I might not be around on the weekend, so here’s your newscast for the week, with an extra little historically relevant article on misinformation that originated from the Winter War.
January 12th, 1940
All is quiet on the Western Front as the phony war is in full effect. The allies seek to resolve if and when the Germans will make a move. The political war & espionage was in full effect last week. Our sources indicate that critical information was leaked to spies by high ranking government officials… We do not have any details on the incident itself, or if there will be any consequences as a result of the leak.
January 12th, 1940
Last week, the counteroffensives continued.
We’ll start this week with a quote from historian Max Hastings.
“The Finnish government never deluded itself that the nation could inflict an absolute defeat on the Russians; it aspired only to make the price of fulfilling Stalin’s ambitions unacceptably high. This strategy was doomed, however, against an enemy indifferent to human sacrifice.”
Last week, we followed the Finnish counteroffensive near Suomusalmi. The Russian 163rd division that had been surrounded was no longer in any fighting capacity. The Russians had sent the 44th division to relieve them, but after 5 days without food in -30 to -40 degree weather, they stopped trying. The 44th Division was now spread over a 5 mile stretch near Suomusalmi with the gaps being patrolled by Tanks. The Finnish forces attacked the flanks at close quarters, the Russians dug in. Due to the close fighting, the Russian army was unable to make use of their artillery… And the Russian air support, helpless, could only watch from above.
This offensive gave the rest of the Suomusalmi forces dealing with the 163rd time to catch up and join the offensive. The Russian tanks are unable to really be put to use either due to the Finnish controlling and mining the roads between the Russian platoons. In fact, the Russian tanks mainly ended up providing a source of cover to the attacking Finns. The commander of the 44th Army Brigade, Alexei Vinogradov had refused to announce a retreat despite the state of his forces. This is because he did not receive an order from higher up to do so. Some of the Russian men ran, others were gunned down in their dugouts without any attempt of resistance or escape. Alexei Vinogradov will later call for a general retreat on the 6th… Most of the 44th division will either be killed or freeze to death, 1300 were taken as PoWs. Following the retreat, the commanding officers of the 44th division were held responsible for the failure and were executed by firing squad.
The rest of the world took note of the failures by the Red Army and determined that despite being grand in numbers, the Red Army would be no match for a skilled and disciplined Western army. The German general staff wrote this in their assessment of the Red Army:
“Organization, equipment, and means of leadership unsatisfactory… Communication system bad, transportation bad… Fighting qualities of the troops in heavy fighting, dubious. The Russian mass is no match for an army with modern equipment and superior leadership.”
Back in Germany, Hitler addressed the nation and indicated that the Jewish capitalist would not survive the 20th century. Still, it is worth noting that many people in Germany did not take Hitler’s plans seriously and saw it as an expression of his antisemitism which was shared by many.
In the occupied territory, people are starving to death in Warsaw… Several cattle trucks arrived there carrying thousands of PoWs, over 200 of them had frozen to death before arrival, many more will die within hours of their arrival.
Now, I think this is as good of a time as any to debunk some myths about the second world war, namely as it relates to Russia and the Red Army. You see, a lot of the misconceptions that the western powers had about the Soviet Union were based on its performance in the winter war. These myths were later propagated by captured German commanders who fabricated stories in order to absolve themselves of various failures throughout the war.
The Red Army had infinite manpower
The Red Army’s tactics consisted of human wave attacks
The Red Army was incompetent
So, these myths kind of go hand in hand, and while they originated from a grain of truth, it’s greatly exaggerated to the point where it no longer has any basis in reality.
Let’s start with #1… If we’re talking about the Winter War and a comparison to Finland, then… yeah, it must have seemed like the Russians had an endless horde of men and reserves to replace those men… Finland did not have much of an army at this time and did not have a large population to call on. However, if we jump forward over a year to the summer of 1941… Operation Barbarossa began and the narrative persisted, and many German Generals attributed their loss to the pure volume of Russian manpower at the end of the war. This is simply not true. Russia had manpower shortages from the very early going on the eastern front. For much of the war, the central Axis powers had more men that they could call on than the USSR did.
Point #2, the Red Army did not focus much on tactical warfare, this much is true. The Red Army was far more focussed on a global strategic level (as opposed to the Wehrmacht that was more focused on tactics). Despite this, the Red Army was not the human meat grinder that it was widely believed to be. Simply put, in order for this myth to be true AND for the Russians to have won ANY war, they would have needed to develop a better version of the human being, one that was resistant to machine gun fire. The “WHY?” is quite obvious. Machine guns, even back in WW1 had demonstrated that they could kill well over 100,000 men in a single day when faced with a mindless charge. It’s worth noting that the Red Army, despite embarrassment won both the Winter War and the Eastern Front of WW2. These feats cannot be accomplished by human wave attacks into machine gunfire.
For anyone who needs supporting evidence on the above point, let me refer you all the way back to August 20th & 22nd of 1914. On August 20th, a French Army of 40,000 men charged at a German position, taking over 50% casualties & PoW. On August 22nd, the French engaged in two other offensives of similar nature, one force lost 1/3 of it’s men before retreating, the other well over 50%. From August 20th-August 31st of 1914, France lost 75,000 soldiers, killed in action. In these 11 days, France suffered over 275,000 casualties in total. In just a couple weeks of WW1, over 1,000,000 men had died, not a single objective had been taken as a result of human wave attacks against machine guns. It’s now in 1940… Machine guns are more accurate, they have a better rate of fire. Artillery is more deadly, more accurate, and has a longer range. Modern Armor is now a factor. Death from above was also a real threat. If you believe that human wave attacks could realistically accomplish anything in 1940, then you are sorely mistaken. This is a myth.
There are German first-hand accounts in WW2 which described the Russians advancing in waves, however, these are the exception. These were targetted offensives where the Russians would take high casualties against a weaker defensive point in order to gain positional advantages against the main German advances. The Red Army favored Strategic warfare over tactical warfare. Also, many of the failures we’re seeing in the Winter War are due to the lack of radio & coordination between Armored units & Infantry Units… We’ll get to that in a second.
Point #3, the Red Army was incompetent. This point is the most valid point of the common misconceptions, it’s just… A complicated issue. I think, one of the big misconceptions is that soviet Bolshevism is the main cause for the army’s failure… Namely Salin’s purges. Now, Stalin executed a lot of people, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that he decapitated the Red Army. Historians are split on this, however, there is a serious question to be asked about how significant of a role did these purges play in the overall performance of the Red Army.
The general argument (without condoning mass murder) is that all of the warring nations who had active generals that commanded in WW1 had outdated tactics and suffered a lot of needless losses as a result (this was even more true at the start of WW1).
The actual reason for soviet incompetence or perceived incompetence is that from 1939 to 1941, the Red army grew by 5x. All of a sudden, 80% of the Soviet Army was in serious lack of training… 80% of the soviet army lacked basic supplies… This ranged from Gasoline, to winter clothing, to ammunition, to food… Nevermind more advanced coordination equipment such as radios. All of this expansion was about preparing for imminent war (as was the campaign into Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, and Finland - to secure military bases on the Baltic Sea & to secure a western front away from Russia itself).
One thing that the Red Army realized in 1940 was the great logistical issues and training requirement that came with rapid expansion, which I think they didn’t really properly figure out till 1942… It’s great to have a large army with a lot of stuff, but when you can’t supply it, it then becomes useless.
I think it’s especially interesting when you look at the German report from the New Year of 1940 in light of the growing logistical and training challenges they would run into as they themselves moved into the vast terrain that the Red Army itself was struggling to deal with.