A Chinese cavalryman c. 1260 is shown firing on a Mongolian warrior.The huo qiang or fire lance, which may date back to the 10th century. It was essentially a hollow tube made from thick layers of I paper, inside which was put a charge of gunpowder and shrapnel pieces. When the huo qiang was lit, it blasted out a jet of flame and projectiles, the flames having an endurance of several seconds and reaching out to a range of 9ft (3m). In a sense, here was the earliest hand-held flamethrower.
Under both the Tang and Song (Sung) Dynasties (960-1279), China experienced widespread economic growth, which in turn gave birth to a Chinese golden age. This success was based upon the development of the agricultural potential of southern China, most significantly in the production of rice in the Yangtze (pinyin, Chang) River Valley. The future of China would now be determined by the link between the bureaucratic north and the agricultural south. To solidify this crucial relationship, the government constructed the Grand Canal, a magnificent civil engineering project that was, in its time, the largest human-made waterway in the world. The canal increased transportation throughout the country, both accelerating trade and creating a sense of unity. The maintenance and protection of the Grand Canal became a major focus of the Chinese military. In times of conflict, this waterway allowed the emperor to move troops swiftly to any trouble spot.
With China’s great economic success came a softening of Chinese society, widespread political corruption, and a series of weak and incompetent emperors who eventually sapped the energy of the empire. In particular, the effectiveness of both the bureaucracy and the military was decreased, helping to create the conditions for the Mongol conquests at the beginning of the thirteenth century. These nomadic warriors first entered China at the invitation of the declining Song Dynasty. The emperor hoped that they would engage and destroy the Jürcheds and the Jin (Chin), two northern nomadic tribes that threatened to invade China. In 1234 the Jin were defeated by a Sino-Mongolian military alliance, but then, in direct violation of that agreement, the Song attempted to occupy the newly conquered land and extend their empire into the northern territories. This action shattered the alliance and set in motion the Mongol conquest of China and the establishment of the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368).
The Mongols would have a significant impact upon Chinese history. They established their capital at Beijing and abolished the bureaucracy based upon Confucianism and the examination system. These actions were taken specifically to negate the influence of the scholar gentry. The Mongols eventually adopted many aspects of Chinese culture and aggressively promoted its literature and art. Despite this openness, the Mongols were never able to find a solution to the Sino-Mongolian ethnic rivalry. Most of the intellectuals from the gentry class considered the Mongols to be uncouth barbarians. This ethnocentricity was exacerbated by the gentry’s resentment of the abolition of the state examination system, which blocked the gentry from gaining access to the highest levels of political power.
After the death of Kublai Khan (1215-1294), the Yuan Dynasty fell into a period of decline. There were essentially four reasons that this took place. First, the southern region was occupied by a large number of activists who had remained loyal to the Song Dynasty. As the Yuan declined, many of these disenchanted groups were emboldened to take political action that eventually resulted in an empire-wide revolt. Second, Yuan military prestige also suffered a severe blow from two disastrous military expeditions against Japan in 1274 and 1280. Third, Yuan military failures were founded in the general weakness of the post-Kublai Khan government that was beset by deep-seated corruption within the political bureaucracy. By the middle of the fourteenth century, the Mongol government was far too weak to maintain its control over all of China. Fourth, the increase in peasant uprisings and the rise of secret revolutionary societies resulted in a series of disastrous insurrections that finally forced the Mongols to withdraw to their ancestral homeland.
After he had secured the eastern border, the Tang emperor returned his attention toward the west. From 736 to 755 a series of successful campaigns extended the borders of the empire to the Pamir range, bringing the Tang to the frontier of Islamic civilization and placing these two great eighth century powers on a collision course. This Sino-Islamic crisis reached a flash point at the Battle of Talas River (751), a bloody confrontation that lasted for five days. The armies of Islam ultimately defeated the Chinese forces, ending Tang westward expansion.
This defeat marked the beginning of the Tang Dynasty’s decline. Decades of military campaigns had taken a toll on Chinese society, and the losses in both revenue and productivity were significant. These problems led to widespread civil unrest, which devastated Chinese society. For more than one hundred years, the emperors and their bureaucracies had failed to return the empire to a state of normalcy, and by 884 the Tang Dynasty was shattered.
With the final collapse of the Tang Empire in 907, China fell into a chaotic intermediate period referred to as the time of the Five Dynasties (907-960). None of the dynasties was able to unify China, and order was finally restored in 960, with the establishment of the Song. Most historians refer to the Song as the world’s first modern state, and its emperors were traditionally antimilitary. The government, in constant fear of an armed takeover, made strong efforts to limit the army’s power. The Song created a military model that placed their generals under the control of the civilian bureaucracy, resulting in the military’s lowered prestige and appeal for the aristocratic class. In time, the military came to be dominated by the lower echelons of Song society, and by the middle of the eleventh century enlisted men were receiving one-tenth of their former wages. This lowered pay caused great economic hardship, and mutinies became commonplace.
The Song government was faced with significant financial difficulties. The population of China had reached 140 million, and vast amounts of money had been set aside for the construction of large-scale irrigation projects. The empire had to import the vast majority of its cavalry horses, which also cost a considerable amount of money. China’s underfinanced military was grossly ill-equipped to meet the security challenges of the nomadic horsemen of central Asia. The Song bureaucracy responded to this problem by adopting a military philosophy based upon the concept of strategic defense. Money was allocated for the construction of massive fortifications that would frustrate the light horse cavalry tactics of the nomadic armies. The military theory that all defensive structures are eventually neutralized by an opposition force came to pass in the last years of the Song Dynasty. When the Song-Mongol military alliance broke down, the aggressive Mongol warriors quickly defeated the demoralized forces of the emperor and established the Yuan Dynasty. Between 1200 and 1405 the Mongols conquered Tibet, Russia, Iraq, Asia Minor, and southern and eastern Europe.
By the middle of the fourteenth century, the Yuan Dynasty began to decline. Years of famine gave rise to peasant unrest, and a secret religious sect known as the White Lotus spread anti-Yuan propaganda concerning the reestablishment of the Song Dynasty. In turn, the White Lotus also supported a peasant rebel organization known as the Red Turban movement. Fighting broke out between the Yuan forces in the south and the rebel armies. The success of these armies was primarily due to the fact that the Yuan had failed to keep the system of defensive walls under repair. The Yuan’s nomadic heritage and military success were based upon swift cavalry movements, and a defensive mindset was totally alien to them. Eventually, the Mongols were able to defeat the rebel armies, but they were never able to regain complete political control of southern China.
From 1351 to 1368 the Mongols were involved in a series of military campaigns against Chinese forces in the south, in which they suffered a series of disastrous setbacks. The Mongols decided to abandon much of their territory and returned to their ancient homelands in the north. This strategic withdrawal marked the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644).
The new Ming emperor and his intellectual elite modeled themselves after the Song Dynasty. Like the Song the Ming adopted an isolationist policy that kept the government’s focus on protecting the homeland.
“Aoyama; Kanpeishiki no Zu”. Emperor Meiji holds a military review at army camp in Aoyama.
The Reorganized Superintendency
In May 1885 the army ministry revised the garrison regulations. The commander of each garrison became a division commander while the superintendent controlled two divisions and became a corps commander.48 This was the army’s first step to convert the fixed garrisons to more mobile and modern infantry divisions, but it also required a more thorough overhaul of the superintendency. With Meckel serving as an adviser, recently promoted Maj. Gen. Katsura, chief of the army ministry’s general affairs bureau, and other like-minded general staff officers set to work to reorganize the superintendency to accommodate the command and control requirements of the new division force structure.
Based on preliminary studies, in late 1885 Katsura recommended to Yamagata that the current superintendency be abolished as an operational headquarters and converted to the army’s training command. Simultaneously, the army would introduce a centralized promotion system based on competitive examinations, not seniority, and establish age limits for active-duty service. It would also revise current regulations that made promotion to full general conditional on command of large units during wartime and subsequently on wartime command. These measures were designed to sweep away the deadwood in the officer corps and promote outstanding younger officers by competitive examination based on individual talent.
With Yamagata’s blessing, in March 1886 Katsura established the Provisional Committee to Study Military Systems, a nineteen-member group chaired by Col. Kodama Gentarō, to consider army reorganization. Meckel advised the committee and met with Kodama on a bi-weekly basis to discuss force structure issues and the national army’s mission. Meckel also drafted position papers, including one that addressed the command and control implications of converting the fixed garrisons into mobile divisions.
Meckel saw no need for a wartime corps echelon because the army would be small—only seven divisions —and its strategy defensive: to repel invasion of the home islands. Relying on mobility, individual divisions could quickly deploy to their assigned defensive sectors in wartime and, with attached artillery and technical units, conduct independent operations, much like a small corps in a European army. Thus the division became the army’s operational maneuver element. If a corps echelon was superfluous, so was the current superintendency system, which functioned as a wartime corps command equivalent. According to Meckel, the superintendent could administer two divisions during peacetime, thereby providing unified training at all levels, but would have no wartime role.
In line with previous studies, Meckel further recommended the creation of an inspectorate who would supervise army-wide military training and officer education and report directly to the emperor. The inspector-general would be equal in rank to the chief of staff and the war minister (which replaced the army minister under the newly installed cabinet system, discussed below). Finally, he proposed a personnel section to manage officers’ promotions and assignments. War Minister Ōyama submitted Meckel’s recommendations to the cabinet on July 10, 1886.
Soga, Miura, and their allies adamantly opposed the abolition of the existing superintendency and its replacement by an inspector-general of military education under Yamagata’s control. From their powerful positions—Miura commanded the Tokyo garrison and Soga was vice chief of the army staff—they insisted that neither the general staff nor the war ministry (which had been established in December 1885) had jurisdiction over the regional superintendents because they reported directly to the emperor, and therefore an imperial decree was needed to change their positions. They rejected reforms such as competitive examinations for promotion and drew support from officers whose professional careers were tied to the traditional seniority-based promotion system. Lt. Gen. Tani (agricultural minister at the time but still on active duty) and Chief of Staff Prince Arisugawa likewise rejected the reforms, especially placing the inspectorate functions under the war ministry, which they believed vested excessive power in the war minister’s hands. According to rumors, Emperor Meiji agreed with them and hoped to appoint Miura as chief of staff. Yamagata, however, ignored the emperor’s preference and schemed with Ōyama to undercut Miura by removing him from command of the Tokyo garrison.
After a July 12, 1886, imperial audience with Arisugawa, Emperor Meiji temporarily postponed the initiatives to allow Prime Minister Itō time to broker a compromise. Itō got Arisugawa and Yamagata to agree that the newly established war ministry would manage infantry officer promotions and the inspectorate for all other branches. They also concurred that the general staff would control the new inspectorate based on Itō’s promise that the inspectorate would be subsequently reorganized. The army abolished the superintendency on July 24 and replaced it with the so-called new inspector-general, which was administratively under the war minister.
By moving the inspectorate’s peacetime administrative functions to the war ministry, the army empowered the war minister with the authority to control personnel promotion policies and to issue operational orders to garrison commanders. This change diminished the authority of the regional inspector-generals by converting them from an operational headquarters that issued orders to a training one that took orders. The 1886 revisions also dropped the requirement for wartime command for promotion to flag officer, made selection to full general a matter of imperial appointment, and replaced promotion by seniority with a promotion system based on competitive examination results. For their persistent opposition, Soga was transferred from vice chief of staff to the commandant of the military academy and Miura was transferred to Kumamoto. Miura resigned rather than accept the demotion. Both remained outspoken critics of the army’s direction.
The settlement left unresolved the relationship between the new division force structure and the regional inspectors because the latter still reported directly to the emperor and served in wartime as corps commanders. During the transition period to divisions, the war ministry, as Itō promised, again reorganized the inspectorate. The July 1887 imperial order finally standardized army-wide training by placing it under the new inspectorate general, which was directly subordinate to the emperor and coordinated all military training and competitive examinations. Yamagata, concurrently home minister, was appointed the first inspector-general but served only nine months, apparently to ensure that the new organization got off the ground. The agency was the forerunner of the inspector-general of military education established by imperial order in January 1893 to enforce army-wide proficiency standards.
General Staff Reforms
Regulations issued in December 1885 created ten ministries in the newly organized cabinet. The war minister (formerly the army minister) continued to manage the army’s administrative functions—annual budget preparation, weapons procurement, personnel issues, and relations with the Diet—and reported to the prime minister on such matters. The new rules allowed the chief of staff to report directly to the throne on classified military matters without informing civilian cabinet members. Notwithstanding the chief of staff’s direct access to the throne, the war minister was encouraged to report such occurrences to the prime minister. The chief of the council of state had previously controlled the other ministers and held military command prerogatives; the newly designated prime minister, however, would have no say in matters of military operations or command.
The new cabinet authorized a separate naval general staff under the navy ministry. Two general staffs—one army, one navy—necessitated further reorganization, and in March 1886 the cabinet established a centralized supervisory agency to separate operational military matters from affairs of state. The new agency, in effect a joint general staff, was responsible for joint planning and operational coordination. A neutral imperial family member, Prince Arisugawa, became chief of staff to keep the lid on simmering internal service discord. He had two vice chiefs of staff—one from the army, one from the navy—who directed their respective staffs, and a joint staff to conduct joint planning to enable the services to react quickly to emergencies. This restructuring harkened back to the arrangement under the council of state and reflected the services’ inability to resolve roles and missions. Instead, a compromise imperial figurehead presided over two competitive general staffs that operated independently of each other.
Arisugawa’s appointment as chief of the joint staff attempted to capitalize on the direct link between the army and the throne. The flawed organizational arrangement proved unsatisfactory, in part because army infighting over the nature of the joint staff’s authority continued unabated, in part because the differing expertise of army and navy officers complicated coordination, and in part because Arisugawa, like many of his veteran contemporaries, lacked the formal military education, specialized military knowledge, and technical expertise demanded in a rapidly changing army and navy.
To remedy these deficiencies, two years later—in May 1888—the army again reorganized the general staff, changing the name to the army and navy staff directorate, eliminating the vice chief positions, and replacing them with an army and a navy general staff responsible to a single chief of staff for imperial forces. Arisugawa became chief of staff and served as the emperor’s military adviser on matters of operational planning and national defense. Arisugawa, however, had no staff, only a deputy, and depended on the service staffs for advice. In theory, the chief of staff was the ideal mechanism to coordinate joint planning and large-unit operations, but the services refused to cooperate with each other, joint planning did not materialize, and attempts at unified command again failed.
Articles eleven and twelve of the new Meiji Constitution promulgated in February 1889 formally institutionalized the military’s prerogative of supreme command. Article eleven made the emperor supreme commander of the army and navy, and article twelve established the emperor’s authority to set the peacetime organization of his military forces. Constitutional scholars interpreted the former to empower the general staff to assist the emperor without reference to the cabinet, effectively placing the services beyond the control of the prime minister. This was a major goal of the oligarchs—to keep the army out of politics or, phrased differently, to keep party politicians and political factions from running the army.
Senior army officers also feared that under the new constitution one general officer could in theory control two separate service staffs, a situation that might impinge on imperial prerogatives of command. To prevent this possibility and to retain its dominant position in military affairs, army leaders convinced the emperor to eliminate the chief of staff and place the naval general staff under the new navy minister. The army general staff, however, would be independent of the newly created war ministry and enjoy direct access to the throne. Arisugawa became the chief of the newly reorganized general staff, and the serving army chief of staff moved to the vice chief position. This latest change made the chief of staff the de facto army chief of staff because the navy staff had to issue its orders through the navy minister, who did not enjoy direct access to the throne. The arrangement left the military without an integrated joint staff to oversee operational command and control.
Diehard conservatives like Miura detested the thought of a powerful centralized government, which had already displayed its corrupt nature by promoting regional factionalism within the army. They had devoted most of the decade of the 1880s trying to block the Satsuma-Chōshū monopoly on senior army posts and army reforms, only to see institutional reforms, a new force structure, a reorganized general staff, and a revamped administrative system that strengthened Yamagata, Ōyama, and their respective regional cliques’ grips on the army. Miura claimed that factionalism had led the restoration astray and that Japan’s proper course should be to field a small army tailored to defend the main islands. Together with army Vice Chief of Staff Soga and retired generals Tani and Torio he doggedly opposed Ōyama’s and Yamagata’s attempts to introduce a big army organized in a German-style military system.
Allied with Miura and Soga were an anti-mainstream group of officers, who formed a well-organized opposition centered in the Getsuyōkai, a fraternal organization of army officers established in 1881 by graduates of the military academy’s initial two classes. The Getsuyōkai originally encouraged research into the latest developments in military science to improve army officers’ professional expertise, contribute to national defense, and aid understanding of large-unit operations. Membership soon exceeded fifty officers. Other specialized professional associations for officers—from cavalrymen to veterinarians—proliferated throughout the army.
In 1884 the Getsuyōkai chairman, the Francophile commandant of the Toyama Infantry School, appointed Miura, Soga, Tani (now retired from active duty and director of the Peers Academy), and Torio (also retired and director of the government statistical bureau) the association’s advisers. The French faction of Miura and Soga dominated the organization, using its lectures, newsletter, and later its journal, the Getsuyōkai kiji, to lambaste Yamagata and the army leadership, denounce the army’s Prussian reforms, and promote a small-army, antiexpansionist agenda. Under Soga’s direction, the journal published biting critiques of senior officers, deriding them as superannuated veterans of the wars of restoration living on their past reputations, unaware of the advances in military science, and sitting idly at their desks while real soldiers were maneuvering troops in field exercises.
Stung by charges that they were ignorant of modern military technology and doctrine, top army leaders counterattacked. Maj. Gen. Nogi, a brigade commander, and Vice Chief of Staff Kawakami Sōroku, who had recently returned from a year in Germany, publicly dismissed the critics as irresponsible tyros whose conduct was detrimental to military regulations and undermined army discipline and military order. But the Getsuyōkai would remain a thorn in the army leadership’s side throughout the decade of the 1880s.
Filling the Ranks
The overwhelming majority of conscripts came from farming communities and were overrepresented in the army. Almost 80 percent of the 1888 cohort, for example, was drawn from primary industry (forestry, agriculture, and fishing) at a time when roughly 65 percent of Japanese worked in that sector. Mining, manufacturing, and construction—the second and tertiary sectors—accounted for about 35 percent of all workers but only 11 percent of conscripts in 1888.
In 1887 the army adopted the Prussian system of one-year volunteers to build a reserve officer pool. Instead of facing conscription after their student deferments expired, middle school graduates could volunteer for specialized training designed to produce reserve officers. Candidates volunteered for a one-year specialized active-duty service, at the end of which they were commissioned as reserve second lieutenants. They could select their branch of service, live outside the garrison confines, and were exempt from routine fatigue duties in the barracks. They wore special insignia on their uniforms and were promoted to superior private after six months. With their regimental commander’s endorsement and successful completion of qualifying tests after six more months, they became reserve officers. In exchange for the privileges, the volunteers paid for their clothing, food, and equipment, which the army assessed at 60 yen (80 yen for cavalry to care for a horse). These sums were far beyond the reach of most Japanese, accounting for the tiny number (only 0.7 percent) of volunteers of the total cohort.
About 100 men volunteered the first year of the program, but by 1897 more than 1,000 volunteer reserve officers were enrolled in the program, spurred in part by the 1889 conscription reforms described below.67 Following their year on active duty, reserve officers went into the reserves for seven years, which was better than three years’ active duty followed by nine years in the reserves. They were subject to annual call-ups to active duty to maintain their military proficiency.
Of the more than 35,000 volunteers between 1906 and 1916, almost half chose the infantry branch, but a quarter selected transport or intendance specialties and overloaded branches the army had scant use for. Subsequent reforms created an abbreviated six-month voluntary active-duty training course designed to replace continual student deferments. As the active force gradually grew from about 65,000 in 1888 to 77,000 in 1893, the army simultaneously built a responsive reserve force capable upon mobilization of doubling the size of the force in wartime.
Major changes in 1889 to conscription regulations also followed the Prussian model in order to build a large enlisted reserve that would fill out the wartime divisions. Legislation eliminated deferments and established four categories of service: active duty, first reserve, second reserve, and national militia (territorial reserve), making a clear distinction between active duty and reserve forces.
The new law also delineated induction categories: graded A through E, with A and B being the source of conscripts. In 1899 the B category was subdivided into two groups, identified by minor physical differences. An annual preinduction physical rated 20-year-olds for military duty in this manner: A, fully fit; B, fit with minor deficiencies such as weaker bone and muscle structure, rashes, scars, or tattoos that did not interfere with the execution of military duties; C, those between four foot, eight inches and five feet in height, ineligible for frontline duty but placed in rear service positions; and D, those shorter than four foot, eight inches or suffering from habitual illness or deformity. The “A” candidates were conscripted, served three years on active duty, and then automatically went into the reserves for another four years, available for recall to fill out wartime augmentations. The “B” group usually was placed in the first reserve, and the “C” group went into the second reserve. The first reserve served as replacements and fillers for wartime mobilization whereas the second reserve was assigned to the transport branch to augment the expanded wartime logistics table of organization. Reservists received ninety days of basic training and thereafter were liable for one call-up per year for training, not to exceed sixty days. These remained the induction categories through 1945.
Conscripts, who were forbidden by army regulations from marrying during their first three years on active duty, were separated by year-group (first-, second- , or third-year soldiers) for training purposes. Each year was subdivided into seven training periods. A recruit underwent six months of basic training (periods one through three), followed by six months of unit and field training with second- and third-year soldiers (periods four through seven). Third-year soldiers were less involved in drills and exercises, so their proficiency decreased as their longevity increased. The model stressed technical and weapons proficiency and march-discipline for rapid mobility. After 1889 the army emphasized leadership, the intangible or morale qualities of battle, and tougher discipline.
By the early 1880s, the army had adopted western (mainly French) court-martial regulations for various serious offenses such as mutiny, desertion, disobedience to orders, rape, and mistreatment of prisoners. Caning on the back or buttocks was a standard punishment. Concurrently, a system of harsh, informally administered corporal punishments to deal with minor infractions developed in the barracks. Slapping conscripts was routine, gang beatings were common, and harassment and bullying were constant. The aim was to guarantee absolute obedience to a superior’s orders and instill unquestioning compliance as a reflex or habit in the tractable soldier. Henceforth, a combination of informally administered punishments and officially established courts-martial enforced Spartan discipline, linked to the notion that one’s ability to endure physical hardship and suffering stoically was the essence of the Japanese spirit.
Parallel with the 1889 conscription reform, the army encouraged local jurisdictions with village and city neighborhood associations to honor departing conscripts with neighborhood send-offs and conduct ceremonies to recognize returning veterans. Except for the Imperial Guard, which recruited nationwide, each division was administratively responsible for four local regimental conscription districts (one for each regiment in a division). Because each regiment recruited locally, conscripts knew each other, but more important were known to villagers, neighbors, and local authorities, increasing local peer pressure on conscripts to do well in the army.
The army’s transition during the twenty-year span was remarkable. During the 1870s a hard-pressed, slapdash force had defeated samurai uprisings large and small, ending the warrior threat to the new government. It had crushed peasant uprisings and suppressed the people’s rights movement, eliminating the risk of popular insurrection. By the mid-1890s the army had organized itself into a modern force structure, tested concepts in extensive field exercises, and improved communications and support functions. Its professional officer corps was well versed in tactics and operational concepts, though somewhat weaker in military strategy. A highly trained and well-disciplined NCO corps ensured order and control in the ranks. Conscription reforms in 1883 and 1889 had produced a large, trained reserve force available for mobilization. The army also created a professional military bureaucracy that by 1890 had eliminated French influence in the army and introduced educational and structural reforms to ensure promotion based on merit and ability.
The institution was less successful in the formation of a general staff, which despite several reorganizations still could not coordinate joint planning, much less joint operations. Furthermore, the military’s new bureaucratic processes worked well so long as the civilian and military leaders shared common objectives and respected the informal policy-making apparatus. The gradual appearance of a professional officer class, however, promoted institutionalized processes and mechanisms that undermined the unofficial personality-dependent system. Over time, the emerging military bureaucracy would prove fatal to the traditional dominance of the army’s Chōshū and Satsuma officers because it rewarded professional expertise and education, not personal connections, regional affiliations, or past wartime service.
As far as high-speed mechanized troops are concerned and their location on the forward zone, one has, in general, to see the threat of their sudden concentration in the mere fact of their existence. These motorized troops, having carried out a march of up to 100 kilometers on the day before or even during the last night, turn up on the very border only at that moment when the decision has been taken to cross the border and to invade enemy territory.
Georgii Isserson, New Forms of Combat
To this day, the coordinated diplomatic and military planning at the heart of Unternehmen Barbarossa remains a model of how to confuse a future enemy with assurances of nonaggression while simultaneously planning a surprise attack. For this reason, among others, Barbarossa warrants careful study, certainly by military planners. The stamp of Barbarossa can be found not only on the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and some of the closing campaigns of World War II—the Normandy landings in June 1944, for example—but also on the Israeli-Arab Six-Day War (1967), the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968), Soviet plans to attack NATO across the inner-German border during the Cold War, and Operation Desert Storm (1991). Other questions arising from Barbarossa are these: Why was the Soviet regime caught unprepared (complicated in part by the sensational claims of Viktor Suvorov)? And how did Hitler influence the decision whether to make the capture of Moscow the highest priority?
There is, of course, one major difference between Unternehmen Barbarossa and the D-Day landings in 1944: there was no nonaggression pact between Britain and Germany that might have led one side to miss the threat. The Germans knew that a landing would be attempted at some stage and were able to take various measures to prepare for it. For their part, the Anglo-American planners were aware that the enemy—an enemy that had repeatedly demonstrated astonishing powers of recovery on all fronts of the European theater of operations—awaited their arrival. Unlike the British army that had exited the European continent in the summer of 1940, the Wehrmacht in France was not psychologically weak in the summer of 1944; it was ready and resolved to fight. The critical problem facing the Allies was therefore how to deceive the enemy concerning the time and place of the landings. In terms of the intelligence battle, the Allies played a masterful hand, confusing and misleading the enemy intelligence services such that total surprise was achieved on 6 June 1944. Even after the Normandy landings, the Germans continued to believe that they were just a diversion. One outcome was that some German units were held in reserve; if they had been deployed on D-Day, they could have affected the success of the landings.
With regard to the period immediately before the outbreak of hostilities in the Six-Day War and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, there are some elements that bear a resemblance to the state of German-Soviet relations before the launch of Barbarossa. If the preemptive strikes against Egypt and Syria were to stand any chance of success, Israeli planners knew they had to maintain the fiction that Israel was unprepared for war and willing to negotiate, while simultaneously preparing to seize the initiative. To undermine the resistance of Czechoslovak leaders, Soviet negotiators talked publicly of socialist solidarity and fraternity while mobilizing the forces of the Warsaw Pact for intervention. Even allowing for this unequal confrontation, Soviet deception and intelligence measures, refined in the invasion of Hungary twelve years previously, were impressive. By the time Czechoslovak politicians recognized the truth, it was too late.
Soviet planning for an attack across the inner-German border to defeat NATO forces in a molnienosnaia voina owed much to Isserson. All forces, certainly the armored and mechanized infantry divisions, along with their support services, were located as far forward as possible. This concentration of forces had taken place over years, and once established, it was regarded as the norm. Then, all that was required was an escalation in diplomatic and political tension—ideally, outside the main zone of intended operations, possibly the Middle East—and the Soviet shock armies would be deployed, taking NATO forces in Germany by just enough surprise to ensure the necessary momentum to bring Warsaw Pact forces to the French coast.
With regard to Desert Storm, the situation was more akin to the D-Day landings. In this case, the occupier had considerably less military expertise than the Anglo-Americans’ opponent in Normandy, but Iraq was expecting an attack and had to be taken by surprise. When the advantages of technology and training so overwhelmingly favor one side, as they did in Desert Storm, tactical surprise is not essential, but it is desirable. In the period leading up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the role played by intelligence data was crucial, as it was in Barbarossa. Whereas Stalin chose to ignore reliable intelligence material pointing to a German invasion, senior Anglo-American politicians and military leaders were accused of tampering with intelligence material in order to justify military action against Iraq to a skeptical public. These charges have yet to be fully investigated. Mindful of what happened to those individuals who crossed Stalin, Soviet intelligence officers justified telling the boss what he wanted to hear. American and British intelligence officers had no such excuses. Highlighted in both cases—the Soviet Union in 1941 and the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003—is that leaders who exert too much pressure on their intelligence agencies court national catastrophe (in the case of Stalin) or policy disaster (in the case of the US-led coalition). Hitler’s arrogance about what would happen after the start of Barbarossa anticipated the arrogance and unbridled optimism of the US-led coalition that invaded Iraq. Both invaders were taken aback by the insurgencies they unleashed, and both struggled to contain them.
Barbarossa and Stalin
As David Glantz states in his operational analysis of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, “The most vexing question associated with Operation Barbarossa is how the Wehrmacht was able to achieve such overwhelming political and military surprise.” There were, he argues, a number of plausible reasons for Stalin to reject the possibility of a German attack: warnings and hints from the British that Hitler was planning to attack were seen as an attempt of the British side to foment a war between Germany and the Soviet Union, and the Soviet side had succumbed to the Germans’ deception plan. However, even allowing for the fact that “the purges had decimated Soviet intelligence operations as well as the military command structure,” Soviet intelligence assets were performing very well, judging by the material in the two volumes of 1941 god. There was plenty of evidence from a variety of sources that the huge buildup of German forces was not inconsequential. Confronted with these data, neither the intelligence services nor the leader to whom they reported could afford to assume that these large-scale deployments of men and equipment were benign, certainly not in the tense and uncertain atmosphere of Europe in 1941. The Soviet failure is even more unforgivable and inexplicable because of Stalin’s role in destroying the Polish state. All the negotiations with von Ribbentrop over the Non-Aggression Pact and the secret protocols told him everything he needed to know about Hitler. Having seen the methods Hitler used against Poland, Stalin had no right to assume that the Soviet Union would never fall victim to those same methods. In this regard, Isserson’s analysis of how the war between Germany and Poland started is masterful and prescient, which probably did nothing to raise his stock with his dear leader after 22 June 1941.
Zhukov indirectly acknowledges the importance of Isserson’s analysis in the published version of his memoirs (1969). He makes the unusually candid admission that senior Soviet figures (not just Stalin) failed to grasp the nature of the new type of war pioneered by the Germans:
The sudden transition to the offensive on such scales, with all the immediately available and earlier deployed forces on the most important strategic lines of advance, that is the nature of the assault itself, in its entire capacity, was not envisaged by us. Neither the People’s Commissar, nor I, nor my predecessors B. M. Shaposhnikov, K. A. Meretskov and the leadership stratum of the General Staff had reckoned with the fact that the enemy would concentrate such a mass of armored and motorized troops and deploy them on the very first day by means of powerful, concentrated formations on all the strategic lines of advance with the aim of inflicting shattering, tearing blows.
In a supplement published after his death, Zhukov, having confirmed that the 13 June 1941 TASS communiqué contributed to a dangerous sense of complacency among the border troops, goes much further in his criticism of Soviet conceptual awareness and planning:
But by far the most major deficiency in our military-political strategy was the fact that we had not drawn the appropriate conclusions from the experience of the initial period of World War II; and the experience was available. As is known, the German armed forces suddenly invaded Austria, Czechoslovakoslovakia, Belgium, Holland, France and Poland and by means of a battering-ram strike consisting of huge armored forces overran the opposing troops and rapidly achieved their mission. Our General Staff and the People’s Commissar had not studied the new methods for the conduct of the initial period of a war, and had not imparted the corresponding recommendations to the troops for their further operational-tactical training and for the reworking of obsolete operational-mobilization plans and other plans linked to the initial period of a war.
From an outstanding field commander such as Zhukov, these criticisms, aimed at himself and others, are a fitting endorsement of Isserson.
Regarding whether Golikov, the head of the GRU, had accepted the explanation that deployments in the east were tied to German operations in the Balkans, attention should be drawn to an analysis carried out by Golikov on behalf of the Soviet General Staff. He notes that the buildup of German troops and equipment had not been halted by German operations in the Balkans. Over the last two months (March and April 1941), the number of German divisions in the border zone with the Soviet Union had risen from 70 to 107, and the number of tank divisions deployed had increased from 6 to 12.
Finally, Glantz points to institutional failings as the main reason for the Soviet Union’s failure to act in good time: “In retrospect, the most serious Soviet failure was neither strategic surprise nor tactical surprise, but institutional surprise. In June 1941 the Red Army and Air Force were in transition, changing their organization, leadership, equipment, training, troop dispositions and defensive plans.” On its face, this seems plausible. Unfortunately, it shifts attention from the role played by Stalin. Stalin attacked the security institutions—NKVD, Red Army, and GRU—on which he relied. The institutions that emerged after these terror attacks were gravely weakened. Their institutional failings can be directly attributed to Stalin: they were Stalin’s institutions. Characterizing the outcome of Stalin’s murderous paranoia—and in terms of the Red Army’s ability to prosecute modern war, it was almost suicidal—as institutional failings understates Stalin’s responsibility. Stalin’s judicial terrorism also highlights the ideological failures of Marxism-Leninism and its internal obsession with class war, which were clearly inimical to the cool appraisal of military affairs and the need to prepare for modern war. Appeals to Russian nationalism, which were implied in Stalin’s radio address of 3 July 1941 and made explicit during the battle for Stalingrad, are further evidence of ideological failure. The emphasis on class struggle by Soviet military theorists such as Tukhachevskii, Frunze, and Triandafillov was wrong, and it distorted military planning and the assessment of intelligence data.
Here it is essential to recapitulate the damage inflicted by Stalin’s purges. There were four main effects on the Soviet armed forces, all of which were disastrous: experienced commanders were removed; the subsequent personnel replacement policy resulted in inexperienced commanders being promoted before they were ready; professional competence and morale were undermined; and, after 22 June 1941, political control was tightened even further as a consequence of the command and control failures brought on by the purges.
First, and most obviously, the purges led to the removal of large numbers of middle-ranking and senior commanders, men who had come through the civil war and gone on to study modern war and the impact of technological changes, especially in armored warfare, and to formulate a new doctrine suitable for the Red Army. Being arrested and executed did not, in itself, mean that a commander was of exceptional caliber, but even moderately competent officers at all levels who are experienced and have passed the necessary training courses—the backbone of any army—are not easily replaced, especially in wartime. It is impossible to know how a Red Army that had not been subjected to Stalin’s purges would have performed in the summer of 1941. However, it certainly would have been much better prepared to take on the Germans. That said, even an unscathed Red Army would have had to contend with the grave handicap of Stalin’s refusal to heed intelligence warnings and act on them. An interesting question here is whether senior Red Army commanders in an army that had been untouched by purges would have tolerated Stalin’s vacillation in the face of obvious danger. Even after 22 June 1941—such was the climate of paranoia—a disbelief in high-quality intelligence data and the practice of telling the boss what he wanted to hear continued. For example, the volume of high-quality information being passed on by the British traitors Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby, Donald Maclean, John Cairncross, and Guy Burgess to their Soviet handlers aroused suspicions in Moscow that Blunt and the others were double agents.
The removal of so many commanders at all levels and throughout the institutional structure of the Red Army meant that their replacements lacked the experience and training to command the posts they now occupied. Many of the newly promoted, called vydvizhentsy, surely knew that the bizarre accusations leveled against their former superiors were false, making them far more vulnerable to and more dependent on ideological considerations, rather than purely military ones. As a result, military professionalism suffered, and personal initiative was stifled.
The arrest, public vilification, and execution of so many commanders undermined discipline and weakened junior officers’ confidence in their superiors. In fact, a climate was created in which junior commanders with personal grudges or those driven by ideological vendettas were encouraged to denounce their superiors for lacking vigilance (bditel’nost’), engaging in wrecking (vreditel’stvo), or succumbing to ideological deviation (uklonizm). Predictably, the result was a severe weakening of morale, an eradication of unit cohesion, and a collapse in professional solidarity. History provides plenty of examples of outnumbered armies defeating numerically larger and better-equipped foes, but no armed forces, ancient or modern, can function with poor morale and an absence of unit cohesion and where the heroes of yesterday are vilified as traitors.
The damage done by the purges to doctrine, equipment procurement schedules, training, deployment, morale, effective command and control, and leadership was evident immediately after 22 June 1941, but even when confronted with the catastrophic results of their purges of the Red Army, Stalin and his party apparatus were unable to see that the unfolding disaster was a consequence of their vendettas. On the contrary, they saw it as evidence of treachery on an unimaginable scale. In this grotesque scenario, the basic principle of the purges, they persuaded themselves, had been correct: it had just not gone far enough. What was now needed to restore the situation, they believed, was not less party control but more, and so they reinstated dual command, among other things. Dual command was not merely a very public display of the party’s lack of faith in the Red Army, which was soon picked up by enemy propagandists. Being the very opposite of the German doctrine of Auftragstaktik (military tradition that stresses personal initiative), without which all-arms operations could not properly function, it complicated command and control (to put it mildly), playing straight into the hands of German commanders and enhancing their already demonstrably superior tactical leadership.
Barbarossa’s failure to deliver the knockout blow and the subsequent failure to take Moscow suggest that December 1941 was the moment Germany lost the war. At best, it could expect a long war of attrition in a struggle against the combined might of the United States, the British Empire, and the Soviet Union, with predictable consequences. At the risk of being accused of Anglocentrism, I suggest that the failure to destroy or capture the defeated British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, and certainly the failure to invade England in the summer of 1940, marked the moment when Germany’s chances of winning the war were, if not fatally damaged, at least severely undermined. Granted, as von Manstein has explained only too clearly, the risks of Operation Sea Lion were enormous, but if successful, the rewards would have been stunning. That Hitler was prepared to attack the Soviet Union before Britain had been eliminated is doubly puzzling. First, it suggests that Hitler did not consider the threat posed by Britain serious enough to warrant giving it immediate priority. Second, the risks of attacking the Soviet Union and failing were far greater than the risks of attacking England and being defeated. Here, the factor of time was critical for German ambitions: if the Soviet Union could be defeated in a short campaign, the full weight of German arms could then be turned against Britain. The longer the campaign on the Eastern Front lasted, the more resilient Britain would become and the greater its capacity to mobilize British military might. An alliance between Britain and the Soviet Union would then be a near certainty. That the British were a meddlesome force in the Balkans and a ubiquitous and aggressive presence in the Mediterranean in the months immediately before Barbarossa, though frequently thwarted by German intervention, was evidence enough of what lay in store for Germany if Britain was not checked.
Instead of invading England and, if succeeding, changing the strategic situation in Europe to his overwhelming advantage, Hitler turned east. The Blitzkrieg failed, and by the middle of December 1941, Germany found itself at war with the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. The advantages of surprise and the benefits of ruthless treachery that had served Hitler so well since 1933 had now been exhausted. The military, technological, and doctrinal advantages Germany had enjoyed from September 1939 to December 1941 were now being matched and surpassed by its opponents.
Reasons for the Failure of Barbarossa
The factors that contributed to the failure of Barbarossa can be summarized as follows: (1) time, space, and terrain; (2) inconsistent attitudes toward nationalism; (3) the brutal treatment of Soviet prisoners of war and commissars; (4) the role of the Einsatzgruppen (the mass murder of Jews); (5) plans for agricultural exploitation and the retention of Soviet collective farms; (6) the assumption that the Soviet Union would collapse very quickly; (7) Hitler’s failure to make a radio address to the Soviet people; and (8) failure to pursue military objectives—the capture of Moscow—to the exclusion of everything else, as recommended by Guderian and other generals.
Time, space, and terrain, along with weather, are factors in the planning and execution of all military operations. The Blitzkrieg doctrine was best suited to the distances and terrain found in western Europe. Even though there were natural and artificial terrain obstacles in the western theater of operations, these could be overcome, as the Germans demonstrated, without losing momentum because the operational area was so much smaller. Moreover, the advanced infrastructure of western Europe—highways, roads, railways, and bridges—facilitated and accelerated the Blitzkrieg, since the invader could exploit them for the rapid deployment of men and equipment and for purposes of resupply. Another advantage arising from the smaller operational area in western Europe was that the invader could seize assets—arms factories, power stations, dams, ports, ships, and food production plants—in a coup de main before they could be destroyed. In western Europe a scorched-earth policy was neither realistic nor psychologically acceptable to the inhabitants. On the Eastern Front, however, there was often time to evacuate major assets, especially plants and factories further east; where evacuation was not possible, industrial assets such as dams could be prepared for demolition. In the east the invader had to reckon with poor-quality roads and rail lines that were often rendered unusable by rain and snow.
The German invasion of the Soviet Union was also characterized by inconsistent and duplicitous policies toward nationalist movements. In the planning phase of Barbarossa, nationalist movements in Ukraine were exploited by the Abwehr, and the threat posed by these movements was taken very seriously by the NKVD. In contrast, the highest levels of the RSHA (the main terror and police agency of the NS regime) regarded nationalist movements with suspicion, and German planning documents make it clear that there was never any serious intention to abolish the Soviet collective farm system; this would be retained to maximize agricultural production for Germany.
However, there is evidence that some German administrators were willing to grant a degree of local autonomy in the occupied areas. One of the more interesting experiments took place in the Orlov district. The 2nd Panzer Army permitted the creation of the autonomous Lokot region, based on the village of Lokot. By the end of the summer of 1942, the Lokot self-governing region had expanded to include eight regions of the Orlov and Kursk districts, with a total population of about 581,000. All German troops were withdrawn, and the region was given self-governing status. To quote the recent work of a Russian historian:
German troops, headquarters and command structures were withdrawn beyond the borders of the district, in which the whole spectrum of power was conferred on an Oberbürgermeister, based on a ramified administrative apparatus and numerous armed formations made up of local inhabitants and prisoners. The only demands made of the self-government were that supplies of foodstuffs were delivered to the German army and that it prevented the growth of a partisan movement.
It turns out that the Lokot self-government even had its own political party, Narodnaia Sotsialisticheskaia Partiia Rossii (The People’s Socialist Party of Russia), and its main aim was the destruction of the communist system and the collective farms. The leaders of this experiment saw a self-governing Lokot as the basis for the rebirth of Russia. One can only imagine the frenzy of hatred this experiment aroused in Stalin and Beria when they eventually got wind of it.
The question arises: to what extent did the existence of this self-governing region assist the Germans and impede the Red Army before and during the battle of Kursk in 1943? Once the battle of Kursk was over, there is no question that the whole area would have been scoured by SMERSH for any official who had worked in the administration. The fate of the 581,000 inhabitants after the Germans withdrew is not clear. It would have taken SMERSH many months, maybe years, to filter all those it considered unreliable, and this must have generated a massive amount of documentation, which is apparently still classified. German initiatives such those in Orlov would have been far more effective had they been launched from the outset.
Harsh treatment of Red Army prisoners, often stemming from callous indifference, was a disastrous mistake. Such treatment was predicated in part on the assumption that the campaign would be over quickly and that any mistreatment of prisoners would have a negligible impact on German operations. The Germans’ attitude toward prisoners and commissars soon became known on the Soviet side of the front, and the longer the campaign dragged on, the more such policies hardened Soviet resistance. Combined with the mass shootings of Jews by the Einsatzgruppen, the treatment of Soviet prisoners of war helped the Soviet regime. These killings supported a sense of Soviet solidarity that could possibly overcome the ethnic heterogeneity and fissiparous nature of the Soviet Union. To this end, Hitler’s failure to make a radio address to the Soviet people immediately after the invasion must be seen as a lost opportunity. A direct radio appeal (reinforced by a massive airdrop of leaflets) in which he promised self-rule, abolition of the collective farms, restoration of the church, and an end to communism and in which he urged the people to turn against their oppressors—the NKVD, the commissars, and the party—would have caused utter panic among Stalin’s entourage. But this did not happen, and the peasants were exploited just as ruthlessly by the German occupiers, which undeniably helped the Soviet regime.
A year later, on the eve of the Stalingrad counteroffensive, the consequences of this German error would be fully grasped by the utterly cynical Commissar Getmanov in Grossman’s Life and Fate: “It is our good fortune that the Germans in the course of just one year did more to make themselves hated by the peasants than anything the communists did over the last 25 years.” Getmanov rather conveniently ignores the civil war and the genocide in Ukraine, but there is much truth in what he says. With victory secured, there would be time enough for the German occupiers to renege on these tactical, time-buying promises. The time for implementing the ideological program would have been after the Soviet state had been knocked out. Nonmilitary objectives that were launched before the Soviet Union had been defeated complicated and compromised the essential task of accelerating the collapse of the Soviet state. Again, the full force of the German propaganda machine should have been used to send the message that the German army had come to liberate Russia from communism. The failure to do so was probably based on the belief that such assurances would not be necessary, since the campaign would be a short one. Such considerations bring us to the question of what the primary military objective should have been in 1941.
One question that continues to engage historians of the Barbarossa campaign is whether Hitler’s decision to head south in August 1941 predetermined the outcome of the eventual resumption of the drive on Moscow. For example, Glantz argues that Germany’s best chance to take Moscow was in October 1941.13 In contrast, Guderian and others maintain that the August 1941 decision to go to Ukraine was the main cause of the failure to take Moscow. Citing various factors that he believes would have thwarted German plans to take Moscow in September, Glantz nevertheless concedes that the Germans might have captured the city then. However, that would have been just the start of the Germans’ problems: surviving the winter in a devastated city, protecting their exposed and extended flanks, and withstanding an attack from a Red Army now numbering 5 million men.
The obvious riposte here is Guderian’s insistence on the pressing need to go all out for Moscow. Given the requirements of modern war, the defense of Moscow in 1941 relied on the Soviet rail network. In fact, the critical importance of the rail network for offensive and defensive purposes was well appreciated by Triandafillov, who identified fast and effective rokirovka (lateral troop movements) as crucial for deployment. The loss of Moscow would have meant the loss of all rail and river links to other parts of the Soviet Union, thus effectively preventing the necessary rokirovka and interfering with the movement of reinforcements from the Soviet Far East. Moreover, any Soviet threat to the German flanks and rear was predicated on a supply chain for the Red Army and the Soviet High Command’s ability to move men and equipment by road and rail. If the German attack had succeeded in September, no buildup of offensive forces would have been possible, and the threat posed by millions of Red Army soldiers would have been reduced, since they would have been cut off from their supply bases.
The other factor to consider is the political impact on the Soviet Union if the Germans had taken Moscow. Guderian made a case for an all-out attack on Moscow in a meeting with Hitler:
I explained that from a military standpoint it came down to the total destruction of the enemy forces that had suffered so badly in the recent battles. I depicted for him the geographical significance of the Russian capital that was, I said, completely different from Paris, for example, the traffic and communications center, the political center and an important industrial region, the fall of which, apart from its having an obviously shattering effect on the morale of the Russian people, must also have an impact on the rest of the world. I drew attention to the mood of the troops who expected nothing else than the march on Moscow and who, so inspired, had already, I said, made all the necessary preparations to this end. I tried to explain that after achieving military victory in this decisive thrust and over the main forces of the enemy the industrial regions of Ukraine must fall to us much sooner when the conquest of the Moscow communications network would make any possible deployment of forces from north to south extremely difficult for the Russians.
Guderian also pointed out that the German supply problem would be easier to deal with if everything were concentrated on Moscow. In addition, it is was essential to move before the onset of the rasputitsa.
Guderian’s views find some support from von Manstein, who maintains—with the benefit of postwar hindsight—that Hitler underestimated the strength of the Soviet system and its ability to withstand the stresses of war. The only way to destroy the system, he argues, was to bring about its political collapse from within: “However, the policies that Hitler permitted to be pursued in the occupied territories by his Reich Commissars and the SD—in complete contrast to the efforts of the military circles—could only have the opposite effect.” This is an obvious point to make, but how do von Manstein’s objections to German policies in the occupied territories fit with his own order issued on 20 November 1941? This lapse in memory notwithstanding, von Manstein’s assessment of the policies being pursued by Hitler underlines the inner contradictions: “So while Hitler wanted to move strategically so as to destroy Soviet power, politically, he acted in complete opposition to this strategy. In other wars differences between the political and military leadership have often occurred. In this situation both elements were controlled by Hitler with the result that the Eastern policy conducted by him ran strictly counter to the requirements of his strategy and perhaps denied it the chance of a quick victory.” Von Manstein believed that the defeat of the Red Army would achieve Germany’s economic and political goals. However, capturing Moscow was the key component: “After its [Moscow’s] loss the Soviet defense would be practically divided into two parts and the Soviet leadership would no longer be able to conduct a uniform and combined operation.”
The period from 1 September 1939 to 22 June 1941 lends some support to Colin Gray’s view that, although it is an intellectual convenience to accept a strict demarcation between war and peace (the title of Tolstoy’s classic novel War and Peace is an indicator of how deeply this binary division is embedded), there can be a situation in which there is neither peace nor war or, rather, there is peace in war and war in peace.19 In this situation, the conditions for a future war are being created amid circumstances that, to most people not immediately involved with problems of war, appear to be peace. This view suggests that peace is not permanent; it is merely a transitional phase during which old conflicts can be reignited or new conflicts can emerge, often unforeseen, because they are driven by political and technological change.
Diplomacy plays a crucial role in this transitional phase. It is in the diplomatic arena that new conditions and new threats arising from these new conditions are perceived or, rather, are open to being perceived. In these conditions, diplomacy can function as either an instrument to avoid war or one to prepare for war, a policy pursued by Hitler and clearly identified by Churchill and Isserson. Thus, Gray’s thesis of war in peace and peace in war implies some modification of the Clausewitzian idea that war is a continuation of policy by other means. War is not merely a continuation of diplomatic policy by other means: war and diplomacy are not discrete entities; they constitute a single entity used by all states to further their interests, assert their honor, and deal with their fears. This entity is power. Thus, in the conditions we traditionally call peace, a state uses diplomacy to advance its interests (moderately or aggressively), and in the conditions we traditionally call war, the state uses force to advance its interests. Both policies, war and diplomacy, are parts of the same entity we call power. The origins of the relationship between diplomacy and war and the nature of power were first enunciated by Thucydides, and they have certainly been modified and reformulated by Machiavelli, Bismarck, and, more recently, Kissinger. However, in the twentieth century, Hitler’s recognition that diplomacy and war are a single entity, and the degree to which this entity became an instrument of his will, remains one of the most important legacies of the NS regime and the planning for Barbarossa.
Finally, and most importantly, there was the human cost. What made Barbarossa and the war on the Eastern Front so appalling was not, to quote Omer Bartov, that “Nazi Germany exercised barbarism on an unprecedented scale” or that “its declared intention was extermination and enslavement.” What made it so appalling was that both Germany and the Soviet Union demonstrated a shocking capacity for barbarism, extermination, and enslavement. Clearly, this was an ideological war, but the first moves were not made on 22 June 1941. The first moves toward this Weltanschauungskrieg were made by Lenin’s Soviet state. By effectively declaring the Soviet state free of all international norms, free of all moral and ethical obligations in its pursuit of global domination and class war, Lenin promulgated an intoxicating, nihilistic idea that was fully apprehended and applauded by the author of Mein Kampf and informed his own cult of German exceptionalism based on das Herrenvolk.
The impact of gunpowder on warfare made itself felt in the field of tactics above all. Its effect on organization, logistics, intelligence, command and control, and on strategy itself, was much less, and for the most part indirect. To understand the technological reality underlying the evolution of warfare in these fields, it is necessary to turn mainly to nonmilitary technology.
The invention of gunpowder is commonly regarded as a revolutionary event in world history, and indeed this has been the prevailing interpretation since Francis Bacon early in the seventeenth century described it as such. Since warfare for millenia had in fact been all but identical with combat, it is easy to understand how such a point of view came about; we suggest, however, that it has now become out-of-date and therefore something of an obstacle to true comprehension. Once the old-fashioned identification of warfare with combat is abolished, a very different perspective emerges. Battle is seen as one of the principal means employed by war, but not its end-all.
We have seen how organization constituted perhaps the weakest single link in medieval warfare, and how this weakness rested at least in part on technological factors such as the absence of cheap writing material and the subsequent decline of literacy. The fact that armies were organized on the basis of personal ties rather than on bureaucratic principles undoubtedly does much to explain the chaotic nature of warfare—and of much else besides—during the early Middle Ages before the year 1000. From that point onward, however, there was evident an unmistakable reversal of the trend. As town life, commerce, and a cash economy slowly expanded, military-feudal service was replaced more and more by money-payment, known as scutagium or shield money, which could be used to obtain mercenaries. This in turn implied a growing use of written records, receipts, rosters, etc. The proliferation of written documentation was greatly helped by the arrival of paper from the east, an event which seems to have occurred at almost the same time as the introduction of gunpowder, which may indeed have been related to it. Paper in turn opened the way towards the experiments with movable type and printing which were finally crowned with success in 1453. Between 1500 and 1850, though the techniques of printing did not develop very much, its productivity rose three or fourfold. The spread of printing was critical to the rise of military bureaucracies and of modern armed forces. Equally important was the invention in Italy of double-entry bookkeeping and the replacement of Roman by Arabic numerals. Arabic numerals in turn led to the discovery of logarithms by William Napier, and of the decimal system for recording fractions by Simon Stevin. Significantly, Stevin was one of the outstanding military engineers of his age. He wrote a handbook on artillery and served as tutor to the Prince of Orange.
Though we cannot attribute the explosive growth that occurred in the size of armies to these inventions and discoveries alone, this growth would certainly not have been possible without them; as is so often the case, technological developments formed a necessary cause but not a sufficient one. During the second half of the sixteenth century, the Spanish, French, and Austrian monarchies were each able to mobilize upwards of 100,000 men at home and abroad. At the height of the Thirty Years War, Gustavus Adolphus in Germany is said to have had a total of 200,000 men under his command. At one time during the War of the Spanish Succession, France had approximately 400,000 men under arms, while the armies of Habsburg Austria were not much smaller. Though methods of enlistment and conditions of service varied considerably from one country to the next, virtually all of these men were paid soldiers. Though most of these troops might be sent home when the war came to its end, all armies now contained a hard and constantly growing core of long-serving regulars. The most powerful eighteenth-century states were easily capable of maintaining 100,000 or so men under arms at all times. These men had to be administered, paid, fed, clothed, armed, housed, and cared for by the establishment of pensions, hospitals, orphanages, and the like. These problems were compounded by the fact that during most of each year the forces were not concentrated at a single place but scattered in garrison towns, thus presenting the central military administration with the problem of maintaining uniformity. This was a task at which they were on the whole successful, and one which surely could not even have been attempted had the technical equipment at hand been limited to that available during the Middle Ages.
As an improved technological infrastructure permitted the size of armed forces to grow, the number of troops that could be concentrated at any single point and made to do battle also tended to increase. Towards the middle of the seventeenth century a battle with 30,000 to 40,000 men taking part on each side would be considered very large, but within a hundred years such battles had become commonplace. Some engagements were much larger, as when 90,000 Frenchmen fought 110,000 Allies (British, Dutch, and Germans) at Malplaquet in 1709, or when a total of 130,000 troops clashed at Fontenoy in 1743. Towards the very end of this period, the levée en masse, or national mobilization, was adopted in France and was soon imitated by other countries. Though its introduction was not primarily a question of technology, it did require a suitable technological base to make it possible. The levée en masse enabled Napoleon to keep under arms upwards of a million men at one time, with his opponents following closely. As a result, battles in which both sides together numbered 150,000 became commonplace; the largest ones could involve 250,000 (Wagram, 1809; Borodino, 1812) or even 460,000 (Leipzig, 1813). By that time the sheer force of numbers had begun to transform the entire basis of strategy.
As printing and improved administrative techniques developed to the point that they permitted such forces to be mobilized and maintained, strategic control and staff work were also gradually transformed. Though they liked to pose in military garb and often assumed nominal command during important events, most rulers during this period no longer took the field, let alone fought with weapon in hand. Instead, they spent the war years safely ensconced in their palaces, many of which bore appropriate names such as Karlsruhe (Charles’ Rest) or Sans Souci (Free of Care). From there, they sought to control operations through the machinery provided by the newly established ministries of war, relying on the gradually evolving royal mail systems for communication. War being a sporadic activity, these systems were originally established on a temporary basis. It was only in the eighteenth century that they began to compete with the older and better established commercial networks. Even as late as 1815, news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo first reached London via a private homing-pigeon service operated by the House of Rothschild.
Though communication networks were far more comprehensive and systematic than anything known to the Middle Ages, the technological means at hand did not allow the speed with which messages were transmitted to be increased by much. Though there may have been some improvement in roads—which, during the eighteenth century, for the first time began to approach the quality of the old Roman roads—carriages were still carriages, and horses, horses. Consequently, commanders who were waging war at a distance of perhaps several hundred kilometers from their capital were bound hand and foot by detailed letters of instruction. Most politico-military information probably traveled at from 60 to 90 kilometers a day, so that the French commander in Germany during the Seven Years War would have to wait two weeks to get an answer to any letter he sent to Versailles. Thus the peculiarly hesitant, slow, and convoluted nature of military operations between the age of Condé in the middle of the seventeenth century, and that of the Duke of Brunswick a hundred years later, is in part explained. As Schlieffen put it very well, these commanders were not really authorized to make war at all. Rather, it was their task to occupy a province, or besiege a town, after which they were to pause and wait for further instructions. Thus, the universal employment of written messages to control strategy worked as a brake on operations, by no means the last time a technology or technique acted in this way.
During this period, administration and staff work were clearly separated from each other for the first time. Not only did eighteenth-century armies very often carry around their own portable printing presses which were used for disseminating information, but some staff work came to be done with the aid of standardized printed forms. Perhaps the earliest of these were the various documents needed to keep track of the enlistment, pay, transfers, promotion, and discharge of personnel, as well as the entire apparatus of military law and military justice. Approximating staff work proper more closely, there were the ordres de battaille, états de situation, enemy reports, and so forth, all of which tended to assume a more regular and formal character. Without printing, eighteenth-century armies would not have been able to exist. Also essential were the desks, chairs, filing cabinets, and similar equipment, that they carried along on a campaign.
Though printing and writing helped shape staff work, on the battlefield itself their role continued to be very limited—a fact that in the eyes of some people comprised one of the attractions of a military career. Sometimes a written or printed general order was issued before the beginning of an engagement. Once the fighting was under way, however, command and control were exercised mainly by oral means, combined with all the traditional acoustical and visual methods of communication. Whether it was a general or the ruler himself who was in charge, commanders gradually ceased to fight in person, though this does not mean that they were always out of harm’s way. The normal position of the commander increasingly tended to become a hill situated some way to the rear and overlooking the field, and this position might be changed once or twice during the engagement.
Though the invention of the telescope helped commanders to retain some form of control over fronts that were now often 5 or 6 km long, the early modern period saw no further technological advances in the fields of tactical intelligence, command, control, and communication. Some organizational improvements did take place towards the end of the seventeenth century, when specialized and fully militarized groups of guides and ADCs and adjutant generals were created and employed on a variety of tasks. Where these groups were institutionalized and properly organized and trained, they could carry vast military benefits. However, perfection in this regard only came during the nineteenth century, and even Napoleon was not yet above entrusting the most important messages to miscellaneous locally-recruited personnel.
Just as the technology of communication was all but stagnant, progress in the field of transport was also slow, a factor which continued to impose serious limitations on the movements of armies. The most advanced energy sources of the time were represented by the windmill and the waterwheel. During the high Middle Ages both had come into widespread use, but both were altogether unsuitable for employment in the field. Although there were some marginal improvements in the form of better carriages, armies going on campaign were still dependent on the shoulders of men and the straining muscles of animals except where water transport was available. Though the proportion of cavalry was everywhere on the decline, horses were needed to drag the artillery and its ammunition, as well as the truly astounding amounts of baggage which eighteenth-century armies considered necessary for survival. As a result, horses were not only altogether indispensable but extremely numerous. The poor roads and the dependence on horses continued to put severe constraints on the seasons in which armies could operate and the places where they could go. Only a few states, such as France or Prussia, were sufficiently well-organized to set up fodder-magazines, which enabled them to spring a surprise—the term, of course, is significant—on an opponent by opening a campaign earlier than had been expected.
What applied to horses also applied to the men. Only a small fraction of the needs of an army could be supplied from base. In the absence of refrigeration, most foodstuffs had to be gathered on the spot in repetitive, frequently well-organized operations every four days or so. Consequently the need for food constituted a very serious obstacle to operational and strategic mobility. The problem of local supply was rendered even more difficult since the armies of the period were made up, to quote the Duke of Wellington, of “the scum of the earth, enlisted for drink.” So bad was the problem of desertion that the troops could not be permitted to forage on their own, but had to do so en bloc and under guard. The French revolutionary armies were, at least during the early years, less afflicted by this problem, and Napoleon seems to have been the first commander to set up a properly organized military requisitioning service. As a result, his troops were able to march somewhat faster and farther than most others, a most important advantage that goes some way to explain their success.
European commanders during the Middle Ages had been accustomed to plan their operations without maps of any sort, large-scale strategic maps being seldom required for the type of campaign in which they engaged. We simply have no idea how wide-ranging conquerors such as Tamerlaine and Ghengis Khan managed in this respect. The maps issued to Spanish commanders during the second half of the sixteenth century were, as previously noted, nothing more than rough hand-drawn sketches. The first maps bearing a “modern” character, in the sense of attempting to give a true two-dimensional representation of an entire province, were apparently produced in Lombardy towards the end of the fifteenth century. With the advent of the printing press the world finally had a technical instrument that permitted maps to be reproduced accurately; therefore the impact of printing on cartography was if anything even greater than its contribution to military administration.
Also, the creation of a cartographic infrastructure for strategy was helped by a revival of interest in town planning that took place during the Renaissance. The planned construction of whole urban complexes, which had been familiar to the ancient world, required the rediscovery and introduction of surveying instruments and techniques, and it did not take long before both were applied to military purposes as well. Triangulation was invented by the Dutchman Snellius around 1617, and first used by him to determine the exact distance between the towns of Alkmaar and Bergen-op-Zoom. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century maps were, accordingly, fully capable of showing the relative location of towns, roads, rivers, and natural obstacles of every kind. They also gave distances, which were often marked not only in miles but also in hours of travel, an interesting reminder of the itineraries from which they originated. On the other hand, they were still not provided with contour lines, and therefore unable to present terrain in plastic form.
These maps represented reasonably good instruments of strategy, but often they did not go far enough. Particularly at the beginning of the period, maps still retained a traditional decorative function—the same quality that nowadays causes many of them to be treasured as works of art. This frequently was allowed to interfere with accuracy and usefulness. One late sixteenth- or early seventeenth-century map represents the Low Countries in the form of a stylized lion, tail and all. Scale also presented a problem, since during the eighteenth century there were fifteen different kinds of mile in use in Germany alone.
In addition, surveying over small distances is much easier than over long ones, with the result that most of the available maps covered specific towns and regions rather than entire countries. The first attempt to map such a country by means of triangulation rather than by guesswork was made by Giovanni Maraldi and Jacques Cassini during the 1740s. The country they surveyed was France, and their work was only completed on the eve of the Revolution. Even after triangulation had come into use, coverage both of individual states and of Europe as a whole tended to be spotty. Comprehensive sets of standardized maps drawn to a single scale were much sought after, difficult to obtain and, when obtained, jealously guarded. When F. W. Schettan’s topographical atlas of Prussia and her neighbors was completed in 1780, it immediately disappeared into the state archives.
Finally, the reproduction of maps remained a slow and expensive process. Even when maps of a certain region were available, the number of copies might not be sufficient. For example, when Frederick the Great invaded Silesia in 1740 he was compelled to rely on captured Austrian maps. Sixty years later Napoleon’s marshals often marched into the unknown, entirely dependent for orientation on locally-recruited companies of guides and on their own self-confidence. Another indication of the relative scarcity of reliable and up-to-date military-geographical information was the fact that sketching constituted an important art. It continued to be taught to officers right down to the end of the nineteenth century, when photography finally took over.
The collection of the type of statistical information that is vital for the planning and conduct of war made some progress between 1500 and 1830. In France, which led the way, such personalities as Sully, minister of war to Henry IV, Colbert, minister of finance to Louis XIV, and Fénelon, tutor to Louis XV, preoccupied themselves with the problem. The registration by the Church of all births and burials had been made mandatory in 1597, but it was only after 1736 that the information assembled by such means had to be recorded in duplicate with one copy surrendered to the representatives of the government. Even so, progress was slow. Correctly assuming that a census was nothing but a prelude to new taxation, the population down to the very end of the eighteenth century habitually resisted an actual count, with the result that demographic statistics even of small countries could vary by as much as 50 percent. When Necker, minister of finance to Louis XVI, wanted to know the number of France’s citizens as a means towards estimating the crown’s revenues, he was reduced to averaging the number of births during the period 176772 and multiplying the result by 25.5, or 24.75, or whatever other guesstimate was available on their proportion in the general population. A proper statistical office charged with the preparation of regular statistical reports was established by the Revolution, which entrusted it to a great scientist, Lavoisier. It was from this office that the remaining countries took their cue, mostly between 1810 and 1830.
Though the technical development of mechanical timekeepers during the period is comparatively well-documented, almost nothing has been done to investigate the extent to which they were used and how they affected general habits of thought, let alone military habits of thought. The earliest devices of this kind made their appearance in Europe almost simultaneously with gunpowder. Like firearms, timepieces represented machines properly speaking and indeed were destined to serve as models of a cosmos which, from the time of Newton, came to be understood as a gigantic machine with God acting as the spring. During the first two or three centuries, mechanical clocks were too cumbersome and unreliable for field service, with the result that military timekeeping remained essentially unchanged. Good portable clocks and watches that were at least half-way accurate were available for sale from the beginning of the seventeenth century, and the best late-eighteenth-century watches were almost as good as the average modern watch before the age of quartz.
Technical characteristics, however, are meaningless in themselves. As commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, George Washington did not see fit to note the hour at which he sent or received letters, and indeed throughout his military correspondence there are surprisingly few references to the clock. The marshals and generals of the Grande Armée were certainly rich enough to afford watches, yet in message upon angry message the Emperor himself had to remind them of the need to put not only the hour of dispatch but also the date and place on the letterhead. Napoleon himself frequently formulated his orders in terms of the clock (“General A’s division will leave at such and such an hour, followed at half an hour’s interval by the one commanded by B”) but on other occasions ordered battles to start au point du jour (“at the crack of dawn”). Then, too, there is the fact that before the advent of railways and telegraphs, the clocks of different places were not necessarily synchronized but often showed local time. Throughout the period under consideration, and indeed down to the very end of the nineteenth century, this meant that the hour in province Y might well differ from that in province Z, making nationwide strategic coordination that much more difficult, or else indicating—which is perhaps the more likely explanation—that such coordination was rarely practiced.
Another sphere in which technological developments were minimal was that of military intelligence. From time immemorial, armies had been dependent on books, diplomats, and travelers for long-range strategic information about the enemy and the environment. Tactical information was obtained by means of personal observation, or else with the aid of scouts, prisoners, deserters, local inhabitants, and spies. The latter were typically soldiers, dressed up in a variety of disguises—for example, that of a farmhand. The spies would then go to the enemy camp accompanying a bona fide visitor, such as a peasant out to sell his wares. The peasant’s loyalty was in turn guaranteed by taking his wife hostage. All information, except for that originating in a commander’s personal observation, traveled at a speed similar to the movement of the forces themselves. In this they differed sharply from modern forces, who have technical means capable of transmitting intelligence at the speed of light. On the other hand, communication between a commander and his sources of information was normally direct. Since intelligence departments only made their appearance toward the end of the eighteenth century, a multiplicity of organizational echelons did not interpose themselves between a commander and his sources of information, so little time was wasted.
To draw the threads of the argument together, the armies of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were numerically much stronger than their predecessors. Such size would not of course have been possible except for the much-improved administrative techniques that had gradually become available since the Renaissance. At the same time, however, the technical means of transmitting information, on which command, control, communication, and intelligence depended, had not undergone any corresponding improvement. To cope with this dilemma, armies distinguished between the tactical and the strategic levels. On the tactical level, a solution was sought and found in terms of careful organization—it was from the sixteenth century onward that companies, battalions and regiments made their appearance—and in the imposition of a ferocious discipline such as enabled Frederick the Great to say that soldiers ought to fear their officers more than they fear the enemy.
On the strategic level, generals being notoriously more difficult to discipline than privates, an answer proved less easy to discover. Beginning around 1760, however, the French in Germany took the lead in experiments aimed at dividing armies into self-contained, permanent strategic units. Such units had not been seen in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire or—considering that the legion was pre-eminently an administrative organization—ever. Each such unit was made up of a properly balanced combination of all arms, and each was provided with its own headquarters and system of communications to make independent operations possible for a limited time. First the division, and then the corps, appeared on the scene, and with them the first general staffs to coordinate the movements of the army as a whole.
Thus, the combination of large numbers with weak communications technology compelled commanders to search for new organizational forms, which in turn would not have been possible without corresponding changes in doctrine and training. Once all these elements had been put in place and thoroughly assimilated, the effect on strategy was revolutionary, indeed explosive. For the first time in history, armies on campaign stopped marching about in single massive blocks, or else in detachments that spent most of their time waiting for each other. Increasingly out-of-date was the age-old contrast between those detachments and an army’s main forces. More and more often armies were made to actually consist of their detachments. As the term corps d’armée already implies, the individual corps each constituted a miniature army, complete in every part. They moved along on their own, often at 24 or even 48 hours’ distance from central headquarters.
Operating with their forces dispersed on such a scale, commanders found that the number of strategic combinations open to them had increased tremendously. Instead of simply facing each other’s main forces head on and either offering battle or declining it, generals could now assign each army corps a different task forming part of an overall plan. Thus one corps could be used to mount a diversion and distract the enemy’s attention; a second, to outflank him on one side, while a third outflanked him on the other; a fourth, to prevent reinforcements from arriving on the scene; and a fifth, to form a general reserve. The real trick, of course, consisted not only of coordinating the corps in their different roles, but also of altering those roles at a moment’s notice in accordance with the latest intelligence. While none of this was fundamentally new, previously it could be done only on a tactical scale, say at a maximum distance of 5-10 kilometers. Under Napoleon, maneuvers taking up 25, 50, or even 100 kilometers of space became routine.
At the same time, the set-piece battle entered a decline. One reason was that commanders were unable to exercise continuous strategic control over their much-enlarged and widely dispersed forces; another was that engagements could get under way much faster, since each corps deployed on its own rather than all together. Since the corps operated independently and away from each other, a clear center of gravity was often lacking, and it became much more difficult for intelligence to determine the enemy’s true intentions. Consequently the percentage of encounter battles tended to grow after 1790. More and more often hostile corps on detached missions blundered into each other without any orders from, or indeed without the knowledge of, central headquarters. Under such circumstances, even the best plans laid down by the commander-in-chief were no longer enough. Instead, and supposing everything else to be equal, the side whose generals displayed the greatest enterprise and marched towards the sound of the guns possessed an advantage and tended to win the contest. Thus, closing the gap between numbers and the technical means available to coordinate them on campaign demanded both a supreme brain at the top and flexibility at the bottom. During much of the Napoleonic period this combination was available to the Grande Armée and enabled it to overrun most of Europe. Towards the end, however, a certain decline on both sides of the equation seems to have taken place, and this played an important role in enabling France’s enemies to catch up.
Yet a third important effect of the new organization—and hence indirectly of technological factors—upon strategy was the decline of siege warfare. Though existing literature tends to exaggerate the importance of gunpowder, the properly designed and defended enceinte was able to hold its own for centuries in the teeth of the worst that firearms and artillery could do. Towards the very end of the eighteenth century, this situation changed. Though the relationship between the technical capabilities of fortifications and cannon had not undergone any fundamental shift, the entire question was being rendered increasingly irrelevant. This was because, given their newly acquired size and the way in which they now operated, armies under most circumstances became capable of overcoming fortresses simply by masking and bypassing them. As Napoleon’s career vividly illustrates, and as he himself remarked on one occasion, sieges of the traditional type became not so much easier to mount as for the most part superfluous. Though they did not entirely disappear, they declined in relative number, as did the role that they played in strategy.
Although each of the above developments separately may be regarded as revolutionary, together their impact was even greater than the sum of their parts. Not only the conduct of strategy, but its very meaning was changed. Well into the eighteenth century, battle and warfare were all but identical. This was because, paradoxically, in another sense they were entirely separate, war apart from battle being almost indistinguishable from a somewhat violent form of tourism accompanied by large-scale robbery. Not long after the end of the Seven Years War, however, campaigning at last began to take on a more pronounced military character. To paraphrase one of Napoleon’s most celebrated boasts, the soldier’s legs became an instrument for making war rather than simply a means for bringing them to the place where battle would take place. In the future, at any given moment during a campaign, one part or another of an army would be likely to be engaged in actual fighting. Fighting was thus continuous, instead of being limited to isolated encounters with a clear beginning and an equally clear end. The great battles of the Napoleonic period—Austerlitz, Jena, Wagram, Borodino, and Waterloo—were destined to be among the last of their kind. Increasingly during the nineteenth century, battles were to last for days and then for weeks or months. They did not take place at or near individual places, but spread until they covered entire regions, countries and even continents. Compared with any previous period that one selects, this was a revolutionary development indeed, and one which is truly paradigmatic in that, much as it owed to technological factors, it cannot be explained in terms of hardware alone.
Small magnate retinues or “warbands” that fought for glory and plunder, then, can hardly have provided an adequate basis for the 6th-century Frankish armies that fought over fortifications on equal terms with their neighbors. The size of armies is the first issue. The individual siege not only required overwhelming force on the part of the besiegers, but in many cases, several sieges were conducted at the same time, while other forces protected supply routes, garrisoned forts and cities, raided enemy territory, and shielded against relieving armies. Gregory provides many interesting figures for late 6th century Merovingian armies, most ranging from garrison forces of 300 professional troops guarding the gates of Tours, around 4,000 for garrisoning a number of fortifications on the Visigothic border, to field armies numbering 10-15,000 on a single campaign. Bachrach has used the latter numbers to extrapolate individual field armies on the scale of 20,000 men during serious inter-kingdom conflicts, but this is beyond what many scholars are willing to accept, and many opt for much lower numbers.
East Roman estimates of Frankish strength provide a useful check on these numbers. Diplomatic correspondence shows that in 538, Justinian asked for a Frankish mercenary division of 3,000 men from Theudebert of Austrasia when the Romans were hard pressed in Liguria. The Romans only had 1,000 men in the whole province at the time, and 300 were besieged at Milan along with her citizens. The force requested was only a fraction of the troops available to the Austrasian king, as it was to be sent as an auxiliary force to serve under Roman command, in solacium Bregantini patricii, who was in charge of the local defenders at Milan. It was not an army that would operate independently during joint operations, as in the late 6th century: the Romans only needed to strengthen their garrisons in Liguria until reinforcements could arrive, and did not want to give the Franks the opportunity to exploit the situation. This is nevertheless what happened. Theudebert politely excused himself to Justinian for the current campaigning season, blaming the late arrival of the Roman ambassador. However, he surreptitiously had 10,000 Burgundians join the Goths at Milan, and openly sent his own army the next year.
Procopius provides the highly improbable 100,000 men for Theudebert’s army in 539, but it nevertheless destroyed an Ostrogothic as well as a Roman army in the course of a single day. It must have been quite large to take on such a challenge with confidence and win so spectacularly. Since the Roman army that had moved into the area at the time numbered close to 10,000 men, and the Goths were presumably as numerous, we can estimate that the Franks matched them combined, i. e. forming a total of 20,000.
Agathias claims that an army of 75,000 men invaded Italy in the 550s, and 30,000 of them were defeated by Narses at Volturno in 554. This force appears far too large at first, but an inspection of Frankish activities shows that it was actually on a similar order of magnitude. If Agathias’ figure of the Roman army at Volturno, 18,000 men, is correct, the Frankish army was about the same size or slightly smaller, i. e. 15-20,000 men. Leutharis’ army would have been about the same size or smaller. Thus perhaps about 30,000 men for the whole raiding force would be a reasonable estimate (which is given by Agathias as the number of Franks at Volturno), but this may have included some Goths who joined on the way. There were still enough Frankish troops in the north to hold fortifications; a smaller force of around 10,000 would suffice including some Gothic and other local assistance. A reasonable, conservative estimate of the Frankish force, then, would be 30,000 soldiers from north of the Alps, including a large number of Alaman clients. These were in addition assisted by (a guesstimate of) up to 10,000 local Italian troops of indeterminate nature such as Goths and disaffected Italians.
Finally, considering the extensive regional responsibility and large personal military resources of the Frankish duces, the Frankish army that was sent to aid the Romans in 590 under 20 duces could hardly have numbered less than 20,000 men. In light of these rather consistent numbers, we must conclude that the Austrasian Franks could raise expeditionary armies in the range of 20-30,000 men across the Alps without excessively taxing royal resources. It is impossible to say whether these numbers included the camp followers who helped with logistics and construction, or whether such individuals came in addition. That would of course add to the grand total. Hazarding to guess that the very large figures given in East Roman sources were in fact sober diplomatic estimates of the total potential manpower resources of one or more of the Merovingian kingdoms at different times.
While such numbers explain the extent of Frankish activities in Italy, they are in serious conflict with much current historiography, and beg two important questions: on what basis were they raised, and how were they supplied? The Frankish armies of Clovis and his sons were dominated by professional troops settled between the Rhine and the Loire, who were the direct descendants of Roman legions, in large part of Frankish stock, as well as other categories such as laeti and federates. For reasons of supply and political control, they were widely distributed on estates belonging to the Merovingian ruling families and their close allies. While opulent villa centers were abandoned in the 5th century in northern Gaul, this may only indicate a shift in patterns of exploitation that were related to the needs of the army, similar to common 5th century developments in (informal) East Roman and (formal) Visigothic military organization, where estates had a significant role. In fact, Aetius had a strong position in northern Gaul due to his great estates there, and after his successor Aegidius broke with Rome in 461, all fiscal lands would have fallen under local military control. He also had to maintain large forces on the Loire in order to face his Roman enemies and their Visigothic allies. Personal wealth combined with former fiscal lands provided much of the power of the lesser rulers Syagrius, Paul, Arbogast and Childeric in the late 5th century.
When the latter’s son, Clovis, gained full control over the north, he also gained all of these resources, in addition to at least some elements of the traditional form of taxation for remaining land. 81 Direct taxation by the government is in fact well attested throughout most of the 6th century, especially in the Loire and Seine valleys-indicative of the distribution of troops requiring support-and was only gradually suppressed and became obsolete by the early 7th century. Within this framework, Roman unit structure survived in recognizable form in the early 6th century. Procopius’ famous description of recognizably Roman units in the Frankish army confirms that the Merovingians were also quite conservative in their military administration. The soldiers who served the early Merovingians were nevertheless called Franks, and had tax exempt status in return for their military service. A “Roman” in Salian law was whoever still paid taxes, but in the course of the 6th century, the extension of military service among “Romans” and complications caused by property acquisition by “Franks” blurred the distinction, and Frankish identity (and military service associated with tax exempt status) became universal north of the Loire. The Merovingians also absorbed Visigothic and Burgundian military organization, and in the course of the 6th century gained control over a wide belt of client kingdoms east of the Rhine and along the upper Danube (Thuringians, Alamans, Saxons) that added to their potential manpower.
At a certain point in the early 6th century, trusted officers and cadet lines of the Merovingian dynasty began to organize these Franks within the framework of their personal households, but the process is highly obscure. We have an early example in Sigisvult, a royal relative who was sent to garrison Clermont (524) with his familia. Otherwise, the transition from a tax-based army to an estate-based conglomeration of military followings is hard to trace, and can only be established with the hindsight provided by Gregory of Tours, whose information is most detailed for the last decades of the 6th century. This process, and the constant divisions and reshuffling of territory of the divided Frankish kingdom, resulted in the structure familiar from the later 6th century. Within the royal household(s), by far the largest and most widespread, there was a distinction between at least two categories of royal troops, analogous to the doryphoroi and hypaspistai in East Roman military followings. Some of these were called antrustiones, of higher status, while the bulk of soldiers in the king’s obsequium were simply called pueri regis, “the king’s boys.” Both were maintained by the households of the kings and their families (i. e. living off the proceeds of any one of a large number of estates, or taxes still collected). To ease the supply situation outside the campaigning season, they were probably settled or garrisoned in very small groups such as those attested in contemporary Egypt. The troops within the royal household were administered by his maior domus, who took direct control during regencies and became more prominent during the 7th century.
Royal troops in outlying districts were led by regional military commanders, duces, who “bear a close resemblance to the duces found at this same time in Lombard and Byzantine Italy or Visigothic Spain.” In the north and east, the duces led fixed districts (e. g. Champagne, Burgundy) that probably reflect late or sub-Roman military organization; otherwise, their commands could fluctuate depending on changes in the political geography or served as extensions of the royal household. The early duces may in fact have had humble backgrounds as officers in the early Merovingian military establishment or the royal household (cf. the high prevalence of Germanic names among them), but soon became synonymous with the high aristocracy. When not in charge of a division of the royal household troops, late-6th-century duces with estates of their own had substantial military followings in their own right, which may have numbered several hundred men. This came in addition to their official commands, which included subordinate counts, who were in charge of the civitas and its military resources. Counts are normally believed to be of “Roman” origins and also had their own followings, which may also have numbered in the hundreds. Aquitaine and the immediately surrounding civitates preserved a military organization that was taken over from the kingdom of Toulouse, strongly based on private military followings. During the 6th century but probably a survival from the gradual transition to Visigothic rule a century earlier, troops were organized civitas by civitas due to the political divisions of the day. Merovingian kings often only held scattered city territories in the south and southwest, and regional commands were only created when a large number of cities could be grouped together.
The exact composition of individual Merovingian armies is often difficult to determine, as in most cases they are only referred to as an exercitus, army, of a region or kingdom. At a lower level, Gregory refers to the homines, men, of a particular civitas. A close analysis of the narrative sources reveals that the lower-level civitas-organization had two tiers. The largest group consisted of able-bodied poor civilian men (pauperes), organized by the landowners or royal officers upon whom they depended. This group was essential for logistical purposes and could also provide extra manpower for defending cities and fortifications, but did not normally fight. The revolt of Munderic at Vitry in 524 was accompanied by throngs of the common people, presumably his personal dependants mobilized in this fashion. The (far) narrower group, and the basis for expeditionary forces, was formed by professional troops, homines proper, who served in the retinues of local magnates, sometimes supported on campaign by sections of the general “militia” for logistical purposes. Gregory gives us a hint of this composite structure: when Guntram ordered the homines of various cities to attack the Bretons in 584, most of the men of Tours seem to have taken part (such as the troops under the count’s authority). However, the `poor citizens’ (pauperes) and the `young men’ (iuvenes) of the cathedral failed to show up for the campaign, citing the traditional exemption from expeditionary duty. The “young men” were clearly the military members of Gregory’s familia, while the pauperes provided support functions. Merovingian armies, then, consisted of conglomerations of military followings and divisions of the royal household troops.
The retinues of bishops and lay magnates are mostly extras and props in Gregory’s drama (they were the ones who actually exercised “aristocratic” violence), but they accompanied their lords in all their affairs, and are thus ubiquitous in all his writings. They were hence a large and important social group. They must be regarded as professional, full-time soldiers, because they never seem to be involved in any other sort of business; indeed, they seem to have been more engaged in fighting (due to internal conflicts and aristocratic feuds) than most Roman soldiers normally were. In the narrative and legal literature, they go under a vast array of names, including pueri, vassi, satellites, antrustiones for individuals, but as groups were known as trustis, contubernium, obsequium, familia. The size of such followings is in most cases difficult to gauge, but as we have seen, several hundred seems to have been normal for the most powerful dukes and counts; in effect, they were the same size as the military followings of East Roman generals, but far more ubiquitous because all magnates, officeholders and most bishops had such followings.
According to Halsall, large armies were impossible to sustain because few cities in Gaul had more than 5,000 inhabitants, and many villages only around 50. What is often forgotten in such arguments, however, is that a very large number of these villages belonged to much larger estate complexes, whose cultivators paid dues and/or performed services for their lord (cf. thepauperes), depending on the nature of the estate organization. The diversity of the estate economy, even in northern Gaul, is clear from two documents from the early 6th century: the testament of St. Remigius and the Pactus Legis Salicae. Remigius willed his personal property, which at his death consisted of the portions of four estates and other scattered holdings inherited from his father, a typical medium-range northern Gallic landowner of the mid-5th century. It is sometimes pointed out that Remigius’ holdings were rather small, but as a cleric, he may already have disposed of much of his property long before the will was drawn up, and at any rate it was only a portion of a substantially larger complex that still functioned, but had been shared with his relatives. It will be recalled that Genovefa kept Paris (490) supplied from her estates for over ten years; similar logistical abilities were common around 500. The Pactus Legis Salicae confirms the image of a medium-sized, but quite diversified estate economy in northern Gaul, which only became more complex and largescale the further south one looks, and far better attested in the 7th century.
Since soldiers were dependents of a lord, they were supplied through the estate structure of their patrons in peacetime. However, on campaigns, it was the personnel and agricultural surplus from villages and estates near the marching route that provided for an army’s logistical needs. Foodstuffs could be assembled in advance, and were levied from the general population as a tax. This was immensely unpopular, at least in Gregory’s presentation, but seems to have been fairly routine in the 6th century. The vast throng accompanying princess Rigunth (4,000 of the “common people” plus her personal escort and the retinues of prominent officers who accompanied her) was supplied at depots. An alternative was to shift produce from the royal, aristocratic and ecclesiastic estates whose forces were directly involved in a specific campaign (and presented as the proper alternative by Gregory) instead of burdening them on the people, who had immense labor obligations anyway. There is good evidence that foodstuffs were prepared in advance for ambassadors and their retinues according to detailed lists, ordering what should be stored in specific quantities at specific locations. Estate managers had assembling and shifting supplies as their regular daily business, and are known to have supplied cities in preparation for sieges (Convenae 585). Since troops were scattered in small numbers and only occasionally brought together for specific purposes, such as hunts, valuable for training, or publicae actiones to provide security and enforce the law (or, of course, squabble with political rivals), the logistical operations were quite simple considering the scale of estate organization, and rarely noticed by any texts. On a larger scale, armies were preceded by officials who went about collecting necessary foodstuffs, which could be deposited in granaries; from the tone in Gregory, it seems clear that they were zealous going about their business. A final alternative, however, was to buy supplies.
Early Frankish engineering was much more sophisticated than commonly thought, and was possible thanks to the ability to organize labor on a massive scale. The Franks were quite adept at building field fortifications, such as the one built at Volturno, or in Burgundy for stopping Saxon and Lombard invasions. They could also bridge rivers, a particularly difficult task that required highly trained specialists in the East Roman Empire. Civil engineering was quite substantial; the course of rivers were diverted on several occasions, one known example to protect the city from being undermined by the current, the other to provide extra protection during a siege. There was clearly an ability to build stone fortifications; thus bishop Nicetius of Trier had a heavily fortified residence built in the mid-6th century, while Gregory of Tours marveled at the fortifications of Dijon. Chilperic, when threatened with an invasion by his brother in 584, ordered his magnates to repair city walls and bring their relatives and movable goods inside. He recognized that their lands and immovable goods risked being destroyed during an enemy invasion, and therefore guaranteed that they would be reimbursed for any losses. There was thus an obligation to repair city walls on the part of the landowners, who could again draw upon their dependants to perform these tasks. It was also in their self-interest, since power struggles among magnate factions often involved military action.
Indeed, Merovingian kings had the same mechanisms available as Valentinian III, Theoderic and Anastasios to impose burdens of military logistics. The well-known labor requirements that descended from ancient munera had become the traditional seigneurial obligations of the dependant agricultural population, mobilized by their patrons on royal orders. While the “Franks” vociferously protested against taxation, providing military and logistical service was not an issue. As demonstrated by 7th-century immunities granted to monasteries, common obligations required by the king, administered through his officers and landowning subjects, included transportation and bridge-building. Civitates and castella are specifically mentioned as places where such labor was normally called out. No immunities were given for repairs of fortifications, however. The exact method of organizing repairs must have been the assignment of pedaturae to the landowners in question, as was the case with Ostrogothic possessores or East Roman social units and corporate bodies. Although labor obligations were also universal, in e. g. Roman Mesopotamia and Ostrogothic Gaul, as we have seen, extraordinary burdens or expenses were sometimes defrayed through tax relief or cash payments. The decline of direct taxation in Gaul meant that magnates had to shoulder far larger military burdens in the form of retinues, expeditionary service, and garrison troops whenever called upon, as well as routinely supplying labor for logistics and engineering. Thus, while military service and the burden of repair was mandatory on landowners (and apparently not an issue), Chilperic had to make sure that they would support him even if their estates were being ravaged. If they risked losing their economic basis, a negotiated settlement with his rival would soon become more attractive, as we saw above.
During the Merovingian era, most cities still had economic activities useful for military purposes, and were also the homes of at least part of the familiae of kings, bishops, counts and sometimes other magnates. Where their craftsmen and specialists actually resided is more problematic and probably varied from case to case. As early as the Pactus Legis Salicae, the Franks highly valued their dependent labor: not only were there detailed punishments for stealing or damaging a wide range of crops and livestock, it also lays down heavy fines for the theft of skilled slaves. Indeed, the range of craftsmen available and degree of specialization under the Merovingians is rarely addressed by military historians, whatever their views, but they are in fact quite ubiquitous in the original sources, while recent archaeological surveys show that their skills in many key crafts were neither inferior to, nor more narrowly distributed than, those of Roman craftsmen.
All of these groups have actual or potential military applications, and could be summoned at will by their lords whenever their services were needed. A certain number of craftsmen joined any major expedition as camp followers to perform various tasks as need arose, forming a specialized segment of the pauperes (noted earlier in this section). Thus Mummolus had his servant faber (probably one of several-he was only mentioned by Gregory for being so huge) brought from Avignon (583) to Convenae (585). In addition to destructive traps, the defense may also have involved artillery. Bishop Nicetius of Trier’s large fortified estate center was defended by a ballista. These were complex machines requiring specialist operation (tekhnitai or ballist(r)arioi in Greek sources), and unless imported from East Rome, they were trained in a local tradition. It just so happens that Mummolus had been commander of a region that had extremely strong Roman traditions, and that craftsmen there could maintain military skills over several generations. We can recall the artifex at Vienne in 500 who played a vital role during the siege. Nicetius, in turn, was bishop in the region that had one of the highest concentrations of Roman arsenals and fabricae during the early 5th century, and where selfconsciously Roman officers were still active until at least 480. It is possible that Franks had picked up ballista-operating skills on an Italian expedition. If this is the case, it reveals that once in Gaul, the experts would have to be maintained by a magnate’s household, which basically proves its suitability as a valuable form of military infrastructure. Indeed, in the Epistulae Austrasiacae there is preserved a letter from bishop Rufus of Turin to Nicetius, explaining how he finally has the opportunity to send the portitores artifices that Nicetius asked for. The combination of terms seems to be highly unusual, but they were presumably boat (barge) builders, as Nicetius’ estates were on navigable Rhine tributaries. Another explanation is that military skills survived along with military organization, and was gradually reorganized according to political developments, with more and more of the logistics and resource allocation devolving on great magnates in return for tax exemptions and immunities.
The story of the Sherman tank in Soviet service during World War II has received little attention outside Russia – or as it was, the Soviet Union. Although from 1941 to 1945, the USSR and the United States were allies, the Cold War commenced almost immediately after the defeat of Germany and any help that the western Allies may have extended to the Russian war effort was regarded by Stalin as a political embarrassment – and indeed has continued to be so even until the present day, although on something of a reduced scale. In fairness to the Soviets however, the majority of the tanks supplied under the Lend-Lease agreement performed poorly against their German counterparts and the greatest assistance came in the form of the huge number of Jeeps, trucks and canned food, the latter often derisorily referred to as the Second Front by the Red Army’s soldiers.
Although many official documents and photographs have been released since the break-up of the Soviet Union, many more are still denied to foreigners and all were of course recorded in Russian. The tendency to downplay the contribution of the Lend-Lease equipment means that very few images of the Soviet Shermans have ever been released. This has been alleviated in part by the reasonably large number of captured German photographs available. Unfortunately, these usually depict vehicles that are damaged to some degree and in most cases the captions have been lost. They are on the other hand, of a very high quality and we have used those that are available in this book.
One of the difficulties most often faced by Sherman researchers is attempting to determine which variant of the tank is being discussed or depicted in a particular photograph. However, except for two examples of the M4A4 model received for evaluation purposes, all the Sherman tanks delivered to the Soviet Union were the diesel engine M4A2 version, initially armed with the 75mm and later the long-barrelled 76mm gun. This model was chosen intentionally with the aim of placing the least possible strain on the Russian supply system as all their medium and heavy tanks were diesel powered.
Shipped from the United States via Siberia in the north or Iran in the south from November 1942 until the war’s end in mid-1945, in all 4,102 M4A2 Sherman tanks were delivered. This figure comprised 2,007 75mm armed vehicles and 2,095 with the 76mm gun. Exact figures for losses en route are not known but in total 417 M3 and M4 Medium tanks were lost and it would seem likely that the majority of these were M3 Mediums as the sea routes were much safer by the time the Shermans were dispatched. Curiously, Russian contemporary sources list only 3,664 deliveries with 2,653 vehicles being supplied to front-line units. The difference in these two figures was due to the high number of western tanks retained by training units. American built vehicles in particular were more reliable in addition to being mechanically more forgiving to inexperienced tank crews. These attributes enabled the Soviets to more easily and quickly train replacements and compensate for the extremely high loss rate among tank crews.
There is no obvious explanation for the discrepancy of 438 vehicles between the US and Soviet figures. Note that the US figure of 4,102 tanks shipped includes the 417 lost at sea. The detailed break-up by year given by the Russians is 36 for 1942; 469 for 1943; 2,345 for 1944 and 814 for 1945. Of the tanks supplied to front-line units, 36 were issued in 1942; 469 in 1943, 1,578 in 1944 and 570 in 1945.
The first deliveries were the 75mm armed versions of the M4A2, including almost every possible configuration ranging from the early, so called Direct Vision (DV), model to the later dry stowage variants with the one-piece glacis and appliqué armour plates on the hull sides. The 76mm versions were first equipped with the Vertical Volute Spring Suspension (VVSS) but Horizontal Volute Spring Suspension (HVSS) variants arrived in time for the Manchurian Campaign of August 1945, if not earlier.
The M4A2 was the second model of the M4 Medium tank to enter production and the first variant with a welded upper hull. It was powered by the General Motors 6046 twin, in-line 12 cylinder liquid cooled diesel engine developed for, and already in use with, the M3A3 and M3A5 Medium tank. In all 8,053 examples of the 75mm armed version of the M4A2 were produced from April 1942 to May 1944 with 7,413 of these being allocated to the Lend-Lease programme – the vast majority going to British and Commonwealth forces. In May 1944, the Sherman program switched to the 76mm gun with 2,915 of these tanks being built until production was halted in May 1945.
The Soviets referred to the tank – regardless of its armament – by its official US Army nomenclature of M4, or in Russian, M Chetyrye – shortened to Emcha. Their crews were referred to as Emchisti.
The Emchas enjoyed a much better reputation than the earlier Lend-Lease tanks such as the American M3 Medium or the British Matilda. They were liked by their crews who were grateful for the Sherman’s relative comfort and general habitability and also appreciated by the higher echelons for their mechanical reliability. These qualities were somewhat lacking in the T-34 and contributed to the Emcha’s efficiency during a campaign. This goes some way to explaining why an elite unit such as the 9th Guards Mechanized Corps had three of its brigades equipped with Shermans and not the locally developed T-34. As another example, the 1st Guards Mechanized Corps traded its powerful T-34/85s for M4A2s in late 1944 in preparation for the final offensive into the heart of Germany. Mounted in the commander’s cupola, the .50 calibre M2 heavy machine gun was much appreciated in street fighting and for anti-aircraft defence. Although it was generally awkward for the crew to operate, the gun was easily dismounted to allow the accompanying infantry to use it. Mechanically, the twin diesel engine had plentiful torque and could be clutched separately, allowing a very quiet advance at low speed especially if the tank ran on rubber tracks which the T- 34 could not do. The overall longer life of the Emcha’s tracks was also an advantage, surviving roughly twice as long as Soviet tracks, with the rubber variants capable of giving up to 5,000 km service. This was however in favourable conditions and terrain and the Russians found that the metal tracks particularly suffered from loss of grip on snow and ice and that in extremely high temperatures – such as those encountered during the summer of 1944 while crossing Romania and in August 1945 in Manchuria – the Emcha’s suspension was prone to overheating and damage, with the rubber block tracks and roadwheel tyres disintegrating.
It was commonly believed that the diesel fuel used with the M4A2 presented a lower fire risk if the tank was hit and this was undoubtedly one reason for the type’s popularity. Tests carried out by the US Army however established that the high flammability of the Sherman was due to inadequate ammunition stowage and had no link to the type of engine fuel used. This problem was addressed by the introduction of a system referred to as Wet Stowage whereby the tank’s ammunition racks were moved from the side sponsons to the hull floor and placed inside a protective, water filled bin. If the ammunition racks were penetrated the water would, in theory, prevent a fire from igniting the ammunition. In practice, the whole system was rendered useless if rounds were left scattered about the hull floor as they often were. Only the 76mm variant of the Emcha received this modification.
Another advantage was the Emcha’s five man crew which left the commander free to control and observe. This efficient combination was not introduced in the T-34 until the production of the 85mm armed model in 1944. Added to this were the excellent American radios which allowed for efficient command and control. Despite its advantages, the Soviets complained of a number of shortcomings in the Emcha in comparison to the T-34. Most notably were the inferior ballistic qualities of its non-sloped armour, its high profile, high centre of gravity, its lack of adequate flotation – caused by the narrow tracks – and its wider turning radius. The claim however that the T-34 was better armed should be regarded sceptically. The Emcha’s 75mm main gun was roughly equal in penetrating power to the Soviet 76.2mm while its High Explosive (HE) performance was vastly superior – in fact, the US Army’s 75mm HE shell was in a class of its own. The armour piercing capacity of the US 76mm gun was at least comparable to the Soviet 85mm as was proven in the Korean War – and the HE capability equal, in spite of the larger calibre of the Russian weapon. The American optical sights were also superior to the Soviet types, although it is probable that the stabilized gun of the American tank was not often utilised or even used to its full potential as it required extensive training and maintenance. And as regards the latter, the Soviets did indeed have a legitimate complaint, with few spare parts other than complete engines being delivered, necessitating such desperate measures as the cannibalisation of battlefield wrecks in order to keep vehicles running.
There seems to have been no attempt to alter the camouflage and markings in which the tanks were delivered including the vehicle’s US Army registration number. The single, known exception to this being the application of whitewash as a form of camouflage during the winter months. The notations in Russian that can be observed in many photographs stencilled onto the hull sides of numerous tanks were applied in the United States and were instructions regarding the vehicle’s maintenance. The tactical numbers and markings applied by the Russians are a much more complex matter being decided at corps level or lower and records are either sparse or non-existent. For the most part our knowledge of their meaning is restricted to what western researchers have been able to decipher from photographs in the years since the end of the war.
When the war in the east began in June 1941, the Soviet armoured force was made up of independent brigades, divisions and corps. Except for one or two units stationed in the Far East, the divisional organisation was quickly dropped and although some brigade sized formations continued to operate independently, the basic unit became the corps – roughly equivalent in size to a German division. Each corps was numbered and named according to its make-up and principal mission as either Cavalry, Rifles, Artillery, Airborne, Aviation, Mechanised or Tank and usually two or three corps were grouped into an army.
In 1944-1945, a typical Tank Army comprised two Tank Corps and one Mechanized Corps in addition to the various brigades and regiments of support weapons. Such a formation was capable of fielding, at full strength, approximately 600 tanks and 200 direct support self-propelled guns. The average Tank Corps comprised three Tank Brigades, with over 200 tanks and two regiments of self-propelled guns, with approximately 40 guns, and various support units. A typical Mechanized Corps could deploy three Mechanized Brigades, with three battalions of motorized infantry and a Tank Regiment, plus a Tank Brigade and various support units. Among the latter were three regiments of self-propelled artillery categorised as Light, Medium and Heavy. The Light regiment was usually equipped with SU-76 vehicles while the Medium regiment fielded the SU-85 or SU-100 and the Heavy regiment operated the powerful ISU-122 or SU-152. In total a Mechanised Corps contained over 180 tanks and more than 60 self-propelled guns.
In 1945, the Soviets managed to field 6 Tank Armies deploying 17 Tank and Mechanized Corps, plus 19 independent Tank and Mechanized Corps, in addition to approximately 50 independent Tank Brigades and more than 100 Tank and SP Artillery Regiments.
The other large users of the Emcha were the Cavalry Corps, of which the Red Army had seven in 1944, all being subsequently upgraded to Guards status by the end of the war (see note 5). Of these, 5th Cavalry Corps and 7th Cavalry Corps are known to have received Emchas in 1944. Such a corps normally fielded three Cavalry Divisions, each of which deployed a Tank Regiment of approximately 40 tanks, probably one third of them Light tanks – typically British built Valentines – while the remaining two thirds were Mediums, in this case Emchas. The pairing of these Lend-Lease tanks was quite common in 1944-1945. Lastly, some independent regiments also received the Emcha while providing general support to infantry units as Army level troops.
The Soviet method of fighting mobile battles was referred to as the doctrine of Deep Battle. The first chapter of The Provisional Field Service Regulations for the Workers’ and Peasants’ Red Army of 1936 explained the principle thus: “The resources of modern defence technology enable one to deliver simultaneous strikes on the enemy tactical layout over the entire depth of his dispositions. There are now enhanced possibilities of rapid regrouping, of sudden turning movements, and of seizing the enemy’s rear areas and thus getting astride his axis of withdrawal. In an attack, the enemy should be surrounded and completely destroyed”.
To put it simply, the highly mobile tank and mechanised formations were not directed to search out and destroy large encirclements of enemy forces – this was the objective of the following infantry – but to move at top speed, regardless of casualties, towards important objectives deep in the enemy’s rear and to hold them until the infantry caught up. Key facilities, such as railway networks, large supply depots, road junctions and bridges would be thus denied to the enemy, paralysing him and forcing his withdrawal. The type of formation best suited to this style of warfare was the Mechanized Corps, which had a better balance of tanks and infantry than the Tank Corps, and was therefore better suited to holding key objectives against the inevitable German counter-attacks. This may explain why many of the mechanically reliable Emchas were allocated to the various Mechanized Corps.
In retrospect, the Emcha constituted a large and arguably, the most successful part of the Lend-Lease Medium tank program to the USSR. It arrived too late to take part in the Stalingrad battles of late 1942 and early 1943 and had no real impact on the huge armoured engagements at Kursk in July 1943. Thus it missed the most critical – and most highly publicised – phase of the Eastern Front Campaign, when the conflict was truly still in the balance. Nevertheless, it was an important weapon system and provided a reliable, if unremarkable, tank to support the Soviet Blitzkrieg when it equipped a fair proportion of the Guards Mechanized Corps of 1944-1945.
This list is far from exhaustive but does go some way towards accounting for the more than 4,000 M4A2 tanks sent to the Soviet Union between 1943 and 1945. During the Cold War the Soviet government deliberately disparaged the importance of the Lend-Lease program preferring to stress the contribution made to victory in blood by ordinary Russian soldiers. Further, where records were kept they were either inaccurate or incomplete, for example merely describing all Sherman tanks as “Detroit built”. We can say however that of the total number received, some 2,073 were armed with the 75mm gun while the remainder had the 76mm weapon. Among the latter were a small number of very late HVSS models that saw combat in the Far East.
1st Guards Mechanised Corps. Formed in November 1942 from 1st Guards Rifle Division, this unit was completely re-equipped – apparently at the insistence of Marshal Rokossovski – with M4A2 tanks in January 1945. The fact that this was considered an elite unit speaks volumes for the capabilities of the Lend-Lease Shermans. The corps took part in the siege of Budapest and the storming of Vienna as part of 3rd Ukrainian Front. In February 1945, after fighting in Hungary, the corps had 184 M4A2 tanks on hand. By March this total had been reduced to forty-seven. The armoured elements of 1st Guards Mechanised Corps were 16th Guards Tank Regiment and 17th Guards Tank Regiment.
1st Mechanised Corps. Disbanded in late 1941 and reformed in August-September 1942 from the remnants of 27th Tank Corps, this formation was attached to 2nd Guards Tank Army of 1st Byelorussian Front during the fighting in Berlin in April and May 1945.
3rd Guards Mechanized Corps. Formed from 4th Mechanized Corps in December 1942, this unit fought in the Stalingrad encirclement and at Kursk in 1943. During early 1944 the corps was equipped with M4A2 Shermans and British Valentine tanks. The Shermans were dispersed throughout 35th Guards Tank Brigade, 7th Guards Tank Brigade, 8th Guards Tank Brigade and 9th Guards Mechanized Brigade. In June 1944 the corps was attached to 3rd Byelorussian front as part of a special, highly mobile formation known as the Oslikovskiy Cavalry-Mechanised Group with 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps. In July the corps was attached to 1st Baltic Front. In January 1945, as part of 1st Pribaltisky Front, this unit had 176 M4A2 tanks on hand including 108 of the 76mm armed version. The corps took part in the invasion of Manchuria as part of the Transbaikal Front. In recognition of its service, this unit was granted the honorific title Stalingrad-Krivorozhskaya.
5th Mechanised Corps. Colonel Dmitry Loza, a highly decorated veteran and author of Commanding The Red Army’s Sherman Tanks, states that at least his unit, the 233rd Tank Brigade, was completely equipped with M4A2 tanks and implies that the other regiments of the corps were similarly equipped. Interestingly Colonel Loza states emphatically that most, if not all, of his brigade’s Shermans were the 76mm version.
8th Guards Mechanized Corps. Formed from 3rd Mechanised Corps in October 1943, this formation took part in some of the most important battles fought on the Eastern Front including Kursk, the fighting around Zhitomir-Berdichev, Korsun-Shevchenkovsky, Proskurov-Chernovits, and Lvovin in Poland. In January 1945, 8th Guards Mechanised Corps had 185 M4A2 tanks on hand and went on to fight at Warsaw, in Pomerania and in the final battle for Berlin. From its formation the corps was part of 1st Guards Tank Army and was made up of 1st Guards Tank Brigade, 19th Guards Mechanized Brigade, 20th Guards Mechanized Brigade and 21st Guards Mechanized Brigade. In 1945, 64th Guards Tank Regiment was also attached to this corps. In April 1944 this unit was awarded the honorific title Carpathian and is also referred to in some sources as 8th Red Guards Aleksandriysky Mechanized Corps.
9th Guards Mechanized Corps. Formed from 5th Mechanized Corps in September 1944 with 126 M4A2 tanks. This unit was attached to 6th Guards Tank Army during the fighting for Vienna in early 1945. From its formation until the end of the war the corps was made up from 46th Guards Tank Brigade, 18th Guards Mechanized Brigade, 30th Guards Mechanized Brigade and 31st Guards Mechanized Brigade.
9th Mechanized Corps. This formation began to receive M4A2 tanks in late 1943 and early 1944. The corps took part in the invasion of Manchuria as part of the Transbaikal Front and was made up of 116th Tank Regiment, 69th Mechanized Brigade and 70th Mechanized Brigade. At that time the corps had 137 M4A2 tanks on hand.
3rd Guards Tank Corps. Formed from 7th Tank Corps in late 1942, this unit was awarded the title Kotelnikovskikh the following year. From mid-1944 the corps was made up of 3rd Guards Tank Brigade, 18th Guards Tank Brigade, 19th Guards Tank Brigade and 2nd Guards Mechanised Brigade. In June 1944, during Operation Bagration, the corps was attached to 5th Guards Tank Army. This unit also fought in East Prussia with 3rd Guards Cavalry Corps as part of
19th Army. For the final battles in Berlin the corps was attached to 1st Byelorussian Front.
8th Guards Tank Corps. In the summer of 1944, this formation’s 58th Guards Tank Brigade was equipped with Shermans. Quite probably 59th and 60th Guards Tank Brigades also had Emchas.
18th Tank Corps. Formed in June 1942, this unit served with 2nd and 3rd Ukrainian Fronts in late 1944 and into 1945 taking part in the fighting in Hungary. Mostly equipped with IS-2 heavy tanks and SU-85 and ISU-152 self-propelled guns, the corps did have a small number of M4A2 tanks on hand in January 1945. These had however all been lost by March.
2nd Guards Cavalry Corps. This unit took part in battle for Berlin while attached to 33rd Army of 1st Byelorussian Front. Although it is known that this corps had a number of M4A2 tanks, no further details are available.
5th Guards Cavalry Corps. In March 1945 as part of 3rd Ukrainian Front this corps had a small number of M4A2 tanks on hand, perhaps as few as two.
47th Mechanised Brigade. This brigade’s 18th Tank Regiment was equipped with M4A2 tanks at the end of 1944.
63rd Tank Brigade. This unit had a number of Emchas on hand for a short time during 1944.
64th Guards Tank Brigade. This brigade took part in the fighting in eastern Germany in 1945. The brigade had at least some 76mm armed M4A2 tanks on hand at that time.
140th Tank Brigade. This brigade had a number of Sherman tanks on hand during 1943.
153rd Tank Brigade. As part of 31st Army of 3rd Byelorussian Front, this independent brigade took part in the fighting for Königsberg and had on hand thirteen M4A2 and thirty-two T-34 tanks in mid-January 1945. By the end of January only five of the Shermans were still serviceable and by February all had been lost.
201st Tank Brigade. Made up of the 295th and 296th Tank Battalions, this independent brigade was with the Transbaikal Front in Manchuria in August 1945.
208th Medium Self-propelled Gun Brigade. Formed in December 1944 this unit was attached to 3rd Ukrainian Front. Although at least one source states that the brigade had 184 M4A2 tanks on hand in March 1945, this number seems far too large being almost enough to equip a complete corps.
48th Separated Tank Batalion. In an effort to bolster the infantry’s offensive capability, some infantry divisions received an armoured battalion referred to as a Separated Tank Battalion. Intended to act in co-operation with the infantry, these battalions were made up of two companies of medium tanks and one of light tanks. The 48th Separated Tank Battalion was attached to the Transbaikal Front in 1945 and had a small number of M4A2 tanks on hand.
59th Independent Tank Regiment. This unit is mentioned as having a number of Emchas on hand. No further details are available at this time.
60th Separated Tank Regiment. Attached to 5th Guards Cavalry Corps in 1944, the regiment had twenty M4A2 tanks on hand at that time.
70th Separated Tank Regiment. Attached to 5th Guards Cavalry Corps in 1944, the regiment had twenty M4A2 tanks on hand at that time.
223th Independent Tank Regiment. This regiment had a number of M4A2 tanks on hand at the time of Operation Bagration.
229th Separated Tank Regiment. This regiment is mentioned in official correspondence as having a number of M4A2 tanks on hand as part of Central Front in 1943 and may have fielded 38 at Kursk – although this is uncertain. No further details are available at this time.
230th Independent Tank Regiment. This regiment had a number of M4A2 tanks on hand at the time of Operation Bagration.
257th Independent Tank Regiment. This unit is mentioned as having a number of Emchas on hand. No further details are available at this time.
563rd Separated Tank Battalion. In early 1943 this unit, sometimes referred to as the 563rd Independent Battalion, was completely equipped with M3 Light tanks and was trained for amphibious operations. It is possible that the battalion received a small number of Shermans as part of the North Caucasian Front in late 1943.
The Emcha served with many Soviet units during the war and presented here as representative, the 1st Mechanised Corps was by 1945 equipped throughout with these US built medium tanks. The corps was attached to 2nd Guards Tank Army which was itself part of Marshal Georgy Zhukov’s 1st Byelorussian Front.
Originally formed in March 1940, more than a year before the German invasion, 1st Mechanised Corps was considered an elite formation at almost every stage of its history. In 1945 the corps was commanded by Lieutenant-General Semyon Moiseevich Krivoshein, an early pioneer of armoured warfare who had led a corps through the darkest days of Barbarossa and the Kursk battles in 1943 were he had been severely wounded. Prior to the assault on Berlin, this formation’s tank companies were completely re-equipped with new M4A2 Sherman tanks, handing over their T-34/85 vehicles to other units of 2nd Guards Tank Army. Readers should note that the figure of ten tanks for each tank company is the authorised strength and would of course have varied. The tank brigade attached to each Soviet mechanised corps usually contained three tank battalions however during the fighting in Berlin only the two shown here were present. During the period of heaviest fighting, between 16 to 21 April, the corps lost 20 of their Shermans – the equivalent of two complete companies – while a further 59 were severely damaged. The supposition that 347th Guards Artillery Regiment were equipped with ISU-122 selfpropelled guns is based on the official return for 1st Mechanised Corps which states that at least one of these vehicles was lost in the fighting.