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Red Army Summer Disaster of 1941. Why?

Discussion in 'Eastern Europe October 1939 to February 1943' started by Artema, Mar 15, 2010.

  1. JeffinMNUSA

    JeffinMNUSA Member

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    Artema;
    I would sure like to hear an explanation from the Russian side as to why the summer of 1941 was such a disaster. As far as can be pieced together on the American side of the pond the scenario runs as follows;
    The RKKA was in a state of dissarray because of the purges.
    The RKKA was going through a series of reforms in light of the disasters in the Finnish War and was caught with it's proverbial "pants down".
    The RKKA was unprepared for Blitzkreig warfare (armoured wedges driving into your rear?! The Gentlemen Generals of WWI were no doubt scandalized!).
    JeffinMNUSA
     
  2. Artema

    Artema Member

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    Summarizing Krivosheev's numbers we get 4 150 000, apparently including all surrendered.
    Statistics of the Ministry of defense gives us 2 067 800 in the 3rd quarter and 926 000 in the 4th quarter. Also 1 160 000 men were missed in formations which gave no detailed account, so they cannot be attributed to a specific quarter. Krivosheev might have done this by some indirect way.
    Frankly, no statistics seems transparent and reliable when speaking about that terrible period.

    In 1943 the USSR had its industry evacuated from Europe and fully deployed in the Ural region. The production was stable (if not growing), so these situations can't be compared.
     
  3. Artema

    Artema Member

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    Many reasons have been already mentioned by my esteemed colleagues.
    Summarizing in brief:
    1) Germany deployed its army faster than the USSR did. Some respectable historians consider it to be the main reason for the defeat was so severe. As I had already written, on June 22 half of the Red Army was not on its place.
    2) German attack was absolutely unexpected at that very moment. There might be a psychological cause: when you are preparing to something, you expect it happen after you're finished, not earlier.
    3) The level of the officers' commanding skills was very low, because the number of commanders increased dramatically in some 3-4 years, and they had neither experience nor sufficient knowledge. Also there was some moral effect of the "purges".
    4) Terrible quality of communications and control. It came to a sort of collapse up to 8:00 a.m. on June 22.
    5) There was also a strategic hole. The defense was split into 3 echelons at the distance of 200-300 km from each other. Considering the level of communications, these echelons could not coordinate their activities and were beaten by Germans one by one. So, having no superiority in total number of men, Wehrmacht obtained the superiority locally in every area of the front.
     
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  4. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    The final reason that changed the warfare on Stalin´s favour and I mean STALIN´s favour was when he changed the "fight for communism!" chant to "fight for Mother Russia!". He started bringing priests back among people ( from the gulags I dare presume ) and let people have faith and churches again. With the communism chant he would have been long dead by Xmas 1941. Clever move but does show that the man could not even believe that the ideology would win the nazis....
     
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  5. marc780

    marc780 Member

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    everyone else has splendid reasons why this happened. To even a casual observer of Stalinist russia, and Nazi Germany of this era, the reasons are clear.

    1. Stalin's inability to believe Hitler would attack him after all. Despite many many warnings from even the British and americans Stalin simply chose to believe these warnings were the result of provocateurs.
    2. Stalin's insistence on complete and total control of the Red army, to the point of paralysis. They literally could not move a single unit without his approval.
    3. The ineffectiveness of the Red army once they were ordered into action. You could very easily compare the Red army in 1941-42 to a huge powerful grizzly bear that had no claws and no teeth. Stalin's purges meant that almost all his officers were appointed by political merit not ability. thus his entire officer corps was completely useless for the first two years of the war and the Germans simply spent most of the war merrily steam rolling over the Red army.
    4. The attacking Germans were well trained and had much combat experience. Also their tactics and equipment had been combat proven. Thus the Wehrmacht was probably the most formidable and effective force in the world at the time of Barbarrosa. Any two armies in the world combined would have had a very difficult time slowing down the German forces let alone the lumbering behemoth that Stalin had made toothless, called the Red army.
     
  6. JeffinMNUSA

    JeffinMNUSA Member

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    I believe Glantz's analysis of the situation goes something like; "If Hitler would have attacked a few year earlier or a year later than 1941 he would have been quickly and bloodily repulsed." Russia At War 1941-1945 Glantz
    The Russian people have the purges to thank for the debacle that summer of 1941; but new weapons, tactics and leaders were in the pipeline. The post purge RKKA of 1941 was indeed more of an armed political mob than anything resembling an army.
    JeffinMNUSA
     
  7. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    'the Germans simply spent most of the war merrily steam rolling over the Red army':a popular myth,but the figures are prooving the opposite :
    German combat losses:
    june 1941 : 41O87
    july 1941 : 166898
    august 1941:195725
    At the end of august,the Germans were that exhausted that they had to stop,there was no more question for advancing to Moscow .
    The German forces were slowing down .
     
  8. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

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    ....but the German Army did turn south and with the co-operation they got some 650,000 POW´s in the Kiev pocket. On paper a massive deed, on the whole Eastern front map, perhaps a huge mistake... Not saying the German losses were non-meaning, but the German war machine made a huge blow to the Red Army in Kiev in Aug-Sept.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Kiev_(1941)
     
  9. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

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    I think 650,000, the number often cited, is massively exaggerated. The Soviets believe that they had less than 500,000 troops in total trapped in the pocket and it seems unreasonable that there would be a 150,000 excess in German reckoning. Clearly, a large number of the Red Army troops were killed during the destruction of the pocket. Maybe some double-counting or "overclaim" ;) was involved? The battle after all was Hitler's idea and rigorously exploited by the propaganda machine.

    As for the OP's question:
    1. The Purge.
    It seems to me that the effects of the Purge should not be considered in numbers alone. For example, what was the most common rank of the officers discharged or executed? In my recollection high ranking officers caught the brunt of the Purge, and this would have ramifications all down the chain of command.

    2. Strategic surprise and Barbarossa coinciding with Red Army modernization.
    Well-put by other posters.

    3. Superiority of German numbers and weapons.
    I think the Soviet official explanation might be crude but should not been overlooked. While the Red Army was clearly superior to the Wehrmacht in total number of troops, the Germans did create local numerical superiority through concentration while Russia had to divide its troops evenly between Germany and Japan.
    Also, I have to say that the average quality of German equipment was vastly superior to that of the Russian's. The Red Army's divisions were badly understrength, lacked the most rudimentary of communication and logistics, poorly supported by indirect fires and aircrafts, and armed with obsolescent, derelict tanks. For example the most numerous tanks in most Mechanized Corps were T-26s, BT-7s, T-40s and other assorted light weights.

    4. Forward deployment of combat troops.
    This IMHO was one of the gravest error in Russian planning, too commit the bulk of its army-in-being to Poland and distribute its divisions evenly along the frontier. This allowed the Germans to engulf significant number of Red Army troops in one fell swoop and destroy them before the Russian units could make a contribution to the battle.
    Now let the better educated bring forth more interesting material... :)
     
  10. olegbabich

    olegbabich Member

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    How did these Tanks compare in quality and quantity to the German Armor?:rolleyes:

    Attitude and disposition of individual soldiers and units was also a large factor in my opinion. Germans were champions of Europe and the fought like they were #1. People were afraid of Germans. Many Russians units ran at the first word of; “German Tanks” or “We are Surrounded”.

    I read that outside of Leningrad troops fired at the flock of Geese, because some one screamed they were under Air Attack.

     
  11. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Saddle Tramp

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    Others have posted fine reasons, and I agree (generally) with most of them. Of course looking in through the lens of hindsight does alter ones opinion certainly, mine included.

    I personally would expect that the officer’s purge was more or less winding down by late 1938, but its impact was more evident in the initial failure of the First Winter War in Finland. That might be because before that time over 30 to 35,000 upper echelon officers (Captain and above) had been dismissed or executed. This was literally about half of the entire officer corps of the USSR, who had some military training and were not simply party "yes-men" who had been granted officer status.

    The Red Army had been seriously weakened during the Great Purges, but by 1941 it had been reorganized and was certainly less affected by lack of capable officers, even though experience in combat was less evident. This lack of experienced officers may have contributed to the initial success of the Nazis, but not the "whole reason". Probably the most important loss to them was when the brilliant chief-of-staff Marshal Tukhachevsky was executed.

    To myself the initial failure of the Red Army falls to lack of communication, isolation of separate Red Army units, poor/obsolescent armor and aircraft, and Stalin’s disbelief that the Nazis would launch an attack on a "second front’ before they had neutralized the British completely. These coupled with the officer purges can be all considered in the event it would seem.

    Stalin was also getting "conflicting" information from his soon to be allies in the west, and Hess had just landed in Britain the month before. Were the British making a "deal" with the Nazis so that he would attack the Germans first, and then the whole western conglomeration of nations would declare war on him as an aggressor? They had after all condemned him for his aggression in Finland in 1939/40, and thrown the USSR out of the League of Nations. All of this must have hampered the Red Army and its leaders in the first six months of the invasion, and Stalin didn’t seem to learn that his personal interference in military matters was a major detriment.

    When he let the military make its own plans and counter-plans, only keeping final approval in his own hands, the tide turned. Just my opinion of course, but it was like the "perfect storm" for Hitler and the Nazi invaders
     
  12. brndirt1

    brndirt1 Saddle Tramp

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    It should be remembered that by 1941, the USSR had about 24,000 tanks of various size and design, spread between their eastern borders (confronting the Japanese) and the western borders opposite the Nazis.

    But unfortunately most were NOT the legendary T-34. As an example, during all of 1940 out of 2,794 total tanks built that year only 115 were T-34s. It is estimated that about half of the Soviet tanks were T-26 light/scout tanks (12,000 approx.)

    Soviet Union's T-26 Light Tanks - World War II Vehicles, Tanks, and Airplanes

    And the other light but fast model, the BT-2B (8,300 approx.)

    See:

    Soviet Union's BT-2 Bystrochodnij Tankov (Fast Tanks) - World War II Vehicles, Tanks, and Airplanes

    There were a few of the T-34s, but more of the dismal T-35 heavy tanks which probably made up the rest.

    See:

    Soviet Union's T-35 Heavy Tanks - World War II Vehicles, Tanks, and Airplanes

    The German’s on the other hand had the excellent 21-24 ton PzKpfw IVs fully developed, and 548 were available for Operation Barbarossa. Those coupled with the numerous 2750 (?) smaller but still dangerous 16-20 ton PzKpfw IIIs of various models up to the "J" made an effective armored "fist" against the even smaller and lighter Soviet T-26 (8-10 ton) and BT-2Bs (10-11 ton).

    I would suspect that the mechanically unsound T-35 heavy had little if any impact in the matter, and only the T-34/76 was of any danger to the Germans, and they were very few in number.
     
  13. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

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    The Wehrmacht's primary tank, the Pz III, was protected by 50mm of armor and armed with a 50mm gun. The typical Soviet tank had under 15mm of armored protection and a 45mm gun, had terrible human engineering and lacked radios. T-34-76s were rare and stayed rare; even in 1942 the bulk of a Tank Corps would be consisted of T-60 tanks. But the real issue at hand is not the the caliber of a certain type tank's gun or the thickness of its armor plate. It is the tactical system in which those weapons were deployed that mattered.

    The state of Soviet mechanized formation was dismal in 1941. They were paper units. Most of the tank divisions and mechanized corps were full of crippled machines, suffered acute shortages of ammunition (some T-34s reportedly go to fight without AP rounds), communications equipment, and trucks. A lot of Soviet tank units ran out of gas or marched itself to death trying to get to the battlefield; their maintainer was that bad. No rifle unit in the Mechanized Corps was motorized and therefore their tanks fought alone. Pure tank forces could not match combined-arms teams.

    I think the most glaring weakness in Soviet equipment was the lack of radios. According to Glantz, even Front HQs did not have adequate number of long-range radios and senior commanders must establish contact with subordinate units by messenger or in person! In those respects I think it is fair to say that the Russians were out-gunned.

    I think this portrait is largely accurate after Soviet communication systems had been knocked out. Actually the Germans were impressed by the Russian soldier's tenacity but after communications were cut off the Russian troops did display mob or herd behavior. They were not trained to fight without close supervision and orders. Certainly, Oleg, I am not going to argue that the tactics the Red Army taught its soldiers was good.
     
  14. USMC

    USMC Member

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    The Red Army:

    -Lack of proper equipment.
    -Lack of Armor support.
    -aircraft and tanks obselete at the time of Barbarossa.
    -ineffective officers appointed thru Stalin's personal opinion rather than military prestige.
    -logistics were awful, no real supply chain
    -the tanks they did have did not have infantry support units because of simple gas shortages and lack of vehicle transports.
    -aircraft designers executed during the purges could have helped spur a new generation of
    aircraft.
    -lack of proper defense plans in most cities allowed them to bee easily overrun.
    -slow industrial capacity.
     
  15. olegbabich

    olegbabich Member

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    You are correct,

    German guns could punch through 15mm of light Russian tanks armor. They had problems knocking out T34’s and could not touch KV tanks. Russian antitank guns could penetrate 50mm of German armor easily. Thus we should say that Germans turned their light tanks into mediums without adding any substantial protection from Russian guns. They only added weight.

    Germans in 1941 had best tactics and leadership in the Armor Forces, but they did not have the best tanks.
     
  16. ANZAC

    ANZAC Member

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    If Germany made war losing mistakes in Barbarossa, [much of it down to Hitler] his opposite number Stalin seemed determined to out do the Corporal starting with the purge of the officer corps in '37/'40.

    If anyone wants a detailed run down on the Red Army & the men pulling the strings pre Barbarossa, John Erickson gives a detailed account in 'The Road to Stalingrad' it makes you wonder how the Red Army survived.

    On the officer purges he says in part....

    If the justification of the purge of the high command was advanced as the elimination of the imcompanent, it was patently false.
    It was precisely the best brains of the Red Army which had been removed from the top. Officers trained in ideas had also been removed.

    It is too much to presume that had Tukhachevsky lived that he alone or even in the company of his able colleagues who were put to death at about the same time, would have been able to turn back the German army in 41. For all the prescience he displayed in his 36 presentations, no special magic was destroyed along with the men decimated in the purge, but the Red Army lost what it needed most at a time of major technical & tactical innovation, a command group which could have maintained effective continuity in military training & military thinking.

    The men who followed Tukhachevsky lacked the insight into the probable forms of modern mobile war which had so preoccupied the purged commanders, they lacked any intellectual curiosity simply because they disposed of no intellect, either singly, or as a group. For the doltishness, by no means confined to the Soviet command, but no less excusable & explicable after seeing the blitzkrieg in action, the Red Army paid a staggeringly high price in men & machines in '41.

    In a period of only 17 months, from the death of Tukhachevsky to that of Marshal Blyukher in November, 1938, the Red Army lost three of its five marshals, all 11 of its deputy commissars for defense, 75 out of 80 members of the Military Soviet and the head of
    the Political Administration of the armed services, as well as the heads of the naval and air components and their chiefs of staff. At the military district level, all those commanders who were in post in June, 1937, or who were appointed shortly afterwards to fill vacancies caused by the first executions, disappeared and, with them, most of the heads of the political administrations in the military districts.

    Along with Tukhachevsky & eight other like minded senior military officers like him were shot with only old cronies of Stalin [& poor Commanders] Budenny and Voroshilov surviving out of 5 Marshals.

    only 5 out of 80 members of the Military districts survived.

    2 out of 15 army commanders survived.

    28 out of 85 corps commanders.

    186 out of 406 brigade commanders.

    42 out of 186 division commanders.

    Commanders like Rokkosovski after interrogations that included torture resulting in nine missing teeth, three cracked ribs, the removal of his fingernails, and three mock shooting ceremonies, was lucky not to be shot, it left people like Voroshilov who wasn't up to it & his deputy commissars like Budenny, Mekhlis, Shchadenko & Kulik who certainly didn't inspire any great confidence in their military ability.



    And this blog says that not only were the Soviets army's "top brass" removed in 1937, but in 1938, 39, & 40 middle rank & junior officers were removed as well in significant numbers. Related to the purge of officers was a complete change in strategic, operational, & tactical doctrine or methods and a complete reorganization.

    Until 1937 the Soviet army had been forming mechanized combined arms corps, motorization of all arms was underway as transport became available. A airborne corps had been formed and was rapidly working towards the ability to make multi division landings. Professional schools for the officers were forward looking and encouraging original thinking about weapons & tactics. This is not to claim the Soviet army of 1937 was a super army. But, it was working closer to the capability of the German, US, or British army's of the 1940s.

    As the senior officers were purged the basic doctrines were drastically altered. The mechanized corps were broken up and the trucks & tanks dispersed in small support regiments. Motorization of infantry & artillery nearly ceased. Cavalry divisions and corps were reformed and the cavalry arm began expanding. The airborne corps was reduced to a much smaller group and ceased effective experiments or training. Conversion to radio communication was reversed, and development of radio security (codes) nearly ceased.

    Effective schooling of officers ceased. Technical classes were often replaced with political instruction. Discussion and experiment with new ideas were replaced with training in tactics of the 1920s or WWI. Field exercises lost much of their training value as political considerations took precedence over tactical realism, and training exercises were significantly reduced.

    A third aspect of the purge was that officers were rapidly promoted many ranks to replace those arrested or dismissed. Company commanders suddenly found themselves commanding regiments. Battalion commanders were elevated to division & corps command. Aggravating this was a shortage of officers to fill the staff positions needed to assist the commanders. Lieutenants just a few year out of their basic school found themselves filling critical planning roles at the regiment, division, & even corps level.

    By the late summer of 1939 the modern forward looking army of 1937 had been wrecked at all levels.

    But Stalin had what he wanted, an army completely subservient to him & his watch dogs like Mekhlis & Beria, as the Wehrmacht was to Hitler.


    On armour, although the Soviets tank park was huge & apart from the fact that they were in the main tanks like the T-26 light tank, and the BT series of tanks, fast but with thin armour & mounting a 37mm gun, [later Models were fitted with 45mm main gun, over 8,000 BT's & 10,000 T-26's were built] but as Tripple C says maintenance and readiness standards were very poor, ammunition and radios were in short supply, and many units lacked the trucks needed for resupply beyond their basic fuel and ammunition loads & probably up to 40% of armour was in work shops being overhauled or immobilized for lack of spare parts leading up to Barbarossa according to Erickson.
     
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  17. LJAd

    LJAd Well-Known Member

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    even without the purged,there would have been a shortage of officers,due to the expansion of the Red Army (5.7 million in june 1941 ),take for the US an armed force of 4 million in december 1941 .
     
  18. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

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    Reading Glantz gives the impression that many Russian formations were only units on paper or the parade ground. Some units couldn't even make a road march together in a coordinated fashion and counterattacks frequently collapsed on itself. While I will be the first to agree that bad tactics played a major role in '41, poor equipment--not as designs on blue prints but real machines on the field--was also at fault.
     
  19. olegbabich

    olegbabich Member

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    In Soviet Russia Tanks were listed in different state of readiness. Some are 100% ready, some need minor repairs, some need more involved maintenance. Than there are others that are not able to leave the motor park and are in need of major overhaul.

    Soviet historians listed all of the tanks that needed some repair as inoperable or lacking parts. Most of these machines were battle ready. Newly published works in Russia claim a total of 85-87% of Red Army Tanks were ready for action. Ready for action means – full crews, full ammo, full fuel and able to roll to the Front.


     
  20. Volga Boatman

    Volga Boatman Dishonorably Discharged

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    By my understanding, the most significant factor in the Summer Disasters of 1941 had nothing whatever to do with purging, and everything to do with deployment of resources.

    When the high commanders obligingly position resources too far forward, and have the greater portion of those resources destroyed or captured, it's time to look at the very positioning of those resources in the first instance.

    Furthermore, the situation has not been clarified as to exactly what the ROLE of these frontier forces was. Such defensive positions as were constructed were really not of a sufficient quality or quantity to justify labelling the occupying forces of the four frontier military districts as anything other than offensive. The real reasons for leaving the well fortified positions that they held (Stalin Line and Eastern Belarus), to move forward into the frontiers military districts was to ATTACK, probably in the spring of 1942.

    Zukhov and Vatutin attempted to work Stalin around to a pre-emptive offensive in a plan submitted to Stalin on the 15th of May, 1941. When this project was 'shelved' by Stalin, both Zukhov and Timoshenko attempted to circumvent this decision by requesting that frontier units be placed on full alert as early as 9 June. On June 18 they tried again. After a serious rebuff from Stalin of Zukhov's offensive minded presentation, Timoshenko went on to state,

    "...that at present the troops were in a position niether to attack nor defend."

    This statement alone reveals that defensive preparations for the troops of the four frontier military districts were half-hearted at best. Some may well say that this vacillation of policy at this time did more to guarantee German success for the rest of the campaigning season of 1941 than any other single factor.

    Zukhov, Vatutin and Timoshenko are therefore more responsible for this state of affairs than any other.

    Having authorised a move of the bulk of the Red Army's best formations into the border zone, they were unable to persuade the Maximum Leader to put them to the use that Zukhov had envisaged. Instead of making a decisive move one way or another, these subordinate commanders let this situation go on right up to 22 June....with disasterous results.

    There should have been either a pre-emptive attack, OR a serious attempt to fortify and deploy.

    Zukhov did neither....Timoshenko, as his superior, had not the fortitude to bring Stalin around to their way of thinking, as Zukhov was to be able to do in other situations with Stalin later on.

    So, the Red Army of 1941 sat in undeveloped positions and on a niether offensive or defensive stance. There were no intelligence failures to blame for this, ( Soviet commanders had plenty of warnings), and nor were the Purges the culprit. It was a lack of a unified strategy as to what exactly to do with Army units from Belarus after it had invaded Poland and the Baltic States.
     

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