Prewar logistic planners anticipated these systemic and resource problems, though senior Soviet commanders (severely attrited by the 1930s purges) gave logistic matters only secondary attention. Thus, when a 47-year-old corps commissar named A. V. Khrulev was appointed supply chief of the Red Army in October 1939, he found himself in a job that was ill defined and possessed little real authority over those many agencies charged with logistic support.3 Khrulev, a decorated veteran of S. M. Budennyî’s First Cavalry Army in the civil war, set out with his staff to reconstruct a rear service establishment that even in peacetime seemed clearly unsuited to support large-scale combined-arms operations.
Almost from the beginning of his tenure, however, he became immersed in the numerous problems engendered by the 1939–1940 Winter War with Finland. Transportation and logistic management problems were particularly acute in the Winter War. Even from the earliest days, railway cars supplying front forces were backed up on a number of lines because of inadequate tracking and poor planning. An attempt to alleviate this problem by also supplying the Northwest Front by sea from Arkhangelsk through Murmansk instead created chaotic conditions at the Arkhangelsk port. Every Red Army branch of service (artillery, engineer, signal, etc.) operated on its own schedule with no overall coordination.
Information sent from operational levels to central logistic planning bodies was irregular and sometimes inaccurate.4
As a consequence of these problems, and the inability of the logistic establishment to deal with them, Khrulev pushed for the creation of a central “Quartermaster Directorate” with expanded capabilities, a request met by People’s Commissar of Defense Marshal K. E. Voroshilov, in the summer of 1940. Khrulev (now a lieutenant general) was given increased authority and staff support. While this constituted a measure of progress at the central level, it was far from the sweeping restructuring envisioned as necessary at all levels by senior logisticians.
As Khrulev continued to push for greater control over rear services in the months preceding the Soviet Union’s entry into World War II, there was considerable discussion and disagreement within the Soviet military establishment over the subordination of rear service bodies and responsibilities for planning logistic support at every level. These disagreements became particularly acute with the assignment of Army General G. I. Zhukov to be chief of the Soviet General Staff in January 1941.
General Zhukov “supported those on the general staff who believed that a general outline sufficed as a basis for directing the supply of the army in the field.”5 Under this approach:
The General Staff would calculate needs and issue a directive; the quartermaster services subordinate to it would dispatch everything requested from them; and the commandant’s offices of the general staff ’s Military Transportation Service, to which motor vehicle, rail, water, and air transport were subordinate, would deliver to the troops all types of authorized supply.6
In short, Zhukov wanted the general staff to retain direct control of key rear service entities.
By the start of the war, in accord with Zhukov’s wishes, logistic responsibilities were divided among the several principals. As the recently retired chief of staff of the Soviet Armed Forces Rear Services, Col. Gen. I. M. Golushko, noted in a considerable understatement forty years later, “a definite separateness could be observed in the organization and, consequently, in the actions of the directorates and services related to the rear support sphere.”7 At the tactical and operational levels, the control of logistic planning within fronts, armies, and divisions rested principally with the commanders and combat staffs, not specialized rear service planning bodies. This allowed only the most superficial attention to be given to rear service support because of the other combat demands placed on the commanders and staffs.8
In addition to the organizational problems and resulting difficulties in the operation of the rear service system, those logistic resources intended to support Soviet operational formations in the initial period of war were badly deployed. Basically, there were depots for all classes
of supply (weapons and equipment, ammunition, POL [petroleum, oil, and lubricants], repair parts, food, etc.) subordinate to the various central directorates of the Commissariat of Defense, and to military districts. These stockpiles were intended for the mobilizational deployment of operational formations. However, in addition to the lack of centralized rear service management (and likely because of it), there were dangerous anomalies in what supplies were found at which levels. For example, the General Staff ’s POL reserves were virtually all located at military district level or in facilities of the national economy, with almost no stocks under direct central control.9 Thus, the general staff was limited in how quickly it could influence the POL supply of field formations.
On the other hand, ammunition stockpiles, which were the responsibility of the Main Artillery Directorate’s (GAU) Artillery Supply Service at each level, were located in GAU central, military district, and field army depots. In wartime central depots were expected to supply forward army ammunition dumps directly, while army depots in turn would supply lower echelons.10 No provision was made for a front link, though fronts would be expected to plan for the expenditure and resupply of ammunition while army entities carried out the actual resupply operations.11 The problems and confusion resulting from this kind of arrangement were not difficult for Khrulev and his staff to imagine and indeed became quickly manifest once the war began.
It is clear that the rear service support establishment existing at the time of the German attack would have had substantial problems meeting large-scale support requirements even with adequate preparation time and favorable circumstances at the beginning of war. The German attack, however, totally disrupted prewar plans for rear service mobilization and support. Huge quantities of supplies were overrun or destroyed by German forces in the first days of the conflict. Those supplies surviving or located further in the interior were often “in the hands of various services that were not subordinated to combined-arms headquarters” and thus were not made available to combat units.12 Rear service elements had to simultaneously provide retreating units with supplies, undertake the mobilization deployment of rear service units, and evacuate supplies.13 In addition, because of the concurrent requirements to sustain Soviet units and operational formations in combat and evacuate over 1,300 industrial enterprises as well as agricultural and other resources, “two gigantic train flows were moving in opposite directions with incredible difficulty under constant air attack by the enemy.”14
It is not surprising, in light of the above, that the Soviet logistic support system failed in most respects to meet the enormous demands so suddenly placed upon it. By early July 1941, by Soviet assessment, Zhukov and the General Staff were so immersed in operational matters that they had neither a conception of the logistic situation at the fronts,
nor knew what the forces required in terms of logistic support. No requirements had, in fact, even been leveled on Khrulev and his staff. On 27 July a thoroughly frustrated Khrulev prepared a written proposal for a centralized rear service establishment designed to impose a measure of order on this rapidly unraveling rear support situation.15 The proposal was passed to the Supreme Commander, I. V. Stalin, who approved Khrulev’s recommendations and immediately ordered that a draft State Defense Committee (SDC) decision on the Red Army rear service organization be prepared.16
Working with his staff, Khrulev quickly drew up the SDC draft decree and presented it to Stalin in the predawn hours of 28 July.17 Over Zhukov’s objections, the decree was approved - a move that was to establish by 1 August the essential organizations and responsibilities of the Soviet Armed Forces Rear Services as they continued to exist through the 1980s.18 It also institutionalized what appears to be a degree of creative tension between the national-level rear services and the General Staff.19
Under the rear service reorganization approved by Stalin, Khrulev was named Chief of the Red Army Rear and a Deputy Commissar (later Minister) of Defense for Rear Services. A Main Directorate for the Rear (consisting of a Main Staff, Military Railroad Directorate, Highway Directorate, and Inspectorate) was established, with Main Quartermaster, Fuel Supply, Ambulance (Medical), and Veterinary Directorates also assigned to Khrulev’s direct control.20 The Staff of the Main Directorate of the Rear had sections designated to deal with rear service planning for operational formations, planning rail and motor transport shipments, organizing logistic entities and facilities; and handling general issues.21 Thus, Khrulev had control of vast logistic resources in the form of transport, supply stockpiles, and key services, as well as being able to speak with the authority of a Deputy Commissar of Defense. Only technical support - repair, maintenance, the supply of technical equipment including ammunition, and major end items - remained under the control of main and central technical directorates (e.g., GAU) and of the various branch services (artillery, armor, engineer, signal, etc.).22 These rear service organizations and resources were in total referred to as “central” or “strategic” rear services - assets the Supreme High Command (Verkhovnoe Glavnokomandovanie [VGK]) used to influence the course of strategic operations. As the war progressed, this level of rear service support became critical to the direct logistic support of operational formations and, as a consequence, integral to Soviet operational logistics.
Within the operational logistic system itself, “chiefs of the rear,” who were simultaneously deputy commanders for rear services, were set up in the fronts and armies. These officers and their staffs had duties analogous to those of Khrulev and his central apparatus. They were directly and immediately subordinate to the commander of the given operational
formation, and subordinate “in a special sense” to the chief of the rear at the next higher level.23 They were responsible for planning and controlling designated rear service activities of the fronts and armies, while the commanders and other staff officers concerned themselves with force planning and employment issues.
Stalin himself emphasized that supplying armies and fronts required an “iron discipline” and that the new deputy commanders for rear services “must be dictators in the rear zone” of their fronts.24 The rear service chiefs at all levels exercised a coordinating role even in regard to those technical support entities that were not directly subordinate to them. They accomplished this through their control of transportation - a role that grew as the war progressed - and were thus the center for all rear service planning from strategic to tactical levels.25 On 19 August a Chief of Rear Services of the Soviet Army Air Forces was established.26 This officer and his staff (replicated at lower levels) handled all aviation-specific supply items for flying and ground support units in the air armies of the fronts or other air units, while coordinating with the Red Army Chief of Rear Services and staff for all other supply items.27 Since the Main Administration of the Air Force was a component of the Red Army, the Air Force Chief of Rear Services was subordinate in a “special sense” to Khrulev.
By mid-August 1941, then, with a basic rear support structure in place, Khrulev and his subordinates undertook the staggering task of imposing order on a logistic situation that was failing at every level. He was, more specifically, charged with
Managing the rear’s organization, transporting troops and replacements, delivering all types of materiel to the fronts …, evacuating casualties, patients and military property [and] … maintaining information on the presence of military materiel reserves in the fronts (armies) and bases, as well as on the availability of all kinds of materiel in the field army.28
Each of these functions encompassed numerous and complex components that had to be thoroughly planned and coordinated in accord with developing combat operations.
In performing these myriad tasks, a workable delineation of responsibility was developed between the central rear service bodies and the general staff, and between front and army commanders and their new rear service deputies. The general staff ’s Main Operations Directorate (and in an analogous way the front and army operations department staffs) would communicate to the rear services general, initial data on forthcoming combat operations and possible requirements. On this basis, rear service staffs worked out detailed logistic support plans for the operation.29