Having gone through Bionic Mosquito’s The Chief Culprit post forum-style, and offered comment to individual statements I would also like to offer commentary on his post and his musings as a whole.
In his article Mosquito spends almost the entire text talking about hardware. The reader is supposed to be convinced of the immense power of the USSR’s Red Army on the account it could field twenty thousand tanks and fifteen thousand aircraft — more than the entire rest of the world combined. But to the contrary what Mosquito seems to believe this is no indication the Soviet Union considered itself remotely ready for war. As anyone who has ever operated heavy machinery may attest to, an experienced operator will be many more times more efficient than his counterpart without experience. The USSR may have had thousands of aircraft and tanks, but did it have operators to match?
In July 1941 the Soviet Union was in a possession of an armed force that was lush with advanced weaponry, but that was still suffering from extremely severe deficiencies when it came to organization, leadership and training. To address these it was involved in hurried training programs and was actually still in the midst of an extremely ambitious program of reorganization and reform that would not be complete until mid 1942.
Through most of the 1930s — that is up until the disturbance of the purges — the Soviet Union held a technological lead in combat aircraft and tanks over all the other great powers. On the eve of the war its air and tank fleets were no longer state of the art as they were mostly made up of designs from the mid 1930s (such as the I-16 fighter and the T-26 tank). Nonetheless in well-trained hands these would have been perfectly respectable weapons. The quality and quantity of its weaponry was never a Soviet weak point but on the contrary something the Soviet system excelled at providing.
The Achilles heel of the Soviet armed forces was its unsettledness. The Soviet Union went about its build up of the Red Army in the same radical manner it went about everything else — at a breakneck speed and expecting the maximum results in the shortest amount of time. As a result it took only a short while for its army to look impressive on paper, but underneath it suffered from critical imbalances and shortcomings.
A libertarian blogger Bionic Mosquito is doing a review of The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II from the pen of Viktor Suvorov, a clownish Cold War era Soviet defector who cut out a living for himself telling his Western hosts whatever he thought they would enjoy hearing about his country of birth. Since the topic covered by the book is one I know a little bit about I figure it would be appropriate to help out a libertarian blogger with his reading and offer a few corrections and explanations.
A.) Bionic Mosquito writes:
“The narrative – peddled both by the Soviets during and after the Second World War, as well as by many in the west – is that the Red Army was totally unprepared for war. Hitler overwhelmed a clearly inferior Soviet army with his surprise attack on June 22, 1941.”
Actually that is not the prevailing narrative. Immediately after the war Stalin explained the cause of early Soviet defeats in such terms. According to the Soviet dictator the Soviet Union, as well as the United States and Britain were peace loving countries and as such failed to prepare for the war to the extend Germany and Japan did. As a consequence they suffered a series of early defeats in 1940 and 1941 in France, Hong Kong, Singapore, Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and the western USSR. Such an explanation served to relativise the disaster the Soviets suffered in 1941 by placing it in the context of other rather less catastrophic and dreadful setbacks suffered by the other allied nations, and in this way deflect the blame for the horrible losses and destruction the Soviet people had sustained in the war, much of it needlessly.
It was an explanation that was seemingly accepted by Murray Rothbard who in For a New Liberty spoke of an “unwarlike Stalin” who had “allowed the Russian army to fall into disrepair”. This was not accepted for long even in the Soviet Union. Instead the common wisdom after Khruschev’s rise to power presupposed an innovative and powerful pre-war Red Army on the ascent, which was prevented from effectively defending the country by the person of Stalin who first gutted it in the Great Officer Purge and then tied its hands in 1941 and left it exposed to a German surprise attack when he in the face of all facts refused to believe the German invasion was imminent. This view was also accepted by many in the West who had a somewhat favorable view of the Soviet Union or its people. Those with an unfavorable view on the other hand mostly explained the cause of German success and Soviet setbacks in 1941 in terms of Soviet or Russian inferiority vis-a-vis the Germans.
Whether they played up the Soviet lack of sophistication that supposedly made the Red Army unable to make its greater numbers count against the Germans, or else the fateful interference of Stalin in a few key matters, no one actually subscribed to the idea the Red Army on the eve of war was inherently puny or in disrepair. They scarcely could have for the level of Soviet investment in their armed forces before the war was staggering and as such impossible to ignore, discount or shrug off. Indeed the Soviet defense budget rose steadily throughout the 1930s. Where it accounted for 3.4% of the national budget in 1933 and 9.1% the next year, it climbed to 16.1% in 1936, and on to fully 25.6% of the total in 1939.