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World Association of International Studies

Post Soviet Preparedness for WWII
Created by John Eipper on 07/10/12 11:32 PM

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Soviet Preparedness for WWII (Cameron Sawyer, Russia, 07/10/12 11:32 pm)

In response to Anthony D'Amato (10 July), the number of divisions transferred by the Soviets from the Far East to the West in response to the Operation Barbarossa invasion is not controversial. There was never any "vast Soviet army bottled up in Siberia"--this is a pure fantasy which does not exist at all in the literature, and certainly not in the primary sources.

The excellently reasoned and especially interesting article I referenced earlier is just one of a multitude of sources on the--I say again, uncontroversial--fact that relatively few forces were transferred by the Soviets from Siberia to fight the German invaders in the first year of the war: 28 divisions, no more, no less, amounting to less than 10% of total Soviet forces (and the author is not anonymous at all; see: http://operationbarbarossa.net/Author-Nigel-Askey.html ). The fact is that although Stalin felt profoundly insecure in the face of the expected German attack, he hoped against hope to delay it while Soviet forces were being built up. By June 1941, the Soviet Army was already more or less the equal of the Wehrmacht, and the forces needed to beat Hitler were already deployed in several echelons behind the unfortified (because they had only been created after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact two years earlier) new border to Germany in Poland.

If this had not been the case, then the Soviet Union would never have survived the horrendous blunders committed by the wholly incompetent Soviet military leadership in the first months of the war. Barbarossa was the largest invasion ever staged in human history. The--ultimately successful--defense was likewise a military operation on an unimaginably huge scale. Both of these things had been under preparation for years, and could only have been prepared over a period of years.

Much of what we learned in school about WWII is a myth. The mythology of the war lives in schematic representations of what happened. If you dig down into even the next layer of detail--even, uncontroversial, unfalsifiable detail like the actual number of troops transferred from the East to fight Hitler after the start of Barbarossa--these myths start to evaporate.

One last question: what in the world is "airline fuel"? I have never heard such a term. Does Anthony mean aviation gasoline, sometimes referred to as Avgas? It was apparently no mean technological feat at the time to manufacture it. I was amazed to learn some years ago that although oil wells were invented in the Russian Empire (in Baku, present-day Azerbaijan), although the Soviet Union was the main oil producing state of WWII, the Soviets could not produce aviation fuel themselves, instead importing all (!) of it via Lend-Lease--presumably in 55 gallon drums, in unimaginable quantities, to fuel the Soviet Union's large (if ineffective) air force.

JE comments:  "Airline fuel" is an ambiguous term--today it would mean the kerosene-like Jet A or Jet A-1.  Anthony D'Amato's original reference certainly referred to Avgas for piston engines.  I'm intrigued to learn the Soviets imported it in 55-gallon drums--weren't tanker ships available at that time?

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  • Soviet Oil Production in WWII (Robert Whealey, USA 07/12/12 3:50 AM)
    Cameron Sawyer's generalization, "although the Soviet Union was the main oil-producing state of WWII, the Soviets could not produce aviation fuel themselves, instead importing all (!) of it via Lend-Lease" (10 July) is partly true. But is would be more accurate to say that the USSR was the second-greatest producer of crude oil in 1941. Ninety percent of the world's production of crude and most of the refined grades were controlled by the Shell-Standard cartel or the "seven-sisters," all Anglo-American private corporations. The FO and the Department of State were coordinating production, refining and transportation of most of the world's oil with the seven major companies. Oil was a major reason why Hitler, Mussolini and Japan lost the Second World War.

    JE comments: I've read that the Germans lost the Battle of the Bulge, for example, because they literally ran out of gas. But have we made too much of the Axis's fuel shortage as a factor deciding the war?  I've been assigning a lot of hypotheticals today, so here's one more:  suppose the Germans and the Japanese had the benefit of near-infinite fuel supplies, as the Allies did.  Would the war's outcome have been different?

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