May 7, 2015

The Price of the Victory

Oleksiy  Volovych

The life of my generation, who is now about seventy, began after the Great Patriotic War among compatriots who had experienced the manifestations of that terrible war and the Stalinist terror. I remember the touching atmosphere of the second half of the 1950s, joy, and spiritual freedom of citizens, friendly and united, often gathering at a modest holiday table. My father liked to invite guests for holidays. I remember there were frequent disputes about Stalin, that he allegedly “won the war.” My father was already a fierce anti-Stalinist. The fate of his family, many of whose members had become innocent victims of Stalin's bloody Moloch, encouraged him to do so. For life I have remembered father's words: “... the Soviet people won the war not thanks to, but in spite of Stalin”.

My father was fond of (as they say now, it was his hobby) history of the Great Patriotic War. He had a lot of books-memoirs of prominent Soviet military leaders issued during the “Khrushchev's thaw”. He could talk for hours about these generals, and all the major battles of the war.

Discussions about Stalin's role in the Second World War still do not cease. During Gorbachev's perestroika there were many publications quite critically covering Stalin's role in the war. These, above all, should include two volumes by Colonel-General Dmytro Volkohonov “Triumph and Tragedy. Y. V. Stalin's Political Portrait”, published in Ukrainian in 1989. I have read this book a few times and I think that a more objective and more detailed book about Stalin has not been published so far.

In the same year I had the opportunity to see and hear D. Volkohonov. At that time he was at the head of the Military History Institute of USSR Ministry of Defense, where I defended Candidate's dissertation on American-Libyan confrontation in the 1970-1980s. Doctor of History and Philosophy Sciences, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences D. Volkohonov published about 30 books on history, philosophy, politics, in particular, the six-volume “Leaders” (Lenin, Stalin, Trotsky). They are based on sealed documents of the KGB and the USSR Ministry of Defense, to which none of researchers had had an access before. Under the leadership of D. Volkohonov, a work began on preparation of a 10-volume edition of “The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet people”. I am proud that my certificate of the Candidate of Historical Sciences was signed by D. Volkohonov.

As for Stalin's role in the Great Patriotic War, in my opinion, it was ambiguous. Without denying the tragedy of our people and Stalin's blunders and crimes, especially before the war and in its first few months, it should be noted that at the final stage, after the Battle of Stalingrad, Stalin learned lot a from the Soviet military leaders such as Boris Shaposhnikov, S. Tymoshenko, A. Vasylevskyi, M. Vatutin, A. Antonov, K. Meretskov, H. Zhukov, and thus was able to more or less adequately perform the duties of the Supreme Commander. But Stalin was gaining experience of managing large operational formations at great cost of bloody experiments, mistakes and blunders. Before the Battle of Stalingrad, Stalin had been taking a lot of decisions on impulse, so they were superficial, inconsistent, and incompetent. In the first half of the war, after reports about a latest defeat at the front, Stalin issued not operational but punitive orders, sent angry telegrams, signed hastily prepared directives. But at that period of time things at the front kept getting worse.

Speaking about Soviet Union's preparations  to the war, we must bear in mind that by his incompetent actions Stalin so much weakened the country's defense, that it resulted in millions of unnecessary victims among the military and civilians. First of all, we must remember the millions of innocent victims of dispossession, famine of 1932-33, and the Stalinist terror in 1937-1938, many of whom could have come to the defense of the Motherland. According to D. Volkohonov's estimates, in the period from 1929 to 1953, victims of this terror were about 22 million people.

Before the war, the best experts of the Red Army were exterminated. Totally, more than 40 thousand people of the Commandment personnel were repressed. In particular, were shot dead talented Marshals M. Tukhachevskyi, V. Blucher, A. Yehorov and Generals I. Yakir, P. Dybenko, A. Cork, B. Feldman, I. Fedko, R. Eideman, M. Kashyrin,  Ya. Hamarnyk, I. Uborevych, J. Alksnis, V. Prymakov, V. Putna and thousands of others. In Stalin's camps resisted abuse and torture future glorious Marshal K. Rokosovskyi and F. Tolbukhin, Army General A. Horbatov and others. During interrogation Stalin's executioners smashed Rokossovsky’s 9 teeth and broke three ribs, twice he was taken out to be shot dead and a blank volley was made. The Marshall was released in March 1940 with the assistance of his former Commander, Marshal S. Tymoshenko.

General A. Horbatov spent three years (from May 1939 to March 1941) in Stalin's prison. Later, in his memoirs, he wrote: “There were five interrogations under torture at intervals of two or three days, sometimes I was brought to the chamber on a stretcher. When the third series of interrogations began, I would like to die as soon as possible”! Here is what Marshal Zhukov wrote in his memoirs about A. Horbatov: “As part of the Bryansk Front the most vigorously was advancing the 3rd Army under Command of General Horbatov, who throughout the war had been admirably coping with the role of Commander of the Army. And we can say: he could have coped successfully with commanding a front. But senior leadership did not like him for his honesty and harshness of judgments. Especially against him was Beria, who absolutely groundlessly kept him in prison for several years.” And such horror stories can be told in thousands.

During 1937-1938 were killed all the commanders of military districts, commanders of corps, almost all commanders of divisions and brigades, half of regiment commanders! In their place were appointed young, inexperienced commanders. Stalinist repressions adversely affected the morale and combat capability of the Red Army. The surviving officers, for the most part, were very frightened, their will was paralyzed, and they completely lost the ability to think independently.

It should be noted that the concentration of all the political, state and military power in the hands of Stalin had both positive and negative consequences. On the one hand, his unlimited power made it possible to maximum fullness to direct efforts of the people to solving defensive problems. On the other — the absolute autocracy was suppressing independence, initiative and creativity of leaders at all levels. Not a single more or less important decision could be made without the “leader's” approval.

One of the greatest and most insidious of Stalin's “mistakes” was the signing on the 28th of September 1939 of the German-Soviet Frontier Treaty. Having fraternized with German fascism, Stalin actually disavowed all his previous anti-fascist ideological positions. Had he established alliances with France, Great Britain and the United States instead, it is clear that Hitler would not have dared to unleash the Second World War.

Receiving information from the Intelligence Service about Hitler's preparations for the attack against the Soviet Union, Stalin was in no hurry to take emergency measures of a military nature in accordance with the plans of operational and strategic deployment. Had the necessary operational and mobilization measures been taken in time, energetically and secretly, the beginning of the war could have gone in a different way. As Marshal A. Vasylevskyi wrote, “Stalin is guilty because he did not see, did not notice the limit beyond which such a policy (appeasement of Hitler — Author) becomes not only unnecessary, but dangerous”. Marshal Zhukov wrote in his memoirs: “In the period of maturing of the dangerous military situation, we, the military, obviously, had not done everything to persuade Y.V.  Stalin in the inevitability of war with Nazi Germany, and the need to take emergency measures envisaged by operational and mobilization plans.”

It is common knowledge that the Red Army suffered a heavy defeat in the first months of the war because, due to Stalin's “mistakes and blunders”, it was not timely put on a war footing. In the first half of the day of June 22, 1941, German aviation destroyed on the ground of the Western Military District more than 1.200 Soviet aircrafts, which did not manage even to get off from the ground, because they were not refueled. By September 30, 1941 the Red Army Air Force had lost 8.166 aircrafts, i.e., 96 % of all aircrafts available at the beginning of the war. During the first days of the war, more than 200 trains with fuel and ammunition turned out in the hands of the German army. Of 212 divisions that were part of the Army at the beginning of the war, only 90 were fully staffed. At this, the composition of the Soviet troops then was qualitatively inferior to the Wehrmacht.

In late June 1941, the main forces of the Western Front were surrounded. Of the 44 divisions of the Front, 24 were completely destroyed, while the rest of divisions lost from 30 to 90 % of force and resources. On the Southern Front the state of affairs was not better. During the three weeks of the war 30 divisions had virtually ceased to exist, about 70 divisions lost more than 50 % of the personnel. On Stalin's orders in July 1941, the Commander of the Western Front, General of the Army D. Pavlov was arrested and shot dead. The same fate was prepared, for dozens of other Soviet Generals. Stalin, who was most to blame for the catastrophic beginning of the war, showed exceptional cruelty to those who fell victim to his blunders.

The Commander of the South-Western Front, Colonel-General Mykhaylo KyrponisIn August 1941, the Commander of the South-Western Front, Colonel-General Mykhaylo Kyrponis, to avoid encirclement, had repeatedly appealed to Stalin for permission to withdraw the troops into the rear to the line of the river Psel. But the Supreme did not allow to. As a result, in mid-September 4 Armies of the South-Western Front — about 500 thousand soldiers and officers were encircled. M. Kyrponis himself and almost all the Front's Commanders were killed in an unequal battle during the attempt to break out of the encirclement. However, if Kyrponis did break out, it is unlikely that Stalin would have left him alive. In the tragedy of the South-Western Front a huge share of guilt lies on the High Command and its Supreme Commander. The disastrous beginning of the war was a consequence of absolute autocracy and “infallible leader's” blunders.

The successes of the German army against the Red Army in the early days of the war literally stunned Stalin. He (and not he alone) was shocked by the fact that a week after the outbreak of the war the capital of Belarus was occupied by German troops.

According to some reports, in July 1941, Stalin, Beria and Molotov had been discussing the possibility of a “second Brest Treaty”, that is, of the surrender of the Soviet Union to Germany. They were willing to give Hitler the Baltic States, Moldova, large parts of Belarus and Ukraine. Molotov asked the Bulgarian Ambassador Ivan Stamenov to be a mediator in the negotiations with Hitler on behalf of Stalin. But he refused to play the shameful role and reassured the frightened Soviet leadership: “If you retreat, even to the Urals, you will still win.” After the war, after Beria's arrest, the Bulgarian Ambassador in conversation with Marshal K. Moskalenko confirmed the fact of the Soviet leadership's addressing him with a request to mediate in negotiations with Hitler's leadership.

The biggest threat to the Soviet Union came from the German offensive on Moscow. Adolf Hitler regarded the Soviet capital as one of the main military and political objectives of the operation “Barbarossa”. To take Moscow, Germans formed the group of armies “Center” under the command of Field Marshal F. von Bock. On the Soviet side in the direction of Moscow took the defense forces of the Western, Bryansk and Reserve fronts. As a result of the October attack of German tank divisions, the main forces of these fronts were encircled near Bryansk and Vyazma. Over 688 thousand Soviet soldiers and officers became prisoners of war. In late October the battles were fought in the 80-100 km from Moscow. However, in November, thanks to the desperate resistance of the Soviet troops, the German offensive was stopped and the strength and spirit of the Nazis were getting exhausted.

In late November — early December 1941, Soviet troops got large reinforcements. Sensing the change in the course of the battle, the Soviet Commandment orders to counterattack, although German troops had the advantage in manpower and military equipment. December 5, 1941 troops of the Kalinin, Western and South-Western fronts make a counteroffensive. Its main result was elimination of the immediate threat to Moscow. German troops were push backward to 100-250 km.

Near Moscow the German army suffered its first defeat in World War II. The myth of its invincibility was dispelled. Solving of the issue of holding the strategic initiative was postponed till the summer campaign of 1942. After the successful counteroffensive, Stalin concluded that the Red Army in the Battle of Moscow snatched the initiative from the hands of the enemy and created conditions for a general offensive on all fronts: from Ladoga Lake to the Black Sea. At this, Stalin repeated many times that after the Battle of Moscow, the Germans would not withstand the blows of the Red Army. However, as is well known, offensive operations of Soviet troops in the summer-autumn campaign of 1942 failed.

In November 1941, the Soviet troops, which were unsuccessfully commanded by Marshal G. Kulyk, were forced to give up Kerch, thus bringing closer the surrender of Sevastopol and the Crimea as a whole. Stalin did not want to come to terms with this loss. And he supported the proposal of the General Staff to reinforce the heroic defense of Sevastopol by a landing operation in the area of ​​the Kerch Peninsula. At the end of December 1941, 40 thousand people with tanks and guns land near Feodosiya. First, the Soviet troops managed to move Westwards by more than 100 km, having freed Kerch and Feodosiya. However, in May 1942, the German group, numerically twice inferior to Soviet troops, attacked along the coast of the Gulf of Feodosiya. Within 12 days of the German offensive, the Crimean Front, with a significant advantage in power, lost 176 thousand people, 347 tanks, 3,476 guns and mortars, and 400 aircrafts. It was another disastrous defeat of the Red Army.

Marshal KulykA few words about the tragic fate of our fellow countryman Marshal Kulyk. In March 1942, Stalin demoted him to the rank of Major General and stripped of the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, and in April 1943 raised to Lieutenant-General and appointed Commander of the 4th Guard Army, which liberated Poltava. Back in 1940, H. Kulyk's wife was arrested and shot dead. In 1945, H. Kulyk was for the second time lowered to the rank of Major General for his harsh statements against the Stalinist regime. In 1946, during the post-war purge of commanders, H. Kulyk was removed from the post of the Deputy Commander of the Volga Military District, arrested and shot dead in August 1950 after the court's death sentence.

...In May 1942, Stalin launched the Southern and South-Western Fronts' offensive on Kharkiv. But the German Tank Army under command of E. von Kleist made a counter-offensive and surrounded two Soviet Armies in the area of Barvinkove. Here, the losses were even greater than in the Crimea — up to 230 thousand men were killed and captured, 775 tanks, more than 500 guns and mortars were lost. The above-mentioned defeats are largely explained by incompetence of the Supreme Commander, low professional level of commanders who replaced the killed by the “leader” before the war predecessors.

Marshal VoroshylovPerhaps the greatest human tragedy in the Great Patriotic War was the siege of Leningrad, which lasted 872 days — from September 8, 1941 to January 27, 1944.  During the siege the city's population was suffering from hunger, shelling and bombing. Marshal Voroshylov failed to organize the defense of Leningrad, he refused to lead Volkhov Front either. By the end of the war Voroshylov was in the rear, preparing reserves. In the locked Leningrad famine killed more than 640 thousand civilians. There were cases of cannibalism in the city. The number of such cases had reached 600 per month. The found out cannibals were immediately executed. Tens of thousands died after they had been taken to the “mainland”. The ice road across Lake Ladoga was Leningrad's only link with the country. During 1942, 5 attempts were made to break the siege of Leningrad, but they were unsuccessful. Only January 18, 1943 encirclement was broken.

Incredibly great was the power of the spirit of the Soviet people. After the disastrous defeats of 1941-1942 it found the strength to endure and win, paying with millions of human victims for the victory.

In 1943, a turning point occurred in the German-Soviet war: the German offensive had weakened, and Soviet forces began a large-scale offensive. The Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk were decisive in the course of the Second World War. During the late summer and autumn of 1943, Soviet troops occupied the left bank and Donbas. In September-October 1943, the Red Army broke through the German defense line on the Dnieper and November 6 was Kyiv. In January 1944, the Red Army began to free from Germans the Right Bank and the Crimea.

October 28, 1944, Ukraine was completely liberated from the invaders.

prominent economist, academician, chairman of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, member of the State Defense Committee M. VoznesenskyiThe Soviet people waged a heroic struggle, not only at the front, but also in the rear. Due to extraordinary efforts, hundreds of factories had been moved thousands of kilometers to the east and quickly began to produce weapons, military equipment and ammunition.

By January 1942, to the East had been transported and put into operation 1.523 industrial enterprises, including 1.360 defense ones. Already in 1941, the defense industry produced 12.000 combat aircrafts, 6.500 tanks, about 16 thousand guns and mortars.

A major role in the organization of production of military products in the Urals during the war played a prominent economist, academician, chairman of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, member of the State Defense Committee M. Voznesenskyi. Under his leadership, the “Military-Economic Support Plan for the Country’s Defense” was developed. However, this did not save Voznesenskyi from the ruthless Stalinist terror. Later, in October 1949, he was arrested and in September 1950 sentenced on the trumped-up “Leningrad case”. Soon, he was executed. He was then 46 years old.

The USA and Great Britain helped the Soviet Union greatly. Since the autumn of 1941 there began British supplies of tanks, aircrafts, aluminum and other materials. Particularly significant were supplies under the Lend-Lease Act, carried out by the Allies mainly through the occupied Iran (23.8 %), the Pacific Ocean (47.1 %) and the Northern Sea Route (22.7 %). During the war, the Soviet Union received from Allies by lend-lease 22.2 thousand aircrafts; 12.2 thousand tanks and self-propelled mounts; 344 thousand tons of explosives; 1.860 trains; 70 electric diesel locomotives; about 1 thousand railway carriages; 10 thousand railway platforms; 100 thousand kilometers of telephone wires; 2.5 million phones; 15 million pairs of boots; 50 thousand tons of leather for making shoes; 54 thousand tons of wool. The Allies supplied about 2 million tons of petroleum products; 2.5 million tons of special steel for armor; 400 thousand tons of copper and bronze; 250 thousand tons of aluminum. The Soviet Union received 480 thousand trucks (Studebakers). Plus a large number of vessels. A special place was given to food supplies: 250 thousand tons of tinned meat; 300 thousand tons of fat; 65 thousand tons of butter; 700 thousand tons of sugar.