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The New International, September 1941


Charles Butterfield

The Eastern Front


From New International, Vol. VII No. 8 (Whole No. 57), September 1941, pp. 211–2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


AT THE MOMENT when the German armies marched against the Soviet Union, speculation arose on the strength of the Russian defenses stretching from Lake Peipus on the north to Pskov and Orsha southward and continuing in that direction to the Black sea. The “Stalin Line,” however, was pierced and shattered along its entire length as were the “impenetrable” Maginot Line in France, the Albert Canal in Belgium and the dyke defenses in Holland. Thus, within an extremely short period, was demonstrated the impossibility of a battle of fixed positions under the conditions of modern machine warfare. The opposing lines are in a constant state of flux in which attack and counter-attack are the rule. Fighting takes place everywhere in the area of conflict, head-on, along flanks, behind the lines, all in great fluidity. Terrain, while important, is no permanent obstacle to advance.

If there was speculation in the Allied camp as to the degree of resistance of the “Stalin Line,” the German general staff and the Russian knew the line could and would be broken. The first speech of Stalin indicated that no great reliance was placed on the fortifications other than a means of temporarily halting the German forces, taking a heavy toll of them and completing mobilization and reorganization of the vast Soviet armies for a war of movement.

Stalin’s military strategy will be one of withdrawal and defense. His whole appraisal of the military situation stems from the Napoleonic campaign in Russia and his defeat. Stalin’s conception in this war does not have the necessary active element and it does not possess original incentive or positive inspiration. Stalin, in the war too, as disclosed by his speech, is a conservative, slow-moving and highly disturbed person. Above all, his strategy lacks the revolutionary socialist spirit. At the time of this writing there has not yet appeared a single appeal to the masses of the Soviet Union or the workers of the world based upon the socialist interests of the oppressed of the world. Rank nationalism dominates the policies of the Kremlin dictator and his regime.

Modern warfare cannot be waged with human masses, that is, soldiers only. These alone cannot be decisive. There are a number of other factors of greater decisiveness, one of which will be examined in this article: war industries and transportation. Of this question, we have written considerably in the past. But it is worth examination in the light of the present situation.

Russian industry in general and the war industries in particular were never concentrated in a single area. They were spread over the entire breadth of the nation, including Siberia. This was especially so when the danger of world war became more and more acute. This movement of Russian industry further away from western European armies did not, however, mean that the great industrial regions in Russia proper and the Ukraine were dismantled. On the contrary, they too were strengthened and retained their pre-war importance in Russian economy.

Foreign observers, however, overestimate the extent of eastern Russian and Siberian industrial construction. It is an illusion to believe that in two or three years it is possible to construct anew a far-flung war industry. The Germans, with the greatest industrial plant in Europe, were unable to do it. The Ruhr remains their most important industrial area. With the seizures in Austria and Czechoslovakia they obtained important reserves, but the decisive section of the war production industries remain in the Rhine area and so decisive are they that, if destroyed, Germany would be unable to prosecute the war on its present plane.

That is why, with all the new industrial construction in the Soviet Union, the loss of Leningrad, Moscow and the Ukraine would have the most far-reaching consequences.

The Industrial Area of Leningrad

In Leningrad, for example, a city located in a poor geographical spot, there is the Putilov munitions factories. They are the leading producers of locomotives and weapons. In addition, there are a great number of iron, steel and machinery factories concentrated around the Putilov factories. The Russians themselves estimate that Leningrad produces at least 10 per cent of the entire Russian war production.

This is the city which led two Russian revolutions and yet contains the most advanced section of the Russian proletariat and the most skilled of its laborers. It is an important railroad center. But it depends for its power, primarily, upon electrical energy and not coal. The loss of electrical power would have a disastrous effect upon industry.

Leningrad’s chief source of power is Volkhovstroi. It is an extremely vulnerable plant and if it were destroyed by German air power, Leningrad’s industries would be greatly paralyzed. (It was said that the Finnish Imatra plant was utilized after the Russo-Finnish war, but the writer does not have conclusive evidence thereon.) In the foregoing event, the great city would have to rely upon transportation for coal fuel. Under the conditions of the war, the railroads from the west and the southwest are in a dangerous area and very likely would be lost. The Moscow road would be in a similar situation. There would remain the Murmansk line, which is likewise extremely vulnerable. The eastern lines, one must remember, do not come from coal country. The canal system, which is another source of transportation, is virtually useless in the winter and used almost exclusively for timber.

Thus if Leningrad were undefended and lost, Russian industry would receive a terrific blow and greatly hurt the supply of the Russian armies. (Editor’s Note – Events since the writing of this article have shown that Stalin is prepared to defend Leningrad and other vital centers. In these defenses is demonstrated the general correctness of the estimates made by the author.)

The Great Ukraine

What has been said of Leningrad is even more true of the Ukraine. Withdrawal from this area would mean the loss of a tremendous source of food supplies to the rest of Russia and the enormous manpower making up the Red Armies. The “scorched earth” policy of Stalin, while it leaves nothing for the Germans and has led to the gathering of crops, cannot solve the problem of food (except for international aid) if the war is drawn out for a year or more. But let us see what industrial value the Ukraine has.

The Donetz Basin is the most important coal center of all Russia. Two-thirds of the best Russian coal is produced in these mines. If the Germans were to take the Donetz region they could probably make little use of the mines, since the practice of the regime is to destroy whatever is likely to fall into Hitler’s hands. The great power plants were so constructed as to make their destruction a matter of seconds. (The Dneiperstroi has already been destroyed – Ed.). But the loss of Russia’s greatest coal center would likewise have a highly weakening effect upon Stalin’s prosecution of the war, because the lack of coal would paralyze the ore, smelting, iron and steel industries. The transfer of these industries to the Urals and Siberia had only been started when the war began. In contrast, the Ukrainian industry continued at full blast.

There is located in this area, in addition to the Donetz Basin, the Krivoi-Rog ore region (already taken by the Germans – Ed.), and the industrial areas of Dnepropetrovsk (likewise taken by the Germans – Ed.), Luganks, Yuzovka (Stalin), and others. Nearly 35 per cent of the steel industry, 40 per cent of the iron industry and more than half of Russian coal are located in this part of the country.

What would happen to transportation in the event of a loss of these areas in the Ukraine? One must remember that a better sector of Russian transportation is located precisely in this part of the country. The railroad system in eastern Ukraine and central Russia is rather good. The Dneiper River is a navigable river and has an elaborate canal structure. The retention of the Black Sea by Russia assures connections with the Caucasus. It takes care of the wheat and part of the oil traffic. The loss of or withdrawal from the Ukraine would limit Russian war industries by another 50 per cent, assuming all the time that enough raw materials were at hand to operate other industrial centers.

The city of Kharkov, badly situation from a war point of view, is an extremely important industrial center, whose loss would be a heavy low to the Red Armies. Steel-alloy and chemical industries are located in this city and though of subsidiary importance are indispensable in modern war.

The Volga and Moscow Centers

Only the motor and automobile industries (aviation) surrounding Gorki are in a favorable locality – unless a military catastrophe occurs in the Russian forces. These industries are closer to sources of raw material. Aluminum production is a decentralized one. It is partly located in Siberia and Kasakstan. Transportation, however, is the chief problem in this case, although the assembly industry is not highly efficient.

As always, Party conferences concern themselves with “new methods of industry and transport.” New drives are always in order in adopting “new plans.” But one of the first tasks, as announced in Moscow, was the disposal of rubbish which had accumulated in enormous quantities in one important industry, dirt which had never been removed since the industry was built. This only recalls that quality in Russian production is still very low. Poor manufacture and ill-fitting parts, always a weak part of Russian industry, remain as before. For example, 33 per cent of all locomotives are under constant repair, while 17 per cent are permanently useless. One-fifth of all motors are in bad condition and do not run. Nearly half of all tools are badly manufactured and unemployable. On top of all this, the war, as in all countries, takes a large percentage of skilled workers, necessitating the training of new workers in the very midst of the struggle.

Let us assume that a strategic withdrawal does take place and Germany occupies the area up to the Don. What will remain? There would be the Volga industries. But these industries would remain helpless if Germany succeeded in taking the Baku oil fields and controlled the mouth of the Volga River.

There is the Moscow industrial area and that around Ivanov-Voznessensk; also the small arms manufactures in the Tula area. It is the custom to say that the loss of these areas would not be catastrophic since the war could be fought from eastern Russia, the Urals and Siberia. But this too is a dangerous thought, because such a withdrawal would mean the loss of almost the entire textile industry. The loss of the capital would be an event of far-reaching importance, not alone for industrial reasons, but even more, for political reasons.

What is left? In western Siberia there is the Magnitogorsk region and the metallurgical industries spreading to the Urals. While it is far from the war region, it is likewise far from coal supplies. The closest mining region to this industrial area is in the Kuznetzk Basin of Siberia. But transportation facilities are such as to render this coal almost useless. The loss of the western railroad systems would greatly overtax the Siberian line in a country where roads are in an abominable state.

It is difficult to discover precisely what has been the amount of industry transferred to the Urals and western Siberia, since it has been shrouded with mystery. But it is possible that one-fifth of war production comes from this sector. If everything goes well, these industries may be able to produce a fourth of Russia’s industrial war needs. But again, poor transportation and weaknesses in raw materials, iron, coal, rubber, will not permit the waging of large scale warfare. Russia’s reliance upon England and the United States, principally the latter, will thus have a fundamentally drastic effect upon its internal regime and foreign policy.

Thus the Stalin regime is faced with the necessity of fighting relentlessly to retain the areas containing Russia’s most important industrial plants, which in turn makes it possible for him to wage large scale warfare against his erstwhile ally. Or he can choose to withdraw further eastward and carry on a gigantic guerilla warfare, irritating the German forces, without defeating them, stretching their lines over endless territory, and keeping them occupied until his “allies” are able to intervene.

The purpose of this article is to show that a strategic withdrawal to the Urals would be based upon an outmoded military conception and make impossible a defeat of Germany by the Red Armies – if such a defeat is possible.

August 10, 1941

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