Barbarossa, Soviet Covering Forces and the Initial
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Barbarossa, Soviet Covering Forces and the Initial Period of War: Military History and Airland Battle
The issues surrounding the German attack upon the Soviet Union in June 1941 continue to attract the attention of historians and military analysts. The nature of the Soviet response to that attack has, as recent articles in Air University Review suggest, set off heated polemics. The appearance of Bryan Fugate\'s Operation Barbarossa with its assertion that the Soviet High Command did, indeed, have a "realistic plan or operative concept for coping with the situation" marked a major departure from conventional Western scholarly interpretation of the events leading up to the invasion.1 The response by Williamson t1urray and Barry G. Watts that Fugate was "inventing history" to find an unsuspected Soviet military genius where there was none confirms the controversial nature of the issue.2 These authors underscore the impact of surprise and tend to treat it as systemic and general. The Soviet Union, they argue, did not expect the blow and was unprepared for it. Soviet military doctrine and field regulations spoke of the offensive, while neglecting the defense.3 In assessing Soviet perception of the German threat, the authors are at odds not only with Fugate. Earl Ziemke has recently pointed to the December Conference sponsored by the Main Military Council and the January 1941 war games, which led to Zhukov\'s appointment as Chief of the General Staff, as explicitly directed to the problem of assessing the German threat in light of the lightning victories in Poland and the West.4
Soviet military historians are as one in their emphasis upon the Red Army\'s contribution to the development of its concepts of mechanized warfare under the rubric of "successive, deep operations."5 Based upon their own experiences during the Civil War and Foreign Intervention, studies of the major operations of World War I, and a critical reading of foreign military theory, a group of young Red Commanders, including M. N. Tukhachevsky and V. K. Triandafillov, addressed the problem of designing an attack which would achieve breakthrough and allow exploitation using an echeloned commitment of forces to penetrate to the depth of an enemy\'s defense. Triandafillov in particular pointed the way towards the use of mechanized forces and aviation in this process and sought to define the dimensions of a modern operation in terms of frontage, depth, and time of execution, while setting norms and densities for each phase of an operation.6 The Soviet theorists refused to accept the idea of quick decision and advocated the "total militarization" of state and society for the conduct of systemic war in which military victory would lead to socialist revolutions in the rears of the capitalist armies.7 The theory of deep operations explicitly acknowledged the problem of friction and accepted the necessity of operational pauses.8 Soviet deep operations theory as presented in PU-36, emphasized a troika of surprise, deception, and secrecy to create the operational preconditions for success. PU-36 called for a succession of combined arms blows, led by mechanized formations and supported by tactical aviation and airborne troops to break through the enemy\'s defenses through their entire depth and create conditions for exploitation and -destruction of the enemy by means of maneuver and shock.9 Meeting engagements in which the second echelon would encounter and destroy the enemy\'s reserves as they moved up to join the battle were to lead to encirclements, or Schlieffen\'s planned Cannae.10 Although many of the initiators of deep operations theory were dead by the late 1930\'s, most as a consequence of the Purges, the basic ideas were kept alive and developed by officers such as G. S. Isserson.11
Soviet military doctrine emphasized the offensive as the decisive form of combat. Stalin\'s industrialization radically reduced the Soviet Union\'s economic backwardness, replaced what Triandafillov had called a "peasant rear" with and industrial base and made it possible for the Red Army to mechanize. PU-36 addressed defense but noted that defense could not be decisive. The objective of the defense was to take the initiative from the opponent and create the preconditions for a counteroffensive on the main axis. PU-36 recognized both an uninterrupted defense and a mobile defense and discussed their application. The same regulations also addressed anti-tank, antichemical, and anti-air defense as specific problems.12 Crucial to the entire Soviet discussion of
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Military strategy, Deep operation, Military theory, Tank battles, Operation Barbarossa, Red Army, Western Front, Corps, Mechanised corps, Battle of Smolensk, Blitzkrieg, Winter War
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