History of the Second World War, Volume 7

34. Hardened in battle and with a complete mastery of his profession Chernyakhovsky was cool-headed apparently tireless and somewhat aloof above all he brought results. His 1944-45 campaign across Belorussia into the fortified areas of East Prussia showed his mastery of both fast moving and static operations and it maybe that had he not been killed by astray mortar bomb in East Prussia early in 1945 he might have become recognised as one of the outstanding military leaders of the 20th century. Similar in temperament to Chernyakhov­ sky was Marshal Tolbukhin a strong-willed, highly professional soldier with a markedly scientific outlook on war who struggled with increasing ill-health ashe rose from army to front commander in the period from 1942 to 1944. And very much in the same tradition of scientific professionalism with a strong element of the growing aloofness of the senior officer class were younger men who later were to reach the top of their profession. All these men and many of their contemporaries represented the true Second World War type of Red Army commander: men with a high sense of professionalism, wide experience of combat and a mastery of all aspects of handling large forces inaction. Stalin relied upon them decorated and promoted them but never quite trusted them ashe had trusted the Voroshilovs and the Timoshenkos and to some extent the Vasilevskys and the Shtemenkos of GHQ. It is a fact that many of these successful field commanders fell into disrepute or were posted to remote garrisons as soon as the war was over and had to wait until after Stalins death in 1953 for full peacetime recognition of their talents. The commanders of the Soviet ground forces were of course the most important leaders with whom Stalin dealt for the air force was very much an aerial artillery arm of the ground forces (little strategic bombing was carried on by the Red Air Force) and the navy played a relatively minor role in the war. Stalins wrath fell particularly heavily on the unfortunate commanders of the air force at the beginning of the war, several of whom including Generals Lok­ tionov and Rychagov were probably execu­ted. General Novikov one of the air de­fenders of Leningrad was selected to be Commander-in-Chief of the Red Air Force in 1942 but little is known either of his relationship with Stalin (of whom he fell foul after the war) or of his operational abilities. But some rapid promotions of able air commanders did take place such as the 32-year-old army commander at Stalingrad Key to illustration 1. Stalin. 2. Zhukov Chief of General Staff. 3. Voroshilov com­mander Leningrad front. 4. Timoshenko C-in-C South-West Front. 5. Budenny, commander South Front. 6. Chuikov C-in-C Stalingrad Front. 7. Voronev, artillery commander Stalingrad. 8. Malinov­ sky commander 2nd Ukrainian Front. 9. Rokossovsky com­mander Don Front. 10. Chernyakovsky 3rd Belorussian Front. 11. Konev 1st Ukrain­ian Front. 12. Vatutin. General Khryukin General Sudets (a future C-in-C of the Soviet Air Defence Command), General Rudenko and General Krasovsky. Demotion disgrace punishment As far as the navy was concerned the out­standing personality was its C-in-C Admiral N. G. Kuznetsov a resourceful and obstinate man who had been picked out by Stalin after the debacle suffered by the navy during the purges of 1937-39. If Kuznetsovs own memoirs are to be believed he did not hesi­tate to put the navys case vigorously to Stalin himself. Whatever the truth maybe on this point Kuznetsov fell into disgrace after the war and according to some re­ports was actually court-martialled. The evidence suggests therefore that Stalin promoted some tough experienced and strong-willed commanders while the war was in progress but that if he found them too independent for high command in his peacetime armed forces demotion disgrace, or even punishment was likely to follow. Perhaps the most intriguing question of all however in connection with Stalin’s relationship with his commanders is the extent to which he really dominated the war effort and directed the strategy of the Soviet-German campaign. While Stalin was alive all victories were ascribed to him and all defeats ignored in the Soviet Union he was hailed as a brilliant strategist and tactician an all-powerful leader who over­looked nothing. Much later Khrushchev painted a picture of the wartime Stalin as a 'military ignoramus unable to understand either strategy or combat and retaining his ascendancy over the war effort by the fear which his rule of terror inspired in all his subordinates. Stalin said Khrushchev was actually responsible for a number of defeats on the battlefield (specifically the May 1942 disaster at Kharkov) and the country was ultimately carried through to victory by the efforts of the military leaders themselves. Probably the truth lies half-way between these two extremes. No one would deny that by 1941 Stalin had acquired such a complete ascendancy overall aspects of the country’s life by sheer terror that having taken on direction of the war effort his orders went unquestioned. Undoubtedly Stalin had gifts of personal leadership wide knowledge and understanding of the administrative logistic and supply side of the war effort and of the drastic measures needed to put the country on a war footing. As Supreme C-in-C and Head of the Stavka (GHQ) all the evidence suggests that strategic decisions waited for his approval directives to front comman­ders had to be checked by him and that once he had made a decision there was little likelihood that he could be persuaded to change his mind. What is not entirely clear is whether Stalin the strategist actually initiated operational concepts or whether he made his decisions on the basis of detailed GHQ proposals. What evidence there is from the memoirs of former members of the GHQ suggests that the normal procedure was for Stalin to listen to professional submissions and then choose between them rather than put forward his own plans. Much of the tension and high pressure generated at Soviet GHQ derived from Stalins own working methods. He preferred to work at night and would call on his GHQ staff for reports or information at irregular and unpredictable intervals. He himself slept very little and expected others to do the same. He frequently tried to catch the senior commanders out by communicating with them at front headquarters without notice and on unexpected subjects and if they failed to satisfy him his reaction was harsh and vindictive. In the early stages of the war he was ruthless in his use of extreme punishments for commanders who had failed, and even to the end of the war he maintained an iron grip based on fear on his generals, more than one of whom was demoted to private soldier or dismissed from the army, apparently at Stalins personal whim. In handling matters of this kind he could be cruelly cynical. As far as is known he never once visited the troops at the front or any of the bombed cities or gave any personal encouragement to the ordinary soldier or officer. He was utterly aloof detached from the human side of the conflict wrapped up in his own command and control networks and systems. At the same time Stalins olympian de­tachment his seemingly tireless energy and willpower his readiness to punish ruth­lessly provided one very important element essential to a successful Russian war effort: the singleminded conviction that the war would be won through the relentless exercise of absolute and centralised power. Part of Stalins success as a war leader was due to his control of every aspect of the war and his position above and beyond even his closest colleagues and subordinates. Stalin was thus in the tradition of the sole 'wielder of power in Russian history who demands and receives absolute obedience and who holds together disparate forces from seem­ingly unattainable heights. Within this framework his military subordinates like his political and industrial subordinates, occupied real but temporary positions of privilege and power. But basically Stalin disliked professional soldiers and distrusted the armed forces as a potential rival which had access to arms and enjoyed high prestige among the people at large. As soon as the fighting was over the full rigour of political and security controls returned to the Red Army successful and independent-minded commanders like Marshals Zhukov and Novikov and Admiral Kuznetsov were dis­missed or disgraced and the leaders of the armed forces were firmly given to under­stand that a successful military career in peacetime meant not only normal discipline and obedience to authority but that special brand of subservience which had always -g been characteristic of Stalins demands on even his most valued subordinates. S For Malcolm Mackintoshs biography see !Vol 2 page 572.\3136
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