Vladimir Triandafillov (1894–1931)

Vladimir Triandafillov was killed in an aircraft crash on July 12, 1931 and was buried in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. The quality of his work was realised late during World War II, when Georgy Zhukov said that his success was due to closely following Triandafillov’s deep operations doctrine.

First published in 1929, Triandafillov’s Kharakter operatsii sovremennykh armii (The Character of the Operations of Modern Armies) has long been considered a major and comprehensive contribution to Soviet military thought. In the introduction to the first edition, Triandafillov states that his aim is nothing more than an examination of the sum of all those elements that characterize the operations of modern armies. The extent of Triandafillov’s analysis is indeed impressive, and he provides valuable insights into how a future war could be conducted.

Based on data available in the 1920s, he begins his analysis by considering the matériel foundation of armies and weapons; then he addresses a whole series of questions pertaining, inter alia, to the conduct of deep operations. Overall, his analysis bears the stamp of Marxism-Leninism, and Triandafillov provides candid insights into the nature of war waged by the Soviet state in pursuit of its ideological goals. Triandafillov also warns that, “since the material basis being examined in the present work is mainly characteristic for the start of a future war, all the author’s tactical and operational assumptions and conclusions mainly pertain to the operations of the first period of this war.” In view of what actually occurred on all fronts during World War II, Triandafillov’s qualification proved to be accurate. Regarding later periods, all that can be established are general trends. What this implies is that any analysis of the first phase of a future war is critical for both attacker and defender. Again, this was manifestly the case after 22 June 1941 and the eventual assault on Moscow.

Triandafillov’s book was issued in three editions, the last two of which were published after his death in 1931. In view of the fact that his book was considered valuable because of “its correct [pravil’naia] Marxist methodology” (as stated in the introduction to the second edition), one might assume that this protected the author. However, even if he wrote a book that satisfied the ideologically correct requirements of Marxism-Leninism, Triandafillov shows no signs of the intellectual slavishness that would become the norm after 1937 and do such damage to Soviet military thought. One cannot know whether Triandafillov would have been cut down by Stalin’s Terror, but along with Frunze, Tukhachevskii, and others, he certainly falls into a category of Soviet military thinkers who regarded military professionalism as a virtue and as essential if Soviet goals were to be achieved. Military professionalism requires an independence of mind without which rigorous analysis becomes impossible and military theory cannot be formulated and distilled. In 1937, however, these Clausewitzian postulates, taken for granted in all other major armies, aroused Stalin’s suspicion because they were perceived as a threat to his final consolidation of power.

A key question for the modern army is whether it should be a mass army, in excess of a million strong, or whether quantity should be sacrificed or reduced for quality. A small, professional army acquires a sense that it is special, that it is an elite force. From a Marxist-Leninist perspective, this is potentially dangerous because it risks Bonapartism. To achieve the goals envisaged by Triandafillov, large armies are required, but this leads to problems of quality and training. Triandafillov argues, “The idea of conquering modern states by small numbers of troops, even if motorized is naïve. Such an army, having penetrated into the depth of an enemy country, runs the risk of being isolated, if, at the same time it is not supported by a much stronger army.”

Countering the British military theorist Fuller, Triandafillov sees specific advantages in a large, mass army—the so-called nightmare army—because it possesses all the necessary technical means to solve the problems of modern war. According to Triandafillov, Fuller’s misgivings about the nightmare army are prompted by fear of the inevitable proletarian revolution, a fear that arises from a lack of trust in the masses that have become class-conscious. In Triandafillov’s rejection of Fuller, and in Triandafillov’s less than convincing arguments about the nature of capitalist societies and their succumbing to fascism, there are ideas of merit that have special relevance for 1939–1945:

The provision of the best conditions for the conduct of freedom of maneuver and of the broad tactical and operational art will not be achieved by returning to the numerically smaller armies of armchair strategists but by the corresponding increase in the mobility of million-strong armies by means of improving the technology of transport (the use of road transport, six-wheeled vehicles, a wider development of railway communications and so on). That country which is compelled out of political considerations to return to a numerically smaller army, as a result of a lack of trust in the masses, cannot reckon with the possibility of its being able to conduct a major war.

This assessment points to the type of army that actually emerged from Germany’s final renunciation of the Treaty of Versailles and Hitler’s rise to power. The treaty provisions resulted in a much smaller German army and one that, at least for the time being, was denied a whole range of weapons. In other words, the Weimar German army bore some resemblance to the numerically small but professional army rejected by Triandafillov, even if it was temporarily denied the equipment envisaged by him. The provisions of Versailles notwithstanding, the German army was still able to study the nature of future war and conduct various exercises and small-scale trials. Guderian’s advocacy of the panzer bears witness to the fact that the theoretical analysis was conducted at the highest level and that there was openness to new ideas from whatever source. This theoretical work illustrates that time spent in reconnaissance is never wasted. To put it another way, time spent considering the nature of future war is not wasted and is, in fact, one of the primary duties of a professional corps of staff officers. Such work was conducted in Germany even within the limits imposed by the Treaty of Versailles.

The theoretical work carried out by officers such as Guderian bore fruit when it eventually became possible to translate plans and ideas into realities with the construction, testing, and creation of panzer divisions. Critically, the ethos of military professionalism maintained during the Weimar years not only facilitated the rapid expansion of the German army (and other service arms) when the time came but also ensured a high standard of quality. This totally vindicates the requirement for a thoroughly professional corps of staff officers dedicated to studying all questions related to war. Thus, by 1939, Germany had built a large, high-quality, and well-led army—something not envisaged by either Fuller or Triandafillov. This state of affairs strongly implies that had Stalin not succumbed to ideological paranoia and violence in 1937 and torn apart the theoretical and practical development initiated in the 1920s, the Soviet Union would have been in an incomparably stronger position in 1941.

Conceptualizing the formation and professionalism of Western armies based on the belief that their soldiers are in some way “committed to capitalism,” Triandafillov misconstrues or cannot grasp the reasons why men serve. Some soldiers serving in Western armies may grasp the fundamental differences between privately owned and state-owned means of production, but such men are not normally motivated to join the military by such bloodless, economic abstractions. Rather, they are motivated by a sense of duty, patriotism, and adventure, by the intense emotional experiences and comradeship offered by war. Even if one conceded that the motives for pursuing international revolution in accordance with Marx, Engels, and Lenin were somehow morally and intellectually superior to the pursuit of war out of a sense of patriotism and a desire for adventure, that motivation to serve in the Raboche-Krest’ianskaia Krasnaia Armiia (Workers-Peasant Red Army [RKKA]) confers no superiority when it comes to mastery of the art of war. What made the Wehrmacht so formidable was that it managed to fuse outstanding military professionalism with a commitment to the ideas of National Socialism. Here, we can see a conspicuous failing of Marxist-Leninist analysis, which had no obvious and convincing conceptual framework to accommodate or explain the masterful political manipulations of highly charismatic leaders such as Adolf Hitler and their rise to power.

The degree to which Triandafillov’s Marxist-Leninist-based analysis misconstrues the nature of Western societies—and, above all, the Soviet Union’s future opponent—is evident in his description of what he considers the main weaknesses of Western societies: “This, of course, does not mean that the bourgeoisie has succeeded in or will succeed in eradicating those preconditions determining the unreliability of the armed masses in capitalist countries. Class, national and other contradictions which are undermining the capitalist system will not only remain but in the course of a war will inevitably grow to an extreme limit of aggravation and will, in all probability, lead, and not in one country alone, to unavoidable social shocks.” This is wishful thinking born of Marxism-Leninism.

Triandafillov devotes much space to developing his ideas on the shock army (udarnaia armiia). His use of the term is based on the formation of the German army in World War I that advanced through Belgium to the Marne and the advance of the Red Army to the Vistula in 1920. A shock army is an army designed to advance on the main axis, and Triandafillov stipulates that it “must be organized in such a manner that it is able, using its own forces, to conduct a series of consecutive operations from start to finish. It must possess all the resources which would permit it to overcome any resistance on the part of the enemy both at the start as well as during the course of the operations being undertaken.” The demands on shock army commanders are considerable. They must grapple with changing circumstances after the start of the battle as the enemy reacts: the enemy gains strength, the density of the front increases, and hastily prepared defensive positions appear on the lines of advance.

With regard to the width of the front, Triandafillov, basing his analysis on the final stages of World War I, asserts that a modern defense is so resilient that it cannot be broken by attacks on a narrow sector of the front. The reason for this failure, according to Triandafillov, is that such a blow engages only an insignificant part of the enemy’s forces, and enemy reserves will be used to create a new front to envelop and quarantine the attackers. Crucial to the defender’s ability to counter a breakthrough is his use of the rail network to deploy reserves to the threatened sector. Given the defender’s ability to respond in this manner, Triandafillov concludes that an attacker can achieve a successful penetration only where he is able to pin down large enemy forces and place himself in an operational situation that gives him an advantage over the defender.

However, even when a massive concentration of force is deployed on a narrow front, a major offensive success is unlikely, mainly because of the resilience of the defense and the defender’s ability to withdraw his forces in good time. The way to break the defense is by a combination of blows, with consecutive operations carried out at great depth. The aim here is to encircle the enemy and destroy or capture his forces. Based on the mobility constraints on the western front in World War I, Triandafillov’s proposals for breaking the defense are reasonable. Unfortunately, he makes no allowance for the increased speed and armament of tanks, and since Triandafillov does not envisage tanks taking a dominant role in an assault, he makes no allowance for the effect of mass armor in contrast to mass infantry. As was the case in the summer of 1940, the speed of the German advance meant that it was able to overwhelm the defenders before they could react. Again, Triandafillov’s ideas about defensive operations—with special attention to reinforced zones and, above all, to the carrying capacity of the rail network—are silent on how these installations might be bypassed and how to counter the rail network’s vulnerability to air attack. In fact, when he considers the costs of war—resources, high casualties, and loss of equipment—Triandafillov envisages a future war as being similar to World War I, but on a far more destructive scale. Nor does he see this as a war of maneuver. On the contrary:

In the future it is necessary to expect the long-term growth in casualties. The phase of mobility in the world war cannot in this regard be considered to be characteristic for future operations. Quite the reverse in fact; the character of future battles in terms of the saturation of automatic fire, the correlation between the forces of the attack and defense, the scale of the use of airpower and chemical weapons will bear a much closer resemblance to those battles out of which were formed the operations of 1918 on the western front.

Implicit in his remarks is the recognition that casualties were reduced in the mobile phase of World War I. When contemplating the defensive systems envisaged by Triandafillov, the options for the attacker are indeed sobering, but the problems are not insurmountable. To overcome these problems, the attacker must be original, innovative, bold, and willing to try new ideas and take risks; he must develop new ways to solve problems, including the use of psychological weapons, special forces, and sophisticated deception and trickery; he must have a command system that encourages leadership and initiative at all levels. This summary does not describe the state of the Red Army in 1939–1941. For all the difficulties envisaged in the deployment of shock formations (udarnye gruppirovki), Triandafillov argues that “deep and crushing blows remain the most decisive means of strategy in attaining the goals demanded by the war.” Confronted with the apparently insurmountable problems of deep operations, military planners may succumb to what Triandafillov calls “operational opportunism,” by which he means the tendency to reject “active and deep blows” in pursuit of “the tactics of staying put and inflicting short-range attacks, operations characterized by the modish word ‘attrition’ (izmor).” The correct way forward for operational art, argues Triandafillov, is not to limit voluntarily the depth of consecutive operations but to maximize all avenues in order to destroy the enemy. In his words: “The correct resolution of this question will inevitably be linked with the total exploitation of possibilities for the development of decisive blows at a maximum depth which are permitted by the physical and psychological condition of the troops and by the conditions arising from the restoration of roads and supply.” In other words: “The art of the strategist and the operational staff is correctly to perceive the limit in the forcing of human and material resources beyond which may lead to the breakdown of the troops, resulting not in victory but in defeat.”

One of the main reasons Triandafillov so forcefully advocates the concept of deep operations is that he considers them an effective means of achieving the revolutionary goals of Marxism-Leninism. Small states—those he dubs somewhat contemptuously “Lilliput states”—can be easily crushed, whereas larger states can be destabilized and weakened. Major blows against larger states can lead to “the creation of objectively favorable conditions for societal-political shocks in the enemy’s country.” Moreover, “deep and crushing blows remain one of the most reliable ways to transform a war into a civil war.”

Triandafillov’s analyses of the “form of the blow” are remarkably prescient in terms of the German army’s actions in 1941. Operating against an enemy with a wide front and an open rear, the correct approach is to deploy concentric advances that can lead to the destruction of enemy forces. Speed of the advance is essential here, and the role of large armored formations and mechanized infantry is obvious, since they can outstrip the nonmotorized infantry’s ability to withdraw. When the enemy can be pushed back against a neutral border, sea, mountains, or impassable terrain such as marshes, one shock group (udarnaia armiia) will suffice. Whether using one or two shock groups, the aim is to destroy the enemy’s manpower. In summarizing the theoretical requirements for the conduct of such operations—well-organized rear echelons, a high level of training, troops accustomed to rapid and deep movements, and a command stratum in charge of the situation, all of which secures a high level of tactical mobility—Triandafillov provides an accurate description of what the German army achieved in 1940–1941 and the Red Army emphatically did not.

As an orthodox Marxist-Leninist, Triandafillov attaches great importance to the role of agitprop. He also envisages the possibility that troops will be cut off from their main forces and will have to fight in encirclement. Thus, Triandafillov acknowledges that encirclement (okruzhenie) is a fact of modern war; unlike attitudes in the Red Army between 1941 and 1945, it is not something that should be regarded with suspicion by Soviet security forces. Overall, the conditions of this future war will impose enormous strain on the troops, requiring that they understand the nature of the struggle. The nature of a future war waged by the Soviet Union will be a revolutionary class war, necessitating that close attention be paid to the troops’ political indoctrination before and during the war. Triandafillov concludes: “And only the army which knows for what it is fighting and knows that it is protecting its vital [krovnye] interests, is capable of that.”48 That Triandafillov can characterize these interests in terms of blood is most unusual for a Soviet military thinker espousing the Marxist-Leninist cult of class and class war, since there is a distinct echo of the themes of Blut und Boden in NS ideology.

Mindful perhaps of the role played by antitsarist subversion and agitation in undermining the Russian army in World War I, Triandafillov maintains that the same subversive activity must be conducted among enemy troops in any future war so as to exploit what he sees as the inevitable class, national, and other contradictions and, ideally, to provoke civil war. In addition, every effort must be made to win over the civilian population and explain to them the nature of capitalist exploitation, although Triandafillov makes no provision for the treatment of those civilians who remain skeptical of Marxist-Leninist promises about the socialist commonwealth. Such skeptics would be well advised to hide their views, given what Triandafillov envisages after the fighting is over: “A huge burden of work falls on the political apparatus of the army with regard to the sovietization of the territories recaptured from the enemy.” Sovietization is the process whereby all institutions in the new zones are brought into line with Marxist-Leninist ideology. It amounts to a thoroughgoing purge of all those in positions of power, influence, or authority who are deemed to be hostile, anti-Soviet elements. In practice, it meant mass arrest, deportation, incarceration, dispossession, and execution, the fate endured by Poland and the Baltic states after September 1939. Sovietization also anticipates, and provides a template for, NS Gleichschaltung.



Another area in which British designs had a strong influence on early Soviet tank types was the development of amphibious light armoured vehicles. The series of tank types bought from Vickers Armstrong/Carden Loyd in 1929 had included the innovative VCL Amphibian tank. A light 3.04 tonne (3 ton) vehicle with a machine gun, it could cross small waterways. The Amphibian inspired a generation of Soviet amphibious tank designs, until the demands of war terminated production.

In 1931 a design team at Zavod Nr 47 near Moscow simultaneously developed two prototype amphibious tanks which were based on the VCL design. The T-33 (originally designated the MT-33) had a crew of two and weighed 3.04 tonnes (3 tons). The T-41 was similar in design and armament, carrying a single, turret mounted DT 7.62mm (0.3in) machine gun, with the main difference being in the body, which was slightly larger for greater buoyancy when crossing a water way. Unsatisfactory performances during trials of the two vehicles, and especially problems with the T-41 ‘s waterproofing and the unsuitability of the VCL suspension, led to the development of a further alternative prototype.

The T-37 was a refinement of the earlier models rather than a radically new design. A modified Horstmann spring coil suspension was adopted with improved tracks and drive system for the single propeller. The hull was strengthened and sheet-metal track guards encasing balsa-wood floats were added for extra buoyancy. These modifications were dispensed with as the T-37 came to the end of its production run in 1936. Waterproofing problems persisted because of the hull’s river construction, but this was on the whole overcome in 1935 by welding together and riveting the tank’s armour plates.

The durability of the T-37 design was shown during rigorous trials in 1933 when over 11 days, 7 T-37s travelled 1126km (700 miles), over 965km (600miles) in water. Like most Soviet tank designs, dedicated command variants were constructed, which were termed T- 37TU. A production run of 1200 vehicles was completed between 1933 and 1936. They served in a reconnaissance role with tank, mechanized and cavalry units in all Red Army operations up to 1942.

THE T-38

Plans to modernize the T-37 in the mid-1930s led to such extensive changes by the Zavod Nr 37 team that it was decided to designate it T-38. Improved hull design gave a lower profile and a decrease in weight. Coupled with a new suspension, wider tracks and improved steering, the T-38 was easier to handle, more manoeuvreable, and altogether a better swimmer than the T-37 . Armament, however, remained the same as the T-37, although a 20mm (0.78in) gun fitted in a low turret with the driver was rejected because it restricted his ability to control the vehicle.

In addition to its reconnaissance role, the T-38 underwent several experimental combat roles. During the 1936 Kiev Military District manoeuvres, a number of T-38 and T-27 vehicles were air-landed deep behind enemy lines in a radical test of the potential of airborne forces. In 1940, several T-38s were adapted for radio control and fitted with explosives for use against enemy bunkers. An estimated 1300 vehicles were manufactured between 1937 and 1939.

THE T-40

Common to many pre-war Soviet tank designs, the T-37 and T-38 proved to be too vulnerable to heavy machine-gun fire and shell splinters. This problem had been foreseen as early as 1938, when a special research department at Zavod N r 37, led by chief engineer N. A. Astrov, was instructed to design two variants of a new light scout tank, of which one was to be amphibious. Several prototypes of the amphibious vehicle (initially designated T-30A) were in trials between July and August 1939. Once orders to rectify defects were complied with, the vehicle was accepted for production and service as the T-40 on 19 December 1939.

The vehicle had a torsion suspension and, in the water, was driven by a single propeller and steered by two rudders at the rear. A more powerful engine, hermetically sealed hatches and a better-shaped front with a special water deflector enabled the T-40 to cross wider rivers with strong currents, like the Dniepr and Dnestr (although as a precaution the crew were supplied with lifebelts). Despite ambitious plans, production was low, and in 1940 the addition of extra armour and the need to increase tank production led to the non amphibious T-30B prototype being given priority, also as the T-40.

At 6.09 tonnes (6 tons), both T-40 variants weighed twice the weight of the T-37 and T-38, but the cause of this increase – welded thicker 14mm (O. Sin) bulletproof armour – did not make it any less vulnerable in battle to light weapons than they were. The inability of its 12.7mm (O. Sin) DShK main gun, while firing armour-piercing rounds, to penetrate armour 16mm (0.62in) above 300m (984ft) also restricted its combat worthiness. Possibly if the T-40 had been used in its reconnaissance role, its armour and gun might just have proved sufficient, but the tendency of Soviet commanders to use them like regular tanks led to heavy losses in 1940 and 1941.

MiG-15 and Sea Fury

HMS Ocean and her escorts departed Kure on the evening of 8 August resuming operations off the Korean coast the following day. Unlike the previous patrol the weather was exceptionally fine which increased the sortie rate. This would be the day that the Sea Furies of No.802 NAS would tangle with MiG jet fighters. Having launched at 0600 hours in the morning Lt Carmichael, Lt Davis and Sub Lts Ellis and Haines departed Ocean and headed into the Pyongyang area to reconnoitre the railway line. Close to the village of Chinji-ri the flight spotted eight jet aircraft to the north. Quickly recognised as enemy fighters the Sea Furies dumped their external fuel tanks and assumed battle positions. Such was the pace of the battle that Sub Lt Ellis noticed streams of tracer passing each side of his aircraft. Calling ‘Break’ the Sea Furies broke off into a scissors break. It would appear from subsequent events that either the MiG pilots were inexperienced or they believed that their jet powered mounts would see them through without undertaking any clever manoeuvres. The result was that the Communist pilots were being shot at by the Sea Fury pilots from all angles thus Sub Lt Ellis was easily able to place hits on the wings of one MiG which limped away from the battle escorted by two others. Overall the dog fight lasted no more than five minutes after which the MiGs pulled away although there was an explosion on a hillside close by as an aircraft crashed. A call round the flight revealed that all the Sea Furies had survived and it was realised that the Fleet Air Arm had successfully shot down a jet fighter. Although Lt Carmichael as flight leader was accredited with the kill the other members of the flight were credited with a quarter each as it was impossible to ascertain who had fired the fatal shots. Overall this one fight had resulted in one destroyed aircraft with two others badly damaged. Further MiG reports were arriving at Ocean even as the Carmichael flight was heading home. One of the first to encounter this next wave was Lt Clark whose Sea Fury was hit by cannon fire in the starboard wing which began to blaze merrily. The pilot dropped the aircraft’s drop tanks and by careful side slipping managed to put out the fire. Eventually the badly damaged Sea Fury touched down on the deck of Ocean. Escorting Lt Clark was his wingman Lt McEnery who claimed hits on the tail of one of the attacking MiGs. The next attack was against a flight led by Lt Hallam who eventually had to break clear although his aircraft was hit by a 37 mm cannon shell behind the cockpit which left the pilot with no other option but to make a wheels-up landing at Chodo. His wingman Lt Jones managed to return to the carrier while a rescue mission was launched to collect Lt Hallam. Lt Carmichael was awarded the DSC and would eventually become a Commander. While the Sea Furies were tangling with the MiGs the Fireflies were dropping their bombs on a village just south of Chinnampo with great success. The following day was just as eventful. As before the Sea Furies departed to carry out strikes against railway targets led again by Lt Carmichael when yet again MiGs were spotted. External drop tanks were quickly cleared away and another dog fight quickly developed. Eventually the Sea Furies managed to reach cloud thus ending the engagement although at least one MiG was seen to limp away trailing black smoke courtesy of pilots Davis and Ellis. While the MiGs had sacrificed altitude to engage the Sea Furies it was unlikely that this would always be the case. Thus it was proposed that in theatre USAF F-86 Sabres should act as escorts to the Royal Navy fighters. However due to increasing commitments the USAF was not able to provide cover for these flights, therefore, further sorties had to be timed to coincide with F-86 patrols over Korea. When the Sabres were not available the Sea Furies flew in formations of eight aircraft that were intended to give cover to the attack aircraft while presenting the MiGs with too many targets. Even with these restrictions the Ocean air wing carried on regardless hitting all sorts of strategic and tactical targets. On 11 August this sudden flurry of jet fighter activity by the north ceased and on 13 August the carrier underwent a day of replenishment. Flying resumed again on 14 August and was a great deal quieter than before as the air wing concentrated on military targets in the Ongjin area, many of which were mortar positions. Having attacked the military positions the Sea Furies turned their attentions to road and rail bridges. However, No.802 NAS did lose an aircraft after a RATOG launch. Sub Lt Clark had used his RATOG to gain height rather than forward momentum on this occasion but once the rockets had finished firing the aircraft stalled and dived inverted into the sea. The pilot managed to escape and was successfully picked up by the plane-guard helicopter. Over the following days a similar pattern of missions was followed before the carrier departed on 18 August for Kure to avoid typhoon Karen. HMS Ocean arrived at Kure on the evening of 19 August mooring at the jetty opposite HMS Unicorn where replacement aircraft and stores were transferred.

With the squadrons fully re-stored with manpower and aircraft HMS Ocean put to sea on 26 August and resumed operations the following day. Bad weather dampened flying until 30 August when sorties were launched in support of landings near Paengyong-do. Further air support flights were undertaken over the Ongjin peninsula in support of further landings during which one Sea Fury was slightly damaged by ground fire. Other aircraft from Ocean continued to attack the usual range of targets and all aircraft returned safely after which the carrier withdrew for replenishment. Operations resumed on 1 September with the Sea Furies attacking bridges while the Fireflies concentrated on buildings thought to contain stores, ammunition or troops. Over the two following days Ocean’s aircraft continued their usual pattern of sorties although there was a new twist to these operations as a North Korean came on air posing as an American operations controller, however the pilots were suspicious as they were controlling a gunnery shoot for a Royal Navy Frigate. Flying on 4 September was cancelled as Typhoon Mary was moving in the vicinity of South Korea. Combat flying resumed the following day and all missions were completed without loss. Once the last aircraft had returned the carrier departed for Sasebo and arrived on 6 September. After a seven day sojourn in harbour HMS Ocean left Sasebo to resume patrol duties. On 14 September flying resumed with the Sea Furies and Fireflies spending much of their time searching for targets worthy of attention. Over the following few days a similar pattern of events occurred until on 17 September the Sea Furies struck at sluice gates controlling water flow at the mouths of the Haeju and Yonan rivers. All strikes were successful and the gates and supporting walls were destroyed by bombs. Over the following two days the air wing continued to strike their designated targets but on these occasions the crews were warned about the possibility of MiGs in the area although none were encountered. A replenishment day occupied 20 September. The next day MiGs were reported to be much in evidence and, therefore, some missions were diverted away from their primary targets. On 21 September No.802 NAS would have the Sea Fury of Lt Graham struck off charge due to the amount of anti-aircraft fire damage it had suffered whilst another would be totally destroyed when it ploughed into the flight-deck barrier. On 24 September the carrier undertook its final sorties of the patrol and then departed for Kure arriving on 25 September. Mooring alongside the jetty opposite Unicorn the usual process of exchanging aircraft and replenishing stores was undertaken.

Afghanistan 1979-89 – What Kind of a War?

Like other counter-insurgency wars, the campaign in Afghanistan was not a war of set-piece battles and great offensives, of victories, defeats, and headlong retreat, and there was no front line. In such a war, there was little scope for generalship in the normal sense of the word. Nor was it a war which lent itself to easy narrative. It was not that the generals were still fighting the Second World War, though there was an element of that too. They had thought long and hard about the conditions of modern warfare, and they believed that they had made the necessary adjustments to fight such a war and win. Their mistake was to assume that if the army was well prepared to fight a major war, it could without too much adaptation successfully fight minor wars as well. The Americans had thought the same at the beginning of the Vietnam War. They had adapted their tactics, but never cracked the problem. Even though they had that example before them, the Soviet commanders had not worked out in advance how to deal with small, lightly equipped, and highly mobile groups of strongly motivated men moving across difficult terrain with which they were intimately acquainted. Until they had gained experience the officers and men of the 40th Army were not very good at this kind of war. And even though many of them adapted well enough, they were in the end no more successful than the Americans at defeating their elusive enemy.

The country in which the 40th Army now found itself could not have been more different from the European plains for which the Soviet army had trained. It might have been specially designed for the conduct of guerrilla warfare, for mountain skirmishes, ambushes along road and tracks, punitive expeditions, occasional massive operations by thousands of Afghan and Soviet soldiers to relieve a beleaguered garrison or smoke out a rebel base, mujahedin raids on Soviet and Afghan government outposts, brief fights around villages or on the outskirts of towns, destruction, retaliation, and great brutality.

The mountains which cover four-fifths of Afghanistan sweep from the Pamirs in the east, where Tajikistan, India, Pakistan, and China join, almost to the frontier with Iran beyond Herat in the west. They divide the country from north to south, and the people into different and often hostile groupings who speak different languages, have different cultures, and for much of history had different religions as well. They are pierced by valleys and defiles, which are negotiable by people on foot: local farmers and shepherds, merchants, smugglers, travellers, tourists, hippies, and guerrilla fighters with their caravans of weapons. Proper roads are a luxury; until the twentieth century there were little more than tracks, passable enough by men and pack animals, but not at all friendly to wheeled traffic.

These mountains are hard enough to fight in at the best of times. The locals know all the paths and tracks, often cutting along the sides of precipitous mountains, easy to ambush, easy to defend, hard to find. But it is worse than that. At sixteen thousand feet, where some of the fighting took place, you can be incapacitated by altitude sickness until you become acclimatised. If you are wounded it can take as many as six of your comrades to get you down to help, often under fire.

Here even quite small numbers of determined men can hold their own against a powerful enemy column. You occupy the overlooking heights, block the front and rear of the column, and then destroy your enemy at leisure. This is what happened to the British ‘Army of the Indus’ in January 1842 on the road east from Kabul through Jalalabad to the Khyber Pass. More than a hundred years later the mujahedin would man the heights overlooking the route of the slow-moving Soviet columns, with their cumbersome lorries and their escorting tanks and personnel carriers. They would knock out the first and last vehicles with a mine or a rocket, and then systematically destroy the remainder.

But if the guerrilla tactic was simple, so was the answer, at least in theory. The British learned to adopt ‘a form of tactics then new to military science in Asia, namely the picketing of flank hills to protect a column on the march through the defiles of a mountainous terrain … [T]he Afridis [Pushtuns] still remember the occasion; it was only when [General] Pollock adopted, as they say, their own tactics, and applied them to the movements of his troops, that he became successful.’ The Russians adopted the same broad tactic as they fought their convoys through the mountain passes and along the desert roads, sending special forces and paratroopers by forced march or by helicopter to occupy the heights before the mujahedin could get there and to block off their line of retreat.

Most Afghans live neither in the mountains nor in the ancient cities, but in kishlaks in the ribbon of low land which fringes the north of the country, swings southward past Herat and then round towards the east, through the desert, until it reaches the mountains again at Kandahar. This sliver of land constitutes about 15 per cent of the total area of the country. But only 6 per cent is actually farmed: livestock, wheat and cotton, fruit, nuts, melons, raisins, and of course poppies.

Patches of lush green punctuate the arid landscape, a ‘flowering, fertile plain’, as the Soviet writer Alexander Prokhanov described it, ‘where settlements built of golden mud bricks spread out among the gardens and vineyards, where cool water filled the hand-made wells, where the young rice showed green in tiny, carefully cultivated fields, where flowering poppy and yellow sunflower flamed and burned’. Two decades later a journalist with the British soldiers in the southern province of Helmand went so far as to say, ‘The narrow strip of fertile meadows, irrigation ditches and mud-bricked compounds lining the Helmand river suggest a tranquillity unmolested by time. It can feel like Tuscany.’

The villages themselves tend to conform to a common pattern. The streets are narrow and the houses have flat roofs, with walls presenting a blank face to the outside world. They are built of mud brick; they age rapidly and it is often hard to tell how old they are. If they collapse, or are destroyed by bombing, the buildings soon melt back into the soil from which they sprang, as if they had never been. If you go there today the ravages of the war are hard to trace.

Alexander Kartsev described a typical village near his guard post: ‘The kishlak was not at all large, about ten fortified buildings and a few others built of mud bricks. The fortified buildings are striking both by their size and by their purpose. For the people of Kalashakhi the fortified buildings are ordinarydwellings, just like any other. They differ from the crowded and dirty Afghan cities completely … Walls up to six metres high, made of mud brick. More than a metre thick. Even a shell from a tank will not always pierce a wall like that. Watchtowers at the corners of the fortification two or three storeys high. On the inner side of the wall one- or two-storey dwellings of unfired brick, usually set out in the form of a [Cyrillic] letter. There are no buildings on the northern side. That is the coldest wall, uneconomic to heat in winter. Fuel is very hard to get here. Only one room has anything like a fireplace. People use kizyaki for fuel – dried and concentrated cow or camel dung. Only the richest can afford to use wood for heating.

‘On the ground floor you usually find the kitchen, and a kind of living room for eating and receiving guests where the floor is covered with matting or sometimes with carpets. A few other rooms are joined to the guest room: people live here in the summer, because the mud brick walls keep out the exhausting heat.

‘On the first floor are the rooms where people sleep and live in the winter. These are usually situated immediately above the kitchen, where there is an open stove for the preparation of food. There is no chimney. Instead a number of small holes in all the internal walls distribute the warm air through the rooms. The houses are like a large and living organism. It is not surprising that the Afghans are so warmly attached to them. In the far corner of the fortress is an enclosure for the cattle. Not far from the kitchen is a large well, called a kyariz … The fortress covers an area of not less than 400 square metres. It is inhabited, usually, by only one family.’

The Soviet soldiers – and the British soldiers who came after them – called the cultivated land around the villages the ‘green zone’, the zelenka in Russian. Despite its beguiling appearance, the green zone was in many ways an even worse place to fight than the mountains. The farmland and vineyards were irrigated with water from springs and rivers, distributed through a delicate and complicated system of surface ditches and underground tunnels punctuated by vertical shafts. Lounging along the roadside there were always men in shirts and long Afghan robes, in turbans and local headgear, armed to the teeth; and there was no way that the soldiers could tell whether they were part of the local self-defence organisation, or mujahedin waiting for a juicy target – or both.

These villages, into which guerrilla fighters could infiltrate, catch their enemies unawares, and then disappear back down the tunnels to evade retaliation, where every house and road might be booby-trapped, where peaceful civilians could suddenly become concealed enemies, were a nightmare for the Russian soldiers. In one incident a reconnaissance battalion incautiously entered a village in the green zone. They emerged two hours later, having lost twenty-five dead and forty-eight wounded. Such incidents were almost always the avoidable result of stupid and undisciplined behaviour.

Although the fighting was messy, piecemeal and confused, the main objective of each side was simple enough: to stifle the supply routes of the other. The Russians brought in all their fuel, their equipment, their ammunition, and much of their food by lorry from the Soviet Union. The mujahedin got most of their weapons, ammunition, and other military supplies over the mountains from Pakistan.

Because it was a battle for roads and tracks and mountain pathways, both the Russians and the rebels used mines in very large numbers and with little discrimination. But in an asymmetrical war mines, booby traps, and roadside bombs are the preferred weapon of the weaker side, and can have a devastating effect on the morale of the stronger, as the Americans discovered in Vietnam. The rebels’ mines came from a wide variety of sources – America, Britain, Italy, China – and they also improvised their own. The largest mines could destroy a tank or an infantry fighting vehicle. The smallest could blow off a foot. The Russians used flail tanks to clear the roads. Sappers used trained dogs, probed for mines by hand – it was no good using a metal detector because the mujahedin often used plastic mines – and defused them, as columns and raiding parties followed at a snail’s pace. As they said, a sapper only ever makes one mistake.

For their part the Russians set mines in a protective belt round their own positions, and along routes and mountain tracks used by the rebels. In principle they kept proper maps of the places where they had sown their mines. In practice maps were inaccurate, got lost, or were never made in the first place, and so the Russians were sometimes blown up on their own mines. The rebels did not bother to make maps.

It was not for nothing that the Russians called it a ‘war of mines’: Afghanistan remains littered with mines sown by all parties both to the Soviet war and to the civil war which followed. There are still casualties as old mines are set off by children playing and by peasants working their fields.

The mujahedin avoided pitched battles and struck from ambush where they had the advantage. Occasionally they went further, attacked garrisons and airbases, and tried towards the end of the war to capture towns. But the Soviet convoys went on running, the main roads remained open, and no town of any consequence fell to the mujahedin while the Russians were still in Afghanistan.

For their part the Russians raided villages suspected of harbouring rebels, struck into the mountains to destroy their bases and disperse their men, mounted counter-ambushes, and mined the routes along which the mujahedin moved. Their operations were supported by transport and battle helicopters, by artillery, by fighter bombers under the command of the 40th Army, and by long-range bombers from the Soviet Union. Quite junior officers – lieutenants and captains in charge of guard posts – could call down artillery support if they needed it. The inevitable result was a heavy loss of life and property among the civilian population.

But to confront the mujahedin and their unorthodox methods of fighting effectively, special skills and special tactics and special troops were needed, troops that could operate in the mountains to ambush and counter-ambush the guerrilla bands, and to cut the routes taken by their caravans. Although the ordinary motor-rifle units took regular part in such operations, the main brunt of the fighting inevitably fell on the elite special and parachute units, and on the reconnaissance battalions and companies in the motor-rifle divisions and regiments. These troops fought very effectively, both in the high mountains and in the green zone. They made up some 20 per cent of the total strength of the 40th Army: according to some calculations, of the 133 battalions in the 40th Army, only fifty-one took part regularly in operations. The rest spent much of their time in their garrisons or escorting convoys.

In addition to these regular army units there were a number of special forces teams set up by the GRU, the KGB, and the Ministry of the Interior. Of these the GRU special forces teams were the most substantial. A ‘special forces group’ was set up in 1985 which eventually consisted of two brigades, each of eight battalions, an independent company, an independent reconnaissance battalion, four regimental reconnaissance companies, nine reconnaissance platoons, and thirteen other units, a total of three thousand men in all. The 15th Brigade was stationed in Jalalabad and the 22nd Brigade in Asadabad in Kunar province on the Pakistani border. The 22nd Brigade was pulled out in the summer of 1988 as the 40th Army began its withdrawal. The 15th Brigade remained behind to cover the final stage of the withdrawal in February 1989.

The main purpose of the GRU special forces units was to block the supply routes of the mujahedin through the mountains. They acquired a formidable reputation as they became increasingly well trained and equipped to fight their elusive enemy. Enduring extreme heat and cold in the harsh Afghan climate, suffering from altitude sickness in the high mountains, backed by helicopters and attack aircraft, they ambushed the guerrillas or were ambushed in their turn, and they did what they could to stop the caravans with military supplies streaming in from CIA and Pakistani bases across the frontier. They achieved some impressive results: in one action in May 1987 they destroyed a large caravan, killed 187 mujahedin, and captured a considerable amount of equipment and ammunition. But in spite of all their efforts, and those of the other elite troops, they succeeded in intercepting barely 15–20 per cent of the mujahedin caravans. No more than the mujahedin did they succeed in their prime purpose: to block their enemies’ supply routes.


Germany clearly suffered a crushing defeat at Kursk. The Wehrmacht did not destroy sizeable enemy forces and didn’t eliminate STAVKA’s intention to conduct a major offensive in 1943. Neither did the German Army achieve freedom of action nor consolidate their line. Germany had also used up much of its reserves. But was Kursk a decisive defeat or just another step in a series of defeats suffered by the Wehrmacht? To adequately address this, we must look at a number of strategic issues. These include attrition and replacement rates of men and armor, intelligence, ability of each side to focus their effort and political issues.

There is some speculation about German losses at Kursk being a decisive factor to the final outcome of the war. Total German losses at Kursk “were 56,827 men, which amounted to roughly 3 percent of the total 1,601,454 men the Germans lost in Russia during 1943”. The ability to reform the units suffering these losses was the real problem: “The armored formations, reformed and re-equipped with so much effort, had lost heavily in both men and equipment and would now be unemployable for a long time to come”. Colonel General Heinz Guderian goes on to write: “It was problematic whether they could be rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern front”. It is difficult to argue with the fact that the attrition of German forces and consequently, the loss of an available strategic reserve allowed the Soviets to quickly capitalize and overwhelm the German at specific points following Kursk.

Another often discussed reason that Germany was unable to defeat the Red Army was the incredible Russian capacity to generate forces, albeit poorly trained, but in this case quantity made up for what it lacked in quality. The Red Army, although often clumsy and awkward, had one thing going for it: nearly inexhaustible manpower. It “took the form of successive waves of newly mobilized armies, each taking its toll of the invaders before shattering and being replaced by the next wave. Its mobilization capability saved the Soviet Union from destruction in 1941 and again in 1942”.

As efficient a killing machine the Wehrmacht was, even it had its limits to the men and machines it could destroy—one would be hard pressed to find a better example of attrition on a massive scale. It is important to point out, however, that even with the amazing capacity for the Soviets to generate man and machine in huge numbers, the assumption that the Wehrmacht would lose to a battle of attrition was not a foregone conclusion. The effectiveness of the Wehrmacht at destroying Soviet forces had not dropped off significantly in 1943. The German army continued to destroy Russian armor and men at an alarming rate. Even in 1943, this rate was disproportionate to Germany’s own losses by a wide margin. Zetterling and Frankson show total German losses for 1943 at 1,803,755 (1,442,654 in combat) versus Russian losses for the same period at 7,857,503. Additionally this source shows Wehrmacht tank and assault gun losses on all fronts to be 8,067 in 1943 while the Red Army lost 23,500. Meanwhile, replacement numbers for tanks and assault guns were 10,747 for the Germans and 24,006 for the Russians. Although these figures do not reflect Lend-Lease equipment delivered to the Red Army, they still offer a strong argument that attrition and replacement numbers alone did not give the Russians a decisive advantage in the war. In fact, according to Zetterling and Frankson, attrition rates favored Germany: “it was the Red Army which could be expected to run out of men first”. This attrition argument, however, is only valid if the Germans, like the Soviets, could focus all their resources on the Eastern Front.

The Wehrmacht had other demands on their military resources. The Wehrmacht’s would increasingly need to dilute their limited forces over a several fronts, while the Russians could continue to focus their entire effort against the Wehrmacht. This was because Stalin was able to ignore Japan as a threat. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and its ensuing war with the United States “eased Soviet concerns over her eastern borders and permitted wholesale shifting of reserves from the Far East, Trans-Baikal, and Siberia to help relieve the military crisis at Moscow”. Also “The Red Orchestra”, or Soviet Intelligence had ascertained through Richard Sorge (code named Ramzaia) that Japan had no intention of attacking Russia.

The factors working against Hitler’s Germany were multiple. To point to a battle such as Kursk as the decisive action in the war ignores many other factors, some of which are enumerated above. Yes, the German offensive at Kursk wore down the German ability to respond to the Soviet counteroffensive and consequently accelerated the Wehrmacht’s destruction on the Eastern Front, but this in itself is not decisive. Webster’s Dictionary defines “decisive” as “having the power or quality of determining”. In this light, we must look at two other fateful events on the Eastern Front: the Soviet counteroffensive around Moscow in December of 1941, and the fateful siege of the German 6th Army at Stalingrad in 1942. If any one of these clashes could be ruled as decisive, it would probably be Stalingrad, because after Stalingrad, German victory over the Soviets was highly improbable. It follows then that in the spring of 1943, Germany’s fate was already sealed. After Kursk, we see a cascade of crushing defeats of the Wehrmacht from which it never recovered. In this context, however, we can say that the Battle of Kursk was pivotal, defined as “of critical importance”, because it marked a clear turning point where the Germans lost the strategic initiative and the Soviets gained it.

Although in the summer of 1943, the German High Command had no real chance of turning the tide against the Soviets, it clearly had options that in large part could have altered the course and severity of their defeat. The prospect of a major “offensive on the scale of 1941 and 1942” was now a lost dream. There were three courses of action available to Hitler: (1) go on a localized offensive while the remainder of the front employed a static defense; (2) conduct a static defense along the entire front; or (3) employ a mobile, flexible defense with well-placed and timed counterattacks supported by a deeply echeloned strategic line of defense.

The first option, and the one chosen by Hitler and which we have discussed in some detail was to go on the offensive in powerful localized attacks while the remainder of the front maintained a static defense. Manstein put it this way: “in dealing the enemy powerful blows of a localized character which would sap his strength to a decisive degree”. As we have noted, this approach was very risky at best and thus had unrealistic expectations of success. The result has been recorded in the annals of history.

The second option would have been a static defense along the entire front. However, to defend a 2,000-kilometer front with limited forces would have been a monumental undertaking. The idea of a static defense along the entire front was not realistic. There were simply not enough German divisions to do this effectively.

The third option would be to employ a mobile, flexible defense with well-placed and timed counterattacks supported by a deeply echeloned strategic line of defense. If successful this could bleed the Russians to the point where they could be amenable to a negotiated stalemate or at the least severely frustrate and delay the attacking Red Army. This option will now be discussed in some detail.

General Gunther Blumentritt, Deputy Chief of Staff under Chief of Staff Franz Halder describes the concept of “delaying action battle” where: “There are strategic and tactical situations, in which it can be shown that the battle, in the total sense, should be conducted neither offensively nor defensively but primarily in a ‘delaying manner’ “. In a situation where opposing forces are pressing a weakened front “it is logical to order this front to conduct operations in a delaying manner and thereby to avoid exposing themselves to defeat or to heavy losses” and in order to preserve the army’s strength “they should be led to a secure and well consolidated position”. The concept of “delaying action battle” is not unlike the Soviet concept of elastic defense previously discussed where as defensive lines are overrun by attacking forces the defending forces merely withdrawal to prepared defensive lines behind the first. This action attrites the attacking forces while preserving the combat capability of the defending force. Blumentritt explains “two suppositions have to be made”. One, a compelling leader willing to accept responsibility and two, a high command that will permit such freedom of action. Blumentritt goes on to state that the German High Command from 1939-1945 did not permit such flexible actions.

The idea of a strategic line of defense was considered a way to secure the Eastern Front as the balance-of-forces were more and more in favor of Russia. General Olbricht, Chief of the General Army Office, submitted a proposal in January 1942 advocating “immediate construction of a strategic defense line in the East, utilizing extensively the manpower of the replacement army”. This 2,000 kilometer “deeply echeloned defense line” would consist of reinforced positions primarily along the Dniepr River. Olbricht’s proposal required 250,000 men and 100 days to complete. These men would not be front line troops but supplemental labor and soldiers that weren’t fit for frontline combat duty. Hitler forbade such preparations in a letter written around the end of March 1942: “our eyes are always fixed forward,” Hitler had said. Olbricht had also been told that Hitler believed the frontline troops would be tempted to withdraw to such a line. Olbricht later had said of the letter: “a historical document that may once be very important to us”. Arguably, such a line of defense would have delayed the Russian advance significantly and reduced the immense suffering incurred by the German people in the hands of a vengeful Red Army.

Major offensives along the scale of 1941 & 1942 were no longer tenable due to the loss of major German formations. However, the idea of limited offensive actions at critical times and places to hinder and frustrate the efforts of the Russians were not only possible but probably the most efficient use of limited forces to confound Russian offensive efforts and the best way to slow the Russian advance or even to force a stalemate. The best way to time these offensive actions was to strike where the Red Army was most vulnerable: at the culmination of an offensive attack and then “to hit them hard on the backhand at the first opportunity”.

A stalemate was certainly entertained by some Generals such as Manstein. The attrition rates of the Russians even in 1943 were incredible. It’s not unreasonable to assume after two long years of horrible losses that the Russians would have considered such a prospect if the German attack at Kursk was successful. However, the feasibility of a negotiated ceasefire or peace is difficult to ascertain. It is doubtful that this was a real possibility, especially after the Allies decision, in 1942, to force the Third Reich into unconditional surrender. Additionally, after all the suffering the Wehrmacht inflicted on Russia and her people, wasn’t Stalin bent on pounding the Germans back into Berlin?

Such ideas were all for naught in 1943 or any other time during the Russian campaign. Hitler’s “refusal to accept that elasticity of operations which, in the conditions obtaining from 1943 onwards, could be achieved only by a voluntary, if temporary surrender of conquered territory”, showed his lack of appreciation for such operations. “A ‘Fanal’ or beacon to the world of German resolve” maybe a sound strategic goal, but no longer consistent with military reality. Trying to reconcile the reality of the battlefield with this lofty strategic goal was not sound reasoning. Finally, Hitler’s repeated rejection of a mobile defense and a strategic line of defense simply because he didn’t want to give up any ground had no relevance to sound military strategy.

After Stalingrad, it became apparent that the Wehrmacht would probably not achieve decisive victory over the Red Army. In light of this, the Wehrmacht should not have dedicated so many of its precious and limited forces to an attack that had only a limited chance of success. The war was taking its toll on the Wehrmacht; from 22 June 1941 – 1 July 1943 the German Army had lost 3,950,000 men on all fronts. Germany was running out of options. They had succeeded in angering the most powerful nations in the world into a total war footing aimed at smashing the Third Reich into unconditional surrender. The United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain and all the resources these nations could muster proved to be too overwhelming; even for the Wehrmacht, arguably one of the most well trained, equipped and disciplined armies that the world has ever seen. Hitler’s attempt to make the Kursk offensive a “shining beacon” of German resolve, a lofty strategic goal, was unattainable on the battlefields of the Eastern Front in 1943. The best the Wehrmacht could have hoped for in the summer of 1943 was to delay the advance of the massive Red Army and reduce the impact of Germany’s defeat. This would have been best achieved by a mobile, flexible defense with well-placed and timed counterattacks supported by a deeply echeloned strategic line of defense. It is apparent that Hitler would have none of this sound strategic reasoning.

Operation ‘Danube’

21st August 1968 was the day marking the start of the foray of five `friendly’ Warsaw armies into Czechoslovakian territory. The operation with the code name `Danube’ had already been planned in Moscow in May 1968. Its main task was to stop the democratic processes which were approved by the Czechoslovakian government members. prior to the operation the Warsaw forces had been on maneuvers from 22 June till 10 July.

Operation ‘Danube’ began with the occupation of the civil airports in Prague (Ruzyne airport ) and Brno city late at night night on 20th August 1968. Around 23.00 7th Paratrooper division equipped with ASU-57 light self propelled guns arrived at Ruzyne airport with orders to arrest the main members of the reformed government. During the night of 20 – 21st August the first ground units of the soviet 20th armored army arrived in Prague from the North. The people of Prague reacted to the Russian armies arrival by building barricades with the most dramatic events happening in front of the Prague radio building on Vinohradska street. The first barricade built from tram and bus blocked off Vinohradska and Italska street crossroad. Another two barricades built from trucks blocked off the crossroads at Vinohradska and Balbinova street, and another barricade built from trams, trucks and buses blocked the exit out from Vaclavske (Wenceslas) square. The streets of Prague streets were filled with people from early that morning.

The first T-55 tanks arrived at Vinohradska street around 8.00 am on August 21st and they stopped in front of the barricade at the Vinohradska and Italska crossroad. The Tanks had rhomboid symbols with number unit codes on their turrets, and they were joined by other tanks with square symbols and unit codes on turrets and it was these tanks which first attempted to drive through the barricades. A tank with white turret number white 212 and square unit code 5/3-4 reversed against the bus. During repeated collisions the bus fuel tank was punctured and the spilled fuel was ignited by the hot tank exhausts. With its engine deck in flames, tank no. 212 drove to the front of Prague radio building where the crew were forced to evacuate it.

The burning tank hindered the advance of the other Russian tanks and armored tranport so it was pushed by another T-55 with turret no. white 6 and square unit code 24/5-2. During this proceedure the rear fuel drums of the second T55 also caught alight however the crew were able to successfully extinguish the flames. Tank no. 212 was eventually pushed to Balbinova Street where it continued to burn until the fire set off the ammunition causing an explosion. Tragically this explosion panicked the Russian forces who opened fire killing several Czech civilians. By this time Russian troops had begun to occupy the Prague radio building, and Russian paratroopers arrived on ASU-85 self-propelled guns. The SPG’s also tried smash through another barricade which was reinforced by a TATRA T-111 fuel transporter truck. This unmanned truck caused another tragedy when it crushed some people. The actions of the ASU-85’s caused a fire on the barricade which spread to two nearby buildings.

There were similar events and scenes of resistance in the other Czechoslovakian towns but these photos show the dramatic situation in front of Prague radio building which was focus of the organizated resistance by the people of Prague.

After Citadel Part I

Despite limited success in the south, Citadel had clearly failed to achieve its objectives. With the Red Army launching its own attack in the north, and the Allies landing in Sicily, Hitler had to decide the offensive’s fate. As 12 July drew to a close, a tense situation existed throughout the front lines of the Kursk salient. It had been a day of thrusts and counter-attacks, a day of air and tank battles, a day of heavy casualties. It had been a day in which the 4th German Panzer Army had tried to break through the enemy’s defences and reach Kursk, but it had also been a day in which the Soviet forces had fiercely fought to prevent this happening. The Soviets launched major counter-attacks beginning on 12 July, and continued for the next few days. The tide had begun to turn. Despite heavy losses, Soviet forces would hit the Germans again and again and again. When 13 July dawned, it would bring a new day of fighting; more importantly, however, it would bring decisions that would have major consequences for the Germans and the Soviets.

Soviet and Germans troops clashed in both the northern and southern parts of the bulge. The fighting occurred in two different areas in the Voronezh Front’s sector. The XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps of the 4th Panzer Army struggled against the 5th Guards and 5th Guards Tank Armies in an effort to reach Prokhorovka from the south-west, -while Army Detachment Kempf s III Panzer Corps took on the 7th Guards and 69th Armies. On 11 July, the three divisions of the III Panzer Corps continued their march north. Because the Soviets were retreating, the 19th Panzer Division made good progress, advanced 15km (9 1/4 miles) along the Northern Donetz River. Further to the east, the 6th Panzer Division broke through the Soviet line and forced the 305th Guards Rifle and the 92nd Guards Rifle Divisions to withdraw 15km (9 1/4 miles) to Rzhavets. The 7th Panzer Division burst through the Soviet defences at Schliachovo, as it struggled to proceed northwards while protecting the 6th Panzer Division’s right flank. The III Panzer Corps’ advance stopped for the day with the 6th Panzer Division establishing the point position and the other two divisions providing flank protection. General Werner Kempf ordered the corps to prepare for a renewal of the advance towards Prokhorovka on 12 July.

During the first several days of the campaign. Army Detachment Kempf had inflicted heavy damages on the 69th Soviet Army as it moved north towards Prokhorovka. By 11 July, General V. D. Kriuchenkin, the 69th Army commander, was fighting a delaying action. Whenever possible, he withdrew weakened formations from the front line and deployed them in rear positions, where they constructed new defences. The Soviets’ elaborate system of defences had slowed the III Panzer Corps’ advance, but it had not stopped it. Because of his army’s distressing losses, Kriuchenkin feared that the 69th Army -would be unable to stop the German panzer corps when it resumed the fight on 12 July. During the evening, Kriuchenkin requested reinforcements from Nikolai Vatutin. The Voronezh Front commander contemplated his options and reported the situation to Stalin. At 0400 hours, Vatutin called General Pavel Rotmistrov, the commander of the 5th Guards Tank Army, with distressing news about the situation to the south. The Army Detachment Kempf’s forward thrust had pierced the defences. The Germans’ advance units, which had already reached Rzhavets on the Northern Donetz River, were approximately 20km (12 1/2 miles) from Prokhorovka. Vatutin ordered Rotmistrov to transfer his reserve to the south immediately. The tank commander contacted General K. G. Trufanov and ordered him to proceed south with the reserve quickly. Once there, Trufanov had instructions to place the reserve in the path of the advancing German divisions.

Concerned about the III German Panzer Corps, Vatutin decided to plan an assault that would distract the enemy corps and prevent the continuation of its march on Prokhorovka. On the night 11/12 July, Vatutin issued new orders to General M. S. Shumilov, the commander of the 7th Guards Army. The next day, the 49th Rifle Corps would attack the right flank of Army Detachment Kempf in the region east of Razumnoe. If the assault went as planned, the III Panzer Corps would have to turn away from Prokhorovka and protect itself from being cut off from the rest of Army Detachment Kempf. On the morning of 12 July, as the III Panzer Corps resumed its movement, Kempf and the corps commander, General Hermann Breith, had one goal in mind: Prokhorovka. The III Panzer Corps commander issued instructions to his subordinates the night before. Breith ordered the forward 6th Panzer Division formations, with support from the 503rd Panzer Detachment Tiger tanks, to advance to the north quickly. He also identified their objectives: Rzhavets and key Northern Donetz River crossings. Breith ordered the 19th Panzer Division to advance along the river’s southern bank, to capture Krivtsevo and to connect with the 6th Panzer Division at Rzhavets during the night. Early the next morning, the 19th Panzers would help the 6th Panzer Division cross the river. Under cover of darkness, as the Soviet forces regrouped, Breith personally led the German column to Rzhavets. The Germans caught the 92nd Guards Rifle Division and the 96th Tank Brigade as they were regrouping. After a brief scuffle, the Soviet formations continued their move to the east. Elements of the reserve 375th Rifle Division remained behind to stop the enemy column. First Kriuchenkin, then Vatutin, received a desperate call for help.

Despite the daring rush to Rzhavets during the night, Prokhorovka was still 15km (9 1/4 miles) beyond the III Panzer Corps’ grasp by the end of the clay. Rzhavets was only one of the 6th Panzer Division’s goals for 12 July. The bulk of the division moved farther east to assault the high ground near Aleksandrovka, an area that the Soviets fiercely defended. The Soviet resistance at Aleksandrovka forced the 6th Panzer Division to abandon its drive towards Prokhorovka and go instead to the town. The 19th Panzer Division remained in the bridgehead, but did not continue the move north. By late afternoon, Rotmistrov’s reserves arrived and joined the battle against the 6th Panzer Division. The quick action taken by Vatutin and Rotmistrov prevented the III Panzer Corps from proceeding towards Prokhorovka on 12 July. Although Army Detachment Kempf could not resume the march to Prokhorovka that day, General Kempf took action during the evening to regain his forces’ lost momentum. Kempf assigned the 6th Panzer Division the task of eliminating the Soviet presence from the Aleksandrovka area on 13 July. He ordered the 7th Panzer Division to join the 19th Panzer Division in the bridgehead. The Army Detachment Kempf commander’s consolidation of his forces would reap certain benefits, but not enough to bring a successful conclusion to Operation Citadel.

Even as the 69th Army struggled to contain the III Panzer Corps, Vatutin had other problems in the Voronezh Front sector. Of particular concern was the 4th Panzer Army’s left flank, where Lieutenant General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s XXXXVIII Panzer Corps was preparing to cross the Psel River and support the II SS Panzer Corps’ drive to Oboian. Recognising the danger, Vatutin planned to pre-empt Knobelsdorff s thrust.

On 11 July, the 11th Panzer Division had slowly driven north, pushing through strong Soviet resistance; by the end of the day, it had consolidated its position south of Oboian and begun preparations for the next day. The 3rd Panzer Division had knocked the VI Soviet Tank Corps out of the battle as it moved against Berezovka. The XXXXVIII Panzer Corps had made slow but steady progress against the Soviet defenders and threatened both Oboian and Prokhorovka. The night 11/12 July was a busy one for both Vatutin and Knobelsdorff as they completed plans for the next clay.

Knobelsdorff finalised plans for the push north by the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, which would coincide with the thrust towards Prokhorovka by II SS Panzer Corps. The Grossdeutschland Panzergrenadier Division amassed its forces along the Oboian road, as well as west of it. The 3rd Panzer Division assumed control over the defence of the area between Berezovka and Verkhopen’e. While the 332nd Infantry Division established a position north of the Pena River near Rakovo, the 255th Division moved north towards Mikhailovka. As Knobelsdorff consolidated his forces for the attack, he weakened the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps’ flank protection. Vatutin planned a counter-blow designed to surround and eliminate the enemy forces threatening Oboian and Prokhorovka. To implement his plan for 12 July, the Voronezh Front commander ordered reinforcements to the 1st Tank and 6th Guards Armies’ sectors. He instructed the commanders, General M. E. Katukov and General I. M. Chistiakov, to regroup their forces and prepare to attack.

Early on 12 July, Katukov completed the assembly of the 1st Tank Army forces for the scheduled attack. The X Tank Corps, supported by the 219th Rifle Division, waited near Noven’koe for daybreak, at which time it could begin its move towards the 3rd Panzer Division at Berezovka and Syrtsevo. General Kravchenko had orders for the V Guards Tank Corps to advance with the 184th Rifle Division to the 3rd Panzer Division’s position near Shepelovka. Positioned behind the V Guards Tank Corps, Getman deployed the XV Tank Corps, which had fewer than 50 tanks, behind the V Guards Tank Corps. Vatutin ordered the 6th Guards Army – the XXIII Rifle Corps, the III Mechanised Corps and the XXXI Tank Corps – to defend the eastern area along the Oboian road. Chistiakov’s army would only participate in the counter-attack if the Germans began to retreat. Zhadov received the same attack instructions for the 5th Guards Army.