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Author(s) of the publication: Yaroslav RENKAS

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by Yaroslav RENKAS, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Yevgeny Multykh, Candidate of Historical Sciences

Pages. 70

For years and years historians have been pondering over the Second World War and its outcome, the rout of Nazi Germany in 1945. Many new works are off the press now, what with the 60th anniversary of Great Victory. For one, a monumental two-volume edition of War and Society, 1941 - 1945 (Nauka Publishers, Moscow, 2004) giving a wide panorama of hostilities waged by the armed forces of the USSR against the German Wehrmacht up until its total defeat, and of our people's mass heroism in the stern test of war. A team of authors under Acad. G. Sevostyanov have promulgated an array of hitherto unknown documents shedding light on the war chronicle the way it was, without any ideological blinkers or bias. This study illumines the true source of our people's strength and staunchness in defending their Fatherland.

Pages. 71

The initial part of the book dealing with the period just before the outbreak of the war offers a new view of many events.

The author of the first chapter (A. Orlov, "On the Eve: Calculations and Miscalculations") cites documents known to few, if any, and takes a fresh look at the two Soviet-German treaties of 1939. The first one, the Non-Aggression Treaty known as the "Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact", was signed on August 23, 1939. It contained the Secret Additional Protocol which delineated "the spheres of interest" both of Germany and of the U.S.S.R. The German side recognized the Soviet interest in the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), in Eastern Poland, in Bessarabia and Northern Bucovina; Germany declared its "complete political desinteressement in the territories" of Southeastern Europe. The other treaty signed at the end of September 1939 ("On Friendship and Borders") delimited the Soviet-German border roughly along the Curzon Line. Meanwhile the German Reich overran a larger part of Poland, while the Soviet Union occupied its smaller, eastern part. Both treaties sealed the dismemberment of the Polish state.

Our country thus came to be involved in rather unseemly actions, actually, in international brigandage, which fact had to be explained somehow to the public at home and abroad. In its note handed to the Polish ambassador in Moscow on September 17, 1939, the U.S.S.R. Government stated this in part: "Poland has turned into an opportune field for military fortuities and eventualities that might pose a threat to the U.S.S.R. Therefore, though it has been neutral up to now, the Soviet Government can no longer take a neutral stand on these facts."

Simultaneously the Soviet Government reaffirmed its commitment of neutrality in the war in the memoranda dispatched to the ambassadors of 24 countries having diplomatic relations with our country.

These two treaties (on Non-Aggression and Friendship) meant certain rapprochement between the U.S.S.R. and the Hitler Reich, though in terms of security this country had better adhere to full neutrality rather than forge close ties with Hitler. However, the Soviet leaders would justify his war against the West and demonstrate their solidarity with the Third Reich. As a consequence, contacts with many countries came to be phased down, and the Soviet Union's isolation on the international scene grew worse. Well and good, but Moscow and Berlin cleared up their relations someway: Western Byelorussia and Western Ukraine were ceded to the Soviet Union, and Moscow had a free hand in the Baltic area. What seemed to be a period of stable cooperation with Germany enabled Stalin to act aggressively in settling territorial disputes with Finland, who also became a Soviet "sphere of interest". And thus the Wehrmacht could first attack the West in 1940, and then turn East.

Hitler fell upon the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and his armies slashed deep into Soviet territory.

This tragic event is related by M. Romanichev in the chapter "The Acid Test". The Nazi forces were advancing rapidly eastward: on June 28 they seized Minsk and on July 16-Smolensk, with Moscow being only 300 km away. Berlin had no doubts it won the day - the Bolshevik capital was to be captured before autumn with its bad roads and slush, and the Wehrmacht reaching the Volga, the final target of Operation Barbarossa.

Despite the heavy odds the Soviet armies put up strong and spirited resistance fighting tooth and nail in the "pockets" when encircled, striking at En flanks, digging in for a last-ditch stand and inflicting heavy losses on the enemy all the way. Defense positions were built along the entire front, the enemy assault was halted by the end of October about 100 km west of Moscow at the rivers Lama, Ruza and Nara, and at Kalinin (or Tver, a town 180 km northwest of Moscow). The 2nd Tank Group of Heinz Guderian, developing its thrust on the southern flank toward Tula, failed to capture or encircle this town. Early in November the enemy had depleted all his reserves-he had shot his bolt, and was no longer able to push ahead: he lost about 750,000 men and officers, over 5,000 tanks and close to 3.5 thousand aircraft.

The Red Army paid a dear price: nearly 3 mn in killed and missing, with 3.9 million taken prisoner. According to official statistics, the Soviet Union lost in action more than 4 mn men and officers, or above 70 percent of the total strength of the armed forces at the beginning of the war. Add to this toll over 20,000 tanks (or nearly 1.5 ths as many as at the start of the war) and almost 17,000 aircraft (or more than the Air Force had before the war). Over half of our artillery guns and mortars were destroyed on the battlefields. That is to say, in the summer and autumn of 1941 the Red Army lost nearly all of its personnel and hardware available before the war. Retreating, army units had to destroy over 8 mn artillery shells and mines, 600 mn cartridges, 150 ths tons of fuel, and huge stocks of food, equipment and clothes. Such was the dire price of our defensive operations in the summer and autumn of 1941, the

Pages. 72

Soviet tanks: a - heavy, KV; b - medium, T-34-85; c - heavy, IS-2.

price paid for the "wise" party leadership under Joseph Stalin, and blunders of the country's foreign and defense departments.

A separate chapter, "A Tragedy in the Crimea in May 1942" (Yu. Rubtsov), deals with a grim page in the history of the Great Patriotic War, hitherto passed over for obvious reasons by historians and authors of war memoirs, and in works of fiction.

Early in May 1942 the Red Army launched offensive operations in the Crimea with the object of clearing this southern peninsula from the enemy who had seized all of it but Sebastopol. In course of a successful landing operation on December 25, 1941 -January 2, 1942, the Red Army captured an important beachhead at Kerch, a promontory in the east. Our troops intended to exploit their initial success toward Simferopol, a key town in the heart of the peninsula. The Black Sea Fleet was to support the attacking ground forces by artillery fire and Marines.

Our command, however, underestimated the enemy forces - the Hitlerites must have got wind of the Red Army plans. In a pre-emptive strike on January 15, 1942, the enemy repulsed our troops. Then came the May disaster when Soviet troops had to leave the Kerch bridgehead. All told our forces sustained grievous losses-over 176,000 in manpower, around 3.5 ths guns and mortars, 400 combat aircraft and 347 tanks. But Sebastopol held out, beating off En assaults until July 1942.

Pages. 73

This article draws upon official documents, in particular the Directive No. 155452 issued by General HQ of the Supreme Command on June 4, 1942, concerning the chief causes of the Soviet defeat in the Crimea. First, the triple command of the Crimean Front (by GHQ, Commander-in-Chief of the North-Caucasian Front and a GHQ plenipotentiary) proved untenable. All this resulted in a waste of time needed for concerted action, and bewildered the front commander and his chief of staff. Second, the Crimean Front command revealed a complete lack of knowledge of contemporary warfare. And third, the bureaucratic style and red tape hampered field commanders in the conduct of operations. Marshal Semyon Bu-denny, who was responsible for this strategic sector, did but little in helping the front. The verdict of the Supreme Command General HQ about the inability to wage contemporary warfare applied to him first and foremost.

One of the culprits blamed for the abortive operation was Lev Mekhlis, Deputy People's Commissar (Minister) for Defense and Chief of the Red Army's Political Directorate (a department in charge of political education and supervision). Mekhlis was relieved of both posts and demoted two ranks down, to corps commissar (commissioner). The author of this chapter (Yu. Rubtsov) characterizes Mekhlis as a notorious product of the Great Purge of 1937 and myrmidon of the repressive Stalinist system. Having neither military nor organizational talents, he rose to power as a man much in favor with Stalin and proved his loyalty to the leader by zest in hounding and uprooting "enemies of the people". Terror was his chief weapon. Gaining actually absolute power in the Crimea, Mekhlis failed to deliver and suffered a fiasco. His record of witch hunting proved no good in the art of warfare.

In the meantime the troops of the Southwestern Front under Marshal Semyon Timoshenko suffered a bad setback at Kharkov; this tragic event is examined in the chapter "The Kharkov Disaster" (V. Semidetko, Z. Shutov). Proceeding from hard bits of evidence, the authors looked into the root causes of this catastrophe, for one, the incompetence of our army commanders.

In May 1942 the Red Army began a major offensive with the aim of recapturing Kharkov, a key city in the Ukraine seized by the Huns in October 1941. In a counterstrike at the flanks the enemy trapped dozens of our divisions-only small groups and detachments managed to break free together with units of the 266th Infantry Division which fought their way to Chepel to join the bulk of our forces. All in all the Army lost more than 207,000 in killed, wounded and taken prisoner; destroyed in the Kharkov pocket were 1,298 artillery guns, 2,997 mortars, 1,294 trucks and tractors.

Such are the hard facts hushed up before. The Kharkov debacle was a grim lesson for field officers, a lesson that claimed a heavy toll. But it prepared the ground for future victories.

One was won at Stalingrad. The Battle on the Volga (July 1942-February 1943) turned the tide of the war at the Soviet-German front and had a crucial impact on the further course of World War II. It was at this stage that new blood was brought into the Red Army; young soldiers and officers were quick on the uptake in gaining combat skills, an earnest of subsequent victories on the battlefields. Another epic battle was fought at Kursk and Orel in July-August 1943; this is the subject of the chapter "The Battle of Kursk and Its Consequences" (author, A. Orlov). Further victories of the Red Army are reviewed in the chapters "The Collapse of the Eastern Rampart", "Advance on the West", "The Fall of Berlin" (by V. Kiselev)*...

Other materials, just as insightful, deal with matters bearing on the wartime economy, policy and diplomacy, which also played an important role in bringing the war to a victorious end.

Quite a few vivid and emotional pages are devoted to our people's selfless labor in the rear. B. Telpukhovsky, a historian, puts special emphasis on the heroism of our working class: though being in the grip of the vice of the cruel Stalinist regime, it bore the brunt of the work in the hinterland and in an all-out war effort, supplied the Red Army with the badly needed munitions and war materiel. All that in the teeth of wartime deprivations and sacrifices. The feat of our workers was one of the headsources of Great Victory.

By decision of the USSR State Committee for Defense (a war cabinet that concentrated all power in the country) hundreds of plants and factories were to be evacuated to the rear. Equipment had to be dismantled and loaded often under enemy bombs and shells. Here are some facts and figures.

For forty-six days and nights Red Army units held back the Nazi hordes on the right (western) bank of the Dnieper, making it possible to evacuate industrial enterprises of the city of Zaporozhye. As much as 320,000 tons of cargo was moved east in 16 thousand railroad cars. The last trainload of equipment dismantled from the Azovstal plant at

* See also V. Kiselev's article "Routing the Enemy at Stalingrad" in the present issue of our magazine. - Ed.

Pages. 74

Soviet artillery: a - rocket launcher BM-31-12; b - 100 mm self-propelled gun SU-100; c - heavy 152 mm self-propelled gun ISU-152.

Mariupol left in the morning hours of October 8, 1941, with the enemy breaking in at midday.

Our railroads and rolling-stock were taxed to the utmost limit coping with heavy traffic each way-west, with echelons of troops and war materiel, and east, with trains carrying the evacuated population and industrial hardware. In July-December 1941 thousands of industrial enterprises were moved east from the enemy-threatened regions, including 1,523 large enterprises for which purpose as many as 1.5 mn railway cars were mustered. Meanwhile the Nazi Luftwaffe dropped 400,000 bombs on railway stations and terminals.

Manpower and equipment were moved to the Urals and Siberia by and large, where the evacuated equipment was reassembled on new sites "right off the wheels" for war production. This way in September-December 1941 eight tank-making enterprises were commissioned deep in the hinterland. The manufacturing city of Chelyabinsk in the Urals came to be known as tankograd ("tank-town"), with its tank industry headed by Kuzma Titov, from a family of workers employed at the famous Putilov plant in Leningrad (St. Petersburg); he carried on the family line, too. For a

Pages. 75

time Chelyabinsk became a home town to many- young and old, from Leningrad, Kharkov and other places. Some did not have industrial skills at all. Kuzma Titov coped with the hard job of coaching them; they learned the ropes of tank production and formed shock teams. And in the grim winter of 1941/42 factory-fresh tanks rolled off the assembly line.

Alexander Werth, a British war correspondent in Russia, recounted his experiences in the book Russia at War 1941 - 1945 (Barrie and Rockliff, London, 1964). Meeting workers evacuated to the Urals and Siberia, he was much impressed by their labor heroism. The evacuation of many industries in the latter half of 1941 and in the beginning of 1942 to eastern regions and their "resettlement" there was one of the most spectacular organizational and human feats of the Soviet Union during the war, Alexander Werth wrote... That was a saga of incredible human stamina as whole enterprises and millions of people were moved east, with these enterprises set up on new sites in the shortest time boosting production during 1942. Living conditions were horrible indeed, with bad food shortages and all. But people kept on despite all the perils and difficulties of the war because they knew their work was absolutely necessary. They showed their paces working for twelve, thirteen and fourteen hours a day; their nerves were on edge, but they were aware that their work was needed as never before...

The war was a grim time for our peasants as well. M. Vyltsan and V. Kondrashin cite facts on the grievous damage that the German aggression inflicted on agriculture. In 1941/42 Germany overran a huge territory with 40 percent of the country's population, 98,000 collective farms (41.7 percent), 1,876 state farms (44.9 percent) and 2,890 machinery and tractor stations (41.3 percent). The enemy occupied the Ukraine and Northern Caucasia with their major farming regions. The Hitlerites seized territories that had produced 38 percent of grain, nearly 50 percent of industrial crops and 87 percent of sugar beet; with 45 percent of this country's cattle and 60 percent of the hog population. Farm machinery was dismantled or destroyed, and most of the tractors and automobiles passed to the Red Army. All that bled white the country's agrarian sector and exacerbated the problem of food and raw materials supply.

But the Stalinist regime did not abandon its command-and-administrative policies-with regard to the peasantry either. Emergency Communist Party bodies established in November 1941 as well as political departments at machinery and tractor stations, and at state farms became "nuts and bolts" of the vast state machine and got broad powers in prosecuting and victimizing fellow citizens.

The war years strained our collective farmers to the utmost. The government upped the number of mandatory "labor days" by nearly 1.5 fold, and from April 1942 on this stint was extended to children of 12 to 16. Those who failed to fulfill these output quotas were expelled from their collective farm (cooperative) and deprived of individual plots of land. More than that, such people were tried and sentenced to corrective labor for a term of six months. These and other facts somehow quarrel with the propaganda shibboleths about the 100 percent "self-sacrificial feat" of the peasantry during the war. True, the larger majority of our village folks spared no effort in supplying the army and population with essential produce.

But why then increase the minimum of mandatory workday stints and prosecute those found remiss? So fear of punishment also played a part.

Hard facts disprove yet another propaganda stereotype about the economic advantages of the collective farm system that emerged superior in the wartime, too. Actually the huge military-industrial complex erected during the first five-year plans before the war materialized the strenuous, back-breaking engagement of our people, peasantry above all. The economic and social system of total state control with centralized directive planning and direct, non-market exchange of commodities between town and countryside allowed to pool resources toward concrete problem solving at the expense of the population at large. But mismanagement, waste and disproportions were also part and parcel of this system. The working people lacked material incentives and showed low labor productivity.

Collective farms were unable to supply to the full the fighting army and the urban population with foodstuffs. That is why in its decision of April 7, 1942, the government set aside land plots for "war kitchen gardens" in town and countryside and thus eased the food situation somewhat. Food supplies from the United States, Canada and Australia also played a significant part.*

The population felt the hard way the ever tightening grip of taxation. Country folks were virtually squeezed dry-they starved and died of malnutrition.

All that notwithstanding, the rural population bore no grudge and showed selfless gallantry in defending their mother country both on

* See: Ya. Renkas, "Irreconcilable Allies", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2004. - Ed.

Pages. 76

Soviet combat aircraft: a - Yak-9 fighter; b - La-5 FN fighter; c - II-2 low-flying attack plane.

the battlefronts and in the rear. Our peasants felt they were an essential fabric of their native land, through thick and thin. As many as 10 million saw action in the war, and they were the main pool of fresh reinforcements. Many won top government decorations, including the titles of Hero of the Soviet Union and Orders of Glory.

Our people in town and in countryside alike, donated money and warm clothing for the Red Army. They helped war invalids and families of frontline soldiers. This was a nationwide movement. Though in dire straits, when they had to spare every handful of grain, every pound of potatoes and count every penny, people gave of their last as a love offering.

Our intelligentsia, scientists and engineers too, made a tangible contribution in the all-out war effort. This subject is considered by B. Levshin. The Academy of Sciences of the USSR could save its potential thanks to the rapid evacuation of its bodies with an adequate technical base to the hinterland in the east.

Our scientists did a remarkable lot in boosting the war-making potential of our Army, Navy and Air Force. Designers and engineers had to attack formidable problems in increasing the speed and range of aircraft and in improving their maneuverability, while decreasing their weight and landing run. It was highly important to develop an advanced technology for designing heavy aircraft and adjust it to full-scale production. Owing to the work of such eminent scientists as Acad. S. Khristianovitch, M. Keldysh, G. Svishchev, A. Makarevsky and many others, new aircraft models offered improved aerodynamic characteristics, armature and armaments. They came to be equipped with new high-thrust engines, too.

Our artillery was also making great strides, especially in such vital characteristics as fire-power, rate and range of fire, close grouping of shots, and service life. New upgraded models of field guns, howitzers,

Pages. 77

Soviet naval ships: a - cruiser KIROV; b - battleship OCTOBER REVOLUTION; c - type К submarine.

mortars and multirail rocket launchers entered the battlefields. All that was largely due to efforts of our scientists and designers, such as A. Krylov, N. Drozdov and P. Gelvich, among others.

Our tanks proved superior to German panzers. Ours had better armor shielding (with their weight not increasing thereby) and performed splendidly in shock action, mobility and flexibility. A team of designers (A. Morozov, M. Koshkin and N. Dukhov, who was subsequently elected to the USSR Academy of Sciences as corresponding member) worked for the armor. On the basis of research findings on armor resistance and shielding, shell-armor encounter angle and other characteristics, they designed the world's best tanks T-34, KV and IS (Iosif Stalin). The method of automatic submerged arc welding developed by Yevgeni Paton in the Urals made it possible to boost the production of these unique combat vehicles that rolled off the assembly line in large numbers.

Our scientists accomplished a good deal in other spheres as well. Thus, research findings in theoretical and applied chemistry allowed to expand the full-scale production of new types of ammunition as well as the manufacture of radar stations, mine-clearing equipment and torpedoes. At the same time the Academy of Sciences of the USSR tackled a large program of mineral prospecting directly geared to the needs of the front.

Other chapters cover such wartime developments as deportation of ethnic groups and nationalities, new policies of the government toward the Russian Orthodox Church as well as culture, book publishing, medicine and the like. This book is an important contribution to historiography here in Russia and elsewhere.

Illustrations borrowed from the Russian-language encyclopedia "The Great Patriotic War, 1941 - 1945"; M., 1985

Orphus

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