Sunday, February 4, 2018

30 January & 2 February

Two observances last week.  Seventy five years ago on 2 February was the final day of the Battle of Stalingrad.  And fifty years ago on the 30th of January was the start of the surprise Tết Offensive by the North Vietnamese Army.    I am not comparing them, the two do not come even close in scope - 1.75 million casualties versus a mere 195 thousand.  But they both foreshadowed the end of a war.

Last Friday Russian citizens celebrated the Stalingrad victory by marching in Moscow, St Petersburg, and many other cities including Stalingrad itself (now Volgograd).    I'm not up to describing that five-month battle.  We danced around it here back in January 2017:    
And there are scores if not hundreds of books, articles and websites describing the action better than I ever could.   A great website for that time in history is at:  
It provides not only a snapshot of the battle with fairly good maps, but also interviews with a dozen German and Russian survivors.  If you do not read all of the interviews, at least read that of Gerhard Hindenlang and that of the Faustova/Voronov married couple.  Hindenlang was a regimental adjutant in the 71st Infantry Division.  He had set up regimental HQ in the basement of the Red Department Store, where in the last days of battle they were joined by General Paulus and his 6th Army staff of 120 when they had to evacuate southern Stalingrad.   Maria Georgievna Faustova was a 20-year-old radio operator with the 131st Rifle Division.  Aleksandr Filippovich Voronov was a 22-year-old commander of an anti-tank battery.  Both sustained wounds there.  Another good read is Deutsch Welle’s English language website:

Seeing that Tet is now 50 years old, the CIA and other intel agencies are going to review selected documents from that era for possible declassification.  Unfortunately the first release will not be until July.  I'm looking forward to that event.
There was almost complete surprise even though the NVA telegraphed their move and there were many indications and warnings.  Westmoreland is said to have been informed that attacks "may" be coming, but if he knew of the scope he did not communicate it well to his subordinates and his superiors in Washington.  And reportedly there was major turf battles going on between General Westmoreland's MACV intel staff and the CIA regarding the number of personnel available to the NVA and the VC.  The evening of the attack, 200 MACV intelligence staff officers were at a pool party.  James Meecham, a MACV CIC analyst was at that party and said later: "I had no conception Tet was coming, absolutely zero ... Of the 200-odd officers present, not one I talked to knew Tet was coming, without exception."   Westmoreland seemed to be convinced that attacks were a diversion and the real target was Khe Sanh.  Actually it was the other way around, Westy was snookered by Generals Giáp and Thái.


  1. Funny thing. We think of Stalingrad as one of the classic "decisive battles", and certainly in a sense it was; a successful Nazi seizure of the Caucuses oilfields in the summer of '42 would have helped the Axis a lot, so stopping the drive on the Volga was important.

    But in a sense the really critical battle - the one for the fighting spirit of the Soviets - had been lost. The disparity in economic and demographic power was so vast that the key to Nazi success was a collapse of Soviet resistance in '41. By hanging on into that awful first winter the Sovs reduced the Nazi chances of success from, say, 50-50 to 33-66 against. Stalingrad helped tilt the scales to, say, 30-70 or 25-75.

    So the "moral of the story" is that if you get the big geopolitical or strategic picture wrong it's damn near impossible to rack up enough tactical successes to change the outcome forecast by that picture ..

    1. The oil fields were never a relevant thing. They (and the Persian oil) were already cut off from Soviet mainland when the railway line south of Stalingrad was overrun. There were only a total of about 100 ships in the Caspian Sea, and a fraction of that were tankers.
      Germany on the other hand could not have made use of the oil resources. They were too easily destroyed and installations dismantled. The oil fields around Grozny were destroyed by the time they were overrun, and the Baku oil and nearby refineries would certainly have been so as well.
      Without refineries in the area Germany would have had to transport crude oil by train to the West (Romania or even farther), then refined fuels back to the East. There was simply not enough logistical capacity for this.

      Operational art-wise the sensible thing would have been to focus on making some divisions fast enough for new encirclements instead of pushing forward hundreds of kilometres against delaying actions. This would have required a greater concentration of field-usable trucks if not an orderly withdrawal from North Africa for one more fast corps.

      The Nazis would have stood a chance as late as mid-1942 if they weren't so systemically incompetent. The Soviet Union was much more close to collapse than is commonly believed nowadays.

      They were almost bled white by late '44 and Germany could have shifted resources to more efficient usage causing roughly two more million Soviet casualties per year.
      The waste of heavy AAA munitions with stupid fuse designs (instead of dual fuses) was an especially wasteful thing. Half that heavy AAA production and half the munition production for it could have achieved more with dual (time + PDSQ) fuses, and the saved resources could have made the difference in the East with 75 mm ATGs and 105 mm howitzers.

    2. No argument that the Naz logistical and industrial messes were badly exposed in Russia (I really that the tank recovery and repair problems had the maneuver commanders tearing their hair as early as the summer of '41...)

      But I think the main point still stands; that the Nazi higher often reasoned up from "Can we do this?" rather than down from "Should we do this?" - ironically, the identical mistake the Bushies made 62 years later. Once the Soviets prooved just resilient enough, no matter how close the Nazis came it wasn't close enough.

  2. Tet is kind of the other side of that, tho. Tactically it was a disaster for the COSVN. And the MAC-V guys sensed that. But politically it was different. It shocked the US public, which had bought the narrative that we had the yellow Reds by the throat. And it didn't grieve the PAVN that a lot of those annoying Southerners got the chop.

    So a whole bunch of people got BOTH the strategic and tactical situation wrong! And things worked out differently than both sides expected ..

  3. FDC-

    "...had bought the narrative that we had the yellow Reds by the throat."

    And Westy was the guy pushing that meme. Which is why I am eager to see those declassified reports in July. I t is supposed to be reports from any and all US intel agencies, not just the CIA. The DNI who ordered this review, former repub Senator Dan Coats, was a staff sergeant in the Army in 68 when he was discharged, combat engineers I think, but I have not found any info that he served in Viet-Nam. I recall he used to be extremely tight with another old Sarge in the Senate, Chuck Hagel. Wonder if he is doing this for Chuck's benefit. They had to have talked about it.

  4. FDC -

    I agree with the argument that the failure to take Moscow was probably the beginning of the end. But I think that is a recent hypothesis by Western historians only in the last several decades after the fall of the USSR and the opening up of Red Army files.

    At the time it was Stalingrad that caught the attention of the world. And in any case, it is still Stalingrad that is celebrated by the Russians themselves, not Moscow. Same for the celebrations of the lifting of the 872-day Siege of Leningrad where another 3.5 million Russians died, many of them by starvation.

    Both take precedent over the Battle of Moscow in the hearts and minds of your average Ivan and Natasha.

    1. No doubt! I was just reminded how easy it might have been to have engineered the fall of the Soviet Union had the Nazis not been so addled by their own racism and bile. Even as it was the invasion garnered initial support in parts of the USSR like Baltics and Ukraine. Had the Nazis been able to make even a half-assed case that they were liberating the People from Stalinist terror..?

      So not so much arguing against the symbolism as being reminded that, as Napoleon wrote, "the moral is to the physical as three is to one..."

  5. Sven -

    I agree on your thoughts of the shift of resources. I do not believe Fritz Todt was suited for the job of Minister of Armaments, and Speer came on too late. You may be right about the oilfields.

    My understanding of the goals of Operation Blue was that Army Group South was to:
    1] intercept Soviet oil deliveries, which were typically by barge on the Volga River;
    2] interdict Lend-Lease material coming north from the Persian Corridor by rail, road and Volga barge;
    3] seize the Caucasus oilfields;
    4] set the stage for later advance into the middle east.

    These goals were supposed to be done in sequence. However, somehow (H?) the plan changed. Army Group South was split into the two Groups A and B. And someone (H again) decided to have the goals carried out simultaneously instead of sequentially. Plus Stalingrad got thrown in as a 'must capture' for political reasons. Perhaps if Blue had gone forth as originally planned they could have carried it off. They probably would not have gotten working wells and working refineries as you said. But Perhaps there was a plan to rebuild the refineries, even if that would have faced RAF opposition at least in the Baku fields. Although the RAF was stretched pretty thin at that time.

    1. It's been called into question by historians whether the Soviet economy depended on the Baku oil at all. By 1942 the Caucasus oil was but one of many oil sources. The USSR had been a net oil exporter.

      There was very little rail capacity from the Persian gulf to Russia, and nothing would have kept the Soviets from moving troops around the Caspian Sea to make use of whatever the Western Allies shipped into Persia/Iran. To reach Baku would only have created Persian Front. That was no recipe for provoking collapse - it was a recipe for asking the British to recruit some 50 more Indian divisions to throw at the Eastern Front. Their personnel resources were unlimited for simple tasks.

      To rebuild perforated refineries is about the same as to build all-new ones. The Japanese experienced that after capturing Dutch refineries. To build all-new refineries takes approx. two years.

      By the way; to capture Stalingrad might have been a better idea than historians usually think. The Nazis needed to break Soviet morale, hope and cohesion. A loss of Stalingrad, Leningrad and Moscow was probably the only scenario for a Soviet collapse in 1942.
      The mistake was to not send the Romanians into Stalingrad with an extra delivery of 10k...20k SMGs and 1k flamethrowers. They lacked the artillery and AT firepower to be as efficient on the open field, even when defending a river line and containing bridgeheads.

  6. Sven -

    It would have been a good idea to send one of the two Romanian Armies (or both) into Stalingrad and kept the 6th Army out on the flanks. Or if not the Romanians then maybe the Hungarian 2nd Army. I think though that both the Romanians and Hungarians were probably even less prepared for the winter temperatures than the German 6th Army. Perhaps the Italian 8th Army could have been used. Mussolini would have begged for the chance. In any case would the choice have been for Paulus to decide? Or Army Group B, or Berlin? As far as I know the only non-German unit that entered the city was a Croation regiment fighting with the 100th Jager Division.

    As for breaking Soviet morale if all three cities had been taken. I am not a believer. Napoleon burned Moscow and it got him nothing. But it is a moot point as none of the three capitulated.

    As for the Persian Corridor, that requires a post of its own. I will try to comment on that tomorrow. We addressed it here years ago.

    1. PS -

      3rd Romanian Army had been reinforced with about 11,000 German troops. Stiffeners maybe? But I assume they were pulled into Stalingrad to assist the 6th Army.

    2. PPS -

      In addition to the Croats, several historians including Beevor, Glantz and Thomas claim that anywhere from 20K to 50K Hilfswillige AKA Hiwi were with the VI Army in Stalingrad.

  7. Sven –

    Regarding the lend-lease via the Persian Corridor. Over 4.2 million metric tons of war material went to the Soviets via that route. And that does not include 100 warplanes per month that were picked up by Soviet pilots at an assembly plant in Abadan and flown straight to airfields at the front. That 4.2M tons only included war material, other supplies like food, locomotives and rolling stock, and raw materials for Soviet factories went by the Pacific Route to Vladivostok. It was an all-weather route unlike the Pacific Route and the Northern Route. It never got the attention of the world like the Northern Route via convoys like the ill-fated PQ-17, probably because it was never attacked and all material got through to the Red Army.

    Most of the rail traffic went to ports on the Caspian Sea to be eventually trans-shipped from there up the Volga River. I believe at the time there were also railways from Iran up into Soviet Azerbaijan and Soviet Armenia. Certainly break-of-gauge ops would have to be completed, but that was well understood by the Soviet RR Ministry. From Baku and Yerevan material could have been easily trans-shipped again by rail to Tbilisi in Georgia and to Beslan in Ossetia, or to Dagestan and points north. The Iranian lines were archaic and only light rail but were improved by multiple US and British Railway Battalions and Engineer Regiments.

    Road was used also, 2000 new trucks were assembled every month for the Red Army at plants in Andimeshk, Bandar Shapuhr, and Khorramshahr. They were sent by four different roads, all loaded with war supplies. These routes were crude but were constantly repaired by US engineer units. One of those routes was a roundabout and twisting road running from Zahidan in southeastern Iran and thence by truck to the east of the Caspian as you suggested. But this route was primitive and much longer, plus the Russians objected that deliveries over it provided supplies too far from the fighting fronts.

    If Hitler had ignored Stalingrad, the Wehrmacht could have shut down this strategic logistics route for the Reds. Or at least put a serious dent in it.

    1. No, it couldn't.
      As I mentioned, the goods would have been used by Red Army troops marched south east of the Caspian Sea or by Indian troops. The composition of the deliveries would have to become more balanced, but there was no end of the world south of the Caucasus that could have shortened the front.
      It was always a stupid diversion. The Nazis were terrible at mustering the self-discipline for pursuing a Schwerpunkt, and it drove Wehrmacht generals mad.

      THAT was the key martial incompetence of Hitler et al; amateurship regarding Schwerpunkt as a resource allocation principle. The excessive fascination with hardware was a distant second.

    2. Sven -

      You and I will have to agree to disagree. This was a key source of war material for the Red Army. An attempt should have been made to shut it down, or at least to make it a longer and harder road east of the Caspian and far from the fighting front. Instead of diddling around and getting fixed in place at Stalingrad.

  8. Oh, boy. Either I wrote way too much already or I'm going in circles. I actually wrote a blog post on Fall Blau back in 2011 already. I believed that I never published it, but that was the Fall Barbarossa post, apparently.

    1. Thanks Sven. I like your proposed alternative. It cut the rail and river traffic both in the south and also in the north from Murmansk by cutting the Kirov Railway somewhere in Karelia.

      Keep the allies - Romanians, Hungarians and Italians - on occupation duty, and not guarding the flanks.

      By the way, the Soviets were NOT entirely self-sufficicnt in petrol or other fuel for their Army. "During the period of lend-lease the United States shipped them 2,113,449 long tons of petroleum products." This went by other routes though, not the Persian Corridor. Plus another half million long tons should be added to that from the British that did go from their Abadan refinery into southern Russia.

    2. The imports were mostly high octane fuel for combat aircraft. They had a use for that because their own refineries - including at Baku - were largely incapable of supplying it. (The Japanese had quite the same problem, and Germany had to circumvent the same problem with Methanol injection).

      "In 1940, a total of 29,414 million tons of oil was processed at domestic refineries, producing only 883,600 tons of aviation gasoline, 3.477 million tons of automotive gasoline, 5.6 million tons of kerosene, 1.274 million tons of ligroin, 1.459 million tons of diesel fuel, 413,000 tons of naval oil, 9.8 million tons of fuel oil, and 1.469 million tons of various lubricants. Of the 883,600 tons of aviation gasoline produced domestically in 1940, an overwhelming proportion was avgas with low octane numbers of 70 to 74. This was almost good enough for obsolete domestically-produced aircraft, but only 4% of the demand for B-78 aviation gasoline, the best of those produced in the Soviet Union and the one needed by the new generation of warplanes, was satisfied across the country."

  9. Sven -

    Between the wars Jimmy Doolittle of the Tokyo Raid worked for the US branch of Shell Oil. While there he pioneered higher octane aviation fuel in the US. I would have thought that the Dutch had the same technology for their refineries in Indonesia and were therefore available to Japan?