The Origins of Soviet Operational Art
Jacob W. Kipp
Over the last decade Western military historians and analysts have come to appreciate the importance of operational art in modern warfare - the conduct of war at echelons above corps and on the scale of theater- strategic campaigns. Such appreciation of operational art stands in stark contrast to the situation two decades ago, when Soviet claims for the importance of operational art (operativnoe iskusstvo) were dismissed as mere pretension. Operational art, an artificial creation imposed between tactics and strategy - so it was thought - had no content or merit.2
The contributions of Soviet military theorists and practitioners to the development of operational art and the vitality of Soviet military theory in the 1920s and early 1930s are now widely acknowledged.3 Condoleeza Rice’s essay on the young Red commanders and tsarist military specialists, who laid the foundations for Soviet military art, placed their works among the ranks of the Makers of Modern Strategy.4 The late Brig. Richard E. Simpkin, one of the most original and insightful students of military affairs of the last decade, in a stimulating study on the continuing relevance of the Soviet concept of deep operations, noted the special contribution of Marshal Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky to that concept.5
This chapter examines the development of Soviet operational art within the larger context for the formulation of Soviet military art and military science between 1918 and 1936. Operational art was more than the accomplishment of one man. This essay will trace the path to operational art from the creation of the Soviet State and the Red Army through the recruitment of tsarist military specialists (voenspets) to the evolution of the Red Army as a combat force fighting a revolutionary war. The issues raised by the final campaigns of the Russian Civil War are examined as they contributed to the articulation of such concepts as successive operations, deep battle, and deep operations.
For over a decade a spirited, often polemical, positive, but finally lethal debate among the leadership of the Red Army laid the foundations for the development of Soviet operational art, the theory of deep operations, and the mechanization of the Red Army. Aleksandr I. Verkhovsky (1886–1938), an officer of the tsarist general staff (genshtabisty), Minister of War in the Provisional Government in September–October 1917,
and voenspets from 1919, saw those debates as a three-way contest among conservatives, realists, and futurists. In the 1920s Verkhovsky taught in and directed the Tactics Department at the Military Academy of the Red Army of Workers and Peasants (RKKA). He identified reform-minded, voenspetsy professors like himself as the “realist,” engaged in “a war on two fronts.” They had to contend with conservatives, who wanted to maintain past concepts because they were sanctioned by history and the unchanging laws of military science, and the futurists, who on the basis of the Revolution and Civil War put their faith in crude military means and political agitation and trusted in class struggle to ignite revolution behind the enemy’s lines. In assessing this struggle during the Academy’s first decade, 1918–1928, he concluded that it had been full of vitality and had served the Red Army quite well.6
One area of significant progress was the realm of “higher tactics” or “lower strategy,” as studies of the operational level of war were known at the Military Academy in 1918–1923. A leading figure in the study of operations was Verkhovsky’s colleague, Aleksandr A. Svechin. He too was a genshtabist, veteran of the Russo-Japanese War and World War I, and voenspets in the RKKA. Prior to World War I Svechin, as a professor at the Nikolaevskaya Academy of the General Staff, had been one of a cohort of young military thinkers and historians who had focused on the conduct of operations as the foundation of modern industrial war. Svechin in a series of lectures on strategy in 1923–1924 coined the term operational art.7 He described operational art as the bridge between tactics and strategy, the means by which the senior commander transformed a series of tactical successes into operational “bounds” linked together by the commander’s intent and plan and contributing to strategic success in a given theater of military actions.8
N. Varfolomeev, the deputy head of the Department of Strategy during the same period, noted that objective changes in warfare associated with the appearance of million-man armies and technological innovations had recast the face of battle, increased its spatial and temporal dimensions, broken down the conventional forms of combined arms, forced a rethinking of problems of command and control, and laid the foundation for the emergence of the operation as the bridge between strategy and tactics. Tactics became the conduct of battle/combat (boi), the engagement (srazhenie), which in the Napoleonic era had been conducted as a series of combats on a single battlefield under the observation of the commander. The engagement now took place over a much broader front and at much greater depths well beyond the ability of any commander to exercise direct control. Borodino had given way to Mukden, Tannenberg, and Warsaw. In this manner the operation emerged as the bridge to strategy. Varfolomeev described the modern operation as: “the totality of maneuvers and battles in a given sector of a theater of military actions
(TVD) which are directed toward the achievement of a common objective, which has been set as final in a given period of the campaign. The conduct of an operation is not a matter of tactics. It has become the lot of operational art.”9 Within a year operational art became a new discipline taught in the new chair on the Conduct of Operations within the Department of Strategy at the Military Academy of the RKKA, thanks to the intervention of Tukhachevsky, the newly appointed deputy chief of staff of the RKKA.
While the introduction of operational art as a separate discipline was short-lived - the chair disappeared within a year - the subject became a core topic in senior officer education and reappeared as a Department in the Frunze Military Academy in 1931. The very existence of this new category within Soviet military science had a profound impact on Soviet military art, military doctrine, and the concept of future war. This situation is quite clear from contemporary publications, articles, and regulations.10
Later events - the politicization of military theory and attacks upon voenspetsy, the blood purge of the military, the cult of Stalin, and the manufacture of an entire pseudo-history of the Civil War, conspired to rob the Red Army of its past, obscure the origins of operational art, and plant seeds of confusion and uncertainty about the contribution of individuals to the development of operational art in the interwar period. After the triumph of Stalinism, many of the most important contributors to these developments were labeled “enemies of the people,” imprisoned, liquidated, and then transformed into “non-persons.” This situation has greatly handicapped the study of the origins and development of operational art. The Soviet Army lost much of its own past. In spite of these problems, we can recreate that past and discuss the development of operational art from World War I and the Civil War to the articulation of the theory of deep, successive operations in “The Temporary Field Regulations of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army, 1936.”
World War I and Russian Operational Experience
As Professor Menning has pointed out in the previous chapter, with the industrialization of war, the problems of mass and mobility became infinitely more complex. The new weapons extended the breadth and depth of the battlefield, increased the lethality of fire, played havoc with well-established concepts of combined arms, and made possible the more rapid mobilization of manpower for the conduct of the campaign. The traditional definitions of tactics (the direction of forces on the field of battle) and strategy (the control of units as they maneuvered prior to engagement) broke down.
The experience of combat in the Far East during the Russo-Japanese War, 1904–1905, brought these problems to the attention of a group of
reform-minded Russian officers associated with the general staff and the Nikolaevskaya Academy of the General Staff, who became the leaders of a postwar military reform effort. For these officers the conduct of operations, as the means of linking together tactical successes into a coherent whole and setting the stage for new methods and means of troop control, became the essence of modern warfare. The process culminated with new field regulations in 1912, an unsuccessful campaign for a “unified military doctrine,” and a greater emphasis on immediate offensive operations in Russia’s war plans.11
These interwar debates had marginal impact upon the way in which Russia went to war in 1914. The concept of a unified supreme headquarters (Stavka) was accepted, and the intermediary command was introduced to control the operations of a group of armies in a given sector of the theater. New Russian field regulations placed greater emphasis upon effective combined arms, the meeting engagement, and march-maneuver. In addition, thanks in part to changing diplomatic circumstances, bureaucratic politics, and the emphasis upon a short, decisive war, Russian war plans shifted from General Mikhnevich’s covering-force strategy to one of initial offensive actions, even before the completion of mobilization, a position in keeping with Colonel Neznamov’s views on the decisiveness of initial operations. Not all the reformers, however, agreed with this shift.12
War Plans A (Austro-Hungary) and G (Germany) as drafted did not provide for a decisive massing of forces and means against either opponent. When war came in the summer of 1914, after the false start of the proposed partial mobilization against Austro-Hungary, Russian forces under Plan A were committed to immediate offensive operations against the Germans in East Prussia and Austro-Hungarians in Galicia. As General Zaionchkovskiy noted later, both operational plans were remarkable for their “diffusion and distribution of means.” Nowhere did Russian forces achieve an overwhelming superiority, which would have brought about a decisive victory. In their advances to contact and initial engagements the Russian armies found their logistical systems to be totally inadequate to sustain the pace of operations.13 Stavka and the fronts did not effectively coordinate the armies’ actions and were slow to adjust their planning to enemy actions.
While prior to the war the Academy of the General Staff had begun the study of the operational level of war, the results were not in evidence in the initial phase of the war. The Russian Army did not achieve the “steamroller” mass, which worried its adversaries and consoled its allies. Nor did it attain operational massing of forces. Zaionchkovskiy argues that failure of leadership was the responsibility of the tsarist general staff. Reformers at the Academy were cut off from the rest of the army. Its generals and colonels, who staffed the fronts and armies, were considered
“professors in uniform” and thought incapable of command. The higher leadership of the state and the army did not take such ideas seriously. New concepts were proposed in Russkiî invalid and Voennyi sbornik, but they seemed to have little positive impact on either the chiefs of the general staff or the ministers of war. General Sukhomlinov’s memoirs are typical of the lack of attention paid to the academy by senior officers.14 The academy was not the “brain” of the general staff, and the general staff hardly qualified as the “brain of the army.” Indeed, the process of expanding the force and simultaneously changing the nature of the war plans proved too complex for the general staff to manage in the last two years before the outbreak of hostilities.
In spite of the reformers’ efforts, the Russian officer and NCO corps were hardly prepared for modern war. This was particularly true regarding the ability of Russian units and formations to maneuver with dispatch. Zaionchkovskiy argued that Russia went to war in 1914 with “good regiments, average divisions and corps and poor armies and fronts.”15 The meeting engagements fought at Gumbinnen in East Prussia and along the Gnilaia Lipa in Galicia in the first weeks of the war seem to confirm this judgment. Here, Russian regiments and divisions fought without operational direction or coordination. In both cases they won initial victories. At Gumbinnen, no follow-up advance by victorious units of the First Army ensued; the defending German forces were able to disengage and then mass against General Samsonov’s ill-fated Second Army. In Galicia, the victories along the Gnilaia Lipa were the first Russian successes on a path which would culminate in the capture of Lvov.16 Then the logistical system collapsed and the advance into the Carpathians came to a halt. In short, the army’s organism had a stronger skeleton than nervous system. Its training and regimental system created good junior officers but not an effective staff system or high command structure.17
The experience of Russian forces on the Eastern Front during World War I proved particularly beneficial to such study. The situation at the front never degenerated into the absolute linearity of positional warfare in the trenches of the Western Front because of the correlation of area (the very length of the front, its density, and relatively lower number of forces) and means available along the front, making it difficult to create deeply echeloned defenses like those seen in the West and the underdevelopment of the transportation and communication assets of the theater, which reduced the defender’s relative advantage in responding to an attack. Thus, scale, density, and economic backwardness combined to create greater opportunities for maneuver. War in the East became a Gummikrieg (rezinovaya voîna), as one captured Austrian officer described the autumn fighting in the Carpathians to his Russian interrogators at Eighth Army Headquarters.18 Operational maneuver, such as the Lodz envelopment and counterenvelopment of the fall of 1914 during which
German and Austro-Hungarian forces sought to encircle the Second and Fifth Russian Armies and were themselves subsequently threatened with envelopment, persisted throughout three years of fighting without either side’s being able to gain the upper hand. Commanders on both sides developed the techniques necessary for a breakthrough but were unable to transform a breakthrough into a sustained drive, which would destroy the opposing force, overcome the enemy’s reserves as they redeployed to meet the threat, and bring about decisive victory. General Brusilov’s Southwestern Front provided a model for such a breakthrough operation on the Russian side, one which Red Army staff officers would study in detail.19 It is probably fair to describe the 1914–1917 struggle as a semimobile war in which neither side was able to execute decisive maneuver. Cavalry raids in the rear of the enemy army became more difficult and could not deliver any decisive results. The pauses between operations grew longer as combat losses increased and the process of regrouping forces became more complex and time-consuming.20
At the start of the war, on the assumption that it would be a short one, the War Ministry closed the academy and mobilized its faculty and students. As the war dragged on and the need for more staff officers became critical, the War Ministry reopened the academy in late 1916. During a turbulent year of revolution and social upheaval in which the old army disintegrated, the academy resumed its mission under these trying circumstances.21 Following the October Revolution and the German advance toward Petrograd, the commandant of the academy ordered the faculty and students and the library moved to safety. In this case safety was Kazan, where most of those who went joined Admiral A. V. Kolchak’s White Russians (counterrevolutionary forces) in Siberia. A minority of faculty and students moved to Moscow with the Soviet government. In the fall of 1918 the Soviet government set about organizing its own Academy of the General Staff.22
The Civil War and the Conduct of Operations
The disintegration of the old army and the mounting prospects of civil war and foreign intervention created a situation in which the newly established Bolshevik regime had to set about the creation of its own armed forces. The RKKA, or Red Army of Workers and Peasants, which emerged during the Civil War, relied heavily upon tsarist military specialists for combat leadership, staffing, and training. By the end of the Civil War about one-third of all Red Army officers were voenspetsy, and in the higher ranks the ratio was even greater. Thus, 82 percent of all infantry regiment commanders, 83 percent of all division and corps commanders, and 54 percent of all commanders of military districts were former tsarist officers.23
The forging of this union between the new Bolshevik government and the tsarist military specialists had not been easy. Lenin and his new Commissar of War, L. D. Trotsky, had faced criticism from left-wing advocates of partisan warfare and critics who doubted the loyalty of the tsarist officers. In March 1918 Trotsky wrote:
As I. A. Korotkov has acknowledged, the first steps taken by Soviet military science were made by voenspetsy associated with the tsarist general staff and its Academy. The first Soviet professional military journal, Voennoe delo, carried articles on military doctrine by Neznamov, Svechin, and P. I. Izmest’ev - the last being the author of a major study on the significance of the estimate in planning military operations.25 In this fashion the Bolshevik state, championing the proletarian world revolution, inherited the mature speculations on the conduct of operations by the best minds of the tsarist army. Izmest’ev’s study on “The Significance of the Estimate in Working Out and Conducting Military Operations” had appeared in Voennyî sbornik, between March 1915 and June 1916. The author used historical analysis of military operations and the writings of Clausewitz, Schlichting, and Jomini to address the importance of staff process in planning and controlling military operations. Izmest’ev pointed out that “great captains” of the past had combined will and reason to manage risk. However, he noted that modern war had made the planning and conduct of military operations one of the most complex and demanding of human activities. Modern warfare would not tolerate an eyeball estimate (glazomer) of the situation. Only the intellect (um) could deal with the complexity of modern operations and reduce chance to a question of probability.26 The staff in this context replaced the intuition of the “great captain” to become the instrument of rational control and planning. Kuropatkin’s handling of Russian forces at the Battle of Mukden in January 1905 became a case in point of what could go wrong.27 In a critique of Europe’s war planners before 1914, Izmest’ev noted the tendency to suppose that the war plan and the plan of initial operations were the end of the estimate process. That estimate process began when the war plan moved to the campaign plan, which he defined as the preparation and execution of the plan of war in a given theater of military action. But experience had shown that the same detailed planning was necessary for subsequent operations. The staff process had to calculate march rates, transport rates, and rates of consumption of ammunition and materiel, as well as assess enemy intentions and
plan those actions that would frustrate them. In short, the staff engaged in a struggle with time and space to make possible the decisive concentration of combat power on the main direction of possible attack in a timely fashion. In making such calculations, planners had to employ norms, based upon the combat experience of actual troops and not arbitrary assessments. Izmest’ev believed that the estimates upon which the war plan was based should for the most part be “mathematically absolutely exact estimate[s].” Such calculations did not end with the first operations of the initial phase of the war. After that the commander and his staff would have to engage in their own calculations based upon their assessment of the mission, theater terrain, enemy, one’s own forces, and time. Failure to adjust to new circumstances would lead to defeats, like those inflicted at Tannenberg and along the Marne. He wrote:
The more scientific the approach to operational planning, the greater the ability to reduce risk to manageable dimensions and the higher the probability of success in the conduct of operations.29
Thus, the legacy of the tsarist general staff provided the Red Army with an intellectual legacy conducive to the study and use of past operations. One of the most important vehicles for such work was the Commission for the Study and Use of the Experience of the War, 1914–1918, which the Soviet government created in 1918 and which Svechin soon headed. The focus of the commission’s work was to be the operations of all belligerents.30 However, intellectual speculation about the nature of operations took second place to the conduct of war for most officers of the newly founded Red Army. As Civil War tore apart the fabric of Russian society, the Soviet Republic created its own “new model army.” By recruiting former officers, the Bolsheviks sought to exploit the professional talents of a “class enemy” to secure the survival of their new order. The recruitment of military specialists (voenspetsy) was to some measure the product of the Bolsheviks’ and Lenin’s attitude toward the professional expertise of the “spetsy.”31 Among the officers who joined the Red Army it was in part the product of a commitment to a transcendent Russian nationalism. Such sentiments moved General Brusilov to offer his services to the Soviet State during the Polish invasion in the spring of 1920. Finally, it was partly a matter of luck and prerevolutionary ties.
By the end of 1918 with the help of the military specialists the Soviet Republic had raised an army of 300,000 men, instituted conscription,
created a main staff to direct the war, initiated the publication of Voennoe delo, formed a military-historical commission to study World War I and later the operations of the Civil War, and begun creation of the Academy of the General Staff.32 Some voenspetsy would change sides, but the system of political commissars, making hostages of military specialists’ relatives in some cases, and infusion of party cadres into the military kept such defections within bounds. S. I. Gusev, an old Bolshevik with close ties to general staff circles in the prewar period when he served as one of the editors of the Military Encyclopedia, noted the loyalty of the military specialists with whom he served at the front.33
In spite of reservations among many Bolsheviks and even among their fellow officers, the genshtabisty proved an increasingly vital component in the Red Army’s conduct of the Civil War. Tukhachevsky, a former tsarist officer and the dashing commander of the Fifth Army, had initial reservations about the genshtabisty, whom he considered, with the exception of the youngest officers, to be totally unprepared for modern war or the special conditions of a civil war between social classes. Tukhachevsky called for the creation of a “Communist command cadre.”34 Tukhachevsky himself, however, as the scale of the fighting and the quality of the opposing forces improved, changed his tune. In explaining the setbacks that he suffered during the Western Front’s May offensive against the “White Poles,” he pointed to the lack of staff support under which he suffered at the division, army, and front levels.35 By the end of the Civil War, S. S. Kamenev, himself a genshtabisty and the commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Soviet Republic, described the secret of success as a command team, in which the Communist and genshtabist joined to create the perfect command team.36 One of the best examples of such a combination was that of M. V. Frunze, who went from political commissar to Red Army commander under the guidance of such genshtabisty as F. F. Novitsky, A. A. Baltiîsky, and V. S. Lazarevich.37
On their side the Red genshtabisty understood the most pressing needs of the new workers’ and peasants’ army. A. Neznamov set the immediate goal of officer education in the Red Army at the level of Tolstoy’s Captain Tushin - to give these officers the ability to lead in combat. The Red Army did not need young Fredericks or Napoleons. The basic education of junior officers was to consist of teaching them uniform tactics so that they might be “good executors” of orders.38 Many junior officers suffered from that independence of action, associated with the partizanshchina, out of which many Red Army units emerged. At the operational level, Neznamov prized creativity.39 But here the commander’s plan and his concept had to limit the creativity of his subordinates to using initiative to fulfill the plan. Neznamov’s approach had three specific consequences, which would shape the Red Army’s officer corps. First, uniform tactics put a high premium on battle drills as a way of providing a general
response to tactical developments. Second, it emphasized the dissemination of such uniform tactical views to all combat arms so that combined arms would come naturally at the tactical level. Third, it established a specific need to educate senior commanders in the conduct of operations. Creativity was to be most prized here.40
The marriage of the RKKA with the voenspetsy proved stormy but successful. However, during the war and after it a gulf opened between voenspetsy and the young Red commanders. Most spetsy dismissed the RKKA’s experience, the Civil War, as a poor man’s war, fought with what was at hand. Young Red commanders saw the same struggle as the embodiment of a revolutionary class warfare that would sweep the globe. The historical orientation of Marxist ideology served as a powerful stimulus for this debate, while the Academy of the General Staff provided focus, military-historical perspective, and professionally competent judgment of that distinctive experience.41
The ideologically correct evaluation of that experience set the context for the postwar polemics between Frunze and Trotsky within the Communist Party regarding the appropriateness of a “unified military doctrine” for the Soviet state and the Red Army. Commissar for Military Affairs Trotsky argued that the Civil War experience had not created the basis for a Marxist military science. Indeed, Marxism had no right to make any such claim regarding military art and science. Frunze, the Bolshevik commander, self-taught military intellectual, and victor over Baron Wrangel, contested that point. He argued that the revolutionary nature of the new state, the Red Army, and its combat experience had forged the conditions for the formulation of a unified military doctrine, “which determines the character of the construction of the country’s armed forces, the methods of combat training for troops and command personnel.” The ruling group’s concept of its military system was in turn shaped by class relations, external threat, and the level of the nation’s economic development.42 Trotsky, like the prewar opponents of a unified military doctrine, worried that giving official sanction to a particular concept would invite the transformation of doctrine into an ossified dogma. He feared efforts to universalize the validity of the combat experience derived from the Civil War.43
This intraparty debate in the minds of many officers was an explicit echo of the prewar debate over a “unified military doctrine.” Supporters of Trotsky’s position within the Academy of the General Staff noted the linkage between Frunze’s views and those of Svechin and Neznamov. When veterans of the Civil War returned to the Academy, they called for a revision of the curriculum to emphasize the “Higher Studies on War.” This program was nothing more than the tsarist reformers’ program dressed in revolutionary red. As D. Petrovsky observed, the struggle between students and faculty at the Academy reflected this earlier fight over military doctrine:
To Petrovsky, Frunze’s proposals were only an updated, Marxian expression of the same program. Reform-minded voenspetsy saw the Civil War as a confirmation of those trends that they had seen in the Russo- Japanese War and World War I.
The Experience of the Civil War
Clearly, the Civil War had been qualitatively different from World War I on the Western and Eastern fronts. If the Imperial Army had suffered from economic backwardness and isolation, enduring a shell crisis in 1915 that reduced its combat capabilities, the Red Army had to confront the utter disintegration of the national economy. Revolution, civil war, international boycott, and foreign intervention combined to undermine the national economy. The regime’s response, War Communism, was less social utopia and more a form of barracks socialism, in which all resources were organized to field a mass army, equipped with the most basic instruments of industrial war - the rifle, machine gun, and field artillery. Even in the procurement of these vital weapons the level of production fell sharply in comparison with what had been achieved by Russian industry during World War I. Thus, in 1920 the production of rifles was only one-third of that in 1917.45 It was the Whites who, thanks to foreign assistance, fielded in small quantities the latest weapons of war, especially the tank.46 By the end of the Civil War the Soviet Republic put into the field a ragged force of 5.5 million men.
The Civil War was also noteworthy for a number of politico-geostrategic features, which had a profound impact on the nature of the struggle. First, it was in every sense a civil war in which neither side asked for nor gave any quarter. The Russia over which the Reds, Whites, and Greens struggled might be described as a few island-cities in a sea of peasant villages. The cities emptied as the links between town and countryside collapsed. Red Guard detachments swept through Tiutchev’s “poor villages,” seizing grain and recruiting soldiers. Red Terror and White Terror mounted in scale and intensity. At times it was difficult to distinguish between combatants and brigands. The Red and White armies were notoriously unstable, with a persistent problem of desertion. In 1920, as
Tukhachevsky prepared the Western Front for an offensive, he instituted a campaign to extract 40,000 deserters from Belorussia’s villages for service. Within a month the Western Front found that it had extracted 100,000 deserters, whose presence taxed the supply and training capacity of the front.47 Such reinforcements were unstable in the attack and tended to vanish at the first sign of disaster.
The second reality of the Civil War was the fact that the Bolsheviks controlled the central heartland around Moscow and managed to maintain an effective, if much reduced in scale, rail system, which permitted them to use their internal lines of communication to great effect. On the other hand, the White Armies fought on the periphery of Russia, in lands often inhabited by non-Russians who had no great interest in the revival of a centralized Russian state. The presence of the White Armies on the periphery, especially in southern Russia, the Kuban, and Siberia, meant that operations were frequently conducted in “underdeveloped [malokul’turnye] theaters of military action.” As R. Tsiffer observed in 1928, the Civil War seemed to confirm the general rule that the more developed the theater of war, the more likely the emergence of positional forms of warfare; conversely, the less developed the theater of war, the greater the opportunities for the employment of maneuver forms of combat.48 This situation, when linked to the low density of forces, the ineffectiveness of logistical services, and the low combat stability, created conditions for a war of maneuver. It was not uncommon, as Tukhachevsky pointed out, to have each side launch operations that would sweep 1,000 versts (600 miles) forward and another 1,000 versts back.49 The instability of the rear in military and political terms meant that a successful offensive, if a vigorous pursuit could be maintained, would often lead to the routing of the opponent and the disintegration of his political base.
Maneuver in this case took the form of a “ram” of forces directed at the enemy in the hope of disorganizing and demoralizing him. It would be fair to characterize this operational approach as an attempt to substitute mobility for maneuver. The Red Army lacked either the staff assets or communication facilities to sustain the necessary command and control to carry out more complex maneuvers that might lead to the encirclement and destruction of enemy forces.50 In Tukhachevsky’s case this approach was linked with the concept of political subversion and class war as a combat multiplier, what he called “the revolution from without.”51
One of the most conspicuous developments of the Civil War was the resurgence of cavalry as a combat arm. Russian cavalry had not distinguished itself particularly during World War I. Now under civil war conditions, cavalry recovered its place as the combat arm of a war of maneuver. The loyalty of the Don Cossacks and the support of many senior cavalry commanders gave the Whites substantial initial advantages in the use of this arm. Trotsky’s famous call, “Proletarians to horse!” ini-
tiated the process of creating a Red Cavalry.52 Soviet cavalry units were raised from the beginning of the war. However, greater attention was paid to creating troop cavalry detachments to provide the eyes and security screens for the newly formed infantry divisions. Army cavalry, cavalry units organized into independent brigades and divisions, were gradually formed into corps and later into armies.53
The raid mounted by General K. K. Mamontov’s cavalry in August– September 1919 provided the stimulus for the creation of the First Red Cavalry Army, Budennyî’s legendary Konarmiya. In order to take pressure off Denikin’s forces, Mamontov’s IV Don Cavalry Corps (7,500 sabers) undertook an independent raid deep into the rear of the Southern Front. The 36th and 40th Divisions that held the 100-kilometer section of the line through which Mamontov’s corps passed were widely dispersed, and Mamontov used air reconnaissance to find a sector where his cavalry could slip through without serious opposition. Using his air reconnaissance to avoid contact with Bolshevik units, Mamontov struck deep into six guberniyas, wrecking the rail lines and destroying military stores as they advanced.54 The Revvoensovet [Revolutionary Military Council] of the Republic took this threat seriously and created an internal front under the command of M. M. Lashevich to deal with Mamontov’s corps. On its return to Denikin’s lines the corps’ pace slowed under the weight of booty, allowing Lashevich to concentrate Red Cavalry forces against its strung-out columns. Mamontov reached Denikin’s lines but suffered serious losses on the retreat south from Kozlov to Voronezh.55 The use of air assets to provide effective reconnaissance for large-scale cavalry raids was noted by the Red Army and became an important part of its own concept of the operational-strategic use of cavalry.56
White intelligence units and counterintelligence organs [AZVUKI] quickly grasped the military and political effects of such raiding maneuvers. The Eighth Red Army had been totally routed, a general panic created in the Soviets’ rear area, and the most strenuous military and political measures were required to deal with the threat posed by Mamontov’s Raid. These included systematic use of terror and the secret police.57
For their part in assessing the failure of their own offensive the Soviet leadership noted the role of Mamontov’s Raid in contributing to the further disorganization of their own forces and creating a crisis in their rear. As counteraction to the threat of further raids, Trotsky proposed the creation of more partisan detachments in the rear of Denikin’s Army.58 Trotsky also began to promote the creation of larger Red Cavalry units. In November the Revvoensovet ordered the creation of the Konarmiya under the command of S. M. Budennyî, a former NCO in the tsarist army and then the commander of the I Cavalry Corps. The Konarmiya was initially composed of three cavalry divisions, an armor car battalion, an air group, and its own armored train. Later two other cavalry divisions were added
and an independent cavalry brigade was also included.59 The basic units of the Konarmiya were its cavalry divisions, armed with rifles, sabers, revolvers, and hand grenades. Each division was also to have, according to its table of organization and equipment, twenty-four machine guns mounted on tachanki, but in practice the number was often two or three times higher. The most effective commanders used such guns to provide concentrated fire. Each division also had its own artillery, three batteries of light field guns and one battery of 45-mm. howitzers. In offensive operations it also became common practice to assign a “mounted infantry” to each cavalry army. This force amounted to about one battalion for each cavalry division - a battalion being between 1,000 and 1,300 men - and eighteen machine guns mounted on roughly 200 tachanki.60
Budennyî’s Red Cavalry quickly became the stuff of legends. Isaac Babel, who served as a political commissar with one of its units, immortalized its exploits in a series of short stories.61 The legend later turned into official myth as Budennyî, Voroshilov, and Stalin invented history to fit their own cults of personality. In the decade after the Civil War it was still possible to give a reasonably objective evaluation to the contribution of the Konarmiya and strategic cavalry in general to Soviet operations on the various fronts of the Civil War.
Strategic cavalry repeatedly played the role of shock force, striking deep into the enemy rear, disrupting his command and control, and demoralizing his forces. Among the most celebrated of these operations were those in the Ukraine in June–July 1920, when the Konarmiya was redeployed from the Caucasian Front to the Southwestern Front to form the strike group for a drive to liberate Kiev and push the Poles out of the Ukraine. At the start of the operation, Budennyî’s Konarmiya had 18,000 sabers, 52 guns, 350 machine guns, 5 armored trains, an armored car detachment, and 8 aircraft. The Polish Third Army was spread thin and had few effective reserves. Thus, one cavalry division was able to slip through the lines and mount a raid on Zhitomir-Berdichev in the first week of June. The Polish commander responded by shortening his lines and giving up Kiev. The blows of the Konarmiya were in this case combined with pressure from the Soviet Twelfth Army, and this created the impression that the Polish defenders faced the possibility of being surrounded and cut off.62 Polish cavalry proved totally ineffective in maintaining contact with Budennyî’s forces. Over the next month the Konarmiya took part in heavy fighting around Rovno, taking that town by a flanking maneuver on 4 July, losing it to a Polish counterattack on 9 July, and regaining it by direct assault the next day.
Budennyî’s force engaged in forty-three days of intensive combat without effective logistical support. Cavalry brigades, which at the start of the campaign had numbered 1,500 sabers, were down to 500 or fewer by the end of the fighting. The fighting at Zhitomir and Rovno exem-
plifies the combined-arms approach that typified Soviet employment of strategic cavalry. It also showed its limited ability to engage in sustained combat.63 At the same time, the Zhitomir and Rovno operations exemplified the psychological impact of the strategic raiding force. Marshal Pilsudski credits Budennyî’s Konarmiya with an ability to create a powerful, irresistible fear in the deep rear. Its effect on the Polish war effort was like the opening of another and even more dangerous front within the country itself.64
The Red Cavalry’s success at Rovno set the stage for one of the most controversial and frequently studied operations of the Civil War: Marshal Tukhachevsky’s general offensive of July–August 1920, in which his Western Front struck beyond the Vistula to threaten Warsaw. Pilsudski’s counterattack, coming at the very gates of Prague and resulting in the destruction of major Soviet formations pinned against the Polish–East Prussian border, became known as the Miracle of Warsaw. More realistic Soviet assessments of the campaign doubted this implied connection between the Vistula and the Marne and said that the “miracle” was that the bedraggled, unfed, poorly armed, ragtag divisions of the Western Front had gotten as far as they had. Tukhachevsky’s general offensive took place without adequate reserves, effective command and control, and logistical support.65 Believing his own theory about “revolution from without,” he fell into the trap of assuming that the psychological weight of the advance would break the will of the Polish defense without his having to destroy those forces in the field. His forces did manage to push the Polish defenders back over several natural defensive positions and the line of German emplacements along the Auta.66 However, Pilsudski’s counterattack struck the overextended forces of the Western Front near Siedlce and drove a wedge between Tukhachevsky’s Thirteenth Army and the Mozyr Group. The attack threw the Western Front back in disarray and trapped the RKKA’s Fourth Army against the East Prussian border.67
The geographic peculiarities of the theater - the fact that the Pripiat Marshes dissects Belorussia and the Ukraine - created two distinct axes of advance toward the Vistula. The existing Soviet command structure called for Tukhachevsky’s Western (Belorussian) Front to direct the fighting north of Polesie and Egorov’s Southwestern Front (Ukrainian) to direct the fighting south of Polesie. This military case of “dual power” combined to frustrate Soviet control of the Vistula Campaign. In addition to directing the fighting in the Kiev sector, the Southwestern Front also had to combat Wrangel’s army based in the Crimean and cover the potential threat of Rumanian intervention. Memoir literature by the principal commanders on both sides addressed the issue of strategic-operational direction and control. Budennyî’s Konarmiya persisted in its attacks toward Lvov, even after Kamenev as commander in chief had ordered it and the Twelfth Army to regroup, join the Western Front, and undertake a drive to-
ward Lublin to relieve pressure on the Western Front. Southwestern Front Commander A. I. Egorov, in the words of Triandafillov, found himself caught trying to manage operations on two axes without staff support and did not feel “the beating pulse of the operation.”68 Thus, Tukhachevsky’s Western Front lacked support from the south when its Fourth, Fifteenth, and Third armies tried to turn Warsaw from the north by crossing the Vistula between Modlin and Plock. Since Joseph Stalin served as the Political Commissar of the Konarmiya, Budennyî’s independence and insubordination became entangled in the political struggles following Lenin’s death. Under Stalin’s cult of personality the unpleasant truth about Lvov and Warsaw was covered up by blaming Trotsky, the Commissar of War, for ordering the regrouping of forces to support a drive on Lublin.69
The Development of Soviet Operational Art
Before Stalin, Budennyî, and Voroshilov were able to rewrite history to their own liking, a host of Soviet works in the 1920s addressed the Vistula Campaign in a critical and fruitful manner. Some of this was undoubtedly fueled by the usual postwar “battle of the memoirs.” However, there was something more to the Soviet debates. Marshal Pilsudski caught the kernel of this difference when he observed that Tukhachevsky’s published account of the campaign showed an “extraordinary penchant for the abstract.” He noted that the underlying theme of the work was “an attempt at the solution of the problem of handling great masses on a large scale.”70 The Soviet military authors, including Tukhachevsky’s defenders and critics, seem to have taken seriously Neznamov’s assertion regarding the role of historical criticism in the development of military theory: “It would seem that nothing could be higher than experience in war itself, and yet historical experience shows us that without the criticism of science, without the book, it, too, is of no use.”71
The emphasis was on the development of military theory, and A. Verkhovsky, a voenspets and professor of tactics at the Military Academy, seems close to the truth when he describes the internal struggle among military intellectuals as a contest between right and left flanks for support. The former wanted to take the realities of World War I and the Civil War and codify them into military doctrine, while the latter sought to envision a future “class war,” which negated the more mundane concerns of the military art.72 The debate and a very sharp, almost brutal criticism, which did not spare personal feelings, seem to have kept these two flanks in a dynamic balance, creating the necessary conditions for the emergence of a distinctive Soviet operational art, which addressed the conduct of initial operations in a future war.
The emergence of operational art as a specific topic of study within the Red Army coincided with the end of the Civil War, the introduction
of the New Economic Policy at home, and the recognition of a temporary restabilization of the capitalist system. The party’s leadership and the military had to deal with the pressing problem of postwar demobilization and the creation of a military system that would provide for standing cadre forces and mobilization potential. By the mid-1920s and simultaneous with Lenin’s death and Trotsky’s removal from the post of commissar of war, these reforms were enacted under the party’s new collective leadership. Frunze was entrusted with the task of putting these measures into practice. For him, as for the party leadership, the nature of the threat confronting the Soviet State was quite clear. As opposed to Trotsky, who had told the Red Army’s leadership that it should use the postwar period to master mundane matters of troop leadership and leave strategy to the party, Frunze had explicitly defined the threat posed by capitalist encirclement as one demanding constant vigilance and military preparations:
This threat created a need to study future war (budushchaya voîna) not as an abstract proposition but as a foreseeable contingency. In the 1920s the study of past campaigns, current trends in weapons development, and force structure requirements coalesced around the concept of operational art (operativnoe iskusstvo). The ideological framework for such study was the application of the dialectical method to historical materialism with the goal of creating a military science directed at foresight.74
The linchpins in this development were Svechin, Frunze, and Tukhachevsky, who promoted the development of military scientific societies and identified a group of talented officers, some of whom were destined to become the first Red genshtabisty. Many of these officers entered the newly renamed Military Academy during Tukhachevsky’s short tenure as its commandant in 1921–1922. Others came later, when Frunze took over as Commissar of War. Two of the Red genshtabisty were N. E. Varfolomeev and V. K. Triandafillov. Varfolomeev had in fact graduated from the final, wartime course of the old General Staff Academy, but his career as a staff officer coincided with his service in the RKKA.75
For the first few years of the Military Academy, the problem of how to conceptualize warfare on the basis of the experience of the World War and the Civil War remained unresolved. Its academic program reflected the conventional divisions of strategy and tactics, but new terms were
being used to describe the more complex combat of World War I and the Civil War. “Grand tactics” and “lower strategy” were employed but without rigor or definition. Only in 1923–1924 did Svechin tackle the problem by proposing an intermediary category, which he called operational art. This he defined as the “totality of maneuvers and battles in a given part of a theater of military action directed toward the achievement of the common goal, set as final in the given period of the campaign.”76 These lectures served as the basis for Svechin’s Strategiya, which appeared in 1926. Here Svechin for the first time wrote about the nature of “operational art” and its relationship to strategy and tactics.77 As Svechin formulated this relation: “Then, battle is the means of the operation. Tactics are the material of operational art. The operation is the means of strategy, and operational art is the material of strategy. This is the essence of the three-part formula.”78
Svechin’s own work then turned toward the study of the problem of national preparation for war. Here he emphasized the need to address the political and economic preparation of the nation for war. His formulation of two competing strategic postures - annihilation (sokrushenie) and attrition (izmor) - raised a host of issues regarding the relationship between operational art and the paradigm of future war. Drawing on the work of Delbrueck, Svechin was critical of the German general staff ’s one-sided emphasis upon the conduct of decisive operations in the initial period of war.79 Svechin saw the seeds of disaster in such short-war illusions. He stressed the need to prepare for a long war, given the geostrategic and political situation confronting the USSR. Here Svechin emphasized political and economic objectives for strategy at the expense of the enemy’s armed forces as the center of gravity.
This focus led Svechin and others to consider the problem of the relationship between the civilian and military leadership in the conduct of war and in preparations for war. Svechin argued that one of the legacies of Russia’s heritage of frontier warfare was the tendency of military commanders to turn their own rear areas into satrapies, where immediate supply requirements of front commands took precedence over a rational mobilization of the entire state economy. He criticized such a narrow perception of military logistics and emphasized the need for a unification of front and rear through the planned mobilization of the entire “state rear,” by which he meant the national economy, to the purposes of supporting front operations.80 With Frunze, Svechin shared a concern for the need to mobilize the entire national economy for the prosecution of what he saw as protracted warfare. Using Conrad von Hoetzendorf’s memoirs as a vehicle to explore the role of the general staff in modern war and preparations for war, the voenspets-genshtabist Boris Mikhailovich Shaposhnikov characterized that role as “the brain of the army.”81 While Svechin emphasized the need for close cooperation between the state apparatus
and the general staff, Shaposhnikov, himself also a non–party member throughout the 1920s, stressed the need for a linkage between the Communist Party and the general staff.
The problem of studying operational art was left to the newly established and only briefly sustained “chair” at the Military Academy. This chair, named Conduct of the Operation, which was founded in 1924, immediately took on the problem of studying the conduct of operations during World War I and the Civil War. Special attention was devoted to the summer campaign of 1920 against Poland. Leadership of the new chair went to N. E. Varfolomeev, who had fought with the Western Front during the Vistula operation and served as chief reporter on the large-scale maneuvers that Tukhachevsky conducted with that front in 1922.82
Following the Civil War, Varfolomeev had turned his attention to the difficult problem of conducting deep pursuit so as to bring about the conditions for the destruction of the enemy. The focus of his attention was the advance on Warsaw and the failure of the Western Front to turn that operation into a decisive victory. Varfolomeev emphasized the need to organize a relentless pursuit by advance guards, the use of army cavalry to turn the enemy’s flanks and preclude the organization of a defense on a favorable line of terrain, the sustainment of close contact between the advance guard and main forces to allow for the timely commitment of fresh forces to the attack, and the maintenance of a viable logistical system in support of the advance. Varfolomeev still spoke in terms of pursuit to “the field of the decisive engagement,” but his attention was focused on the utilization of reserves to maintain the pace of the pursuit without risking pauses in the advance that would permit the enemy to recover.83
Varfolomeev’s arrival at the Military Academy in 1924 coincided with Tukhachevsky’s return to Moscow as deputy chief of staff of the RKKA. Over the next three years, 1924–1927, the academy addressed the problem of how to conduct operations of annihilation to bring about the total destruction of enemy forces in the field. Varfolomeev summed this up in two propositions. First, there was the need to combine breakthrough and deep pursuit so as to destroy the enemy forces throughout their entire depth. Under conditions of modern warfare this could not be achieved in a single operation but required successive deep operations, “the zigzags of a whole series of operations successively developed one upon the other, logically connected and linked together by the common final objective.” Second, success in such successive deep operations depended fundamentally on the “successful struggle against the consequences of the attendant operational exhaustion.” Logistics, the unity of front and rear as an organizational problem, thus assumed critical importance as an aspect of operational art.84
In researching operational art the faculty sought means of defining the operational norms that would set the parameters of such deep op-
erations. One of the major breakthroughs in getting students to master operational art at the Military Academy was a shift from formal lectures and special studies to actual operational-scale wargaming. Each student was expected to apply norms and do those calculations that the members of front and army staffs had to do in preparing for an operation. Young tacticians might object to calculating the veterinary support for a front offensive, but the faculty found such assignments the very best way to get across to students the relationship between staff planning and the successful conduct of operations.85
Varfolomeev found the roots of the theory of deep, successive operations in Tukhachevsky’s attempt to use the techniques of class war and civil war in an “external war” against a much-better-prepared adversary. He saw the failure of the Vistula operation as rooted in Tukhachevsky’s overoptimistic evaluation of the potential for “intensification of the revolution” within Poland by means of “a revolution from without” (revolyutsiya izvne) and the mounting exhaustion with the Red Army, brought on by attrition and the total disorganization of the rear services during the advance.86 Prudent operational plans, which took into account the need to break through and penetrate the enemy’s defenses throughout their depth, sobered revolutionary élan. In the 1930s he turned his attention to the employment of shock armies in the offensive and the problem of overcoming enemy operational reserves as they joined the engagement. In these studies he focused upon the German and Allied offensives of 1918, especially the Anglo-French offensive at Amien in August 1918. The Amien operation was noteworthy for both the achievement of surprise and the mass employment of armor and aviation to achieve a breakthrough.87
The logistical parameters of deep successive operations to a great extent depended upon the visions of the Soviet Union as a political economy and the nature of the external threat. In the hands of Svechin and those like him who emphasized the need to prepare for a long war, the maintenance of the workers’ and peasants’ alliance became the central reality of the Soviet Union’s domestic mobilization base. Such a view assumed that Lenin’s New Economic Policy, with its emphasis upon agriculture’s recovery, would be the long-term policy of the USSR. At the same time, such authors cast the nature of the external threat in terms of the states immediately bordering the USSR. They could not ignore postwar developments in military technology, but they concluded that Europe was in fact divided into two parts, two military-technical systems. The west was industrial, and the potential for a mechanization of warfare was there to be seen. Eastern Europe, which included the USSR, was dominated by a peasant economy and a “peasant rear” (krest’ianskiî tyl).88
One of the most important advocates of an operational art adapted to the realities of a future war fought on the basis of a peasant rear was V. K. Triandafillov. Triandafillov had served in the tsarist army during
World War I, took an active part in the revolutionary politics within the army in 1917, and joined the Red Army in 1918, where he commanded a battalion, regiment, and brigade. He fought on the Ural Front against Dutov and on the South and Southwest Fronts against Denikin and Wrangel. Joining the party in 1919, he was a natural choice for education as a Red genshtabist posted to the Academy in the same year. During his four years with the Academy, he divided his time between theory and praxis. As a brigade commander with the 51st Rifle Division, one of the best in the Red Army, he took an active part in Frunze’s successful offensive at Perekop Isthmus against Wrangel. At the same time, Triandafillov began writing military analysis of operations from the Civil War as his part in the activities of the Academy’s Military Scientific Society. These included essays on the Southern Front’s offensive against Denikin and the Perekop offensive against Wrangel.89 He also took part in the suppression of the Tambov Insurrection in 1921, where he served under Tukhachevsky. Following his graduation from the Military Academy in 1923, Frunze chose his former subordinate to join the main staff of the RKKA, where he took over as chief of the Operations Section in 1924. From there he moved on to command a rifle corps and then returned to Moscow as deputy chief of staff for RKKA in 1928.
Charged with putting operational art into practice, Triandafillov authored what became the chief work on the nature of the operations of modern armies, which laid out in detail the military context of the theory of successive deep operations. Triandafillov called attention to the process of technological development, which was making possible the “machinization” of warfare, but noted its limited impact upon the economically backward regions of Eastern Europe with their peasant rear. New automatic weapons, armor, aviation, and gas would affect such a war but would not become decisive. He also treated the problem of manpower mobilization and the reality of mass war quickly becoming a war of conscripts and reservists. This brought him to the problem of addressing the means of achieving breakthrough and sustaining pursuit in successive deep operations. Here he drew upon Frunze’s use of shock armies for the breakthrough and the use of echeloned forces to facilitate exploitation and pursuit. Success in such operations turned upon the organization of an effective command and control system to coordinate the operations of several fronts and the establishment of realistic logistical norms in keeping with the geographic-economic realities of the theater of military action.90
As deputy chief of staff to the RKKA, Triandafillov’s views reflected some basic assumptions regarding the sort of war the Red Army would fight in the future. The Field Regulations of 1929 discussing the offensive touched on many of the same themes developed by Triandafillov in greater depth.91 While the new regulations did provide for successive deep operations based upon a combined-arms offensive, the armies de-
scribed by Triandafillov and the regulations were modernized versions of the Red Army from the Civil War.
This vision was in keeping with what Svechin had described as the political-military context of Soviet strategy. The threat assessment outlined in Triandafillov’s book corresponded with Svechin’s modest and prudent vision of the immediate threat to the USSR and the limited offensive capabilities the Soviet state could reasonably hope to field in the initial period of a future war. Recently, Russian military and civilian analysts have begun a positive reappraisal of Svechin’s views in the late 1920s with their emphasis upon attrition and defense in the initial period of war.92 For instance, in 1989 A. A. Kokoshin pointed to Svechin’s early and correct assessment of German geopolitics and the threat of a rearmed Germany to Poland.93
The Mechanization of Deep Operations
Triandafillov died in an airplane crash in 1931, before he had a chance to complete a new and revised edition of his book. The outline for this revision, which was published in posthumous editions of his book, does contain some clues as to the major changes that he envisioned. First, in keeping with the new party line on the external threat, Triandafillov addressed both the crisis of capitalism and the increased risk of direct attack upon the USSR by one or more major capitalist powers. Second, Triandafillov began to address the problem of employing massed armor in the offensive. The first Five-Year Plan had promised to industrialize the USSR, and now it was possible to put the USSR within the ranks of the modern western European states and the United States. Third, Triandafillov specifically turned his attention to the role of mechanized combined- arms formations in the conduct of deep operations. The outline is at best a sketch without details. Russian officers have been willing to say that these few remarks anticipate the mechanization of successive deep operations as presented in the 1936 Field Regulations.94
There were other advocates of operational art, who argued that technological developments and the nature of the external threat made it absolutely essential to carry out a total mechanization of the Red Army and Soviet rear. One of the leading proponents of such views was Tukhachevsky, who had been Triandafillov’s immediate boss as chief of the RKKA Staff from 1925 to 1928. Tukhachevsky argued that what was required to make the new operational art into a sound strategic posture was nothing less than “complete militarization” of the national economy to provide the new instruments of mechanized warfare. Committed to an operational art that would end in the total destruction of the enemy Tukhachevsky crossed pens with Svechin, whom he accused of being an advocate of attrition.95 According to G. S. Isserson, one of his closest
collaborators in the 1930s, Tukhachevsky came forward with a master plan for the mechanization of the Red Army in December 1927, only to have it turned down by the party leadership under Stalin.96 Several years later, in 1930, Tukhachevsky’s views won favor when Stalin broke with Bukharin’s thesis on the stabilization of capitalism and began to associate the Depression with a rising threat of war to the Soviet Union. This threat the party leadership openly used to justify the brutal processes of industrialization and forced collectivization by now linking them with an improvement in the level of national defense.
During the intervening two years Tukhachevsky had left the RKKA Staff to take over as commander of Leningrad Military District, where he conducted a number of experiments relating to mechanization. These experiments came at a time when motorization versus mechanization emerged in Western Europe as alternative solutions to the problem of integrating the internal combustion engine into the armed forces. The former implied grafting automobile transport onto existing combat arms, while the latter called for the creation of “self-propelled combat means” with an emphasis upon armor, especially tanks, armored cars, and selfpropelled artillery. Soviet officers who followed developments in France, England, and the United States noted that all armies were exploring both paths but that, owing to strategic, operational, tactical, political, and financial circumstances, the French Army was more sympathetic toward motorization and the British toward mechanization.97 Tukhachevsky in his comments on the training exercises of the troops of the Leningrad Military District emphasized the need to increase their mobility as a combined-arms force that could engage in a multiecheloned offensive. His interest in the development of tank, aviation, and airborne forces during this period marked him as an advocate of mechanization.98
At the XVI Party Congress and IX Congress of the Komsomol in 1930–1931, K. E. Voroshilov, the Commissar of War and Stalin’s closest collaborator, spoke out regarding the mechanization of warfare as bringing about a qualitative change in the nature of future wars. But in Voroshilov’s case, mechanization would in the future bring about the possibility of a short, bloodless war, carried quickly on to the territory of the attacking enemy.99 Such views emerged at a time when it appeared that world capitalism had gone back into a profound political-economic crisis which was creating greater instability and increased risks of war. This in turn was creating the basis for the formation of a broad anti-Soviet alliance, which threatened war on every frontier. At home the strains of the first Five-Year Plan were also underscoring the possibilities of an alliance between the external threat and the so-called internal enemy - the forces of counterrevolution.
In 1930 Tukhachevsky came forward with his own powerful arguments for a mass, mechanized army as the means to execute the new
operational art. He used a number of forms to present this argument. One was the foreword to the Russian translation of Hans Delbrueck’s Geschichte der Kriegskunst im Rahmen der Politischen Geschichte, which provided a forum in which to attack Svechin’s concept of attrition as the appropriate strategy for the USSR.100 This work was conspicuous for the tenor of the political-ideological assault mounted by Tukhachevsky against the old genshtabist. In a time of heightened suspicions toward all specialists as wreckers, Tukhachevsky called his colleague an idealist in Marxist dress.
Worse attacks followed within the confines of the Section for the Study of the Problems of War in the Communist Academy. This section was organized in 1929 as part of an effort to infuse Marxism-Leninism into military science. Within the section, as within the Communist Academy, the notion of a struggle between an old, bourgeois past and a young, dynamic communist future was given free rein. Tukhachevsky, armed with the appropriate citations from Stalin and Voroshilov, attacked Professors Svechin and Verkhovsky because their writings were infested with bourgeois ideology. In Svechin’s case the fault was that he did not believe in the possibility of decisive operations but defended the idea of limited war. Verkhovsky was charged with favoring a professional army at the expense of a mass army. Tukhachevsky spoke positively of Triandafillov’s book, but noted some shortcomings.101 His line of criticism fit that offered in a review of Triandafillov’s book, published in the spring of 1930, in which the reviewer took the author to task for talking of a peasant rear without noting the possibility of transforming that rear through industrialization. That industrialization, the reviewer pointed out, would make it possible to speed up the massing of forces and their maneuver, creating opportunities for decisive operations, if the political - revolutionary - possibilities were exploited.102 As we have noted above, Triandafillov was himself responding to this new situation when he died in 1931.
That same year Tukhachevsky became deputy commissar of Military and Naval Affairs, a member of the Revvoensovet, and Director of Armaments for the RKKA. Over the next six years he directed the mechanization of the Red Army, laying the foundations for the creation of mass, mechanized forces designed to conduct successive deep operations in a war of annihilation. The Stalinist industrialization did make the USSR into a major industrial power with the capacity to mechanize its armed forces to an extent Triandafillov had never imagined. During that same period the nature of the military threat confronting the USSR became more complex and serious. To his credit Tukhachevsky never fell into the trap of assuming that mechanization would negate mass war. He was an informed critic of “Blitzkrieg theory,” and his criticism of the works of Fuller, Liddell Hart, and others deserves serious attention. They contain
a good clue about the emerging Soviet way of war. In 1931 he wrote regarding the professional mechanized army:
By spring 1935 Tukhachevsky fully appreciated the fact that German rearmament and Hitler’s calls for Lebensraum in the East would soon pose a serious military threat to the Soviet Union, a view he shared with Stalin and which was published in Pravda in March.104
In Tukhachevsky’s Soviet military theory - building upon the work of the tsarist general staff and the combat experiences of the Russo-Japanese War, World War I, and the Civil War - focused on the mechanization of the mass army as the means to conduct decisive operations in a total war. The Vremennyî polevoî ustav RKKA 1936, with its emphasis upon the “decisive offensive on the main axis, completed by relentless pursuit” as the only means to bring about the total destruction of the enemy’s men and equipment, underscored Tukhachevsky’s twin themes of combined arms and mechanized forces. Tanks were to be used en mass, and mechanized formations, composed of tanks, motorized infantry, and self-propelled guns, were expected to strike deep into the enemy’s rear, using their mobility to outflank and encircle the enemy force. Aviation formations, apart from independent air operations, were expected to act in close operational-tactical cooperation with combined-arms formations. At the same time, airborne units were to be used to disorganize enemy command and control and rear services.105
In one of his last publications, Tukhachevsky warned that the Red Army should not confuse mastery of theory with command of practice. Discussing the basic questions of combat covered in the new field regulations, he warned against the tendency to transform a healthy doctrine into a sterile dogma and noted that technological changes were qualitatively reshaping the combined-arms concept. The new content of mechanized combined-arms operations set the 1936 regulations apart from those of 1929. The employment of mechanized forces, constructed around “long-range tanks, mounted infantry, artillery, aviation and airborne forces,” made it possible to win the “battle for the flanks” through the application of maneuver. Rapid mobility was the only means to exploit the temporary appearance of an open flank in the enemy’s battle order. “Therefore the struggle for the flanks demands rapid actions, surprise, lightning blows.”106
Tukhachevsky appreciated the threat that the Wehrmacht posed to the Soviet Union and warned of the dangers of Blitzkrieg and surprise attack by its Panzers and the Luftwaffe.107 The purge of the military and the experience of combat in the Spanish Civil War called the theory of deep, successive operations into question on both political-ideological and military-operational grounds. The organic development of operational art stopped for almost three years. One might well wonder how much that hiatus affected the covering force engagements at the start of Operation BARBAROSSA, the German campaign against the Soviet Union, in the Belorussian and Ukrainian theater of military operations when the Wehrmacht won Tukhachevsky’s “struggle for the flanks.”108
During the succeeding operations attrition imposed major changes in both sides’ force postures, especially their mechanized forces. The autumn fighting on the approaches to Moscow resembled more the conditions described in Triandafillov’s “peasant rear” than they did Tukhachevsky’s. Indeed, Soviet operational art during the winter counteroffensive before Moscow, which relied so heavily upon infantry and cavalry in the absence of tank, motorized infantry, and aviation, fit Triandafillov’s early model of successive operations. Later Soviet offensives did try to put into practice the principles of operational art outlined in the 1936 Field Regulations, which bore Tukhachevsky’s imprint. Gradually, through a process of trial and error, Soviet commanders achieved the skills necessary to handle the massive, mechanized forces that the marshal had championed.
None of the architects survived to witness those events. Triandafillov had died in an airplane crash in 1931. Tukhachevsky, along with much of the Soviet military elite, died at the hands of Stalin’s terror, labeled a traitor and enemy of the people. Svechin, who was hounded in the early 1930s as a class enemy, outlasted his critic by less than a year, dying in 1938. Varfolomeev was arrested by the NKVD (Narodnyi Kommissariat Vnutrennykh Del [People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs, or secret police]) and imprisoned; he died in 1941. What followed was a time when the Red Army had a theory, whose authors it could not acknowledge, and a mythical past that precluded the sort of criticism necessary for the perfection of theory.
The shock of real war in Manchuria, Poland, Finland, and France cracked the myth, allowing needed reforms prior to the German invasion. These measures were too little in practical accomplishment, too late in initiation, and too radical in scale either to undo the damage of the purges or to offset German advantages in command and control and operational surprise. Painfully the young commanders of the Red Army gained the talents necessary to put into practice the deep successive operations for which their field regulations called. Gradually Soviet society forged the new weapons necessary to conduct such operations. Step by step the Red Army adjusted its force structure to provide the combined arms armies,
tank armies, and tank and mechanized corps to mount such operations. In the final phase of the war Soviet operations achieved what prewar theory had promised.109 Only after Stalin’s death could historians begin to study the roots of these successes during this dynamic and tragic period in Russian and Soviet military history and thus grasp the significance of operational art.110
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