Aleksey Valerievich Isaev is one of the most famous recent Russian historians who soundly rebutted the “Rezun/Suvorov Thesis.” Here I organized a partial translation of an article he posted on a Russian Military-History Forum. In it Isaev counters the mythology advanced by a “rezunite” B. Shaptalov in the book Test By War, and S. Pereslegin the commentary added to a new edition of N.K. Poppel’s memoir. The facts and arguments brought up by Isaev are very useful to counter the works of all other “rezunites” as well.
To my knowledge, Isaev’s Anti-Suvorov and Anti-Suvorov: Ten Myths of Second World War have not yet been translated into English. Perhaps if these works were readily available in the West, then the influence of the “rezunites” could be significantly undermined. Most of the books of Isaev and his opponents are freely available in Russian at this site.
Soviet Deployment: the Belostok Bulge.
“There was no ‘concentration’ of forces in the Belostok bulge. There was a common for the whole Soviet-German front density of forces about 30 km for a division, improper for either offensive or defensive purposes. The perimeter of defense for the 3rd Army reached 120 km, 10th Army – 200 km and 4th Army – 150 km. On average, in the Western Military District a rifle division covered 36 km; in particular, a rifle division of 3rd Army covered 40 km, 10th Army – over 33 km and 4th Army – 37.5 km.”
“The three mechanized corps deployed near Belostok were accorded quite reasonable defensive missions according to the covering plan of the Western MD. The 6th mechanized corps was supposed to be used this way: ‘In case of a penetration of large moto-mechanized enemy forces from the direction of Ostrolenka, Malkinya-Gurna towards Belostok… 6th Mechcorps under the cover of 7th anti-tank brigade concentrates in the region of Strablya, Raisk, Ryboly and, attacking the enemy in the general direction of Vysoke-Mazovetzk, Zambruv or Sokol, Strenkova Gura, in cooperation with 9th, 43rd fighter aviation divisions and 12th bomber division destroys the enemy’s mechanized corps.’ The third Mechcorps also had a mission according to the plans: ‘17th Mechcorps stays in district’s reserve and is used according to the circumstances and its readiness.’
The deployment of the Mechcorps in the Western MD accorded fully to the idea of delivering blows to the flanks of the German armored spearheads. The problem was not in the concentration but in the incorrect expectations of the depth at which German spearheads were aimed. The headquarters of the Western MD, in the person of D. G. Pavlov, did not expect such wide blows aimed to link up so deep at Minsk. The expected blows were expected to be of smaller scale, across river Lida. This was one of the organic imperfections of the defensive plan of the Western MD.”
On Soviet Planning.
“It has become traditional to compare ‘netto-quantity’ of the German tanks with ‘brutto-quantity’ of the Soviet tanks…according to German military historian Muller-Gillbrandt, Panzerwaffe possessed only 3582 tanks without counting the flammpanzers at the beginning of the war. If, however, everything that was produced in Germany and captured in Europe is counted, then the brutto-quantity of German tanks would approach 10,000. It is more important here to compare not the number of tanks, but organizational structures, into which they were included. Also important would be to tell about the problems of new Soviet tanks (short lifetime of V-2 engine, poorly trained crews, technical weaknesses of some designs).”
“The characteristics of Soviet artillery should not be misinterpreted as well. The old Soviet mythology that influenced Suvorov and his followers made rather modest claims: ‘Soviet artillery had high combat qualities, and some were the best in the world;’ ‘At the time of German invasion the Red Army was equipped with the best artillery, whose combat qualities surpassed those of Western European, including German, equipment.’
The fact is, however, that a significant portion of Soviet artillery was made up of modernized guns, originally developed even before the First World War. At the beginning of the war Red Army possessed 1667 howitzers of type 1938 yr.; 5578 122 mm howitzers of type 1910/30 yr.; and 778 122 mm howitzers of type 1909/37 yr. A larger proportion of 152 mm howitzers was of newer designs, but still the bulk of these guns were of old types. 152 mm howitzers of type 1909/30 yr. – 2432 pieces, 152 mm howitzers of type 1938 yr.- 1128 pieces. The numbers speak for themselves.”
The Opposing Forces.
“The fact was that Soviet military districts entered the war torn into several echelons (forces along the border, divisions moving towards the border from several tens of kilometers inside of it, and, finally, those “deep divisions” moving towards the border. Realistically from the 56 Soviet divisions along the border 16 divisions should be subtracted since these were either in Crimea or several tens of kilometers from the border; so only 40 Soviet divisions were available to meet the blows of the Wehrmacht’s first echelon. This can be seen on any good map that shows the deployment of the opposing forces on 22 June 1941.”
“The fact was that the bulk of Wehrmacht’s forces was concentrated on the border at the beginning of the war, while the echelons of the RKKA were divided by hundreds of kilometers. Meanwhile, Second Strategic Echelon near the rivers West Dvina and Dnepr, some 300-400 km from the border, could not provide any help to the armies of the first (‘screening’) echelons, so it should not be counted as part of the special districts at all. Not even mentioning, that on 22 June, only 83 military train echelons of Second Strategic Echelon armies had arrived to their destinations, while 455 were in transit, 401 had not yet embarked to be transported.”
Hitler – Stalin – Britain.
“It is absolutely useless to deny the strategic surprise the German invasion had on the USSR, it is an undisputed fact. Up to some moment the high command of USSR could not understand the motivation behind the attack on the USSR. The real motive, proclaimed by A. Hitler at the meeting of 9 January 1941 yr: ‘The British are supported only by the possibility of the Russian entrance into the war. Had this hope been lost, they would have quitted the war.’ This kind of strategy of attacking the USSR (and defeating it quickly) for the sakes of scaring Britain was not considered by J.V. Stalin. Stalin also did not believe that Hitler would so gravely underestimate the capabilities of the USSR.”
Comparison: 4th PzGruppe (Hoepner) vs 12th and 3rd Mech corps.
“In the whole 12th Mechcorps there were 2531 cars, as many as in ONE German panzer division. In the battle against the tank divisions of Hoepner’s 4th PzGruppe on June 24th of the whole 3rd Mechcorps only 1 division, the 2nd Tank division, was able to take part. The 5th tank division was at that time fighting against Hoth’s 3rd PzGruppe near Alitus.”
“From the 12th Mechcorps in the battle near Shaulyai initially only the 28th tank division was involved and not even in full force because of a lack of fuel. 23rd tank division of 12th Mechcorps at the that time was subordinated to the 10th Rifle Corps.”
“The lack of artillery did not allow to suppress the German artillery and allow freedom of action to the motorized infantry of the tank divisions. The German 6th and 1st Panzer divisions were equipped with powerful 105mm gun (the Mechcorps lacked similar weapons), further help in dealing with Soviet KV’s was provided by the 88mm dual purpose guns. Finally, in the meeting engagement between these armored forces, the Germans had not reached the positions of the 3rd and 12th mechcorps, but the 28th and 2nd tank divisions in their movement to the forward deployment areas for the counterattack ran into the German forces.”
By the time the Soviets approached forward positions to deliver a blow the flanks of the German spearheads, the Germans had already occupied these positions.
“So, instead of a blow against the German flank, a meeting engagement ensued between the 6th Panzer division of the 41st Motorized corps and the 2nd Tank division of the 3rd Mechcorps. At the final stages the 1st panzer division entered the battle completing the encirclement of the 2nd Tank division from the north-west. The 2nd Tank division was effectively surrounded by three German divisions, 6th, 1st panzer and 269th infantry (from the south). It should be obvious why this counterattack failed.”
Headquarters of the 4th Army: “‘After restoring the communications, the commander of the army received in a letter transmitted in plain text by telegraph the order of the commander of the Western MD about preparing all forces for combat.”
“Next L.M. Sandalov describes the events this way:
‘At 15 minutes past 4 o’clock – chief of staff of the 42nd rifle division informed that the enemy had started the artillery preparation of the Brest fortress. At these same minutes the following order was just received:
NKO Directive No. I ‘Concerning the Deployment of Forces in Accordance with the plan for Covering Mobilization and Strategic Concentration’
To: The Military Councils of the Leningrad, Baltic, Western and Kiev Military Districts.
Copy to: The People’s Commissar of the Navy.
- A surprise attack by the Germans on the fronts of the Leningrad, Baltic, Western Special, Kiev Special and Odessa Military Districts is possible during the course of 22-23 June 1941.
- The mission of our forces is to avoid provocative actions of any kind, which might produce major complications. At the same time, the Leningrad, Baltic, Western Special, Kiev Special and Odessa Military Districts’ forces are to be at full combat readiness to meet a surprise blow by the Germans or their allies.
- I order:
(a) Secretly man the firing points of the fortified regions on the state borders during the night of 22 June 1941;
(b) Disperse all aircraft, including military planes among field airfields and thoroughly camouflage them before dawn on 22 June 1941;
(c) Bring all forces to a state of combat readiness without the additional call up of conscript personnel. Prepare all measures to black out cities and installations.
Take no other measures without special permission.
Received by the Western Special Military District at 0045 hours 22 June 1941
Dispatched to subordinate forces at 0225-0235 hours 22 June 1941
This was quite a logical order that called for defensive measures, however, it was issued too late (received simultaneously with the German attack) and so could not be fully carried out to have a major impact.
“L. M. Sandalov clearly remembers receiving of the order at a time when the Germans had already started the offensive. The actions taken by Korobkov before the German invasion are described this way by the chief of staff of the 4th Army: ‘Before 3 o’clock 45 minutes the army commander personally gave two orders by phone: to the chief of staff of 42nd rifle division to alert the division for combat and move out of the fortress to the gathering region; to the commander of the 14th Mechcorps to bring his forces to full combat readiness.’”
Dubno: Where Armor Clashed.
Army Group South headquarters notes.
Entry for 25th June: “III motorized army corps, having successfully participated (24.6) in a tank battle during its advance, considerably slowed down its rate of advance and only on the evening of 25.6 reached Lutsk.”
Entry for 26th June: “In the sector of the 17 Army and 6 Army the situation remains unchanged. The enemy defense, especially in the sector of the 17 Army, remains active and has been noted for a strong will to resist. As a result of this, our successes in the advance were not decisive.”
According to the official Tables of Organization and Equipment (Russian: Shtat) the difference in autotransport: German Panzer division – 2300 autos, Soviet Tank division – 1696. Needless to say, Soviet divisions were not fully equipped and the huge non-hostile losses of machinery should also be kept in mind.
“A 500 km march for the tanks of those years inevitably led to mechanical breakdowns. This is true for the Red Army both in 1941 and in 1943. Such a long march would also inevitably lead the artillery to lag behind, because the tow-tractors could not keep up. Without having the full Shtat of trucks, the Mechcorps could not properly carry neither the infantry, nor the supplies.”
“Major-General D. I. Ryabyshev noted in the ‘Description of the 8th Mechcorps’ combat actions during the period of 22-29, June 1941: ‘The corps had marched for an average of 495 km before entering combat, left behind during the march was 50 % of all the machinery.”
(RF: this Mechcorps had a total of 4 37mm AA guns and 24 AAMG’s for protection against the Luftwaffe)
Information on the non-combat losses of T-35 tanks can be found on the Russian Battlefield site.
More information can be found here.
While the “rezunites” explain the failures in the early days of war by the soldiers’ unwillingness to fight, they are not simply dishonoring all the brave and loyal men but also are deliberately ignoring well-known facts.
The main causes of the catastrophe were: unfinished (unfolded) deployment (Red Army units were simply too deeply echeloned), incomplete mobilization of forces, especially, of the support and logistics units.
For example, the Independent 9th Army’s divisions had on average 30-50 km to defend, which was too much to create a sufficiently thick frontline.
The following are excerpts from Isaev’s review of recently re-published memoir of N. Poppel, the Commissar of the 8th Mechcorps, with the ample commentary of the “rezunites.”
The total of the discharged Red Army officers during the Great Purges was about 44,000 men (Shadenko’s report), but this was higher than the total number of executions. Most importantly is the expansion of the Red Army in 1939-1941 simultaneous with Stalin’s repressions.
The general diversity of equipment alone does mean a force’s weakness.
“A tank army of 1943 Shtat had tanks of many different kinds: T-34 of different types, T-70, sometimes Lend-Lease tanks (e.g. Rotmistrov’s 5 GTA at Kursk in 1943). The mix of different tanks remained even later, even though the tank armies were equipped mostly with T-34’s, self-propelled guns of various types (SU-76, SU-85, ISU’s), Lend-Lease based SU-57 (T-48 based), heavy IS tanks. This is not counting of all different kinds of trucks, motorcycles, gun carriages. Artillery was also mixed. A tank army of 1943-45 had 82-120mm mortars, 37mm AA guns and 12.7mm Dshk AAMG’s; 45,57,76mm AT guns; 76, 122mm guns, rocket launchers M-13. All these were adequately supplied with spare parts and ammunition.”
Major-General D. I. Ryabyshev, Commander of the 8th Mechcorps (report of July 18th, 1941):
“The majority of the drivers of KV and T-34 tanks had 3 to 5 hours of practical experience. During the period of the corps’ existence the men and machinery had not fully participated in tactical training, and were not practically tested neither on marches, nor on basic combat maneuvers. The tactical cooperation and cohesion did not exceed the company level, very rarely being satisfactory at battalion and regiment levels. This was the main cause of the weakness of the command and control during the march and the fighting on the regimental-division levels.”
“The Germans penetrated the front of the 5th Army and threw their mechanized forces into the gap in the Sokal bulge. These forces then quickly started moving into the rear of the South-Western Front. What could have been sent against them? The strategic and the operational reserves, of course. Zhukov hastily gathered the necessary forces to create pincers meant to cut off the spearhead of the 1st PzGruppe by blows from the south (15th, 8th Mechcorps, parts of the 4th Mechcorps), which were to link up with the 9th, 19th, 22nd Mechcorps to the north. This was Zhukov’s strategy. The high command of the South-Western Front, represented by M. A. Purkaev, had other ideas, and it is precisely the confrontation of these ideas that lead to the confusion in the actions of the 8th Mechcorps. The South-Western Front’s high command wanted to create a front from the not yet fully deployed rifle corps (they were on their way to the border when the war started), and with the mechcorps to counterattack the German spearheads penetrating this front. This idea was totally utopian, since the front line of these deploying corps did not have a sufficient density. Success could have been achieved only with the full cooperation of rifle and mechanized corps in strangling the thin neck of the German panzer spearhead. Otherwise the front of the rifle corps could be easily penetrated in several places, and the mission still stays the same but now in several directions. Zhukov left on 26th of June and instead of organizing a cooperation of rifle corps (which possessed necessary artillery that was lagging behind the mechcorps) and mechcorps, the high command of the Kiev MD followed its own initiative at pulling the mechcorps out of the battle and into the rear of the rifle corps. This strategy involved the 8th and 15th mechcorps. After considerable criticism was received from Moscow, this self-reliance was stopped, another attempt to create a shock group was made, but the retreat of the mechcorps, the loss of the crucial time had sad consequences. First of all, units should not have been moved back and forth so much; secondly, the German infantry divisions had reached the frontline by that time effectively changing the force ratio at the main directions. These infantry divisions played a significant role in the operation. At the end of the Dubno battle, Group Popel was encircled and destroyed precisely by the infantry divisions that followed behind the armored formations.”
“Major-General D.I. Ryabyshev did not complain about a lack of attention from the front’s high command. On the contrary, he was showered by orders. ‘Very frequent change of orders of the South-Western Front, which altered the direction of the movement and the character of the combat missions, weak reconnaissance by the corps units, had a negative impact on the adaptation to the circumstances. Lack of time for the organization of cooperation and the organization of command and control in combat forced units of the corps to enter combat in many cases from the march.’”
On the characteristics of the T-34 and KV tanks.
A report by S. Ogurtsov, the commander of the 10th Tank division, of the 15th Mechcorps.
(RF: 10th TD had 63 KV and 38 T-34 tanks on 22/06/1941, source)
“‘The soldiers and commanders of our division are of high opinion about our tanks. Among the good qualities our machines have the following weaknesses:
1). About the KV tank
a). AP shells or large caliber bullet hits can make the turret and the armored cupola jam and lock up.
b). The diesel engine is underpowered, and because of this, it overloads and overheats.
c). The main and the hull friction-clutches malfunction.
2). About the T-34 tank.
a). The armor of the hull can be penetrated from 300-400m by 37mm AP rounds. The hull’s side plates can be penetrated by 20mm AP rounds. During crossing of ditches the tanks dive with their noses because of the low silhouette, the traction is insufficient because of the relative flatness of the tracks.
b). A direct hit makes the driver’s hatch fall down.
c). The tracks can be disabled by any shell.
d). The main and hull friction-clutches malfunction.’”
“Some think that the Red Army’s mechcorps and the Wehrmacht’s motorized corps were sort of a bunch of knights fighting in an open field. In reality a significant role in the battles was played by infantry and artillery. The latter cleared the way for the attackers from the enemy’s strong points and anti-tank defenses. But it was exactly the Soviet artillery that lagged behind. Nor was it sufficient in the table of organization of the mechanized corps. In other words, the quantities of tanks alone should not be compared without full consideration of artillery, infantry and support units.”
“The research of the Dubno battles today allows to avoid both the compliments towards the communist party, as well as the political blabbering about the ‘bloody stalinist regime.’ Serious historical research assumes work with documents, reports of the participants, orders and other communications. The memoirs allow us only to understand the motivations behind the commanders’ decisions, while the dry pages of documents give us a chronology of events and the factual material about the battles. But only if to all this a proper understanding of the nature of combat during the Second World War is added, can a clear and accurate tale arise about the heroism of the tankists and the rifleman of the South-Western Front.
They did not have enough experience, the Red Army was not unfolded and had not completed its planned deployment and mobilization, and was not sufficiently equipped with transport and support units, at the time when it was forced to fight under the conditions of local German superiority.
The Mechcorps were the only means to intercept the German panzer spearheads, they were at least theoretically mobile enough to redeploy and to counterattack. The mechcorps were thrown into action in pieces, the direction of their blows was frequently altered under the continuously changing circumstances.
In the history of the South-Western Front’s counteroffensives there is everything: unconditional bravery, experienced soldiers and officers, green troops conscripted in May 1941, and the mistakes of the commanders. But these events deserve an accurate and a thoughtful description, and not the humiliation of our ancestors. Less of all they deserve the meaningless comments of a whole company of wanna-be historians.”