Articles

THE RUSSIANS

IF WAR COMES, THIS EXPERT ON RUSSIAN MILITARY THINKIXG SAYS, THE REDS WILL PROBARIA

NICHOLAS IGNATIEFF February 15 1951
Articles

THE RUSSIANS

IF WAR COMES, THIS EXPERT ON RUSSIAN MILITARY THINKIXG SAYS, THE REDS WILL PROBARIA

NICHOLAS IGNATIEFF February 15 1951

THE RUSSIANS

Articles

IF WAR COMES, THIS EXPERT ON RUSSIAN MILITARY THINKIXG SAYS, THE REDS WILL PROBARIA

NICHOLAS IGNATIEFF

• Invade Alaska In i'on‘;k

• Drop Siberian hands in l'anai«la*s Norlli

• Strike early for Middle Fast oil

• \ol IM‘ lieahkn liy atom bombs a bine

• Exploit a seeret we refuse to learn

TOWARD the end of World War II I attended a meeting at which a group of British and Soviet tank experts were discussing the Red Army’s medium tank, the T34. The British experts conceded the Russian tank had a fine engine, good armament and was hard to hit. But they pointed out that it had a very unwieldy clutch. The Russians agreed: “Sure it has. But this is a simple clutch to make and we needed a lot of them in a hurry.” The British said the hatch on the Russian tank was extremely heavy and cumbersome and provided the only means of escape if the tank was hit. The Russians’ reply was: “If the tank gets hit what good is the crew, anyway?” Finally the British said: “Your tank has cramped quarters. Where does the crew stow its rations and blankets?” The Russians replied: “They don’t need blankets and the food is back in the kitchen.”

This conversation pointed up for me the fundamental difference of approach to modern war which divides Russian thinking from Western thinking. Instinctively, Western military leaders are willing to recognize that in war the individual and his-creature comforts should lose significance, but in practice they find this difficult to act on. As a result it takes seven noncombatants to keep one man fighting in the British Army, whereas in the Red Army the ratio is no more than 2 to 1.

There are, of course, those who believe the next war will not require the use of armies— that it will be a push-button war and that as long as we have more atom bombs than the Russians we can win it easily in a matter of days, if not hours.

The increasing boldness of the Soviets, as well as a careful examination of what happened to Hitler’s blitzkrieg tactics in Russia, suggest that Russia may not be as vulnerable to blitzkrieg, either atomic or nonatomic, as we would like to think.

If this is true, any hope of forcing a sett lement with the Communist world by relying exclusively or mainly on the atom bomb might prove illusory.

It should be fairly obvious that to effect a settlement we must possess strength which the Communist world recognizes as real strength. For that reason we must have an intelligent appreciation of their concept of war — both in its minutiae and in its great strategic concepts, however unorthodox these may appear to us.

J||£ AUTHOR* Few men this side of the Iron Curtain are better qualified than Nicholas Ignatieff to discuss the nature and probable consequences of Russian militar' thinking. His family i> deeply rooted in Russian history and played a prominent part in building the Russian state. One of his forebears fought with Alexander Nevski against the Teutons in 1242. His three immediate forebears held cabinet rank under the Tsars, his grandfather being prime minister to Alexander II and his father minister of education in the last cabinet of Tsar Nicholas. In 1919 the family fled the Communist regime to England. The author is a trained engineer who knows Northern Canada intimately. He went overseas in 19H) as a lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Engineers. Because of his knowledge of the Russians he was seconded to the British War Office for intelligence duties to assist in plotting the probable actions of our Russian allies, who volunteered little of the information so vital to our own strategy. He became head of this section of intelligence and was decorated by the British and Americans. He retired with the rank of licut.-colonel in 1947 and is at present Warden of Hart House, University of Toronto. Ignatieff spends the summer at his homestead in Northern B.C. near the Alaska Highway—which, he points out in the accompanying article, may l»e on Russia’s doorstep if war comes.

If, as a result of this unorthodoxy, the Russians should invade Alaska, instead of dropping atom bombs on New York, how easy will it be for us to defend or recapture it? Would part of their purpose not be to pin North American attention on the defense of North America while they extend their hold on Asia and Europe and exploit the immense manpower and potential industrial resources of that area for a life-and-death struggle against this continent?

As the world enters a critical stage of negotiations with the Communists, surely we must be armed with a realistic appraisal of the true balance of strength between the two power blocs and be certain that weaknesses on our side are corrected before we plunge into a major war.

We must evaluate correctly Soviet unorthodoxy in modern war. And our experience in Korea suggests that perhaps even on the highest level we have not fully grasped the essential features of Soviet strategy and tactics.

In war what is orthodox? Until the Second World War the general staffs of most civilized nations thought they knew the answer. They regarded themselves as gentlemen in an honorable profession which fought according to rules. The laws of war were both a code of military ethics and principles for the development of sound strategy and tactics. These gentlemen never thought of war as bloody mass murder. Civilians were only hurt if they

got in the way.

Hitler was not a gentleman and he changed all that. He unleashed total war a new concept which caught orthodox general staffs napping even though the Press had forecast this development years before the Second World War.

Hitler’s conception of blitzkrieg was a paralyzing blow by massed air and armored formations against the life centres of the enemy, calculated to spread such terror and destruction that the will to resist would be broken at a stroke.

After some qualms and arguments Western military thought accepted the Hitlerian concept and proceeded to apply it to Germany and finally, in its ultimate form, by dropping atom bombs on Japan.

The fact that the methods of the German blitzkrieg failed against Russia, just as the Japanese blitz -kriec failed

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against China, passed unnoticed by Western military experts.

Hitler’s blitzkrieg, so successful in the West, failed in the East for several good reasons, none of which has been clearly analyzed or understood. It is vital that they should be understood and applied to the strategic thinking of the West before it is too late.

When Hitler struck Russia with an immense army, supported by an experi-

enced air force, he expected to achieve total victory in a matter of weeks. Most orthodox military experts agreed with this estimate.

When, months later, the Germans bogged down no one understood that the basic reason for the German failure was that Hitler’s blitzkrieg had encountered a new and revolutionary concept of war—Stalin’s total war— which makes the Hitler version look like a military excursion, obsolete when applied to war between continents.

No orthodox general staff officer was prepared to believe that Russia could

suffer more than 5 million casualties in the first six months of war and muster sufficient forces for an immediate counter-offensive which lasted through most of the winter of 1941-42.

Hitler had no conception that Stalin was capable of mobilizing, training and equipping 20 million men within 16 months of the outbreak of war, accepting 10 million casualties, and then launching the tremendous counteroffensive at Stalingrad with an overwhelming superiority in men and materials.

Had Hitler guessed in time, or if he

could have penetrated the iron curtain of Soviet security, he had sufficient manpower and resources in occupied Europe to outstrip the Russian effort Rut he relied on the quick and cheap way, the blitz, in two consecutive campaigns, and he lost.

Having forfeited most of the’ obsolete armor and artillery in tbe first six months of war, as well as the most productive industrial areas in European Russia, the Communists were not expected to be capable of further offensives unless and until their allies supplied them with arms. -i To everyone’s surprise thousands of new Soviet tanks—the famous T34 which has since been encountered in Korea—and thousands of guns reached the Red Army by the spring of 1942, and by that fall the Communists held an overwhelming arms superiority in vital sectors.

In the meantime, war industry from vulnerable areas was being evacuated to the Urals and beyond, presumably to shadow factories built before the war. New areas were developed to compensate for the lost granary of the Ukraine. New oil sources were tapped. New cities, industries and communications were developed throughout Siberia.

Strategic Bombing Not Enough

What was the German Air Force doing about all this? Why did the Germans not destroy Russian cities and Russian communications as they had done in Poland and even in Britain? Why did they fail to demolish even Moscow and Leningrad or Kiev?

Surelyoutof no love for the Russians! The two cities they did destroy -Sevastopol and Stalingrad—became fortresses stubbornly and skilfully defended. Is this not part of the answer: The Germans had no means to paralyze a continent; they could not break its morale by air bombardj ment and were forced to abandon the effort to use their air force, as the Russians did, in support of hardpressed ground forces.

The efficacy of strategic air bombing is highly debatable. It is a fact that, in spite of all our bombing of Germany, Hitler’s war production kept increasing up to the summer of 1944, and multiplied nearly three times between the winter of 1941-42 and D-Day, 1944. Only after we landed in Europe and developed airfields on the Continent, which enabled us to provide fighter cover for around-the-clock strikes by our strategic bombers, did German war production begin to decline.

But even then, by the end of 1944, total German production was reduced by only some 20%, although their cities lay in ruins.

How is it that in Korea, where U.N. forces had complete air supremacy, the North Koreans were able to concentrate time and again for offensive action and bring up supplies to feed the attack? Uow was it possible for the Chinese to concentrate forces and materials while Super-Forts ranged over the peninsula?

The only time North Korean morale collapsed was when U. N. forces administered a resounding defeat after the battle of Inchon. The bombing and burning of Korean towns and villages have mainly supplied the Communists with anti-American propaganda throughout Asia. It has not saved the U. N. forces from military disaster.

Surely our own experience in World War II should have taught us that saturation bombing of cities does not break a determined nation’s morale. It is arguable that our bombing of German cities was the one factor which kept German morale so high until after

their armies had been defeated and the administrative machine had collapsed. The evidence of the effect of the atom bomb is inconclusive mainly because, by the time of Hiroshima, Japan had already been defeated decisively on land, sea and in the air.

1 am not arguing that strategic air power is of no consequence it’s obviously important as a subsidiary arm when intelligently used. It becomes a dangerous illusion when it is allowed to become a nation’s main weapon and is used indiscriminately and unintelligently.

Hitler’s blitzkrieg in the East failed because he had not grasped the fact that in modern continental warfare it is futile to hope for victory by striking at the life centres of an enemy nation. Victory can only be achieved by destruction of armies in the field and the administrative apparatus which supports them. Striking for obvious targets only makes your plan obvious to the enemy and simplifies defensive measures.

The Germans thought Soviet civilian morale would be easy to crack because it was expected Russian masses would rise against the Communist dictatorship as soon as they were given arms. This view was widely shared by I Western experts on Russia and is still j commonly held.

It was a view 1 too expounded in a book published in 1932 before I grasped Stalin’s conception of total war which makes such facile optimism unrealistic.

What then is this Communist counter to the blitzkrieg? It is the theory that war is a continuous process, with military aspects subordinated to the political and economic aspects. No Red Army generals were ever allowed the prestige of their political leaders and the most produetivé factory and farm workers were acclaimed heroes on a par with military heroes. Total war in the Soviet sense is a continuous effort by the whole population.

There is no distinction between civilians and the military, either among friends or foes. There are no lines and no frontiers, only “fronts”—and the decisive front at any time may not be a military front: it may be the “oil front” or the “bread front.” Each is tackled with the fanatical fervor of a Stalingrad.

Civilian morale under these conditions does not crack easily because it dare not crack and because there are too many fanatical young Communists to see that it does not crack—unless, of course, their armies are totally defeated and the administration has collapsed.

In the last war even the area 'occupied by the enemy was effectively held by the Soviet dictatorship. Many DPs maintain the Ukrainians were prepared to welcome the Germans as liberators. But the Soviet dictatorship foresaw this and Communist cells were left behind to organize the rear. Their objective was not only to harass the enemy but also to keep the civilian population in line. The Germans, essentially stupid in their dealings with foreigners, kindly co-operated toward this end. Any act of sabotage by Communists and Red Army guerrillas was punished by brutal reprisals public hangings and floggings and burning of villages. Before long the whole Ukraine, like the rest of occupied Russia, was a seething mass of partisans who tied down large German forces, hampered communications and contributed to the German debacle in the East.

Is Russia prepared for war now and would she come to the aid of China in war with the United Nations?

I believe the Communist view of the world is basically different from that

of Hitler. The difference is that the Russians are in no great hurry. As long as the bulk of humanity is ridden by fear and poverty they feed that time and history are on thear side.

In view of their heavy losses in World War II it is improbable that either the Russians or Chinese are anxious to risk a major war with the West. But the more we appear to rely on the atomic weapon as our main strength and show as little comprehension of the latest developments in land warfare as we have demonstrated in Korea, the more likely are the

Communists to risk a major showdown now before the democracies wake up

If it comes to war, what is the Communist strategy likely to be and how may it affect Canada?

The Russians are not likely to use the atom bomb first, as the whole Stalinist theory of war discards the possibility of a quick knockout against a major adversary. Even if the Americans use the atom bomb, the Russians may not retaliate with it. against the U. S. or Canada, unless they have plenty to spare or unless our atomic plants are well pin-pointed

for them by our lax security. The Russians would probably save their atom bombs for Britain only—the most vulnerable target of all.

Also, if they are wise, they would probably not rush in to occupy Europe. A menacing concentration of strength hanging over Europe might be far more effective in neutralizing and paralyzing that theatre in the early stages of war.

The first major Soviet objective would probably be the seizure of the Middle East and Persia, not only to protect their own vulnerable flank but

to secure oil and deny a vital strategic area to their enemies. This they would attempt to do quickly and with overwhelming force.

Their next major objective, I believe, would be to tie down North American forces in the defense of North America. Because they are unlikely to be capable of a major invasion of this continent by sea or air, their actions would be primarily directed at creating maximum alarm and confusion in the hope of. provoking a public outcry against sending troops and war material abroad. To achieve this they would probably send a considerable force to Alaska, accompanied by bands of tough Siberian troops landed by air in the Canadian North.

Their object would be not only to keep America worried and guessing as to the real scope and. direction of Soviet intentions hut to keep large American forces tied down in hunting these bands over the immense expanse of our Northland. Another objective would be to infiltrate saboteurs among our heterogenous population to conduct planned and controlled sabotage through a series of blows at widely divergent points.

The forces in the North could act in a wireless-liaison capacity with the Soviet G.H.Q. and might even hope to pass supplies to saboteurs. They could probably spare a major effort for Alaska and, unless communications with that area are much improved, the Russians would tie down a considerable part of our air strength in fighting and supplying the battle for Alaska.

For these operations the Soviets could rely on a large native population in Siberia; many would be almost indistinguishable from our Eskimos and Indians. These people and Russian Siberian troops composed some of the toughest divisions in the Red Army and had wide experience in winter warfare in World War II. The Ostiaks, Voguls, Buriats and particularly the Yakuts live in the coldest climate in the world and are thoroughly inured to it. The centre of cold is not at the North Pole but in Yakutia, a forbidding Siberian plateau where the mean January temperature is 54 below zero and temperatures down to 90 below are known.

Reds Do It the Hard Way

If they succeeded in pinning North America down the next logical Communist objective would be to consolidate their hold on the millions of Asia and to regiment, train and arm them for decisive battles which would ultimately have to be fought on a continental scale in Europe and Asia.

The Soviets would probably conserve the major portion of their strategic air strength, including atom bombs, to hit concentrations of shipping, men and materials required by the West to carry out any large-scale amphibious operations in Europe or Asia.

In spite of all this, it is not inconceivable that, in time, North America might build up its military strength and ultimately make landings in Europe or Asia and win land battles there. To do so, we would need a much clearer comprehension of Soviet tactics than we have demonstrated in the relatively minor operations in Korea. By Western standards these tactics are thoroughly unorthodox. They were developed by the Russians in the school of hard knocks against the Germans, who never learned to cope with them successfully.

The basis of Soviet military thought is quite simple: it is an attempt to simplify army organization, the system of command, supply, replacements and

tactics to such a degree that the unlettered masses of Eurasia can readily master modern war technique and, by utilizing the extra toughness and endurance of the peasant, overcome superior Western techniques.

For instance, in planning an operation the orthodox general tries to select the best possible conditions for his troops. He chooses the most favorable terrain, the best time of year or time of day—tide, moon and weather must be as right as possible. The Soviet general chooses the worst possible conditions, realizing that they are likely to handicap his own troops as well as the enemy but counting on the extra

hardiness of his peasants to pull them through.

Early in March, 1944, the Germans knew the Soviet armies were poised for a major offensive in the Southern Ukraine. They expected it to be launched not before May, when the terrible black mud of the Ukraine dries up and rivers become normal. Not so the Russians. Marshal Zhukov launched one of the greatest offensives of the war on the eastern front the day after the ice broke up. It was hard going for the Red Army. Mechanized transport was useless. Fighting equipment and munitions had to be man-handled or drawn by horses. But the German Panzer divisions were hopelessly bogged down, whereas the tough Russian peasants pushed and plodded all the way into Rumania.

Night attacks are shunned by most orthodox generals because they cause confusion in one’s own ranks—people are likely to shoot their friends and turn up at the wrong places. So what? say the Communists—the confusion and casualties imposed on the enemy are likely to be even greater. Thus the Red Army chooses mud, blizzards, fogs, nights and impassable terrain to fight its battles, capitalizing on the tough fibre of its soldiery.

In its use of replacements and reserves the Red Army is unorthodox and ruthless. Western armies have a complex system of feeding replacements to the front and as long as the extra men are available casualties are replaced. Reserves are used when available to support units in difficulty and to mount counter-attacks.

The Communists are trained to expect no help and that surrender is a crime. Divisions are fought to a standstill and then replaced by other divisions. In any major battle the Soviet command usually waits for the enemy to show his hand while making front-line troops take the brunt of the fighting. Reserves are only committed in a counter-blow when the enemy has shot his bolt and has no immediate reserves. It is amazing that time and again the Russians were able to pull this manoeuvre on the Germans—in

the battle of Moscow and again at Stalingrad.

To use such tactics successfully, both security and intelligence must be of a high order; the Communists are much more conscious of both than any Western army. Security is carried to an extreme degree. Everything is totally secret—from the location of factory to the names of commanding generals.

During World War II, when the Allies wished to see Stalin or his military chiefs, they were always told they were out of Moscow conducting operations. Allied military and political leaders were never taken to Red Army Genera) Headquarters. The Russians could always make appointments to see British and American chiefs in their offices, and everybody knew where Churchill and Roosevelt lived and conducted their business.

Even in military organization and weapon design the Soviet approach is unorthodox. They started the war with an organization on the German and Western pattern but the Russians soon discovered the system was too complex and also wasted manpower. With characteristic ruthlessness they did not hesitate to make changes.

The basis of these changes was to make organization simple, eliminate as far as possible rear staffs and services and put the greatest number of men into battle. Thus they were quick to recognize that, although mechanization is good, it was not necessary to provide an army of millions with mechanized transport—it was impractical to have all your forces riding in jeeps in a war on a continental scale. Establishments based on wasteful use of men and materials multiply supply and maintenance problems and provide excellent targets for the enemy air force. Hence the Russians considered it sufficient to have adequate pooled transport to concentrate forces where and when they wanted them. The rest of the army fought and moved on its fiat feet.

In fact, the Russians soon learned that by concentrating their best men and equipment in shock and tank armies they could save overwhelming forces both for the defensive and offensive battle. From Stalingrad onward they relegated the role of holding ground to third-rate troops.

The Germans could never see through this brilliant piece of unorthodoxy and were puzzled by the fact that, although any one German division remained much better than the average Soviet division, the crack Nazi troops were incapable of preventing Russian breakthroughs and victories.

Compulsory Training A Boon

In equipment design the Communists are not inhibited by any considerations of comfort or lasting perfection. They give priority only to simplicity in manufacture and handling and hitting power. In their view both men and materials are completely expendable in war. This is what enabled the Soviets to outdistance even the Germans in tank design and manufacture.

Has the West an adequate answer to all this?

I believe it has, as long as it wakes up in time and does not delude itself with the idea the atom bomb is the only answer.

If we could realize that Commun-

ism’s most potent recruiting agents are fear and want, we would stop talking about the atom bomb. In political warfare we have allowed the Communists to turn this symbol of mass terror against us by posing as champions of its destruction, while the West is

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presented as a champion of its use as a final arbiter in man’s affairs. Such folly is only calculated to drive the frightened millions of Asia and Europe into Communist arms.

If we face the inescapable fact that the atom bomb cannot fight cheap and easy wars for us we must marshal resources and manpower on a far higger scale. This is not impossible, since in resources, techniques and manpower the Western nations have a considerable edge on the Communists.

Although universal military training seems to be a bitter pill for some democracies, the immediate and urgent need for it is patent. We cannot effectively back the policies of the free world with a population thinking in terms of a soft urban existence and an educational system directed at making everything easy and secure from tough reality. For Canada in particular, with the crying need and opportunity of developing its immense Northland, a prematurely urbanized youth is nothing more than a national calamity and a system of compulsory national youth training would be a great boon. The Swiss are no worse democrats for being tough citizen-soldiers.

There’s Room In Canada

Since, in the long run, the competition of the free world and the Communist world cannot be resolved by force alone and must be met on the plane of their comparative ability to satisfy the needs and aspirations of mankind, the West must show an eagerness, imagination and vitality in developing its immense resources for the benefit of the free world.

This applies especially to Canada, which has more resources and less population than most countries in the free world. It is of great importance economically and strategically to promote rapidly the development of Canada’s Northwest, backing Alaska. Here in the whole area of Alberta, British Columbia—not to mention the Yukon and the Northwest Territories —there is magnificent opportunity for development. Here is room for many industries and people from overcrowded and vulnerable Britain and Europe.

Russia Holds the High Cards

At the present the lack of population and communications in the Northwest poses a direct threat to this continent’s security. Few realize that the muchadvertised Alaska Highway is not an all-weather military road, but has weak links between Dawson Creek and Edmonton, which at times are no better than mud tracks. The total lack of railways and insufficiency of roads, industrial and agricultural development back of Alaska will impose additional strain on the air force, should a crisis arise.

If democracy can be revitalized a military showdown may not prove necessary. For the long pull the Communists do not hold all the cards, and the Russian^ have not shown any great comprehension of how to control and direct the destinies of other nations. Even with their brother Slavs they have often had the experience which they are now undergoing with Tito.

But, as of now, the Russians hold most of the high cards. Their dynamic is stronger than ours; their goals are positive and clearly defined and they are mobilizing their strength and resources toward the attainment of those goals. In this, unorthodoxy is their trump suit. It will remain their trump suit until the planners opposed to them abandon their already discredited passion for what is orthodox and easy. ★