The War Illustrated No 31 Vol 2 April 5th 1940

April 5th, 1010 The War Illustrated Death Taught the Red Army How to Win So great were the Red Army 's reverses at the beginning o f the Finnish war that in some quarters they were hailed as proof o f deep-seated inefficiency. This maybe mayas be, but it is certain that the Russians learnt to profit by their mistakes. There was a great difference between the Red Army which, with bands blaring, crossed the Finnish fron­tier on November 30,1939, and that which 104 days later marched across the battered ruins of the Mannerheini Line into Viipuri. A t the outset of the struggle the in­vaders were blown outwith confidence. They expected a walk-over, and the political commissars who cheered them on with their ideological preachings assured them that the victory was as good as won. Their equipment was of first-class quality and lavish in the extreme. Their tanks were counted by the thousand, and so, too, were their warplanes their own numbers were as the sands of the sea­shore. They seem to have blundered into action with no real plan, and certainly with no clear realization of what they were up against. Their High Command displayed an almost touching belief in the capability of tanks to win battles by themselves they sent them to charge concrete walls and pillboxes and they must have been amazed to find that they were so easily putout of action by anti­ tank handguns, grenades, and even well-aimed bottles of petrol, so th a tout of the 3,000 tanks which the Reds sent into action it was estimated that nearly half were captured or destroyed. The shooting of the Russian artillery was erratic, and their lack of under­standing in the siting and employment of their guns would have shocked a Wool­ wich cadet. Even in the air, where they had an almost unchallenged superiority, they used their ’planes in such away that about one third of them —nearly 600— were shot down by the Finnish anti­ aircraft guns. But in war there is no teacher to be compared with Death. And when the news of the great heaps of Russian dead piled up in the snowdrifts a t Suomus- salmi and Aglajarvi penetrated to the Soviet chiefs in Leningrad and Moscow, very soon was worked a change. The command was reorganized the political commissars were forced to take second place to the front-line fighters and henceforth the officers were encouraged to rely more on their own experience than on what the textbooks told them. There were changes, too, in the personnel, and the shaggy, unenthusiastic conscripts— many of whom were drawn from the Ukraine or Turkestan, where snow is seldom seen—were replaced by Siberian levies who were thoroughly acclimatized to the Arctic conditions. Towards the end of January it began to be obvious that the Reds were profiting by their bitter and bloody experiences of the past few weeks. Artillery and tanks, ’planes and infantry were combined in one offensive, and not used separately as so frequently heretofore. From the first week of February the Mannerheim Line was exposed to a continuous well-and directed assault. The early attacks were driven off with heavy loss, but undeterred the Russians still came on while the Finnish Command were forced to keep in the linemen who were more than due for a rest. The artillery bombardments were greater than anything th a thad been seen in Europe since the huge artillery battles of the Great W aron February 13, for instance, the Russians were reported to have put down 300,000 shells. Red Avalanche of Men and Metal In the infighting the eastern sectors the Russians with tanks and heavy artil­lery attempted to come to grips with an enemy whose native mobility was en­hanced by skis, but now they had a stationary target, and they plastered it day in and day outwith heavy shells. Deep down in their bottle-shaped forts of reinforced concrete, the Finns beat back assault after assault, but in the course of the fighting many of the pillboxes sus­tained direct hits, and although the shells did not penetrate their roofs the con­cussion was sufficient to affect the accur­acy of the defenders’ shooting. Worse still from the Finnish point of view was the fact that to a man their troops were wearied almost to death, and on more than one occasion the Russians bayoneted the Finnish infantry who had dropped down in their trenches from sheer fatigue. After days of constant probing the attackers discovered at last a weak point at Summa. They flung troops into the breach without any regard for human life—in one day it was reported that the Russian killed numbered between 30,000 and 40,000—and against this avalanche of flesh and blood the Finns could oppose only men who had already been engaged in heavy fighting for weeks on end. It so happened that when the strongest attack was launched the Finnish lines were manned by volunteers who were relieving the crack troops who were the normal garrison. The assault was pressed home with terrific vigour, and very shortly the Finns were obliged to abandon the whole western sector of their defences in the Karelian Isthmus. So it was th a tat length the new men and new methods of the Russians closed the chapter of defeat and disaster, and after 104 days of war’s fury the trumpets sounded for the Red Army’s victory. Only those in the Kremlin's inner circle know the names of those primarily responsible for the ultimate victory of the Red Army, but it maybe supposed a considerable part was played by the man who since 1937 has been Chief of the General Staff—General Boris Michailovitch Shaposhnikov, seen in this photograph making a note of Stalin's instructions. Photo, E.S .A.
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