Cold War Strategists Speculate on the Soviet Red Army
|"F4U-5 Corsairs provide close air support to U.S. Marines fighting Chinese forces, December 1950" (source)|
From Newsweek, September 4, 1950, pp. 18-19:
KEY TO SURVIVAL: KNOW YOUR ENEMY
How to defend Europe became the West's most pressing question last week as the Germans gave their terms for participation. Meanwhile the Korean war has ended any idea of a purely defensive army. This means primary consideration has to be given not to the strength of the Soviet Army but to:
1 – Its weaknesses.
2 – How the West best can take battle advantage of these weaknesses.
1 – Weakness in Strength
The Soviet Army is indisputably today's greatest land force. Nonetheless, like any army it has weaknesses. Here is a strategist's-eye view of these weaknesses:
Organization: "Every American soldier has a truck; each ten British soldiers has a truck; the German carried a knapsack; but the Russian carries a sack of turnips and bread and lives on it for a week."
This somewhat overdrawn picture was the way a former German officer characterized the problem of supply and organization in the Soviet Army. The simple wants of simple soldiers simplify everything. Casualties are not even reported home. The company or battalion commander has a list of his men in his pocket. When one is killed his name is scratched off the list. Russian divisions are often kept in action until they suffer 90 per cent casualties.
A Russian division of 11,000 men has the same fire power as an American division of 18,000. But it attains this ratio not only by cutting down on cooks and clerks but by skimping on technical personnel as well. For example, a Russian division has only 500 communications personnel as compared with 1,500 in a U.S. outfit.
The looseness of Soviet organization is thus to some extent a weakness in itself. It is also one of the causes of an even greater weakness—rigidity of plans and operations. To make up for lack of control over their vast forces, the Russians are inclined to fight their battles according to extremely inflexible plans. This means they are best in "set piece" assaults on fortified lines and weakest in fast mobile warfare.
Their operations suffer too. They have trouble controlling the movements of large tank formations and hence are inclined to use them in mass instead of for deep, independent penetrations. The Germans always had a low opinion of Russian air-ground cooperation although the Soviet Air Force with 550,000 men is an integral part of the Soviet Army. In particular, the Russians have had difficulty solving the complex organization problems of airborne operations—according to some the key to future warfare. In 1943 on the northern front, the Soviets lost four divisions in a bungled airborne attack. They never attempted another. Likewise, they are probably encountering trouble in organizing a strategic bombing force.
Techniques: Russia's organizational weaknesses spring partly from technical backwardness. Air-ground cooperation is greatly hampered by shortages of radio communications and radar. Lack of communications reduces the accuracy of Soviet artillery fire and is one reason the Russians depend on tremendous massed fire and site their guns far forward. An American battalion may set up twenty observation posts compared with two for a Russian unit. Maintenance of trucks, tanks, and planes is a continuing problem.
Initiative: Suppose you are a Russian divisional commander. You see a chance in a battle to gain a great advantage by a bold move not covered in the over-all plan. You don't try it. If it fails, you will be blamed and possibly even executed.
This is one reason for another Russian weakness—lack of initiative and reluctance to assume responsibility. Others lie in the nature and training of the Russian soldier himself and in the rigidity of battle plans. Many Russian units were trapped in the last war because new orders had failed to reach commanders who persisted in following a previous plan. The commissar system, fully restored after the war, saps initiative. The Germans frequently beat Russian forces larger and as well equipped as their own. The Russians scarcely ever won a battle without a numerical superiority ranging from 3-1 to 7-1.
Morale: Russian soldiers, according to the Germans, are "the toughest and most stubborn in the world." Nevertheless, in both world wars, they surrendered by hundreds of thousands. Why? For one thing, they are best in assault with the usual pre-battle glass of vodka inspiring them. They will fight tenaciously in defense but once cut off they are inclined to give up. In fact, Stalin's early wartime orders to defend positions to the last had to be modified to allow retreats when things looked black enough.
One little known factor: now and for a few years to come, Soviet conscripts will be below par physically, mentally, and numerically. They come from the small 1930-1934 classes, the years of famine and the bitterness of collectivization. The morale of veterans of the last war also is currently a problem. Soviet newspapers discuss their "mental sickness" and novels tell how their faith was undermined by contact with the West.
Here Russian morale is both strongest and weakest—strong because of a genuine devotion to Russia (and to Communism to a lesser extent), weak because of a deep disillusionment with the system as it operates. An experienced German diplomat remarked: "I hope that if the U.S. has to fight Russia it will not repeat the unconditional surrender error. In fact, you should always identify your enemies not as Russians but as Soviets."
2 – How to Exploit It
Gen. J.F.C. Fuller, chief originator of tank tactics and one of Britain's outstanding military writers, here gives his analysis of how the West can exploit the weaknesses of the Soviet Army to defeat it.
There are two main types of field armies, those organized around mobility and those organized around masses of men.
The Russian Army has always been representative of the second. The greatest weakness of this type is that the larger such an army is, the more difficult it becomes to (1) equip it efficiently, and (2) to keep it up to date. To mitigate this, mass armies normally have been divided into (a) a corps d'élite, and (b) a horde. This is to be found in Asiatic armies from the earliest times. For example:
• Ancient Persians: (a) Immortals, (b) Asiatic levies.In all these armies slowness is the dominant factor; in other words, (a) must keep pace with (b) as a destroyer keeps pace with a convoy.
• Turks : (a) Janizaries, (b) Anatolian levies.
• Old Russian: (a) Guards Infantry & Cavalry, (b) Infantry of Line and Cossacks.
• Modern Russian: (a) Armored Formations and selected Infantry, (b) Infantry of Line and Cossacks.
This is apparent in the Soviet armored forces. Their purpose is not mobile, independent action, but to cooperate closely with infantry. Hence reliance on comparatively slow, heavily armored tanks dominates the tactical tank picture.
The main weakness in all mass armies is, however, logistical—in supply and the maintenance of operative communications. Hence Russian traditional tactics are based on retreat, not only because the depth of Russia offers ample room, but because it is easier to supply a mass army by falling back on its supply columns and depots, than to push supply columns forward. Hence also in attack, Russian tactics are percolative: a slow forward flow on a broad front to gain maximum communications, leading to penetration of weak points, and halting opposite strong points.
How to take advantage of weaknesses inherent in mass armies, which pivot around slowness and supply difficulties, is the problem of the Western army organizer.
Its solution is to be sought in mobility, and its aim should be, at the very start of the war: (1) Either to defeat the Soviet corps d'élite; or (2) throw it back in confusion on the horde; or (3) avoid it and attack the mass in the rear of it, simultaneously cutting the corps d'élite off from its gasoline supply.
To carry out the third operation, which suits Western resources best, I suggest two main forces: (a) Highly mobile formations supported by (b) highly mobile antitank formations—sword and shield—both, like fire brigades, ready for immediate action. The antitank forces (self-propelled artillery, rocket planes, etc.) must be powerful enough to deal with the heaviest types of Soviet tanks, keeping them busy while the armored forces drive through and circumvent them.
To assume the defensive in face of a Russian advance is suicidal, because in the defense, numbers and weight of metal count. Only by an offensive à la Patton can the inherent weakness of a mass army be most profitably and economically exploited.