The Second Battle of Kharkov

Gen. Maj. Hans Valentin Hube Divisional HQ

12–28 May 1942

The Second Battle of Kharkov was one of the costliest battles for Soviet forces during the war, with almost 300,000 casualties suffered. A Soviet army group, cut off inside the Barvenkovo pocket, was exterminated from all sides by German firepower.

In early 1942, after the German defeat at Moscow, the Soviet High Command pressured Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, commander of the South-Western Front, to recapture Kharkov, which had fallen to the German Sixth Army on 24 October 1941. At the start of the war, Kharkov was the fourth-largest city in the Soviet Union, with a population of 833,000. It was also the industrial centre of the Ukraine and an important rail transportation hub.

On 1 January 1942, Timoshenko had launched an offensive with four armies to conduct a double envelopment of Kharkov from the north and south. Over several weeks of brutal fighting, this had managed to tear a great hole in Army Group South’s front. For the next two months, Army Group South was forced to fight a desperate battle to contain the Soviet breakthrough. Following reinforcement, Timoshenko’s offensive made further progress and created the Barvenkovo salient. However, by mid-February, it was clear that Timoshenko’s forces were nearly spent and Army Group South was finally able to establish a very thin defence around the Barvenkovo salient. After a final, unsuccessful Soviet push, less intense fighting continued around the salient throughout March and April 1942, before the spring thaw imposed an operational pause upon both sides. When the weather cleared, both the Red Army and the Wehrmacht intended to launch a major offensive that would decide the issue at Kharkov.

Soviet offensive planning for May 1942 was based on the three armies from South-Western Front conducting a dual pincer attack, from the Barvenkovo salient and from the Staryi Saltov bridgehead, bludgeoning their way through the German defences towards Kharkov. Timoshenko optimistically hoped to complete the encirclement of Kharkov and the German Sixth Army within 15 days of the beginning of the offensive. However, Stalin’s impatience for action resulted in another hastily planned attack with inadequately trained and supplied forces, and the plan lacked unity of command.

One of the operational prerequisites in the German planning for May 1942 was the destruction of Timoshenko’s armies in the Barvenkovo salient. This was known as Operation Fridericus, and comprised a classic pincer attack against the base of the Barvenkovo salient, using assault groups from Sixth Army and Army Group von Kleist. However, Army Group South’s strained logistical situation made planning for a large-scale offensive difficult. Operation Fridericus would also have to share resources with Operation Trappenjagd in the Kerch Peninsula in the Crimea. Yet Army Group South’s commander Field Marshal Fedor von Bock was in no rush: he would only attack when he had the best prospects for victory.

The Soviet offensive, one of the largest Soviet set-piece offensives of the war to date, was launched on 12 May 1942 with a dual pincer movement from the Volchansk and Barvenkovo salients. The Soviets achieved a successful breakthrough, and had advanced 10km by the end of the first day. The Soviet 28th Army captured Peremoga and encircled Group Grüner in Ternovaya on the 13th, but was shattered two days later by a counter-attack from the German 3rd Panzer Division. The Soviet 21st Army encircled Murom, and heavy fighting also took place around Efremovka.

However, by 14 May the Luftwaffe’s IV Air Corps had gained air superiority over the Kharkov sector, and aviation support had been drafted in from the Crimea. The Soviet offensive began to grind to a halt in the face of withering close-air support attacks, while Luftwaffe air supply missions helped hard-pressed German units to hold out.

The German counter-offensive, Operation Fridericus, was launched at 5.00am on 17 May. A well-planned artillery preparation was followed by devastating Luftwaffe raids and then III Army Corps’ ground attack, which tore a hole in the Soviet 9th Army’s front. The 3rd Panzer Division fought its way through to Ternovaya to relieve Group Grüner on the opening day, and the following day von Kleist’s Panzers reached the southern part of Izyum. On 19 May, the Soviet 21st Army at Murom was forced to retreat by Kampfgruppe Gollwitzer’s advance. As the Soviets were forced back, the Luftwaffe targeted the bridges over the Donets River to hamper retreating Soviet forces.

On 19 May, Timoshenko regrouped his forces into Army Group Kostenko inside the Barvenkovo salient. The following day, he halted Sixth Army’s northern offensive, realizing that his forces within the Barvenkovo salient were in dire peril as the German Sixth Army reoriented itself to defeat the pocket. By 22 May, von Kleist’s Panzers had linked up with LI Army Corps, cutting off Army Group Kostenko. Over the following days, the 3rd and 23rd Panzer Divisions attacked the northern side of the Soviet Barvenkovo pocket, and were joined on the 24th by German VIII Army Corps and Romanian VI Corps. The remnants of Army Group Kostenko, desperately attempting to fight their way out, were now pulverized by German artillery and air attacks. By 28 May, organized resistance within the pocket ended, prompting Timoshenko to order all other forces in the South-Western and Southern Fronts to shift to the defence. Operation Fridericus had been a complete success.

Timoshenko’s South-Western Front had suffered a catastrophic defeat at Kharkov. All told, 16 rifle divisions, six cavalry divisions and four tank brigades were annihilated. Another dozen divisions were badly mauled and needed to be pulled out of the line for rebuilding. Of the 765,000 Soviet troops committed to the May 1942 operation, a total of 277,190 became casualties – a 36 per cent loss rate. The Germans claim to have captured 239,000 prisoners. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the Kharkov debacle was the loss of vital command cadre. In contrast to other encircled Soviet armies in 1941–42, the collapse of the Barvenkovo pocket was so rapid that virtually no senior commanders escaped.

Axis personnel losses during the Kharkov Campaign were nearly 30,000, including at least 5,853 dead and 2,912 missing. Friedrich Paulus’ Sixth Army suffered 45 per cent of the total casualties.

16. Panzer-Division: Kharkov 1942

Commanders: Gen. Maj. Hans Valentin Hube (1. VI. 1940-14. IX. 1942), Gen. Maj. Günther Angern (15. IX. 1942-2.11.1943), Oösffi. Burkhart Müller-Hildebrand (3-28.11.1943, m. d. F. b.), Oberst (Gen. Maj.) Rudolf Sieckenius(5. lll.-31. X. 1943), Oberst (Gen. Maj.) Hans Ulrich Back (1. XI. 1943-14. VIII. 1944), Oberst (Gen. Maj.) Dietrich von Müller (15. VIII. 1944-18. IV. 1945), Oberst Kurt Treuhaupt (19. IV.-V. 1945).

16. Pz. Div. was raised on 1 November 1940 from 16. lnf. Div.(mot.). It was given Pz. Rgt. 2, drawn from 1. Pz. Div. The general staff of its 16. Schützen-Brigade was disbanded in November 1942.

In December 1940, the division set off for Rumania. Codenamed Lehrstab-R II, it was subordinated to the German military mission at Bucharest and trained the Rumanian army. It was held in reserve (as part of L. A. K., 12. Armee) during the invasion of the Balkans in April 1941. In June 1941, it took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union as part of XIV. and XXXXVIII. A. K. (mot.) (Pz. Gr. 1, Army Group “Süd”). It fought in the Ukraine, took part in the battle of Uman, captured Nikolaiev and was later engaged at Kiev. It was on the Mius at the launching of the Soviet counter-offensive of the winter of 1941-42. In the spring of 1942, it took part in the offensive on the Don and the Volga (Operation “Blau”) with XIV. Pz. K. attached to 6. Armee.

A German account describes action on 18 May 1942:

‘With the Donets line gained, 257th Infantry Division and 101st Light Infantry Division took over the eastern flank cover for the deep thrust by the armoured striking groups, a thrust aimed at the creation of a pocket. The 16th Panzer Division, acting as the spearhead of Lieutenant-General Hube’s striking force, drove through the Russian positions with three combat groups [Kampfgruppen] under von Witzleben, Krumpen and Sieckenius. They then drove on, straight through, into the suburbs of Izyum. At 12.30 hours on 18 May, tanks and motorcyclists of the Westphalian 16th Armoured Division were covering the only major east-west road crossing the Donets at Donetskiy. Combat group Sieckenius, the mainstay of which was 2nd Battalion, 2nd Panzer Regiment, turned left and drove on westward, straight into the pocket. The main blow of Operation ‘Friderikus’, however, was to be dealt by General of Cavalry von Mackensen with his III Panzer Corps. He attacked with 14th Panzer Division from Dresden in the centre and with the Viennese 100th Light Division and the Bavarian 1st Mountain Division on the right and left respectively. The Russians were taken by surprise and routed in the swampy Sukhoy Torets river. Barvenkovo was taken. A bridge was built. The 14th Panzer Division crossed over and pushed on toward the north. Eddying clouds of dust veiled the tanks. The fine black earth made the men look like chimney-sweeps.

The 14th Panzer Division took Protopopovka on the 20th 1942, which reduced the mouth of the bulge between there and Balakleya to twelve miles. The bridgehead was then 8 miles wide but only a mile or two across. The III Panzer Corps main force, still on the westward orientation, gained almost twelve miles, however, with disappointing results. The object was to smash Fifty-seventh Army in the western end of the bulge, but the outer ring of the front there was held by Romanian divisions and they showed little determination and less enthusiasm. One of the Romanian division commanders had sent himself home on leave when he heard the attack was about to start. Having an alternative that he also preferred, Kleist began turning the 16th Panzer Division, 60th Motorised Division and 1st Mountain Division around after dark and sending them into the Bereka bridgehead behind 14th Panzer Division. On Bock’s urging, Paulus agreed to shift the 3rd and 23rd Panzer Divisions south from the Volchansk salient and thus partially to reconstitute his former ‘Friderikus’ force. Bock observes, ” . . . tonight, I have given orders aimed at completely sealing off the Izyum bulge. Now everything will turn out well after all!”

On 21 May the Germans began to transfer 23rd and 3rd Panzer Divisions from Kharkov to deliver an attack from the Andreevka region against Chervonyi Donets and link up with Group Kleist. At the same time, having concentrated two Panzer divisions (14th and 16th), one motorised division (60th) and two infantry divisions (389th and 384th) in the Petrovskaia, Krasnyi Liman and Novonikolaevka region, the Germans attacked powerfully to the north. By the close of the day, German infantry and tanks had succeeded in seizing Marevka and joined battle for Protopopovka. 6th Army units repelled German attempts to penetrate to Dmitrievka and Katerinovka.

On 22 May the enemy delivered his main attacks – to the north against Chepel using formations from Group Kleist and to the south from the Chuguev salient employing units of 23rd and 3rd Panzer Divisions – in order to link up with Group Kleist so that both of these groups would reach the lines of communication of our forces operating in the Barvenkovo salient. Having concentrated up to 230 tanks of 14th and 16th Panzer Divisions in the Protopopovka and Zagorodnoe region on the night of 22 May, the Germans renewed their offensive on the morning of 22 May in the general direction of Chepel and Volobuevka. By the close of the day, having penetrated deeply into our forces, the Germans reached a front running from Chepel through Volobuevka, Gusarovka, Shevelevka, Aseevka, Novopavlovka, Zapolnyi and Krasnaia Balka to Marevka.

A German account cryptically recorded the day’s actions and correctly identified the perilous consequences for Timoshenko’s command:

‘In co-operation with the Panzer companies of Combat Group Sieckenius, the Bereka River was crossed. Soviet armoured thrusts were successfully repulsed. In the afternoon of 22 May, 14th Panzer Division reached Bayrak [south of Balakleia] on the northern Donets bend.

‘This was the turning point. For across the river, on the far bank, were the spearheads of Sixth Army – companies of the Viennese 44th Infantry Division, the “Hock-und-Deutschmeister”. With this link-up, the Izyum bulge was pierced and Timoshenko’s armies, which had driven on far westward, were cut off. The pocket was closed.

Too late did Timoshenko realise his danger. He had not expected this kind of reply to his offensive. Now he had no choice but to call off his promising advance to the west, turn his divisions about, and attempt to break out of the pocket in an easterly direction, with reversed fronts. Would the thin German sides of the pocket stand up to such an attempt? The decisive phase of the battle was beginning.’

On 23 and 24 May, fierce battles continued in the Barvenkovo bridgehead. The German command strove to widen the corridor which cut off Soviet forces operating in the Barvenkovo salient from the crossings over the Northern Donets River.

What the German command had to do was clear. The only question remaining on 23 May was, ‘Could they do it?’ Again, a German source recounts the German command’s challenge:

‘Colonel-General von Kleist was faced with the task of making his encircling front strong enough to resist both the Soviet breakout attempts from the west and their relief attempts mounted across the Donets from the east. Once more it was a race against time. With brilliant tactical skill, General von Mackensen grouped all infantry and motorised divisions under his command like a fan around the axis of 14th Panzer Division. The 16th Panzer Division was first wheeled west and then moved north towards Andreyevka on the Donets. The 60th Motorised Infantry Division, the 389th Infantry Division, the 384th Infantry Division and the 100th Light Infantry Division fanned out toward the west and formed the pocket front against Timoshenko’s armies as they flooded back east.

‘In the centre, like a spider in its web, was Gen Lanz’s 1st Mountain Division; it had been detached from the front by von Mackensen to be available as a fire brigade.

This precaution finally decided the battle. For Timoshenko’s army commanders were driving their divisions against the German pocket front with ferocious determination. They concentrated their efforts in an attempt to punch a hole into the German front, regardless of the cost, in order to save themselves by reaching the Donets front only 25 miles away.’

It fought at Stalingrad with XI. A. K. Encircled along with all the rest of 6. Armee, it was wiped out in January 1943. Its commanding officer, Generalmajor Günther Angern, committed suicide on 2 February.

In March 1943, a second 16. Pz. Div. was formed in France in the Vitré-Mayenne-Laval sector from the remnants of the division reinforced by verst. Gren. Rgt. (mot.) 890. It was dispatched to Italy in the Taranto sector (June 1943) then placed in the reserve in the Sienna sector until September. It later moved on to the Salerno sector just before the American landing in Sicily. It took the brunt of the American attack, inflicting heavy losses on the attackers, meanwhile losing two thirds of its own strength during the fighting. The division continued to fight to the north of Naples until the end of the year 1943, when it set off for the southern sector of the Eastern front. It arrived in the Bobruisk sector in December 1943 and took part in the defensive battles in the Parichi area. It was involved in the counter-thrust west of Kiev, a battle in which it was severely tested. It then retreated to the Baranov sector on the Vistula. During the summer of 1944, it fell back across Poland. In October, it was stationed at Kielce where it was reformed. In January, it was sent back to the Baranov sector where it fought hard until it was pushed back to Lauban (March 1945) then Pilsen (Plzen) and Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary) (April 1945). It was then assigned to LIX. A. K. (1. Pz. Armee, Army Group “Mitte”), by which time it was down to the size of a Kampfgruppe. One part of this Kampfgruppe surrendered to the Russians, the other to the Americans…

From 1941 to 1945, 16. Pz. Div. produced 33 Knights of the Iron Cross (including 10 from Pz. Rgt. 2), 3 with Oak Leaves and one with Swords (Dietrich von Müller, divisional commander, on 20 February 1945, n° 134).

Stalin in the Russian Civil War

On May 17, 1919, Stalin arrived in Petrograd with full powers to organize the defenses of the region against attack by General N. N. Yudenich’s army, which was advancing from the northwest. Remaining in Moscow, Lenin maintained control over the Revolutionary War Council and had direct contact with all the fronts. To Stalin in Petrograd, he sent a stream of telegrams, harrying, advising, demanding information. In a telegram on May 20, he expressed the hope “that the general mobilization of Petersburgers will result in offensive operations and not just sitting about in barracks.”

Lenin was disturbed by the speed of Yudenich’s advance. He mistrusted the commanders and the troops of the Red Army in the region. On May 27, he warned Stalin to assume treachery, and as an explanation of defeat or other failure, treachery was to become a phobia in the party. Stalin responded promptly. The Cheka was unleashed and soon claimed to have uncovered a conspiracy among employees of the Swiss, Italian, and Danish consulates. Stalin reported to Lenin that a counterrevolutionary plot in support of the Whites had been crushed and that the Cheka was investigating further. In a message to Lenin, dated June 4, 1919, he wrote: “I am sending you a document from the Swiss. It is evident from the document that not only the chief of staff of the Seventh Army works for the Whites . . . but also the entire staff of the Revolutionary Council of War of the Republic. . . . It is now up to the Central Committee to draw the necessary inferences. Will it have the courage to do it?”

Stalin himself did not escape criticism. An old Bolshevik hostile to the Tsaritsyn group, A. I. Okulov, who was the political member of the West Front Military Council, complained to the Central Committee that due to Stalin’s actions the Seventh Army was being detached from the West Front, which was under the command of D. N. Nadezhny, a former tsarist corps commander, and that it should be restored to his command. Lenin asked Stalin to comment. “My profound conviction,” he replied, “is: 1, Nadezhny is not a commander. He is incapable of commanding. He will end up by losing the Western Front; 2, workers like Okulov who incite the specialists against our kommissars, who are sufficiently discouraged anyway, are harmful, because they debilitate the vital core of our army.” Okulov was removed from his post.

Following the repulse of the White advance on Petrograd in June, Stalin was appointed to be the political member of the Military Council of the West Front, and a new commander replaced Nadezhny.

On the East Front, disagreements erupted between Vatsetis, the commander in chief, and S. S. Kamenev, the commander of the front. Trotsky supported Vatsetis, whom he had appointed, and he showed hostility toward Kamenev. On one occasion in Simbirsk, Trotsky, dressed in black leather uniform, like his personal escort, and armed with a pistol, burst into Kamenev’s office and excitedly threatened him. Later, at the instigation of Vatsetis, Trotsky summarily dismissed him.

Kamenev was liked and respected. The Military Council of the East Front formally protested to Lenin. Kamenev himself went to Moscow to put his case. On May 15, 1919, he was interviewed by Lenin, who was impressed and told him to return to his command. Lenin was usually careful and diplomatic in his dealings with his closest associates, and in overruling Trotsky publicly, he was expressing his strongest disapproval. He had been losing confidence in Trotsky’s judgment and was increasingly impatient of his bombastic behavior. He also had no high opinion of Vatsetis, who, like Trotsky, had antagonized military as well as political workers.

The climax came in July 1919. Kamenev had worked out a plan for a further advance eastward into Siberia. Vatsetis vetoed the plan. The East Front Military Council again protested to Lenin. Two meetings of the Central Committee considered the evidence and decided against Vatsetis. At a meeting on July 3, the committee reviewed and endorsed its decision. Trotsky in a fury, his pride affronted, declared that he would resign all his offices, but the committee rejected his resignation. It was decided further that Kamenev should be appointed commander in chief. Vatsetis was arrested, investigated for suspected treason, released, and subsequently given an appointment as a military instructor.

The Central Committee also reorganized the Revolutionary War Council, limiting its membership to six. Trotsky was included, but the other five members were not his supporters. He could no longer dominate the council and get his way. Deeply offended, Trotsky remained at the South Front for the rest of the summer. The Revolutionary War Council functioned directly under Lenin’s control, and more harmoniously.

Trotsky subsequently held Stalin responsible for this major reverse in his military standing. He maintained that Stalin’s antagonism toward Vatsetis was well known and that he had supported the East Front Military Council as a means of striking at Trotsky himself. It was a reflection of Trotsky’s egocentricity that he had to interpret Stalin’s actions in terms of hostility toward himself. In this conflict, however, Stalin’s views were those of Lenin and the other members of the Central Committee, and his overriding concern was the victory of the Red Army.

By the end of June 1919, A. Denikin controlled the whole of the Don region and his army continued its rapid advance. His forces had first spread across the Ukraine and south Russia and then they had pressed northward. In Moscow, Lenin became increasingly anxious about the defense of the city. Kamenev, the commander in chief, had prepared a plan, concentrating strong Red forces to make a flank attack from the east. A second plan, prepared earlier by Vatsetis, and which Trotsky subsequently claimed as his own work, proposed that the armies of the South Front strike due south against Denikin’s forces. The Central Committee had approved Kamenev’s plan.

The Red Army’s flank attack failed completely to halt the White advance. Disturbed by this failure, Kamenev reviewed his strategy and recommended that, while maintaining pressure on the enemy from the east, strong forces of reserves should be concentrated south of Moscow. The response of Lenin and the Central Committee was a striking expression of their confidence in Kamenev. He was told “not to consider himself bound by his former recommendations or by any previous decisions of the Central Committee” and that he had “full powers as a military specialist to take whatever measures he thought fit.”

On September 27, 1919, the Central Committee approved the plan to post strong reserves south of Moscow. It decided also to send Stalin to take charge of the South Front. This was a severe rebuff to Trotsky, who had been there during the months of disaster. For a short period, Stalin and Trotsky were both at the headquarters of the South Front, but apparently, they did not quarrel openly.

On October 11, 1919, Yudenich launched a surprise attack on Petrograd, and the Red Army began to fall back in disorder. Lenin considered that the city should be abandoned, for he would allow nothing to weaken the defenses of Moscow. On October 15, however, the Politburo sent Trotsky to take charge of the defenses of Petrograd. He rallied the troops and reorganized the defenses of the city, and Petrograd did not fall. Later he was to complain bitterly that in official records, Stalin had merged the first and second campaigns of Yudenich into one and “the famous defence of Petrograd is represented as Stalin’s handiwork.”

Soon after arriving at the South Front headquarters, Stalin reported to Lenin and set out the action he proposed. He criticized Kamenev for holding to his original strategy. He argued that they must “change this plan, already discredited in practice, replacing it with a major attack on Rostov from the Voronezh area by way of Kharkov and the Donets Basin.” He set out cogently his reasons and closed his report with the comment that “without this change in strategy, my work . . . will be senseless, criminal, and superfluous, giving me the right, indeed obliging me, to go off anywhere, even to the devil, but not to stay at the South Front.”

During the six months from October 1919 to March 1920, while Stalin was at the South Front headquarters and, as he boasted later, “without the presence of Comrade Trotsky,” the Red Army succeeded in crushing the White forces. Denikin had advanced headlong, exhausting his men, and leaving himself exposed to attack in the rear. His troops were driven from Orel on October 20, 1919, and from Voronezh four days later; the morale of his force collapsed. He himself lost the confidence of his officers and the support of his Cossack allies. Early in April 1920, after nominating General Peter Wrangel as his successor, he escaped into Turkey.

In the advance of the South Front’s armies against Denikin’s armies, Budënny played a conspicuous role. He was a swaggering cavalryman, brave and energetic, but limited in ability. He was tireless in pressing for the formation of a cavalry army under his command. Stalin welcomed the idea of massed Red Cavalry, but Trotsky at first opposed it. He mistrusted the Cossacks, who would be the main source of cavalrymen and who were more in sympathy with the White than the Red cause. With Stalin’s support, Budënny’s proposal was adopted, at least nominally. Trotsky changed his mind about massed cavalry and issued his proclamation “Proletarians to Horse!” Budënny and his Red Cavalry became one of the romantic legends of the Civil War.

By early January 1920, Budënny had led his cavalry to the shores of the Sea of Azov. The South Front was then divided into the Southwest Front, under Egorov’s command operating against the Whites in the Crimea, and the Southeast Front, commanded by V. I. Shorin and including Budënny’s Cavalry Army, which was renamed the Caucasian Front.

Shorin had been an officer in the tsarist army, but although nearly fifty years old at the time of the Revolution, he had never risen above the rank of captain. High command had come to him as to many others, because no one else was available in the revolutionary camp at the time. He was disliked by Budënny and Voroshilov, who schemed to have him dismissed. Stalin supported them, and was said by Budënny to have told Ordzhonikidze, recently appointed the political member of the Caucasian Front, that Shorin was to be dismissed “for adopting an attitude of mistrust and enmity toward the cavalry army.” M. N. Tukhachevsky, a former second lieutenant of the Semenovsky Guards Regiment, then in his twenties, who was later designated to succeed Shorin, was to find that Budënny and Voroshilov were unruly and undisciplined but to be handled with care because they had influential protection.

Early in February 1920, Budënny’s Red Cavalry suffered a severe defeat by the Cossacks. This reverse, indicating lack of discipline and poor leadership, disturbed Lenin. He at once sent a telegram to Stalin, signed by Trotsky, too, appointing him to the Caucasian Front to resolve whatever problems had led to the defeat. The telegram also directed him to make a journey to front headquarters to concert further action with Shorin and to transfer troops from the Southwest Front to his command.

Stalin was evidently tired and unwell. His reply was cantankerous. He stated that visits by individuals were in his view wholly unnecessary, adding that “I am not entirely well and ask the Central Committee not to insist on the journey.” He commented further that “Budënny and Ordzhonikidze consider. . . Shorin to be the reason for our failures.” He prevaricated over the transfer of troops to the Caucasian Front. When Lenin sent him instructions to effect the transfer without further delay, he replied crossly that it was a matter for the High Command to ensure the reinforcement of the front. Unlike the staff of the High Command, who were all in good health, he was ill and overburdened. Apparently, he felt that he had been in the south long enough and that he had completed his task there. Finally, on March 23, 1920, he returned to Moscow.

Stalin was allowed only a short respite. On May 26, 1920, he was ordered to join the Southwest Front. He was in Kharkov on the following day. The Red Army’s position in the south had become critical. Wrangel, who had succeeded Denikin, had restored morale and discipline among the White forces in the Crimea. He was building up the Volunteer Army to a strength of 20,000 men, supported by 10,000 Cossacks. His forces presented a severe challenge from the south.

At this time, the Poles attacked from the west, seizing Kiev and storming over the Dnieper. Their objective was to conquer Belorussia and western Ukraine, vast territories which they had lost to Moscow in the seventeenth century. The Poles were, however, wary of any alliance with the Whites, recognizing that they would hardly accept such a loss of territory to Russia’s traditional Polish enemy. The Poles were also on guard against the Soviet regime. Trotsky had publicly threatened to invade Poland as soon as the Whites had been defeated in the south.

Attacked in the south, where Wrangel made early gains, and in the west, the Red Army found itself under severe pressure. The Central Committee approved the High Command’s plan that the West Front, now commanded by Tukhachevsky, should attack in northern Belorussia to compel the Poles to move troops away from the Southwest Front. It meant giving priority to the expulsion of the Poles. Egorov, commanding the Southwest Front, and his officers disagreed with this strategy. It was for this reason that Stalin was hurriedly dispatched to his headquarters.

Within a few days of his arrival, Stalin had visited the Crimean Front and reported to Lenin. The situation gave rise to great anxiety. He had replaced the commander of the Thirteenth Army. He requested two divisions to reinforce the Southwest Front, for Egorov’s initial offensive against the Poles had failed. Lenin in his reply firmly reminded him to copy all communications on military matters to Trotsky, the kommissar for War. He also repeated the Central Committee decision that the Southwest Front should not yet embark on any offensive in the Crimea. Stalin at once protested against the refusal to send two further divisions and stressed the danger posed by Wrangel to the south. Lenin was not to be moved, however, and he confirmed the original plan.

Kamenev’s order on June 2, 1920, was that the Cavalry Army should attack the Polish positions and seek to outflank them south of Kiev. Egorov and Stalin apparently amended the line of attack in passing the order to Budënny. The effect of this change cannot be judged. The Red Cavalry attacked, forcing the Polish forces south of the Pripet Marshes to retreat hurriedly. To the north Tukhachevsky’s West Front opened its offensive early in July 1920, again compelling the Poles to fall back. By the end of the month, the Red Army had advanced across the frontier into northern Poland. A provisional Polish government was set up under the chairmanship of Dzerzhinsky. Tukhachevsky’s four armies were drawn up on the Vistula, and the capture of Warsaw seemed imminent.

Lenin was carried away by the vision of the Red Army in Warsaw and of a communist Poland giving its full support to the revolutionary movement. He felt acutely the isolation of Russia, which with all its internal problems was bearing the socialist banner alone. This vision was shared by many within the party and gave rise to a wave of enthusiasm, as members rallied to the cry “Onwards to Warsaw!” But there were realists, Stalin foremost among them, who saw the dangers of this policy. In June 1920, he wrote that “the rear of the Polish forces is homogeneous and nationally united. Its dominant mood is ‘the feeling for their native land.’ . . . The class conflicts have not reached the strength needed to break through the sense of national unity.” It was a clear warning against accepting Lenin’s facile belief that the Polish proletariat was ready for revolution.

The Politburo had, however, decided on its policy of conquering Poland in spite of the opposition expressed by Stalin and others. Stalin had hurriedly rejoined the Southwest Front which covered the southern part of the Polish lines and was at the same time on guard against Wrangel in the south. The Politburo now decided to form a special front against Wrangel under Stalin’s direction. A major part of the forces of the Southwest Front would be transferred to Tukhachevsky’s Western Front for the advance on Warsaw, and the remaining forces would form Stalin’s special front. Angered by these instructions from the Politburo, Stalin replied churlishly that the Politburo should not be concerning itself with such details. Lenin was taken aback and asked for an explanation of his opposition. In his reply, Stalin set out the organizational difficulties which the instructions entailed. Lenin was impressed by his appreciation of the situation and allowed the Southwest Front to retain its previous commitments; only three of its armies were to be transferred to the Western Front.

The basic problem was that Tukhachevsky’s Western Front was separated by more than 300 miles of the Pripet Marshes from the Southwest Front. Communications and the prompt transfer of forces over such distances were further complicated by the absence of a strong central command. Trotsky and the Supreme War Council were ignored. Kamenev, the commander in chief, issued directives but could not enforce them. The Politburo and, in particular, Lenin, acting independently, tried to resolve conflicts, but could not be sure that their instructions would be observed. Moreover, Lenin’s instructions conflicted on occasions with plans of the commander in chief. Thus Kamenev confirmed that Tukhachevsky should outflank Warsaw from the north and west and take the city by August 12, 1920. This left the large Lublin gap unprotected between the Russian forces and the Pripet Marshes. At this time, Wrangel was moving with some success, posing a threat that alarmed Lenin. On August 11, he instructed Stalin to break off operations against the Poles at Lvov and to embark on an immediate offensive to destroy Wrangel’s army and seize the Crimea. On the same day, Kamenev ordered the Southwest Front to send “as large a force as possible toward Lublin to assist Tukhachevsky’s left flank.”

At this time, it was believed that the Red Army had already won the battle for Warsaw. Stalin and Egorov were planning to send their cavalry not to Lublin, but to the Crimea, and they ignored Kamenev’s instructions. On August 13, Kamenev sent orders that both the Twelfth and First Cavalry armies would be transferred to the command of the Western Front on the following day. Egorov felt he had to comply. But Stalin refused to sign the order and sent a telegram angrily reproaching the commander in chief for trying to destroy the Southwest Front.

Tukhachevsky’s advance had been progressing slowly. But on August 16, the Poles counterattacked, concentrating on the Lublin gap, and within a few days, they had shattered the West Front. On August 19, the Politburo, including Stalin, met in Moscow, still unaware that the Poles were on the point of routing Tukhachevsky’s armies. The Politburo, “having heard the military reports of Comrades Trotsky and Stalin,” decided that the main concentration of forces should now be directed to the recovery of the Crimea.

Responsibility for the disaster was angrily debated then and later. Lenin abstained from blaming anyone, but it is clear that he himself and all the participants bore part of the blame. Lenin had been carried away by hopes of a Polish revolution and seriously miscalculated the strength of Polish resistance. Kamenev and Tukhachevsky must bear the military responsibility since they neglected to ensure protection of their flanks before advancing. Moreover, even if Stalin and Egorov had responded promptly to orders to transfer troops from their front to fill the Lublin gap, it is doubtful whether such troops could have arrived in time and in fighting condition to have withstood the Polish onslaught.

Stalin’s concern to maintain the strength of the Southwest Front was understandable. It was facing the Polish forces at Lvov, Wrangel’s army to the south, and the possibility of Romanian intervention. All were serious threats, which were causing Lenin and the Politburo anxiety, and the wisdom of detaching any of its armies to reinforce the Western Front was questionable. Rightly or wrongly, however, Stalin was undoubtedly guilty of insubordination, as on other occasions in the Civil War when he was sure that he was right. But there was also an inevitability in the defeat of the Red Army. The troops were near exhaustion. They had fought heroically on Russian soil. Now they encountered the Poles, who were defending their capital and homeland against their traditional Russian enemy, and they fought with desperate bravery.

By the close of 1920, the Civil War had ended. Wrangel, his volunteer army greatly outnumbered by the Red forces in the south, suffered a disastrous defeat. His army disintegrated, as had Kolchak’s army in Siberia some months earlier. But the Whites had been doomed to failure from the start.

Lenin and his government had been able to raise the Red Army to a strength of more than 5 million men and to ensure the supply of basic munitions. There had been failures of organization, conflicts between commanders and kommissars, and frequent confusion among the headquarters of the fronts, the High Command, and the party Central Committee in Moscow. The new Soviet leaders and the Red Army were able to rise above these obstacles, and united and fired by revolutionary zeal, they triumphed.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to penetrate the endemic confusion of the Red Army’s operations in this period and the miasma of suspicions, vicious antagonisms, and conflicting claims – many of them made later – in order to evaluate the contribution of the individual Soviet leaders to the triumph. Lenin had been in command throughout the war. He had closely followed each operation and had sent out orders, usually in the name of the Central Committee, but they were his orders. He had handled troublesome personalities, especially Stalin and Trotsky, with tact and firmness. All had accepted his supreme leadership. It was, indeed, during the years after the Revolution, and particularly during the Civil War, that he revealed greatness as a leader.

Trotsky’s prestige had greatly diminished by the end of the war. The failure of his negotiations with the Germans and the forced acceptance of the disastrous terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk had damaged his reputation. He had resigned as kommissar for Foreign Affairs and become kommissar for War. In the early months of the Civil War, he had blazed across the sky like a comet. He had laid the foundations of the Red Army. A small vibrant figure in black leather uniform, he was gallant and ludicrous at the same time. At every opportunity, he harangued the troops. He was a fine orator, and very conscious of this talent. Often, as in Sviyazhsk in August 1918, his dramatic words and presence raised the morale of disheartened men, just as his ruthless punishments restored discipline. But he greatly overrated the power of his theatrical performances. Budënny wrote that to ordinary, often illiterate, soldiers he could be a strange figure with his waving arms and spate of words, most of which they did not understand. At times, his exhortations stirred them to anger. Moreover, as Lenin came to recognize, he was readily carried away by his own words, losing touch with the realities of the situation. He was also unsound in his appointments to positions of command. His stubborn support for Vatsetis had been an example. At the start of the war, Trotsky had exercised wide independent authority; by the time of the Polish War, he was to be found in Moscow and directly under Lenin’s control.

Increasingly, Lenin had come to rely on Stalin, who was in most things the antithesis of Trotsky. He rarely addressed the troops or meetings of any kind, but when he did, he spoke in simple terms. He was the realist, who coldly assessed men and situations, and was usually sound in his conclusions. He remained calm and self-possessed. He was difficult only in his antagonisms toward certain people and when his advice was rejected. While demanding that others obey orders, he himself did not hesitate on occasions to be insubordinate, for he readily set his judgment above that of others. But he learned, too, that in war, a supreme commander, exercising unquestioned authority, was essential to victory. He never forgot this lesson.

In November 1919, Trotsky and Stalin were awarded the new Order of the Red Banner. The award to Stalin was “for his services in the defense of Petrograd and for his self-sacrificing work at the South Front.” The two awards were an indication that at the time, Lenin and the Central Committee considered both men equally valuable.

In later years, when seeking every pretext to denigrate Stalin, Trotsky wrote contemptuously of his role in the Civil War. It is clear, however, from contemporary sources, including Trotsky’s papers, that he had then rated Stalin high as a military organizer. In times of crisis when party interests and the revolutionary cause transcended personal rivalries, he turned to him. During the Polish War, for example, when anxious about an attack by Wrangel from the Crimea, Trotsky recommended that “Comrade Stalin should be charged with forming a new military council with Egorov or Frunze as commander by agreement between the Commander-in-Chief and Comrade Stalin.” On other occasions, he made or supported similar proposals to send Stalin to resolve crucial problems at the fronts. Like Lenin and other members of the Central Committee, he had come to value Stalin’s abilities.

Stalin emerged from the Civil War and the Polish War with a greatly enhanced reputation. He had made mistakes but so, too, had others. To the people generally, he was still not well known. He was rarely in the public eye and, unlike Trotsky, he did not court publicity. Within the party, he was known as the quiet and incisive man of action, a leader of decision and authority. In the immense task facing the government, of reorganizing the country after the years of war and revolution, he was clearly a man who would bear special responsibilities.

The experience of the Civil War made a profound impact on Stalin. It broadened his knowledge of himself and his abilities. For the first time, he had responsibility on a vast scale, and he found that he could carry it and, indeed, was stimulated by it. But this self-knowledge came in conditions of complete brutalization. He had witnessed the bread war when villages and whole towns were wiped out in the struggle to ensure grain deliveries to the north. He had been schooled in the principle that the party’s purposes must be pursued, no matter what the cost in human lives. Now he had seen people massacred in thousands in the struggle for the survival of the party and its government. The experience implanted more deeply in him that inhumanity which was to mark his exercise of power.

Sukhoi Su-25 Grach

Su-25 Frogfoot [NATO reporting name]

By the early 1980s the single-seater close support Su-25 Frogfoot was supporting Soviet forces in Afghanistan, where it proved to be a difficult target for Afghan antiaircraft guns. Series production of the army’s Su-25 started at the Tbilisi aircraft plant in 1976, with test flights being conducted up to 1980. Smaller than the American Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt, the Su-25 had lower thrust and was assessed to carry less ordnance than its American counterpart.

Nonetheless, this aircraft was armed with a 30mm multi-barrel cannon beneath the centre fuselage and had ten hardpoints for ordnance. Flexible 23mm cannon could also be carried in SPPU-22 pods under the wings. There were five stations for suspending weapons under each wing. Eight of the stations are interchangeable pylon carriers, which provide for the attachment of various bomb and rocket armament. R-60 air-to-air missiles are mounted on two additional external points under each wing. Maximum speed was believed to be about 880km/h, with a range of 550km.

The Su 25 is successor to the famous Il 2 Shturmovik of World War II. Fast and heavily armed, it is reputedly the most difficult plane in the world to shoot down.

The air war in Vietnam highlighted the need for simple close-support aircraft able to operate from unpaved strips close to the front. Such warplanes would also have to deliver heavy ordnance against targets with great accuracy and be able to survive intense ground fire. The United States parlayed its experience into the Fairchild A-10 Thunderbolt II, a heavily armored twin-engine bomber. The Soviets also watched these developments closely before deciding that they, too, needed similar aircraft and capabilities. During World War II Russia had deployed the redoubtable Il 2 Shturmovik aircraft for identical reasons, so in 1968 the Sukhoi design bureau became tasked with developing an equivalent machine for the jet age. The bureau settled upon a design reminiscent of the Northrop YA-9, which had lost out to the A-10 in competition. The new Su 25 was an all-metal, shoulder-wing monoplane constructed around a heavily armored titanium “tub” that housed both pilot and avionics. Engines were placed in long, reinforced nacelles on either side of the fuselage, and the fuel tanks were filled with reticulated foam for protection against explosions. To assist slow-speed maneuvering, the wingtip pods split open at the ends to form air brakes. Its profile is rather pointed, but a blunt noseplate covers a laser range finder/target designator. The Su 25 is somewhat faster than the A- 10, trusting more in speed to ensure survival than a dependency on agility and heavy armor. It is nonetheless an effective tank destroyer.

Technical description

The Su-25K’s service life was given as 1,500 flying hours before a major overhaul, and the service interval as 700 hours. They obviously did not expect high utilisation, since the 700-hour interval was also given as a seven-to eight-year gap. The first production Su-25 hardly differed from the later prototypes, and a technical description of one would apply just as well to the other. In fact, all Su-25s up until the Su-25T/TM were structurally similar, with much the same systems. Only a handful of changes were made as a result of later combat experience in Afghanistan, and they were limited in scope, despite their impact and significance.

The Su-25 was of conventional configuration and construction, apart from the extensive use of armour plate. The aircraft was an all-metal monoplane with a high-set, high aspect-ratio wing which was modestly tapered and slightly swept on the leading edge, but not on the trailing edge. The wing incorporated 2°30′ of anhedral. Engines were mounted to the fuselage sides in semi-conformal nacelles. Sixty per cent of the aircraft’s structure was of conventional Duralumin construction, with 13.5 per cent titanium alloys, 19 per cent steel, 2 per cent magnesium alloys and 5.5 per cent fibre-glass and other materials. Virtually no use was made of carbon-fibre composites or advanced aluminium lithium alloys.

Electrical power was supplied by a single 28.5-volt DC circuit, and by three 36-volt/400-Hz and one 115-volt/ 400-Hz AC circuits. The DC circuit consisted of a transformer, voltage regulator, and circuit breakers. Power was generated by a pair of engine-driven GSR-ST-12/400 generators, with two 25 Aph NiCad batteries available as an emergency power source.

A series of preproduction aircraft was subsequently deployed to Afghanistan, where the planes performed useful service against guerilla forces. Western intelligence had previously identified a Soviet parallel to the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt and dubbed it `Ram-J’ until it became better known as the Sukhoi Su-25 `Frogfoot’. A trial deployment is said to have been made as far back as 1980, but the type was most certainly used in the spring offensive. Working in conjunction with the Mi-24, this jet attack aircraft experimented with methods of co-ordinating the two disparate types, and the results will doubtless be noted for potential use in the Western theatre. They flew some 60,000 sorties, losing 23 machines in the process, but the decision was made to enter production in 1980. Since then 330 Su 25s have been built; they have received the NATO designation FROGFOOT.

The effect of the Stinger

The advantage of having two engines was fully exploited in the Su-25, in which the powerplants are mounted so close together that damage to one engine could cause collateral damage to the other. This became abundantly clear following the 1984 introduction of the Redeye SAM by the Mujahideen, and by the October 1986 delivery of General Dynamics FIM-82A Stinger SAMs. The introduction of Redeye was followed by the loss of two Su-25s in very quick succession, these aircraft having proved unable to decoy the SAMs away using flares. Flare capacity was increased from 128 to 256, by the addition of four 32-round dispensers scabbed onto the top of the engine nacelles. When the Mujahideen started using Stinger, the effect was even more dramatic. Four Su-25s were destroyed in three days, with two pilots lost. The Stingers tended to detonate close to the engine exhaust nozzles, piercing the rear fuel tanks with shrapnel and causing fires which could burn through control runs, or causing damage to the far engine. In order to prevent damage to one engine from taking out the other, a 5-mm armour plate was added between the two engines (acting as a giant shield and firewall), about 1.5 m (5 ft) long.

A new inert gas (Freon) SSP-2I/UBSh-4-2 fire extinguisher system was provided. This consisted of six UTBG sensors in the engine nacelles, which were connected to cockpit displays. The pilot had four push-buttons to actuate the extinguisher’s first and second stages for each section of the engine. The Freon was stored in spherical 4-litre (0.87-Imp gal) bottles, each containing 5.64 kg (12 lb) of gas pressurised at 6.9 to 14.2 MPa.

These modifications proved a great success, dramatically reducing the Su-25’s loss rate. No Su-25 equipped with the inter-engine armour was lost to a Stinger, although many were hit. The modifications were quickly incorporated on the production line, and were retrofitted to existing Su-25s.

Additional improvements were added during the period in which Su-25s were fighting in Afghanistan. On aircraft from the 10th production series, for example, the aileron control rod was fully faired in and the aileron trim tab was deleted. Elevator pivots were more effectively faired. Tenth series Su-25s also gained a second external APU/GPU socket. Other features appeared gradually, and cannot yet be pinpointed to a particular production series. The nosewheel was changed, from one which accepted a tubeless KN-21-1 tyre to one which took a tubed K-2106 tyre. The single long fuel tank access panel on the top surface of each wing was replaced by three shorter access panels, side by side. Small fins were added to the inboard faces of the bottom of each wingtip fairing, acting as glare shields when the PRF-4M pop-down landing lights were deployed. At the trailing edge of these pods, the airbrakes themselves were modified. Previously simply splitting 50° up and 50° down to give a > shape with the point forwards, they gained auxiliary segments which hinged upwards through another 90° at their trailing edges to give a shape reminiscent of a W turned on its side, with the central point pointing forwards. During production of the ninth production series the cannon muzzle was redesigned, with the ends of the twin barrels covered by a single muzzle shield. Many late production Su-25s had their distinctive SRZ and SRO ‘Odd Rod’ antennas replaced by simple blade antennas, similar to the SRO antennas fitted to later MiG-29s (which retained the traditional tripole SRZ antennas above their noses). The revised antennas may have combined interrogator and responder functions.

The small and robust Frogfoot can now justifiably claim to occupy a prominent position in the generation of combat aircraft that was fielded en masse in the former Soviet Union during the 1980s, and the type still forms the backbone of the Russian Air Force’s attack capabilities, albeit in considerably reduced numbers. The somewhat ugly and often underrated attack aircraft gradually but indisputably emerged in the early 1990s as Russia’s most useful and cost-effective combat jet, as its armed forces rapidly switched from their traditional cold war posture to one of internal policing, faced with growing unrest around the fringes of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s and 2000s.


The faithful Frogfoot is slated to remain in service with most of the operators at least until 2020 and near-terms sales of both new and second-hand aircraft to new operators worldwide cannot be ruled out. There are also a good many little-used Su-25s still available for sale in the former Soviet states and East Europe.

The type’s success has been proved by the developments since the early 2000s and especially by the upgrade and life-extension packages on offer, as well as the series of export sales; this eventually refuted the conclusion of some Western aerospace analysts, who maintained in the late 1990s that the first-generation Su-25 is effectively dead in its single-seat form. There is plenty of life remaining for the upgraded and refurbished Su-25SMs, while the greatly improved new-build two-seat derivative – expected to appear by 2015 at the earliest – is slated to continue into the next three decades as RuAF’s principal attack and close air support workhorse.



The basic version of the aircraft was produced at Factory 31, at Tbilisi, in the Soviet Republic of Georgia. Between 1978 and 1989, 582 single-seat Su-25s were produced in Georgia, not including aircraft produced under the Su-25K export program. This variant of the aircraft represents the backbone of the Russian Air Force’s Su-25 fleet, currently the largest in the world. The aircraft experienced a number of accidents in operational service caused by system failures attributed to salvo firing of weapons. In the wake of these incidents, use of its main armament, the 240 mm S-24 rocket, was prohibited. In its place, the FAB-500 500 kg (1,100 lb) general-purpose high-explosive bomb became the primary armament.


The basic Su-25 model was used as the basis for a commercial export variant, known as the Su-25K (Komercheskiy). This model was also built at Factory 31 in Tbilisi, Georgia. The aircraft differed from the Soviet Air Force version in certain minor details concerning internal equipment. A total of 180 Su-25K aircraft were built between 1984 and 1989.


The Su-25UB trainer (Uchebno-Boyevoy) was drawn up in 1977. The first prototype, called “T-8UB-1”, was rolled out in July 1985 and its maiden flight was carried out at the Ulan-Ude factory airfield on 12 August of that year. By the end of 1986, 25 Su-25UBs had been produced at Ulan-Ude before the twin-seater completed its State trials and officially cleared for service with the Soviet Air Force.

It was intended for training and evaluation flights of active-duty pilots, and for training pilot cadets at Soviet Air Force flying schools. The performance did not differ substantially from that of the single-seater. The navigation, attack, sighting devices and weapons-control systems of the two-seater enabled it to be used for both routine training and weapons-training missions.


From 1986 to 1989, in parallel with the construction of the main Su-25UB combat training variant, the Ulan-Ude plant produced the so-called “commercial” Su-25UBK, intended for export to countries that bought the Su-25K, and with similar modifications to that aircraft.


The Su-25UBM is a twin seat variant that can be used as an operational trainer, but also has attack capabilities, and can be used for reconnaissance, target designation and airborne control. Its first flight was on 6 December 2008 and it was certified in December 2010. It will enter operational use with the Russian Air Force later. The variant has a Phazotron NIIR Kopyo radar and Bars-2 equipment on board. Su-25UBM’s range is believed to be 1,300 km (810 mi) and it may have protection against infra-red guided missiles (IRGM), a minimal requirement on today’s battle fields where IRGMs proliferate.


The Su-25UTG (Uchebno-Trenirovochnyy s Gakom) is a variant of the Su-25UB designed to train pilots in takeoff and landing on a land-based simulated carrier deck, with a sloping ski-jump section and arrester wires. The first one flew in September 1988, and approximately 10 were produced. About half remained in Russian service after 1991; they were used on Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov. This small number of aircraft were insufficient to meet the training needs of Russia’s carrier air group, so a number of Su-25UBs were converted into Su-25UTGs. These aircraft being distinguished by the alternative designation Su-25UBP (Uchebno-Boyevoy Palubny)—the adjective palubnyy meaning “deck”, indicating that these aircraft have a naval function. Approximately 10 of these aircraft are currently operational in the Russian Navy as part of the 279th Naval Aviation Regiment.


The Su-25BM (Buksirovshchik Misheney) is a target-towing variant of the Su-25 whose development began in 1986. The prototype, designated T-8BM1, successfully flew for the first time on 22 March 1990, at Tbilisi. After completion of the test phase, the aircraft was put into production.

The Su-25BM target-tower was designed to provide towed target facilities for training ground forces and naval personnel in ground-to-air or naval surface-to-air missile systems. It is powered by an R-195 engine and equipped with an RSDN-10 long-range navigation system, an analogue of the Western LORAN system.


The Su-25T (Tankovy) is a dedicated antitank version, which has been combat-tested with notable success in Chechnya. The design of the aircraft is similar to the Su-25UB. The variant was converted to one-seater, with the rear seat replaced by additional avionics. It has all-weather and night attack capability. In addition to the full arsenal of weapons of the standard Su-25, the Su-25T can employ the KAB-500Kr TV-guided bomb and the semi-active laser-guided Kh-25ML. Its enlarged nosecone houses the Shkval optical TV and aiming system with the Prichal laser rangefinder and target designator. It can also carry Vikhr laser-guided, tube-launched missiles, which is its main antitank armament. For night operations, the low-light TV Merkuriy pod system can be carried under the fuselage. Three Su-25Ts prototypes were built in 1983–86 and 8 production aircraft were built in 1990. With the introduction of a definitive Russian Air Force Su-25 upgrade programme, in the form of Stroyevoy Modernizirovannyi, the Su-25T programme was officially canceled in 2000.

Su-25TM (Su-39)

A second-generation Su-25T, the Su-25TM (also designated Su-39), has been developed with improved navigation and attack systems, and better survivability. While retaining the built-in Shkval of Su-25T, it may carry Kopyo (rus. “Spear”) radar in the container under fuselage, which is used for engaging air targets (with RVV-AE/R-77 missiles) as well as ships (with Kh-31 and Kh-35 antiship missiles). The Russian Air Force has received 8 aircraft as of 2008. Some of the improved avionics systems designed for T and TM variants have been included in the Su-25SM, an interim upgrade of the operational Russian Air Force Su-25, for improved survivability and combat capability. The Su-25TM, as an all-inclusive upgrade programme has been replaced with the “affordable” Su-25SM programme.


The Su-25SM (Stroyevoy Modernizirovannyi) is an “affordable” upgrade programme for the Su-25, conceived by the Russian Air Force in 2000. The programme stems from the attempted Su-25T and Su-25TM upgrades, which were evaluated and labeled as over-sophisticated and expensive. The SM upgrade incorporates avionics enhancements and airframe refurbishment to extend the Frogfoot’s service life by up to 500 flight hours or 5 years.

The Su-25SM’s all-new PRnK-25SM “Bars” navigation/attack suite is built around the BTsVM-90 digital computer system, originally planned for the Su-25TM upgrade programme. Navigation and attack precision provided by the new suite is three times better of the baseline Su-25 and is reported to be within 15 m (49 ft) using satellite correction and 200 m (660 ft) without it.

A new KA1-1-01 Head-Up Display (HUD) was added providing, among other things, double the field of view of the original ASP-17BTs-8 electro-optical sight. Other systems and components incorporated during the upgrade include a Multi-Function Display (MFD), RSBN-85 Short Range Aid to Navigation (SHORAN), ARK-35-1 Automatic Direction Finder (ADF), A-737-01 GPS/GLONASS Receiver, Karat-B-25 Flight Data Recorder (FDR), Berkut-1 Video Recording System (VRS), Banker-2 UHF/VHF communication radio, SO-96 Transponder and a L150 “Pastel” Radar Warning Receiver (RWR).

The R-95Sh engines have been overhauled and modified with an anti-surge system installed. The system is designed to improve the resistance of the engine to ingested powders and gases during gun and rocket salvo firing.

The combination of reconditioned and new equipment, with increased automation and self-test capability has allowed for a reduction of pre- and post-flight maintenance by some 25 to 30%. Overall weight savings are around 300 kg (660 lb).

Su-25SM weapon suite has been expanded with the addition of the Vympel R-73 highly agile air-to-air missile (albeit without helmet mounted cueing and only the traditional longitudinal seeker mode) and the S-13T 130 mm rockets (carried in five-round B-13 pods) with blast-fragmentation and armour-piercing warheads. Further, the Kh-25ML and Kh-29L Weapon Employment Profiles have been significantly improved, permitting some complex missile launch scenarios to be executed, such as: firing two consecutive missiles on two different targets in a single attack pass. The GSh-30-2 autocannon (250-round magazine) has received three new reduced rate-of-fire modes: 750, 375 and 188 rounds per minute. The Su-25SM was also given new BD3-25 under-wing pylons.

The eventual procurement programme is expected to include between 100 and 130 kits, covering 60 to 70 percent of the Russian Air Force active single-seat fleet, as operated in the early 2000s. On 21 February 2012, Air Force spokesman Col. Vladimir Drik said that Russia will continue to upgrade its Su-25 attack aircraft to Su-25SM version, which has a significantly better survivability and combat effectiveness. The Russian Air Force then had over 30 Su-25SMs in service and plans to modernize about 80 Su-25s by 2020, Drik said. By March 2013, over 60 aircraft are to be upgraded. In February 2013, ten new Su-25SMs were delivered to the Air Force southern base, where operational training is being conducted. During the period 2005–2015, more than 80 aircraft were upgraded.

Since early 2014, the Guards Aviation Division Attack Aviation Regiment of the Southern Military District in the Krasnodar region received 16 advanced Su-25SMs. Nine more were delivered in 2018, eight more in early 2019 and three more in early 2020.

Since 2018, the Aerospace Forces [VKS] have been receiving Su-25SM3s, and a total of 25 aircraft have already been delivered as of June 2019. Unlike the baseline Su-25 and its incrementally upgraded variant, the Su-25SM, both of which have a rather outdated Klen-PS laser target designator in the nose, the Su-25SM3 has been upgraded with the new SOLT-25 electro-optics nose module. The SOLT-25 provides 16× zoom and features a laser range finder and target designator, thermal imager, TV channels, and the ability to track moving targets in all weather up to 8 km away. In addition, the Su-25SM3 comes with the Vitebsk-25 protection suite, which integrates a set of Zakhvat forward and rearward facing missile approach warning ultraviolet sensors, the L-150-16M Pastel radar homing and warning system, two UV-26M 50 mm chaff dispensers, and a pair of wing-mounted L-370-3S radar jamming pods. Furthermore, the Su-25SM3 has been upgraded with the new PrNK-25SM-1 Bars targeting-and-navigation system and the KSS-25 communication system with Banker-8-TM-1 antenna.


The Su-25KM (Kommercheskiy Modernizirovannyy), nicknamed “Scorpion”, is an Su-25 upgrade programme announced in early 2001 by the original manufacturer, Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing in Georgia, in partnership with Elbit Systems of Israel. The prototype aircraft made its maiden flight on 18 April 2001 at Tbilisi in full Georgian Air Force markings.

The aircraft uses a standard Su-25 airframe, enhanced with advanced avionics including a glass cockpit, digital map generator, helmet-mounted display, computerised weapons system, complete mission pre-plan capability, and fully redundant backup modes. Performance enhancements include a highly accurate navigation system, pinpoint weapon delivery systems, all-weather and day/night performance, NATO compatibility, state-of-the art safety and survivability features, and advanced onboard debriefing capabilities complying with international requirements. It has the ability to use Mark 82 and Mark 83 laser-guided bombs and air-to-air missiles, the short-range Vympel R-73.


The Sukhoi Su-28 (also designated Su-25UT – Uchebno-Trenirovochnyy) is an advanced basic jet trainer, built on the basis of the Su-25UB as a private initiative by the Sukhoi Design Bureau. The Su-28 is a light aircraft designed to replace the Czechoslovak Aero L-39 Albatros. Unlike the basic Su-25UB, it lacks a weapons-control system, built-in cannon, weapons hardpoints, and engine armour.


    Su-25R (Razvedchik) – a tactical reconnaissance variant designed in 1978, but never built.

    Su-25U3 (Uchebnyy 3-myestny) – also known as the “Russian Troika”, was a three-seat basic trainer aircraft. The project was suspended in 1991 due to lack of funding.

    Su-25U (Uchebnyy) – a trainer variant of Su-25s produced in Georgia between 1996 and 1998. Three aircraft were built in total, all for the Georgian Air Force.

    Su-25M1/Su-25UBM1 – Su-25 and Su-25UB exemplars slightly modernized by Ukrainian Air Force, at least nine modernized (eight single-seat and one two-seat). Upgrades include a new navigation system, enhanced survivability, more accurate weapon delivery and other minor changes.

    Ge-31 is an ongoing Georgian program of Tbilisi Aircraft Manufacturing aiming at producing a renewed version of Su-25 without Russian components and parts.

Sukhoi Su-25SM Today

Anglo-French [non]-Intervention in the Spanish Civil War I

If Britain and France refrained from challenging Italy and Germany in Spain, this was not because they were blind to the threat to their strategic interests;  it was because they feared that a general war in Western Europe, whether they won or lost, could only redound to the benefit of Russia.

In a policy summary drafted by Gladwyn Jebb, private secretary to Alexander Cadogan, permanent undersecretary of the Foreign Office since January 1938, and based partly on the papers of William Strang, head of the Central Departmentall three men supporters of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain Jebb observed that the objection to collective security was that it would “provoke war in which defeat would be disastrous and victory hardly less so.”

At a session, on 15 March 1938, of the Comité Permanent de la Défense Nationale, Edouard Daladier, the French minister of defense, stated that “one would have to be blind not to see that intervention in Spain would start a general war.” As to what he envisioned by a general war was expressed by him apocalyptically three months later, when, as the reader will recall, he told Count von Welczech, the German ambassador: “[The] catastrophic frightfulness of a modern war would surpass all that humanity had ever seen, and would mean the utter destruction of European civilization. Into the battle zones, devastated and denuded of men, Cossack and Mongol hordes would then pour, bringing to Europe a new ‘Culture.’ ”          

Hence, the nonintervention policy of Britain and France during the Civil War was determined not only by their hostility to the social revolution and by later Communist domination, of which they were fully informed through their diplomatic and secret agents, but by the fear that a general war would bring in its wake the enthronement of Communism in the whole of Europe. Consequently, no effort at dissimulation or persuasion, no attempt by successive Spanish governments to curb or roll back the revolution could have affected Anglo-French policy.

We have seen that the policy of appeasement of Germany was pursued with greater vigor from the time Neville Chamberlain succeeded Stanley Baldwin in the premiership in May 1937 and that the new prime minister perceived the Soviet Union as the major long-term threat to British interests and the Western world. For this reason, a political settlement with Germany was the cornerstone of Chamberlain’s policy, and it was visionary to believe that Britain would come to the aid of Republican Spain at the risk of a war in Western Europe. 

That some members of the PCE in the spring of 1938 had begun to question the assumption that Britain and France would eventually be drawn into the conflict, but such doubts, inadmissible in Communist circles, had to be squelched if morale were to be sustained, particularly at the battlefronts. “I never for a moment believed that the Spanish government would get real help from Britain and France,” Ralph Bates, the British author and assistant commissar of the Fifteenth International Brigade, wrote in 1940 after he had severed his connections with the Communists. He was “tremendously censured,” he said, by the English representative of the Communist party in Madrid for dealing with the problem, even implicitly, in the brigade organ Volunteer for Liberty of which he was editor and was ”charged with exposing the boys to the possibility of this thought coming up in their minds.” “In so far as we damped down the revolution in Spain,” he added, “in the interests of collective security, then we miscalculated. I feel compelled to face that fact. Not all our soft-pedalling won [Britain and France] to our side. Might we have got more out of the CNT and FAI if we had not soft-pedalled so much?”          

The extent to which Chamberlain and his supporters were prepared to pursue the appeasement of Germany is evident from a conversation that Lord Halifax held with Adolf Hitler on 19 November 1937. At that time, Halifax was Lord Privy Seal and later, as foreign secretary, formed part of Chamberlain’s “Inner Cabinet” with Sir Samuel Hoare and Sir John Simon. According to a German foreign ministry memorandum, Halifax recognized that Hitler “had not only performed great services in Germany” but also had been able “by preventing the entry of Communism into his own country, to bar its passage further West.” Halifax stated that on the English side “it was not necessarily thought that the status quo must be maintained under all circumstances.” He then spoke of “possible alterations in the European order which might be destined to come about with the passage of time. Amongst these questions were Danzig, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. England was interested to see that any alterations should come through the course of peaceful evolution and that methods should be avoided which might cause far-reaching disturbances [i.e., war in Western Europe].” Since Austria was the gateway to Czechoslovakia, and Danzig the key to Poland, these remarks must have encouraged Hitler to believe that his territorial ambitions in Eastern Europe would encounter scant opposition.    

“Halifax’s remarks,” writes the British historian A. J. P. Taylor, “if they had any practical sense, were an invitation to Hitler to promote German nationalist agitation in Danzig, Czechoslovakia, and Austria; an assurance also that this agitation would not be opposed from without.” 10 Hitler also received similar assurances from the French government. “[I] was amazed to note,” Franz von Papen, the German ambassador in Austria, told Hitler on 10 November 1937 after a visit to Paris, “that, like [foreign minister] Bonnet, Premier [Camille Chautemps] considered a reorientation of French policy in Central Europe as entirely open to discussion. . . .[He], too, had no objection to a marked extension of German influence in Austria obtained through evolutionary means.” And, on 4 December, in a letter to state secretary von Weizsäcker, the head of the political department in the German foreign ministry, von Papen stated: “I found it very interesting to note that neither Bonnet nor Chautemps raised any objections to an evolutionary extension of German influence . . . in Czechoslovakia, on the basis of a reorganization into a nation of nationalities.”        

In pursuit of his appeasement policy, Chamberlain removed Sir Robert Vansittart, the permanent undersecretary of state for foreign affairs, the most forceful exponent of anti-German opinion in the Foreign Office, and assigned him to the newly created post of “Chief Diplomatic Adviser,” where, according to the earl of Birkenhead, “he found himself trapped in a gilded cage” and where he “ceased to exert any effective influence on foreign affairs.” Commenting in a letter to his sister on all the months Stanley Baldwin had “wasted in futile attempts” to push Vansittart out of the Foreign Office, Chamberlain remarked: “[It] is amusing to record that I have done it in three days. . . . I am afraid his instincts were all against my policy. . . . I suspect that in Rome and Berlin the rejoicings will be loud and deep.”            

The way was now open for a more vigorous pursuit of appeasement by circumventing the Foreign Office, which, according to Sir Horace Wilson, Chamberlain’s intimate colleague and chief diplomatic adviser, represented an obstruction to the prime minister’s policy of coming to terms with the dictators. “The old-established machine of the Foreign Office,” wrote Lord Templewood (Sir Samuel Hoare), in his published memoir of the period, “did not seem to [Chamberlain] to move quickly enough for the crisis that threatened Europe.” More expressive of Hoare’s true attitude toward the Foreign Office was the candid letter he sent to Neville Chamberlain on 17 March 1937, shortly before Stanley Baldwin’s resignation from the premiership. After suggesting that Chamberlain should not copy “Baldwin’s slipshod, happy-go-lucky quietism” he continued: “Do not let anything irrevocable or badly compromising happen in foreign politics until you are in control. I say this because I am convinced that the FO [Foreign Office] is so much biased against Germany (and Italy and Japan) that unconsciously and almost continuously they are making impossible any sort of reconciliation. I believe myself that when once you are Prime Minister it will be possible greatly to change the European atmosphere.”         

On 3 March 1938, the British ambassador to Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, who bypassed the regular Foreign Office channels and plied the prime minister directly with letters and visits, told Hitler that the aim of British policy was “to establish the basis for a genuine and cordial friendship with Germany.” Lord Halifax, Henderson added, had already admitted that changes in Europe could be considered “quite possible,” provided they were the product of “higher reason” rather than “the free play of forces.” This policy was certainly not one that Henderson “had worked out for himself,” as William N. Medlicott affirms in his preface to volume 18 of Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939, second series, in a “revisionist” interpretation of appeasement. As British historians Keith Middlemas and Ian Colvin have pointed out, Henderson was a disciple of Chamberlain’s and one of the principal exponents of his policy. Medlicott’s assertion is all the more remarkable in that he quotes Henderson’s own testimony from the latter’s memoir Failure of a Mission, in which the former ambassador states: “Both Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Baldwin, whom I had seen earlier, agreed that I should do my utmost to work with Hitler and the Nazi Party as the existing government of Germany. . . . Mr. Chamberlain outlined to me his views on general policy towards Germany, and I think I may honestly say that to the last and bitter end I followed the general line which he set me, all the more easily and faithfully since it corresponded so closely with my private conception of the service I could best render in Germany to my own country.”  

In this connection, it is worth quoting from a memorandum by Henderson to the Foreign Office, dated 10 May 1937, in which he stated: “[Eastern Europe] is neither definitely settled for all time nor is it a vital British interest, and the German is certainly more civilized than the Slav, and in the end, if properly handled, also less potentially dangerous to British interestsone might even go so far as to assert that it is not even just to endeavour to prevent Germany from completing her unity or from being prepared for war against the Slav, provided her preparations are such as to reassure the British Empire that they are not simultaneously designed against it.”    

On 10 March 1938, two days before Hitler’s annexation of Austria, German foreign minister von Ribbentrop reported to Hitler during a visit to London that Lord Halifax had told him that “Chamberlain and he, Lord Halifax, were determined to reach an understanding with Germany” and that in advocating this policy “Chamberlain had assumed a great responsibility in the eyes of the British people and a great risk as well.” Ribbentrop then stated: “Germany wished to be and had to be strong. . . .Germany must be armed for defense against Soviet Russian attacks. . . . The Führer did not wish to request aid at the outset from the great Western Powers, if some day the steamroller of world revolution should be set in motion against Germany.” At this point Lord Halifax interjected that “England was well aware of Germany’s strength and that she had no objection to it whatever.” Then Ribbentrop continued: “Germany wished to obtain the right of self-determination for the 10 million Germans living on her eastern border, i.e., in Austria and Czechoslovakia. . . . In this connection . . . the Führer had been pleased when Lord Halifax had shown understanding for that, too, at Berchtesgaden and when he had declared that the status quo in Eastern Europe could not be maintained unconditionally forever.” The next day, Ribbentrop reported that Chamberlain had “very emphatically requested” that he inform the Führer of “his most sincere wish for an understanding with Germany.”

Hitler’s annexation of Austria had no effect in London it had, in fact, been regarded as inevitable and Chamberlain pursued his appeasement of Germany with unruffled self-assurance. Nevertheless, it was essential that Hitler achieve his next territorial objective by peaceful means lest Great Britain be drawn into a European conflict through France’s treaty obligations. On 22 May, during the mounting crisis over Czechoslovakia, Lord Halifax instructed Nevile Henderson to inform Ribbentrop of this dangerous contingency: “If a resort is had to forcible measures, it is quite impossible for me or for him to foretell the results that may follow, and I would beg him not to count on this country’s being able to stand aside if from any precipitate action there should start a European conflagration. Only those will benefit from such a catastrophe who wish to see the destruction of European civilization.” At the beginning of September, there was mutual understanding. Theodor Kordt, the German chargé d’affaires in London, reported to ambassador Dirksen on a conversation with Chamberlain and Sir Horace Wilson: “The conversation took place in an exceedingly friendly atmosphere. [Wilson] was visibly moved (as far as an Englishman can betray such feelings at all) when at the end he shook my hand and said: ‘If we two, Great Britain and Germany, come to agreement regarding the settlement of the Czech problem, we shall simply brush aside the resistance that France or Czechoslovakia herself may offer to the decision.” At the end of the month there followed the Munich settlement, the result of British pressure on Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudeten territory.

By now, it must have been obvious to Stalin that the policy of collective security that he had indefatigably pursued since the USSR joined the League of Nations in 1934 in the hope of warding off the German threat might fail and that the slender hope that Britain and France would risk a conflict over Spain was fading. He therefore renewed his interest in the possibility of negotiating a nonaggression pact with Hitler in order to divert German military might against the West. We have already seen that quite early in the Civil War, his trade representative David Kandelaki had initiated negotiations for an agreement with Germany but that these tentative efforts had been rebuffed by Hitler. In fact, it was not until after the overthrow of Juan Negrín on 6 March 1939, that Stalin finally gave up all hope of involving Britain and France in a war with Germany over the Spanish conflict and revived his plans for a compact with Hitler.   

At this stage it is important to anticipate the course of events in Spain and even to probe the diplomatic intrigues among the European powers beyond the close of the Spanish Civil War, in order fully to appreciate the perilous game being played and the real concerns of British policymakers during the war itself.            

In his report to the eighteenth congress of the Soviet Communist party on 10 March 1939, Stalin inveighed against Britain and France for encouraging Germany to embroil herself in a war with the Soviet Union, in which “they would appear on the scene with fresh strength . . . to dictate conditions to the enfeebled belligerents” precisely the role of arbiter that Stalin had reserved for the Soviet Union should the Spanish Civil War develop into a Western European conflict and for the first time he threw out the first open hint of his desire for a rapprochement with Germany. “Marshal Stalin in March 1939,” testified the former Reich foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, during his trial at Nuremberg, “delivered a speech in which he made certain hints of his desire to have better relations with Germany. I had submitted this speech to Adolf Hitler and asked him whether we should not try to find out whether this suggestion had something real behind it. Hitler was at first reluctant, but later on he became more receptive to this idea. Negotiations for a commercial treaty were under way, and during these negotiations, with the Führer’s permission, I took soundings in Moscow as to the possibility of a definite bridge between National Socialism and Bolshevism and whether the interests of the two countries could not at least be made to harmonize.”

The extremely cautious manner in which both sides broached the question of a political settlement from the time of Stalin’s speech, as revealed by documents found in the archives of the German foreign office, stemmed no doubt from the fact that each side feared that the other might use any concrete proposal for a political agreement to strengthen its own bargaining position vis-à-vis Britain and France. In fact, up to 30 May 1939, less than three months before the signing of the German-Soviet nonaggression pact (in August) and the Secret Protocol that touched off the German attack on Poland and World War II, these documents indicate that matters had not gone beyond vague soundings. On that date state secretary Weizsäcker wired the German embassy in Moscow: “Contrary to the policy previously planned we have now decided to undertake definite negotiations with the Soviet Union.”

Although Stalin did not open formal negotiations with Hitler until the middle of 1939, he was not backward during the Spanish Civil Warapart from the overtures made by Kandelakiin letting Hitler know that it would be to Germany’s advantage to have him as a partner rather than an enemy. This is borne out by the testimony of Alexander Orlov: “The fourth line of Soviet intelligence,” he wrote, “is so-called Misinformation. . . . Misinformation is not just lying for the sake of lying; it is expected to serve as a subtle means of inducing another government to do what the Kremlin wants it to do. . . . During the Spanish Civil War . . . the Misinformation desk was ordered to introduce into the channels of the German military intelligence service information that the Soviet planes fighting in Spain were not of the latest design and that Russia had in her arsenal thousands of newer planes, of the second and third generation, possessing much greater speed and a higher ceiling. This was not true. Russia had given Spain the best and the newest she had (though in insufficient quantities). This misleading information greatly impressed the German High Command. . . . Evidently, Stalin wanted to impress on Hitler that the Soviet Union was much stronger and better armed than he thought and that it would be wiser for Germany to have Russia as a partner rather than an opponent.”

Four months before the signing of the German-Soviet nonaggression pact in August, Walter Krivitsky claimed that Stalin’s foreign policy in the Western world was predicated upon a profound contempt for the “weakling” democratic nations and that his international policy had been a series of maneuvers whose sole purpose was to place him in a favorable position for a deal with Hitler. This is by no means certain, for Stalin could not rely entirely on a problematical agreement with Hitler on which to base his foreign policy. For this reason, he was careful to keep open his other option of collective security in the hope that the Western powers would eventually confront Hitler, whether in Spain or Czechoslovakia, and deflect German aggression away from Russia’s borders. It was because Stalin held open both these options that even after the loss of Catalonia in February 1939 he still hoped, as we shall see later, that Britain and France might reverse their policy of neutrality and instructed the Spanish politburo to continue the struggle in the fading expectation that the latent antagonisms in the West would finally burst into flame.

Anglo-French [non]-Intervention in the Spanish Civil War II

It would be false to convey the impression that only Stalin, Negrín, and the Spanish Communists placed their hopes of victory in the Civil War in the eventual outbreak of a European conflict, for these hopes were also entertained, as we have seen, by some leaders of the CNT. They were also entertained for some time by certain prominent Socialists. Referring to the occupation of the Basque provinces and Asturias by General Franco in the summer and autumn of 1937, Wenceslao Carrillo, a supporter of Largo Caballero and director general of security in his government, wrote: “Nevertheless, the hope of victory that the Communist party and the Negrín government held out to us, based on the possibility of world war, had not disappeared. Neither France nor England, they argued, can consent to an out-and-out triumph of fascism in Spain because that would put them in a critical position in the Mediterranean. As I am ready to tell the whole truth, I refuse to conceal the fact that, in the beginning, I too shared this belief. . . . But I did not think of profiting from war; nor was I in the service of interests other than those of my country.”

On the other hand, President Azaña, like Julián Besteiro, the right-wing Socialist, who hoped for a negotiated settlement, frowned on the prospect of a European conflict. In reply to Juan-Simeón Vidarte, a member of the Socialist executive and a Negrín supporter, Azaña once stated: “I already know that there is someone among you who believes that the just cause of the Republic would be saved by a world war. That war would be a catastrophe of inconceivable dimensions and it is not right for us to seek salvation in the martyrdom of millions of human beings. . . . I see that you are infected by the Negrín thesis. . . . Suppose that at the end of the war Communism were implanted in Western Europe just as it was implanted in Eastern Europe at the end of the last war. To the majority of Republicans and, I suppose, Socialists that solution would be repugnant.”       

If the hope that a general conflict would eventually erupt was disappointed, this was not because those who determined policy in Britain and France contemplated lightly the extension of Italo-German power in the Mediterranean; it was because the purview of their foreign policy went beyond the Spanish problem and embraced the whole of Europe. If Britain and France refused to challenge Germany in Spain; if, moreover, they sacrificed the independence of Austria and Czechoslovakia; if, finally, Neville Chamberlain, as will be seen shortly, secretly proposed before being outmaneuvered by the Hitler-Stalin pacta political settlement with Germany that would free Britain from her guarantee to Poland, it was because they knew that the frustration of German aims at this stage, even if it did not lead to war, would weaken the Nazi regime and enhance Russia’s influence on the continent. Above all, those who molded policy in Britain and France wished to avoid war in the West until Germany had weakened herself in the East. To have resisted Germany before she had blunted her teeth on Russian soil would have left the Soviet Union arbiter of the continent, infinitely more powerful than if she had to bear the main burden of the fighting.  

Of course, in the long run, Britain and France could no more have desired Germany to obtain a complete mastery over the greater part of Europe than they could Russia. They wished for the domination of neither. Of this, German leaders were supremely conscious. Hence, if, after the occupation of Poland, Germany invaded Belgium, France, and the Netherlands before attacking the Soviet Union, this was because the subjection of Western Europe and the control of its coastline were, in the German mind, indispensable prerequisites for war on the Soviet Union; for although Britain and France might encourage German ambitions in Eastern Europe, Germany could not feel certain that once she was involved in an exhausting struggle on Soviet soil, these powers would not attempt to restore the balance in their favor. Undoubtedly the conviction that Germany would attack the West before assailing Russia lay at the root of some of the opposition in Britain and France to the policy of giving Germany a free hand in Eastern Europe.

Although the direction of the German thrust seemed unmistakable, there is evidence that both the British and French leaders were not unmindful of the danger that appeasement might backfire and that Germany might march west instead of east. On 1 November 1938, one month after the Munich agreement, Lord Halifax, in a letter to Sir Eric Phipps, the British ambassador in Paris, outlined his thoughts: “Henceforward, we must count with German predominance in Central Europe. . . . In these conditions, it seems to me that Great Britain and France have to uphold their predominant position in Western Europe by the maintenance of such armed strength as would render any attack upon them hazardous. . . . It is one thing to allow German expansion in Central Europe, which to my mind is a normal and natural thing, but we must be able to resist German expansion in Western Europe or else our whole position is undermined.”              

The possibility that Germany might attack Western Europe before marching East was conveyed to Halifax by Sir G. Ogilvie-Forbes, the British chargé d’affaires in Berlin, in a dispatch dated 6 December 1938. There was a school of thought, he stated, that believed that “Herr Hitler will not risk a Russian adventure until he has made quite certain that his western flank will not be attacked while he is operating in the east, and that consequently his first task will be to liquidate France and England, before British rearmament is ready.” Equally disturbing was a report by William Strang, Halifax’s assistant undersecretary of state, dated 18 January 1939, in which he referred to “reports we have had of Hitler’s intention to attack in the West this Spring. . . . Germany cannot conduct a war on two fronts in present circumstances, and material conditions will make it easier for her to operate in the West than in the East.”

That French leaders were aware of the dangers is also evident. In a letter to French foreign minister Georges Bonnet on 19 March 1939, a few days after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, the French ambassador in Moscow, Robert Coulondre, stated that the Nazi leaders saw two ways open to them: “Either to proceed without intermission in the subjugation of east and south-east Europe” or to “attack France and Britain before these two Powers have, with American help, caught up with German armaments. . . . This second possibility is not at present the more probable. But we must reckon with the risk of seeing Germany engaged in such an undertaking.”              

The general assumption, however, after the occupation of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939 was that Hitler’s next move would be against Poland. But despite Chamberlain’s treaty guarantees to defend Polish independence guarantees hastily given under pressure from the parliamentary Opposition and the aroused state of British public opinion he did what he could to evade his commitments. This is clear from the meticulously documented study by the British historians Martín Gilbert and Richard Gott of British treaty obligations to Poland, of the subsequent efforts to wriggle out of them, and the eight-month “phoney” war, during which Chamberlain still hoped for an Anglo-German agreement that would avert war in Western Europe. It is also clear from the secret proposals that Sir Horace Wilson, his chief collaborator and adviser, made to Helmut Wohlthat, Hermann Goering’s emissary in London, in mid-July 1939, and the conversations a few days later between Wilson and Herbert von Dirksen, the German ambassador to London.     

These “back-stair negotiations,” as the British historian Sir Lewis Namier called them, in which the prime minister “unwisely engaged” without the knowledge of the Foreign Office, were the zenith of the appeasement policy. Wilson’s proposals were recorded by von Dirksen in a long memorandum written after the outbreak of war, which was found on his estate at Gröditzberg by the Soviet army, and also in a shorter “strictly secret” report dated 21 July 1939 drawn up at the time of his ambassadorship. The authenticity of the proposals is beyond doubt, not only because Dirksen later confirmed them in every important detail in a work published in London in 1951, but because Wohlthat himself refers to them in his report to Goering. Moreover, Wilson’s proposals (which quite naturally he concealed from the Foreign Office) have never been challenged by a single British historian. Although conveniently ignored by many historians (for example, William N. Medlicott, Robert Skidelsky, and Simon Newman) in their revisionist assessments of Chamberlain’s foreign policy, they have been accepted without question by others, notably, Ian Colvin, Sir Lewis Namier, and A. J. P. Taylor. Nevertheless, they have not been accorded the significance they deserve.        

While not directly related to the Spanish Civil War, the Dirksen memoranda shed more light than any other documents on the mainspring of appeasement to divert German aggression eastward and illustrate how far Chamberlain was prepared to go in order to reach a political settlement with Germany in order to preserve peace in Western Europe. Therefore they are particularly relevant to the Civil War since they demonstrate the futility of Stalin’s efforts to provoke a conflagration in Western Europe by involving Britain and France in the Spanish conflict and are the clearest proof of the inevitable failure of his attempts to influence Western governments by distorting the true nature of the revolution.

In the longer of the two documents, Dirksen testifies:         

When Herr [Helmut] Wohlthat [emissary of Goering] was in London for the whaling negotiations in July [1939], Wilson [Sir Horace Wilson] invited him for a talk, and, consulting prepared notes, outlined a program for a comprehensive adjustment of Anglo-German relations. . . . 

In the political sphere, a non-aggression pact was contemplated, in which aggression would be renounced in principle. The underlying purpose of this treaty was to make it possible for the British gradually to disembarrass themselves of their commitments towards Poland, on the ground that they had by this treaty secured Germany’s renunciation of methods of aggression. . . .             

The importance of Wilson’s proposals was demonstrated by the fact that Wilson invited Wohlthat to have them confirmed by Chamberlain personally, whose room was not far from Wilson’s. Wohlthat, however, declined this in order not to prejudice the unofficial character of his mission. . . .           

In order to avoid all publicity, I visited Wilson at his home on August 3 [one month before Hitler’s invasion of Poland] and we had a conversation which lasted nearly two hours. . . . Again Wilson affirmed, and in a clearer form than he had done to Wohlthat, that the conclusion of an Anglo-German entente would practically render Britain’s guarantee policy nugatory. Agreement with Germany would enable Britain to extricate herself from her predicament in regard to Poland on the ground that the non-aggression pact protected Poland from German attack; England would thus be relieved of her commitments. Then Poland, so to speak, would be left to face Germany alone.   

Sir Horace Wilson, on my insistence, also touched on the question of how the negotiations were to be conducted in face of the inflamed state of British public opinion [resulting from Hitler’s seizure of Czechoslovakia in March 1939]. . . . He admitted quite frankly that by taking this step Chamberlain was incurring a great risk and laying himself open to the danger of a fall. But with skill and strict secrecy, the reefs could be avoided. . . .         

The tragic and paramount thing about the rise of the new Anglo-German war was that Germany demanded an equal place with Britain as a world power and that Britain was in principle prepared to concede. But whereas Germany demanded immediate, complete and unequivocal satisfaction of her demand, Britain although she was ready to renounce her eastern commitments, and there with her encirclement policy, as well as to allow Germany a predominant position in east and south-east Europe and to discuss genuine world political partnership with Germany wanted this to be done only by way of negotiation and a gradual revision of British policy. This change could be effected in a period of months, but not of days or weeks. 

A. J. P. Taylor, one of the few British historians who have ventured to mention Sir Horace Wilson’s proposals, writes: “Wilson produced a memorandum on 10 Downing Street notepaper, which, not surprisingly, has disappeared from the British records. This proposed an Anglo-German treaty of non-aggression and non-interference. . . . A pact of this kind ‘would enable Britain to rid herself of her commitments vis-à-vis Poland.’ . . . [It] is inconceivable that these proposals were made without Chamberlain’s knowledge or approval.”         

Although Wilson’s proposals met with no response in Berlin and were “simply thrown into the wastepaper basket,” as von Dirksen put it, undoubtedly because Hitler, impatient to dispose of the Polish problem before the onset of winter, favored a pact with Stalin that offered immediate territorial gains rather than a pact with Britain that would have required a long period of uncertain negotiations in view of the inflamed state of British opinion they were the culminating effort, the final desperate gamble of the British government to direct Germany’s course away from Western Europe.    

Oddly enough, A. J. P. Taylor questions whether the British and French governments intended that Nazi Germany should destroy the “Bolshevik menace.” “This was the Soviet suspicion, both at the time and later. There is little evidence of it in the official record, or even outside it. British and French statesmen were far too distracted by the German problem to consider what would happen when Germany had become the dominant Power in Eastern Europe. Of course they preferred that Germany should march east not west, if she marched at all. But their object was to prevent war, not to prepare one; and they sincerely believed at any rate Chamberlain believed that Hitler would be content and pacific if his claims were met.” If this be so, then the policy of the British government of encouraging German rearmament from the beginning of 1935, of conniving at the German reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936, of forcing Czechoslovakia to submit to German demands in 1938, and of secretly attempting to negotiate a settlement with Germany at the expense of Poland in July 1939, makes positively no sense and becomes a succession of moronic moves in the perilous diplomatic game being played by Britain and Russia in the prewar years. It is impossible to believe that there was no strategic thinking behind Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement and that he did not take into account what might happen once Germany became predominant in Eastern Europe and established a common border with Russia. 

The British military expert Liddell Hart acknowledges in his History of the Second World War with reference to the strategic situation after the German invasion of Poland that “the best hope [of Britain and France] now that Germany and Russia faced each other on a common border, was that friction would develop between these two mutually distrustful confederates and draw Hitler’s explosive force eastward, instead of westward.” Although Liddell Hart does not relate this hope to any prewar strategy, it is unimaginable, given the massive evidence presented, that British and French leaders long before the outbreak of World War II “were far too distracted by the German problem [as A. J. P. Taylor puts it] to consider what would happen when Germany had become the dominant Power in Eastern Europe” and a common border between Germany and the Soviet Union had been established.           

Of course it would be idle to suggest that in the prewar years British leaders in pursuit of their policy of appeasement were not influenced to some degree by other considerations than the fear that a Western European conflagration would redound to Russia’s benefit. Among these considerations, according to the earl of Birkenhead, were the conclusions of the chiefs of staff in their report to the Committee of Imperial Defense in the late summer of 1938 that Great Britain was not ready for war and that she could not fight a war on three fronts German, Italian, and Japanese without powerful allies. “[Chamberlain and Halifax],” Lord Birkenhead affirms, “were apprehensive of the situation in the Far East, of what action Japan might take there if Great Britain became involved in a war with Germany in the West; and they were at all times uneasily conscious of America’s neutrality and of the unpalatable fact that no help could be looked for from that quarter in case of trouble. The British Government was also alarmed about the attitude of the Dominions to involvement in war. South Africa had decided to remain neutral, should it come; the Australian Labour Party were against intervention and there was grave doubt whether [Prime Minister] Mackenzie King could bring the Canadian people into war.” Furthermore, the British historian Charles L. Mowat states that since World War I the policy of the dominions had been one of no commitments “and certainly they were not going to be bound by Britain’s commitments. . . . [They] naturally opposed involvement in war and rejoiced that appeasement was keeping the threat of war at a distance.” But all these considerations, although used by various historians to explain the policy of appeasement, pale before the single most important consideration: the deep-rooted fear of Russia.      

That the wells of appeasement lay in this fear of Russia, in the conviction that Nazi Germany was a barrier against the spread of Communism, and that a war in Western Europe could only benefit the Soviet Union by extending her power and influence has been amply demonstrated in this and other chapters. But these cardinal elements in the policy of appeasement have been underrated or almost totally ignored by the British historical establishment.     

There are two reasons for this failure by British historians to come to terms with their country’s diplomatic past. Firstly, there is the accepted tradition not to attribute to their government Machiavellian designs against a foreign power. Hence, no matter how patriotic or realistic Chamberlain and his supporters may have felt themselves to be in attempting to spare Western Europe the ravages of war and revolution, they should not be accused of conspiring to pit one totalitarian power against the other. “Of course,” writes Robert Skidelsky, the British neorevisionist historian, “there were a number of groups in Britain who . . . advocated the bargain that Hitler must always have hoped for ‘a German deal with the British Empire at the expense of the Soviet Union.’ But such cynicism (or realism) was foreign to the British Establishment.” Secondly, because of the ideological divide between East and West, no establishment historian (despite Stalin’s own Machiavellian aims) wishes to play into the hands of the Soviet Union by acknowledging Britain’s share of responsibility for the rebirth of German militarism and the calamity of the Second World War.        

This failure to expose the main roots of appeasement is unfortunate not only for the historiography of this crucial period in world history, but for those seeking a true understanding of the Spanish Civil War and Revolution and of the reason why Stalin’s democratic camouflage in Spain was doomed to failure.

Aleksander Rodimstev

General Rodimtsev pictured with soldiers from his division. Stalingrad, September 26, 1942.

Soviet general Alexander Rodimtsev’s 13th Guards Division held a shrinking promontory of land in central Stalingrad, and as the Germans pushed along the Volga its position began to splinter. Wehrmacht troops flooded Rodimtsev’s HQ, located in a conduit pipe in the Volga embankment, and brought up their machine gunners to finish him off But Rodimtsev rallied his troops and repulsed the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting. At the end of the day, the 13th Guards were still holding on to the river embankment.

The Red Army had sustained massive casualties. Its losses on the entire Stalingrad front from July to November 1942- those classified as killed, taken prisoner or missing in action – amounted to 324,000 out of a total of 547,000 soldiers. The rate of attrition within the city was even worse. General Alexander Rodimtsev’s 10,000-strong 13th Guards Division suffered 30 per cent casualties in its first day of combat and 80 per cent by the end of its first week in Stalingrad. At the conclusion of the battle only 320 men were left. Yet the survivors found the will to carry on resisting – and fought with stupendous power.

‘All of us were on the same level,’ said Mark Slavin. ‘The commanders mingled with their men, ate with them, swapped jokes and even chopped wood with them. Everyone counted. We had no space to manoeuvre and the German bombardment was relentless, but we were determined to hold on to that narrow strip of land.’

When the battle of Stalingrad began, Vasily Chuikov had yet to make a name for himself. This was in contrast to the lower-ranking and five-year-younger Alexander Rodimtsev, who was already a highly decorated war hero. Like Chuikov, Rodimtsev stemmed from a peasant family and a childhood shaped by poverty before entering the Red Army at the age of twenty-two and joining the party two years later. Rodimtsev followed an officer’s career path and rose quickly through the ranks. In 1936 he was sent to train the International Brigades in Spain. Under his command, the troops scored multiple victories over fascist forces, though he was unable to prevent the collapse of the Spanish Republic and the rise of Franco. On returning from Spain, Rodimtsev received the title Hero of the Soviet Union, the highest distinction in the Soviet Union.

In 1939 Rodimtsev delivered the welcoming address at the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist party. (That a thirty-four-year-old colonel was selected to give this talk testifies to the large swath that Stalin’s purges had cleared among the generals in the previous two years.) In September 1939 Rodimtsev took part in the Soviet invasion of Poland and then in the Winter War in Finland. In the war against Germany he commanded an airborne brigade that broke free from a Wehrmacht encirclement near Kiev. In November 1941 the brigade was expanded into the 87th Rifle Division and received Guards status in January 1942, becoming the 13th Guards Rifle Division.

On September 9, 1942, the division was removed from reserve status and arrived at the Stalingrad Front on September 14. The first battalions of the 10,000-man division crossed the Volga late on the 14th and early on the 15th. They became embroiled in fighting with the Germans as soon as they reached the western banks. By the end of the next week Vasily Grossman had written an article on the 13th Guards Division in Stalingrad. The battle would decide “the fate of the world” and answer the “question of all questions.” Grossman portrayed Rodimtsev, since promoted to major general, as the battle’s linchpin: “Temperament, strong will, composure, quick reaction, the ability to advance when no one else would even dream of an attack, tactical experience and caution combined with tactical and personal fearlessness-these are the traits of a young general’s military character. And the general’s character became the char- acter of his division.” Grossman asked Rodimtsev whether “he was exhausted by the round-the-clock tension of combat, the round-the-clock thunder of the hundreds of German attacks that had taken place last day, last night, and would continue tomorrow. `I am calm,’ he said, `this is the way it has to be. I have probably seen it all: how my command post was pounded by a German tank and then a German machine gunner threw in a grenade just to be sure. I threw it out. So here I am, fighting, and will go on fighting till the last hour of the war.’ He said it calmly, in a low voice. Then he began asking about Moscow. We actually talked about the current theater season.”

Just as Grossman described him, Rodimtsev shows restraint in his interview with the Moscow historians (unlike the hot-tempered Chuikov). He talks cautiously and primarily keeps to the events of the battle, spending most of his time on the September attempt to take Mamayev Kurgan and the storming of the German-fortified “L-shaped house” in early December. Rodimtsev emphasizes the importance of the careful planning and coordination between his regiments for their success and stresses his own military skill. He makes no secret of the heavy losses sustained by his division. By early October, over four thousand men were dead or injured. He mentions that when he ordered the storming of the L-shaped house some of his soldiers-all Uzbeks, he notes-remained on the ground and afterward were shot for their cowardice.

Rodimtsev does not address the defense of the so-called Pavlov House. Only years later did Soviet politicians hype this episode as a grand story of the spirit of Soviet internationalism. Led by Sergeant Yakov Pavlov and Lieutenant Ivan Afanassyev, two dozen Red Army soldiers entrenched themselves in a four-story residential building set off from the street. The soldiers represented up to eleven different Soviet ethnic groups (the ac- counts vary)-Russians, Belarusians, Ukrainians, Uzbeks, Kalmyks, and others. For almost two months they staved off the German onslaught before troops from the Soviet counteroffensive came to their aid on November 24. In his memoir, published in 1969, Rodimtsev devoted an entire chapter to the Pavlov House; the storming of the L-shaped house received only two pages. The memoir vaunts the soldiers’ heroism and the harmonious relations and omits the violence among the ranks and the losses they sustained in combat.

After Stalingrad the 13th Guards Division fought ceaselessly. As before, the division had the task of building bridgeheads, first crossing the Dnieper, then the Vistula, the Oder, and the Neisse. After traversing the Oder in January 1945, Rodimtsev (by then a lieutenant general) was honored as Hero of the Soviet Union for the second time. After the war he worked as a general inspector of Soviet forces and was elected deputy of the Supreme Soviet. Rodimtsev died in Moscow in 1977. Today his daughter Natalya directs a school museum in Moscow devoted to the Great Patriotic War.

Soviet-German Cooperation

Chancellor of Germany Joseph Wirth (2.from left) with Krassin, Georgi Chicherin and Joffe from the Russian delegation.

The Rapallo Accord

In April 1922, long before Hitler and the Nazis, another treaty was signed between the Soviet Union and the Weimar Republic in which both countries gave up any territorial and financial claims against each other. The treaty also contained several secret clauses that dealt with cooperation in the fields of armor, military aviation, and gas warfare. Both countries were to benefit from this arrangement. Germany had the capability to develop these fields on its own, but it was impossible to do this in Germany itself, under the nose of the observant Versailles Treaty’s overseeing committee. The Soviet Union was remote enough for this purpose, and anyway there were no foreign forces on its land to report what really went on. Among other things, German engineers worked in the Soviet Union and the two armies exercised together.

This cooperation lasted for about ten years, and in spite of the obvious differences in their ways of thinking and approaches to problem solving, both sides gained handsomely. German engineers, military officers, and pilots spent time in the Soviet Union designing advanced weapons and trying them in the field. The Soviets got modern technology and the opportunity to cooperate with a technological power with a tradition of excellence. The gas warfare work was stopped after a short time, but the cooperation in armor and aviation continued until Hitler came to power.

The work with the Germans solved for the Soviets the problem of technologically catching up. They also examined successful designs abroad and in 1928 bought two experimental tank hulls from Walter Christie, an American engineer.

Christie, a prolific inventor, developed a suspension system for tanks that was revolutionary at the time. It contained large wheels on which the tank could move at high speed on favorable terrain. When necessary, for travel in the field, tracks could be mounted on the wheels. Although the U.S. Army considered his designs and bought some prototypes, these were never put into mass production. Christie then turned to foreign governments, and finally a deal was consummated with the Soviet Union, which started an accelerated program of tank development of its own. In 1938, they also started using diesel engines of local design in their tanks.

In the twenties and thirties, tank warfare theory made great strides in the Soviet Union. Soviet military literature discussed at length the required characteristics of modern tanks, which have not changed even today—protection, firepower, and mobility—and the Soviets applied the conclusions from these discussions to the establishment of a large armored force. From 1928 till 1935, the number of tanks in the Soviet Union grew from ninety to ten thousand.

The Spanish Civil War and the Soviet Visit to Berlin

In 1933, Hitler unilaterally abrogated the Versailles Treaty, and Germany started rearming. During the Spanish Civil War, the Western Powers imposed an embargo of weapons, which affected only the republican government, but the Italians and Germans supported Franco and did not care who knew about it. The Italians sent a large force of “volunteers,” and Germany sent tanks, instructors, and most importantly, the Condor Legion. This was a force of pilots and technicians, and of course a variety of aircraft, for which Spain served as a large, real-life training field and proving ground for the machines, the people, and the operational theories. Since the communists in Spain participated in the republican government, Stalin decided to aid them and sent fighter aircraft, various types of equipment, and instructors. Included were about fifty Soviet-developed tanks, and it quickly became apparent that the pupils had surpassed their teachers. At that time, the Soviets had not yet made up their minds whether tanks should support infantry, like in World War I, or serve as an independent striking force, which advanced thinkers were advocating (and the Germans later adopted). But one thing was clear: on the whole, the Soviet tanks were better than the German ones they faced. This did not prevent Franco from winning, but that happened mostly because of the ineptitude of the republican government and its military commanders.

When the Spanish Civil War ended, everybody tried to understand the lessons it provided. World War II started shortly afterward, and the conquest of Poland and the fall of France gave birth to a new term: Blitzkrieg. But it was also discovered that French tanks were better than German ones. True, German tank commanders knew better how to use the tools at their disposal, but the German ordnance engineers and tank designers were very conservative, both in the design of the tanks themselves and in the design of the tanks’ main armament.

After the failure of the Luftwaffe to beat the RAF, Hitler turned to the Soviet Union, which anyway was on his plan of conquests. The invasion was to start in the spring of 1941 but was postponed a little because of Hitler’s decision to teach Yugoslavia a lesson after they refused to join the Axis Powers.

In April 1941, two months before the intended Soviet invasion, for which the Wehrmacht was industriously preparing, Hitler directed the senior German officers to invite two foreign delegations of armor specialists, one American and one Soviet, to Berlin to show them everything about German armor. This invitation was probably a ruse, hatched by German intelligence, to see foreign reaction to the might of German armor, which the Germans truly believed was the best in the world (Guderian 1961, 119; L. Kirkpatrick 1987, 63–64; Suvorov 2004, 220–221).

The American delegation came first, and as expected, they were astounded by German capabilities in armor. The Soviet delegation, which came after the Americans, was also shown everything: armor training facilities, equipment, production plants, and so on.

It is possible that the Germans had another reason for this invitation. The Red Army had not yet recuperated from its recent purges. The Soviet invasion of Finland (the Winter War, November 1939 to March 1940), which had ended recently, had also brought to the fore the less-than-sterling performance of the Red Army. Admittedly, the Finns asked for the ceasefire and lost some territory, but they retained their independence. It is possible that Hitler thought these officers, most of them new to their jobs, would be impressed by the might of the German army and upon their return spread some defeatism in the ranks.

The visit ran its course, but the Germans were disappointed. Unlike the Americans, the Soviet officers were not impressed by what they saw. They refused to believe that the Panzer III and the Panzer IV were the most advanced German tanks. They were already familiar with the Panzer III (they received several examples as part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty) and thought it to be ornate, too comfortable, and most importantly, inferior to their own T-34 (which the Germans knew nothing about) in all three important parameters—protection, firepower, and mobility. They of course did not say that much to their hosts but asked that this “junk” be removed and, as per Hitler’s directive, be shown the really advanced tanks. Furthermore, from the astute questions the Soviets asked, their hosts—SS General Walter Schellenberg (head of SS Foreign Intelligence and probably the one who came up with the idea of inviting the delegations), the German ordnance people, and the manufacturers’ representatives—concluded that the Soviets must have had something better up their sleeves. But these suspicions stopped there and never got down to the German intelligence apparatus, and, worse, not to the operational branches.

German intelligence failed too. The lessons of the cooperation with the Weimar Republic were still remembered, and the lessons of fighting in Spain and the excellent qualities of the Soviet tanks (though in contrast with their conservative use) were also known to the Germans. Furthermore, the Soviets developed at that time an amphibious tank and had shown it around (Suvorov 2004, 221). All these facts should have drawn attention to Soviet capabilities, or were they all so blinded by the “subhuman” rhetoric of the Nazi leadership.

A KV-1 and a T-34 tanks.

The Development of the T-34

Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, and pretty soon it became clear what the Soviets knew about tank design. The T-34 was developed between 1936 and 1940 and had its baptism by fire at the end of July 1941. The Germans, who became used to the mediocre (by then) capabilities of the Soviet tanks (the T-26, T-28, and BT), were confronted with a new tank and were stunned by it (Guderian 1961, 179; McCarthy and Syron 2002, 124–25)

German tank shells simply ricocheted off its armor, but the T-34’s gun was able to penetrate the frontal armor of German tanks even at longer ranges, and its wide tracks enabled travel in mud and later in snow. Admittedly, its tactical employment in combat was poorly managed, there was a lack of ammunition for its main armament, and many of the crewmen were not adequately trained, but the tank itself was better than any German tank, and its sudden appearance caused shock and even spread panic. Even in November, four months after its debut, the Germans were still at their wits’ end (Guderian 1961, 190).

This raises another question: Is it possible that the information on the appearance of the T-34 was not properly distributed to everyone who might run into it, and for four long months nobody considered the question of how to tackle the new threat? This affair points to difficulties in the German intelligence service, but this time not on the strategic but on the tactical level. Just the revelation of a new and efficient threat should have spread like a wildfire.

The Germans entered the war in the east with full confidence that the quality of their equipment would compensate for the admittedly numerical superiority of the Red Army. How did it happen that the Soviets developed a good tank, one that was better than standard German equipment?

Already during the war in Spain, the Soviets started working on a new tank. The design was upgraded as a result of lessons from that war and of the very harsh lessons from the Winter War against Finland, particularly with regard to tank vulnerability. In that war, the Soviets lost 1,600 tanks in less than four months. The initial design, dictated from above, still combined Christie-style road wheels on which tracks could be mounted when necessary. The tank was powered by a diesel engine and armed with a 76-millimeter gun. Michael Kushkin, the chief designer, proposed that the ability to move without tracks be eliminated and the saved weight go to improving armor protection. Stalin, who was personally involved in the T-34 project, agreed, and here the T-34, in its final version, was born. The first two prototypes were ready in January 1940 and sent, in midwinter, on a two-thousand-mile trip for testing. Both tanks accomplished the journey, production blueprints were completed, and serial production commenced in September 1940 (Hughes and Mann 1999, 35–36).

It is interesting to note several other failures of German intelligence. By April 1940, the existence of the T-34 and its outstanding qualities (and of the heavier KV-1 tank) were common knowledge among the senior officers of the Red Army. In sessions discussing the failures of the Winter War, presided over by Stalin himself, many officers expressed their wish to receive the T-34 as soon as possible. Dmitri Pavlov, at the time chief of the Red Army Directorate of Yank and Armored Car Troops, answered them, “As for the new makes, I deem it my duty to warn comrade commanders: do not flood the People’s Commissariat and Comrade Stalin with telegrams. Give us, in Moscow, a chance to deal with organizational matters in a proper way. In practice it often happens that as soon as people hear about a new machine they immediately start saying that the old machines are no good. They say: Give us T-34s or KVs, they alone suit our theatre, others do not suit” (Kulkov and Rzheshevsky 2002, 261). Initiating the production of a new tank is a large project by any means. The only explanation for the German intelligence failure, illogical as it seems, was that, more than a year before the coming campaign, they were not interested in or failed to gather information about what the intended enemy was doing.

As mentioned above, the Germans were astonished by the appearance of the T-34.[31] This leads to the inescapable conclusion that they expected to meet the same tank types they saw in Spain. Based on this assumption, they were sure that the quality of their tanks would compensate for the quantities of Soviet tanks. The number cited for Soviet tanks before the war was ten thousand (Kahn 1978, 457). But here we also run into a problem of arithmetic. Guderian (1961, 119) writes that in 1933, he visited a Soviet tank factory that was producing twenty-two tanks a day. Even if we consider obsolescence and accidents, we are still talking about some twenty thousand Soviet tanks in 1941, and later estimates do in fact go up to twenty-four thousand Soviet tanks at the beginning of the war (Kahn 1978, 458). The Germans also failed to discover that by 1940 the Soviets were producing a diesel powered tank (BT-7M) and were showing a growing interest in heavier guns as the main armament for tanks. As shown time and again, the German approach to intelligence in general, and to technological intelligence in particular, was less than successful and bordered on amateur.

To what extent German technological intelligence was disorganized can be understood from the following example: In the beginning of the war, they tended to confuse the T-34 (a medium tank) and the KV-1 (a heavy one). They eventually realized that these were two different tanks. But when intelligence identified these tanks in a certain sector of the front, they did not bother to inform adjacent sectors of the new threat and left it up to them to find this out on their own (Handel 1989, 137).

Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker’

A Su-27 ‘Flanker-B’ of the 582nd Fighter Aviation Regiment, part of the Soviet 4th Air Army based at Chojna, Poland, in 1990. In the same year this unit withdrew its 32 Su-27s from Poland and relocated to Smolensk, Russia, where it disbanded in 1992.

Sukhoi’s Su-27 family represents the most potent fighter/attack aircraft in the Russian inventory, equipping several branches of the Russian military.

MiG-29 and Su-27 Backstory

In about 1969 all three of the Soviet Union’s Fighter Design Bureaux began to look at ideas for a fourth-generation fighter. Part of the work involved analysing the operational experience of current types in various regional conflicts so that the design teams might be able to give their new aircraft enhanced capabilities. Much of this effort was stimulated by the appearance of the American F-X fighter programme, which brought forth the McDonnell-Douglas F-l5. The Soviets monitored the progress of this programme very closely because their response would have to be more than a match for the American aircraft, an immensely difficult objective to achieve.

In 1971 TsNIl-30, a division of the Soviet Ministry of Defence, issued the first General Operational Requirement for a fourth-generation fighter, which tentatively was designated PFI (perspektiunyy frontovoy istrebeetel or advanced tactical fighter). The aircraft’s primary tasks would be to deal with enemy fighters in close-in combat using new short-range AAMs or an internal gun, or to intercept aerial targets at more distant ranges and destroy them with new medium-range AAMs; the latter would be achieved either by using the aircraft’s own ‘look-down/shootdown’ radar or with guidance from ground control stations. The aircraft would also undertake other duties, such as ground attack, and compared to previous types it would be more agile and manoeuvrable and carry a set of all-new avionics. Maximum speed had to be at least 1,400km/h (870mph) at sea level and 2,500km/h (1,554mph) at 11,000m (36,089ft) and the maximum Mach number was to fall between 2.35 and 2.5. Sea level rate of climb had to be at least 300m/sec (984ft/sec), service ceiling 21,000m (68,898ft), maximum range without drop tanks 1,000km (622 miles) at sea level and 2,500km (1,554 miles) at height, and the takeoff thrust-to-weight ratio had to be between 1.1 and 1.2.

In 1972, after having revised the Operational Requirements, the WS issued a request for proposals for new fighters. Mikoyan submitted two versions of its MiG-29 project, Sukhoi’s entries were the T10-1 and T10-2 projects and Yakovlev entered the Yak-451 light lighter and the Yak-47 heavy fighter. These designs and their background are described below and the outcome was to be a mix of light and heavy fighters for the Soviet Air Force. The seeds for this result came from some references made in 1971 by the Government’s research establishments, which stated that the fighter fleet planned for the 1980s should be based on two types, one heavy and one light. This move followed American practice where it was becoming clear that the US Air Force’s heavy F-15 Eagle would be complemented by a new lightweight fighter in a competition eventually won by the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.

Sukhoi began work on its T-10 design in 1969 with the aim of creating a highly agile fighter that possessed a very long range, heavy armament and sophisticated sensors. In order to maximize manoeuvrability, the fighter was planned from the start to be unstable, and therefore required a fly-by-wire (FBW) control system. The first prototype of the T-10 took to the air in May 1977 and received the NATO reporting name ‘Flanker-A’. However, in its initial form the four original T-10 prototypes displayed a number of serious deficiencies and the aircraft required a wholesale redesign, re-emerging as the radically reworked T-10S-1 of 1981.

The T-10S entered series production in 1982, and received the in-service designation Su-27 (NATO ‘Flanker-B’). Service entry followed in 1984 and the single-seater was joined by the Su-27UB (NATO ‘Flanker-C’) fully combat-capable two-seater that first flew in 1985. By the end of the Cold War, a total of just over 400 Su-27s of both versions were in Soviet service.

As in the 1950s, Sukhoi was assigned the bigger aircraft. The T-10-1 prototype flew before the first MiG, on 20 May 1977. Powered by AL-21F-3 engines, almost identical to those of later Tu-128s, it was impressive, but as testing of later T-10s progressed they ran into severe and sometimes fatal problems. Some redesign was necessary, and General Designer Simonov told the author, ‘In the end, we managed to retain the main wheels and ejection seat’ (he was not really joking). What followed, starting with the T-10S, became the Su-27, perhaps the most beautiful, and certainly most impressive, fighter ever built. When it appeared, Western analysts predictably wrote things like, ‘A cross between the F-15 and F/A-18’. Simonov said, ‘You can’t win if you just copy.’ Once Western pilots were allowed to fly the Su-27 one heard comments like ‘What an airplane! If only I could afford to buy one.’ Most production versions have the outstanding AL-31F engine, which among other things can tolerate having its inlet rotate nose-up through up to 135° in what is called the Cobra manoeuvre (which no Western fighter has yet been able to do). Later Su-27 versions, including the Su-30, 33, 35 and 37 (note, not the S-37), have later engine versions, some of which have a fully vectoring engine nozzle, and in many cases canard foreplanes. Virtually all production today is for export, though small numbers of naval and land-based bomber versions have been delivered, and advanced variants are being produced under licence in China and India.

After the collapse of the USSR, ‘Flankers’ were passed on to successor states, and Russia began an export drive for the fighter. First of the export models was the baseline Su-27SK developed for China, basically similar to the ‘Flanker-B’, but with additional air-to-ground capabilities. China also received a ‘Flanker-C’ equivalent, the Su-27UBK. After around 80 Russian-built Su-27SK/UBKs were delivered, China launched licensed production of 95 additional single-seat ‘Flankers’ (designated as J-11).

Vietnam was the second customer, ordering a first batch of six ‘Flankers’ (including one two-seater), and a second batch of two Su-27SKs and four Su-27UBKs. Ethiopia purchased second-hand ex-Russian ‘Flanker-B/ Cs’, while Indonesian acquired two Su-27SKs and three of the improved Su-27SKM single-seater (the latter equivalent to the Su-27SM described later). ‘Flanker-B/C’ exports also included ex-Ukrainian aircraft sold to Eritrea and Ethiopia, while Angola received two ‘Flankers’ from an unknown source, likely Belarus.

While not modular in the hardware sense, the Russian Sukhoi Bureau has come very close to producing an array of types from its baseline T-10. There is the vanilla Su-27 Flanker air superiority fighter and Su-27UB twin-seat trainer stablemate (with full operational capability). The Su-27P single- seater and Su-30 (formerly the Su-27PU) twin-seater are optimized for strategic interception duties and embody extensive data-links for intercommunication and long-range missile guidance. The Su-30M is the basic fighter with added provisions for ground attack. The Su-33 (formerly Su-27K) is the navalized version. The side-by-side seat Su-34 is an advanced strike model (formerly Su-27IB). Probably far from being the definitive version is the canard, digital avionics- equipped Su-35! SEAD radar-smashing, plus Elint and E-0 reconnaissance versions are also being evolved, all from a common set of blueprints, and pushed aggressively by Mikhail Simonov, Sukhoi’s general designer.

The Flanker, represented a quantum leap in technology as well as performance. In particular, the Su-27’s pair of Saturn-Lyulka AL-31F engines are rated at a combined total thrust of 55,125 Ib, making it the hottest twin-engined operational fighter in the world in terms of raw thrust to weight performance. The engines of the Su-33 (formerly Su-27K), the navalized version, are 12-15 per cent more powerful yet. Most significantly, the powerplants can accumulate 2,000-2,500 tactical cycles (each representing the full range of metal-grinding throttle settings normally encountered in an average air combat sortie) between hot-section inspections. In contrast to this, in the West, the latest F100-PW-229 and GE Fll0-100 engines powering the Fighting Falcon and Eagle have been plagued by fourth-stage turbine blade cracks and turbine seal problems. These have caused engine failures after only 200 tactical cycles, and the loss of several aircraft.

‘Hammer and nail’ engine technology has in this instance been superseded by advanced materials technology akin to that available in North America: powder metallurgy. Atomized molten metal is super- frozen into powdery crystals, then bound together and tempered in moulds under intense heat and pressure. The technology was pioneered by Pratt & Whitney, along with ceramic-coated ‘Gatorizing’. Powder metallurgy offers incredible uniformity for highly stressed components such as engine turbine blades, which are twin heat-treated to produce a fine grain, massively strong bore and a coarser-grained rim optimized for greater tolerance to damage.

While Pratt & Whitney are ahead in the game, and are developing even more sophisticated metal matrix composites using carbon fibre reinforcement in a titanium matrix for engine parts for application to the F-22A Rapier’s F119 powerplants, the technology is only just maturing. The latest Russian engines can suffer massive abuse by being speedily throttled up and down. Fast throttling was a feature previously unavailable to Eastern Bloc aircraft which required more gentle persuasion. Many early Fulcrums required new engines after only 1,400 flying hours, as well as regular overhauls at 250-hour intervals. Russian titanium forging for engine bay housings and airframe structural members has also long since surpassed contemporary Western technology. Moving engine production to specialist development factories appears to have paid off in terms of quality control too in recent years.

All of this has produced fighters equipped with powerplants offering phenomenal performance, yet with the durability that was seldom a hallmark of past, cruder design and fabrication methods. Traditional hydromechanical engine controls have similarly been replaced with a DEECS/FADECS-class system, controlling fuel flow and trim digitally. Supercruise (acceleration to supersonic speed and sustained supersonic flight without afterburner engaged) was just possible in the Flanker (given its massive fuel reserves). This was long before Lockheed’s YF-22 and the competing Northrop-McDonnell Douglas YF- 23 battled it out in the skies over California for Full- Scale Development Advanced Tactical Fighter contracts during 1990. But that the Flanker is far from the Mach 1.5-1.6 mil power maximum cruise climb class offered by the new American warplane, and the latest Mikoyan ‘MiG 1.42’ will lag behind a tad. Yet these concepts are flying off the computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM)) drawing boards and some are already reaching operational service. Surprisingly, nobody really took notice of the CIS hardware much before the pioneering production variants began to appear in large numbers, and then they mostly assumed that they were time-lag copies of the Hornet and Eagle.

The shock wave hit home when the Mikoyan, then subsequently the Sukhoi OKB, showed their wares off at Paris and Farnborough. The crowds were thrilled by amazing tail slides and Cobra manoeuvres which clearly demonstrated the new fighters’ incredible agility, throat-choking engine relights at low-level, and their massive stability at high-AoA. (AoA is usually measured as an index rather than in degrees. It reflects the angular difference between the wings relative to forward motion. The higher the AoA capability, the more forgiving and manoeuvrable is the fighter, it is argued.) The only Western fighters capable of hinting at such antics, apart from the much- delayed F-22A Rapier, are specialized research aircraft or heavily-modified Hornet stock. This gave rise to much balking about the validity of such Russian manoeuvres, probably rooted in not-invented- here petty jealousies.

In aerial combat, the nose-up Cobra and Pugachev’s new Hook (similar, but conducted in the horizontal axis at 90° of bank while pulling 9 #!), in particular, can quickly nullify Doppler radar returns, causing AWACS and air intercept radars to hiccup. Although these antics massively burn up energy and thus may place the aircraft at a severe disadvantage in impending close-quarters air-to-air combat, in the LRI scenario in the counter-AWACS role, they might prove lethal. Of course, such a disadvantage does not necessarily follow. If both combatants have bled off a great deal of energy and are tumbling over each other, struggling for advantage in a horizontal or vertical spiralling barrel roll or scissors motions, the wide FoV of the Russian fighters’ armaments can be brought to bear quickly and decisively in ACM, as we shall discuss shortly.

One tactic Russian pilots used to practise was that of approaching a simulated AWACS and its HavCAP protective Flight at high speed in a couple of closely- welded Para or two-ship Flights. Each wingman was placed 5 ft to the right and 70 ft behind his leader (‘close enough to follow my visual signals but clear of my turbulent engine exhaust and wing vortices’, as one former pilot described it). While still beyond the point where raid assessment signal processing techniques might be used by the defenders to resolve the two acquired tags into four aircraft, the two leaders signal a break the moment just after AWACS or a fighter PD radar lit up their coloured SPO-15 Beryoza RWR systems at full intensity. These then fling themselves out in Doppler-negating Split-S, Cobra or Hook antics, before diving down to low-level, building up energy reserves once more in the process.

Meanwhile the two decoys maintain their headings so as to keep the AWACS computers thinking all was in order, before they, too, ‘knocked it off and withdraw. This introduces some complacency into the minds of the AWACS operators. During these few precious seconds the two snipers close in for the kill at low-level. By the time the AWACS or its minions acquire them and before fighters can be vectored into a firing position, the two swooping snipers close, lock- on passively and launch up to four air-to-air rotordome-homing ARMs (believed to be aerial adaptations of the ramjet-powered Kh-31P ARM), or the first volley from up to a dozen KS. 172 long- ranged AAMs. These go right through the defending HavCap, aimed straight at AWACS, kicking the proverbial wasp’s nest and turning it into a frenzied but uncoordinated communications morass with Flights getting inadequate JTIDS picture calls.

Western pilots have become so dependent on AWACS that this scenario would cause them considerable confusion. It is important to note that Eastern European AAM missile technology – what the Russians refer to as rockets – includes much bizarre hardware optimized for specialist use by highly skilled sniper pilots, including devices designed to pick up the Doppler effect created by swirling helicopter rotor blades. Thus, they can take out low-level SEAD pathfinders, medium-altitude AWACS, and bombers too by means of home-on-jam techniques. AWACS-killing technology, in particular, is very sophisticated. It allows launch-and-leave at extreme range: 60 miles unassisted, and double that with boosters which offer massively increased burn- out speeds, making the rockets tough to intercept before they unleash their deadly cargoes.

Specification (Su-27 `Flanker-B’)

Type: All-weather air superiority fighter

Dimensions: Length: 21.90m (71ft 10in); Wingspan: 14.70m (48ft 2.75in); Height: 5.93m (19ft 5.5in)

Weight: 33,000kg (72,751lb) maximum take-off

Powerplant: 2 x 122.58kN (27,557lb) Saturn/Lyulka AL-31F afterburning turbofans

Maximum speed: 2280km/h (1417mph) `clean’ at 11,000m (36,090ft)

Range: 3680km (2287 miles) at high altitude

Service ceiling: 17,700m (58,071ft)

Crew: 1

Armament: 1 x 30mm (1.18in) cannon and up to 6000kg (13,228lb) of disposable stores including up to 6 x medium-range and 4 x short-range AAMs