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Fourth International, June 1942


James Cadman

One Year of the Soviet-Nazi War


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.6, June 1942, pp.170-174.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


Hitler will soon launch a major offensive against the Soviet Union with the objective of accomplishing what he failed to do last fall: crush the Red Army. From the Nazi point of view, this aim is of primary importance, not only because the USSR constitutes the only really formidable opposition on the European continent, but because the casualties and material losses of another winter war might, in the long run, be fatal to the German war machine.

Thus, regardless of any plans that Hitler might have in connection with the Near East, the Mediterranean or Lybia the conquest of the Soviet Union must be the first major operation on his program.

In spite of the heroic resistance of the Soviet armies and the peoples against an assault of unparalleled fury, the Red Armies undeniably suffered a long series of terrible defeats from June until late November 1941. They were defeats that no army but the Red Army could have absorbed, and indeed modern military history knows of no other instance where an army driven back steadily for six months with millions of casualties was able to stage so successful a comeback.

Stalin’s Responsibility for the Defeats

To what could these reverses be attributed? Certainly not to any inferiority of equipment on the part of the Red Army. Max Werner in his new book, Battle for the World, offers conclusive data on that question. The Red Army’s motorization rose 2.6 per cent in 1929, 3.07 in 1930, 7.4 in 1938 and 13 per cent in 1940. This growth paralleled that of the German Army during the same period. Furthermore, during 1934-39 the tank strength of the Red Army increased 191 per cent and the plane strength 130 per cent. In March 1939 an artillery salvo of a German Army Corps totalled 6,078 tons; that of a Red Army Corps – 7,136 tons. Werner quotes the well-known German military organ Artilleristiche Rundschau in 1939 as conceding that Soviet anti-aircraft ordnance was unequalled and Die Panzertruppe as admitting that Soviet tanks were the best in the world. At the outbreak of the war in September 1939 the Red Army was better equipped than the German Army and the Red Air Force was superior numerically to the Luftwaffe. These facts are a damning indictment of the Stalinist claim that the “breathing space” of the Hitler-Stalin pact was favorable to the Red Army. The growth of German armaments following the seizure of French, Belgian and Czech industries was so great that by the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, the Wehrmacht had an edge of about 3 to 2.8 in material strength, a too slight edge however to give the Nazis the decisive superiority that they had in the battle of France.

Lack of fighting spirit was certainly not one of the causes of the Red Army defeats. The Nazi rantings against the Russians “who don’t know when they’re beaten” gave ample testimony of the morale of the Soviet troops. The German High Command had to ruefully admit in many communiqués that Soviet troops continued to resist long after being encircled. Soviet morale bore up splendidly throughout the period of reverses and withdrawals.

It is on the shoulders of the Stalinist bureaucracy that the responsibility for the defeats lie. It will be recalled that only a few days before the Nazi assault, the Soviet press was vehemently denying all reports of the impending clash and asserting that Soviet-German relations were still cordial. Thus, while the Nazis were openly preparing by massing tremendous forces directly opposite the Soviet border patrols and outposts, the bureaucracy lulled the Russian people into a false sense of security. Stalin was apparently hoping to conciliate Hitler anew. In any case the last-minute denials of impending war are an outstanding example of Stalinist ineptitude, and, when followed by the statements by Pravda that the Red Army had been “taken by surprise,” this ineptitude assumes dangerous proportions.

The idea that under conditions of modern warfare one state can make an unexpected attack on a bordering nation is utterly ludicrous, for such an attack requires a long period of intensive preparation during which forces are transported to and deployed along the prospective war zone. Reporters coming out of Germany after the outbreak of war with Russia reported seeing innumerable trains speeding toward the Russian frontiers loaded with troops and supplies, and all of Germany’s famed Autobahnen highways congested with military traffic moving in an easterly direction months before the actual attack. In addition, for a long period prior to the Russian war, many German divisions were massed in Hungary and Rumania and airdromes and depots were constructed directly opposite Russian-occupied Bessarabia and Bukovina.

With all these signs of the imminent clash, how could the Kremlin have been, as the later alibi put it, “caught una wares”? It is clear that Stalin, his prestige bound up with the Hitler-Stalin pact, was ready for new concessions – but was never given the chance to offer them.

Nor does Stalin’s responsibility for the defeats end here. Stalin’s terrible purges of 1937 were one of the primary causes of the inability of the Red Army to compete successfully with the Germans in mechanized operations or to launch offensives on as large a scale and with the same crushing decisiveness as the tremendous German smashes in Eastern Poland and the Ukraine last summer and autumn.

The October revolution destroyed the decrepit bureaucracy of the Czarist Army and created a rising tide of fresh blood in the officers corps which had the effect of a draught of fresh air in a musty and long-sealed room. Thus it was that prior to the purges of 1937 the Red Army made spectacular advances in the field of tactical and strategical development. The Frunze artillery school gained a world-wide reputation for the excellence of its instruction. Furthermore, coordinated large-scale mechanized and aerial and parachutist operations were observed for the first time anywhere at the Moscow and Kiev maneuvers of 1935 and 1936.

Thus most of the tactics, methods and theories of war now practiced by the Red Army were actually evolved and developed prior to 1937 by such men as Tukhachevsky who, more than anyone else, furthered the mechanization and the motorization of the Red Army, developed the Soviet system of “elastic defense” and constructed the “Stalin Line,” Bluecher who built up the Far Eastern Army and the Siberian defenses, Yakir, Gamarnik and others. This trend was cut short by the purges of 1937, which eliminated 75 per cent of all the officers over the rank of Colonel. Whatever staff and organizational accomplishments there have been since then are mainly the efforts of those few who survived the purge, and new officers who acquired most of their training in the Finnish War of 1939 and in the operations thus far against Germany. These Soviet military leaders have certainly not shown themselves to be as well versed in the concepts of mechanized warfare as their German foes, and this point we shall see in discussing the military developments on the Eastern Front to date.

The First Campaign Against Russia

The German Army totaled at the start of the first campaign against Russia at least 8,000,000, of which 4,300,000 in 280 divisions were first-line troops. The Soviet Union is estimated by American military experts to have had between four and six million first-line troops in 222-333 division with 10,000,000 trained reservists, excluding large civilian defense organizations such as the Osoaviakhim.

For the campaign, Germany deployed 151 divisions, including 20 mechanized, and 10 Finnish and 20 Rumanian divisions – a total of 2,715,000 troops as well as 6,000 first-line aircraft and at least 18,000 tanks. According to later Russian figures, the USSR massed 2,790,000 troops with tanks and planes about equal in number to the Germans. A major portion of these forces were concentrated close to the German borders, a great strategical error which enabled the Germans to encircle and cut off large sections of the Red Army in Poland. This costly blunder may have resulted from Stalin’s desire to hang on, for the sake of his prestige, to the territories he had occupied as the “fruit” of the Stalin-Hitler pact.

The German process of trapping and destroying portions of the Red Army was a new tactic developed by the German High Command especially for this campaign. Called the “Keil und Kessel” (wedge and trap), it consists of a mechanized wedge followed by motorized infantry with foot troops covering the flanks of the wedge. It penetrates the Russian line and surrounds Russian troop concentrations with the aim of annihilating them. This maneuver succeeded frequently in causing the destruction of great numbers of Soviet troops and in the loss by the Soviets of much equipment. The battles at Bialostok-Minsk, the Leningrad encirclement, the Kiev encirclement, and the Smolensk encirclement in August all featured this maneuver in its most successful form.

However, it extorted a heavy toll from the Germans even in victorious encounters, as the entrapped Russians fought with great tenacity and firmness and their numerous equipment aided their defense immeasurably.

The Russians adopted methods of countering this maneuver which were first developed by Tukhachevsky. The troops entrapped in the pocket were ordered to resist indefinitely while strong Russian counter-attacks from outside were launched at the German ring in attempts to break it.

The main Soviet defense tactic, called the “Defense in Depth,” was used all along the front during the OctoberDecember period and particularly in the Moscow area. It consists of a flexible front held by infantry with anti-tank and light artillery units which slow down the German spearhead, which when it has entered the Soviet lines, is attacked by mechanized units and cut off from its supporting units.

Although they won considerable victories in Poland through the use of the “Keil und Kessel,” the Germans failed in their initial attempt to destroy the Red Army at one great blow and late June and early July found the Red Armies retiring at heavy loss, but in good order, on the Stalin Line.

The principal reason for the German failure was primarily the superb morale of the Soviet field troops. There were, however, two lesser factors which must also be taken into account, one of them being the high degree of fire-power of the Soviet troops which made possible a concentration of almost equal armament to that of the Germans in vital sectors. Thus, the Germans lacked the decisive edge in fire-power which had made possible for them the great break-throughs in their other campaigns. The other factor is the tremendous size of the Russian front which forced the Germans to disperse their forces on a 2,500 mile war zone and rendered difficult the deployment of forces on any given sector.

In their previous campaigns the Nazis never had to operate on a front of more than 600 miles and they could depend on their superb system of transportation to mainain a steady flow of fresh supplies and troops to the war zone. In the Russian campaign, on the other hand, they had not only a much vaster front to cope with, but their armies were operating not directly from Germany but rather from Poland and Rumania where transportation and communication systems are nothing less than chaotic. Furthermore, railroads in occupied Russia were either non-existent, destroyed by the “scorched-earth” policy, or, where seized in good condition, were of a different gauge than German railroads. However, in spite of these handicaps, the Germans did win tremendous victories so that it is the factor of Soviet morale to which must be attributed the ability of the Red Army to absorb these blows.

By the end of July, after a series of furious battles, the Stalin Line, defended by Timoshenko, was broken in the Smolensk sector. This system of fortifications, stretching one thousand miles, was first built along the specifications of the Maginot Lines but was altered to combine the rigidity of the French system with the flexibility of the German Westwall. Tukhachevsky conceived it as a sponge – enemy assault columns entering the main defenses were to be caught under continual cross-fires from its numerous self-contained forts and pillboxes called “bins.” It was broken by a combination of German shock-troop formations armed with flame-throwers and supported by artillery and planes. Its penetration precipitated the encirclement and fall of Kiev, the first drive on Moscow (checked in August), the siege of Leningrad and the capture of Odessa. The German threat to the Ukraine now, began to grow really serious as the forces of Marshal Budenny (which lacked mechanized equipment) were severely battered and driven across the Dnieper River. In Leningrad the siege was so serious that Voroshilov appealed to the workers to “defend the city of the October Revolution” – the first time the bureaucracy had appealed to the revolutionary tradition.

The workers and soldiers halted the Nazis at the gates of Leningrad and Moscow. Meanwhile the rich rewards that the Nazis hoped to reap from their conquests vanished as a result of the “scorched-earth” policy and the withdrawals from the Ukraine of wheat and such industrial stocks as could be moved. The months of August and September saw German progress virtually at a standstill as the Red Army, still using its enormous stocks of equipment and supplied with plentiful manpower, hurled counter-attacks in the center and in the south. Although repulsed frequently with heavy losses, these attacks forced the Germans to constantly shift men and materials from one sector to another and to continually reorganize and reinforce their weary troops. By September heavy rains turned the Russian terrain into a virtually impassable quagmire.

These conditions, together with the snow in early October which brought operations on the main central front almost to a standstill, provided a needed respite for the Russians who needed time to replenish their battered front-line forces. The coming of snow and the failure of the Germans to destroy the main Russian armies during the previous months brought an admission from the German press that the eastern campaign would probably last through the winter. Preparations were begun in Germany to house, clothe and feed the armies through this difficult period; a stupendous task when we recall that millions of German troops were stationed on a 2,000 mile front, hundreds of miles from the homeland, and behind them were territories seething with guerrillas and unrest and turned by the winter into a sea of mud, snow and slush.

The October Campaign Against Moscow

The need for a major victory to bolster German morale, as well as the need for a large base where the German Army could be adequately housed and sheltered during the winter, decided the High Command on the great effort to take Moscow in October. The major portion of the Red Armies were concentrated in the Moscow area and if they could be annihilated the conquest of all the industries and wealth of European Russia would be certain, the Nazis thought.

Fifty German divisions, supported by the major part of Germany’s mechanized and aerial units and commanded by Col. General Fedor von Bock, one of the best of Hitler’s military leaders, launched a major drive at Moscow in late October. By early December the campaign had come to a slow and gradual halt after one of the bitterest struggles ever recorded in military history. Although full knowledge of this campaign is still lacking, it is still possible to ascertain most of the reasons for its failure. It was launched in mid-winter with troops ill-equipped for winter warfare. The supply services had not been reorganized to meet the strain of battle during that season, nor were the troops given sufficient time to rest and recuperate from their previous exertions (most of them came from other sectors). There were few reinforcements and little equipment immediately available to replenish losses. Very important also was the fact that the morale of the German troops was lower than ever, after six months of battle.

The picture on the Soviet side was that of a grim last-ditch defense behind formidable fortifications by the largest and best portion of the Red Army backed up by probably the last supplies and the last available first-line reserves, and backed by an armed and determined civilian population prepared to live up to its revolutionary tradition as had the workers of Leningrad. Also important to note was that the Soviet troops were not only better equipped but better dressed and trained for winter warfare; particularly was this true of the Siberian troops, drawn from the Manchukuo frontier.

The breakdown of the Moscow drive almost coincided with the Soviet counter-attack in the south and the recapture of Rostov – most unexpected, for the Soviet forces in this area had been so battered and disorganized that it was almost inconceivable that in so short a period they had been able to reorganize for a major counter-push. Yet some semblance of reorganization was carried through and counter-attacks, supported by mass civilian resistance within the city, combined to bring about a German withdrawal from this vital industrial center.

The Winter War

Failure at Moscow forced the German High Command to accept the prestige-shattering alternative of discontinuing all major operations during the winter and ordering a general retirement on rear cities and positions, where they hoped to recuperate for the spring offensive. In mid-December the German armies began a major retreat all along the line to pre-determined positions; however, their plans were thwarted by a Soviet decision to launch a general counter-offensive in the hope of turning the German retreat into a rout. From December to March, the Germans were driven back in many areas beyond the points to which they had planned to retire. Furious Soviet drives retook Kalinin, and Mozhaisk, strategically important cities which the Germans certainly had no intention of giving up. The Nazis suffered heavily in losses of men and material not only from the Russian attacks but from the unendurable Russian frosts and the ravages of diseases caused by the dearth of sanitation facilities. At no time, however, did their retreat acquire the semblance of a rout, for Soviet claims of large captures of prisoners, the first sure sign of military disintegration, have been notably lacking.

The winter operations were fought out along entirely different lines than those of last fall. Mechanized and aerial warfare being at a minimum due to winter conditions, most of the fighting by the Russians was done by relatively small bodies of specially trained and equipped “winter” infantry men who attempt either flank forays on skis against lines of communication or launch frontal assaults on key points and positions. The Germans limited themselves to tenaciously holding key points which they desired as potential “jump-off” bases for a Spring drive. Interesting to note is the vital role of cavalry for pursuit, reconnaissance, and flanking operations, not only during the winter, but in mild weather as well, thus refuting any notions of its having been rendered obsolete by mechanized warfare. All these factors favored the Red Armies during the winter campaign. But now comes the Spring.

The Germans have drained themselves, the occupied countries, and their half-hearted “Allies” of all available men and materials for the coming offensive. The recent appeals by Soviet Ambassadors Litvinov and Maisky and articles in the Soviet military press reveal Russia’s present quantitative and qualitative inferiority in mechanized equipment and, since the coming military operations will be predominantly mechanized, the Red Armies face a serious crisis. However, the same factors which checked the Germans last time may combine to check them again.

One thing is certain – that if Germany fails to crush the Soviet Union this year, the Nazis will no longer have the strength to attempt it again.

Factors in the Coming Offensive

Everyone now recognizes that the morale of the Soviet armies and peoples has been the one great outstanding feature of the war. This morale grows out of the basic economic structure of the USSR. The Soviet peoples are fighting to defend the nationalized property created by the October revolution, and which they have managed to retain in spite of Stalinism.

Furthermore, when the German armies invaded other nations they counted on the immediate support of the bourgeoisie, plus the general apathy of the confused and disillusioned civilians and troops of these countries. They knew, too, that the capitalists would never use the “scorched-earth” policy to destroy their industries and ravage strategic areas. Thus Berlin was certain that countries such as Poland, France and Czechoslovakia would richly augment Germany’s industrial resources.

Reckoning that events in Russia would follow a similar pattern, the Nazis brought with them numerous Russian noblemen and priests, Ukrainian hetmen, etc. who had been hibernating in Berlin. Once the Red Army was beaten in the field, the USSR was to be divided into puppet states ruled by these Russian Gauleiters whom the disillusioned Russian masses would immediately turn to. But the invasion, far from precipating a wave of defeatism in Russia, caused instead a rising tide of revolutionary fervor among the masses and soldiers, most notably witnessed in the sieges of Leningrad, Moscow, Rostov and Sebastopol. Likewise the masses made it possible to remove factories and stocks of materials, as well as destroy what could not be moved, thus rendering German-occupied areas useless for many months to come.

Guerrilla warfare has also played a role in hampering and disrupting German military operations, but it should not be overestimated. Trotsky and Tukhachevsky pointed out that it could be effective only when coordinated with military resistance in the field. By itself, guerrilla warfare, no matter on how large a scale, can be only a nuisance and can be coped with. The Soviet guerrilla warfare has been successful only insofar as the Germans have had to concentrate most of their forces against the Red Army itself.

The bourgeois German experts, scornful of nationalized Soviet economy, underrated its ability to produce for war. Strangely enough, it was a German military writer, just, who in 1936 remarked that the change from peacetime to wartime production would be easier for Russia than for any other nation. The admission by Chancellor Hitler, several months ago, that the quality and quantity of Soviet war equipment had been gravely underestimated, attests to the failure of the Nazis to realize the significance of Just’s statement. In spite of the gross inefficiency of the bureaucracy in its management of the nationalized production, the fact that the economy is nationalized makes possible the overall mobilization of all industries, large and small, for military purposes.

As to the inefficiency of the Stalinist bureaucracy, its previous record of economic and political waste and mismanagement speaks for itself and has now become an even more negative factor as the Soviet Union has to depend more and more on current production of war materials rather than on already accumulated stocks. Current production faces severe problems, aside from bureaucratic ineptitude: the degree of destruction of industrial facilities and the industrial superiority of Germany.

A glance at the following statistics from the International Yearbook of the League of Nations of 1940 shows the comparative capacity of Germany and the USSR in manufacturing war equipment (all figures in metric tons)


Germany &
Occupied Countries

Soviet Russia

Iron Ore



























This inferiority of Russia is further marked by the fact that the Ukraine, the greatest industrial region, is mostly in German hands. The huge industrial areas around Moscow and Leningrad have been tremendously damaged by air and artillery bombardment during recent months. Nor can Russia’s industries beyond the Urals and in central Siberia be considered ample to support large-scale warfare for a long time to come, for they still account for only a minor part of the total productive capacity.

The removal of factories to the Urals must unquestionably have lagged (newspaper reports to the contrary) during the war because Russia’s already inadequate railroad system, much of which is either destroyed or in German hands, has been strained to capacity to supply and maintain the armies at the front. Thus, Russia’s production may have been cut as much as 30-40 per cent because of the war. Thus the Red Army will be unable to match Germany in mechanized power’ in the coming operations.

But the spaces of Russia are still vast, her sources of trained manpower limitless, and her morale still unshakable, whereas the Germans have had to endure casualties in manpower which they could ill afford and their sufferings and privations have been attested to in Hitler’s latest speeches.

Unfortunately, these Soviet assets are not coupled with a political policy which could appeal to the German workers and peasants in uniform. On the contrary, the USSR appears to them, thanks to Stalin’s reactionary politics, as an integral unit of the “United Nations,” from whom the Germans know they can expect nothing better than another Versailles if Germany is vanquished. The derogatory references in the Stalinist press to the German people as “Huns” and “Fascist dogs” can only have heightened this feeling among the German troops.

Nevertheless, their failure to conquer Russia and their heavy losses have unquestionably resulted in some lowering of morale among the German troops, and the privations which they will have to endure in Russia in the terrible months of the offensive will certainly accelerate this trend.

The effect that revolutionary socialist agitation could have on them at such a time can be measured by its effectiveness on them in the last war. Whereas the battered German Armies on the Western front in 1918 displayed the utmost determination until the end, the victorious German Army of the Ukraine disintegrated (according to General Von Ludendorff’s Memoirs) within the space of ten months as a result of Lenin and Trotsky’s policies of fraternization and revolutionary agitation among the German occupying forces. Certainly the effect of revolutionary agitation among the apathetic and halfhearted foreign contingents in Hitler’s armies, the Italians, Spaniards, Hungarians and Rumanians, would be nothing less than phenomenal.

But the call for the European revolution is alien to the Kremlin bureaucracy. Bereft of this weapon, the heroic masses of the Soviet Union must make far more terrible sacrifices than need be. Nevertheless they fight on, defending the conquests of the October revolution. Despite Stalin and the bureaucracy, the fight of the Red Armies is a fight for socialism.

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