Red Army casualties and performance

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historynut
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Post by historynut » 15 May 2006 11:09

You are right about that Qvist. There was certainly a great difference between The wehrmacht and the Kwantung army.

I had the impression that the Red army suffered huge casulties partly because they thought that they could afford it. Sending very young or very old conscripts to the front without thorough training will of course result in huge casualties. True the red army did try to conserve manpower during 44 and onwards but the never gave up their infantry wave attacks. And i think that you agree with me when i say that mass attacks or wave attacks will always produce very high casualties.

In Operation august storm those wave attacks were no longer used in the same way. Tanks, assault guns and other support weapon systems working closely together with the infantry enabled the red army to seize ground instead of human wave attacks.

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Post by Qvist » 15 May 2006 11:28

Yes, the Red Army achieved spectacular results in Manchuria at an amazingly trifling cost - hardly more than they on average suffered in a day or two on the Eastern Front. I think the closest example that can be found on the Eastern Front might be the Iassy-Kishinev operation, which similarly achieved very far-reaching results in a brief time and also at a very limited cost. If nothing else, they at least show that the Red Army did not neccessarily incur very large losses in order to achieve decisive results. But Iassy-Kishinev seems to be an extreme outlier in that regard. It would be very interesting to make a very careful analysis of that battle to try and discover just how and why it differs so strongly from others during the same period.

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Post by paulmacg » 15 May 2006 14:27

historynut wrote:The high casualties during 1945 occured because of drive to seize Berlin. The attacks on berlin were hasty due to Political reasons (Stalin wanted to take Berlin before the western allies got there). Study of casulties during Opertion August storm in manchuria would be more approrite if you are trying to asses the quality of the red army.
August Storm is an interesting study in and of itself. It certainly proves that the Red Army had learned a great deal about maneuver warfare and sustaining deep operations in even the most inhospitable terrain. IMO, there is little doubt that a similar operation undertaken in 1939 would not have been nearly as painfree. Compare the Red Army that crossed the Polish frontier at the beginning of the war with that which arrived at the outskirts of Berlin and I think it becomes fairly obvious that lessons have been learned.

In the early war it seemed that the Red Army could do almost nothing, regardless of the opposition, without a disaster of one kind or another ensuing. By the end of the war this was hardly the case.

Having said that, in order to fully understand the transformation of the RKKA I think it would be necessary to look at the painful process by which that transformation took place.

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Post by paulmacg » 15 May 2006 15:30

Qvist wrote:True enough. One specific point - the cost of Bagration cannot be called relatively low by any measure. In fact, it was one of the costliest operations of the whole war - it resulted in more than 770,000 casualties. Among Krivosheev's 50 listed operations, it places third in that regard. In terms of average daily losses, it was eigth.

What reduction in casualties? Almost twice as many were incurred in Bagration as in the Moscow offensive. And it was not my argument that the same results would have occured in 1941 with a similar force relation. The point was that the much improved force relation is in itself an obvious explanatory factor for why Bagration was much more successful than MOO. There were clearly many others.
Absolutely, and I think you are right that there has been a misunderstanding. I thought you were arguing that force relation was the only factor in the Soviet victory over Germany. My mistake.

Also, I made a mistake above when typing the numbers for the respective operations. The Red Army lost 370,955 men during the Moscow Offensive. I entered a 6 instead of a 3 and almost doubled the losses at a keystroke.

However, I do think that Bagration is a much more efficient operation for a few reasons. Force relation obviously plays a part in the outcome, but I think it must also be taken into account that at Moscow the RKKA was facing a drained Wehrmacht set back on its heels, suffering from immense logistical problems and not at all prepared to fight in winter conditions. In Bagration, the Red Army suffered similar casualties overall, but against a Wehrmacht defending favourable terrain from prepared positions and operating much closer to its own resources. Furthermore, the Red Army commited twice the number of troops in an effort which encompassed a larger front and directly involved a larger proportion of the attacking force.
I'm sorry, but I am still not with the best of will quite able to see the logic here. The measure of how successful they were at conserving manpower is the number of losses they suffered, no? Why attempt to draw general conclusions from one operation rather than from general figures? And Bagration is certainly one operation that is extremely poorly suited to indicate a tendency towards lower losses - as mentioned it was the third costliest operation of the war - and the only two ahead of it were the marathon-like Dniepr-Carpathian (116 days long) and Rzhev-Vyazma (103).
Not necessarily. A simple look at the numbers does not say a great deal beyond the obvious. It would be much more difficult to say with any surety how many casualties would have been suffered if measures were not taken to conserve manpower. Other factors must be taken into account. One cannot simply make changes in overal doctrine and expect to see a 25% reduction (or whatever) in every operation across the board compared to previous or even contemporary operations.

What I see in 1944 is a Red Army that is managing to pull of numerous offensives in rapid succession and at a constant pace while suffering few setbacks and while managing to pull off increasingly efficient operations. The fact that Bagration was a costly operation does not in any way discredit it as a possible example of improved Soviet tactics because it would be necessary to first determine what other factors were in play and to what degree they effected the outcome in terms of casualties.

I think I will make an effort to dig up some information on Iassy-Kishinev. There might be something to learn there.

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Paul

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Post by Qvist » 15 May 2006 18:08

Hi Paul

Right, this gives a somewhat clearer idea. So that we don't go on another spiral of misunderstanding, I'll mostly offer some general observations here rather than engage your points directly.

One thing that I think has to brought into the argument (bevause several of the points you raise cannot be dealt with without it) is the reciprocal factor - in effect, German and Soviet data seen in conjunction. The Soviet losses are after all a product of German activity, and hence are influenced at least as much by German capabilities and German actions as by Soviet capabilities and Soviet actions. From the perspective of using casualties as an (and I stress an, since some posters seem to understand me in the direction of thinking that everything can be explained by this, which is of course not the case) indicator, what the Soviet losses say something about is primarily German capabilities. And vice-versa. A part of that picture is to consider the force levels with which that damage is inflicted. When using casualties as an indicator of performance, then what matters is the relation of forces and losses. None of these issues can be addressed even tentatively by recourse only to Soviet (or only to German) data.
However, I do think that Bagration is a much more efficient operation for a few reasons. Force relation obviously plays a part in the outcome, but I think it must also be taken into account that at Moscow the RKKA was facing a drained Wehrmacht set back on its heels, suffering from immense logistical problems and not at all prepared to fight in winter conditions. In Bagration, the Red Army suffered similar casualties overall, but against a Wehrmacht defending favourable terrain from prepared positions and operating much closer to its own resources. Furthermore, the Red Army commited twice the number of troops in an effort which encompassed a larger front and directly involved a larger proportion of the attacking force.
One more nitpick - the Red Army losses in Bagration was not similar to MOO, but nearly twice as high. As said however, I think it is obvious that Bagration was a far more successful operation. It was also actually more successful in terms of casualties - while the Soviet losses were unusually high, the German were even more unusually so, and relatively speaking the balance was better from the Soviet point of view than in most other operations (roughly 2:1, and with the advantage that a much higher proportion of the German losses were killed or missing). If however regarded from the perspective of the size of Soviet losses alone ( in other words, in terms of cost) then it is clear that the cost was very high indeed. It is simply a case of different pieces of data providing the answers to different questions. No single answer or question provides the whole answer to large and complex events, but they speak about what they speak about, so to say. Then it is up to the analyst to weigh the importance of each of them, understand their relation - and not least, find the appropriate question that a given piece of data can answer, and realise what it cannot. Among the things no data can ultimately say anything about is tactics as such. Nor can they strictly say anything about the development of Soviet tactics as such - though they can say someting about the the end battlefield performance of the two armies relative to each other. Better Soviet tactics does not neccessarily equate to lower Soviet losses. In isloation, it should equate to a more favorable exchange of losses, but what losses can give a picture of (after a host of things have been taken into account if we are talking about a specific operation) is the net battlefield effectiveness so to speak, and here Soviet tactical advances van always be offset by other factors, such as improving German tactics or improving German weapons. To draw conclusions about it directly from losses is in effect to elicit an answer the data cannot provide, if you see my point. Beyond this, a great many factors that cannot be quantified go into the development of a campaign or the outcome of a battle. That is just to restate the already mentioned neccessity to realise what a given piece of data does not say something about.

A crucial point - and this is my point when I demur at drawing general conclusions from one psecific battle - is that it is very hard to assess data meaningfully without placing them in a larger context - more specifically, in a wider data context. We can make the judgment that Bagration was relatively speaking successful casualty-wise only by placing it in the general context of Soviet-German losses overall - it was more successful than most other Soviet operations and than the balance of casualties as a whole. Viewed in isolation, this judgment would be hard to make given that the Soviet losses were nevertheless about twice as high as the German. Even more importantly, several conclusions from these data become possible essentially because they are consistent over very long periods of time. This effectively factors out a number of things that affect the issue in any individual case - terrain, weather, higher command decisions, supply, air support and so on. Each of these can have a more or less profound impact in a certain direction on a given operation. But over four years, none of them, nor the sum of them, can account for a consistent picture of greatly disproportionate losses, because they will all have been present favoring first one side, then another, in all manners of degree - they cancel out over the long term. Hence, general figures that show such consistency over long periods must neccessarily be accounted for by more structural factors. No one could ever arrive at a precise dissection of the tangled web of causalities, but it simply seems obvious that a large part of the explanation neccessarily has to be that the Germans were far more able to hurt their opponent relative to the number of men and weapons they employed than was the case vice -versa. In fact, that they were far more capable in tha regard even without taking the relative size of the forces into account. But frankly I am unable to think of any conceivable accounting for that that does not include that judgment. It is worth underlining that it is rare that such exceptionally voluminous data over such a long period of time should so clearly suggest conclusions.

Finally - the main approach as far as quantitative factors are concerned should IMO not be to attempt to reduce events to mere products of quantitative factors, which would be excessively ambitious and fundamentally misguided. Rather, data simply provides important elements - building blocks if you like - for more general analysis by clearly answering certain specific questions, these answers again often provide important pointers and finally they constitute to an extent parameters for possible interpretations and also checkpoints for interpretations - they can rule out certain things, and they can confirm some things. For example - it is not possible to claim that German tank strength in the East never recovered from the blow of Zitadelle if it can be shown that German tank strength at a later date exceeded that on 5 July 1943. In many other cases, they can render a possible interpretation more plausible, or be one argument against another interpretation. Finally, the usefulness of data in analysis is enhanced by the fact that to an extent, different types of data have a systematic relation. For example, a better force relation does in itself tend to produce a more favorable casualty exchange ratio.

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Post by paulmacg » 15 May 2006 19:17

Qvist wrote:One more nitpick - the Red Army losses in Bagration was not similar to MOO, but nearly twice as high.
Hi Qvist

I don't know if I'd go so far as to describe this discussion as "a spiral of misunderstanding", but ok. :)

The only other thing I have time for right now is to say that Bagration was a 2 month operation (23 June-29 Aug. 44) resulting in nearly twice the casualties of Moscow which lasted only about a month (5 Dec. 41-7 Jan. 42). I think it would be fair to say that average losses per month are roughly similar.

In terms of total cost, Bagration was very costly, but in terms of available means, the Soviets could afford to lose what they did in 1944, but could not really do so in 1942. My argument lies along those lines. When I mentioned relative costs I was referring to the fact that Bagration was a huge strategic success which was bought at a high but acceptable price. Moscow was a limited success with was paid for with credit that the Germans cashed in during Fall Blau.

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Post by Doppleganger » 15 May 2006 20:33

paulmacg wrote:In terms of total cost, Bagration was very costly, but in terms of available means, the Soviets could afford to lose what they did in 1944, but could not really do so in 1942.
Hi Paul.

It's interesting that you say that the Soviets could afford to lose more resources (men, equipment, supplies) in 1944 as opposed to 1942. I'm not sure that the strategic situation of the Soviet Union makes any difference in this regard.

The other thing that strikes me is that the Red Army 'seemed' to take unnecessarily high casualties. The force relations that the Soviets enjoyed from 1943 onwards seemed to suggest that, once they had built up forces in a local area for an offensive, they seemed to have enough available to achieve success. Now I can understand that the Germans were on the defensive and were tactically good, in many cases exceptionally so, right up until 1945. I can also understand that the German defender would generally inflict a heavy cost for ground yielded to the Soviet attacker. However, I'm not in the business of saying the Red Army was still the same shambling mass it was in 1941 and there were very good commanders in the Red Army, with much better organisation and communication than before. Generally speaking, Red Army equipment was of a good, if crudely finished, standard too.

It seems to me that the Red Army was in a hurry to evict the Nazi invader and that they were prepared to take higher than necessary casualties in order to speed this process up. Why? Well, could it be that the Soviet Union had sacrificed its civilian industrial infrastructure in order to recover from 1941 and 1942, which would have severely tested any nation's ability and resolve to recover from disaster. The average Soviet division had a higher proportion of fighting men in it than a 'Western' division. Given that in a Western division the proportion of fighting men was set for a good reason, i.e. to preserve the life expectancy of the fighting men by having adequate cooks, doctors, engineers etc, any increase would suggest that the Red Army did not care about its men in the same way that say a German or UK/US division did. This could be another reason why Soviet casualties were so high even in success.

So I will postulate that the Soviet Union was in a hurry to win the Ostfront before its civilian infrastructure buckled and collapsed. We can already say that the Red Army was beginning to run out of manpower by 1945. If the Wehrmacht had been able to hang on for a bit longer, perhaps if they had strategically adopted a front-wide elastic defensive policy, could they have bled the Red Army white and thus forced a stalemate? It's my view that Stalin and his commanders sacrificed their peacetime industrial base because they had to, and in doing this they had to win before their gamble ran out. Luckily for them they did and they were quite prepared to accept very high casualties in victory to do so.

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Post by Qvist » 15 May 2006 20:40

Hi Paul
I don't know if I'd go so far as to describe this discussion as "a spiral of misunderstanding", but ok. Smile
Oh, it was a bit of hyperbole, sure. :) And pardon me for going in such length into quantitative analysis in general, but it seemed worth doing. Hopefully it can help to clarify a few things, if anyone can bear to read it. :)
The only other thing I have time for right now is to say that Bagration was a 2 month operation (23 June-29 Aug. 44) resulting in nearly twice the casualties of Moscow which lasted only about a month (5 Dec. 41-7 Jan. 42). I think it would be fair to say that average losses per month are roughly similar.
Oh, right. But that would be similar casualty intensiveness, not similar casualties. The distinction is less trivial than it might immediately seem.
In terms of total cost, Bagration was very costly, but in terms of available means, the Soviets could afford to lose what they did in 1944, but could not really do so in 1942. My argument lies along those lines. When I mentioned relative costs I was referring to the fact that Bagration was a huge strategic success which was bought at a high but acceptable price. Moscow was a limited success with was paid for with credit that the Germans cashed in during Fall Blau.
Well, cost is cost - how well the cost can be borne is a different matter that both depends on and reflects entirely different factors, and I see no real advantage in combining them in a concept of "relative cost" really. And that judgment is in any event not so clear, I think. Generally, the Red Army was much harder pressed to maintain strength levels in 1944 than in 1942. In 44, the Fronts managed basically to maintain their strength levels through the last half of the year, before seeing them drop quite significantly into 1945. In early 1942, RKKA strength was growing more rapidly than at any other point in the war, despite heavy losses. Between 1 December 41 and 5 May 42, Fronts strength rose from 4.2 to 5.5 million. The Red Army was struggling with many problems at this time, but finding men to replace losses (and indeed fuel a vast expansion of strength at the same time) does not appear to be one of them. Besides which, the cost of the Moscow operation was roughly half that of Bagration - relative to that issue, the different duration does not matter.

Anyway, as said I entirely agree with you that Bagration was by far the more successful of the two. And most of the reasons that could be cited for that judgment aren't quantitative.

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Post by Qvist » 15 May 2006 21:01

Hi Doppelganger
I've been following this thread with great interest. I thought that the above quote was probably the most insightful of the entire thread. I'm not in a position to add any more data than has already been posted but isn't the matter of the differing force relations between the 2 sides as the war went on one of the biggest factors for the eventual outcome of the Ostfront? There isn't any doubt that Red Army operational tactics, leadership, tactical nous and organisation improved markedly between 1941 and 1944 but still the biggest factor for success was the steadily diverging force relations between the 2 sides.
I think that you are very correct that the force relation stands out as an obvious and very fundamental explanatory factor in the development of the campaign. It's hard to ignore, to put it like that. Also, its development correlates with the general development of the conflict. It's important to also consider how that interacts as a factor with performance. First of all, if it is correct that the RKKA could not rely on outperforming its adversary on a man for man basis, then it neccessarily relied fundamentally on being able to deploy larger forces. This in itself puts a clear emphasis on the force relation as a basic explanatory factor. Secondly the two are closely related in that the better your performance levels are relative to the enemy, the greater the effect of whatever numerical superiority you possess. In one sense performance can be said to be combat power per man and weapon employed, and obviously, the greater this is, the larger the effect of the total number of men and weapons deployed becomes. This means that if the performance gap between the RKKA and the Ostheer narrowed simultaneously with the force relation improving, the two had a mutually reinforcing effect. This may seem obvious, but what may not be so obvious are the analytical implications of this. One of them is that if it is the case that RKKA improved in performance relative to the adversary, the superiority in forces becomes a more important factor rather than a less important factor, as this would serve to increase the effect of that force superiorty. In that sense, the often-encountered assumption that an improvement in Soviet performance meant that the numerical superiority became less important is illogical. Needless to say, and as you also point out, many other factors of course also go into anything resembling a general accounting for the development of the war.

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Post by Qvist » 15 May 2006 22:14

In the early war it seemed that the Red Army could do almost nothing, regardless of the opposition, without a disaster of one kind or another ensuing. By the end of the war this was hardly the case.
Hi Paul. Some comments to this also,. At the risk of sounding trite, here I must once again point to the force levels as one very obvious factor in that state of affairs, especially prior to the summer campaign of 1942. And also I think that the image of 1941 as the low point in RKKA performance probably needs to be modified a little bit. To be sure, they were regularly demolished until the Moscow counteroffensive, but then they were taking the field in, at best, equal strength to their opponent and also laboring under a number of severe handicaps during the first months. It is often overlooked that despite all the disasters, the RKKA as it existed during the summer exacted a very heavy price from their opponent - so heavy in fact that German losses did not reach similar levels again until the summer of 1943, and remained at lower levels than this even in most quarters after that time - not a bad achievement for a force that fought on worse numerical terms than at almost any other time, and which was caught in a state of deficient readiness and forced to mobilise while bleeding produsely. Some have also argued that the Ostheer suffered qualitative deficiencies during the early part of the campaign due to indifferent training of many units, and that it too had an adjustment to make. That reminds me, I do not think I have posted the German quarterly losses (like the strength work in progress, I must add):

III/41.... 551 189
IV/41......279 861
1941.......831 050

I/42........280 238
II/42.......220 291
III/42......383 750
IV/42.......177 050
1942.....1 061 329

I/43.........498 795
II/43........110 139
III/43.......533 025
IV/43.......381 725
1943......1 523 124

I/44...........423 715
II/44..........352 831
III/44.........879 127
IV/44..........297 782
1944........1 953 455

On balanace, I would not draw too far-reaching conclusions just from this, but I think there is enough in the data to raise a few interesting questions regarding the RKKA performance in the earliest part of the war and regarding the very negative assessment of that performance. Your point is on the other hand spot-on with regard to the late spring to late autumn fighting in 1942, when the RKKA fared generally very badly indeed in every possible way - operationally, in terms of own losses, in terms of relative losses, you name it - despite having reached much higher strength levels than in the previous year, and despite the consensual judgment that the German forces opposing them were generally rather inferior in quality to the Ostheer of the preceding summer.

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Post by historynut » 17 May 2006 09:15

Doppelganger
The average Soviet division had a higher proportion of fighting men in it than a 'Western' division. Given that in a Western division the proportion of fighting men was set for a good reason, i.e. to preserve the life expectancy of the fighting men by having adequate cooks, doctors, engineers etc, any increase would suggest that the Red Army did not care about its men in the same way that say a German or UK/US division did. This could be another reason why Soviet casualties were so high even in success.
The red army actually changed the organisation of their strelkovaya (rifle) divisions to include lesser fighting men and more artillery and support weapons during 44.

Qvist
I think that you are quite right about the red army competence during 1941. The low point of the red army must have been after operation Barbarossa. The level of training seems to have dropped because men had to be rushed to the front.

The nomohan incident (Khalkin Gol battle) gives another picture of the red army. The individual soldier/ militiaman still seems pretty untrained but on the other hand It certainly seems as if the red amy was adept at combined arms tactics and efficient use of massed armour formations.

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Post by Qvist » 17 May 2006 12:43

The red army actually changed the organisation of their strelkovaya (rifle) divisions to include lesser fighting men and more artillery and support weapons during 44.
Yes, the general trend seems to have been towards increasingly complex formations with increasing proportions of support elements of all kinds, both combat and non-combat. Obviously, this affected tactical methods, or at least it had the potential to.

I think that the evolution of organisatoinal structure may in itself have had an important effect on the RKKAs capabilities, as distinct from its tactical methods. As you rightly point out, it was at its worst during the period when it was structurally speaking the most simple, for most of 1942. It is rather striking how much the fighting power evidently increases when effective large-scale mobile formations were re-introduced in late 1942. There can hardly have been a very dramatic difference in such things as general tactical methods, standards of training, leadership and so on between the forces that got beaten up very badly and wiht seeming ease in the summer and early autumn, and the one that triumphed in November and December - it looks to me as if the organisational development (ie, the introduction of the Tank Armies) in itself may have generated a leap in offensive power. (True, strength was also considerably better by November, but the improvement in offensive combat power seems morethan just incremental. Also, after this point the RKKA never again suffers the horrible ratio of casulaties that it experienced earlier in that year). Quite possibly, increasing organisational complexity and enhanced support resources also in itself developed an increased efficacy in the fighting formations as the war wore on. Perhaps we ought to focus somewhat less on tactics and more on organisation as a factor? To say nothing of their interconnectedness?

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Post by paulmacg » 17 May 2006 13:10

Khalkin-Gol, while successful, was a prime example of a "Zhukov Special". In fact, the operation earned him the bloody reputation that would stick with him for the rest of the war. Some have defended him by claiming that he "understood the nature of modern warfare and was psychologically prepared to wage it". What this also means is massive casualties. As late as 1945 Zhukov was still favouring the costly frontal assault tactics that were his trademark (i.e. Seelow Heights) and, some would argue, the popular perception of the Red Army as a whole.

IMO, Khalkin-Gol is the perfect example of an operation that must take into account the opposition. Similar tactics used under other circumstances were not nearly as effective. Certainly contemporary operations (Finland and Poland for example) were costly or embarrassing even if marginally successful.

Of course, there are reasons for all of this. The purges and the constant reorganization of the Red Army's armoured forces undoubtedly hurt. In fact, the armoured corps were disbanded after Poland for, political machinations aside, good reason. A certain level of proficiency might have been apparent at Khalkin-Gol against a lesser enemy, but whatever illusions resulted from that victory they were quickly dispelled in operations in Europe.

In any case, Barbarossa left little doubt that the Red Army's tanks corps were disastrous failures. Most of them were eradicated within 2 weeks and the remainder soon thereafter. This is not the kind of performance that would result from a force with a long standing tradition and expertise in armoured warfare. Even if the corps had been left as they were in 1939 they were still damn near useless formations incapable of mounting an effective operation over any real distances.

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Post by paulmacg » 17 May 2006 14:06

I think it is hard to reconcile the idea that the Red Army was at a low point in 1942. I find it hard to determine exactly how the course of the war can be explained in this way. It is also entirely possible that the Red Army exacted a greater price in blood from the Wehrmacht in 1941 not because it was a higher quality force relative to its performance in 1942, but because of mistakes made by the Germans.

The Red Army, or at least the bulk of it, ceased to exist during the early part of Barbarossa. The armies Guderian and Hoth faced at Smolensk were poorly equipped and hastily assembled formations that were only effective because the Germans were spread so thinly across the front. Or rather, they were only really able to stand up and fight. Any toll they took on the Germans was most likely due to their numbers, tenacity and ability to improvise. Quantity has a quality of its own, as they say.

I find it much more probable that the perceived effectiveness of the Red Army at Moscow was far more likely due to the Wehrmacht's reduced fighting capacity. Given the fact that almost all of the formations present were newly formed and poorly supported.

The Red Army suffered more casualties in 1942 than in 1941. This makes me ask the inevitable question: At what point did the RKKA have the opportunity to raise the quality of its forces?

I see a different picture. I see a distinct low point in quality in September 1941 just after the German victories at Smolensk and Kiev. IMO, it was at that point that the Red Army was able to begin assembling the kinds of forces that would enable them to survive and, more importantly, learn. The learning process continued throughout 1942 and was helped by a German Army that spread itself thin all over southern Russia.

Yes, the Red Army suffered terribly in 1942, but it also chose to sacrifice lives and space for the strategic reserve that it needed to counterattack. A decision that paid off in spades at Stalingrad. In other words, the quality of the Red Army rose throughout 1942, but that improvement was basically overlooked until it slapped the Germans in the face late in the year.

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Post by Qvist » 17 May 2006 15:16

Hi Paul

First of all, here we are both going of nothing that is solid enough for any great certainty, so this is something that certainly can be seen in more ways than one. Let me however go through some of the arguments for the perspective I put up.

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to attach that judgment to the period October 1941 to November 1942, as the Kiev battles in September were probably the last major fighting in which more or less systematically raised and trained peacetime formations made up a significant part of the soviet formations involved. The formations that were raised late in the autumn, and which formed the mass of the forces involved in the Moscow operations, were by all accounts hastily formed and indifferently equipped indeed. I am not so sure that this would apply equally to the forces deployed in the central sector July-September, as unless I am much mistaken the wave of the reservist formations formed and deployed there were in all likelihood better off in this regard than the subsequent ones - they had at least a core peacetime establishment of several thousand men, while the November-December reserve armies were apparently created more or less from scratch, and quickly too. The fundamental contrast is really with the RKKA as long as it retained something of the character and strcuture it possessed at the outbreak of war.
The Red Army suffered more casualties in 1942 than in 1941. This makes me ask the inevitable question: At what point did the RKKA have the opportunity to raise the quality of its forces?
Sure - but this is an explanation for the phenomenon, not an argument against its existence. Incidentally, 1941 was only a half-year of fighting, at the RKKA bled at a higher intensity in 1941 than it did in 1942.
I see a different picture. I see a distinct low point in quality in September 1941 just after the German victories at Smolensk and Kiev. IMO, it was at that point that the Red Army was able to begin assembling the kinds of forces that would enable them to survive and, more importantly, learn. The learning process continued throughout 1942 and was helped by a German Army that spread itself thin all over southern Russia.
Yes, but the fact that they underwent a learning process does not neccessarily mean they were particularly effective while doing so. If you follow the structure of soviet units through this period (in f.e. Zaloga/Ness' Red Army Handbook, which devotes considerable attention to that), you see that during this period Soviet formations of all types were very weak (by establishement I mean) in all kinds of support elements, from radios and vehicles to artillery pieces. There is also a clear tendency to more smaller (and simpler) formations. On 22 June 41, the RKKKA had 198 Rifle Divisions and 5 Rifle Brigades. On 1 January 1942, it had 389 RDs and 159 RBs, by 1 July 42 425 RDs and 144 RBs.

The biggest contrast is however in motorised and support formations - tank strength is deployed in Tank Brigades and independent Tank batallions, with severaly limited independent support resources. The mechanised brigades so vital for their support do not appear until very late in 1942, and motorised brigades not until spring 1942. More importantly, they lack any higher integrating formations which could contain their various support resources on a more
than ad-hoc basis. Similarly, artillery resources of all types are almost exclusively independent batallions and regiments rather than, as later to a large extent, brigades and divisions. By 1 january 1943 a marked change is already evident, this is not the case by 1 July 1942. During this period it is also generally true that Fronts had much sparser resources with which to support their subordinate formations than they did later, which further aggravated the consequences of the fact that a larger proportion of the forces lacked any real integral resources of that kind.
Yes, the Red Army suffered terribly in 1942, but it also chose to sacrifice lives and space for the strategic reserve that it needed to counterattack. A decision that paid off in spades at Stalingrad. In other words, the quality of the Red Army rose throughout 1942, but that improvement was basically overlooked until it slapped the Germans in the face late in the year.


Well, on what do you base the judgment that its quality rose? In the summer battles in 1942 they were beaten at even more disfavorable cost than in the previous year, despite being very considerably stronger, by weaker German forces who were by all accounts of lesser quality than in he preceding year, so that would seem to me somewhat counterintuitive judgment (though of course it depends on what you take as the starting point for comparison). It seems a more reasonable interpretation to me that the numerous steps instigated to rebuild and restructure the RKKA qualitatively and organisationally did not bear clear fruits until late in that year, and that in the mean time they had no other option but to get along with what they had. The "chose to sacrifice lives and space for the strategic reserve that it needed to counterattack", apart from being somewhat questionable as an overall perspective, explains nothing in this regard. The point was not to acquire a strategic reserve - they already had one, which is how they managed to survive the brutal losses taken in the spring and summer. The point is rather that this strategic reserve would not become a prime instrument of victory until organisational and restructuring efforts that were still underway in mid-42 had been completed.
It is also entirely possible that the Red Army exacted a greater price in blood from the Wehrmacht in 1941 not because it was a higher quality force relative to its performance in 1942, but because of mistakes made by the Germans.
If so, then these mistakes must have been fairly consistent, because the exchange of losses is consistently worse in 1942 than in 1941 (though a point of doubt here are the insecurity of the 1941 Soviet data). Also, in 1941 the Red Army was deploying much weaker forces (numerically speaking) andlabored initially under exceptional difficulties that were not present in the following year.

cheers

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