Archive for the 'Books' Category

In his recent editorial in the Washington Post, Naval Academy professor Dr. Bruce Fleming asserts that leadership is the “snake oil” for today’s military and that organizations — civilian and military alike — are infatuated with it as the antidote to all organizations’ problems. He has a point. Leadership training as the single answer rings hollow. As he also suggests, teaching leadership may be a futile exercise. But he is wrong to say that “there’s no proof [leadership] has any benefit at all — or for that matter, even exists.”

On the contrary, good leadership and the powerful culture that it engenders can make the difference between a solvent company and a profitable one. Jim Collins’ Good to Great book research found virtually all the companies that outperformed their industry peers in the marketplace for sustained periods of time had what Collins called “Level Five” leaders, executives who exhibit a rare combination of deep personal humility and intense resolve.

In a military organization, leadership can make the difference between life and death. Forty years ago, 591 prisoners of war returned home alive from North Vietnam after the longest period of wartime incarceration in our nation’s history. They remained unified in their resistance to their captors and unified in their adherence to a mission: Return with Honor. To this day, they have one of the lowest rates of PTSD of any group of combat veterans: a lifetime average of 4%. And their leaders, especially Vice Adm. James Stockdale, made the unquestionable difference.

Texas Rep. Sam Johnson, a former POW, recalls one hot summer night in 1967 when he shared a cell with Stockdale, the senior ranking officer of the group. They were trying to communicate with recent “shoot-downs,” other aviators whose planes had been recently shot down. As Mr. Johnson describes it, “They were scared, for good reason. We wanted to talk to them and make them know that there were other Americans around.” The communications system was the POWs’ lifeblood, but the risks for using it were high. When possible, the POWs assigned at least one man the task of “clearing,” or alerting other POWs of a guard’s impending approach.

“Jim would get on the floor and ‘clear’ and I’d get up on the concrete bunk and talk to [a new guy] down the back side out of the window. We happened to be on the back of the jail. We would tell him essentially how the cow eats the cabbage [how the things worked in the prison system] and, that ‘you’re going to be all right.’”

On this particular night, they were finally caught. “The guard and an officer came charging down the hall. Jim barely got up before the door opened. I’m standing there and the door pops open and here’s this little North Vietnamese guy wearing Air Force 2nd Lieutenant bars. Turns out he was a camp commander. He wasn’t a lieutenant – he was masquerading as one. Jim hauled off and decked him right there. Just knocked him down. And, I thought, ‘…We’re in deep serious now.’ And we were.”

Punishment was immediate and harsh. Mr. Johnson spent 72 days in leg stocks in a small cell with the windows boarded up. He quietly notes, “Jim got the worst punishment.”

Why did Stockdale intentionally assault the camp commander by punching him in the face? An irrational outburst of anger or violence was completely out of character for this Stanford-educated philosopher. He was noted around the camp for his towering intellect, not his emotional volatility.

Mr. Johnson pauses for a long moment before answering that question, choosing his words deliberately. “Frankly, I think he was protecting me. You know, that’s a characteristic of leadership.”

Stockdale exhibited several noteworthy characteristics of a great leader that day. He stayed focused on the POWs’ agreed-upon mission, he chose his battle carefully and — without fear of personal consequences — he sacrificed himself to protect those under him. He asked nothing of his followers that he would not first deliver himself. When pain was on the agenda, Stockdale didn’t delegate. He led.

 

Peter Fretwell and Taylor Baldwin Kiland are the co-authors of the new book, Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton: Six Characteristics of High-Performance Teams.

 



As this week’s addition to the USNI Blog series in the run up to the release of LCDR BJ Armstrong’s book “21st Century Mahan: Sound Military Conclusions for the Modern Era” we are republishing his article from the May issue of Proceedings. The call for sailors and Marines to become active participants in the debates of the 21st century has long been a rallying cry here at USNI. From Senior Chief Murphy’s “A Pseudo-Intellectual Wanna-be” in the March issue to the 2008 article “Read, Think, Write, and Publish” by ADM Jim Stavridis. While critical for the future of the Sea Services, it also applies to our brothers and sisters in arms, as illustrated by Jason Fritz at FP’s Best Defense Blog.

lossy-page1-591px--..._sailors_in_their_bunkroom_aboard_the_U.S.S._Ticonderoga_(CV-14)_on_eve_of_the_Battle_of_Manila,_PI._Thomas_L._Crens_-_NARA_-_520867

… sailors in their bunkroom aboard the U.S.S. Ticonderoga (CV-14) on eve of the Battle of Manila, PI. Thomas L. Crenshaw (STM1/c) looks at a picture of his three children, while a bunkmate writes a letter home.”, 11/04/1944

When the latest issue of Proceedings arrived in June 1906, Naval Institute members and the American people heard from a renowned global expert, a retired naval officer whose pen had been quiet for some months. His name was Alfred Thayer Mahan. His article, “Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea,” derived from the recent Russo-Japanese naval war lessons for U.S. fleet design and battleship construction. Just a few years away from Great Britain’s launch of HMS Dreadnought , which would revolutionize ship design by bringing speed together with an all-big-gun main battery, Mahan advocated for smaller and more numerous ships with mixed batteries of different calibers. As the leading naval expert, Mahan’s articles were voraciously read worldwide, and his analysis matched well with the “Big Navy” party line.

The U.S. Naval Institute, then as today, was a members’ organization. It didn’t exist for the sake of itself, but to share ideas and debate the future of the Sea Services. A naval arms race was developing in Europe; after the U.S. victory in the Spanish-American War, the nation stepped onto the global stage as a naval power. A year away from the Great White Fleet sailing around the world, the USNI members understood that their ideas, innovations, and wisdom mattered. Even though many considered Mahan the greatest living navalist and a strategic genius, he was not impervious to challenges from Naval Institute members.

In the December issue of Proceedings, a member responded to Mahan’s assertions. The article didn’t come from a civilian contractor who was building the next set of battleships, or from an academic expert who made his living advising politicians. The response came from an upstart lieutenant commander on staff duty in Washington, D.C. Then-Commander Mahan had once written him up for being disorderly at the Naval Academy as a first-class midshipman. Lieutenant Commander William Sims’ article “The Inherent Tactical Qualities of All-Big-Gun, One Calibre Battleships” dissected and refuted Mahan’s arguments. He argued that “if we are to remain a world power,” the large, fast, heavily gunned battleship was the future of naval warfare.

President Theodore Roosevelt read with great interest the exchange between the renowned, retired officer and the active-duty staff officer. The articles were republished in public-affairs magazines and entered into the record during debate on the floor of the Senate. The names of two great officers and naval thinkers make the story interesting, but it was the mission and membership of the Naval Institute that made it possible. The exchange didn’t happen in the pages of The Atlantic or Harper’s. It happened in Proceedings. Both men were USNI members and understood that ensuring the future of their Navy required discussion, debate, and participation of the membership.

In the case of battleship design, the lieutenant commander won the debate. After studying the response and new information about the Pacific battles, Mahan admitted that his argument didn’t stand up. Nevertheless, his expertise and experience as a retired naval officer-turned-civilian expert was central to the development of the future Fleet, as was his willingness to debate an upstart like Sims. The Royal Navy launched HMS Dreadnought before the United States could put its first large, fast, heavily gunned battleship to sea. But we weren’t far behind, because the ideas had already been debated in Proceedings.

In the first decade of the 1900s, the United States was fighting a counterinsurgency war in the Philippines. An Asian power, the Empire of Japan, was rising to become a major economic and military force, rapidly building up its navy. USNI members faced shifting alliances and adversaries, new technologies, tactical innovation, and globalized economics. These challenges should sound familiar today. We need the expertise and experience of our senior members to keep us from repeating past mistakes. We also require the exciting and innovative ideas of new, younger members, junior officers and enlisted personnel, to propel the discussion and debate forward.

The pages of Proceedings (and USNI Blog!) need your well-developed research, thoughtful articles, and best ideas to ensure that we continue the vital debate in the 21st century. To provide an independent forum to advance the professional, literary, and scientific understanding of sea power and national defense, we must first have those who dare to read, think, speak, and write. The U.S. Naval Institute is a members’ organization—help us continue the debate!



391px-Pyle_pirate_plank_editedThe vast majority of naval theory and strategy has focused on fleet engagements during times of war, rather than the smaller engagements and expeditionary operations that, more often than not, occur in times of relative peace. Counter-piracy operations have long been one of the irregular missions conducted by naval forces that didn’t fit the traditional mold. The writing of Alfred Thayer Mahan is a common foundation for many naval thinkers, and they remember his strategic focus on blue water and fleet engagements. In his book Naval Strategy ATM lamented “police duties” and emphasized that these operations detract from the central principle of concentration of military power.

However, ATM’s dislike of anything that would distract from the concentration of effort for naval formations did not automatically mean that he disliked expeditionary operations or naval irregular warfare. He believed that counter-piracy missions, in particular, were a valid function of naval forces. In writing about Nelson’s operations in the Mediterranean in the early 19th century, ATM agreed in theory with the Admiral’s desire to attack the Corsairs of Algiers and end the Barbary menace. In Nelson’s own words, “My Blood boils that I can not chastise these pirates,” and Mahan identified with the sentiment. In practice, however, he supported Lord Nelson’s decision not to attack because it would split his force, and detract from his primary mission, which was the destruction of the French Fleet.

It wasn’t that attacking piracy was an invalid naval mission, as some who claim to be part of a Mahanian tradition maintain; it was that Nelson’s Fleet had a higher purpose that required concentration. Without that higher purpose, an attack on the Barbary Corsairs would have been an important and distinctly naval mission. In his biography of Admiral Pellew, ATM championed the 1816 attack on Algiers which did finally end the Barbary menace once and for all, an operation that would today be described as a multinational force conducting power projection against an asymmetric menace.

ATM also wrote about the American 1820’s counter-piracy campaign in the West Indies which was led by Commodore David Porter. In his brief discussion of the subject in his biography of Admiral Farragut, he approved of Porter’s decision to leave the heavy frigates and traditional naval warships behind in favor of Sloops-of-War, armed schooners, and gun barges. What he termed the Mosquito Squadron, fulfilled his thoughts on concentration, as the ships worked together to attack the pirates both offshore and in the shallows of Cuba. It also illustrated the point that he would made in his debates with William Sims over the need for a balanced fleet rather than a myopic focus on battleships.

In ATM’s eyes the effectiveness of the squadron fulfilled the important naval mission of providing for “the security of commerce.” Ultimately, because they could not take or occupy territory, ATM realized the influence that navies could exert on an enemy was based in the ability to impact economics. First and foremost the battlefleet had to be ready for fleet engagements to drive the enemy’s naval forces from the sea, to fight the decisive battle in blue water. However, naval forces also needed to be ready to conduct irregular missions, like counter-piracy, because ultimately Mahan believed that “Navies exist for the protection of commerce.”



Join us at Midrats on BlogTalkRadio, Sunday, May 19, 2013 for Episode 176: “Fallujah Awakens” with Bill Ardolino:

How did the US Marine Corps and local tribal leaders turn the corner in Fallujah? Who were the people on the ground, Iraqi and American, who were the catalyst for the change that brought about a sea change in the tactical, operational, and strategic direction in Iraq?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss that and more will be author Bill Ardolino. We will use as a base of our discussion his new book, Fallujah Awakens: Marines, Sheikhs, and the Battle Against al Qaeda.

Bill is the associate editor of The Long War Journal. He was embedded with the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army, the Iraqi Army, and the Iraqi Police in Fallujah, Habbaniyah, and Baghdad in 2006, 2007, and 2008, and later with U.S. and Afghan forces in Kabul, Helmand and Khost provinces in Afghanistan. His reports, columns, and photographs have received wide media exposure and have been cited in a number of academic publications. He lives in Washington, DC.

Join us live at 5pm (Eastern U.S.) or listen later by clicking here.



Please join us Sun, October 28, 2012 05:00PM for Episode 147: The Recipient’s Son and Navy PAOs

Our show today will have guests that have seemingly unrelated topics – but both are connected to one thing; getting the story of our Navy, its people, and its culture out to the larger population.

For the first half of the hour, we will have returning guest Stephen Phillips. Steve is a 1992 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He began his naval career as a surface warfare officer in USS Harlan County and USS San Jacinto. He then applied and was accepted into the Navy’s Special Operations community. He subsequently served as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician at EOD Mobile Units Six, Eight, and Ten.

Steve is the author of the awarding-winning debut novel, Proximity, describes life as a Navy EOD Technician in the war on terrorism. His second novel,The Recipient’s Son, is a coming of age story that takes place at the U.S. Naval Academy in the late 80’s early 90’s.

Our guest for the second half of the hour will be LCDR Chris Servello, USN, director, Navy Newsdesk (OI-31) and Public Affairs Assistant to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations.

Chris will be here on his own behalf to discuss the role of the PAO in today’s media environment. We’ll also discuss how someone becomes a PAO along with some of the misconceptions and surprising aspects of what a PAO does.

Join us live by clicking here or use that link to download the show later which you can also do by going to our iTunes page here.



Cold steel isn’t worth a damn unless you have men to command it.

– Representative Fred Britten, House Naval Affairs Committee, 1928

The warrior spirit of its members constitutes the most important characteristic of any fighting force. Superior equipment is wasted unless manned by individuals that are properly trained to use the tools of their trade and are enlivened by a warfighting spirit. An effective force requires resources, yet millennia of human conflict teach us that platforms and weapons are no more than enablers through which warriors exercise their expertise and exert their resolve. Hence any changes in the warrior spirit will have a magnified impact on the force’s overall effectiveness.

Napoleon emphasizes the importance of a warrior spirit in one of his maxims: “The moral is to the physical as three to one.” A fighting spirit exists beyond the realm of warfare as a science. It resides in the realm of warfare as art; where intangible human passions affect outcomes. As CAPT (Ret) Wayne Hughes brings to our attention in a section called “Men Matter Most” of his book Fleet Tactics,our profession of arms must possess a warrior mentality, because “beneath the veneer of reason lie passion and mortal danger.”

In 1944 Fleet Admiral King issued an Instruction that underscored the importance of the human dimension in warfighting:

“As wars are fought by men the human element is a basic factor in naval warfare… It is the human element in warfare which may, if understood by the commander, prove to be the only way of converting an impossibility into a successful reality… A force of inferior material potency may, due to the moral resources of its men, prove superior in naval strength.”

The unforgiving conditions of maritime combat require a unique breed of warrior. This is due to the fact that at sea once a platform is detected there are few places to hide; and because, as opposed to land operations, members of platforms at sea are physically bound together. An important benefit of a common warfighting spirit is that it forges inseparable bonds and unifies members into “Band of Brothers.”

Yet even as arms and tactics change fundamental warrior characteristics are timeless. The collective spirit of Sailors and Marines give us a tremendous advantage over adversaries. The tenets that enable an effective fighting spirit in the Navy are summarized in the core values of Honor, Courage, and Commitment. These values are more than lofty ideas, designed to guide Sailors and Fleets to persevere in tough and confusing times. As our nation strives to organize, man, train and equip a superior naval force to meet the challenges of enhanced threats in a globally connected era, let us not underestimate or neglect the most important ingredient of the capability equation. To project seapower we must cultivate and extol the virtues of a warfighting spirit. History indicates effective sea warriors consistently exhibit the following traits: leadership, discipline, technical competence, creativity, and initiative.

  • Leadership. Effective leadership is an essential ingredient of warfighting. Leadership is earned not bestowed. Leaders foster cohesion to achieve a common objective. Leaders provide clear direction and ensure subordinates understand the mission. They mentor juniors and uphold standards. With leadership comes authority, responsibility, and accountability. Authority refers to who is in charge of a task; responsibility refers to the fulfillment of a task; and accountability refers to who bears the burden for the conduct and results of a task.
  • Discipline. To thrive in a melee at sea requires stouthearted individuals. The best warfighters possess tenacity and a stubborn determination to persevere against hardships and long odds to achieve objectives. This requires mental toughness and physical strength. Discipline enables the unification of individuals to achieve a common goal. Environs of the sea compel warriors to work together to survive and win.
  • Technical Competence. Complex equipment and systems must be safely operated and well maintained. The maritime environment is hostile. Machines are constantly battered with salts, pollution, marine life, pounding waves and winds. Preventive maintenance extends the life of equipment and prevents failures. Every position in the Navy has basic skills and tasks that must be mastered to be effective in combat.
  • Creativity. The American spirit of ingenuity is a significant advantage our Navy has over other navies. Tactical creativity does not emerge in combat unless it is nurtured and rewarded in peacetime. Pragmatic innovation from the deckplates has been and must remain a trademark. Viewed as a formidable weapon, the enterprising nature of American Sailors must be exploited to the fullest extent possible.
  • Initiative. In war leaders are charged with exploiting initiative to advance the plan. This could be as complex as recognizing that a potential adversary’s actions indicate an attack or it could be as simple as a deck officer notifying his captain that he maneuvered to avoid a collision. Victory at sea depends on initiative, tempered by calculated risks and sound judgment. In the fog of war decisions must be made quickly with incomplete information. With lives at risk this requires a clear understanding of commander’s intent and tremendous self-confidence.

Despite the fact that the Navy Special Warfare community is very different from other maritime forces, the SEAL ethos statement does a superb job of describing at an individual level, the warrior spirit.

“In times of war or uncertainty there is a special breed of warrior ready to answer our Nation’s call. A common man with an uncommon desire to succeed. Forged by adversity, he stands alongside America’s finest special operations forces to serve his country, the American people, and protect their way of life. I am that man… We train for war and fight to win… I will not fail.”

Armed with formidable weapon systems, competent combat forces of the Navy and Marine Corps are the nucleus of American seapower. As our maritime forces prepare for a future shaped by dramatically smaller budgets, we must reinvigorate a warfighting spirit into the professional development of our men and women. Again from Fleet Admiral King’s instruction, “By training, discipline and consideration of the men’s welfare, the commander obtains fighting strength – a strength so great that it will take its toll against an opposing force superior in numbers or equipment.” The Sailors and Marines we entrust to operate today’s Fleet are highly knowledgeable and motivated. To maximize the warfighting effectiveness of our forces into the future we must cultivate within each individual a warrior spirit.



 

Claude Berube has accomplished a masterful work with the release today of his most recent novel, THE ADEN EFFECT. Berube’s story is fast-paced, action packed, and full of wonderfully developed characters supporting a believable but creative narrative that keeps the pages turning.

The story follows Connor Stark, a former naval officer who lives anonymously in the rugged Hebrides of Scotland after having been dishonorably discharged until he is called back to service by the American Ambassador to Yemen, C.J. Sumner, to assist with countering the threat of pirates as she is embroiled in negotiations intended to gain access to oil fields off the coast of Socotra. Stark soon discovers a greater threat to the region and the country after uncovering ties with a prominent shipping company and Yemen’s ruling family which leads to a deeper chance discovery that carries the action even further.

From drug trafficking, to Somali pirates to high stakes politics, Berube has knocked this one out of the park. Steven Pressfield was spot on when he commented that the author “has given us the toughest, brainiest, and most interesting new hero since Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan. The Aden Effect is the think man’s military thriller.”

Sales of The Aden Effect start today. I highly recommend you pick up a copy to give yourself an entertainment alternative from all of the electoral theater that’s forthcoming. Unlike this year’s politics, this story will not disappoint.

 



Red Sox elder statesman Johnny Pesky, the line-drive hitting shortstop of the great Boston teams of the late 1940s, died this afternoon at age 92. Born John Michael Paveskovich, Pesky set a rookie record with 205 hits in 1942, even while beginning his Navy aviation training in Turner’s Falls, Massachusetts. Following his rookie season, Pesky spent three years in the United States Navy as a Naval Aviator during World War II. He returned to the Red Sox to play shortstop on the 1946 Pennant winning team.

Pesky, second from right, with (l to r) Joe Coleman, Johnny Sain, Ted Williams, and Buddy Gremp

Like so many athletes of his era, including the most famous of them, Pesky served his country during wartime. Among his classmates in his Turner’s Falls training was teammate Ted Williams, (Philadelphia) A’s legend Joe Coleman, and Braves right-hander Johnny Sain.

Ted Williams, left, and Pesky on 1943 Navy Baseball Team

While neither Pesky nor Williams would see combat in World War II, Teddy Ballgame would be recalled to active duty and would fly F9F Panthers for the Marine Corps in Korea, alongside John Glenn, and belly-landed once due to damage from Chinese ground fire.

Johnny Pesky hit .307 for his major league career, which lasted an abbreviated ten seasons. 1942, 1946-1954. He served as a coach, manager, broadcaster, and ambassador for the Boston Red Sox in his 73-year baseball career. However, he was as proud of his time in the United States Navy as of any other career accomplishment. In an era where athletes peddle their wares ostentatiously to the highest bidder and complain about the “humiliation” of a $12.5 million salary, Johnny Pesky will be missed. As will Feller, Williams, Spahn, Musial, Doby, and all those who are leaving us along with their less-famous comrades who served our country and our cause.

 

 

 



We have lost a truly great one. Military Historian and analyst Sir John Keegan, OBE, has died at the age of 78.

The Telegraph announced the death of this nonpareil author and military historian. No serious student of the Profession of Arms should fail to read Keegan’s seminal work, The Face of Battle, nor many of his other numerous and superlative works, including The First World War, The Second World War, Six Armies at Normandy, and The Price of Admiralty.

Keegan’s genius in explaining the incomprehensible, warfare, at all its levels, was simply remarkable. His was a once-in-a-century intellect, and he shall be missed.



Those were Adolf Hitler’s words in December of 1940, as he revealed to his senior Wehrmacht Field Marshals and Generals his plans for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

At a few minutes past 0300 on the morning of 22 June 1941, the rumble of 8,000 artillery pieces shook the western positions of the Red Army, all along the new borders of the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, more than 3,300 aircraft roared overhead on their way to attack Soviet airfields, troop concentrations, command posts, and artillery positions. The most fateful day of the Twentieth Century had begun.

In the west, the Wehrmacht of Hitler’s Third Reich consisted of 2.5 million men and more than 4,000 tanks comprising 180 divisions, organized into three massive Army Groups, which were poised to smash their ideological and political enemies, the Bolshevik dictatorship of Stalin’s Soviet Russia.

Opposing the German onslaught was more than 3 million soldiers of Stalin’s Red Army. Numerically superior to its German opponent in men, aircraft (4,000), and tanks (more than 7,000), the armies on the Soviet western boundary were nonetheless abysmally led and poorly trained. Still reeling from Stalin’s 1937-39 purges of most of its officer corps, and from the bloody humiliation of the disastrous “Winter War” with Finland in the winter of 1939-40, the Red Army was ill-prepared for war against a modern western foe.

The Wehrmacht, on the other hand, was a finely tuned weapon of mechanized warfare, having conquered Poland two years earlier, and overrun France in less than six weeks in 1940. Superbly trained and equipped with modern armor and the most advanced combat aircraft, the three German Army Groups shattered the Soviet forces opposite them. The Luftwaffe swept the Red Air Force, the VVS, from the skies and smashed it on the ground. By the end of the second day, more than 2,300 Soviet aircraft had been destroyed. The Red Army was already being shattered and destroyed piecemeal, in what would be the “great battles of encirclement” of that summer and autumn of 1941, from which few escaped death or captivity. The eradication of the VVS was nearly complete. Nearly. The Red Army almost bled to death. Almost. Yet, somehow, they held on.

Operation BARBAROSSA, the German invasion of the Soviet Union, more than any other, was Hitler’s war. It was the war of Mein Kampf, the war for Lebensraum in the East, whose purpose was to open the great steppes for colonization by the Aryan race. It was a war not just of conquest but of subjugation and annihilation, fought with a brutality that had not been seen in Europe since the Tatar conquests of seven centuries before. It was a war of unspeakable horror and unimaginable suffering, by soldier and civilian alike. Prisoners on both sides died by the millions, worked to death as slave labor, starved, or simply shot or hanged out of hand. But it was also a war of grim and fatalistic heroism on both sides. The German-Soviet conflict, when it ended in the rubble of Berlin nearly four years later, would take the lives of almost twenty-three million souls.

Some of the most enduring images of the Eastern Front, and for the Soviets the Great Patriotic War, are of columns of Russian and German prisoners forlornly marching to their fates (the Russians seemingly always in the dust of the summer, the Germans in the bitter cold of winter). And of grainy images of executions and hangings by the German SS Einsatzgruppen, and far less publicized, of the execution of suspected Russian collaborators by field units of the NKVD, the terror apparatus of Stalin’s brutal regime.

There are lessons and cautions abundant in examining this titanic struggle. Cautions about underestimating one’s enemy, his will to fight for family and homeland. The Russian soldier, deemed racially inferior and incapable of waging modern war, proved individually tough, able to endure hardship and privation in startling measure. He was also fanatical in the defense, fierce in the attack, and bore a hatred of the “blue-eyed oaf” that would be carried across the borders of Prussia with terrible effect.

The Russian was also capable of producing simple but highly effective weaponry, and of mastering its employment. The T-34 and KV-1 tanks that began to appear in the autumn of 1941 were superior to any German design. Soviet aircraft began to close the technology gap with the Luftwaffe far faster than anticipated. Soviet artillery, superior to the Germans even in June of 1941, would dominate the battlefield as the Red Army’s “God of War”. All these would surprise and confound the German commanders who were told to expect an enemy of limited intellect and poor character.

There are also many myths and misconceptions surrounding the struggle between these oppressive dictatorships. Here are two:

  1.  The Wehrmacht was not capable of winning a short (ten-week) war against the Soviet Union.

Because the Germans did not win does not mean they were not capable of winning, or the Soviets capable of losing. Had the Ostheer kept its focus on Moscow as the main objective (the plan was to surround, not enter the city), and had Hoth’s Panzers been unleashed in the first week of August, rather than frittered away in other operations until October, the capture of the European capital of the Soviet Union was within its capabilities. Perhaps even more important than the purely political prize was the massive Soviet war industry that occupied the so-called “Moscow-Gorky Space”. Siberian forces did not begin to arrive to defend the city and its immediate area in significant numbers until late September, 1941. The capture of the Soviet war industry, which included the massive tank works at Gorky itself, and the aircraft engine factory at Kuibyshev, would have deprived the Soviet Union of its most valuable asset, the ability to replace the massive combat losses with more modern and capable equipment. Had those factories been destroyed or fallen into German hands, there would have been no MiG or Yak fighters, no Il-2 Sturmoviks, no PE-2s, or any of the other increasingly modern aircraft that would eventually sweep the Luftwaffe from the sky. There would have been no replacement divisions of T-34/76 and /85 tanks, no self-propelled guns, no artillery pieces to replace those lost in the massive battles or worn out in extensive combat. Without those factories and the hardware they produced, there would have been no rehabilitation of the VVS or of the Red Army into the juggernaut that crushed Army Group Vistula into bits and eventually subsume eastern Germany.

  1. The Soviet Union was capable of defeating Nazi Germany without Allied assistance.

While it is true that the Soviet Union bore the unquestioned preponderance of the weight of German arms (at various times, 80% of German combat power was employed in the East, and nearly 80% of all German losses were inflicted by the Soviets), and the suffering and casualties of the Soviet military and civilian population exceeded the rest of the Allies combined by a wide margin, Stalin’s Russia could not have won the war without Allied, and particularly American, assistance. While many are familiar with pictures of some of the 9,000 US and British tanks shipped to the Soviets under Lend-Lease, these represented only about 20% of Soviet tank production during the war. There is little question upon any examination, however, that there were two absolutely critical areas of direct assistance were the linchpins of the survival of the Soviet Union in the dark days of 1941-43, and their drive to ultimate victory in 1944-45. The first of these areas was in food production. The United States shipped more than seventeen MILLION tons of food, wheat and canned goods, to the Soviet Union whose agricultural bread basket was under German occupation. That food sustained the Red Army and Russian war industry workers when none other was available. Without it, the prospects for Soviet victory would have been slim indeed. The second item so critical to the Soviet war effort was the supply of more than half a million American trucks. Tough, six-wheel drive vehicles which carried logistical supplies from the rear areas to the front, and which mounted the famous 122mm Katyusha rocket launchers by the tens of thousands, allowed the Red Army to supply itself on the battlefield in the defensive struggles of 1942 and carried that Army to the great offensive drives that eventually smashed the German Ostheer. Those trucks represent more than 70% of total Soviet vehicle production, freeing their industries to produce the war weapons, tanks, artillery pieces, and armored vehicles that equipped the Red Army.

The final victory of the Soviet Union is, however, a testament to the tough, fierce, and brave Russian soldier. His image, the hardened veteran soldier sitting atop a T-34 with PPSh in hand, scanning for a glimpse of the hated enemy, his mustard-colored quilt uniform covered with dust and snow, will endure for centuries in the collective consciousness of the Russian people.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union has never been comprehensively treated. The subject is far too large. It is too complex and incapable of being understood, except gradually, within the context of its salient events, and those of the rest of the world during and since. A thousand volume work on the subject would still require an explanation and a qualification that such a work was by no means all-inclusive. Yet, it remains one of the most compelling subjects for historians, social and military, because of the world-altering impact of the events themselves and their decades-long aftermath. The magnitude of the struggle defies modern understanding. As does the agony of the armies and the peoples locked in the grips of that mortal struggle.

And so it is likely to remain. And it began with the flash of cannon and the roar of engines, in the morning darkness, seventy-one years ago today.

(Cr0ss-posted at Bring the Heat, Bring the Stupid)



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