Mr. Sensitive

August 19, 2010

Deep Battle

Filed under: War and Battle Discussion — lbej @ 13:34
Tags: ,

In the 1920s and 1930s a Soviet marshal named Mikhail Tukhachevsky developed an operational theory of warfare called deep battle.  Deep battle was a response to the attritional warfare of 1914-1918 that had given the initiative almost entirely to the planning and execution of defense, especially to the creation and perfection of defensive lines.  Tukhachevsky sought to restore speed and manoeuvre to the battlefield, and deep battle was the result.  It was adopted by the Soviet army in 1936, only to be discarded when its creator was executed a year later following fabricated charges of treason and a sham trial.  Had Tukhachevsky, along with many of his peers, not been murdered by Stalin in the Red Army purges of 1937, Hitler might not have launched Operation Barbarossa in 1941, and history would have unfolded quite differently.  As it happened, Hitler knew the Soviet officer corps had been decimated and decided to attack where he perceived weakness.  His perception was correct: a disorganized and demoralized Red Army was forced to retreat hundreds of miles at a cost of millions of soldiers captured, wounded or killed.  Of course, Germany continued to advance when consolidation would have been the better course, and Hitler’s fixation on Stalingrad led to the infamous pocketing and annihilation of the Sixth Army from which the Wehrmacht never recovered.  Russia was weak, but not so weak that Germany could afford even a single misstep that would allow Stalin to bring to bear the tremendous advantages in manpower and resources he still possessed.  But imagine if the purges hadn’t taken place, and the Red Army was not perceived by Hitler as ready for destruction?  Instead of turning toward the East in 1941, he might have instead focused all of Germany’s might, native and captured, against Britain.  The Soviets might have formally acceded to the Axis powers, the negotiations for which were continuing even while Germany prepared for Barbarossa.  Could Britain have withstood that combination?  And without Britain for its forward operating base, would the U.S. have been able to liberate Europe from fascism?  Would we have even made the attempt?

At any rate, the Soviet Union paid the price in 1941 and 1942 for Stalin’s evisceration of the Soviet general staff.  From what I can tell, Tukhachevsky was a particularly bitter loss.  He understood the theory of deep battle and how the Red Army could apply it with maximum effect.  The problem I’m having now is that I don’t understand it.  I’ve studied and studied some more, but I should be seeing something shocking and sublime, and I’m not seeing it.  I’ve been working on the problem, and I’ve begun to think that I need to solve it.  I need deep battle.  It will improve me.

Blog at