Usually these pictures were propaganda and featured criminals, not political prisoners. Read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn for a good description of “shock battalions” in the gulags. Note the plump faces and clothes on these prisoners.
A computer programming classroom in the Soviet Union; a poster on the wall reads ‘Train BASIC Everyday!’; ca. 1985
The Soviets had a very diverse and powerful set of computational hardware and languages, and having developed in relative isolation from the rest of the world (*They had to wait for it to be released, reverse engineer it, and then attempt to reproduce it), they’ve built some pretty unique stuff.
There are websites out there dedicated to documenting this fascinating subject.
In June 1944, the Red Army captured the German Army Group Center. This was called Operation Bagration. 185 Soviet divisions with 2.3 million soldiers surrounded and captured or killed the 800,000 members of Army Group Center.
A month later some of the German POWs were transported to Moscow to display to the Soviet people.
Here is a Soviet film of the parade:
The parade was followed by trucks ceremoniously washing the German filth from the streets. The POWs were then transported off to work camps.
American involvement in Russia was part of an Allied Intervention into Russia rather than an actual invasion. President Wilson authorized limited military force in Russia but no formal declaration of war was ever authorized by the American Congress. Wilson ordered 5,000 men to occupy Arkhangelsk and around 8,000 to Vladivostok, a port city on the far eastern reaches of Russia. The American “expeditionary” forces were not part of a concerted American war effort but rather an American commitment made out of the emerging European debates that followed the First World War. Wilson was also known to use limited occupational forces to achieve political goals. One example is his 1914 occupation of the Mexican port city Veracruz to influence the success of a U.S. friendly Mexican government, obviously Veracruz is a different story but it demonstrates that Wilson used Executive power to authorize military occupations that were not necessarily outright invasions or declarations of war.
Importantly the number of around 13,000 thousand American soldiers was considerably less than the commitments of Czechoslovakia’s (50,000), France’s (12,000) and Britain’s (40,000). Moreover the strategic importance of the areas occupied by America were also minor in comparison to other zones of conflict and the role of America was manifestly less significant than the contributions of her Allies. General Graves who commanded the American contingent present in Siberia (American Expeditionary Force Siberia) had the aim of protecting American military equipment and American capital investment that was still in Russia after the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. Graves’ other objectives included safe guarding the exit of the Czech legion from Russian territory and to assist the reorganization of the new Russian government.
You have to take into account that Russia in 1918 was vastly different from the Communist state that we understand it to have been throughout the twentieth century. In 1918 it was not clear that the Bolsheviks would emerge as victors, the Red Army faced opponents on four fronts to control a comparatively small area compared to the huge country we know Russia is today. The map I’ve linked at the bottom shows the extent of Bolshevik control in 1919, Archangelsk is just at the top, Vladivostok where most of the Americans were stationed is located thousands of kilometers to the east and Americans stationed there engaged in a limited role against Russian Cossacks, a group separate to the Revolutionary Bolsheviks.
Wilson’s motivations for sending American troops were numerous but stemmed from his willingness to see through his own vision for a post war peace process. He was pressured by allies to commit to Russian intervention and he likely did so in a diplomatic measure to ensure he had some leverage in the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Undoubtedly Wilson was more concerned with fostering a democratic environment in Europe (and protecting physical American interests in Russia) rather than in participating in a huge mobilization against Russia after the toll of the First World War. The intervention was certainly no secret, Congressmen, Newspapers and Citizens were alert to the experiences of American soldiers stationed in the frozen port cities and campaigned for the men to be returned. Generally Americans opposed intervention and largely felt that their commitment in the First World War had been sufficient enough in aiding allied European nations. Additionally many Americans did not share the international spirit that Wilson pushed in the post-war peace conferences. President Warren Harding who followed Wilson’s administration condemned the intervention as a complete mistake.
Here are a couple of good sources if you want to develop some of the ideas that I’ve written here:
(It wasn’t an invasion, it was an intervention authorized by the President and not Congress and the American people knew about it.)
*Maybe the best quick read to get the bet settled that isn’t a wikipedia article.
*The introduction here will help you get a better idea on some of the context surrounding the intervention.
The field marshals and generals captured at Stalingrad were treated relatively well, with their own quarters near Moscow, but the rest of the army prisoners were marched to Prison camps on the Steppes and the Ural mountains near Siberia as well. The prisoners were often made to walk through the plains and snow by the Russians, and those that were too slow and weak were often shot. If they were unfortunate enough to pass by a hostile village, they were usually beaten and robbed by angry mobs on the way.
The German Sixth Army was eventually scattered to more than twenty camps from the Arctic Circle to the Southern Deserts. Some were marched, others were herded into trains. One train carried thousands of Germans from the Volga to Uzbekistan. They basically crammed the prisoners inside with little food or water, and they would often resort to killing each other for scraps of food. Another train that was destined for the Pamir mountains had almost half its passengers dead on arrival.
A few Germans remained in Stalingrad to reconstruct the city, but they were hardly cared for either. Typhus killed many and it was recorded that the Russians buried forty thousand corpses in a mass grave in Beketovka by March.
As you can imagine, having starving men crammed into these prison camps was a recipe for disaster. It was estimated that from the three month period of February to April 1943, over four hundred thousand prisoners (German, romanian, Hungarian, Italian) had died. The Russians simply let many of them starve to death. Camps would receive food trucks every third day, and by that time the inmates were beating each other to death to eat. There were instances of cannibalism amongst the soldiers. It became so bad that anti-cannibal squads of Captive officers were actually armed with crowbars to hunt them down.
Others were more creative with their survival methods. A group of italian soldiers who were locked in Ice Cold Rooms actually propped dead corpses up in chairs and pretended to engage in conversation with them. The guards made a daily count of the ‘prisoners’ in the cell, and the still-living prisoners ate well from the extra rations.
The treatment of prisoners started getting better by May 1943. Nurses and Doctors were sent to the camps to care for the survivors, and political agitators also sent in to indoctrinate the prisoners against Fascism and to become pro-communist. In most cases, those who turned against Hitler had a specific goal in mind. Cooperation meant extra food.
As for the period of internment, someone else with closer sources can confirm, but it seems like the prisoners were released gradually over the years, the first trickle of prisoners started being released after the Berlin Airlift in 1948. It was to such an extent that by 1955, there were only 9,626 prisoners left in the camps that were directly connected to Stalingrad (with 2,000 having actually fought there)
For these prisoners, it was West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer who got the process started. He flew to Moscow to meet with the leaders of the Soviet Union in 1955 to plead with them to release the prisoners.
Moscow’s stance throughout this period was that they no longer held German Prisoners of War in the Soviet Union, only war criminals of Hitler’s armies, ‘convicted’ by Soviet Courts for crimes against the Russian People in General. But after negotiations with Bulganin and Khrushchev, Adenauer was eventually able to secure the release of the last of the Stalingrad prisoners by September 18th 1955, who began their final journey home.
[Source: Enemy at the Gates : William Craig]
The way they searched for dead bodies following the First World War was seriously revolting. A Company of Soldiers would be deployed in Line abreast, armed with 6 foot long metal spikes. They would then observe the ground to their front, anywhere the vegetation looked particularly green and lively, they would stab the spike into the ground as deep as possible, then rip it out and sniff the end. If it smelled of decomposing flesh, they dug.
And sometimes they didn’t even do THAT. I remember reading an officer’s account of experiencing a heavy barrage. He mentions entering a dugout at the beginning of the barrage and noticing the heavily decomposed body of a French soldier, in the old-style uniform (red pantaloons), sticking out of the side of the trench. After a couple of hours, he emerged to find the decomposed body of a German soldier in the same place. The shells had churned up the ground, re-burying the French soldier and bringing up the German.
This is not “real” bear hunting armor, it was a piece created by an artist in this exhibit. If you go and try to hunt bears with that, you’re going to die.
US Marines watch F4U Corsairs drop napalm on Chinese positions near the Chosin Reservoir; December 26th, 1950
There is a great documentary called “Chosin”. It’s on Netflix and has a lot of interviews with survivors that are unbelievable.
One that has stuck with me was the man who was wounded, then the truck carrying him to an aid station was captured by the Chinese/North Koreans. They set the truck on fire to kill the wounded, but this guy managed to get out only to be shot in the head. He survived that, crawled down a trench only to be discovered by a chinese patrol who tried to beat him to death with their rifles. Survived that too and almost died of hypothermia before finally being discovered by a American patrol. It really gives you a sense of how horrendous that campaign really was…
Here’s the trailer:
They actually gave the Soviets the proximity fuse (which is a huge leap in anti air). Through Venona we were reading their codes and knew of them. Their handler has since written a book on it confirming they were spies. The atomic component they gave the Soviets was rather minor but still, used to make the atomic bomb. After Venona was declassified it is difficult to say they were innocent because, well, you can read the messages from their handler with their confirmed code names.
* The trial judge agreed on the death penalty before the trial began. An eternal blot on American justice.
Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany riding through the streets of Berlin with Tsar Nicholas II of Russia; ca.1900
It would be tough to squeeze any more incompetent decision makers into this photo.
Operation Barbarossa was planned to carry out a swift land grab, with combat ending by Fall at the latest and pursuit following after. Hitler and the military commanders and staffs working under him generally agreed that the campaign’s casualties would be proportionately small (275,000 men according to Halder), the strain of combat on ammunition and fuel would be low after the first weeks, and the political system of the Soviet Union would be unable to handle such rapid defeats. Even before the air war over Britain was decided, the promise of swift and easy conquest of the Soviet Union proved too difficult to resist.
War with the Soviet Union began to be seriously discussed a month after France signed its armistice. General Fritz Halder, Chief of the General Staff of the Army, noted in his diary that on 22 July, 1940 Hitler made his intention to conquer and subjugate the Soviet Union clear to all his commanders; the day before had ordered the Commander in Chief of the Army, Walther von Brauchitsch, to begin developing plans to invade the Soviet Union. General Erich Marcks was selected to head this initial study.
From its inception the plan was marked by several assumptions and flaws. First, the vast distances of the Soviet Union, while noted, were not properly addressed or prepared for. Second the pervasive racism of German military and political leadership caused them to demean Soviet capabilities, technology, and leadership, leading in turn to the assumption that the war would be short and easy. Third, the rivalry between the two main German military bodies, OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, High Command of the Armed Forces) and OKH (Oberkommando ders Heeres, High Command of the Army), led to friction, compartmentalization, and competition. The plan was as much about soothing egos and meeting racial expectations as achieving victory.
Marck’s initial concept representing OKH’s view, codenamed Operation Otto, was delivered to Hitler on August 5, 1940 and formed the basis for future variants of what would become Operation Barbarossa. His plan assumed that Moscow would be the campaign’s main objective that the war would last only “9 to 17 weeks”, and most importantly, that the Red Army’s 170 combat ready divisions, an inaccurate number, would be destroyed along the border west of the Dnieper River.
A second study, called the “Lossberg Study”, conducted separately by OKW called for a stronger focus on Ukraine and Leningrad, though Moscow would remain the central objective. It also was more concerned with the flanks of the Ostheer as it advanced into the interior of Russia than OKH’s proposal, concerns which would be repeated by Hitler later in the final plan. Though never presented to Hitler, it influenced subsequent planning by Goering and the Reich Ministry of Economics and from there likely reached his ears.
Halder presented OKH’s final plan, codenamed Operation Fritz, to Hitler on December 5, 1940, with the three objectives now being Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev. The Red Army was assumed to be destroyed within 500 kilometers of the border within the first weeks of war, followed by a pursuit to the Archangelsk-Astrakhan Line.
On December 18, 1940, Hitler issued Fuhrer Directive 21, codenamed Operation Barbarossa, which was a synthesis of the past 3 months’ planning. In the final plan the Red Army was still to be destroyed near the border, with the assumption that future reserves could not be raised. Three Army Groups, North, Center, and South, would advance on Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev, respectively. However, the plan stressed that while Moscow was the most important objective Army Group Center should be diverted to assist Army Groups North and South if they failed to seize their objectives. Rambling and vague, Directive 21 failed to resolve the disputes planning had opened and in fact was a plan only to defeat the Red Army, not the Soviet Union as a whole.
The planning for Operation Barbarossa was marred by a number of problems. Most importantly, logistics and the factor of space were never addressed; Martin Crevald in Supplying War notes that an absurd number of problems were swept under the rug, from fuel consumption to rolling stock. German planners also lacked a unity of command which led to a mixture of objectives and no clear focus. OKH and OKW had each had their own assumptions about what objective would achieve final victory, and forces were diluted along the Northern, Central, and Southern axis to achieve all of them; the Germans entered the campaign with only the vaguest idea of what success meant. Finally, racism towards Slavs caused the Germans to underestimate their opponents and ignore potential problems, maintaining confidence that ultimate victory could be achieved quickly and easily.
German planning for Barbarossa was confused and unrealistic, to the point of absurdity. Thus it’s impossible to look at Barbarossa vs Sealion from a rational standpoint as Hitler and his inner circle were driven by irrational assumptions in their decision to go to war. Adam Tooze uses the phrase “mad logic”, and I think that best sums it up; Barbarossa seemed like the best option within their own worldview, even if today its flaws are easily apparent to us.
Supplying War by Martin van Crevald
Operation Barbarossa and Germany’s Defeat in the East by David Stahel
Barbarossa: Planning for Operational Failure by John D. Snively
Operation Barbarossa: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia 1941 by David Glantz
The Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality by Wolfram Wette
The Strategy of Barbarossa by Austin C. Wedemeyer
Operational Logic and Identifying Soviet Operational Centers of Gravity During Operation Barbarossa, 1941 by Major David J. Bongi
In Britain, there were victory parades in London and other big cities to celebrate both the end of the war and the return of the men. But most simply returned home to their everyday life, as their contract only conditioned them to fight for three years or until the end of the war (whichever came first).
The soldier that came back in 1918 was very different from the man who left for war four years before.
In Britain, there were three distinct types of soldier to be found in the infantry:
- The so-called “Old Contemptibles“, who had been professional soldiers or reservists upon the war’s outbreak. Many such men were in their thirties or forties when the summer of 1914 drew to a close, and some boasted relevant combat experience from the Second Boer War. These men comprised the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force that landed in France and Flanders in August of 1914; at the time they constituted six infantry divisions split between I (Haig) and II (Smith-Dorrien) Corps.
- The men of “Kitchener’s Army“, the massive infantry apparatus built from the volunteers of the first wave of recruitment. This is an important distinction that I’ll be examining more in a moment: from the first, there was no program of conscription for the British infantry. The battalions that were raised were voluntary, and were very often comprised along local/professional lines for the sake of convenience. The practical consequence of this is that you’d have a regiment like the East Surreys (for example) comprised almost entirely of men from East Surrey, or the Artists Rifles comprised largely of… well, you get the idea. Entire villages and towns worth of men went off to fight in these battalions side by side, and the spirit of familiar camaraderie that prevailed in them saw them referred to as the “Pals’ Battalions.” More on why this matters in a moment, as I said. Anyway, whereas the men of the Old Contemptibles arrived in France more or less immediately upon the war’s outbreak, Kitchener’s Mob took a considerable amount of time to equip and train — often with less than satisfactory results, but there’s no sense in throwing about blame at this stage. The bulk of those trained up in this group began to arrive on the Western Front in the spring of 1915 — in time for Second Ypres, and eventually Loos.
- Finally, the men of the post-conscription recruitment drive. Conscription was formally enacted as of 1 January 1916, and the men inducted into the infantry through this drive first started to arrive on the Front in the late summer of that year. A further crucial difference prevailed: the “Pals’ Battalions” structure was largely abandoned, and conscripts were instead usually assigned to battalions as the need for them arose.
So, I stress these differences (to finally come to the point) because they would produce remarkably different sorts of veteran. Let’s examine some implications.
|Army||Rough Age in 1914||Rough Age in 1918||Active Service Duration||Character|
|Contemptibles||30-40||34-44||~52 Months||Professional, Voluntary|
|Kitchener’s||17-18||21-22||~43 Months||Civilian, Voluntary|
|Conscripts||15-16||19-20||~29 Months||Civilian, Duress|
Let us consider some implications, even if only sketchy ones.
Those in the first wave had survived a grinder of unparalleled proportions, and their first taste of the war’s true flavor would have come with the disastrous Retreat from Mons. No longer young men to begin with, 4.25 years of grueling conditions would have taken an enormous physical and mental toll upon them. Having been professional soldiers at the war’s outset, some would choose to continue serving in this capacity now that it was over — but this was a difficult prospect in the great national rush to demobilization. Positions in the rapidly shrinking peacetime army were hard to secure and even harder to hold, and many of these veterans found themselves demobbed (though honorably) whether they wished it or not. They then found themselves forced to seek new employment after (in some cases) two decades of army life, and the difficulties this posed would have been considerable. There were literal millions of demobbed soldiers searching for the same jobs, and most firms would balk at the notion of hiring an exhausted 40-year-old when there were so many millions of men at half the age begging to be taken on. These are stories that did not always end happily. In any case, the appalling casualties suffered by this particular wave of the infantry ensured that they did not constitute a very large portion of surviving veterans after the war. As Robin Neillands notes in The Old Contemptibles (2004), “the British Official History gives the casualties from the start of the campaign in August 1914 to the end of First Ypres in November as 89,864 men killed, wounded or missing. It notes also that ‘the greatest part of this loss had fallen on the infantry of the first seven divisions [the six infantry divisions I mentioned plus one cavalry division], which originally numbered only 84,000 men'” (328-29).
This original number would only grow to a total of 160,000 by the end of 1914 — still better than 50% casualties. By means of useful comparison, the French mustered an army of 1,071,000 within the first days of the war, while the initial German army of 850,000 swelled to 4,300,000 within a few weeks. Even “brave little Belgium” could boast an initial army of 350,000 (37). The BEF started small, and suffered an appalling proportion of casualties by any metric. Many of the men left over were moved into training positions as the second wave began to train up — but more on that below.
Those in the second wave served a similar stretch to their earlier professional counterparts, but with some considerable practical and psychological differences. Their first taste of combat would likely have been the appalling terror of Second Ypres (with its corresponding first deployment of poison gas) or the catastrophic failure that was the Battle of Loos. This is not a cheerful tone to set, and it was only made worse by the situation of the Pals’ Battalions. Because of the way in which these battalions were constructed, a particularly bad day for one of them could result in the functional destruction of an entire town’s worth of men. This, in part, is responsible for the idea of the “lost generation” — in many villages and towns throughout the isles, this was very literally the case. These veterans, then, would carry with them the scars of having (in many cases) lost every friend or even nodding acquaintance they had ever had, often over the course of a single day. Though still relatively young, they returned to uncertain prospects and with a host of physical and mental ailments. The prevalence of PTSD among veterans of this sort, but it is also worth noting the high rate of respiratory ailments and chronic pain that afflicted them as well — not very helpful when looking for jobs in industry.
Less happily still, many of those who had been most eager to enlist in the first place had done so due to a lack of employment prospects elsewhere, and because the life that the army provided would be a step-up from what they might otherwise expect. It’s amazing to consider that army life (in spite of its dangers) actually constituted a real improvement recreationally, vocationally and even nutritionally for many of those who enlisted, but this was very often the case. With the war over, however, and the great demobilization in progress, these men, too, had to find new jobs — and they were not often available. A final note about this group: a combination of patriotic fervor, the opportunities offered by the soldier’s life, and a very lax system of official scrutiny led to many under-aged boys enlisting as adults. Such boys were scarcely ever to be found among the Old Contemptibles (for reasons I hope are obvious), and the census records kept by the government formed a more reliable means of age verification when it came to distributing conscription cards in the third wave, but all that was required of those volunteering from 1914 onward was the declaration by oath that the man was over the age of 18 — that’s it. Though it’s impossible to get a hard number, it’s estimated that as many as 250,000 such under-aged volunteers served in the British infantry throughout the war. Most joined up at 17, unwilling to wait; some were as young as 15 or 16. The youngest of which we have record, a Pvt. S. Lewis, was a mere 12 years old when he arrived on the Somme. He survived, as best we can tell, and went on to open a pub, live through the second war, and die in the fullness of his years in the 1960s — but many did not. (See Richard van Emden’s Boy Soldiers of the Great War for more on this subject.)
Finally, those in the third wave may have been in the hardest place of all. In addition to all of the challenges I’ve already noted above, these poor souls had the misfortune to have had their first tastes of combat on the Somme. Not necessarily at its supremely troubled opening, of which today is the 97th anniversary, but throughout that long, frustrating slog all the same — through the wet summer, into the frozen winter, and finally into its quiet and (apparently) consequence-less conclusion. This, too, is a hard place to start one’s career as a fighting man — and to have it followed up by Passchendaele and the German Spring Offensive of 1918 does no favors either. Another crucial difference between this group of veterans and those above is that many of them had very much wished to have nothing to do with the war at all. While many of those conscripted in 1916 would have gone willingly enough in 1914 if only they had been older, there were many more still for whom their lack of a uniform after 2.5 years of war was a very conscious choice. They were conscripted against their will, sent off in resentment or fear, trained in arts they did not wish to learn, deployed among strangers, and then subjected to all of the difficulties and boredom and thrills of the war that the first two waves experienced without any of the small mitigation of having chosen to. If we wish to find at least one of the roots of the spirit of “disillusion” that blossomed so aggressively from 1927 through 1933, we may look with interest to this generation.
Some final notes before concluding.
A serious consideration in the post-war employment market was that of women. During the war, women had risen to the nation’s call in a tremendous way and had provided crucial labor in industry of all sorts — and not just those focused on the manufacture of weapons. While many such women found themselves being let go at the war’s conclusion as the production of artillery and whatnot inevitably wound down, those in industries that would remain prolific (such as textiles, metal-working, food distribution, and so on) were not so willing to simply see themselves sent back to their former situations. Many of their employers agreed, having come to recognize their talents and being unwilling to sacrifice experienced labor to give the jobs to men who had spent the last four years doing nothing of the sort. A step forward for sexual equality it certainly was, but it also carried the unfortunate consequence that many of the men who went off to war returned to a country in which jobs that might once have been guaranteed for them would never be theirs again.
A variety of groups tried to ameliorate these problems in different ways. The Red Cross and the YMCA continued to serve as vital support networks for veterans, offering shelter, employment (when it could be found), entertainment and a means of keeping in touch with erstwhile colleagues and finding out about new opportunities. New organizations came into being in the midst of this as well; the main reason for the founding of the Royal British Legion, for example, was to help alleviate the hardships being faced by veterans who returned to a country that seemed no longer to hold a place for them.
It may surprise a modern reader to learn of it, but Sir Douglas Haig was instrumental in the founding of this charitable group, among several others, and devoted most of his public energies until the end of his life to its service. He flatly refused to allow separate Legions to be created for officers and for other ranks, believing that the wartime spirit of mutual respect and utility must be maintained, and refused the reward of a viscountcy after the war until then-Prime Minister David Lloyd George agreed to create a more substantial network of support for veterans. The Legion is still widely known and popular, and chapters of it operate both in the United Kingdom and in many those countries that were imperial dominions during the war. Somewhat less known are the Haig Homes for ex-servicemen, which Haig’s estate helped endow at his request, and the Haig Fund — now known more simply as the Poppy Appeal. Gary Sheffield’s The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army (2011) has much more to say on this subject, among countless others.
(A word or two should be said about the programs in place for disabled veterans returning home, but I am much less qualified to speak on it than I am on other matters. Let it suffice to say that there were large-scale governmental training programs set up to teach veterans with a variety of disabilities how to master trades that they could practice even in spite of whatever disability they then bore. Basket-weaving, sewing, painting and so on were popular choices for those who had lost the use of one or both their legs; other possibilities existed for those without arms, or who were blind, but I know little about them myself.)
July Days – clashes between Russian Provisional Government and Bolsheviks. The military attacked the peaceful demonstration and engaged in repression against the Bolsheviks. Lenin went into hiding, while other leaders were arrested. The outcome of the July Days represented a temporary decline in the growth of Bolshevik power and influence in the period before the October Revolution. 716 killed or wounded from demonstrators side, 94 killed or wounded from Government side.
The differences between German military doctrine and the Allied and Soviet doctrine during World War Two
German doctrine differed a lot from both the Allies and the Soviets.
All of course changed throughout the war, as what was available to commanders changed and the strategic possibilities and constraints changed.
The Germans entered World War Two with one of the absolute best armies the world have ever seen. Building on their experience in World War One, where they had developed both operational and tactic doctrines that were well-adopted for both trench and more open fighting. Flexible defense, where you deployed small groups of troops to the front to hold the line and reserves to the back allowed them to delay and then counter-attack an enemy attack both tactically and operationally (note – tactics involves small units, operations divisions and corps and strategy large armies and logistics). A quick counter-attack to retake lost territory while the enemy was still trying to organize his defense, bring his heavy weapons up, entrench and re-align his artillery to provide defensive fire was often devastatingly effective.
On the offence, the Germans had developed infiltration tactics, meaning that small heavily armed groups of men would attack and bypass strong-points and heavy resistance to allow following troops to neutralize them, and continue deep into the enemy line to attack support weapons, artillery and logistics and other rear area troops to cause the most destruction.
Building on these two doctrines, the Germans added a concentration of force – especially tanks – and the idea of punching even deeper to completely disrupt the enemy force. This is what Anglo-Saxon sources love to call‘Blitzkrieg’ (the Germans themselves never gave it a name other than ‘Schwerpunkt’ – “main focus, focal point, center of gravity”). Combined with a strong air force and close co-operation between tactical bombers (German infantry would often have Luftwaffe liaison officers attached for communication and requests of air support), the Germans brought a revolutionizing co-ordination and focus on air support to the battlefield in World War Two.
German NCOs were extremely well trained – the Reichswehr, the 100 000 man army the Wiemar Republic was allowed was trained so that every soldier could be an NCO, every NCO an officer and so on, to allow for a rapid expansion. German NCOs led from the front, died at a higher rate than regular soldiers, trained with their soldiers, ate with their soldiers and brought a very strong unit cohesion to German units, especially early war. It can probably be said that German NCOs led and kept the German army together throughout the war.
German officers and NCOs were not only very well trained – they were also allowed an extreme level of independence of action in what the Germans called auftragstaktik, or mission tactics. The unit was given a mission to solve and allowed a high degree of freedom to solve the mission how they saw most fit (as they were on the ground close to the objective). NCOs and lower officers were also encouraged to take opportunities without waiting for orders as the time to get a confirmation from higher command could mean that the opportunity was lost.
The Germans excelled in tactics and operations, but were not as good in artillery tactics, logistics and strategy as their opponents, especially the British and Americans.
Auftragstaktik was picked up by the Western Allies after the war, and is more or less standard for any western army today. Combined arms warfare, adapted to the armies of the time, is also standard in all armies today, as is concentration of armored assets in specialized divisions.
The Soviets entered World War Two with an interesting mix of experience from World War One, the Russian Civil War, their own type of deep battle doctrine and a political reversal of much of this, which proved disastrous.
The Eastern Front was never as locked or entrenched as the Western Front had been in World War One. The massed attack was on several occasions more successful here – the Central Powers broke through at Gorlice-Tarnow 1915, the Russians almost broke the Austro-Hungarians at the Brusilov offensive 1916 and the Germans managed to break Russia with their Baltic offensive 1917.
The Russian Civil War had also seen armies operating mostly independently from each other with a for the time minimal logistics train.
Generally, the Soviets had experienced that the more strong-willed and politically coherent army would win but also that adding resources to a successful attack would produce excellent results.
Tactically, the Soviets focused on overwhelming firepower and force on the attack and tenacity, excellent entrenchment and camouflage on the defense. The Soviets had also developed their own version of theschwerpunkt idea in their deep battle doctrine, in which armored, mechanized and cavalry formations would be grouped together, force a breakthrough and then act independently by rushing through and going for the deep of the enemy territory.
However, the 1937 and 1938 purges changed this. The idea of deep battle was lost, and armor was assigned to the infantry for support, although some dedicated mechanized and armored formations remained, as well as a large independent cavalry force. The purges also froze the initiative of the Red Army – NCOs and officers would not dare to do anything without orders for the risk of being accused of being a traitor. Tactical flexibility suffered heavily as a result.
In Spain, the Soviets more or less re-built the Spanish army 1937 along Soviet lines and tried to use zeal and discipline as replacements of tactical flexibility – while the Republicans had plenty of zeal, most soldiers came from the various militias and were unused to military discipline. The attempt to replace firepower and tactical flexibility with zeal and discipline spelled disaster during the Ebro offensive.
The Soviet system also proved devastatingly lousy during the Finnish Winter War. The lack of tactical flexibility, the lack of a short-range and long-range patrol doctrine in dense terrain (things the Finns excelled at) as well as operational and strategical planning failure in sending mechanized or motorized heavy formations into dense forests where they were road-bound and easy to cut up in mottis proved the failure of the Soviet system.
However, the Soviets did learn a lot from Finland, lessons they would put to good use against the Germans on the Eastern Front once they had recovered from the initial shock.
1941 the Red Army could in some circumstances be described as an armed mob without any real communications, leadership or even purpose.
The 1945 Red Army was a completely different beast and one of the best armies in the world. What happened?
The losses in Finland, and especially in the first year of the Eastern Front shock the Soviets to the core and allowed them to start learning what they were good at – but especially what they were not good at.
The Soviets understood that they could not match the Germans in tactical flexibility and in the training and education of NCOs and lower officers (since they did not have the same stock of educated people to draw from and because of the extreme casualties they suffered). So the Soviets developed that they called an operational doctrine. Specialized staffs of officers from the central command, STAVKA, was attached to sectors of the front where heavy fighting was expected. Heavy artillery, which had been attached to divisions and made them heavy and unwieldy (and hard to use since the divisions lacked the radio equipment and dedicated artillery staff as well as forward observers etc to use it well), was moved to special artillery formations. Large armored and mechanized formations were created and placed under high command orders.
These formations were attached to these staffs and used where it was deemed necessary. If an attack ran into heavy resistance and slowed down, resources was quickly shifted to a part of a front where the attack was more successful.
Adding to this was maskirovka or large scale camouflage and deception. Hiding troops by radio silence, camouflaging large formations and especially creating the false impressions they were at another part of the front by laying phone lines, creating massive radio chatter, placing dummy tanks and artillery and have trucks run back and forth to create the impression of new roads and well-used supply lines, the Soviets concentrated overwhelming force and tricked the Germans into assigning their reserves elsewhere and then used operational flexibility to keep their enemies off their balance.
The Soviets, learning from the Finns, also created the idea of constant small raids, patrols and infiltration for information gathering at a large scale – the Western Allies and the Germans had used patrol activity to take prisoners and do reconnaissance on the Western Front in World War One, but the Finns taught the Soviets about long-range patrol activity, something which they used frequently and with good effect against the Germans.
The western allies developed their own version of maskirovka (notably by creating their false army that was to attack Calais on D-day), but the Soviets pioneered it, and it became standard tactics for all armies, although at a larger scale and more common among the Soviets and their Warsaw Pact allies during the Cold War.
Long-range patrol activity is now also a very common concept in all armies – special forces usually take this duty nowadays, akin to how the British commandos operated during World War Two.
The British exited World War One with several sets of experiences. They had excelled at logistics and firepower and towards the end of the war, at the pre-planned set piece battle. The British focused on overwhelming firepower and protected movement during the inter-war years and developed the Universal Carrier to carry mortars, MGs and other support weapons for the infantry to allow them to protect themselves against a German-style flexible defense counter-attack. It would also provide a (lightly) armored LMG carrier for the troops to advance (or retreat) behind, akin to a mobile MG bunker.
On a larger scale, the British had re-introduced conscription in January 1939 and were still in the process of building a large modern force when World War Two started. Large parts of the forces employed by the British all over the Empire were more suited to colonial police duties than to modern warfare. This can be seen in how differently several Indian divisions, such as the 4. and 5. performed expertly, while others melted away at the sight of the enemy. The British were scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel and had problems manning all of their large Empire, the front against the Japanese in India, the North African theater (later Italian theater) and then the Western Front in France, not even speaking of the extensive air war, the Royal Navy and the merchant navy all over the world needed to supply their vast Empire. The British started to form armored divisions 1940, but clung to a flawed doctrine of infantry (for infantry support) and cruiser (for penetration and fast movement) tanks.
The British did very well in logistics. Pre-planning logistics, building infrastructure and ensuring supplies were in place. The British built railroads from Alexandria to El Alamein and from El Alamein to Tobruk in very short time to supply their troops. Likewise, the mulberry harbors to supply the troops landed in the Normandy invasion was a British innovation.
They were surely superior in mobile warfare to the Italians in the desert during Operation Compass, but came up short against the Germans.
Strategically, the British focused on logistics and decisive set-piece battle. Buy time to bring their logistic superiority to bear, fix the enemy in one place and grind him down through superior firepower, superior logistics and superior numbers. The only real step away from this the British conducted in World War Two was the Market-Garden operation, where the British 30. Corps was to link up with previously dropped airborne forces along a very narrow front, seizing bridges, routing the opposition and entering the Rhur area and ending the war. The operation failed due to faulty intelligence and German resilience.
The British had a strong tradition of dominating the terrain around an enemy from World War One and trench patrols and used this actively throughout the war. They also developed this into the long-range raids of the commandos and the LRDG (Long-Range Desert Group) which would consist of highly trained troops inserting themselves behind enemy lines for sabotage and raiding as well as intelligence gathering.
The long-range insertion of special forces still lives as a concept of most western armies. The level of logistics established by the British and their pre-planned logistics is still the mainstay of western warfare.
While the French were knocked out in 1940, before that they were considered the primary land power of the world and their tactics and doctrine were widely copied.
The French had suffered extreme casualties being on the offensive during World War One and thus focused on the defensive. The French wanted to be operationally on the offensive and tactically on the defensive. They developed excellent medium and light mortars and their system (Brandt) is still in use with all mortars in the world today. The French alternatively believed in the decisive battle or the slow, attritional warfare and mostly a combination of both.
The French wanted to move into Belgium to ensure fighting did not happen on French soil (since northern France held most of the French industry and coal and iron deposits) and to grind down the enemy there – they were prepared to take large casualties in this battle, as long as the enemy took more. The combination of a British blockade, intact French industry and the combined eventual strength of the British and Commonwealth Armies, the French Army and the Belgian Army was supposed to be able to grind the Germans down.
The French artillery system of pre-calculating artillery data for any possibility as soon as a battery has placed itself was revolutionizing for the time and had served them extremely well towards the end of World War One. Their divisions included heavy artillery for counter-battery fire and (as opposed to its Soviet counterpart) the artillery staff, supply service and forward observers to use it effectively. However, it was a system entirely unsuitable for mobile warfare. It was intended for the set-piece battle and slow-moving front of World War One. However, the basis of this system of pre-calculating artillery firing data, developed further by the British and especially the Americans to today’s modern system.
The French also formed the balanced armored division in their Division Légère Mécanique – infantry in armored tracked transports, a strong armored component, a strong reconnaissance component, a strong artillery component with half-tracked transport and its own integral engineering part. This basic design turned out to be how all armored formation would look towards the end of the war.
The US had, as opposed to other powers that had fought World War One, a strong belief in the individual firepower of the rifleman and a disdain for the LMG. While other countries focused heavily on magazine-fed LMGs with rapidly interchangeable barrels (or in the German case, a rather heavy GPMG in the MG 34 and MG 42), the US issued semi-automatic rifles and automatic rifles (without an interchangeable barrel, the BAR was not an LMG as it could not provide sustained fire) and relatively few MGs and all of them (except for the paratroopers) on unwieldy and heavy tripods.
The US built surprisingly much of their doctrines on French and to some extent British ideas. The pre-World War One US army had been very small and mostly fighting colonial police battles rather than European regular forces, and was cut down drastically after World War One. The budding armored corps was disbanded and what few vehicles were developed given to the still horsed cavalry.
The US had a belief that a rifle squad would be able to provide its own covering fire with rifles, which turned out to be less than ideal. The US also believed that tanks would not fight other tanks – that was the job of tank destroyers. Tank destroyers and sometimes also tanks were attached to infantry formations to help them fight tanks and tanks were equipped with weapons more suited to fire high-explosive shells.
The US also created very tank-heavy formations that looked quite a bit like the early German panzer divisions with what was probably too little artillery and infantry for the armored division to act on its own against a prepared enemy.
The Americans learned logistics from the British and built a supply system that outdid their old masters. They learned artillery tactics from the French and outdid them too by pre-calculating a lot of the data needed for defensive artillery fire and bringing down the time from fire request to accurate fire to mere minutes.
One can study which nations built assault guns – artillery on turret-less tanks. The Italians, Germans, Hungarians and Soviets did – the British, French and Americans did not. Because they did not need direct artillery fire against enemy bunkers, MG nests and trenches, since they could quickly call down accurate artillery fire on the problem.
The US learned from the French and included massive amounts of mortars in their formations.
Above all, the US had what no-one else had. The industrial capacity to actually build, move and supply forces entirely mechanized and motorized (the British did it too, at least on the Western Front, a lot of their troops on other theaters were on foot). While the Germans never reached more than 17% of their forces motorized, armored or mechanized, the US reached 100%.
Strategically, the Americans learned from the French again – a broad front, grinding the enemy down and then pursuing violently (as the French plan for 1940 had been). When Montgomery’s Market-Garden failed, Eisenhower did not allow for any exceptions to the broad front – no narrow spearheads that could be cut off.
Ham was trained to work with operant conditioning, using a system that would send electric shocks to his feet when he made a mistake and reward him with a banana pellet if he did well.
During the flight, this system went haywire and sent electric shocks even though he was doing a great job at fullfilling his tasks. He was also exposed to almost 15 g’s of acceleration rather than the predicted 11g. Finally, the cabin lost pressure during flight, and reentry damaged the bottom of the craft which started taking in water after landing.
After his historical flight, Ham clearly wanted nothing to do with space anymore and started showing symptoms similar to PTSD. He was thus allowed to retire.
You can see his gimped left arm in that photo:
“As a child, Ioseb was plagued with numerous health issues. He was born with two adjoined toes on his left foot. His face was permanently scarred by smallpox at the age of 7. At age 12, he injured his left arm in an accident involving a horse-drawn carriage, rendering it shorter and stiffer than its counterpart.”
From Wikipedia article
An underwater nuclear test being conducted during Operation Dominic, Pacific Coast off California; ca. May 11th 1962
This isn’t even the impressive part. The impressive part comes right afterwards…
Watch this video of the explosion: