Air University Review, March-April 1968
Dr. Kenneth R. Whiting
Full-dress histories of the Soviet Armed Forces are not as plentiful as the importance of the subject would seem to warrant. D. Fedotoff White’s The Growth of the Red Army, published by the Princeton University Press way back in 1944, was a pioneering work and is still a landmark in the field of Soviet military history. In fact, White’s book held its pre-eminence until the publication of John Erickson’s comprehensive volume in 1962.1 Both of these scholarly tomes, however, leave off just as the Red Army was getting its real baptism of fire in World War II, or, as the Soviets call their part of that war, “The Great Fatherland War.” In 1959 Michel Garder’s Histoire de L’Armee Sovietique brought the story up to 1958,2 but the lack of any citations for M. Garder’s sometimes fascinating statements was enough to drive any self-respecting student of the Red Army to drink.
For those who read Russian, there has been a veritable deluge of memoirs, histories, and specialized articles dealing primarily with the Great Fatherland War. The Soviets have even produced a six-volume work, Istoriya Velikoy Otechestvennoy Voyny Sovetskogo Soyuza, 1941-1945 (“The History of the Great Fatherland War of the Soviet Union, 1941-1945”), written by a horde of Soviet scholars and published between 1960 and 1965. This work has enabled the historian, carefully discounting Soviet biases, to get a better-rounded picture than when he was entirely dependent upon the German accounts of the war. Finally, in the last few years a Soviet journal, Voenno-Istoricheskiy Zhurnal (“Military-Historical Journal”), has provided much excellent material with which to fill in many gaps.
Any enumeration of all the books and articles available in English which deal
either with the Great Fatherland War as a whole or with some aspect of it would
run into the hundreds. They range from Raymond Garthoff’s classic analysis of
Soviet tactics and strategy in his Soviet Military Doctrine to Alexander
The development of the Soviet Armed Forces since 1945 has received far less
coverage, which is understandable although regrettable. The fact is that the
Russian armies have not been engaged in hostilities, with the exception of a
rather inglorious escapade in
The point I am making is this: To get a complete picture of the development
of the armed forces of the
Mackintosh shortchanges the Civil War, especially the momentous events of
the key year 1919, but he does an excellent job in describing the war with
The great debate over the proper military doctrine for the new Red Army—in other words, what form and size it would take, what its tactics and strategy would be—is handled in a rather cavalier fashion by Mackintosh. On the other hand, he expertly describes the semisecret Reichswehr-Red Army collaboration between 1921 and 1933 in about six pages—a masterly feat of condensation.
His account of the transition of the Red Army from a predominantly militia
force (with a regular force of only 563,000) in the 1920s to a multimillion-man
regular army in the late 1930s, when the industrial base to make the
transformation possible had been erected, is very well done. This was the
heyday of Tukhachevsky’s influence on the Red Army’s tactics and
strategy—tactics and strategy that took advantage of the mobility engendered
by the acquisition of aircraft, tanks, and motor vehicles. He was even the
first commander to use airborne forces in maneuvers. But the whole program was
nearly wrecked in the 1937-39 period when Stalin’s paranoiac purge of Tukhachevsky and some 35,000 other high-ranking officers in the Red Army
brought the whole military machine to the verge of chaos. The results of the
Stalinist bloodbath showed up in the poor performance of the Red Army in the
winter war with
The heart of the book, the story of the Great Fatherland War, is well
written. There is plenty of material for the historian to work with, it is an
exciting story, and the author does not let himself get bogged down in
irrelevant detail. His own experience with the Red Army during World War II
gives an immediacy to his writing; he shows a feel for
the magnitude of the conflict as the enormous armies seesawed back and forth
over the plains of
It is the last section of the book, the history of the Red Army since 1945, that is disappointing. The whole saga of the transformation of the enormous ground-force-dominated Red Army that emerged from World War II into the present Soviet Armed Forces, replete with sophisticated weaponry and technologically skilled personnel, is handled in an almost disdainful manner. The reader gets the impression that the author simply tacked this skimpy section onto the main body of the work to give the appearance of completeness—or at least live up to the billing on the dust jacket.
I have a great deal of sympathy for Mr. Mackintosh in his dilemma of how to get a half-century of history into a slim volume; I have tried the trick myself with less than magnificent results.3 But in a world that is inclined to look with awful fascination at the enormous military machine now available to the Kremlin rulers, any book that advertises itself as a description of the development of that force up to 1966 and then treats the climax of the story in the last two decades in such a slighting manner is bound to irritate a large number of readers. But for all the weeping and wailing of this one reader about the anticlimax of Mr. Mackintosh’s opus, it is nevertheless a good little history of the Red Army from 1918 to 1945 and is well worth reading for that period.
Aerospace Studies Institute
*Malcolm Mackintosh, Juggernaut: A History of the Soviet Armed Forces (New York: Macmillan, 1967, $6.95), 320 pp.
1. John Erickson, The Soviet High Command: A Military Political History, 1918-1941 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1962).
2. The work is now available in English (Michel Garder, A History of the Soviet Army, New York: Praeger, 1966), and the story has been brought down to 1964. John Erickson has inserted some notes and references in this edition.
3. Kenneth R. Whiting, The Development of the Soviet Armed Forces, 1918-1966 (Maxwell AFB: Air University, 1966).
Dr. Kenneth R Whitting (Ph.D.,
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this
document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression,
academic environment of
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