Saturday, January 6, 2007

Book Review Review

The Economist, it turns out, shares with the readers not only its expertise on Russia's economy (having predicted 20 or so out of the last 0 collapses of the Russian economy), but also on Russia's history. I was privileged to read its review of Geoffrey Roberts's "Stalin's War" (as well as another book, which is not that interesting) with a certain amount of amusement. Now, I haven't read the book itself, but it is the review that amuses me. Instead of explaining how the book is organized, which sources it draws upon, the review's author for some reason decided to argue with it. It is possible that the reviewed book is crap -- but the reviewer himself displayed such problematic knowledge of Soviet history, that it is exceedingly difficult to take him seriously. And, of course, I never did get to find out if Roberts actually did any archival research of primary sources, or if he is regurgitating same old memoir material.

For starters, we find out about a heretofore unknown "Hitler-Stalin pact". The official name of the said document is actually the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Agreement, sometimes called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, by the names of the two foreign ministers who actually negotiated it and signed it. Or in the west it is propagandistically called the Nazi-Soviet Pact. These are all accurate titles, even if they serve to imply different things. But what does "Hitler-Stalin pact" imply? That Hitler and Stalin personally met to sign it, or exchanged messages discussing the agreement? This does not correspond to reality at all. Some journalist hack might use such sloppy terminology, but not any kind of an expert. But wait... it is The Economist... and it is in fact some journalist hack writing the review. Maybe I'll have to withdraw this objection.

Then, of course, what article on Soviet history would be complete without the tired old cliche of "Stalin the mass murderer". The repressions in Stalin era USSR, and Stalin's own complicity in them, were crimes, without a doubt. But packing the immense complexity of the whole phenomenon into a pathetic and sanctimonious "Stalin the mass murderer" concept, despite the fact that the events still haven't been adequately explained by historians, is an example of such extreme reductionism that it should become an affront to any thinking person. Might as well develop the "Bush the mass murderer" theory, despite the fact that it wasn't Bush alone who started the Iraq war, that he is by far not the only one killing Iraqis, and that intentions were different from the outcome.

Another eye-opening revelation was the "fact" of Stalin's alleged failure to prepare for the Nazi invasion. Yes, Stalin is largely responsible for the screwed up Soviet entry into WW2. But that was a momentary mistake of June 1941. But what about the industrialization, the increase of the size of the standing army to over 5 million men in 1941, compared to one million and change in the 30s? Over 20,000 tanks? Ammunition supplies that could last months of intense fighting? USSR possessed none of it 10 years prior. The military potential of the country was on the level of Poland, and it would've been just as easily overrun by the Germans had it not been for the fact that Stalin had been preparing the country for the war. Which is precisely why the Soviet Union won it. Despite the almost fatal mistake of June 1941, for which Stalin bears responsibility. But then again, what leader in his place would not have made the same mistake? Many forget, and this hardly competent reviewer among them, that there was another actor -- the Germans engaged in a very skillful deception campaign, and the disaster of 1941 was not simply Stalin's error of judgment, but also a very well executed deception operation on the part of the Germans. That operation had a high chance of success, Stalin or no Stalin.

But the best part comes last. In it, we find out that the Soviet High Command did not possess the doctrine of strategic defense because... you guessed it, Stalin executed "most of his military brainpower, among them the real Russian strategic genius of the age, Mikhail Tukhachevskii". Thus, in this review we have a curious mixture of Soviet and anti-Soviet propaganda. After all, the myth of Tukhachevskii's alleged genius arose in the 1960s in USSR, during Khruschev's de-Stalinization campaign. And it is now being faithfully repeated by The Economist. The reality is, we don't know if Tukhachevskii was a genius or not. His Civil War experience was mixed, and that war in general was not representative due to its numerous quirks and specifics. Tukhachevskii was basically a peacetime commander, but we can judge the skill of any military leader only in wartime, and Tukhachevskii never got the chance to prove himself. Ironically, the criminal purges of Soviet high command in 1937-1938 cleared the way for the real certified military genius, Marshal G.K.Zhukov, and enabled him to quickly rise to the top.

But the worst part of this Tukhachevskii claim is not even that. The stunning idiocy of this claim is apparent from the fact that Tukhachevskii was never a proponent of strategic defense. The reviewer hasn't read a single article written by Tukhachevskii, but he is oh so full of claims on the topic. The reason USSR had a strategically defensive military doctrine in the 1920s is simple -- USSR was a very weak state recovering from a ruinous civil war. Once the country managed to industrialize and increase its military might, the doctrine naturally changed to one of strategic offense. And that occurred even before Tukhachevskii's execution. The reason is quite clear -- strategic offense wins wars, while the purpose of strategic defense is to delay defeat as long as possible. In both world wars, every Great Power entered them with an offensive plan -- because they aimed for victory, not avoiding being defeated quickly. The only exception was France in WW2, and it cost them dearly -- their defeat was as spectacular as it was unexpected (in WW1, France was, of course, on the offensive, even though it failed). Even puny Poland had an offensive plan against East Prussia.

The cause of the disaster of 1941 for the USSR was not in the lack of defensive planning. The cause was the fact that the Red Army was incapable of either defense or offense at the start of the war. The two prerequisites for the start of a military campaign are a) mobilization -- where reservists are called up to bring military formations to their full strength and to make them fully combat-capable; and b) strategic concentration and deployment -- where military formations are loaded on trains (or march on their own power) and transported to the theater of operations and deployed there according to pre-war operational planning. If one or both of these prerequisites are not met before the start of major operations, the army is not capable of either offense or defense -- it is incapable any military operations. If its divisions are in the wrong location and significantly understrength, it doesn't matter if they attack or defend -- they are simply irrelevant and have no effect on the enemy advance. And this is precisely the situation in which the Red Army found itself on 22 June 1941 -- the mobilization and strategic deployment had not been completed yet (they started too late due to Stalin's error of judgment), and the Soviet forces could neither attack nor defend adequately. Whatever strategic doctrine the Red Army possessed before the war became completely irrelevant.

Thus, in the end, I did not get to find out what Roberts's book really represents. But I did find out that when it comes to the USSR or Russia, The Economist is not the place to go to look for answers, be it economics or history. So my time was not entirely wasted -- a negative result is also a result.

20 comments:

Kunikov said...

For those who are curious, Roberts indeed uses many archival source; including AVPRF, GARF, RGANI, and GRASPI as well as plenty of literature from the past 16 years which cannot be claimed to be 'communist' tainted. American and British archives were also used.

La Russophobe said...

Would you please link to three (not twenty, just three) articles in the Economist which incorrectly predicted an economic "collapse" and three different times in Russia's history?

FYI, any sort of responsible person would already have this information in the post. He'd know that without it it, he'd just look like a total hypocrite and a fool.

By the way, although I doubt you care, if you're going to claim that the Economist is published by a bunch of idiots who know nothing, perhaps it would be a good idea to establish your own credentials and published record of analysis of the Russia situation. Otherwise, you might look like a delusional egomaniac.

Fedia Kriukov said...

Sorry, LR, my post is about Soviet military history. The Economist's less than stellar predictive record on Russia's economy is a common enough cliche (one that corresponds to my own impressions) that I don't think I need to prove it in a post on an unrelated subject. But if you are so interested in this subject, you are welcome to browse through their 1998-99 issues and report your findings. Who knows, maybe it wasn't 20, maybe it was only five? :)

La Russophobe said...

If your post was about military history, then why did YOU bring up the subject of economics?

I take it you can't document your charge. I thought so. In other words, you are far less reliable than the Economist, and a hypocrite, relying on innudendo and rumor rather than fact.

Fedia Kriukov said...

There are many cliches that I'm too lazy to document, but ones that I believe in together with many other people, and even frequently mention in my writings. For example, that Hitler was an anti-semite. Or that the Economist habitually errs in its predictions about Russia.

But it was a nice try, LR. And I do appreciate your presence here. Since you are pretty much the resident troll of every Russia blog that I've seen, you being here means that this very new blog has hit the big time. I'm honored, and hope that you stick around. There will be many other topics where you'll get the opportunity to level hysterical accusations against me.

Yegor said...

I see that our friend La Russophobe has plenty of time to support his blog. May be this is his work - to piss on Russia and everything that connected is connected with Russia. Very well than...

Hey, mister! We'd like to know who is your employer! Tell us!

La Russophobe said...

YEGOR: Are you saying that you think my comments on this "blog" support my blog? If so, please explain. That's one of the most bizarre statements I've ever heard.

FEDIA: I agree, you are lazy and utterly worthless as a source of information. Your refusal to document your factual claims brands you as a propagandist and your attacks on others for failing to do so brands you as the lowest form of hypocrite. Your blog is proof positive of how dire Russia's circumstances really are, with knuckleheaded losers like you for her champions.

Yegor said...

La Russophobe

Yegor said...

La Russophobe: when I say "his blog" I mean it!

I can see that you are publicating long issues in YOUR blog several times a day, every day. I can see that you have plenty of time to comment in different blogs and forums. And this is all happens when ordinary person, like me, is working to earn money - to bye food, to pay bills etc.

So, I've made a conclusion that YOUR work is to make all this things that you do: writing posts in your blog, writing comments on other posts, writing comments on comments etc. And all your efforts are didicated to crush "neo-Soviet Union", Russia, my country.

So, I ask you a question: who is your emloyer?

Andrew said...

For info, I've just come across the following article in the economist predicting Russia's economic collapse in 1999...

http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/7259-10.cfm

(Via http://neznaika-nalune.livejournal.com/223652.html)

Andrew said...

Whoops - forgot to credit the first place I saw this - Russian Blog:

http://konstantin2005.blogspot.com/index.html

Anonymous said...

I would like to see a similar blog that documents the lies of the western press about Serbia, Bosnia and Kosovo. What would really be nice is to establish a register of the journalists who are paid to lie and distort the facts. Now that the UN has ruled that there was no genocide in Bosnia, isn't it time to hold the journalists that sold NATO intervention to the American public accountable? I like this blog. Good work. Lets start publishing the names of the prostitutes who claim to be a part of the free press in the west.

Anonymous said...

Russia media coverage is a very timely subject, and many of us look forward to analysis from you and your readers. Can you tell us someting about your background?

stalker said...

I've got to disagree with you here. Firstly, while the Germans were very good at deception, there were still numerous reports and rumors of the 3 million Nazi troops massing on the borders for an offensive. Stalin dismissed these out of hand, even German Communist sympathiser defectors, because he was so convinced he was right and that Hitler wouldn't backstab him.

Stalin didn't do anything immediately after the attack. (In fact he went into a drunken stupor for 2 weeks). Meanwhile, a large percentages of the Red Army's air and armored forces were destroyed in pre-emptive strikes hours into the attack. Stalin, sure it was a misunderstanding or provocation, even order them not to return fire. Due to inaction at the top of the personalized system of Soviet government, and the cowing of the military, huge numbers of soldiers were lost through encirclement, an unwillingness to organize a strategic retreat, and again the lack of initiative from a cowed military.

Tukhachevskii, in practice, was not impressive (as he proved in the 1920 Polish campaign), and his loss was of no great matter in the big picture - I agree with that. However - the purge of the army removed three of five marshals , 13 of 15 army commanders 50 of 57 army corps commanders, 154 out of 186 division commanders and half of all army officers. If fail to see how this could not have severely and negatively impacted on the Red Army. (Not only in the losses of experienced people, but in the effect this was to have on the rest, i.e. fear of stepping out of line).

For the 1941 period, Stalin nonetheless insisted on operational control for himself, only relenting when the situation got really desparate (as at Moscow, which he let Zhukov handle). Although, I'll give it to him that he interfered a lot less after that (not to say that he stopped), leaving military matters to the generals and doing what he was quite good at (logistics and economic organiation).

I agree with your opinion that Stalin was prescient in making efforts to build a military-industrial complex in the 1930's (although much of the hardware mass produced in that period was obsolete by 1941) and a skilled organizer. But defending his arrogance and sheer tyranny, which led to a less effective and less well-prepared army than otherwise would have been, is not called for.

Fedia Kriukov said...

Stalker, your knowledge of WW2 history is now significantly out of date. In the past 15 years a large number of new sources have been declassified and published that allowed for a much better understanding of how USSR entered the war. In particular, I would like to draw your attention to the following two volumes:

1. "1941 god - uroki i vyvody". This is a formerly classified (DSP) Soviet military study of the prepartion for the war and its first months (June - Sept), all specifically from the military point of view. It discusses covering plans, strategic deployment plans, mobilization plans, and how they were implemented in reality.

2. "1941. Dokumenty". This is a collection of published documents, mostly political and intelligence ones, that covers the period from ~1940 to June 1941.

Now, to address your points:

1. Stalin did not dismiss intelligence reports "out of hand". First of all, there is an assumption here that Soviet intelligence unambiguously predicted the German attack. This is not the case. There were many contradictory reports, as well as skillfully planted German disinformation (we now know which Soviet agents were in fact German double agents, e.g. "Litseist"). Secondly, in the end Stalin decided to err on the side of caution and authorized the forward deployment of the second operational echelon around June 17, IIRC. These formations had not yet reached their destinations when the war broke out. Moreover, on June 21 Stalin signed a directive (which later came to be known as Directive No 1) authorizing all formations deployed along the border to take up defensive positions (in effect, partially implement covering plans). Unfortunately, when the war started, this directive was still stuck being decrypted somewhere at the MD and army level.

2. Stalin's absence for two weeks after the start of the war is a myth launched by Khruschev. The "drunken stupor" part is entirely your own "embellishment", because I can't think of any reputable secondary source that actually described Stalin's absence in these terms. You can verify the reality by simply checking Stalin's visitor logs for June (published in "1941. Dokumenty"). You'll find out that Stalin was in his office most of the time. Or you can try memoirs of General Staff officers, starting with Zhukov. They all describe various meetings with Stalin during the first days of the war. Or you can look up when GKO was formed (and how could it have been formed without Stalin?), or count how many orders Stalin signed (including Directives No 2 and 3 on June 22), all of which have now been published. In short, it is beyond doubt that Stalin was extremely active in the first days of the war.

Stalin's order not to return fire does not exist in nature, unless this is a creative interpretation of the line in Directive No 1 that warned not to yield to provocations.

As for encirclements, most of them happened specifically during retreats, which Stalin was perfectly willing to authorize when the situation became hopeless. You are forgetting that German panzer divisions moved much faster than Soviet rifle divisions. Encirclements were inevitable regardless of what Stalin did or didn't do. The mythical "strategtic retreat" would've led to complete disaster and the loss of the war. Soviet strategy of active defense by launching counteroffensives at every opportunity was in fact the correct one, and it enabled the reversal of the course of the war already in the Battle of Smolensk, which, in my opinion, while being a tactical and operational disaster, turned out to be the first Soviet strategic victory that doomed Barbarossa.

3. The destruction of the Soviet air force and armor did not happen on the first day and wasn't pre-emptive. In reality, the first strikes against Soviet air fields were mostly ineffective. The reason for the loss of 800 a/c on the ground on June 22 was continuous bombardment throughout the day by wave after wave of German bombers. Surprise wasn't a factor. The real factor was inability of Soviet VVS to maneuver between airfields due to the fact that many of them were still under construction. Even then, since the VVS had more a/c than trained pilots, losses on the ground were not that material. Contrary to the popular myth, Soviet air force was not destroyed on the ground on the first day -- in reality, it was attrited to almost nothing during the next several months of fighting, mostly due to its technological and organizational inferiority, as well as aggressiveness (i.e. lack of prudence) of its employment. German infantrymen complained of constant bombing in the first months of the war as much as Soviet ones did.

Similarly, Soviet armored formations were not destroyed "pre-emptively" simply because, aside from the special case of Brest, there were no mechanized corps deployed on the border. Each MC had to march from dozens to hundreds kilometers to even get to the front. This is exemplified by the sad saga of the 8th MC of the South-Western Front, which marched more than 1000 km back and forth over the course of several days before engaging the enemy, losing much of its equipment due to breakdowns (in particular, almost all T-35 tanks). Or another example of the 6th MC of the Western Front, which lost almost all of its tanks because they ran out of fuel during the retreat, not in combat. Once again, tactical surprise of the German attack was not a factor in the destruction of the Soviet MC -- the biggest culprit by far was the fact that, unlike German motorized corps, they were not proper combined arms mobile formations: they were far short of artillery and their infantry was not mobile at all. Either they could be non-mobile combined arms formations, or if they were mobile, then they weren't combined arms (since infantry and artillery, insufficient to begin with, would fall far behind armor during marches). As such, they were ineffective and were easily defeated by German AT defenses and breakdowns of equipment (repair facilities were lacking as well). The Red Army was able to deploy proper mobile formations only in late 1942. Even then, a Soviet tank corps was only about half the strength of a German panzer division.

4. I actually think Tukhavhevskii did rather well in 1920. You are forgetting the conditions in which the Red Army fought. When "reinforcing" the front meant sending 20 thousand pairs of boots (as was done to the Western Front on the even of its counteroffensive), it is actually amazing that the Red Army was able to liberate Minsk and Kiev from the Poles who were well-supplied by the Entente. Of course, the South-Western Front (in Ukraine) was even more impressive -- they were able to drive the Poles all the way from Kiev to Lvov while actually being numerically inferior to the enemy, due to skillful employment of their main mobile formation -- the 1st Cavalry Army. Tukhachevskii's front did not have much mobility, and the terrain in Belorussia was more difficult.

Your numbers on the total number of officers lost in the 1937-38 purge are completely off. According to the well-known Shchadenko report, in 1937 18,658 officers were discharged (of them 15,578 were purged, i.e. discharge due to arrest or for political reasons), which amounted to 13.6% of all officers. In 1938 -- the numbers were 16,362 (12,750 purged), 11.3% respectively. Of those discharged 10,994 were reinstalled by the end of 1939. Therefore, the total number of officers discharged in 1937-38 was 18,658 + 16,362 - 10,994, or 17,334 (most, but not all, purged). This comes out to about 16% (or less), and not "half of all army officers". Certainly the purges had no overall positive effect, but let's not blow their significance out of all proportion. The most significant reason for the shortage of experienced officers in the Red Army on the eve of the war was the explosive numeric growth in 1938-41, when it went from about 1.2 million men to over 5 million.

5. I don't know what exactly you mean by Stalin's "operational control", but if it means the level between tactical and strategic, i.e. that Stalin directly controlled army and front level formations, that is absolutely false. Stalin exercised about similar amount of strategic control as the C-in-C throughout the entire war. I can't even say it was detrimental. Stalin had the skills, and also some experience from the Civil War. It is well known that during various 1960s interviews, many Soviet marshals, including Zhukov, evaluated Stalin's performance as the C-in-C very positively, despite the prevailing official anti-Stalinist mood.

In short, Stalin has enough real crimes and mistakes to condemn him, I don't see the need to blame him for what he wasn't responsible for. I am also convinced that the mostly positive evaluation that modern Russians give to Stalin (according to opinion polls) is a form of protest against the tremendous number of false accusations leveled against him. Had anti-Stalin propaganda been truthful from the start, today's Stalinism would not exist.

stalker said...

That's very interesting, fedia. I guess I am a dinosaur in this field (I only ever looked at it seriously in 1990's when history became a-ideological, but I guess much of it would have been Western imports then, without access to Soviet archives). You obviously know far more than me here but I've still got two questions/objections:

"As for encirclements, most of them happened specifically during retreats, which Stalin was perfectly willing to authorize when the situation became hopeless. You are forgetting that German panzer divisions moved much faster than Soviet rifle divisions. Encirclements were inevitable regardless of what Stalin did or didn't do."

Perhaps they were inevitable in the first few weeks after Barbarossa, but there was plenty of time to move out vulnerable concentrations of troops and materiel afterwards (which were to be encircled and destroyed time and time again) and spread them out to create a defence in depth. As far as I know this concept wasn't implemented in 1941, and had it been the Soviet counter-offensives would have no doubt been much more effective.

"I don't know what exactly you mean by Stalin's "operational control", but if it means the level between tactical and strategic, i.e. that Stalin directly controlled army and front level formations, that is absolutely false. Stalin exercised about similar amount of strategic control as the C-in-C throughout the entire war."

Not specifically operational planning as such, but the impetus for overextending Soviet lines immediately after winning significant battles. Actually I can think of two examples, after both the Battle of Moscow and Stalingrad, an offensive was launched to retake Kharkov; which was repulsed by the Germans twice over after the thaw.

Anyway thanks for correcting my ignorance.

Fedia Kriukov said...

Stalker, "defense in depth" has by now become a cliche whose real meaning is unclear. I would say that it is a tactical concept, up to division level, and contrast it to linear defense. E.g. linear defense would imply stretching rifle regiments of a division in a line in the first echelon, with a small reserve, in order to cover the entire front of the division. While defense in depth, developed later in the war, would mean creating a series of company and battalion strong points at key locations, leaving gaps in the line, but covering those gaps with minefields, various obstacles, and artillery observers to such an extent that the enemy would be unable to penetrate there and would be forced to assault strong points one at a time. Why such tactics were not sufficiently used in 1941 is not a question for Stalin alone, but to the entire military establishment. What about the field manual, what about the infantry combat regulations? Were officers even trained for that? Unfortunately, they weren't.

But in our case, duscussing the operational level, I would have to point out that "defense in depth" is not applicable at all. The depth is provided to the defense at the tactical level, while it is perfectly normal to stretch your divisions in a single echelon at the operational level, leaving reasonable reserves, of course. Arraying divisions in depth would mean splitting your forces and allowing for defeat in detail, which is an absolute anathema.

The sad reality of 1941 was that defense was a hopeless proposition for the Red Army. There was simply no way, given technology, organization, and tactical skills, for rifle formations to successfully repulse the attack of concentrated panzer divisions (a panzer division could deploy on a 2 km front and face only a single rifle battalion, thus easily achieving a clean tactical breakthrough). Once the line was penetrated, rifle formations were doomed because they couldn't hope to outrun the enemy mobile formations. This scenario played out time after time, not just in 1941 but also in 1942 (Fall Blau), and the first time the Red Army was able to successfully stop the attack of German mobile formations at the start of the operation was in July 1943 at Kursk. That's two years into the war! And it wasn't a problem unique to the Red Army -- no infantry formation of that time, including German own infantry divisions, could maintain the line against a concentrated onslaught of mobile formations and not be cut to pieces. That is the principal difference between the nature of combat in WW2 as opposed to WW1.

Clearly, the solution to this problem lay elsewhere. And the Red Army leadership, and especially Zhukov, realized it from the start. This alone put the Red Army at a higher level than previous opponents that the Germans faced. The solution was called "active defense". In broad terms, it meant constant attempts to seize the initiative from the enemy by launching own offensives. This was significantly more effective than throwing formations in front of enemy spearheads, only to see them crushed one after another. On the contrary, launching a counteroffensive in a different sector would force the enemy to reduce the thrust of their spearheads and pay more attention to the flanks. The real story of Soviet strategic defense in 1941 was that it consisted of a series of counteroffensives, one after another, almost all of which completely failed due to inability to execute at the tactical level. But none of those failures were in vain, because each of them forced the Germans to react, and completely distorted the original shape Barbarossa and made the planned timeline unattainable. For example, you might have heard of Guderian's complaints about how he would've taken Moscow if only "stupid" Hitler did not order him to turn south in August. What Guderian conveniently forgets to mention while constructing this elaborate myth is that he was already advancing south even without Hitler. He was forced to turn his panzer group south after Smolensk because the Red Army launched a strategic offensive whose purpose was to defeat the German Army Group Center. In particular, Guderian faced Kachalov's Operational Group advancing from Roslavl'. Kachalov's group was utterly destroyed in the end, of course, but the price the Germans paid was their complete inability to advance on the Moscow axis, leaving Guderian to complain in his memoir about how he would've won the war if it wasn't for Hitler.

The story of 1941 Soviet offensives has not been told in western military history literature simply because none of those offensives (and there were many of them) succeeded enough to be perceptible, and their planning documents were sealed in Soviet archives and unavailable to researchers. But really, I have to argue that Soviet operational posture in 1941 was not just the best choice, but really the only choice available. Failure to execute at the tactical level was a separate story, not really related to the abilities of Red Army leadership at the operational and strategic level. We can go into more details if you want -- just pick an encirclement where you think Stalin's interference had a detrimental effect, and we can look at it in detail.

As for the Soviet penchant to be overly optimistic about pressing forward in 1941 and 1942 offensives, that cannot be denied, of course. And Stalin was wrong there on many occasions. But at the same time, I have to point out that Stalin wasn't alone in his mistakes. The entire military leadership was often struck by unhealthy euphoria. I can't really recall an example of any general ever arguing against the mainstream and urging more caution, in Moscow or after Stalingrad. These problems persisted far into the war, when tactical setbacks were the norm even after the most brilliant operations. The defeat of the 2nd Tank Army in early August 1944 at the gates of Warsaw comes to mind. It is always tempting to push as far as one can, but who can say when one has pushed too far? As a counterexample, what about all the blame Zhukov received, especially from Chuikov, for his failure to push toward Berlin after the Vistula-Oder offensive? What if he did and the spearheads were defeated at the gates of the city? Who would've been to blame? But he didn't, and the war dragged on for extra three or four months. Sometimes it is hard to say what the correct decision should've been even in retrospect, with our superior knowledge. Now put yourself in the shoes the Soviet military leadership with their knowledge severely restricted by the fog of war...

stalker said...

Excellent reply fedia, succintly explained. I'm convinced. :)

Bobalot said...

Hey Fedia, thanks for all the new info about Stalin and World war 2.

I'm a bit of a amateur history buff and I have been dying to know what the relatively newly opened archives tell us about the war. I was quite aware that western textbooks could be quite biased.

Thanks for all the new info! Is there any links or books you could recommend for further reading?

Fedia Kriukov said...

Sorry, I can't recommend any one source. Everything published up to now in any language is either bad, or not general enough. But I have to point out that the difference in the field between now and 17 years ago is tremendous, due to the openness of Soviet archives. It is very unfortunate that most researchers, especially western ones, rushed into the opened archives with the hope of discovering something big, something sensational. Rather than conduct normal painstaking research, read every document, hoping to piece together the big picture. So for now all I can say is:

1) Read everything good. There is nothing general, but you can learn the big picture by piecing together little pictures.
2) You determine what is good by looking up their sources. If sources are mostly memoirs, it's bad. If sources are published documents, it's bad. If sources are actual archival references, especially to TsAMO for operational details, that is what you want. Unfortunately, not too many of such books are being published.

Although, I have to warn you, my knowledge might be somewhat out of date. I haven't read much on military history for several years now, except Isaev and some published document collections.