Sunday, August 16, 2015

Soviet Doctrine

I have described a world of complex military realities that Soviet thinkers confronted during the 1920s and 1930s. To be sure other military cultures and thinkers, including Giulio Douhet, William "Billy" Mitchell, J.F.C. Fuller and B.H. Liddell Hart, also contributed to intellectual ferment and "new thinking" during the same era. The Soviets were distinctive for the following reasons:

They maintained a consistent focus on the conduct of large-scale, ground-oriented operations.
They worried obsessively about linking separate aspects of their thought about the changing nature of operations to larger and smaller military realities.

They produced an entire school of thinkers, not just individuals laboring in isolation from one another and their military cultures.

They undertook a systematic historical study of operations since Napoleon's time to understand what had changed and why.

Soviet army theorists emerged from this quest with what they felt were fundamental keys to understanding change: The shifting content of military strategy, the evolving nature of operations themselves and the disaggregation of military structures. An important underlying assumption was that these developments owed much of their significance to the impact of changing technology over time.

The Soviets perceived that evolving military theory and practice had led to a situation in which the strategy of an entire nation at war had become a kind of intellectual and organizational continuum linking broad fighting front with large supporting rear. That is, strategy was what guided a nation in preparing for and waging contemporary and future war, while the conduct of operations was rapidly assuming sufficient identity to warrant attention in itself, albeit not in isolation from strategy and tactics. The conscious understanding was that strategy-more precisely, military strategy-had ballooned to encompass a host of activities, including higher-level planning and preparation, resource orchestration and priority and objective identification, all of which culminated in the direct application of military power for the state's goals.6 In short, strategy had come to mean something akin to what Colonel Arthur F. Lykke Jr. would later define as orchestrating and linking "ends, ways and means" to the attain national security objectives.7

This development, when coupled with the increasing complexity of operations, caused a gap to open between the traditional understanding of strategy and tactics. Some commentators filled this gap with the term "grand tactics" while others searched for analogous terms, including "applied strategy" and operatika (Russian circa 1907), to define what the more traditional understanding of strategy had once described as happening within theater.8 For a time, under military theorist Sigismund W. von Schlichting's influence, the Germans toyed with operativ, but they do not appear to have elaborated it with any degree of persistence and consistency.9 Under the influence of varied perspectives and preoccupations, other commentators saw no gap and therefore found little reason to worry about it, continuing to regard tactics and strategy as directly linked.

In contrast, by 1922 the Soviets were beginning to fill the "terminological gap" with something they called "operational art," and they would spend much of the 1920s and 1930s developing a more complete understanding of this concept and its implications.10 At first, it was a term Soviet army thinkers used to bridge the gap between strategy and tactics and to describe more precisely the discipline that governed the preparation for and conduct of operations. In 1926, a Soviet theorist and former Imperial Russian General Staff officer, Aleksandr A. Svechin, captured the essence of linkages among the new three-part understanding of military art when he wrote, "Tactics makes up the steps from which operational leaps are assembled. Strategy points out the path."11 Not surprisingly, a new department, Conduct of Operations, appeared alongside the conventional Departments of Strategy and Tactics at the Soviet Staff Academy.

The new understanding of the relationship among the three components of military art provided impulse for a second factor-steady focus on the evolving nature of operations, with implications for future war. In accordance with the foregoing discussion, the Soviets understood that the industrial revolution had changed the face of modern operations. They knew that operations now had to be consciously differentiated from battles, which were shorter in duration, more limited in scope and outcome and more episodic in nature. Moreover, World War I had driven home the realization that single operations in themselves rarely produced strategic decision. Decision now came as the result of a whole complex of successive, simultaneous and related operations. The Soviets also perceived that operations as diverse as those of World War I and their own civil war had much in common. This realization came primarily from an understanding that logistics and rail and road nets played a key role in determining the scale, scope and depth of modern military operations.12 During the mid-1920s, Soviet army Staff Chief Mikhail N. Tukhachevskiy ordered the faculty that taught the conduct of operations at the staff academy to incorporate logistics into their operational-level exercises. Some Russian commentators later asserted that consideration of support in tandem with operations actually gave birth to the concept of Soviet operational art.13

Soviet theorist Georgiy S. Isserson provided the necessary insight: That armies since the onset of World War I had witnessed a "disaggregation of forces." That is, between 1914 and the early 1930s, the steady march of technology had resulted in the structural evolution of armed forces whose organizations now reflected greater diversity and whose weaponry had become increasingly differentiated by range and combat effect. For continental-style armies, these forces bore only superficial resemblance to their past counterparts. In 1914, for example, despite differences in movement and combat technique, infantry and cavalry represented two aspects of a fairly homogeneous force moved by muscle on the battlefield and supported by similar kinds of artillery. The operational radius and combat effects of these forces were still relatively limited in depth and scope. However, by the 1930s, new structures and weapons had evolved to accompany the introduction of aircraft, armor and long-range artillery into battles and operations. What resulted was a more heterogeneous force, but more important, a force whose qualities and attri-butes required a new order of thought and preparation before they could be systematically applied to military ends.

Isserson saw that a primary purpose of operational art was to reaggregate the diverse effects and operational characteristics of these forces either simultaneously or sequentially across a much larger theater of combat operations.14

These and related impulses came together during the 1930s to produce the Soviet concept of deep operations. With the massive application of new technologies, the Soviets swept away the older geometries of point and line to settle on the advantages of extending a force vector in depth. The requirement was to mobilize a diverse combat array, including infantry, armor, airborne, long-range artillery and air power, then orchestrate this array's multiple effects through an operation both sequentially and simultaneously in three dimensions. The object in the offensive was to attack an enemy's defenses as near simultaneously as possible throughout their depth to effect a catastrophic disintegration of their entire defense system. The concept was to accomplish a penetration by blasting and crushing a path through the tactical zone; then insert a powerful mobile group for exploitation into the operational depths. For maximum decisive effect, the Soviets envisioned these operations as driven from the top down, starting at front (army group) and proceeding down through army and corps levels.15

Although the Soviets did not ignore other operational issues, the theory and practice of deep operations occupied center stage for Soviet operational art during the 1930s. Operational art required the practitioner to:

Identify strategic objectives within theater.
Visualize a theater in three dimensions.
Determine what sequence of military actions-preparation, organization, support, battles and command arrangements-would bring the attainment of those objectives.
After analyzing previous operations, and assuming massive injections of armor and airpower, the Soviets calculated that future operations might occupy up to 300 kilometers of frontage, extend to a depth of about 250 kilometers and have a duration of 30 to 45 days. Consequently, these operations would be closely tied to the attainment of objectives determined by larger strategic requirements, while overall success would rest on the ability to integrate logistics and tactics into the larger design.

Linkages between fighting front and large supporting rear were also clear. For various reasons, including a close reading of Carl von Clausewitz's work, the digestion of lessons from the home front in World War I and a growing sense that victory in future war would depend on the state's total resources, the Soviets gravitated to a view that future conflict would be systemic and protracted. During the 1930s, Joseph Stalin's policies of agricultural collectivization and massive industrialization amounted to a peacetime mobilization of Soviet society. A succession of five-year plans built infrastructure for future war and produced much of the military hardware required for deep operations. The transformation-even militarization-of Soviet society stood as grim testimony to linkages between strategic vision and operational-level capability.16

Stalin's potential German adversaries inherited a different military legacy and worked from a different philosophical base. After lightning victories over the French in 1870 and 1871, much of the rationale behind German military planning had been to devise initial operations of sufficient scope and speed that they would bring about the enemy's capitulation during a single brief campaign of annihilation. The assumption was that modern society had become too fragile to withstand the dislocations of extended military conflict. The World War I experience seemed to confirm earlier apprehensions: Protractedness had brought the "Hydra-headed" dangers of attrition, domestic exhaustion and political instability, even revolution.

As the German Reichswehr emerged from the Versailles-imposed 1920s' cocoon to become Hitler's Wehrmacht in the late 1930s, emphasis once again fell upon avoidance. From a near-intuitive grasp of the military potential resident in the same technologies the Soviets were developing, the Germans fashioned blitzkrieg, a stunning response to the challenges, including protractedness, inherent in positional warfare. The marriage of air power and armor with combat technique gave birth to a combined arms concept with immediate tactical application and important operational implications. Once again the siren-like calls of annihilation and rapid decision summoned the Germans to rocky military shores.17

In retrospect, the new German vision for "lightning war" had at least two major shortcomings, one of which was accepted as self-imposed. The first was that operators and planners failed to embed blitzkrieg in a coherent vision for the conduct of operations, something which might have come about if the Germans had bothered with developing their own legacy of operativ.18 Experience could overcome this problem. The second and more important shortcoming was that the Germans failed beyond the obvious and superficial to consider important systemic linkages between fighting front and supporting domestic rear. Nevertheless, Hitler found the new vision congenial with his own grasp of strategy, while the successes of 1939 to 1942 obscured the more profound difficulties of mobilizing the home front.19

In contrast, the Soviet vision possessed impressive coherence, but it is important to note that Moscow did not initially have all the answers. The very nature of Soviet military culture, coupled with the requirements of continental-style warfare, meant that the Soviets retained a very limited view of operational arts' air and naval components. The chief purpose of air power was to serve the ground operation, while the primary role of naval forces was to defend the coastline and to extend the geographical limits of conventional land-oriented theaters of military actions. In addition, other circumstances peculiar to the Soviet situation prevented the Soviet army from drawing timely benefit from an understanding of operational art. Thanks to a series of circumstances, including Stalin's officer corps' purge in 1937 and 1938, misinterpretation of lessons learned from the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939), the necessity to assimilate huge quantities of troops and new technology and Hitler's ability to effect surprise in 1941, the Soviets did poorly in World War II's opening stages on the Eastern Front.20 Not until 1943 did they emerge from the hard school of experience to return to a more perfect version of operational art-with devastating consequences for the Wehrmacht.

From Stalingrad to Berlin during 1943 to 1945, the Soviets perfected front and multi-front sequential and simultaneous operations. Stalin's marshals learned to command and control these operations in depth and breadth while coordinating air support with armored thrusts. From 1944 on, mobility and maneuver assumed increasing significance, in part because the Germans could no longer replace losses, and because lend-lease trucks enabled the Soviets to stretch the limits of logistic support. Doctrine and practice gradually evolved to emphasize the most complex of modern ground operations-the encirclement-which the Soviets successfully executed about 50 times on the Eastern Front. The Soviets decisively turned the tables on the Germans and, in so doing, demonstrated a mastery of the military art that compared favorably with earlier German successes.21

1. The developments of the 1920s are summarized in James J. Schneider, The Structure of Strategic Revolution: Total War and the Roots of the Soviet Warfare State (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1994), chapters 5 and 6.
2. R.A. Savushkin, "K voprosu o zarozhdenii teorii posledovatel'nykh operatsiy" [Toward the Question of the Origin of the Theory of Successive Operations], Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal [Military-Historical Journal] (May 1983), 79-81.
3. A superb analysis of the changing nature of strategy within a theater is Georgiy S. Isserson, Evolyutsiya operativnogo iskusstva [The Evolution of Operational Art], 2d ed. (Moscow: Gosvoyenizdat, 1937), 18-28.
4. Ibid., 34-37.
5. The acute perceptions of a contemporary appear in Freiherr Hugo F.P. von Freytag-Loringhoven, Deductions from the World War (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1918), 101-6.
6. The classic example of this trend was Aleksandr A. Svechin's textbook Strategiya [Strategy], 2d ed. (Moscow: Voyennyy Vestnik, 1927), which has been edited by Kent D. Lee and translated into English as Aleksandr A. Svechin, Strategy (Minneapolis, MN: East View Publications, 1992); the first chapter describes "strategy in a number of military disciplines."
7. Arthur F. Lykke Jr., "Toward an Understanding of Military Strategy," in COL Arthur F. Lykke Jr., editor, Military Strategy: Theory and Application (Carlisle Barracks, PA: US Army War College, 1989), 3-7.
8. A.A. Kersnovskiy, Filosofiya voyny [The Philosophy of War] (Belgrade: Izd. Tsarskogo Vestnika, 1939), 31.
9. See the commentary in Freiherr Hugo F.P. von Freytag-Loringhoven, Heerfuehrung im Weltkriege, 2 vols. (Berlin: E.S. Mittler, 1920-1921), I, iii, 41, 45 and 46; cf. John English, "The Operational Art: Developments in the Theories of War," in B.J.C. McKercher and Michael Hennessy, editors, The Operational Art: Developments in the Theories of War (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996), 13.
10. The origin of the term is categorically ascribed to Svechin by N. Varfolomeyev, an early student of operational art, in "Strategiya v akademicheskoy postanovke" [Strategy in an Academic Setting], Voyna i revolyutsiya [War and Revolution] (November 1928), 84n.
11. Svechin, Strategy, 269; see also, Jacob Kipp, "Two Views of Warsaw: The Russian Civil War and Soviet Operational Art," in McKercher and Hennessy, editors, The Operational Art, 61-65.
12. The officer most frequently associated with the comparative analysis of operations was V.K. Triandafillov, whose ground-breaking Kharakter operatsiy sovremennykh armiy [The Nature of the Operations of Modern Armies], 3d ed. (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1936), has been edited by Jacob W. Kipp and translated into English as The Nature of the Operations of Modern Armies (Ilford, Essex, UK: Frank Cass and Co., Ltd, 1994); see especially part two.
13. Varfolomeyev, "Strategiya v akademicheskoy postanovke," 84-85.
14. This argument is clearly enunciated in Georgiy S. Isserson, "Osnovy glubokoy operatsii" [Fundamentals of the Deep Operation], as cited by Cynthia A. Roberts, "Planning for War: The Red Army and the Catastrophe of 1941," Europe-Asia Studies (December 1995), 1323n.
15. R.A. Savushkin, Razvitiye sovetskikh vooruzhyennykh sil i voyennogo iskusstva v mezhvoyennyy period (1921-1941 gg.) [The Development of the Soviet Armed Forces and Military Art during the Inter-War Period (1921 to 1941)] (Moscow: VPA, 1989), 90-100.
16. Schneider, The Structure of Strategic Revolution, 231-65.
17. A comprehensive and provocative account of these and other continuities in modern German military development is Jehuda L. Wallach's The Dogma of the Battle of Annihilation: The Theories of Clausewitz and Schlieffen and Their Impact on the German Conduct of Two World Wars (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1986), especially 229-81.
18. See the discussion, for example, in John Keegan, Six Armies in Normandy (New York: Viking Press, 1982), 243.
19. The most recent critique of blitzkrieg in operational-strategic perspective is Karl-Heinz Frieser, Blitzkrieg-Legende, 2d ed. (Munich: R. Oldenbourg Verlag, 1996), chapters 1 and 2; for the Soviet-German comparative perspective, see Shimon Naveh, In Pursuit of Military Excellence: The Evolution of Operational Theory (London: Frank Cass, 1997), 221-238.
20. The attainments and difficulties of the pre-war era are summarized in Georgiy S. Isserson, "Razvitiye teorii sovetskogo operativnogo iskusstva v 30-ye gody" [The Development of the Theory of Soviet Operational Art during the 1930s], Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal (March 1965), especially 54-59.
21. The most recent treatment of the Eastern Front in World War II is David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House, When Titans Clashed (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995); the classic account of 1943 to 1945 in English remains John Erickson's The Road to Berlin (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983).
22. Christopher R. Gabel, The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941 (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 1992), 185-94.
23. An eloquent summary with an emphasis on military geography is John Keegan, Fields of Battle: The Wars for North America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996), 325-33.
24. See the overview in James J. Schneider, "War Plan RAINBOW 5," Defense Analysis (December 1994), 289-92.
25. LTG L.D. Holder, "Educating and Training for Theater Warfare," in Clayton R. Newell and Michael D. Krause, editors, On Operational Art (Washington, DC: US Army Center of Military History, 1994), 171-72.
26. Thomas W. Wolfe, Soviet Power and Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1970), 32-49 and 128-56.
27. The most recent account is Roger J. Spiller, "In the Shadow of the Dragon: Doctrine and the U.S. Army after Vietnam," typescript to be published in RUSI Journal (December 1997).
28. MAJ Paul H. Herbert, Deciding What Has to be Done: General William E. DePuy and the 1976 Edition of FM 100-5 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute, 1988), 25-36.
29. An engaging survey of doctrinal development between 1976 and 1982 is Richard Swain's "Filling the Void: The Operational Art and the U.S. Army," in McKercher and Hennessy, editors, The Operational Art, 154-65.
30. For an indication of the renewed emphasis on operational art, see then Chief of the Soviet General Staff M.V. Zakharov's "O teorii glubokoy operatsii" [On the Theory of the Deep Operation], Voyenno-istoricheskiy zhurnal (October 1970), 10, 20; overall context is provided by David M. Glantz, "The Intellectual Dimension of Soviet (Russian) Operational Art," in McKercher and Hennessy, editors, The Operational Art, 135-39.
31. English, "The Operational Art," 17-18.
32. For an overview, see John L. Romjue, From Active Defense to AirLand Battle: The Development of Army Doctrine 1973-1982 (Fort Monroe, VA: US Army Training and Doctrine Command, 1984), 66-73.
33. GEN William R. Richardson, "FM 100-5: The AirLand Battle in 1986," Military Review (March 1986), 4-11.
34. See, for example, COL William W. Mendel and LTC Floyd T. Banks Jr., Campaign Planning (Carlisle Barracks, PA: US Army War College, 1988), 5-15.
35. David A. Sawyer, "The Joint Doctrine Development System," Joint Force Quarterly (Winter 1996-97), 36-39.
36. See chapter 5, "Doctrine for a New Time," in John L. Romjue, American Army Doctrine for the Post-Cold War (Fort Monroe, VA: US Army Training and Doctrine Command, 1996).
37. On the legacy of Isserson, see Frederick Kagan, "Army Doctrine and Modern War: Notes Toward a New Edition of FM 100-5," Parameters (Spring 1997), 139-40.
38. See, for example, James K. Morningstar, "Technologies, Doctrine, and Organization for RMA," Joint Force Quarterly (Spring 1997), 37-43.

Bruce W. Menning is an instructor in the Strategy Division, Department of Joint and Multinational Operations, US Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC), Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He received a B.A. from St. John's University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Duke University. He is also a CGSC graduate. His previous positions include special assistant to the Deputy Commandant, CGSC; Secretary of the Army Fellow, Moscow; director, Soviet Army Studies Office, Combined Arms Center, Fort Leavenworth; John F. Morrison Professor of Military History, Combat Studies Institute, CGSC; Associate Professor of History, Miami University, Ohio; and he is a retired US Army Reserve officer. He is the author of Bayonets Before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 1861-1914.

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