Today concluding my review of Diunov’s piece. Where we left off, before a little sidebar about the unfortunate General Pavlov, Diunov was ripping into Stalin for being basically AWOL and having a nervous breakdown during the first couple of days of the invasion. This sparked some lively debate among my most loyal readers, who doubt Diunov’s truthiness. Commenter Svolochenko cited an English-language source (“The Dictators”), by British historian Richard Overy. Overy in turn, in a footnote, cites a Russian compilation of war archives put together by operatives of the KGB/FSB. Here is what Pavlo wrote in the comment section of my previous post:
The evidence now shows Stalin urgently at work. For the first week of the German attack he cursed and bullied his colleagues and the army generals, but he was very much in charge, if not quite in command of the situation. His office log shows a ceaseless round of visitors and consulations: twenty-nine entries on 22 June from 5:45 in the morning, when news of the German attack broke, to 4:45 in the afternoon; the following day meetings began at 3:00 in the morning until almost 2:00 the following morning; meetings and interviews until 11:30 or 12:00 at night for the next three days.43. Stalin’s haggard and tense appearance was not the result of nervous collapse but of desperate frantic overwork. On Sunday 29 June he went to his dacha on the outskirts of Moscow, and stayed there until Monday writing speech to the Soviet people, and drafting two important directives on the Soviet war effort. By July 1 he was back in the Kremlin as chairman of a new State Defence Committee, set up by law the day before, and two days later he broadcast to the population that the Soviet state had ‘come to death grips with its most vicious and perfidious enemy’; it was not ‘an ordinary war’ but a war to be waged to the death.
43. V.P. Yampolsky(ed.) Organs of State Security of the USSR in the Great Patriotic War, (Moscow, 2000), vol ii, pp 98-104
An extract from The Dictators by Richard Overy, with the supporting reference.
Following this lead, I did some online research and found the Yampolsky source alluded to, here is an FSB site whence these massive volumes of NKVD archives (edited by Yampolsky) can be downloaded by historians. I downloaded Volume 2 and quickly skimmed through it. (It’s just an image-scan, not text-scanned, so is not text-searchable, nor is one able to copy/paste text from it; one is forced to read or skim the whole thing.) I am forced to say, these archives are collected in rather shoddy fashion, there is no rhyme or reason to the page numbering scheme, neither the document numbers nor the page numbers match the table of contents, nor the index; and everything appears to be in random order. Quite frustrating. Here is the link to Volume II wherein support for that Overy passage should be, but honestly I can’t find it.
The closest thing I could find to Overy’s reference to Stalin’s work logs is this paragraph, from the Editors Introduction, here is my translation from the Russian:
From the point of view of the nation’s leadership, a constant attention was paid to the Organs of State Security. As was noted in the journals kept by Stalin’s regular secretaries from June 21 – 28 of 1941, L.P. Beria was invited to meet with Stalin 15 times; and Merkulov 5 times. The total time which Stalin allocated, in the first week (of the war) to leadership of the NKVD and KGB, constituted 32.5 hours.
So, that’s all I could find there, it doesn’t even match Pavlo’s quote from Overy, but historian Overy seems to know what he is talking about and quotes dates and times from Stalin’s actual office work logs. In which case Stalin’s diary shows him a busy beaver from the very first minutes of the invasion, conducting endless meetings and getting very little sleep. In which case Diunov, who claims that Stalin secluded himself for the first couple of days and basically had a nervous breakdown, is either misinformed or just taking a cheap shot at the Great Leader.
Personally, I tend to believe Overy’s account over Diunov’s. Stalin doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to me who would just give up and pack it in, at the first setback. I mean, the guy was always kind of a maniacal bundle of energy, no? And even if he did have a couple of bad days — well, everyone is allowed to have a bad day, and he very quickly bucked himself up, no?
Regardless, I consider this to be a minor point, so let us continue with Diunov’s analysis:
Cruel And Unusual Decrees
Diunov: Stalin’s cruel nature continued to affect the course of military operations. In Order #428 (November 17, 1941) he demanded that all populated areas in the enemy rear, for a distance of 40-60 kilometers from the front and a width of 20-30 kilometers to the right and left of the roads, should be destroyed and burnt to the ground. This tactic of “scorched earth”, conducted on Soviet territory, meant hunger and death for Soviet citizens.
Earlier, on 21 September 1941, in a Directive issued by the Commander-in-Chief, it was stated that the Germans are are sending out old men and children to convince Red Army soldiers to surrender. In response to this, the troops were ordered to gun down such peaceful civilians, if they were to encounter them in such a context.
On July 28, 1942 the infamous Order #227 was issued, signed personally by Stalin himself. Once again he forbade any retreat or withdrawal and ordered the formation of “blocking” units, whose job was to function from the rear and shoot their own soldiers, if any tried to retreat. With particular hypocrisy, Stalin alluded to the practice of the Wehrmacht, which had allegedly implemented similar measures. However, Hitler’s famous “Stop-Order” from December 16, 1941 did not actually contain such barbaric notions, it simply remarked on the impermissibility of retreat […] Even in the Nazi Third Reich the notion of shooting one’s own soldiers, was unthinkable. And yet it became a reality in the USSR. And this shows Stalin’s biggest deficiency as a war leader, which even Marshal Zhukov remarked upon: Namely, he was completely indifferent to [personnel] losses.
During the years of war Stalin continued to distrust his military leaders. His cadre policies were chaotic and inconsistent. The first two years of the war, Commanders of armies and fronts were switched around rapidly; a fact that hindered the generals from really getting to know the situation at the particular front for which they were responsible.
This game of cadre leapfrog was the natural result of Stalin’s lack of understanding what actually happens at the front; and this always led to a mistake typical of managerial thinking: the opinion that if you switch out the leadership team, then the problems go away, and the situation will magically improve.
The situation started to get more stable only when the Red Army started to win. Moreover, despite holding all the threads of management in his own hands, Stalin refused to ever visit the front lines, preferring to receive his information via regular reports delivered by members of the General Staff.
Offense vs Defense
yalensis: In the next section, Diunov lays out his own ideas about how the war should have been conducted, especially during the first couple of years. I am not in a position to judge here, but I think he is conflating the pre-war Tukhachevsky-Uborevich doctrine of “Offensive War” which specifically meant crossing over and waging integrated warfare on enemy soil; versus Stalin’s more primitive conception of “Always attack, never pull back.” These are not really the same thing, in my opinion. Diunov believes that a primary task of an army commander consists of conserving his own troops, to the extent possible while pursuing the overall strategic goals and mission; and I can’t see how anybody would disagree with that. If you treat your soldiers like expendable cannon fodder all the time, then you are going to end up wasting a lot of fodder.
Diunov: Stalin was categorically a proponent of the “Offensive Strategy”. Any withdrawal, even [a tactical] one designed to extract some benefit, he regarded at best as unworthy of an officer, and at worst, as a punishable crime.
These ideas had found their way into the Main Doctrine of 1939 and accounted for the [persistent] demands, in 1941-42, to attack, at a time when the only way to save the country and army, was to build a solid defense and wear Germany out [through attrition]. However, starting in 1943, after the situation at the front changed in favor of the USSR, Stalin’s Doctrine of Attack started to be perceived as indisputable. This fascination with always attacking led to huge losses, for example during the Rzhevsk-Vyazma operation, which continued from January 1942 through March of 1943 and cost the Red Army almost 800,000 men.
Therefore it was not for nothing that Marshal Zhukov wrote in his memoirs: “Was J.V. Stalin, in reality, an astounding military thinker? Of course not.” Zhukov remarked that Stalin was very poorly able to work his way through military issues, but on the other hand, this bureaucrat loved to assign deadlines for the completion of tasks, often not even taking an interest in how these tasks were to be performed.
Did Stalin have any good points as a military leader? Of course. A man without any talent whatsoever would never have been able to govern the Soviet Union and win the war. But his [indisputable] talents were not of the military flavor.
Stalin’s Good Points
Foremost, Stalin well understood the essence of contemporary warfare as the combination of various types of modern weaponry. In his capacity as economic leader, he did quite a lot to promote the effective work of Soviet military industry, and the achievement of superiority in weaponry. Stalin also well understood the value of reserves and always demanded of his military leaders that they prepare and concentrate reserve units so that, at the decisive moment of battle, the army would not be left without reinforcements; and would be able to introduce into the battle ever-fresh troops; in order to strengthen success during a time of attack, or to liquidate threats during a time of defensive operations.
In conclusion, Stalin was quite a good mobilizer and leader, qualities which allowed him to direct the entire military potential of the USSR for the victory in war; albeit, unfortunately, employing very cruel methods.
Stalin also showed himself to be a master of diplomacy. He was quite successful at negotiating with our allies on the main issues of military and political collaboration. Stalin’s efforts on the international stage led to the post-war emergence of the USSR as one of the great powers.