The Corner

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.

Peter Robinson — Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Most Popular

White House

The Problem Isn’t Just the GOP, Mr. Comey

During a CNN town hall on Wednesday night, James Comey alleged that the Republican party allows President Trump to get away with making inappropriate statements without holding him accountable. “If the Republicans, if they just close their eyes and imagine Barack Obama waking up in the morning saying someone ... Read More
Law & the Courts

‘Judges for the #Resistance’

At Politico, I wrote today about the judiciary’s activism against Trump on immigration: There is a lawlessness rampant in the land, but it isn’t emanating from the Trump administration. The source is the federal judges who are making a mockery of their profession by twisting the law to block the Trump ... Read More
White House

Trump’s Friendships Are America’s Asset

The stale, clichéd conceptions of Donald Trump held by both Left and Right — a man either utterly useless or only rigidly, transactionally tolerable — conceal the fact that the president does possess redeeming talents that are uniquely his, and deserve praise on their own merit. One is personal friendliness ... Read More

Columbia 1968: Another Untold Story

Fifty years ago this week, Columbia students riding the combined wave of the civil-rights and anti-war movements went on strike, occupied buildings across campus, and shut the university down. As you revisit that episode of the larger drama that was the annus horribilis 1968, bear in mind that the past isn’t ... Read More

Only the Strident Survive

‘I am not prone to anxiety,” historian Niall Ferguson wrote in the Times of London on April 22. “Last week, however, for the first time since I went through the emotional trauma of divorce, I experienced an uncontrollable panic attack.” The cause? “A few intemperate emails, inadvertently forwarded ... Read More