Red Army casualties and performance

Discussions on WW2 in Eastern Europe.
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Post by paulmacg » 25 May 2006 16:29

The Soviet Khar'Kov offensive was a disaster from the planning stage all the way through. Beginning with a serious underestimation of German forces in the region and poor communication between fronts, the operation was dismally executed in its entirety. Spring mud hindered all efforts and made an apparent lack of an overall plan for positioning attacking units much worse.
According to Glantz:

Only 17 of 32 non-divisional artillery regiments assigned to support the offensive were in position to begin the attack on 12 May. The 3d Guards Cavalry Corps, the designated mobile exploitation force for the northern attack, did not gather all its forces in the designated assembly area until 15 May, three days after the offensive had begun. Meanwhile, the high levels of activity in the region during April attracted the attention of German aerial reconnaissance units, and the Luftwaffe constantly interdicted river crossings and other chokepoints. For all these reasons, the Southwestern Front was unable to assemble adequate supplies to support the attack. Only about one third of the ammunition planned for the initial artillery barrage was on hand.
All of this is fairly indicative of an army with not even a years experience in war and much less experience in the execution of offensive operations. The lack of attention paid to the German 17th Army, the focus on the Moscow axis, the withdrawal of the powerful Briansk front, overall poor intelligence, miscommunication between fronts, misuse of engineers, poor defensive works, inneffective armoured units and a lack of experience all combined to produce one of the more expensive mistakes of the war. In all, the Germans encircled and destroyed some of the Soviets' most capable units even before Fall Blau began. Lost from the Soviet OoB were 6th Army, Operational Group Bobkin and 9th and 57th Armies (the equivalent of three rifle armies and a tank army) together with a host of senior commanders and staff.

Combined with the losses suffered during the first and second quarter of 1942, amounting to just over 3,000,000 casualties, the Red Army faced Fall Blau with a disastrously depleted force. The further catastrophic losses suffered in the Crimea (the loss of 44th, 47th and 51st armies) removed any easy answer to the problem.

The Stavka, despite the looming disaster, still did not react appropriately. Fearing a German attack on the Moscow axis, it failed to commit the necessary forces despite having 10 reserve armies forming farther to the north.

Of course, the overall effect of these blunders was to squander a large numerical superiority and to produce the loss of several replenished and potentially useful armies. They also forced the Red Army into the undesirable position of having to make painful sacrifices throughout the German campaign. Having little more than quickly formed and poorly trained armies at its disposal, the Stavka decided to withdraw across southern Russia. This decision led to mass confusion and panic, but also prevented, along with an overextended German army, the capture of vast numbers of prisoners as had occured in 1941. Accordingly, the overall numbers of killed or missing men was reduced significantly.

This and the painful sacrifice of Stalingrad allowed the Soviets the time it needed to assemble a formidable strategic reserve and also drained an already overextended Wehrmacht. The 3rd quarter of 1942, despite being one of the most costly of the war (2,418,801 casualties with 1,141,991 dead or missing) actually saw the beginning of the powerful forces that would eventually destroy the German 6th Army and inflict a crushing blow on the Wehrmacht as a whole in the south.

The Soviet Stalingrad offensive showed that lessons had indeed been learned and that the rejuvenated Red Tank armies were no longer incapable of sustaining deep operations. In fact, the 4th quarter of 1942 saw much reduced casualty figures, especially in terms of killed or missing which dropped to a relative low of 455,800. Overall, the 4th quarter of 1942 was the best of the war to that point.

After Stalingrad the Red Army faced an entirely new dilemna. No longer on the defensive, it would now suffer even more losses as it began a nearly unbroken period of offensive actions.



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