when they had fully relearned and applied the concepts of deep battle? What effects would this have on the war with Germany, and in the long term what are some of the possible effects that this could of had on a post-war world?
     
  2. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    Recent informations have indicated that the influence of the purges has been (much ?) overestimated
    1)that the number of officers purged or liquidated was not that important
    2)that not all experienced officers were liquidated
    3) that among those that were liquidated,there were a lot of incompetent
    BTW:
    1)I think you are given to much importance to the deep battle theory:it was seldom practized,because the technological means did not exist
    2)that purged Red army had stopped the Germans at the end of 1941 .
     
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  3. fuser

    fuser Member

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    Yes the effect of purges is totally overestimated. The poor performance of red army at start of the war was because of host of factors in which those purges are a very minor even insignificant factor.
     
  4. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    I must agree with the comments above, German air-supiority alone was a major factor in the Red Army's inability to effectively resist. what might be interesting to consider is the effect later in the war, say 1942 when Germany could no longer attack on all parts of the front at the same time.
     
  5. Black6

    Black6 Member

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    The purges actually played a major role in the poor performance of the Red Army from the occupation of Poland to Finland and Barbarossa. The purges had the overall effect of paralysis within leadership even to the lowest level and devastated morale on every level. The loss of experienced officers was magnified to a great degree by the rapid expansion of the Red Army which could not produce enough new officers through its schools to keep pace with expansion, let alone replace those purged or retired. The cumulative effect was a grossly inadequate number of officers and inexperienced leadership cadre that was ineffective in both training and combat. In "Stumbling Collossus" David Glantz lays much of the cause for the Red Army's poor performance during Barbarossa at the feet of Stalin's purges.

    If the purges were never carried out I don't think much would have changed in the war with Finland, that was a doctrinal debacle for the most part.
    I would say the effect on Barbarossa would have amounted to a lower casualty rate on the Red Army (less bagged in encirclements) and higher attrition rate for the Germans, the degree of which is debatable. The extra friction created would have slowed the Germans quicker and stopped them perhaps decisively before Operation Taifun was launched historically, thus the Germans don't launch it at all. The greatest effect of no purges is the Red Army recovering and building strength much more quickly that they did historically.
     
  6. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    Black6 I am going to disagree in part with you (then again thats what we are here for). I will not argue they had no effect, but that it was limited in effect. According to Wiki the purges began in 1936 and ended in the summer of 1938. They affected all strata of the Soviet Union from farmers to office workers as well as politicians and military 0fficers.

    Purges were nothing new to Russia or the Soviet Union and the USSR had 3 years to recover from the effect. Most units on the border were understrength and possessed an incomplete TOE. Communication breakdowns had more to due to flaws in the system and the effect of 'blitzkreig' than to the quality of officers. Commanders at all levels had trouble knowing what or how units in their command were fairing let alone those on their flanks. When communication did work, often it bore no resemblence to the actual situation. Commands to 'Hold Fast', 'Fight to the last Bullet' and 'Counterattack at all costs' would be repeated 2 years later by Hitler, and would have the same result.

    German combat arms in 1941 were at their hight operationally. They may not always had the best equipment, but their ability to use it effectively was head and sholders above those they fought. Early command of the air meant that even when things worked well for Germany's opponents, they remained at a severe disadvantage.

    The Polish armies of 1939 and the Allied armies of 1940 were as easily carved up as the Red armies of 1941. Only the size of the USSR and that of its army allowed it to survive the German onslaught.

    The only way the purges of the mid to late '30s could have been decisive, is if Germany had truely reckognised the Soviet's real weakness, the people themselves. Had Hitler effectively exploited the divisions within the Soviet Union and split the party from the populace, then 'the whole rotten structure' might have collapsed.
     
  7. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

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    I, for one, don't buy the argument that the removal of all senior commander with distinguished combat career and vision of mechanized warfare won't inflict grievous injury on the Red Army. The people who took their place were sycophants, incompetents, people who didn't even care if their tanks had spare parts, motor rifle units had trucks, doing the most basic staff work or make logistical preparations. I often find it impossible to convey to a Westerner what a debilitating effect such horrors had on the morale of the officerdom or the rank-and-file, and how it destroy the willingness to take responsibility. It breeds a sluggish habit of mind. It's hard to conceive how men accustomed to living under the thumb of a dictator would have the moral courage to lead effectively.
     
  8. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    The distinguised combat record of these senior officers came either in the Russian Civil war which featured battle that bore little resemblence to modern mechanised war,or in the quasi war with Poland which wasn't much to brag about. These officers recieved their staff and comand training (if any) long after their battlefield experience. The more junior officers who replaced them may not have had as much combat experience, but then their view of battle was not clouded by trench warfare or the civil war either.

    The French in 1940 demonstrated that a valorous combat record and a chest full of medals did not garrentee battlefield competence or luck. I am sure some good officers were lost, as well as some bad ones. While some bad officers were promoted, but so to did some good young officers get an early move up the command ladder.

    It is a flawed concept to state that all the officers purged were consumate military professionals, and that all their replacements were nothing more than political hacks. Within Communist Russia no officer attained high rank in peacetime unless he was considered politicly reliable first, and militarily competent second. Any officers or offical's career could end at a moments notice because of a single act or word, be it real or imagined in Communist Russia.

    Nor is the shortage of spare parts or proper equipment an afect of the purge era. The same sort of thing existed in the time of the Tsars (where we got the term 'Potemkin Village') and would continue long after Stalin's death according to the Russian defector 'Victor Suruvov' who wrote about the Red Army in the '70's. Further the Red Army, like Hitler's army, was rapidly expanding at this time and both had severe discrepencies in their TOE's and actual availability.

    The effects of the purge do not seem to equate with the prefomance of the Red Army at Khalkhyn Gol in 1939, a year removed from the purge, where a Russian army routed a disciplened and professional Japanese army in quick order.

    The Winter War debacle had more to due with the attempt to use an untried armor concept in terrain ill suited to tanks, during the worst possible weather conditions against a well motivated and determined opponent who knew what was comming. Had there been no purge they were not likely to fair much better.

    The common Russia soldier in peacetime has thru history been ill paid, ill housed, ill treated by officers (especially NCO's) and generally mistreated whether he asnswerd to a Tsar or Commisar. The remarkable thing is despite this when their back is against the wall they still come thru.
     
  9. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    Leaving aside the question of exactly how much damage the purges did, & returning to the question of what difference might be measured....

    One metric might be the number of casualties the Germans suffered in 1941. The exact number lost varys depending on source and ho wide the count is. Drawing from the first item on my shelf, a articall by MBE Bailey in the US Field Artillery Journal it seems the Wehrmacht as a whole suffered just under 400,000 men lost from all causes attacking the USSR between 22 June & 30 August 1941, and just over 800,000 men lost from 22 June to 1 December 1941.

    Of those the majority seem to be lost by the ground forces, mostly infantry & reconissance, with a few thousand tank crew. Since health conditions were otherwise relatively good in those months the portion lost to accidents, disease, and other noncombat reasons would be fairly small. I am guessing 15%. So from the combat loss to 30 August might be 340,000 & by 1 Dec 680,000.

    Now lets imagine not purging the Red Army increases its ability to kill Germans by 25% that suggests the Wehrmacht combat losses by 30 August would be 425,000 and 850,000 by December. That is the total losses would be 485,000 & 1,055,000 respectively. One might expect that losses of tanks, armored cars, and other weapons would follow a similar progression.

    As a retired artilleryman this also causes me to think about the drain on German ammunition. A significant increase in resistance would lead to a larger drain on ammunition reserves. By December the German artillery commanders were complaining of shortages of cannon ammunition at the front of 50% to 75%.

    So what fighting condition will the Wehrmacht be in by December if the losses in men (mostly infantry) are 250,000 larger? Or if the artillery ammunition at hand falls to 20% of requirements or less?
     
  10. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    If I may add some corrections,the 400OOO losses till 31 august were only combat losses,in the same period there were at least some 100000 non-combat losses,at least,because the non-combat losses for june and july are underestimated (this has been debated on AHF).
    For the second period(september till 31 december),the combat losses are some 416000 and the non combat losses ,some 287000.
    In the first period the ratio CL-NCL was 100 -25
    In the second period: 100-70
    Source :AHF :German casualties in Barbarossa 1941
     
  11. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    Another matrix worth consideration is the casualty rates for Polish and French campaigns.

    The Polish campaign lasted 5 weeks and incurred aprox. 50,000 German casualties.

    The French campaign lasted 6 weeks and incurred aprox. 200,000 German casualties.

    According to the figures posted above, the first 6 weeks in Russia produced 400,000 to 500,000 German/Axis casualties.

    On the face of it, it seems that the 'demoralized and disfunctional' Russian cammand structure inflicted significantly higher casualties on the invader than the either the Poles or the western Allies during an equal time frame.

    To be fair it should be noted that the Polish and French Campaigns were effectively won after the first two weeks of battle, and that the Russian invasion had more German/Axis troops deployed, fighting over a much larger battlespace. Still it does seem that the 'purged officer corps' preformed at least as well, and possibly better, than their Polish/Western Allied counterparts in the arena of German casualties inflicted.
     
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  12. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    Thanks for that. I had taken Bailey's numbers as total losses
     
  13. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    Back in the 1970s Randall Reed broke this down into losses per division. he came up with a slightly higher German loss rate in the six weeks of the campaign in the west vs the first six weeks of against the USSR. I'll see if I can dig that out for what ever use it might be here. Snce the French, British, Belgians, & Dutch were caught at the same level of tactical suprise as the Red Army and as the French and Brits in theory had some eight months or 'wartime' training a higher German casualty rate might be expected. But. I'll try to find the numbers before picking over that one further.
     
  14. Spartanroller

    Spartanroller Ace

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    Does anyone have figures just for the first 2 weeks of all 3 campaigns? After all, the French et al were waiting for it, the Polish had a pretty good idea it might happen soon, and the Soviets were not expecting it when it happened (although that could have been an intelligence failure due to the purges)

    maybe those 2 week figures/number of troops involved would give a better 'performance ratio' of the different armies.
     
  15. belasar

    belasar Court Jester

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    This does bring an interesting point to the discussion. The Poles had at least weeks if not months to prepare for an expected German attack, and the Anglo-French had six months to prepare.

    Russia also had warnings as well, local commanders in occupied western Poland reported repeated overflights by German aircraft and small patrols crossing the Soviet/German border. The English government warned Stalin that a German Invasion was soon to occur. And the Russian spy Sorge in Japan also sent warnings about a German attack.


    Stalin was the one to override these warning signs and ordered Soviet troops Not to respond to these provocations. Command paralysis came from the very top (Stalin/Stavka) of the Soviet structure in the opening days and weeks of the invasion as much if not more than that of Division/Corps/Army level
     
  16. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    To try to breakdown losses by divisions would be very difficult:
    1) for operation Barbarossa :every source is giving different figures:
    ex:W .Post(Unternehmen Barbarossa):115 divisions
    2) what about the security divisions (not committed to the front) ?
    3)what about the Brigades ?
    Post is counting the LSSAH as a brigade and the SS Kamfgruppe Nord as a division,but the strength of the WSS units was the following:
    LSSAH :11535
    Das Reich:19026
    Totenkopf:17265
    Wiking:19377
    Nord:1018
    Polizei :16597
    And there were separate SS brigades with strength between 6938 and 2624 Source :Human losses in WWII
    4)There was for Barbarossa a reserve of 28 divisions and 1 brigade;some were committed in july,others in august,but,the 2 armoured divisions (2 + 5) of the reserve,were only committed in october.
    5)a big part (maybe 30 %) of the initial strength for Barbarossa(2.5 million) consisted of non divisional forces .Ex:41th AK consisted of 1 +6 PD,+ 36 + 269 ID,but also of
    staf of 618 Art Reg
    601 Heeres Flak Btl
    (mixt) LW Flak-Abt I/3
    LW Flak Abt 83
    Lw Flak AbtII/411
    Source Axis History Factbook:Axis Order of Battle :22 june 1941
    6)for the campaign in the west:if my memory is still working ,there were some 136 divisions available,some were committed only in june,others were nev er committed.
    7) for the campaign in Poland :the same situation :some units were only engaged at the end of september,and for that campaign,there is another difficulty:so called Grenzschutz,or Selbstschutz units and even units of the Algemeine SS were engaged,these were not constituted as divisions .
    From WW 2 stats com:
    Deaths of the SS for separate campaigns
    WSS :poland :372 West :1220 Russia:9310
    A SS:poland:352 West:883 Russia:3794
    For Russia :the losses are for the period june 1941-july 1942.
    8) there was also a coming and going of units:units were engaged in the east,transferred to the west,again committed to the east ....
     
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  17. LouisXIV

    LouisXIV Member

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    I think there are some factors about the purge that you are totally missing:

    1. The Soviet army had just started a major reorganization when the purge struck. Once the purge was over, the conservative leaders who remained in power wanted to go back to the old infantry-divisions-with-support-tanks system that they knew. However, seeing the result of the German use of armoured divisions in 1940, they decided to reorganize more that way at the end of that year. Thus the Soviet army went through three major reorganizations in short order and was in the middle of the third when the Germans struck. The army was in chaos. If there had been no purge, the Soviet armed forces would have been much better organized;

    2. Because of the purge(s) and the new, inexperienced commanders, much time was spent on reorganization and not much on training. Russia was an agrarian, horse-drawn world at that time. In particular, there was an incredible lack of trained mechanics and no civilian pool to draw on. A conservative estimate shows at least 25% of the Soviet armour being out of commission in 1941, stuck in a huge backlog of machines waiting for routine repairs and maintenance. In his writings, General Dmitry Riabyshev, commander of the Eighth Mechanized Corps at the battle of Brody, on June 25th, 1941, mentions how many of his tanks broke down and had to be left behind during the approach to the battle. Even before he started his march, 197 of his 932 tanks were out of commission. During the approach to the battle, he states that over 200 more of his tanks broke down on the first leg of the journey, only one-third of the way there. He conducted the battle with something like half the strength he was supposed to have. At the same battle was the Ninth Mechanized Corps commanded by the well-known Rokossovsky. He states in his memoires that at the battle he had only one-third of the tank and truck strength that he was supposed to have.

    3. Because of the purge(s), the army commanders at all levels would only do the safe thing - what they had been ordered to do. Thus they would follow orders slavishly even when those orders were ridiculous and/or out of date. This resulted in units attacking even when their commanders knew they were outflanked and almost surrounded; thus the unit would be lost. Thus fear of further purging contributed to the German success;

    4. It is likely that there would have been serious loss of units and territory even if there had been no purge. However, had their been no purge, it is also likely that there would have been some sort of uprising or revolt against Stalin. Stalin did not appear in public for several days (according to "Stalin's Folly" by Pleshakov) because he was afraid of being assassinated by those who blamed him for the disaster. Had Stalin been deposed or assassinated, the succeeding government might well have made some kind of peace treaty with the Germans, giving them much of the territory that was already lost.
     
  18. Carl W Schwamberger

    Carl W Schwamberger Ace

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    Louis...I certaainly agree with that. its why I looked at the question in terms of a percent increase in combat effciency. That is what happens if the Red Army can 10% more German, or 20%, or 40%? Without a political purge there would be some sort of increase in combat effciency, but the question is how much.
     
  19. Volga Boatman

    Volga Boatman Dishonorably Discharged

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    Having looked at this thread in some detail, I believe you are all missing one very important point.

    The major factor in Adolf Hitler's decision making process as to giving the green light for the great gamble of Barbarossa was the Great Purge.

    That is....without the Purge, there would most certainly NOT have been an operation "Barbarossa" to begin with.

    The Purge provided the excuse that German planners needed to sweep aside intelligence estimates of Soviet strength, (flawed as they were). This factor, and the stunningly poor performance of the Red Army in Finland combined to bring Hitler to take a "now or never'" attitude. Thus, without the Great Purge, 1941 may well have passed with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact still intact.

    Hitler, the rabid anti-communist, needed something to justify this tremendous gamble. The Purge and the Winter War gave a false sence of security to this decision. It enabled Hitler to sweep aside all protests to the contrary.

    Another thing, most Russian sources that one reads have contemporary descriptions of the the Great Purge described as nothing short of lunacy. I don't think I need to comment any further on the effect. If the Purge had no effect whatsoever, then post Winter War reforms would have been unnecessary, and Soviet performance in that conflict would have been far more efficient.

    But, Soviet performance in Finland was farcical, to say the least.

    And Hitler watched, coming to the conclusion that "We have only to kick the door in, and the whole rotten strcture will come crashing down."
     
  20. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    Just read also that Comrade X by G Tokaev might include information according to which Stalin was correct to start the purge.

    "...Comrade X (1956), in which he described his role in the Soviet underground opposition."

    Professor Grigori Tokaty - Obituaries, News - The Independent

    Wonder if anyone has read the book?
     

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