02 October 2012

How Stalin Purposefully Lengthened WWII

One thing I left out of the review of The Japanese-Soviet Neutrality Pact below and the book mentions is that it is very likely that in late 1944 the USSR was passing information obtained by espionage against the Western Allies to Japan. Stalin likely decided to do this for fears that Japan may capitulate to the Western Allies before he was ready to attack it himself, which would deprive him of the opportunity to get the Soviet Union into a needless war that would cost it 35,000 casualties.

It is not known how good a use Japan made of the information received from the Soviets, and if Moscow in acting this way indeed prolonged the war in Asia and the Pacific as Stalin had intended. What is certain, however, is that Stalin was successful in purposefully prolonging the war in Europe. He did so when he stopped the fantastically successful Vistula-Oder Offensive when it was apparent it could have reached Berlin in February 1945 virtually unopposed.

Having launched the Vistula-Oder Offensive on January 12th the Red Army made fantastic progress and covered hundreds of kilometers in just a few weeks. By February 1st it had secured multiple bridgeheads on the Oder river which placed it 700 kilometers to the west of its initial positions on the Vistula and a mere 60 kilometers away from Berlin (the Western Allies were still 500km away on the Siegfried Line). Due to how speedy its advance had been and how many German forces it had swept away in the course of its advance the Red Army now gazed at the approaches to Berlin that were only very lightly defended. Accordingly, the Soviets begun the second phase of the winter campaign on the Berlin strategic axis. They were to drive forth again, after only a few days of respite and punch through to reach and take the city as quickly as possible.

It was not to be. As David Glantz, the preeminent American historian of Soviet military operations in WWII explains (1, 2), on February 8th, or thereabout, Stalin suddenly halted the renewed advance in its early stage. The Soviet dictator directed the Red Army forces involved to concentrate on Pomerania and Silesia instead, and transferred others to Hungary from where the Soviets would advance on Vienna. By the time the drive on Berlin was resumed two months later, just a day after Vienna had been taken, the Germans had had time to regroup and a much harder fight awaited the Soviets to reach and take the German capital. In the various offensives that the Soviets launched after the February advance on Berlin had been aborted no fewer than 290,000 Soviet troops were killed and 960,000 were wounded. Many of these losses could have been avoided, but for Stalin's decision to pass over the opportunity to take the Hitler's lightly-defended capital and go for well-defended secondary targets instead.

What likely happened was that Stalin, with an eye to the post-war situation, postponed the taking of Berlin and the final defeat of Germany until the Soviet forces would occupy the greatest extent of territory in Europe possible. He seems to have been particularly interested in occupying a hefty chunk of Austria. Typically for Stalin he, even as the victory was at hand, did not fail to find a way to throw an obstacle at the feet of his Soviet forces and aid the enemy. Previously he had over and over again needlessly depleted Red Army strength and energy by expecting it to attain operational goals that were ridiculously overly-ambitious and glaringly impossible. Yet now that a dash of boldness had never made more sense he, to the shock and dismay of Soviet commanders like Konev, Rokossovsky and Chuikov (but not of Stalin's favorite, Zhukov), had the forces on the Oder prevented from taking the advantage of the opportunity they had created for themselves.

What Stalin's asinine strategic thinking made certain was that in the last months of the war the Soviet troops could perish not only in the taking of the German capital, but also to take places like Vienna, Silesia and Pomerania. This may not have been necessary if Berlin was captured first, as the Germans were likely to give over the fight soon after that and allow such areas to be taken over without a fight. Even if that were not to happen it still made no sense to fight the Battle for Berlin in April after the Germans had amassed there instead of in February when the city's surroundings were half-empty. As it was many thousands of Soviet soldiers who could have lived never came home so that Stalin could be satisfied he would end the war with an occupation zone in Austria.

PS, Glantz's lecture and the accompanying paper I learned this from are very worthwhile. In them the scholar also addresses the often-made claim the Soviets sat on their hands for the duration of the Warszaw Uprising. In fact they in a move that was tactically ill-conceived sent a whole tank army (2nd Guards) to advance on the city, but the force was badly mauled and lost 80% of its tank strength and was forced to abandon its attempt. Another myth Glantz sheds light on is the often-made claim the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia and Greece delayed the German invasion of the Soviet Union. In reality the Germans were waiting for an end to the wet season in the western Soviet Union anyway, and attacked at the earliest time when a lightning invasion of Belarus, Ukraine and western Russia is feasible.


  1. Well,
    The Germans encountered the wet season in the Soviet Union during their invasion of Russia in 1941. It slowed down their advance. They were not waiting for the wet season to end. That analysis is incorrect.

    The war was being prolonged because they wanted to make the Germans bleed themselves dry. The advances were slowed down by German resistance.

    The entrance to Berlin WAS NOT lightly defended. It was very heavily defended. Seelow Heights was one of the bloodiest battles of WWII.

    What about the resistance movements in Occupied Europe that played a huge role in destroying the Nazis? Without them, the war would have gone on longer! They prolonged the war. He seems to have overlooked the whole human element of armies fighting armies.

    The Allied strategic bombing campaign against Germany also was a factor in prolonging it. Though this made the war much shorter and much less costly by destroying Germany vital resources needed to make war. The Allied strategic bombing campaign shortened an otherwise long war. Without

    He's overlooked the whole Allied strategic bombing initiatives. The Allies prolonged the war to bleed the Germans dry and it worked brilliantly and caused them to lose the war.

    He's also overlooked the war in North Africa and the Allies and Axis forces fighting savage battles there. That too prolonged the war. Mr. Glantz's observation that Stalin (as if he means that Stalin prolonged the war.) is incorrect and has a very flawed analysis. Moscow did not prolong the war in the Pacific. That was Japan and America's doing. Stalin had nothing to do with that. Stalin passing on secrets to the Japanese would have had no effect because he was not directly involved in the Pacific War. That was prolonged by Douglas McArthur and Chester Nimitz for the purpose of bleeding Japan dry. That strategy worked too. Glantz is incorrect when he says that Stalin prolonged the Pacific War, a war he had NO PART in, nor wanted to. Soviet intervention in the South Pacific would have not done anything. It would have stretched their resources incredibly. Russians are not a jungle people and that warfare unsuited them. The whole idea that Stalin prolonged the Pacific War is wrong and based on flawed analysis.

    The post seems to have forgotten that the Allies were held up by fierce resistance in Western Europe fighting the Germans. They were getting pretty tough towards the end there. So that held things up, too. Mr. Glantz is completely and totally incorrect when he says that Stalin completely all by himself prolonged that war. The Germans did a part prolonging it, too. This whole assertion that Stalin had secrets and passed them to the Japanese is absurd. He knew nothing about American or Allied military strategy in the Pacific. So, Stalin would have been no help there. This whole anaylsis is flawed and seem to assert that Stalin himself prolonged the war, when in fact BOTH SIDES were doing that. He does not take into account the strategic bombing offensives against Germany, the campaign in Italy, the Germans stubbornly fighting on the Eastern Front. The German war economy ramping up production during Allied bombing. Allied bombing costing them dearly. The deadly fighting on the Pacific Islands. The fleet engagements in the Pacific. The war in Burma. He does not take ANY OF THAT into account when he says that "Stalin prolonged the war!" Glantz's analysis is false and incorrect, or rather partly true as the case may be. It is based mostly on half-truth and does not take ANY of the larger total global factors into account in the analysis. It is sorry to say, not correct. He should really look at the larger factor of the war, before making this assumption. I am sorry to be so critical, but THAT IS how it was actually historically and you can't change that. I'm sorry.

    I AM NOT anti-intellectual. I am STATING FACTS and criticizing his views on the subject.

    1. Russia experiences wet seasons biannually. The Germans experienced the autumn wet season in 1941, which was unavoidable, but held of their invasion until after the end of spring wet season of 1941, which is the one I was referring to.

      The Battle of Seelow Heights was in April, but the area was empty in February. It is exactly the point that bloody battles like the one at Seelow Heights in April could have been avoided if the Germans had not been given two months of respite on the Berlin strategic axis in which to make up for their losses in the Vistula-Oder offensive and prepare the defense of their capital city.

      The Soviets knew plenty of Allied strength, intentions and deployments, owing to the fact their intelligence had penetrated many state agencies of Britain, America, Australia, Canada, etc due to the work of people who were Communist sympathizers and Soviet agents. Some of the better known examples of such people would be the Cambridge Five, the Rosenbergs and Klaus Fuchs.

      Glantz doesn't say Stalin prolonged the war, I make that point. Glantz states decision not to advance on Berlin in February was driven by political not military considerations.

  2. Wouldn't it be a more logical explanation that the Russians were afraid to overstretch themselves in Poland? At about the same time the Americans did something very similar when they ordered Patton to stop his offensive that had brought him close to Germany's industrial heart.

    Do you have any idea what kind of info the Russians passed to the Japanese?

    1. Giving themselves a period of rest and resupply does sound as an explanation that is logical. It does not sound as the most logical explanation, however, because while this conservative approach may be consistent with what the Western Allies may have done, it is not consistent with how the Soviets fought. As said typically Stalin wanted to make certain every last opportunity created by a successful advance be exploited to the maximum, even at the price of horrible casualties when apparent opportunities for easy gains turned out to be meat grinders for his exhausted troops. Except this one time. Why?

      No, the book didn't specify what exactly it was the Soviets were passing on to the Japanese, but it was information that could have only come from secret Allied military documents.