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Re: Settling Soviet Hash


From Norman Podhoretz:

Peter–I agree entirely with your analysis [that there was no practicable way of “settling Soviet hash” in the late 1940s], and I don’t know of any reputable historian who argues otherwise.

From Matt Franck, of Radford University and NROs Bench Memos:

I am merely a political scientist and not a historian….But [don’t be]… captivated by George C. Scott’s portrayal of George S. Patton.  Cleaned up the Nazis, now time to go after the Bolshies!  This wasn’t going to happen.  The delivery system for the atomic bomb circa 1946 was the long-range bomber, and the targets for the weapon were great urban centers (like Hiroshima and Nagasaki) where its impact could be greatest in terms of demoralization of the enemy.  It was only in years to come that ICBMs on both sides came to be pointed at each other in “counterforce” strategy.  Now does anyone think that the United States in the late 1940s was prepared to attack the civilian population of the Soviet Union, a country with which we were not at war in direct pitched battle on conventional fields, by obliterating Moscow and Leningrad?  Do any of these people remember the impact of John Hersey’s Hiroshima?  The long twilight struggle of the Cold War was, in both moral and strategic terms, the only option.

And this, bristling with provocative detail, from a reader who obviously knows a lot about military history:  

Dear Mr. Robinson,

I fully agree that war with the Soviet Union in 1945 was politically
impossible (partly because FDR shortsightedly undertook a huge effort to
improve Stalin’s image in the US), and I suppose that alone should settle
the question of settling the Soviet hash early. However, the only problem
was political – technically, the war would have been very easy and would
have essentially lasted for just several weeks (after all, Germany managed
to destroy the Red Army in 1941 in three or four months, and the US Army in
1945 was much stronger and much more mobile than Wehrmacht in 1941, and the Germans had to fight on huge territory with very bad roads, while in 1945
the Red Army was conveniently concentrated in a relatively small area
covered with an autobahn network).  [Robinson’s comment:  But what about the Battle of Stalingrad?  Even after suffering hundreds of thousands of casualties, the Soviets proved capable in early 1943 of mounting a counteroffensive that trapped and destroyed the German Sixth Army.]

The Soviets did not outnumber us – the Soviet armed forces in 1945 may
actually have been smaller than the US armed forces and they were definitely
smaller than the combined armed forces of the US, UK and Canada. Their
quality was infinitely worse. The doctrines were obsolete. The officers were
incompetent and the generals were even worse. CCC (command, control and
communications) was a joke. Excessive centralization made the command
structure very inflexible and slow to respond to changing circumstances.
Logistics left much to desire (to put it charitably). The enlisted men and
even many NCOs were functionally illiterate, very few had any mechanical
experience or knew how to drive or to read a map, and so on.

The USSR totally depended on the US for its offensive capabilities, since
most Soviet trucks were received from the US (and without trucks you have no
logistics – it’s that simple). The Soviets got half of their aviation fuel
from the US (their fighter planes could not fully perform on Soviet made
gas), as well as virtually all electronics (radios, radars, etc.) and a lot
of other stuff (including, notably, food – my father ate virtually no food
during WWII that was not American made). The Soviet industry could have been
shut down very quickly by bombing power plants, since the bulk of
electricity production was used by war industries (as there was very little
civilian consumption and very few civilian industries) and there was no
spare capacity. By contrast, half of German electricity was used for
civilian consumption, and that caused the American planners to reject the
idea of targeting German energy sector – since a lot of capacity had to be
destroyed before putting any dent into military production. And of course,
if even Germany could not stop B-17 raids, the USSR did not have a prayer of
stopping B-29s (Japan could not either).

Logistics in 1945 overwhelmingly favored the Anglo-Saxons, who were situated
just a few hours of driving away from the huge port of Antwerp (to which the
combined Anglo-Saxon merchant navies could deliver virtually any amount of
supplies). The Red Army in East Germany was a coupla thousand miles away
from their industrial base in the Urals. The infrastructure in Russia sucked
(always did and always will – it has something to do with the mysterious
Russian soul). It was particularly bad (because of historical and
geographical reasons) along the Soviet Western border. Bombing just four
railway junctions along that border would have virtually disconnected
Eastern Europe from the USSR. And of course, the Soviet troops in Germany
desperately needed huge daily shippings from the USSR since, famously, there
was no oil in Germany, so all Soviet fuel had to be brought in. The same
applies to munitions, spare parts etc., since German industry was
devastated, and anyway arranging production of different munitions (7.62 mm
instead of German 7.92 mm caliber) and spare parts for Soviet (rather than
German) equipment in German factories would have taken quite some time. So
basically the Soviets would have had to fight with fuel and supplies they
already had on hand in Germany (and while their logistical infrustructure
behind them was very bad, they were like sitting ducks atop the autobahn
network which was a very favorable ground for Patton’s preferred fighting

But the question is whether they would have fought at all. Back in 1941 a
lot of them thought the Germans came to liberate them from Communism, and it
took the Nazis quite an effort to persuade them otherwise. In 1945 the
morale was very low again. Russian soldiers were treated like dirt by their
superiors, they were just glad they survived and only wanted to go home.
They saw with their own eyes that contrary to Soviet propaganda the people
of Eastern Europe, let alone Germany lived incomparably better than the
Russians, and so they did not really have much to fight for, especially if
the American planes would have showered them with flyers promising to
disband collective farms (well, for forty acres and a mule they would have
probably signed up to fight on the American side – in fact a lot of them
fought on the German side for as little as food). Soon after the end of the
war Stalin managed to lower the morale even more, as desribed in Gulag
Archiepelago. While Soviet soldiers who were captured by the Germans (mostly
because of Stalin’s idiotic orders) and survived the horrors of POW camps
(since the Soviet Union was not a signatory of the Geneva Convention, the
Germans did not feel obliged to feed Soviet POWs, and Stalin famously
rejected an offer of help from the Red Cross, stating that the USSR did not
have POWs – only traitors) were subsequently packed into cattle cars and
shipped off to Gulag, Stalin issued a blanket amnesty for deserters. Thus he
sent a perverted message to his troops and potential conscripts at home: if
you risk your life and fight for Stalin and fall into enemy hands, Stalin
will never forgive you, but if you just refuse, he will! I can’t imagine why
any rational man would have chosen to fight for Stalin (rather than just
hide away till it’s all over) after THAT.


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