Monday, March 9, 2009

Barbarossa begins. The Red Army staggers

America’s initial efforts in North Africa and then in Italy show that they had problems to work out. Some of the older officers had experience in World War One, but most were inexperienced, and like all officer corps, the American had some officers that were in high command for political reasons. This had to be learned in battle. Perhaps these officers didn’t realize how incompetent they were until they were put to the test; so a weeding out process went on. In the case of American generals this meant early retirement or reassignment to some place far from battle. In extreme cases a general might be court-martialed. Stalin treated his failures more severely.

In the case of Russia, they seem initially just as inept and inexperienced, but their lessons were harder than those experienced by the Americans (from page 95 of Davies, op. cit.):

“At 3:00 a.m. on 22 June 1941, the shortest night of the year, German troops raced across the bridge on the River Bug, in the middle of occupied Poland, and stormed the fortress of Brzesc (Brest-Litovsk). The Soviet garrison fought to the last man. Thus opened the colossal onslaught of Barbarossa. . . .”

“The ‘Battle of the Frontiers’, which lasted for almost six weeks contained two discrete operations of major importance – which appear under various labels, but which are perhaps best described as the Misnk Pocket and the Smolensk Pocket. The Germans swamped all opposition. Despite immense confusion, and desperate resistance, the armored spearheads surged forward into Lithuania, Byelorussia and Ukraine. Some 1,500 Soviet aircraft were destroyed on the ground in the opening days. Thousands of Soviet tanks were knocked out. Almost 2 million Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner. Army Group North was heading for Leningrad. Army Group South was approaching Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Field Marshal von bock’s Army Group Centre, having pushed forward 650 km, was standing before Smolensk – Russia’s most westerly city.”

[I pause here to observe that we can see in the above why Russia is so concerned today about their “near abroad.” Barbarossa has begun. Huge amounts of Russian equipment has been captured. Great numbers of Russians have been killed. “Almost 2 million Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner,” but the Germans have not yet entered Russia. I might try to assure them that they have nothing to worry about, that the EU isn’t belligerent and if the truth were known, neither are we, but a paranoid person or nation doesn’t believe such reassurance. It would be ironic if they were so paranoid that they invaded one of their near-abroad nations to have a buffer and that was the trigger that set off a war between the US and Russia: Russia invading a country to keep it as a buffer and the US going to that nation’s aid because it was invaded.]

Moving ahead now with Davies narration, he writes, “Nonetheless, as the Germans quickly realized, there was something distinctly odd about Soviet dispositions. For reasons that have never been explained, the Soviet High Command had not availed itself of the defense positions that were available. On the contrary, it had abandoned the defensive ‘Stalin Line’ built in the 1930s, putting a large part of its forces into vulnerable forward locations, in the direct path of the German attacks. Despite having the largest country in the world, it had not put its air force out of harm’s way in the depths of Russia. The Luftwaffe was able to cause so much damage only because its opponents were conveniently stationed on the most westerly airfields. German taken rolled at speed over newly rebuilt roads and bridges. And the colossal hordes of Soviet soldiers that were surrounded and captured in the frontier zone were in the worst possible deployment for defending themselves.”

At the Minsk pocket . . . “338,000 prisoners were captured, and 338,000 prisoners captured and 3,300 tanks destroyed. . . .”

COMMENT:

I see that General Pavlov and his staff were recalled to Moscow and shot, but I’m not sure that Stalin shot the right people. Whoever planned the defensive strategy should have been shot, but Davies suggests that might have been Stalin himself.

1 comment:

Michael Kuznetsov said...

Lawrence,

Have you ever read the book "Russia at War. 1941 - 1945" by Alexander Werth?
I have got a 1964 edition (London) of it in English, and also a copy in Russian translation.

Many of my friends (not communusts!) in the USA, UK, and elsewhere abroad, condisder the book to be the best work ever written in English on the subject.

It is rather cheep and can be easily obtained from amazon.com.
I can remember to pay for the book about ten dollars only, or so.

Highly recommended!