Previous posts in this discussion:
PostTwo Coups: Spain in 1936, Yugoslavia in 1941 (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy, 06/13/19 5:54 am)
The horrors of military coups.
When Dusan Simovic on 27 March 1941 carried out his coup sponsored by the UK (Churchill, Amery, Secret Service), the regent prince Paolo was arrested and as the new head of state the 17-year-old Peter, son of the assassinated King Alexander, was nominated.
Immediately the new regime was recognized by the British Empire with an exalted speech by Churchill at Parliament. One day later, the South African PM General Smuts said: "The battle in the Balkans is lost by Germany." A very correct prediction. In reality the war was lost, not only the battle.
Therefore, as soon as the historians will condemn the Simovic coup I will join them in condemning the Spanish Generals' coup.
JE comments: WAISdom's outspoken Bastian Contrario, Eugenio Battaglia, forces us to ask: why are some coups bad and others "good"? I know very little about the 1941 coup in Yugoslavia, but was it justified because it put Belgrade in the Allied camp?
Eugenio has also stated before that the Axis lost the war in the Balkans. Most historians would move farther north to the Eastern Front, although Americans naïvely believe that we did most of the winning. And don't forget those plucky British...
America Won WWII: on Debunking a Trope
(Sasha Pack, USA
06/13/19 8:13 AM)
It seems to be an article of faith in WAISWorld that Americans naively believe that but for D-Day we'd all be doing the Hitler salute. Although it may once have been true, it may be time to put that canard to bed.
Each year, I teach a course on World War II to 150 undergraduates at a large state university--mainly not History majors, mind you, but students from engineering to theater who are there to fill a general education requirement. When I began teaching it several years ago, I quickly learned not to design the course around busting that myth. Students are not surprised to learn of the magnitude of the Soviet contribution or the value of Britain's refusal to surrender in 1940. A certain portion of them like to argue the war began in 1937 with the Japanese advance on Beijing (a defensible position though not one I would support). In some cases, they need to be convinced that the US did in fact play an important role in defeating the Third Reich.
The takeaway: high school World History teachers may actually be doing a pretty decent job!
JE comments: Sasha Pack has a large sample group to work with, so he certainly knows of what he speaks. It was probably unacceptable during the Cold War to teach the massive contribution of Uncle Joe to winning WWII, but things have changed in a generation. Sasha, what are some of the other historical shibboleths that "we" think Americans believe, but by and large do not? How about the notion of the US Civil War as a war fought to end slavery?
America Didn't Win WWII? Not So Fast...
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
06/14/19 4:59 AM)
Oh, my goodness. I never in all my life expected to read a post like the one from Sasha Pack, 13 June.
Of course the Soviet contribution to winning WWII was enormous, but without the US the war could have been won by the Axis. Period.
Great Britain on 18 July 1940, thanks to Churchill (better to avoid any adjective), did not refuse to surrender but refused to save the British Empire and its position as Queen of the Seas, since Hitler, see Mein Kampf, wanted an alliance with the UK or at least a new Entente Cordiale.
Thanks to its PM, the UK is one of the extremely few nations that theoretically won a great war but in reality came out considerably less important that when it declared war. War was declared for something that was betrayed only 14 day later.
I am convinced that if Yugoslavia had been in the Axis the war could have over prior to 7 December 1941. However if Japan on this date instead of attacking the US had attacked South Asia and the USSR, the war could have been won.
In such a case the US Empire would now be limited to the Americas (except Canada and the British territories), FDR would have been dismayed, but what about the American people? For sure hundreds of thousands of Americans would not have prematurely lost their lives.
JE comments: There several "what ifs" in this one, perhaps too many to disentangle. Yes, we can presume that if the UK had allied with Germany, there wouldn't have been much of a war. German hegemony would have resulted. (Don't we have that anyway on the Continent at present?) Eugenio, does your alternate scenario have Great Britain and Germany joining forces against Stalin?
But we can ever ignore a profound statistic: from 70% (low estimate) to 90% (high estimate) of German war casualties occurred on the Eastern Front.
I will concur that whether or not the US won the war, it certainly won the peace. For starters, it helps to have the destruction take place in other countries...
Could the Soviets Have Beaten Germany without US Help?
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
06/14/19 7:49 AM)
This is not a new topic on WAIS, and there is probably not a lot to say on the matter, which has not already been said here before.
I'm glad to hear that high school students are now learning about the central role the Soviets played in defeating Nazi Germany in WWII. People from my generation, who were taught that the Battle of the Bulge and El Alamein were key battles in the war, rather than minor sideshows, as they actually were, are often surprised to hear facts like that more than 90% of German casualties occurred on the Eastern Front. The European Theatre of World War II altogether, was not actually something like a "world war"; it was different wars which were connected in various ways, or not connected. By far the biggest of these different wars was the really big war, actually the biggest war ever fought in human history, between Nazi Germany and the USSR, with relatively peripheral roles played by the various allies of the two main combatants.
I agree with everyone here that the US played an important role, if not the main one--but it was not military, but rather industrial. The Nazis were defeated, despite the immense problems in Soviet military leadership (largely resulting from the decimation of the Soviet officer corps by Stalin's insane purges of 1937), by production and supply, and Lend Lease played a large role in this. Lend Lease amounted to only 10% or less of the total materiel used by the Soviets, but this does not adequately describe the importance of that materiel. Lend Lease filled numerous gaps in the productive capacity of the Soviets, which meant that unlike the Germans, they suffered no significant strategic shortages of anything, at least by the time Lend Lease deliveries got ramped up fully in 1943. And the supply of certain particular items allowed the Soviets to concentrate on other items, creating significant efficiencies which improved production. For example, and just one example--the US supplied more than 80% of all the trucks used by the Soviet Army, which allowed the Soviets to concentrate on tank production, which they did with spectacular success, producing more and better tanks than the Germans, which played a crucial role in the result of the war.
The strategic bombing of Germany by the British and Americans--a hideous war crime which claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians and destroyed entire cities--did not directly influence the outcome of the war. This slaughter, this--there is no other word for it--terrorism did not, contrary to Allied war planning, break the will of the Germans and force them to sue for peace. But by distracting a large proportion of German artillery resources away from the fighting on the Eastern Front, this had a significant effect on the outcome of the war by creating shortages of artillery.
Would the Soviets have lost, without these factors? It's hard to say. The Soviets may have almost lost in December 1941 when von Bock pressed Army Group Center to within sight of the Kremlin churches, and the fall of Moscow looked possible. This was the last possible moment at which the Germans probably had any chance to beat the Soviets, as they definitely lacked the productive capacity and logistics to fight a war of attrition in Russia. A sharp knockout blow was the only chance they had--as Hitler himself had said the year before. In December 1941, the last chance of a knockout blow was lost (if it had ever existed), and Soviet victory seems to have been more or less inevitable, as the Soviets after that slowly but continually solved their military leadership problems, and continuously ramped up war production to overwhelm the Germans with well-supplied and well-equipped troops. Only 16% of Lend-Lease support to the Soviet Union arrived before 1943, and the war was probably decided already by December 1941, so probably Lend Lease, although it was immensely valuable to the Soviets, did not change the outcome of the war. Considering the great effect of Lend Lease on the efficiency of Soviet war production, and the elimination of strategic gaps in supply, Lend Lease probably shortened the war, and perhaps by a lot, and so probably saved a lot of lives, perhaps millions of them. Lend Lease was a very intelligent, extremely effective program.
The key to all of this is war production. The Germans, as Hitler himself had said, simply lacked the productive capacity to defeat the Soviet Union in an extended conflict. The Germans had vastly superior war leadership, and at the beginning of the conflict had a better trained and more experienced army, and had air superiority almost until the end of the war. But none of this was enough to resist the rising tide of well-equipped, well-supplied, and gradually better and better led Soviet soldiers, which eventually crushed the Third Reich.
JE comments: Can we scrutinize the "90% of German casualties happened on the Eastern Front" claim? I had also accepted this figure as gospel, at least until this morning when editing Eugenio Battaglia's post. A quick Web search reveals that some estimates go as low as 70-75%. ("Low" must be taken here in relative terms.)
Can anyone enlighten us? I would assume that we're talking about combatant casualties, not total casualties.
With WWII, Don't Overlook the Importance of Other Theaters
(Timothy Brown, USA
06/15/19 1:57 PM)
These postings on Germany, USSR and WWII ignore a few things, such as the concurrent wars being fought in the Pacific, China, Africa and at sea, logistical imbalances and the difference between Soviet, Chinese use of massed infantry units versus Allied strategies and tactics, with one side willingly used massed formations that expend the lives of troops in combat in great number while the other used logistical advantage to limit casualties.
Perhaps the decisive element that led to Truman approving the use of nuclear weapons on Japan when he was made aware that the alternative, an invasion of Japan that could have cost of at least 100,000 US/Allied lives plus far more casualties--on both sides.
I suggest that whenever someone visits Oahu, they take a moment to turn their eyes from the bathers on Waikiki, turn around and take a look in the opposite direction at what later became Tripler Hospital and CINCPAC HQ. Both were initially built in anticipation of the tens of thousands of US and allied soldiers that were expected to need immediate medical attention to save their lives before they could be sent to mainland hospitals. I did this often during my five years in the 1st INT (interrogator/translator team) unit at FMFPAC, every time I returned from a mission in Southeast Asia.
JE comments: Cameron Sawyer wrote that WWII was at least two wars just in Europe; certainly we could argue that the conflict was four or more wars worldwide. World Wars II? Perhaps it's nothing more than semantics--but speaking of which, I always thought it strange that "theater" is used to describe a war zone.
Germany, USSR, and "Logistical Imbalances": Destroying Some Assumptions
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
06/17/19 4:12 AM)
I found the phrase "logistical imbalance," in Timothy Brown's post of June 15th, curious.
"Massed infantry formations" vs. "logistical advantages"--what does that mean? Supplies and equipment? That the Japanese and Germans used advantages in supplies and equipment to save manpower whereas Chinese and Russians did not?
That's not really true, and rather sells the Germans (and Japanese) short. In Europe, the Germans were poorly supplied and equipped compared to the Soviets at least from late 1942, and critical issues with German supply and equipment were already being felt by November 1941, when it proved impossible to deliver even warm clothing to the German troops at the front, just to mention one item of critical shortage out of many. The "logistical imbalance" in the European part of WWII was all against, not in favor of, the Germans. The Germans were not good in logistics at all in WWII--they lagged far behind the US and USSR in the science of logistics, and they suffered throughout the war from critical transport bottlenecks--they lacked trucks (most German transport was horse-drawn), they had massive difficulties with railroads in occupied territory, and the German railroads themselves suffered from underinvestment and were not up to the job of transporting materiel even to the border.
Nor can we say that the Soviets "willingly used mass formations" as a doctrine; or that the Germans "used logistical advantages to limit casualties." Both propositions are false, and "mass formation" vs. "logistical advantages" does not in any way characterize military tactics of WWII of any side, not excluding the Chinese. The big revolution in doctrine followed the disastrous slaughter of WWI where positional warfare using massed troops collided with machine guns and new types of artillery with high rates of fire. The revolution was a strong shift towards what is called "manoeuvre warfare" (think Napoleon and Nathan Bedford Forrest), and the Soviets were actually pioneers of this, developing the concept of maneuver warfare to a different level into something called "Deep Operation," developed in the 1920s. The Germans had something similar, which we like to call "Blitzkrieg" (a word invented by journalists and never used in the German military), and had a great thinker on the subject, Guderian, among others.
"Deep Operation" is similar to "Blitzkrieg" in that shock and deep penetration are used to disrupt the enemy's organization, communications, and logistics, but the Soviets took the idea to a different level, elevating it to a whole system of thought with its own place between strategy and tactics. See: https://www.armyupress.army.mil/Journals/Military-Review/English-Edition-Archives/November-December-2018/Blythe-Operational-Art/ . The Soviets restructured the whole Soviet Army to implement this doctrine--they had entire "Shock Armies," even. The US Army has largely adopted the Soviet idea of the "Operational Art," Tukhachevsky's texts on the subject are central parts of US Army study.
Unfortunately for the Soviets, the concept of Deep Operations led them for a time to believe that defense is almost irrelevant or impossible (this error is known as the "Cult of the Offensive"; the disastrous German Schlieffen Plan in WWI is an example), and this was one of several factors contributing to the devastating defeats of the Soviet defenders at the beginning of Barbarossa (there is some opinion among scholars that Deep Operations were temporarily abandoned altogether by the Stavka because it was associated with Tukachevsky and other military leaders purged in 1937, but I don't see evidence for that). But at the same time, Deep Operations was the principle used to inflict the first setbacks on the Germans in the Moscow counter-offensive. Then, as we all know, Marshal Grigory Zhukov, the most famous practitioner of Deep Operations, gradually implemented all the modern principles and as the Soviets gained strategic initiative (after Stalingrad, decisively), they used these principles to destroy the Wehrmacht, starting with Army Group South.
During the first year (or so) of the war, the Soviets lacked well-trained troops, and suffered from various problems including those caused by doctrines such as the one which gave insufficient initiative to lower-level commanders, but they had virtually all the other ingredients needed to conduct highly mobile, deep operations--better transport than the Germans had (trucks versus feet and horses), plenty of tanks and artillery, excellent supply logistics--and they gradually figured out the other stuff, which the sole exception of air superiority (something which is a linchpin of current US Army doctrine).
This process did not go without setbacks--the brilliantly played (by the Germans) Third Battle of Kharkov showed the extent to which German military leadership continued to outshine their Soviet counterparts, or at least the particular genius of von Manstein, the greatest general of the war, but the victory of course was pyrrhic. The Third Battle of Kharkov set up the Battle of Kursk of the summer of 1943, which decisively finished off the Germans' ability to stand up to the Soviet Army, after which the Germans were continuously on the run and never regained strategic initiative.
Mass infantry attacks were not used in any systematic way in this conflict by either side. 80% of all the casualties on the Eastern Front were caused by artillery. Both Germans and Soviets were fighting intensive maneuver warfare, the Germans hindered in this constantly by poor logistics, shortages of fuel, shortages of trucks, shortages of spare parts, unreliable armored vehicles. Mass attacks were mostly used, by both sides, in desperate situations, such as encirclements, as was used often by the Germans in the latter parts of the war (and the Allied attack on Normandy on D-Day is another case of a mass attack used out of necessity). It is true that Soviets suffered higher casualties than the Germans--about 3:2. The ratio improved throughout the war, however--7:1 in 1941, 2:1 in 1942, and 1:1 thereafter. If you average out the whole war, a Soviet soldier had the same risk of being killed as a German one--the 3:2 ratio of casualties corresponded to the 3:2 difference in total forces, and had a better chance of survival than a German soldier after 1942 (at which point, to add some perspective, the US is not even in the war).
I hope that busts some myths. The Soviets did not indeed suffer more casualties than the Germans as a result of the use of mass attacks as a doctrine; this did not exist at all in Soviet military doctrine. Both the Soviets and the Germans were using advanced concepts of maneuver warfare similar to what the US Army uses even today.
JE comments: Cameron Sawyer never fails to cast WWII myths and shibboleths on History's ash heap. I too understood Tim Brown's "logistical imbalances" as shorthand for Soviet human-life-be-damned tactics, but this is an oversimplification. Still, our perceptions die hard. The opening scene of the 2001 film Enemy at the Gates, the last time Hollywood addressed Stalingrad, portrays a massed infantry assault across the Volga. The majority of the Soviet grunts/cannon-fodder are sent to battle unarmed. Loudspeakers instruct them to pick up the rifle of another soldier when he is killed.
Cameron, how true are the Western reports that the Soviet army crossed German minefields the quick way--by advancing waves of troops to "explode them out"?
Soviet Casualties in WWII: How Many Were Slaughtered by the Political Commissars?
(David Pike, -France
06/19/19 4:27 AM)
In the WAIS debate on the Soviet contribution to Allied victory, I've entered the battle a little late, but not too late to mention a factor overlooked by WAISers.
Historians of the Second World War reached a consensus fifty years ago that the victory of all three of the leading Allied victors was dependent on the contribution of the other two. The UK primarily through the time factor, the US primarily through the industrial/economic factor, and the USSR through the manpower power.
The Soviet manpower factor is based upon the estimated loss of 28 million Soviet dead. I am among those historians who asked Soviet historians, in total respect, to explain the Soviet figure. My forum was The American University in Paris, which had for a long time, literally as its next-door neighbor on Avenue Bosquet, the company of Tass Agency. (We moved in first, Tass followed. Curious.) Apart from the interruption during Ronald Reagan's first three years, when the West was close to reviving the Cold War, we at AUP were able to invite Soviets into our debates, and it is worth recording how very eager the Soviets were to obtain social dates with AUP girl-students. In the conferences that I organized, I was fortunate to attract the participation of several top French Sovietologists, including Alexandre Adler and Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, who both joined the AUP Faculty as a result. Carrère d'Encausse went on to become Permanent Secretary-General of the Académie Française, She was the more radical of the two, but it was Adler whom the Soviets feared most, because of what he knew.
In the course of that debate, I raised the question of how the Soviets arrived at the figure of 28 million dead. We spoke in French as a neutral language, even though later, in 1989, for a five-day conference on the Opening of the Second World War, I went to the expense of offering the Soviets a Russian interpreter throughout. When I asked the Soviets for an explanation for the 28 million dead and received no clear answer from them, I offered the Soviets my own. Alongside the slaughters carried out by the SS Einsatzgruppen within all three of the Wehrmacht army groups (north, center and south), alongside the German tactic of allowing Soviet prisoners to starve to death, alongside the vast number of Soviet troops who responded patriotically to the challenge, there was another element, and that was the tactic used by the Red Army to move forward (as they had already moved forward on certain Spanish Republican troops in the Civil War). It was so simple: move forward against the enemy and face whatever certainty of death you find in front of you, or withdraw and face the 100 percent certainty of death waiting behind you at the hands of the Political Commissars who shoot you on sight.
This tactic obviously differed from any style of combat to be seen on the Allied side, which simply held to a different value of human existence and the worth of the individual. The Soviet approach was different from anything on either side, including the Japanese kamikaze. Kamikaze did not have to be forced. On the contrary, suicide was considered holy, and it was embraced.
JE comments: David, did the TASS folks deny the use of this draconian "tactic," or did they acknowledge it? Perhaps with a bit of pride? And what can you tell us about a question I posed earlier this week: did the Soviets clear out minefields by sending over waves of infantry?
"Barrier Troops" as a Soviet Tactic
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
06/20/19 4:00 AM)
To David Pike's post of 19 June and JE's comment:
So-called barrier troops are well known and there is no sense to acknowledge or deny this fact (as is the case with modern Russian historiography, which exercises total denial of their existence).
From Wikipedia: Barrier troops, blocking units, or anti-retreat forces are troops that are placed behind the front lines during a battle in order to apprehend or shoot any soldiers attempting to retreat without orders or desert. The most often cited example of their use comes with the Soviets' Red Army.
This long article is quite good and useful to read. What was new to me in David's post was the alleged use of blocking units (by the Soviets?) during the Spanish Civil War. I quote, "was the tactic used by the Red Army to move forward (as they had already moved forward on certain Spanish Republican troops in the Civil War)."
Could David give his source for this claim?
JE comments: Were Soviet commissars attached to some Spanish Republican units? I'd also like to know more.
Wikipedia (above) says that the units were officially disbanded by Stalin's orders in October 1944. The war was nearly over by this point.
Decimation, Deserters, and Draft Dodgers
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
06/20/19 9:30 AM)
The use of "barrier troops" in Spain was common knowledge in Italy. I remember a propaganda postcard about it and another showing a "Rojo" tied with a chain to his machine gun in the trench. My grandfather had a number of these cards that unfortunately were lost.
But nothing new. During WWII practically all armies used the firing squad for those who refused orders or showed cowardice. Even worse, sometimes the practice of decimation took place, executing one out of every ten in a unit that had withdrawn without orders to do so.
According to the Roman historian Suetonius, the practice started in 471 BC.
It is difficult to determine a clear number of Great War-era executions, as some executions took place on the spot, such as the officer who shot a soldier trying to escape. Many apparently were not even reported. Anyway, the official death sentences in Italy were 750, France 600, UK 346 and (surprise) Germany only 46.
About WWII, I know only what my father once reported to my mother: after El Alamein under a furious British attack, two Italian soldiers went running toward the enemy with raised hands. They were immediately put down from a burst of machine gun from the Italian line. It's a terrible fact, though understandable.
A question: practically all nations have laws against deserters or draft dodgers (however some cowards may even become warmonger presidents in certain nations), but at the same time there is an international law to protect those who escape from a country at war, even if they are strong young fellows. Is there something wrong with this?
JE comments: I've read of machine-gunners chained to their guns in several contexts. In the Great War, it was Germans who did so voluntarily. Echoes of the Roman galleys? Other accounts say these "chains" were actually chain-like harnesses that allowed the gunners to move around their heavy equipment.
The official count for WWII executions for desertion in the US stands at one: Detroit's own, Private Eddie Slovik.
Soviet "Barrier Troops" in Spain?
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
06/21/19 7:08 AM)
I am astounded by the ease with which Eugenio Battaglia (20 June) mentions the use of barrier troops in Spain. Just a couple of his father's postcards showing a "Rojo" tied with a chain to his machine gun in the trench and voilà, the confirmation is here.
According to the Soviet government directive of 29 June 1920, the use of barrier troops ("zagradotryády") was stopped in Russia (until the war). Their presence behind the front lines--this time these were special departments of the NKVD who formed them--was reinstated by the NKVD directive no. 39212 of 28 July 1941. Does David Pike (and, it looks like, Eugenio in tow) mean that during the Spanish Civil War there existed NKVD troops, or indeed any other Red Army units, that could have been used in this function? It seems this supposition is as truthful as writings by Robert Service and Robert Conquest whose Congress-for-Cultural-Freedom mentality dominates all their works.
I repeat my question: which source is there to prove there were indeed Soviet barrier troops or blocking units in Spain during the Civil War?
JE comments: The Congress for Cultural Freedom was the "soft-power" wing of the CIA. It would be instructive to chronicle how many of the war-tactic shibboleths we've discussed were the brainchildren of the CCF.
Soviet "Barrier Troops" in the Spanish Civil War?
(David Pike, -France
06/22/19 4:50 AM)
In response to Boris Volodarsky, I rush to intervene on the topic of the day, despite my book deadline of June 26. Not because I have time to put anything together, but because nothing I have written promotes the idea of Soviet forces taking part in the Spanish Civil War.
I have always thought they were limited to a few hundred "advisers," albeit in many key positions, and never allowed to expose themselves to death in combat. They were nevertheless present behind the lines, and giving instructions. Did the Nationalists ever take a Soviet prisoner during the war? What I learned about the Soviets and their running of prisons (prisons that not even the Spanish Republican police could enter) came from those who had deserted from the International Brigades, especially those who gave evidence against André Marty.
JE comments: What do we know about Soviet-run prisons in Spain? I was aware that the Russians disappeared a lot of people, but I always thought this nasty work was carried out "informally."
Did the Soviets Use "Barrier Troops" in Spain?
(José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela
06/24/19 4:49 AM)
In response to the comments of David Pike and Boris Volodarsky regarding the use of Soviet "barrier" troops and the general participation of Soviet troops in the Spanish Civil War, I have done some digging through several sources freely available.
Apparently there is no evidence of Soviet troops used in the "barrier" function in Spain. There were indeed Spanish comisarios políticos, equivalent to Russian political commissars--военный комиссар--in the Republican communist regiments. They had the tasks of ideological education and discipline. In this regard there are testimonial accounts and documentary evidence of these comisarios being particularly severe as troop "barriers." Many times they shot their own troops if they dared to retreat in combat. It is said that communist troops were highly disciplined. The 5th Regiment was legendary in this regard, but many times the commissar had to act in this particularly mean and nasty way.
Now to the question of Soviet combat troops in the Spanish war. According to sources, the number of Russians in the war was in between 2000 to 3000; they were military consultants, security advisers (spies), translators, instructors but also in some cases, combatants.
Russia sent more than 600 airplanes, 350 tanks, armored cars, machine guns, rifles and ammunition and other war supplies. They also sent 772 pilots, 351 tank drivers and operators, besides a good number of volunteers in the International Brigades. During the war 99 pilots died in combat, as well as 53 tank operators, and an uncertain number of Brigade members.
Many of the Russian combatants were highly decorated when they got back to the USSR, but also many others were also executed by the Stalinist purges. Only a few remained in Spain after the war.
The role of Soviet spies in the war has been obscure and remains largely secret, but particularly notorious were their several failed attempts to kill Franco. See the famous Orlov Case.
Of course the Russian aid was paid for by the Republican government with the full gold reserves of the Bank of Spain, though the aid was incomparable with German and Italian aid to the rebels.
JE comments: What type of personality do you need to become a comisario político? Total intransigence? Absolute cruelty? General jackass-ism? It's not the kind of work I'd be cut out for.
Boris Volodarsky (literally) wrote the book on Orlov. And voilà! Boris is next in the WAIS queue, with a comment on the 2000 or so Soviet adviser/combatants in Spain.
- More on Soviet "Volunteers" in Spain (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 06/24/19 5:50 AM)
I am grateful to David Pike (22 June) for answering my question. Briefly commenting on David's post and JE's question about Soviet-run prisons in Spain, I submit the following:
We have established that there were no "barrier troops" staffed by Soviet advisers during the Spanish Civil War. There were no Soviet-run prisons either. Different Chekas that operated in the Republican zone during the first months of the war were all staffed and headed by the Spaniards and sometimes foreigners, mainly Germans with one or two Poles, Austrians and a few Americans. The Chekas were running secret as well as regular prisons. Soviet NKVD advisers, as for example Lev Nikolsky (better known as Alexander Orlov) sometimes took part in the interrogation of the Trotskyists and even more seldom of other prisoners, mainly foreign, but not a single prison was "Soviet-run."
John wrote, "I was aware that the Russians disappeared a lot of people, but I always thought this nasty work was carried out 'informally.'" Well, to those who'd like to know all details about the NKVD work in Spain, I shall recommend my book Stalin's Agent (Oxford University Press, 2014). All of those who "disappeared" were either suspected Trotskyists or indeed worked with Trotsky at this or that period.
Soviet "volunteers"--military advisers, translators, medical staff, technical specialists and fighters--did take part in action, especially pilots and tankmen. Many were awarded the highest Soviet decoration--the Order of Lenin with (or without) the golden star of the Hero of the Soviet Union for exceptional courage in battle. Some of them, very few, were taken prisoner. Altogether from September 1936 to April 1939 there were slightly over 2,000 Soviet volunteers in Spain.
The Main Archive Department of Moscow have just published a two-volume special edition that includes all names and short biographies of all Soviet volunteers in Spain any material on whom was found in the archives. The director of the archive was very kind to send me both volumes as a gift. Two last Soviet participants who took part in the war--navigator Victor Lavsky and translator/intelligence officer Adelina Kondratieva--both died in 2012.
JE comments: Boris, what do we know about the (albeit few) Soviets who were captured by the Francoists? Did any of them switch sides and stay?
Soviet POWs in Spanish Civil War
(Boris Volodarsky, Austria
07/04/19 6:19 AM)
I am sorry for delay in commenting our esteemed editor's excellent question (and Cameron Sawyer's comment of 29 June). I was travelling.
JE asked, "Boris, what do we know about the (albeit few) Soviets who were captured by the Francoists? Did any of them switch sides and stay?"
If I wanted to be very laconic I would simply say--nothing at all is known about Russian PoWs in the Spanish Civil War. In my files I can probably fish out a few names but that would be it. The intriguing part of the story is that, as in the case with other nationalities, Russians were fighting on both sides. A certain number of the White Guards, former tsarist officers and NCOs, after the revolution and the Russian civil war resident in France, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Turkey were volunteers to the Franco troops. The Soviets were of course on the Republican side. As it happens, a small number of them became prisoners of war. Some of those who were captured by the rebels were interrogated and information was later summarised in the infamous Causa General collection without any reference to sources. Part of this information leaked to (but was not officially shared with) SIS. In London it was considered of no value and shelved. Remarkably, it is still classified but I am sure there is nothing interesting there except for the fact that British agents collaborated, albeit sporadically, with Franco's information services. One related story, however, is rather interesting.
In Paris, there were in fact two Russian centres that organised and sent volunteers to Spain. One was run by the "White" Russian Combined Armed Forces Union (ROVS) headed by General Eugen Ludwig Müller, better known as Yevgeny Miller. Another centre was the Russian Union for Repatriation closely linked to the Russian embassy and headed by the former "White" officer Serge Efron. Efron was the husband of a great Russian poet Marina Tsvetayeva and an NKVD agent. His centre was sending volunteers to the Republican forces while ROVS supplied well-trained Russian officers to Franco troops.
One of the Efron's recruits was Lev Savinkov, a son of Boris Savinkov. "The Russian terrorist and Socialist-Revolutionary Boris Savinkov (1879-1925) has become well known as an ardent rebel against Communism," his sons' biographer Marc Jansen writes. "After having fought the Communists, first within Russia and then from abroad, in 1924 he crossed the border in order to continue the struggle again in Russia itself, but fell into the trap the Soviet secret service had set for him." Unfortunately, Jansen's piece published in Revolutionary Russia is not consistent and contains some factual errors.
Savinkov was lured to the USSR by his mistress, Lyubov Daerenthal, accompanied by her and her husband, both of whom were NKVD agents, and arrested soon after crossing the Russian border. Savinkov was tried, sentenced to death, but repented and was given a life sentence instead. However, in May 1925 he was thrown out of the prison window by several OGPU (predecessor to the NKVD) operatives, among whom was one Grigory Syroyezhkin.
In 1937 Lev Savinkov, his younger son and a Russian patriot, who lived in Paris, left for Spain to joint the International Brigades but was recruited as an NKVD agent by Syroyezhkin--one of the two commanders of the NKVD-trained Spanish republican guerrillas. Savinkov junior was soon promoted to lieutenant and then captain, serving under the nom de guerre "Léon Savin" (or Savint, as he called himself in Catalan). In October, Efron came to Spain himself on the run from the French police who were after him in connection with the murder in Lausanne of a Russian NKVD defector. Efron was not an assassin but took part in this operation together with "Alexander Orlov" (Lev Nikolsky) who especially came from Spain for this matter.
Late in 1937 Efron returned to Russia and was arrested by the NKVD in December together with his daughter Alya, both accused of being German spies. Alya betrayed her father, spent time in the Gulag but survived while he was shot. Syroyezhkin was soon recalled to Moscow and also shot.
After returning from Spain to France in 1939, Lev Savinkov lived in poverty. He gave several interviews but did not say much. Lev died in January 1987. Savinkov's elder son, Victor, lived in Moscow and also collaborated with the NKVD. He was later shot after which all members of his family committed suicide.
General Miller's deputy in ROVS was young Tsarist General Nikolai Skoblin, another OGPU/NKVD agent. He took part in the kidnapping of General Miller from Paris in September 1937. Miller was exfiltrated to Russia, imprisoned and later shot. After having spent some weeks in the Soviet embassy in Paris hiding from police, Skoblin was transported to Barcelona by Orlov and later shot near the Russian consulate villa.
Marina Tsvetayeva returned to Russia with her son in 1939. She committed suicide in 1941.
A niece of General Miller, Lily Sergueiev, also known as Natalie Sergueiew, was sent by the German Abwehr to Spain as a spy but collaborated with SIS and became an agent (codenamed TREASURY) in the double cross disinformation game organised by the British during WWII. She wrote a book Secret Service Rendered (London, 1966).
Most of the Soviet military advisers who were in Spain, including all RU (later GRU) officers, with only a few exceptions, were executed. The interpreters and rank-and-file fighters survived. Many, but not all NKVD operators survived. Almost all of them became Russian intelligence heroes although some, like Sudoplatov, Eitingon, Grigulevich, Vaupshasov and "Orlov" were involved in murders. Altogether from September 1936 to April 1939 there had been about 10-12 NKVD operatives in Spain but quite a number of agents, mainly foreigners. What happened to the civil war prisoners (Russian and Soviet) is not known but several prisoner exchanges took place under the British umbrella.
Some of those Spaniards who went to live in exile in Russia during or after the civil war, were permitted to return to Spain after Stalin's death. About 2,000 returned. The CIA immediately took notice and decided to use the opportunity to get some valuable intelligence about Russia. The operation was codenamed PROJECT NIÑOS and involved hundreds of people. A Barcelona film studio is currently making a documentary about this operation with Yours Truly taking part. It should be out in autumn.
JE comments: Boris, please keep us updated on the Project Niños project. I anticipate there will be some major revelations--although presumably none of the participants are still living.
- Debunking the Myth of "Soviet Hordes" in WWII (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/20/19 4:15 AM)
The cartoonish view of Soviet military doctrine--that the Soviets won by forcing hordes of people at gunpoint to attack (see David Pike, 19 June)--may be satisfying to someone seeking to conform history to simplistic prejudices, but does not in any way correspond to reality.
The war on the Eastern Front was exceptionally brutal, and large numbers of soldiers were shot for "cowardice"--which might be any kind of hesitation to fight. But this happened on the German side at about the same rate as on the Soviet side.
The Soviets did use "blocking troops" in some cases to prevent, by force, Soviet units from retreating. However, the prevalence of this gruesome practice has been highly exaggerated in popular imagination. A good article with links to good sources is here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrier_troops . Blocking troops (or "barrier troops") were used by the Soviets primarily in the disastrous first months of the war, when the Soviet Army was falling apart, and then later, in connection with penal battalions ("shtraf-bats", see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shtrafbat , something also used by the Germans, and incidentally the subject of a fabulous Russian television mini-series by Nikolai Dostal). They were not widely used against regular Soviet units after the first months of the war.
The use of blocking troops does not in any way explain the exceptional courage of Soviet soldiers--something remarked on in every single German memoir of the war. Where this courage in the face of death came from, is hard to explain. It was certainly not devotion to the Communist regime, which was still widely hated and quite shaky at the beginning of the war (Stalin still thought he was going to be overthrown, when the war began). The existence of this esprit in the Soviet Army was one of the main factors in the outcome of the war, and its nature remains somewhat mysterious. Somehow the Soviet state managed to convince the whole people that the Great Patriotic War was a life-and-death struggle for the Motherland, and the whole people then duly rose, willing to lay down their lives, to stop the Germans.
The rate of Soviet casualties is also widely misunderstood--tens of millions of people died, but Soviet soldiers died at about the same rate as Germans. As I wrote earlier, the "kill ratio" during the disasters of 1941 was about 7:1, then later 2:1, and during the last two years of the war, 1:1, between the Soviets and the Germans. The average throughout the war was about 3:2, which corresponded to the different numbers of people involved, so if you take the war as a whole, a Soviet soldier had the same chance of being killed as a German one. So much for hordes of Soviets being forced at machine-gun point to their mass slaughter. That is not what happened.
Mass casualties on the Soviet side occurred mostly in the first months of the war, and did not occur as the result of any military doctrine to spend lives thoughtlessly. They occurred out of desperation--as happened also with the Germans later in the war--and they occurred due to blunders of Soviet military leadership and sometimes sheer incompetence. Soviet military leadership was extremely poor at the beginning of the war. These two factors were often combined--poor leadership lead to desperate situations which led to desperate attacks which were defeated by the Germans with horrendous casualties.
But a third factor was the Soviet doctrine of highly aggressive warfare, connected with the doctrine of Deep Battle as discussed previously. Soviet military doctrine believed in avoiding static situations at all cost. They believed that the attacker always has the advantage. At the beginning of the war this principle often had disastrous results, whenever this aggressiveness was poorly prepared and met with effective German defense. But later in the war, the extreme aggressiveness of the Soviet forces, combined with high mobility and good logistics, was devastating to the Germans. You have to read the memoirs and diaries of German combatants, to understand the sheer terror of fighting the Soviet Army, particularly in the last two years of the war.
At Stalingrad, the events depicted in Enemy at the Gates--the fighting in the city itself--did not happen at all the way they were portrayed. It is well known that this, the bloodiest battle in human history, resulted in about 1.1 million killed and wounded on the Soviet side, and 850 000 killed and wounded on the German side, not counting the large number of captured Germans who did not survive the brutality of Soviet captivity, for a total of more than 2 million. But most of these casualties occurred in the course of the larger campaign around Stalingrad, which raged for half a year form August 1942 to February 1943. The fighting in the city itself--as depicted in the movie--killed probably less than 100,000 people, at the rate of about 1:1 between the Soviets and Germans.
These days, historians do not consider that manpower was the main factor in the Soviet victory, at least no historians that I know about. The main factor was the Soviet military-industrial complex, with important support from Lend-Lease. Besides that, effective Soviet strategy and military doctrine, and then lastly, the high level of motivation and morale in the Soviet Army, something which is really hard to explain, but which undoubtedly existed and greatly influenced the outcome of the war.
Some good reading to clear up some of the myths about the war:
When Titans Clashed, by U.S. Army Colonel David Glantz
An excellent brief account of the war in the East.
Barbarossa, by the great British military historian Alan Clark, another good military history of the war in the East, with some attention to the military-industrial aspects.
And possibly the best way of all to clear up myths about how the Soviet Army fought in WWII, is to read memoirs of German combatants, something which has been a hobby of mine for decades. 99% of those materials are not translated into English, but for non-German speakers there are a few really good ones in English, like Blood Red Snow, by Guenther Koschorrek (https://www.amazon.com/Blood-Red-Snow-Memoirs-Soldier-ebook/dp/B00KYVDLB0 ), Eastern Inferno: The Journals of a German Panzerjäger on the Eastern Front, 1941-43, by Hans Roth (https://www.amazon.com/Eastern-Inferno-Journals-Panzerj%C3%A4ger-1941-43-ebook/dp/B004DI7R2E/ref=pd_sim_351_3/144-4517708-3874001?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B004DI7R2E&pd_rd_r=69588b37-929a-11e9-87cf-a7abbaf07c71&pd_rd_w=R5rDz&pd_rd_wg=Rhy1e&pf_rd_p=a098ee4c-2e0f-4821-b463-d4b049053104&pf_rd_r=52Q23CSHAJPQS8W8G5Z0&psc=1&refRID=52Q23CSHAJPQS8W8G5Z0 ).
You will get a very different picture of the war, than what you see in Hollywood's representations like Enemy at the Gate.
Concerning the industrial side of the war, this is a story all its own. During the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviets industrialized on an unimaginably massive scale, building the world's largest steel plants (Magnitogorsk), largest tractor and motor plants, and so forth--almost all of them built by American companies like the Ford Motor Company (GAZ in Nizhny Novgorod), Pratt & Whitney, Caterpillar, International Harvester, Dupont, Arthur McKee & Company (Magnitogorsk steel plant). This massive investment in heavy industry--possible in a dictatorship where the state can direct the wealth of the nation wherever it wants--did not do much for the Soviet consumer in the short term, but created the whole industrial base needed to fight a long war. The Germans did not have plants of this quality or scale. But not only the industrial capacity, but the industrial approach--American innovations in mass production were adopted wholesale, including DFM ("design for manufacturing"), where the thing to be produced is designed from the very beginning with the manufacturing process in mind. In particular, cheapness, simplicity in manufacture, and ruggedness--the same approach which produced the Ford Model T and made it possible to motorize an entire nation, something the Germans still lacked.
There's a great book about this, the name of which I can't remember (I'm traveling), but I'll post separately if I remember. This is an extraordinarily important fact about the war which is little known--the role of American technical assistance and American technology in the massive Soviet industrialization which took place before the war started, without which the Soviets surely could not have won, since contrary to the ridiculous mythology, they did not indeed win by throwing huge waves of inexhaustible barbaric hordes against the Germans, but rather by fighting effectively according to sound, modern tactics, using well supplied and equipped troops.
JE comments: Gunter Koschorrek of Blood Red Snow is still living at 96. What an extraordinary life. (One of the many benefits of this editing job--I never lack reading material!)
The notion of the Russian Hordes (RH) is not limited to WWII. Consider the Napoleonic and Great Wars. Perhaps the "West" constructed this notion due to Russia's vastness, brutal winters, and overall exoticity? Cold War thinking probably found comfort in the RH myth: they might enjoy the advantage of limitless masses, but we have "civilization" on our side. (The Korean War saw an even more dramatic example: the Chinese Hordes.)
Cameron, I'll pester you one more time: what about the "minefield myth"? Were "Shtrafbats" assigned this nasty job?
How to Explain Soviet Motivation in WWII
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
06/20/19 7:46 AM)
I found Cameron Sawyer's post of June 20th very informative, but I am somewhat contrary and surprised by his hesitation about one important point: "The main factor [for Soviet WWII success] was the Soviet military-industrial complex, with important support from Lend-Lease. Besides that, effective Soviet strategy and military doctrine, and then lastly, the high level of motivation and morale in the Soviet Army."
I agree that Cameron nailed the three most important factors but disagree in their order. While all three were critical, to me his last factor is my first, and the first was third. Without the high level of motivation and morale in the Soviet Army, the other two would fall apart. This is particularly important when you consider that such motivation also applies to the highly motivated mostly women doing the work in military production. Further, I was surprised by Cameron's hesitation regarding the reason for such motivation.
To me the reason is absolutely clear: The power of the German Barbarossa attack was the opening of the gates of hell. The violence and atrocities against Russian military and innocent civilians must have made the Russian people aware that it was a war for survival or doomsday for the whole nation. Under such conditions people get very extremely motivated, fearful and hateful. Also, Stalin went from a near nervous breakdown person to an impressive leader. Amazingly despite his horrible past misdeeds he became the father of the nation. He even learned not to mess with military tactics after some hard lessons, and let Zhukov run the show. Needless to say under Zhukov, Soviet strategic and tactical military performance overall was impressive throughout the war.
While Soviet industrial revolution under Stalin was amazing and critical to winning the war, the US was the arsenal of democracy. Once the British and US governments understood the Russian would fight seriously, Lend-Lease would have been stepped up. Yes, it would have taken much longer for the Soviets to have turned things around as they did, and they would not arrived in Berlin as quickly. The point is without competent and motivated military people, hardware means much less. Without much production, competent and motivated military might still win the war.
JE comments: Wartime morale is a tricky concept. You can possibly only measure it after the fact. Has there ever been a case of a nation winning a war despite having lower morale? Think of an example we're familiar with: the US Civil War. The Confederacy probably had higher morale until 1863 or 1864, but then we know what happened. It's a tautology: nothing defeats morale more than...defeat.
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
06/20/19 5:00 PM)
John Eipper commented on my post of June 20th, "Wartime morale is a tricky concept. You can possibly only measure it after the fact. Has there ever been a case of a nation winning a war despite having lower morale?"
All great leaders know the great importance of their followers' morale and motivation for accomplishing difficult tasks. Measuring such feelings accurately is indeed vary challenging. However, after observing the results from actions and reactions between two opponents, their morale and motivation levels become clear.
John mentioned the US Civil War as an example of a situation where the North won despite having lower morale, destroying the Confederate homelands and armies, thus destroying their morale. I interpret things differently. Both sides had good morale but the South had better military leadership until Grant was in charge. He made all the difference.
Once recruited soldiers soon form very strong emotional bonds with their close fellow soldiers. They hate letting their buddies down come hell or high water. That become their main motivation to face death and suffering day after day. If we add good leadership to this basis then we have a strong army. Logistics becomes the next critical ingredient for success.
Despite all that, wide disparity in military technology (broadly defined) can have a devastating effect. Thus despite opponents being equally motivated, the Polish army in WWII found totally futile to attack German tanks with cavalry. History is full of such examples where new weapons, new tactics, etc. can have devastating effect. In the US Civil War, after Grant took a drubbing from the Confederate forces, he just regrouped and moved forward toward Richmond. Historians tell us that his troops cheered that they were going after the enemy and had plans to finish the war which had been absolutely murderous already. That seems like great morale to me.
Last, I see the US "victories" in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. as clear examples where total military supremacy by technology has won the wars to at least some extent, despite the fact that the American people want to get out. Unfortunately the political and military leadership profit from such interminable wars, thus you have to say they have a strong morale and motivation to make money, create distractions (for political purposes), and do their business. In other words, the nature of war has changed dramatically; it is a tool for profit and power. We can win at least temporarily through weapons supremacy as long as the people don't get too strongly against the horrendous costs in resources, life, and sneaky costs like making more enemies in the future.
JE comments: The US North had very low morale from McClellan's "Peninsula" campaign (1862) until Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863. But this is my perception as a lifetime Civil War buff. How do you really measure morale?
The notion of Polish cavalry attacks on German tanks is the next WWII canard to be debunked by Cameron Sawyer. Tune in early tomorrow!
Morale during US Civil War
(Tor Guimaraes, USA
06/25/19 5:35 AM)
I agree with Cameron Sawyer's observations that Poles have had great military skills and successes. They have also produced some great scientists and mathematicians. However, I did see a video of Polish cavalry attacking a Panzer unit (tanks and infantry). Was that fake news?
John Eipper's comments on my 21 June post ("The US North had very low morale from McClellan's 'Peninsula' campaign  until Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863. But this is my perception as a lifetime Civil War buff. How do you really measure morale?") made me realize that a nation may have low morale about a war but some sub-groups or individuals may concurrently have high morale. The term "morale" is used to represent the level of satisfaction of an individual with the whole situation; it is a group concept. The term "motivation" is more important to me because it is an individual concept: the willingness of a person to do his best to get something done. One can feel high morale (satisfaction with the situation) but not engage in whatever it takes to win the struggle.
Last, while the US nation had some morale problems, since JE is a Civil War buff, he knows that Grant when it comes to the US Civil War had a very high motivation to win from the beginning, before he was instrumental in conquering Vicksburg. He believed that Confederates were traitors for breaking up the nation, and needed to be put down.
JE comments: The New York City "Draft Riots" of July 1863, which caused 120 deaths, were perhaps the lowest point of Union morale. The ability of wealthy men to pay for a substitute gave fuel to the notion that it was a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Tragically, most of the rioters' rage was directed against African Americans.
Gary Moore has long studied mob violence. Gary, what insight can you give us on the NYC Draft Riots?
Polish Cavalry Charging German Panzers?
(Edward Jajko, USA
06/28/19 3:30 AM)
A response to Tor Guimaraes (June 25) and his, on the one hand, rather dismissive brush-off of the accomplishments of the land of my heritage (Poland) and, on the other, revival of a nasty canard from WWII on the basis of an alleged video of Polish cavalry attacking German tanks (which side made this supposed movie?): It's enough to make one wish to call down anathemas from God the Universe, were that possible.
If Tor wants videos on this subject, let him look on YouTube under "Polish cavalry against German tanks." For further information, let him look in Wikipedia under "Charge at Krojanty."
The initial responsibility for this canard lies in the hands of Italian journalists of the Fascist era, notably Indro Alessandro Raffaello Schizogene [!] Montanelli of Corriere della Sera, who jumped to a wrong post hoc, ergo propter hoc conclusion. He viewed the aftermath of the above-referenced battle and found dead uhlans and horses and clear evidence that tanks and armored cars had been in the fight. Ergo, the wrong conclusion, which was reinforced later in the memoir of Heinz Guderian.
JE comments: You cannot make up a name like Indro Alessandro Raffaello Schizogene Montanelli. Our own Tim Ashby is a distant relative of Heinz Guderian, and Cameron Sawyer has long been a student of his tactics. Did Guderian make the claim that the Poles charged his tanks with horses? Why would he write such a thing, especially after the war? It would hardly cloak his panzers in glory to admit they were effective against cavalry but useless when faced with Soviet T-34s.
Indro Alessandro Raffaello Schizogene Montanelli
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
06/30/19 4:46 AM)
Our friend Edward Jajko (28 June) seems rather annoyed by Indro Raffaello Schizogene (!) Montanelli. Ed even makes fun of the real surname of Montanelli--and this coming from a native of a nation famous for its unpronounceable names!
But Montanelli's mistake, shared by the "great" Shirer, may be understandable. Italian public opinion, from Mussolini down to the last citizen, had a great liking for the Poles and later for the Finns, to whom arms were sent and volunteers came forward.
Do not forget that during WWII Italy was the only country that really was friendly towards Poland and unselfishly tried to help. Consider Mussolini's letter to Hitler, open borders for refugees, money sent through Ms Frassati, a friend of Mussolini, married to the Polish diplomat Gasvronski. Such acts were a great irritation to the Third Reich.
However if the the Polish government was not foolish enough to order a charge against German Panzers on horses, it nonetheless after the death of Pilsudski embarked on a foolish campaign against Germany (and the USSR), even printing maps of the new hoped-for borders going back to nine centuries earlier and the time of Bolelasw I Chobry. It moreover claimed to be able to reach Berlin within a fortnight. On top of this, add the persecution of the German minority (or ex-majority) in some areas. Of course it is now politically correct to forget these things.
Montanelli was generally a good journalist who also wrote some history books (very light). He was not a dedicated fascist. After the war he might have been considered a European liberal and for that he was shot and injured by the Red Brigades. Interestingly, he married a 14-year-old Eritrean girl (he was 26). She then became the wife of one of his Eritrean soldiers.
Theoretically Edward is correct about the United Kingdom united by the monarchy, but in practice it is now more a "disunited" kingdom kept united by some old medieval tradition that however has a good record of integration of foreigners (Germans).
JE comments: It was the "Schizogene" part that took Ed Jajko aback, methinks. Wikipedia tells us that Montanelli tried to write with a "milkman from Ohio" as his intended audience. I take this to mean simply and clearly. Today he might reference Joe the Plumber, another Everyman from Ohio. (There aren't many milkmen left.)
Eugenio Battaglia brings up the matter of Polish provocations to Germany. I've always thought of this as Nazi propaganda to justify the invasion, but is there any substance? Granted, even if you print a map of a medieval "Greater Poland," it doesn't warrant starting a war.
- Anti-Black Violence: Cincinnati 1841 (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 07/02/19 3:14 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
John Eipper considerately asked me to contribute on the subject of violent
public feelings (riots and morale) in the North during the American Civil War.
Rather than looking at the war's well-known draft riots, I'd like to point out
some neglected bellwethers: a string of largely anti-black riots in the booming
Cincinnati area in the 1830s-1850s. One reason: these may involve perhaps
the first documented instance of a written ethnic cleansing plan in the nation's
troubled racial history. Another reason: a shocked eyewitness (looking down
on a burning city from the Ohio River bluffs) was Harriett Beecher Stowe,
the fulcrum of the century a few years later when she wrote Uncle Tom's
Beneath the polemics and hagiography on the Civil War, one of its mysteries
is how Northern opinion so suddenly turned anti-slavery, so intensely. As late
as the 1820s, abolitionists in the North were widely viewed as sentimentalist
fanatics oblivious to the value of national unity, and were mobbed and denounced.
Northerners doing so included some reverse sentimentalists along the lines of
Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster ("Way down upon de Swanny Ribber..."), who idealized
plantation life, but many vaguely envisioned slavery as being only an obnoxious
national wart, not worth the cost of removal. Meanwhile, slavery was explosively
growing, as Northern and European manufacturing advances demanded cotton for
fabrics. Waves of pioneer planters pushed west, mass-buying so many slaves for
new empires that trader-speculators were said to break up perhaps one in three slave
marriages in the old settled regions. The occasional smuggling ship was still bringing in
Africans (the Middle Passage had been outlawed since 1808), and movements like the
Knights of the Golden Circle, unsung precursor of the as-yet-unborn Klan, made it
clear that Southern hopes for a newly conquered slave imperium as far south as
Panama and across the Caribbean (the Golden Circle) were very real and serious.
The sources of this picture are all the more credible by their rejection of some of
the more flagrant anti-slavery myths, such as supposed clandestine "stud farms"
for depraved breeding.
In the middle was "the Queen City of the West," Cincinnati, trading with slave-owners
in Kentucky just across the Ohio River and beginning to divide explosively over large numbers
of slaves escaping north. The Cincinnati riot of 1841 targeted a neighborhood housing such
arrivals, accused as a crime nexus, with a tumultuous vigilante-style meeting prior to
the riot producing a morbid scrap of paper showing how the neighborhood was to be erased.
In the event, the rioters (disowned by many other whites) used a six-pounder cannon in efforts
to seek their goal, but fell short, as mob fantasies often do when tested against resistant
reality. The gun boomed through the nighttime glare of flames that could be seen from high
on the bluffs where Harriet Beecher Stowe then lived. The family compound was at Lane Seminary,
run by her distinguished father Lyman Beecher, both an abolitionist and a vehement anti-Catholic, who accidentally helped incite the burning of the Ursuline Convent in Massachusetts
in 1834. The national landscape of passions and demonizations (i.e., "morale") was
a complicated morass.
And now fast-forward from Stowe to a figure of later fame, militia colonel John Chivington,
who, while the Civil War still raged, led a Colorado massacre targeting peaceful, pro-settler Indians,
in this case the Black Kettle faction of the Cheyenne. Chivington was tried and came to be nationally
loathed, but his past before his 1864 massacre was somewhat obscured. He had been a
dedicated Unionist, and he hated the institution of slavery, giving up a career as a preacher
to join the Union army to help stamp slavery out. The westernmost fastnesses of the Civil War in
New Mexico remembered Chivington as a hero, but forgot that he won the 1862 Battle of Glorieta
Pass by a massive supply-line massacre--in this case of Confederate pack animals, apparently hundreds
of them. War is brutal and transport is an established target, but Chivington seemed to be followed
by a penchant for mass solutions, in somewhat the same vein as the racial cleansing plan of
Cincinnati in 1841. As the Civil War neared, Northern opinion was making its tectonic shift,
to reclassify slavery as a national toxin that must be purged--though many hated it more as a
supposed Old World-style patrician ploy that would undermine the white American working man.
Hence there was ambivalence toward the actual individuals caught in its grip, the slaves.
The never-dying idea that the Civil War was actually waged for nefarious Northern economics
ignores this vast landscape of passions. John Chivington and Harriet Beecher Stowe are only two
of the individuals reminding that human sympathies, in all their convolutions, are not always
as neat as the conspiracy theories.
JE comments: Cincinnati now celebrates its front-line abolitionist past with the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, but there are many blotches of racism in the city's history. A quick question for now, Gary: is the "morbid scrap of paper" that inspired the 1841 mob action still extant--or at least, do we know what it said?
- Did the Soviets "Clear" Minefields with Waves of Troops? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/21/19 3:47 AM)
John E asked this question, about Soviet tactics and minefields:
"How true are the Western reports that the Soviet army crossed German minefields [in WWII] the quick way--by advancing waves of troops to ‘explode them out'?"
This idea is either semi- or entirely mythical, and it is based on a famous conversation Eisenhower had with Zhukov. As Eisenhower recounted the conversation, Zhukov said:
"There are two kinds of mines; one is the personnel mine and the other is the vehicular mine. When we come to a minefield, our infantry attacks exactly as if it were not there. The losses we get from personnel mines we consider only equal to those we would have gotten from machine guns and artillery if the Germans had chosen to defend that particular area with strong bodies of troops instead of with minefields. The attacking infantry does not set off the vehicular mines, so after they have penetrated to the far side of the field they form a bridgehead, after which the engineers come up and dig out channels through which our vehicles can go."
From Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe.
Note that the idea which Zhukov is expressing is not that you just thoughtlessly expend lives of your own soldiers because they don't mean anything, but that the casualties are not greater than in other kinds of attacks and so you don't let yourself lose the initiative in attack just because there's a minefield in the way.
However, in any case, there is no historical evidence that I've seen or heard of that this tactic was used on a regular basis with regular Soviet troops, and it is likely that Zhukov was just trying to impress Eisenhower. There is historical evidence that German POWs and Soviet penal battalions ("shtrafbats") were used by the Soviets in this way (and that the Germans used Soviet POWs to clear minefields). Both sides in this extremely brutal conflict abused, starved to death, worked to death, and murdered each other's POWs, not to mention civilians in occupied territories. There are recorded cases of Germans driving Russian civilians through minefields to clear them.
Eisenhower's quote of Zhukov has been used by Soviet dissidents to illustrate the brutality of the Soviet regime, for example:
The idea being that Soviet soldiers were not regarded as human beings, but merely as material, but that was true of Soviet society altogether. There is some truth to this, of course--the ideology of radical collectivism does not place any particular value on the individual, and there is brutality inherent in that, something rightly repulsive to more freedom-loving people like us. But I think that in this case the remarks are taken out of context; Zhukov did not indeed talk about just thoughtlessly wasting human lives, but rather using them to achieve a particular goal, and not disproportionately to the expenditure of human lives in other aspects of war. I don't think that's a good example of the Soviet system not regarding Soviet soldiers as being people.
But the other aspect of Zhukov's quote is the Soviet military fetish for keeping the initiative in battle and avoiding static situations at all costs. Soviet soldiers were probably not used to clear minefields, at least not on any scale, but one can well imagine a Soviet commander expending some lives like that in order to break through or avoid getting stuck in a static situation. One can imagine a German commander doing the same thing, for that matter.
There are good discussions in some of the military forums on this question. My favorite military forum is feldgrau.com, which has a lot of really superb experts among the members. But there are a number of other good ones. Here is one discussion with particularly good remarks:
"There's a great deal of inaccuracy regarding Soviet tactics, especially with regards wasting men. Towards the end of the war especially, the German:Soviet kill ratio is actually close to what one would expect for two equally skilled armies.
"The Soviets used mine rollers and artillery barrages, with the shell fuses on super-quick for surface bursts, to clear minefields, but I am given to understand that on occasion they did simply storm across minefields. This effect of this was that they got forces across an area that the Germans didn't expect, allowing them to outflank and reduce a position without a frontal assault. The reasoning was something like it was either go through the mines or attack a position. The casualties would have been the same either way, and going through the minefield was probably faster, which is a huge bonus for Soviet operational art, AIUI."
"'Have been seen' is a little vague. I doubt the General was at the front. There are other stories about unarmed soldiers assaulting-grabbing rifles from comrades once those fall. But this are probably just a few incidents. What is true is that massive waves of infantry usually followed tank breakthrus and overrun weakened positions.
"In desperate moments soldiers might resort to these actions--after all there were even Kamikaze pilots. Penal battalions might act this way. A commander under intense pressure from his commissar might act this way.
"There is also a quote about something like this: ‘It takes 1200 Soviets to overrun a position, 200 of them mountain troops. 1000 fall, and then the 200 mountain troops climb across the hills of those fallen.' Stories tend to exaggerate real actions. It is human behaviour to flesh out some stories.
"So I am gonna tell you a different story.
"It starts with ‘they ran densely packed thru our minefields completely ignoring the mines and thus effectively removing all mines in their path'. If you run towards a MG, it doesn't matter if there are mines, too--once you wait, the MG will get you... or the commissar in the rear. Your chances are best when you run. So this is still a somewhat reasonable story.
"Now add some propaganda (e.g. stupid ‘Untermenschen', evil enemy government not caring for their own people etc.) or the need to emphasize the risks and problems of the front line troops. Do this 2 or 3 times, once each time the report goes one echelon up. ‘Dense' gets ‘side by side'. As you can't run side by side it must be marching instead of running. And you have a story that has a small core of truth, sounds plausible (as everyone knows that the Soviets had human waves) but is widely exaggerated.
"As the true core happened often, the story sounds very plausible and upon hearing it many German soldiers might have said ‘Yes, something similar happened to us, too'. Thus you get many sources confirming it... until everybody believes it.
Lastly, there is a whole book on the subject of the attitude towards human life in Soviet military doctrine:
The Value of Life in Soviet Warfare, by the Israeli military historian Amnon Sella, see: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Value-Human-Life-Soviet-Warfare/dp/1138874302/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=The+Value+of+Human+Life+in+Soviet+Warfare+ByAmnon+Sella&qid=1561038041&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmr0
(The text can be read online in Questia by anyone with a subscription; that's how I got it. The conclusion was that in the context of the overall brutality and bloodiness of the conflict, there was no unusual profligacy in the expenditure of human life by the Soviets.)
JE comments: One of the forum comments above states that the Soviets were aghast that the Americans would sacrifice skilled engineers to clear minefields. There's a harsh logic to this.
Either say, a Russian-size spasibo to Cameron Sawyer. As a final question on this topic, can we talk more about morale? The French clearly couldn't muster it in 1939-'40, and the Soviets had precious little in '41. Italian morale collapsed early in the war, although Eugenio Battaglia will probably correct me here.
Another WWII Myth: Poles Attacking Tanks with Cavalry
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
06/22/19 4:15 AM)
While we're talking about mythological beliefs about how the various armies fought in WWII, let's talk about the old canard concerning the Polish forces supposedly attacking German tanks on horseback with sabres.
Many people who don't know much about the war, like to find ways to interpret the events to conform with broad national prejudices, like that the Soviets didn't have anything but huge brute masses of people, and that the Poles were backwards and stupid enough to use horses against tanks.
All this is totally false. It takes a lot of twisting to imagine how the Soviets could have actually beaten the Germans, if all they had was brute masses of people and nothing else (maybe Lend Lease), but it's easy to dismiss the war effort of the poor Poles, who could not beat the invading German forces.
But the horses against tanks myth is total nonsense. No one in this part of the world would ever dismiss the Polish military as backwards and stupid. The Poles are a great and ferocious military nation, the only people besides the Mongols to conquer Moscow--something neither Napoleon nor Hitler nor the Swedes were ever able to do. The Poles defeated the Russians again in 1920 when the new Soviet Union tried--with encouragement of the UK and France, and military assistance of Lithuania--to reconquer Poland (immortalized in the stories of Isaac Babel).
The Poles' fierce resistance to the invading Nazi forces in 1939 is a totally different story from the invasion of France the following year. They inflicted severe casualties on the Germans, including the destruction of nearly a thousand German tanks and a large part of the German air force before being finally overwhelmed by the huge disparity in forces (more than 75% of the entire German military was involved).
The Poles did not use horse cavalry in the campaign to any greater extent than did the Germans or the Soviets, and far from being outmoded, horse cavalry was highly effective and highly valued by all the combatants on the Eastern Front. Contrary to our prejudices, the Germans were the most dependent of any of the combatants of WWII on horses, and the Germans increased their use of horse cavalry during the course of the war, see: http://www.worldwar2facts.org/the-overlooked-german-cavalry-in-ww2.html .
The Soviets also used horse cavalry to great effect in the war, many of the units formed of Cossacks (many Cossacks fought for the Germans, too).
JE comments: The Poles' tenacious fighting against the Germans in 1939 (and later) is no news in this house, but I'm curious about 1920: how did the British and French encourage the Soviets?
Cameron, you hint above at another common WWII belief: France's cowardice. Remember the old joke: "For sale, French army rifle. Never fired; dropped once." Does this one warrant debunking, too?
Italy's Home Front Morale, WWII
(Roy Domenico, USA
06/23/19 4:25 AM)
Regarding morale during World War II, I deal with some of this for my current project on the Italian home front. As a dictatorship, Fascist Italy faced some problems. The Regime simply had to know what the people were thinking--but how?
I'm finding that some of the best indicators of public opinion were the Catholic press that still functioned across the country but especially the two "flagships"--Osservatore Romano and the Civiltà Cattolica; foreign reports, such as from the US embassy and--later--the Allied Commission; postwar memoirs; police reports; and even newspapers that operated under the Fascists, like Milan's Corriere della sera, Bologna's Resto del carlino, and Rome's Il Messaggero. These last because they can indicate the government's worries.
I've noticed, for example, the prominent place for stories about severe punishments for black marketers. There are also frequent articles about compliance with air raid procedures. Why? Because the people were clearly ignoring them--something borne out in other studies. This work is for a series from Fordham University Press on "Home Fronts" in World War Two. Finally, if I may blow my own horn. I recently got some good news--that Catholic University of America Press will publish my manuscript--"The Devil and the Dolce Vita" about the Catholics and their battles over secularism/secularization from 1948 (the great Christian Democratic electoral victory) and 1974 (the catastrophic divorce referendum).
JE comments: Congratulations, Roy! Just yesterday (thrift shop) I bought a bookcase to add to the WAIS library. Always need more shelf space. Keep us updated on when The Devil and the Dolce Vita becomes available; now I have a spot for it--after reading, of course!
In the meantime, can you send us a paragraph or two on Italy's WWII black markets? Perhaps we could expand this discussion to all of Europe? It's a fascinating topic that we've never addressed on WAIS.
Next up on Italy's home front morale: Eugenio Battaglia, who was there.
- Italy's WWII Morale (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/23/19 5:13 AM)
Commenting on the excellent (as usual) post of Cameron Sawyer, our esteemed moderator asked about the morale of various nations at war. In another recent post, Cameron discussed the fake tale of the brave Polish Cavalry against German tanks.
Cavalry was indeed used in the East in WWII. The Italian Savoy Cavalry (700 men) on 24 August 1942 charged at Isbuscenskij and broke through their encirclement by Soviet forces (2500 men), inflicting heavy casualties. The Italians had 32 losses while the Russians lost 150 men and 600 prisoners.
But if the Poles did not foolishly face German tanks on horseback, they were not wise in another area. They were deluded to think they would reach Berlin in a fortnight because, confident in the Gamelin military accord, they did not expect to be betrayed by their Western allies.
Tor Guimaraes made some good points about morale. Let's look at the Italian example.
The main reasons for the fall of morale were the lousy monarchist and/or Masonic generals and admirals. (Please note that there is an abyss between American and Italian Masons.) These officers should have been put in front of a firing squad for treason, cowardice or lousy actions. Among these I would include the vainglorious and greedy General Badoglio for his poor management of the Army. Just read the records of Mussolini's meeting with the generals and Ciano, when they convinced him to go to war against Greece. For sure they deserved to be shot at least for their stupidity in time of war.
Another cause was the king, who according the "best" Savoy traditions, after liking the idea of going to war alongside Germany, which seemed to be winning, decided to go over to the side of the former enemy which seemed to be the new winner.
Unfortunately, Mussolini respected the high brass and the chief of the State. He was a great statist, a great social reformer and builder, according to Churchill the greatest living legislator, but as Uncle Joe Stalin is reported to have said, "the main fault of Mussolini was not to put his enemies in front of a firing squad." According to some historians many were not enemies of Mussolini but of the new efficient Italy.
Anyway the 180,000 combatants who did not try to go home but remained in the line of fire, together with the 800,000 who joined the armies of the RSI, prove that morale was not so bad after all. Do not forget the civilians that rebuilt a state and made it functioning with finances in order until the end, despite the overwhelming negative odds.
Personally as a kid I remember the many cases of people who wanted peace but with victory or at least with honor. In the first days of the enemy occupation, I continued my little war, refusing a chocolate that was offered me. But the average American was nice.
A friend of mine joined the RSI when 16. When his unit finally surrendered he managed to escape southward, where the Republican soldiers were not shot on sight by the Red partisans. He also managed to join a ferry to cross the river Arno (all the bridges were destroyed). The boat was full of American soldiers and the officer in charge looked at him and asked if he was a fascist. The poor fool proudly said yes and the officer immediately turned to grab something. My friend was convinced that the officer was going to shoot him. But the officer really wanted to take shots at him but with a camera. Yes, the Americans wanted some photos and were friendly with the defeated former enemy. Glory to them!
JE comments: Nothing defeats morale like (military) defeat. Historians often use the word "demoralized" to describe a routed army. I suspect it's when they don't know what else to say.
Eugenio, all nations used conscription in WWII. Are there statistics on how many of the nearly 1 million RSI combatants went voluntarily?
RSI Combatants: Volunteers and Conscripts
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
06/24/19 2:29 PM)
A very good question from our moderator: "Are there statistics on how many of the nearly 1 million RSI combatants went voluntarily?" (See my post of June 23rd.)
Before trying to answer, I applaud the project of our friend Roy Domenico (also 23 June). May I suggest that he pay attention to the articles of Carlo Silvestri in Il Corriere? An interesting fellow; in 1924 Silvestri was the main accuser of Mussolini for the murder of of Matteotti, then he became convinced of Mussolini's innocence, became a friend and also his main defender after the war. By the way, the Matteotti family was also convinced of Mussolini's innocence. Roy should also consult the newspaper L'Italia del Popolo of the Partito Repubblicano Socialista Italiano, appreciated by Mussolini but opposed by the Nazis and extremist Fascists.
Back to the volunteers. The first armed forces to fight for the RSI were volunteers only. The RSI had the greatest ever number of volunteers in all history of Italy.
For a few months there was a fierce debate inside the government about the necessity of a conscript army (this was the view of General Graziani, Minister of War) or not (the preference of the die-hard fascists). In the end Graziani won and on 18 April 1944 the classes of 1922, 1923, and 1924 were called to arms. Graziani was legally correct but wrong for the time being, as these were not the conditions for a large army. There were not enough supplies, as well as distrust from the Third Reich. These adverse conditions caused a certain number of deserters and many of them ended up with the partisans. On 25 April and 28 October 1944 amnesties were made for the draft dodgers and many returned.
The conscripts largely went to the great divisions San Marco, Monterosa, Littorio, Italia, plus to the Navy and Air Force, but the base was formed of volunteers. The volunteers were in X Mas of Borghese, Guardia Nazionale Repubblicana, the largest (145,000 men), followed by the Brigate Nere (110,000), the various regiments of Bersaglieri who covered themselves of glory fighting in Istria, Ausiliarie, Legione Autonoma Muti, Cacciatori degli Appennini, Fiamme Bianche (teens of 15-17 years old; they were attacked by partizans and easily defeated them), battalions of Italians from abroad, etc.
The first volunteers were arranged by the Germans within the Wermacht and the Waffen SS (see the 29 Waffen Grenadier Division de SS Italienish n° 1), and it was very difficult to have them returned to the army of the RSI. Following an accord between Mussolini and Hitler in the spring of 1944, about 100,000 Italian POWs in Germany volunteered, while others became free workers in agriculture and industry. Only the monarchists (see the author Guareschi of Don Camillo) and a strongly antifascist minority remained in the POW camps. The new Italian republic--lay, democratic and antifascist--does not want to acknowledge such facts and speaks only of Italian prisoners in Germany as member of the resistance (sic).
Here is something absolutely not known about D-Day. On the small island of Cezembre in front of Saint-Malo there was an Italian San Marco battalion with the Germans. Only 69 survivors, most of whom were wounded, surrendered on 2 September 1944 when ammunition, food and water ran out. The Italians in Bordeaux surrendered only in early May. Cezembre was the most bombed place in the world.
Immediately after the war survivors from the volunteers of the RSI and their relatives joined the Anti-Bolshevik International Front ("Stay Behind") sponsored by the US:
About morale and willingness to fight: Maybe in the USSR morale improved following Stalin's order n° 270 of 10 August 1941: "if some Red Army men prefer to surrender they shall be destroyed by all possible means, whereas their families shall be deprived of the state allowance and relief and are liable to be arrested."
Such order was followed by a prohibition to the International Red Cross to care for the Soviet POWs in Germany.
JE comments: Perhaps we've found another WWII shibboleth for dissection: did Stalin really put most returning Soviet POWs in Gulags--or execute them? And did the Soviets likewise go after the prisoners' families?
Stalin and Returning Soviet POWs
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
06/29/19 4:56 AM)
JE posed this question: "Did Stalin really put most returning Soviet POWs in Gulags--or execute them? And did the Soviets likewise go after the prisoners' families?"
I would be most interest to hear what Boris Volodarsky has to say about this.
I have known, and have loved, the ptitomtsev--the descendants, I don't actually know the English word for this, of the families who were destroyed by this policy. Yes, Stalin murdered POWs returned from Germany, and in mass quantities, and arrested and exiled family members. The idea was that if a Soviet soldier surrendered rather than dying for the cause, then prima facie, he was a traitor, and he was treated as such. The monstrosity of this is unspeakable.
JE comments: Some shibboleths, like some stereotypes, exist for a reason: because they're true. Warfare reveals two types of attitudes towards POWs: those that treat them as traitors (Japan, USSR in WWII), and those who make them heroes (think of John McCain and yellow ribbons in general). I prefer to think of the "our" group as more civilized, but there's a tactical logic behind the former view. You fight harder. Remember the Spartans: "come back with your shield, or on it." (Full disclosure: Cameron Sawyer and I are Michigan Wolverines, not Michigan State Spartans.)
- Another WWII Shibboleth: French Cowardice (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/27/19 3:28 AM)
I don't know why even quite keen minds are attracted to these cartoon versions of WWII history, with borderline racist explanations for the actions of the different players--French and Italian cowards, Polish stupidity and primitiveness, Russian hordes, etc. Absolutely none of this has anything to do with reality. French soldiers were every bit as brave as German ones.
The French were certainly not cowards. They fought ferociously at the beginning of the campaign against the Germans. Unlike the Russians, however, they had not modernized their tactics, and they were still obsessed with static defense (the Maginot Line, as the very emblem of this thinking). This was the whole problem. The French had invested vast amounts of money into building up their armed forces, and had a larger and better equipped army and air force than the Germans at the beginning of the war. French doctrine believed that the next war with the Germans would be another long war of attrition, and that economic and production ability would decide the conflict. Unfortunately they did not get the memo about the radical change of military doctrine cooked up by the Germans (Guderian et al.) and the Soviets (Tukachevsky et al.) and so they made the fatal error of pouring a large part of that wealth and effort into vast static defenses which turned out to be practically useless in the new type of warfare. So in the event, the German doctrine of deep penetration and disruption of the enemy's rear was devastatingly effective and the French were defeated before their superior industrial capacity could be brought to bear.
Could the French have continued fighting? It's a good question which is still debated by historians, and I can't answer it. Possibly if the French had been as fanatically tenacious as the Russians were the next year, they could have managed to hold on and regroup, but if you study this campaign you will see how desperate the situation was for the French, and it's pretty hard to blame them for giving up.
Comparing this to the Soviet effort--certainly, the Soviets were incredibly tenacious, taking huge casualties and virtual destruction of the main part of the Soviet Army in the first two months of the war, without giving up, but the Soviets had huge advantages besides tenacity--first of all, and crucially, in that Soviet military doctrine was equal to the task of dealing with the German onslaught. So unlike the French, the Soviets were not surprised by the German so-called "Blitzkrieg" (never called that by the Germans). "Blitzkrieg" was quite like the Soviets' own military doctrine, and the Soviet approach to defense was to parry these thrusts, to move and attack, and keep moving and keep attacking and attacking, not to dig in behind fixed defenses. By December, 1941, this doctrine started to work, and the Germans started to get a taste of their own medicine. Second, the Soviets had more geographic space to absorb the German "Blitzkrieg," more space to move around in and to capitalize on superior Soviet mobility and logistics. Without either of these factors, Operation Barbarossa might have succeeded. Certainly, Hitler counted on beating the Soviets like he beat the numerically superior French, but he underestimated Soviet military doctrine first of all, then Soviet industrial capacity. He did not indeed underestimate the challenges of geography--Hitler was famously obsessed with the Russian defeat of Napoleon. He nevertheless failed to overcome it.
JE comments: Cameron, do you also accept the oft-repeated point of historians, that the French people simply had no stomach for war after the slaughter of the previous one? The Germans suffered equally on the Western Front, but at least they had revenge as a motivation (as the French did in 1914). Ultimately, the French decided with Pétain that it was preferable to try their luck under the German boot than to continue the bloodletting.
The image says it all...I think...
France's Military Prowess; Anniversary of Versailles Treaty
(Timothy Brown, USA
06/28/19 3:46 AM)
As an Honorary Member of the 3rd French Foreign Legion, former Acting Director of the State Dept. US-NATO Affairs in Washington DC and, later, Consul General in Martinique to the FWIs (French West Indies), I worked closely, often daily, with France's civilian and military authorities for more than five years.
Basing my years of hands-on personal experience with the French, I second Cameron Sawyer (June 27th) and add the following. Had it not been for France's support of the American revolutionary efforts that were decisive during the Revolutionary War and more recently France's actions during WWI, WWII and the Cold War, their outcomes might have been very different.
JE comments: Today marks the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Versailles Treaty (June 28th, 1919), probably the most important event to happen in France in the 20th century. (My thanks to Eugenio Battaglia for reminding me of today's significance.) In retrospect, Versailles achieved but one thing: it guaranteed that the Great War would have a rematch (the "Peace to end all Peace"). I hope we'll discuss the treaty further, but here's a surprising question: Did Versailles get anything...right? Perhaps nothing more than restoring Polish independence, as well as creating the new states of Central Europe.
- "No Stomach for War": France 1939-'40 (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/28/19 4:25 AM)
John E asked, "Cameron, do you also accept the oft-repeated point of historians, that the French people simply had no stomach for [WWII] after the slaughter of the previous one? The Germans suffered equally in the Great War, but at least they had revenge as a motivation (as the French did in 1914). Ultimately, the French decided with Pétain that it was preferable to try their luck under the German boot than to continue the bloodletting."
Who knows? There is probably a grain of truth to it, but I think at best this is an oversimplification. The French were beaten at the time they gave up--should they have kept fighting after they were beaten? I probably wouldn't have. Arguably the Russians were also beaten by August, 1941, and they did keep fighting what for a time looked like a completely hopeless fight, taking horrendous casualties.
But the difference is that unlike the French, the Russians did have what it took to come back and win. Did they know that? Did the French really know for sure they didn't? Who knows! But don't rely on oversimplified explanations. The French were not cowards--for sure. They may have been tired of fighting, but that was not the only reason they gave up.
JE comments: We raised this question earlier, but perhaps there's more to be said: was there any plausible way France could have kept fighting? It's not a nation that lends itself well to guerrilla warfare. You need rough terrain and vast wilderness for that.
On a tangentially related note, today's big World Cup match is a showdown between the US and host country France. Given his rocky relationship with our team, I expect Trump to cheer for France.
- Don't Overlook the Pacific Front (Timothy Brown, USA 06/21/19 4:11 AM)
Once again, the Pacific front is treated as if nothing of any importance whatsoever took place during WWII beyond Europe's Eastern front. I beg to disagree. But then, based on my ten+ years dealing with continental Europeans on a daily basis, I'm not surprised.
JE comments: We've been discussing the war in Europe--particularly on the Soviet front. You can't talk about everything--although in 41,475 postings, WAIS eventually does. And will. (!)
I do hope we can shift our discussion to Japanese tactics and their attitude towards human life. The West took it for granted that the Japanese valued individual life even less than the Soviets did.
Regarding the relative importance of the two WWII "theaters" (or was it four?), here's an opening volley for discussion. It's based on nothing more than a seat-of-the-pants view:
Had there been no WWII in the Pacific, the European war would have looked more or less the same. But had there been no war in Europe, the Pacific conflict would have played out very differently.
World War(s) II: the Asian War
(Cameron Sawyer, Russia
06/24/19 4:25 AM)
Timothy Brown wrote on June 21st: "Once again [on WAIS], the Pacific front is treated as if nothing of any importance whatsoever took place during WWII beyond Europe's Eastern front."
No one said that. On the contrary, I have always said that what we refer to, erroneously in my view, as "World War II," was not a world war. It was two big wars plus a number of peripheral and preliminary conflicts. The two big wars were Germany vs. USSR in Europe (with preliminary skirmishes and sideshows in Western and Southern Europe, a sideshow in North Africa, and a somewhat unrelated war in the Balkans), and then the big war of Japan vs. China in the Pacific, which later became Japan vs. the US (with different preliminaries and sideshows).
The Asian conflict had almost nothing to do with the European one. The Asian conflict was a big one (if however not nearly as big as the European one), and the US played the main role there just as the USSR played the main role in Europe.
Whether the Japanese had any particular low valuation of human life I don't know, and would be happy to learn from those who know more about that conflict than I do. As to the Soviet valuation of human life--I thought we had debunked that myth. It was no lower than the Germans', despite certain mythical beliefs which persist in some quarters. But that has nothing to do with Japan.
As to how not having either the European or the Pacific war, would have affected the other war--it's always fun to speculate.
Would the US have entered either war, without Pearl Harbor? Remember Germany declared war on the US first, just days after Pearl Harbor. There was still a lot of public opposition to the war in the US. I really don't know, but if the US had stayed out of either war, then it's hard to imagine how the Japanese would have been stopped. We might today have Japanese domination of most of the Pacific and SE Asia.
Without the US participation in the European war, the Germans would certainly have been defeated all the same, but the post-war map would have been very different, and the Soviets might have overrun most or all of continental Europe--a horrible thought. Preventing this was a significant US war aim in Europe, perhaps the primary one, and in my view a sensible one. Entering the European war when and as it did, the US gained huge influence over the post-war world, at minimal cost (compared to the other combatants), creating what our Eugenio Battaglia calls, not without justice, "The Empire."
Unfortunately this success led the US to the erroneous belief that by overthrowing evil governments of other countries by force, as a general practice, we would continue to earn gratitude and gain friends and markets just like what happened after WWII. The "planning" (the tongue hardly twists to apply that term here) for the Iraqi War was based on such an absurd idea. So in the long run, it looks like what was profitable in the decades after the war is now coming back to haunt us, and may ultimately destroy us.
JE comments: A question for further discussion: Has there ever been a case when "nation-building" did not eventually destroy the nation doing the building? "Destroy" may be too strong a word. Perhaps "impoverish" is better. Think Rome, Spain, Great Britain...
World War(s) II: Were the Asian and European Wars Unrelated?
(Sasha Pack, USA
06/25/19 4:21 AM)
I have enjoyed Cameron Sawyer's informative essays on World War II, and especially the German-Soviet aspect. I have learned from and generally agree with his informed interpretations, though I'd like to introduce a somewhat different perspective on a few matters.
First, the assertion that the Pacific and European theaters were unrelated. This might be an exaggeration. According to US military planners in 1940, a Pacific war must be subordinated to the European war, since the defeat of Japan was not possible without the defeat of Hitler. This was mainly due to (1) the concern that in the event of the Third Reich conquering all of Europe the US fleet would be too compromised defending the Atlantic to make significant progress in the Pacific; and (2) British assistance would be needed to defeat Japan in Asia. This created a bit of a political problem for Roosevelt, since American public opinion generally regarded Japan, not Germany, as the chief enemy, especially after Pearl Harbor. But this problem was somewhat resolved by Hitler, who preemptively declared war on the US four days after PH, 11 December 1941, even though he was not obligated to do so by the terms of the Tripartite Pact. (Incidentally, this was the same day the Zhukov's counteroffensive on the Kalinin front elicited the first mass German surrenders of the war.) Hitler's declaration of war on the US did have a certain logic, as it enabled him to respond more aggressively to American participation in the Battle of the Atlantic, which had been intensifying since the summer. The moment seemed especially propitious for Hitler given that the US was now tied up on a second front.
Which brings me to another point: the idea that the prime US contribution was industrial rather than military. It turns out to be very difficult to separate these two concepts. US industrial power was useless without the ability to get all those jeeps to Russia. The projection of naval power in the Atlantic was therefore significant, including the war on the U-Boats that were interdicting huge amounts of shipping to Britain and the USSR. Of course, even at the height of their reign of terror, the U-Boats were not sinking enough Allied shipping to be decisive. But then again, nothing in World War II was decisive, enabling us to discuss it endlessly. The ultimate success against the U-Boats by the middle of 1943 still has to be counted as a significant US military contribution.
America made other military contributions to the defeat of the Third Reich. The most obvious is the bombing raids. These were not conducted with the goal of breaking German morale--only Stalin seems to have thought they could have this effect. The West had learned from the Spanish Civil War and the London Blitz not to put much stock in that outcome. The goal was to break German industry--not so much by hitting factories, as it turned out, but by destroying working-class neighborhoods where the factory workers lived (another reason it is difficult to separate the military from the industrial, and the Air Force through this rational calculation drifted into war-crimes territory). Absenteeism was up to 20-25% in major munitions factories by mid-1944, somewhat higher, incidentally, than the absenteeism in US factories due to strike activity. Of course, the Germans continued to produce, but they had to produce more fighters to defend their airspace from the raids, meaning they could produce fewer of the bombers that had been devastating Western Russia. There is no doubt that an impartial judge would call many elements of the Combined Bombing Offensive war crimes--Curtis Lemay, who led similar operations over Japan, said so out loud--but it is nonetheless telling that starting in early 1945 Germans who were able flocked westward, hoping to wind up under British or American occupation rather than being overrun by the Red Army.
The above is based on my notes from secondary sources; I am currently traveling and away from my library, so I'd be pleased to hear corrections. I also would add some more speculative thoughts. The Anglo-American amphibious landings in North Africa may have been more significant than they first appear. They awakened a true anti-fascist coalition in France and elsewhere, encompassing socialists, liberals, conservatives, as well as Communists, giving hope that Hitler could be defeated by someone other the USSR. Facing a stark choice between Hitler or Stalin, I suspect many in continental Europe and even Britain would have fought on in support of German overlordship, especially in the West where most non-Jewish subjects were not treated as subhuman. Good thing that the democratic ascendancy gave an alternative. I believe US policy early on was in fact to defeat Hitler, not to contain the USSR in Europe. The initial American strategy was to amass overwhelming firepower in the UK and then go straight for the jugular of Berlin. The indirect approach came at Churchill's behest, as he feared that British counterweight to growing Soviet influence in SE Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean could be lost.
Another counterfactual speculation is the proposition that had the Americans not fought Japan, the Allies might not have won in Europe. Had the Japanese successfully exploited anti-colonial sentiment in India and the Middle East, turning these regions to the Axis sphere, a Soviet effort would have been far more complicated. On the other hand, the Axis powers were so preternaturally inept at sustaining good will in the territories they occupied that this scenario seems far-fetched. On another note, I would be interested to know the extent to which the American Marines' practice with amphibious landings in the Pacific conditioned the success of the D-Day landings.
American military participation in World War II provided an alternative that made WWII into something more than the Nazi-Communist struggle of the Eastern front. The historian Charles Maier divides the war into four related struggles: the struggle for mastery of Europe; the Nazi-Soviet ideological war; the war for the future of China; and the world of civil wars over the future character of nations. US military intervention was important to all of these, though with the third it failed in its ultimate objective, and with the fourth there were many lost opportunities. Had the US supported Ho Chi Minh in 1945 over the objections of Charles De Gaulle, Vietnam could have been a bulwark against Communist expansion rather than the tragic morass it became. So observes the historian Robert Dallek.
Finally, I don't see how the proposition that the Soviet's biggest contribution was manpower has been contradicted. They were the ones, after all, who endured the largest attack ever staged. A country with a smaller population could not have survived the surprise German onslaught (surprise to Stalin, anyway) for any length of time, let alone the six months or so that it took for the Soviet army to get its act together and for the grave strategic hubris of the Axis to become apparent. That said, there is no doubt that the Soviets did not ultimately defeat the Germans on manpower alone, but possessed first-class weaponry and military skill.
As for explaining the mystery of Soviet soldiers' morale, here is a bit of idle speculation: drugs? It is well documented that the Germans were making massive orders of high-concentration methamphetamine tablets for the Wehrmacht. I've never used meth myself, but I can tell you that two cups of coffee do wonders for my morale each morning. If the Soviets were on par militarily with the Germans in so many other respects, what is known about Soviet pharmaceuticals?
JE comments: Who needs sleep (or food) when there's Pervitin? Did the Russians have an equivalent?
Sasha Pack brings several important reflections to this conversation. First of all, I never before saw the "logic" of Hitler's declaration of war on the US after Pearl Harbor. To my mind, adding another continental power (after Russia) to your enemy list was nothing short of insanity, but the US was indeed focused on Japan, giving the Germans an opportunity.
As Sasha urges, we should also see North Africa more than a "sideshow": it was a significant moral and ideological boost to the Western Allies, who no longer had to see the war as a choice between Hitler and Stalin.
Fascinating post, Sasha. Are you in France at present? Anything WAISworthy to report on national politics?
US Air Base in Natal, Brazil
(David Fleischer, Brazil
06/27/19 3:54 AM)
Regarding the conflict against the Germans in North Africa, the US built a huge air base in Natal, Brazil
that was used to ferry material and supplies in transport planes across Africa to India and Burma.
The Americans loaded up some bombers with extra gasoline and were able to fly non-stop to
North Africa, bomb the Germans and fly back to Natal without refueling. Natal is the the most eastern
point of Brazil into the South Atlantic Ocean.
JE comments: The outgoing bombers must have been flying extremely overloaded. There's a small club of airports that have become largely obsolete due to increased flight range. To Natal we could add the two "biggies"--Gander in Newfoundland and Shannon in Ireland (first-ever duty-free!). We could add a couple of Pacific islands to this list.
- Soviet Reverse-Engineering in WWII (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/15/19 2:35 PM)
I pretty much agree with Cameron Sawyer's conclusions of June 14th, and just wish to add an interesting point which I recently learned regarding USSR and US "cooperation" during WWII.
We all know how important Lend Lease was to the Brits and the USSR, how Stalin was adamant about his allies opening a second front across the Channel rather than just in Africa and the soft belly of Europe. Much to my surprise I learned that the Russian did not have long-range bombers to do what the Brits and Americans were doing to Germany.
Yet they surprised everyone when they showed bombers which looked remarkably like ours. Having nothing to do with Lend Lease. It happened because Stalin was willing to accept US bombers damaged while attacking Japan but being neutral on Japan he had to manage the process carefully. One of Stalin's directives was for Russian designers to copy the US bombers exactly, the highest form of admiration.
JE comments: The plane is the Tupolev Tu-4, but it didn't arrive until 1947. Nothing is more terrifying than a huge bomber, but hear one in action and yes, it's very cool. I witnessed a British Lancaster fire up at an air show a few years back, and it puts the fear of God in you. (Only three Tupolev Tu-4s survive, two of them in China.)
The Russians were busy with reverse-engineering during WWII. Another famous example, the ZiS 110 limousine, copied from a Packard Super Eight:
- Killing of POWs in WWII (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/15/19 3:20 PM)
I read and re-read the post of Cameron Sawyer (14 June), and found it the best essay on WWII that I know about, very well-detailed and without bias.
I would like, for what it is worth, to offer Cameron all my gratitude and admiration, as this nasty Bastian Contrario completely concurs.
Returning to our topic on casualties, does this include the criminal killing of
prisoners? The Soviets had a particular fondness for this, and not even Eisenhower with
his ill-famed DEF could reach their high figures. The historian Heinz
Nawratil reports on a shameful episode of the US Army, which refused to accept
the surrender of German troops in Saxony and Bohemia. Rather, they handed them to the
Soviet forces (killing them outright would have been more humane). Of course the British were worse, handing Vlasov's ROA men to the Soviets and Pavelic's men to Tito.
As I said before, the Yugoslavian coup delayed the German attack on the USSR and absorbed a
lot of troops precluding the sharp knock-out blow (so well said by Cameron)
by the deadline of 7 December 1941.
JE comments: Were the Germans any less inhumane to POWs than the Soviets? We commonly believe that the Japanese were the cruelest of all to their captives, but this may be Hollywood's doing.
On Vlasov's collaborationist ROA (Russian Liberation) Army, see this 2013 post from Luciano Dondero. Vlasov was hanged in 1946. Luciano wrote that the Anglo-Americans handed him over to the Soviets, while Wikipedia says he was captured by the Soviets prior to reaching the Western Allies. What really happened?
What Happened to General Vlasov?
(Eugenio Battaglia, Italy
06/17/19 3:51 AM)
Wikipedia, Wikipedia! John E noted the different accounts of the fate of General Andrey Andreyevich Vlasov of the Russian Liberation Army.
The Italian version states that Vlasov surrendered to the Western forces and was then handed over to the Soviets.
The Spanish version states that Vlasov was captured by USA and immediately sent to Moscow.
The French version states that Vlasov and his officers looked for asylum with the Western Allies, but were refused and then delivered to or captured by the Soviets.
The Portuguese version states that Vlasov was captured by the Soviets.
However the best version is from The Secret Betrayal 1944-1947 by Nikolai Tolstoy, where the betrayal and tragedy of Vlasov and his men near Pilsen on 11 May 1945 are clearly related.
JE comments: Vlasov's ultimate fate is not in doubt: the Soviets executed him. But how he got there is a surprising historical mystery. Shouldn't the record be able to tell us if he willingly surrendered to the Anglo-Americans, tried to but was refused, or was captured outright by them...or by the Soviets?
Vlasov switched sides at least twice: first as a POW by allying with the Germans, and later by attempting (unsuccessfully) to support a Czech uprising against the Germans. That's not a way to make friends or find sympathy with historians. Could this have something to do with the way his capture/surrender is (mis)remembered?
- Did the Eastern Front Claim 90% of German Casualties? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/16/19 7:57 AM)
To address John E's question, we will never know the exact number of dead on either side on the Eastern Front. I have with my own eyes seen skeletons still lying in the forest near Vyazma, with shreds of Wehrmacht uniforms still on them. I have a Wehrmacht helmet in my garage with a bullet hole through both sides of it, picked up from next to one of them.
But the latest work on WWII casualties looks pretty solid, and shows 2,742,909 dead on the Eastern Front through the end of 1944, compared to 339,957 in the West. 1945 is a little more difficult, but if we believe the official Heeresarzt weekly casualty reports for 1945, 83% of the 1,230,045 killed in the "final battles" of 1945 occurred in the East. Then if you consider another million German soldiers missing in the East, two or three of whose bones, no doubt, were among those I saw with my own eyes, then the total is well over 90%. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/German_casualties_in_World_War_II
90% is an approximate number, but is widely accepted by historians--as an approximation. The reality might be 80% or might be 95%, and I doubt if we will ever know exactly.
JE comments: The essential takeaway: the true killing fields for German combatants were in the East.
- Did the Eastern Front Claim 90% of German Casualties? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/16/19 7:57 AM)
- Soviet Reverse-Engineering in WWII (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/15/19 2:35 PM)
- US Air Base in Natal, Brazil (David Fleischer, Brazil 06/27/19 3:54 AM)
- World War(s) II: Were the Asian and European Wars Unrelated? (Sasha Pack, USA 06/25/19 4:21 AM)
- "No Stomach for War": France 1939-'40 (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/28/19 4:25 AM)
- Another WWII Shibboleth: French Cowardice (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/27/19 3:28 AM)
- Stalin and Returning Soviet POWs (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/29/19 4:56 AM)
- Italy's WWII Morale (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/23/19 5:13 AM)
- Italy's Home Front Morale, WWII (Roy Domenico, USA 06/23/19 4:25 AM)
- Anti-Black Violence: Cincinnati 1841 (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 07/02/19 3:14 AM)
- Indro Alessandro Raffaello Schizogene Montanelli (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/30/19 4:46 AM)
- Polish Cavalry Charging German Panzers? (Edward Jajko, USA 06/28/19 3:30 AM)
- Morale during US Civil War (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/25/19 5:35 AM)
- Wartime Morale (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/20/19 5:00 PM)
- Debunking the Myth of "Soviet Hordes" in WWII (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/20/19 4:15 AM)
- More on Soviet "Volunteers" in Spain (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 06/24/19 5:50 AM)
- Did the Soviets Use "Barrier Troops" in Spain? (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 06/24/19 4:49 AM)
- Soviet "Barrier Troops" in the Spanish Civil War? (David Pike, -France 06/22/19 4:50 AM)
- Soviet "Barrier Troops" in Spain? (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 06/21/19 7:08 AM)
- Decimation, Deserters, and Draft Dodgers (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/20/19 9:30 AM)
- "Barrier Troops" as a Soviet Tactic (Boris Volodarsky, Austria 06/20/19 4:00 AM)
- Soviet Casualties in WWII: How Many Were Slaughtered by the Political Commissars? (David Pike, -France 06/19/19 4:27 AM)
- Germany, USSR, and "Logistical Imbalances": Destroying Some Assumptions (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/17/19 4:12 AM)
- With WWII, Don't Overlook the Importance of Other Theaters (Timothy Brown, USA 06/15/19 1:57 PM)
- Could the Soviets Have Beaten Germany without US Help? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 06/14/19 7:49 AM)
- America Didn't Win WWII? Not So Fast... (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/14/19 4:59 AM)