CHAPTER 10 and 11 – 100 Why Stalin Abolished the Stalin Line. Partisans or Saboteurs?

CHAPTER 10 and 11 – 100 – Why Stalin Abolished the Stalin Line. Chapter 11 Partisans or Saboteurs?

Only naive people believe that the chief task of fortified zones is defence. This is not so. Fortified zones are built so that an offensive may be prepared in greater security. They must also securely conceal the deployment of groupings of shock troops, repel any enemy attempt to disrupt their deployment, and support our troops with all possible fire power when they go over to the offensive. Major-General PIOTR GRIGORENKO (Memoirs, New York 1981, p. 141)

In the 1930s, thirteen fortified regions, or URs, were built along the Soviet Union’s western frontier, in a strip of territory which was unofficially called the Stalin Line. Each fortified region was in fact a military formation equivalent to a brigade in numerical strength, but equal to a corps in fire-power. Every region was made up of a command and a headquarters, between two and eight machine-gun and artillery battalions, one artillery regiment, several batteries of heavy caponier artillery, a tank battalion, a communications company or battalion, a sapper engineering battalion and other subunits.

Each region covered an area of 100-180 kilometres along the front, to a depth of 30-50 kilometres. A complex system of combat and supply installations, armoured and built of reinforced concrete, was constructed in the zone; there were also underground premises, built of reinforced concrete, to serve as storage depots, electrical power stations, hospitals, command points and communications centres. The
underground installations were linked by a complicated system of tunnels, galleries and overlapping communication trenches. Each UR was capable of waging warfare independently and over a long period in conditions of complete isolation.

The basic element of the fortified regions was the DOT, or permanent fire position. In its issue of 25 February 1983, the newspaper Red Star gave a description of DOT No. 112 in the 53rd UR, situated in the Mogilev-Podolsk region. This was one of the completely standard DOTs in the Stalin Line. It consisted of complex tunnelled fortification defences, which contained communication trenches, caponiers, compartments and filtration systems. It also had armouries, ammunition stores, food supplies, a medical unit, a mess room, water supply (which incidentally is still functioning), a recreation and reading room, and observation and command posts.

The armament of the DOT consisted of machine-gun positions with three firing embrasures. In these posts there were three ‘maxims’ mounted on special turrets and two single-gun caponiers with a ydmrn cannon in each one. One may take this DOT to be an average one. Besides the DOTs, thousands of small combat structures were built, along with enormous fortification ensembles. General P. Grigore escribes one of them in his memoirs. Built in the same UR in Mogilev-Podolsk, it had eight powerful DOTs, all interlinked by underground galleries. Colonel P. G. Umansky also took part in building the Stalin Line, and in his memoirs he mentions the underground installations in the Kiev fortified region, where they stretched over a distance of many kilometres (Colonel P. G. Umansky, Na boevykh mbezhakh, Voenizdat 1960, p. 35) Colonel-General A. I.

Shebunin, another participant in that mighty work of construction, tells us that in the Proskurov UR alone, more than one thousand reinforced concrete defence-works were constructed in just three years. Many of these were concealed by artificial water defences (Colonel-General A. I. Shebunin, Skol’ko namiproideno, Moscow Voenizdat 1971, p. 58)

The construction of the Stalin Line was not advertised like the building of the Maginot Line. The Stalin Line was erected in the total darkness of state secrecy. As every strongpoint was being built, the NKVD ‘closed’ some parts of it ‘to prevent some horrible bird flying around there’. (P. Grigorenko, Memoirs) Construction work proceeded in all sectors at the same time, but only in one of the sectors was it genuine – in the other cases it was simply a false front. Both the local inhabitants and many of those who were involved in the building at the time had a mistaken idea of what was being built, and where.

There were many differences between the Soviet Union’s Stalin Line and the French Maginot Line. It was impossible to pass round the extreme ends of the Stalin Line, as its flanks rested upon the Baltic at one end and the Black Sea on the other. The Stalin Line was built not just for defence against infantry attack, but primarily for defence against enemy tanks. In addition, it had powerful air-defence cover. The Stalin Line also had greater depth than the French system. Apart from the reinforced concrete which was used to build the Stalin Line, large quantities of armoured steel and granite from Zaporozh’e and Cherkassy were employed.

An important difference between the two lines was that the Stalin Line was built deep inside Soviet territory, and not up against the actual frontier; it was protected by a security zone which would have slowed the enemy’s advance and worn him down. It also would have acted like a fog at sea which conceals a chain of icebergs behind it. The fortified zones were camouflaged in such a way that, when the attacking troops came up against Stalin’s forts, they would have received an unpleasant surprise.

Unlike the Maginot Line, the Stalin Line was not a continuous whole. The fortified regions were separated by wide gaps. When the need arose, these gaps could have been covered with minefields, artificial defences of all kinds, and field defence involving ordinary troops. They could also have been left open, as if to offer the aggressor the choice of not attacking the fortified regions head on, but of trying to pass between them. If the enemy took the opportunity offered, then the mass of advancing troops would be split up into several isolated lines, each one of which would then have to move forward along a corridor which was under fire on both sides, while its flanks, rear, and lines of communication would be under constant and very serious threat.

We shall see later that the corridors which separated these fortified regions had yet another, altogether different purpose. The 13 fortified regions of the Stalin Line were built by enormous effort and at vast expense during the first two five-year plans. In 1938, it was decided to reinforce all thirteen fortified regions by building heavy artillery caponiers in them. In addition, the construction of eight more fortified regions began. More than one thousand combat installations were concreted into the new fortified regions in the period of one year.

At that very moment, however, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed. The Pact marked the beginning of World War II. It also meant that there was no longer a dividing barrier between the Soviet Union and Germany – they now shared a common frontier. Stalin could have done a great deal in this very menacing situation to improve the security of the Soviet Union’s western frontiers and to guarantee Soviet neutrality in the course of a war.

He could, for instance, have ordered that the garrisons on the Stalin Line be strengthened; that the factories producing armaments for the fortified regions should step up their output; that plants which were producing defensive weapons should give priority to anti-tank guns and anti-tank rifles; that the entire construction engineering capability of the country, and its entire resources, be mobilized so that the construction of the Stalin Line be accelerated appreciably; that a start be made on building a second, even stronger defensive system in front of the Stalin Line; that in addition to these two powerful defensive systems, a third belt of fortified zones be built behind the Stalin Line, for example along the eastern bank of the Dnieper; and finally that the troops of the Red Army dig thousands of kilometres of trenches, anti-tank ditches, pits and communication trenches from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

In Autumn 1939, however, when World War II began and a common frontier with Germany was established, all construction work on the Stalin Line was stopped. (V. Anfilov: Bessmertnyi Podvig, Moscow Nauka 1971, p.35)

The garrisons in the fortified regions of the Stalin Line were first reduced in size and then disbanded completely. Soviet factories stopped producing armament and special equipment destined for fortification installations. The existing fortified regions were dismantled, and their armament, ammunition and all observation, communications and fire-control equipment were put into storage. (VIZH 1961 No. 9, p. 120)

The process of eliminating the Stalin Line gathered speed. Some of the military buildings were handed over to collective farms to be used for storing vegetables; but most of the military installations were covered with earth. Apart from armaments for the fortified regions, Soviet industry ceased producing many other defensive systems as well. Production of anti-tank guns and 76mm regiment and division guns, which could also have been used as anti-tank guns, was completely stopped. (VIZH 1961 No. 7, p. 101; VIZH1963 No. 2, p. 12)

The anti-tank guns which had already been issued to the troops were not used for the purpose for which they had been intended, but for knocking out enemy firing positions when Soviet troops were on the attack. (Lieutenant- General I. P. Roslyi: Posledny Prival v Berline, Moscow Voenizdat 1983, p. 27)

Anti-tank rifles were not only taken out of production; they even ceased to be part of the Red Army’s armament. (VIZH 1961, No. 7, p.101)

Everything connected with defence was mercilessly destroyed and obliterated. In fairness, however, it must be said that in the summer of 1940, construction began of a belt of fortified regions directly on the new Soviet-German frontier. It was never completed. The Soviet General Staff, not without a certain degree of irony, gave these new fortified regions the unofficial title of the Molotov Line. The
decision to embark upon its construction was taken on 26 June 1940. (V. Anfilov, op. cit., p. 162)

Construction proceeded very slowly on the new frontier, although the destruction of the old defences went ahead with surprising speed. The tragedy of the Stalin Line reached its apotheosis in the spring of 1941: I do not know how future historians will explain this crime against our people. Present-day historians pass over this event in complete silence, and I do not know why. The Soviet government fleeced its people of many billions of roubles (no less than 120 billion, according to my calculations) in order to build fortifications, impregnable to any enemy, along the entire western frontier, from sea to sea, from the grey Baltic to the azure Black Sea. Yet just before war broke out, in spring 1941, powerful explosions thundered
along the 1,200-kilometre-long stretch of fortifications.

Strong double and single caponiers built of reinforced concrete, firing positions with one, two and three embrasures, command posts, observation posts, and tens of thousands of permanent defensive installations were all blown up on Stalin’s personal orders. (Major-General P. G. Grigorenko, VPodpol’eMozhno Vstretit’ Tol’ko Krys, New York 1981, p. 141)

Thus, the Stalin Line on the old frontier had already been obliterated, while the Molotov Line on the new frontier had still to be built. After the war, and after Stalin died, Soviet generals and marshals chorused their indignation. Chief Marshal of Artillery N. N. Voronov had this to say: ‘How could our leadership, having failed to build the necessary defensive zones on the new western frontier in 1939, take the decision to abolish and disarm the fortified regions on the former borders?’ (Na sluzhbe Voennoi, Moscow Voenizdat 1963, p. 172)

The Marshal’s indignation is false, however. He scolds ‘our leadership’, but he himself was Colonel-General of Artillery, one of the most senior posts in the Red Army command, at the time. Can it really be that the antitank and caponier guns were withdrawn from production without his knowledge? Did he really not know that the Artillery caponiers in the Stalin Line were being stripped of armament and obliterated? Voronov deliberately asks the wrong question in order to distract the reader’s attention from the essence of the problem. He seems to think that the Molotov Line should have been built first, and then the Stalin Line broken up afterwards.

In putting the question this way, Voronov tacitly justifies the destruction of the Stalin Line; his criticism is not that it was done at all, but only that it was done prematurely. But why not ask another question – why break up the Stalin Line at all? The events of 1940 had confirmed twice over that two defensive strips are better than one. In 1940 the Red Army paid a high price in blood to break through the Mannerheim Line, compelling Finland to concede to Stalin’s demands. Later that year, the German Army passed round the side of the French Maginot Line, broke out on to a broad expanse of territory where it could operate without restriction, and that was the end of the war for France. It is unfortunate that neither France nor Finland had a second line, deep in their heartlands; in that case it is unlikely that either invasion would have succeeded.

Stalin had just such a second line – and then assiduously broke it up. Over the years, Soviet apologists have devised a great number of explanations for this apparent act of folly. One of these is that there was insufficient armament to equip the new fortified regions, so that equipment had to be taken from the Stalin Line. This argument fails on several counts, however. Firstly, if the Molotov Line was short of armament, why were the ordnance plants not ordered to step up production? Not only was no such order given, but the production of standard armaments was actually stopped.

Secondly, the demolition of the Stalin Line began in the autumn of 1939. The arms removed from it were put into storage, because the Molotov Line did not then exist. Indeed, the decision to erect it was not taken until 26 June 1940. So it turns out that first of all the Stalin Line was demilitarized, while later, nearly a year later, the reason, the need and the requirement to do so arose.

Thirdly, the Molotov Line, in comparison to the Stalin Line, was a comparatively weak series of light fortifications, and did not need such a large quantity of armament. In the Western Special Military District of Byelorussia, for instance, 193 combat installations were built on the new frontier, while before that on the old frontier, 876 more powerful combat installations quantity of armament.

In the Western Special Military District of Byelorussia, for instance, 193 combat installations were built on the new frontier, while before that on the old frontier, 876 more powerful combat installations had been disarmed. The ratio of newly built installations to those which had been previously disarmed was still more striking in other military districts. In order to have armed the Molotov Line, therefore, it would have been sufficient to take only part of the armament, and a minor part of that, from the Stalin Line. Why then was the armament removed in its entirety from the Stalin Line?

Casement weaponry, machine guns, ammunition, periscopes, communications equipment and gas filters are portable; reinforced concrete installations are not. Even the smallest DOT, with a machine gun and one embrasure, is a reinforced concrete monolith weighing 350 tons, dug into the earth with blocks of granite piled on top of it and covered over with earth, which even had trees growing on it to afford extra defence and camouflage. It was surrounded by ditches and artificial ponds. Could all this have been dragged 200 kilometres westwards?

Even if we accept that the Stalin Line had to be stripped of its armament to equip the new frontier, why blow up its installations? The ordinary foot soldier, armed with his rifle and shovel, can dig a trench to make it difficult and sometimes impossible for the enemy to cross the Line. If you put the same soldier, armed with his rifle or even a light machine gun, not into a mud-hole in the middle of a field, but into even the most simple dismantled DOT, then his tenacity and firmness will increase tenfold. He will have at least one metre of reinforced ferroconcrete over his head, a metre and a half of it in front of him and a metre on each side, all carefully camouflaged from the enquiring gaze of the enemy.

If 170 first-echelon Soviet divisions were put into these albeit dismantled boxes, it would have been no simple matter to break through their defences. Defending troops always need something to hold on to: the dismantled forts at Verdun; the bastions at Brest- Litovsk; the walls at Stalingrad; or the trenches in the Kursk salient, which had been abandoned two years previously. Once they have such a foothold, the infantry will dig in in such a way that nothing will smoke them out of their lairs and burrows. They will turn the ruins of a factory, a nineteenth-century bastion or a thirteenth-century citadel into an unassailable fortress.

Even when completely dismantled, the Stalin Line could have provided a line of defence on which the Red Army could have stopped the enemy from reaching the heart of the country. Then the dismantled DOTs, the underground command posts, the excellent hospitals, the concrete-protected store depots, to say nothing of the underground galleries and tunnels, lines of communication and control lines, electrical power stations and water-supply systems, could all have come in useful.

But after destroying-the Stalin Line, the First Strategic Echelon of the Red Army was moved to the other side of the pre-war frontier. Under cover of the TASS report of 13 June 1941, troops belonging to the Second Strategic Echelon were transferred, in total secrecy, in seven armies to the western areas of the Soviet Union. These armies too were sent beyond the old frontier, and beyond the now dismantled, abandoned and obliterated Stalin Line.

Every soldier knows that defence must be constantly improved; it is one of the most basic requirements laid down by military textbooks. No matter how strong the defences might appear, every soldier will go on doggedly digging up the ground, making the anti-tank ditches wider and deeper, adding a second, third, fourth, and fifth trench to the first one. There is no such thing as an ‘adequate’ state of defence; if ten anti-tank ditches have been dug, then dig an eleventh. Soldiers of every army have known this simple truth for many thousands of years now. That is why new defences are built to strengthen and reinforce existing defences, not to replace them.

A study of any castle will show that no defence is ever obsolete. An eleventh-century tower will be surrounded by thirteenth-century walls. Around them is a ring of seventeenth-century bastions, which in their turn are ringed by nineteenthcentury forts, reinforced by twentieth-century DOTs. According to this basic and universally accepted military principle, the Molotov Line could have served as a complement to the Stalin Line, but never as a replacement for it.

The Molotov Line, however, was created neither as an addition to the Stalin Line nor as a replacement for it, and differed sharply from its predecessor both in concept and in detail. Unlike the Stalin Line, it was built in such a way that it could be seen by the enemy. It was set up in second-grade military sectors, and was not shielded by a security zone, by minefields or other engineered defences. The builders of the Molotov Line did not make use of the many opportunities available to reinforce it, nor were they in any hurry to build it.

The construction of the Molotov Line is just as much an enigma in Soviet history as is the destruction of the Stalin Line. Strange things happened when the new fortified zones were being built. In 1941, vast masses of Soviet troops were concentrated in the Lvov salient in the Ukraine; a smaller force was concentrated in the Bialystok salient in Byelorussia. Soviet marshals explain that they were expecting the main attack to be made in the Ukraine, and a subsidiary one to be launched in Byelorussia. The main effort made in building the Molotov Line should therefore have been concentrated in the Ukraine, with a secondary drive in Byelorussia.

But it had been planned to expend half of all the resources allotted to the construction of the Molotov Line in the Baltic area, a second-grade military sector well away from the expected attack. A quarter of the resources were allocated for Byelorussia, with only nine per cent going to the Ukraine, where according to the assurances of the Soviet marshals ‘the main attack was expected.’ (Anfilov, op. tit., p. 164)

The fortifications in the Molotov Line were built in second-grade military sectors. For example, six road and railway bridges across the river which formed the frontier in the region of Brest-Litovsk were severed immediately. The main strategic thrust of a war would follow a line running from Warsaw through Brest-Litovsk, Minsk, Smolensk and on to Moscow. These Brest-Litovsk bridges were therefore of the highest strategic importance. A new fortified zone had been erected near Brest-Litovsk; but it was far out of the way of the crucial bridges.

The fortified regions of the Molotov Line were built right up against the frontier. They were not protected by a security zone, and in the event of a surprise attack the garrisons would no longer have time to occupy their combat installations and bring their weaponry to full readiness. Unlike those along the Stalin Line, the fortified regions of the Molotov Line were not very deep. Everything which could have been built on the frontier itself, was in fact built there. Defence positions were not built in the rear, nor was it ever planned to build any. (Lieutenant-General V. F. Zotov, Na Severo-Zapadnom Fronte, Moscow Nauka 1969, p. 175)

The fortifications were not sited on positions which would favour defence, but followed every bend and twist of the state frontier. The new combat installations were not protected by barbed wire, mines, ditches, stakes, hedgehog entanglements or anti-tank tetrahedrons, nor were any engineered defences erected in the area of construction. Neither were the new installations camouflaged. For example, in the fortified region of Vladimir- Volynsk, ‘out of 97 combat installations, 5-7 were covered with earth, while the remainder were virtually decamouflaged’. (VIZH 1976, No. 5, p. 91)

If the reader were to cross the Soviet frontier in the region of Brest-Litovsk, let him turn his attention to the grey concrete boxes which stand almost on the bank itself. These are DOTs which belonged to the southern tip of the Brest-Litovsk fortified region. They were not covered over with earth at the time, and so remain exposed to this day. The DOTs on the Stalin Line were built in secret, far from the frontier, so that the enemy could not know where the fortifications were, where the gaps between them lay, or indeed whether there were any such gaps at all. Now the enemy could see the entire construction from his side, and learn exactly where
the fortifications were.

He could make out each separate installation with such accuracy that he could even establish what the line of fire would be from each embrasure. On the basis of this he could determine the entire fire plan and, choosing those strips of land which were not covered by fire, infiltrate himself towards the uncamouflaged DOTs and block the embrasures with sandbags; which is exactly what the Germans did on 22 June 1941.

Marshal Zhukov testified that the fortified zones were built too close to the frontier and had an extremely unfavourable operational configuration, especially in the area of the Bialystok salient. This enabled the enemy to attack the rear of our entire Bialystok grouping from the area of Brest-Litovsk and Suwalki. In addition, because they lacked sufficient depth, the fortified zones were unable to hold out for long, since they were shot through by artillery. (Vospominaniya i Razmyshleniya, APH 1969, p. 194)

Since the Brest-Litovsk and Suwalki areas were so vulnerable to enemy attack, why was use not made of the old, abandoned Russian border fortresses of Brest-Litovsk, Osovets, Grodno Peremyshl’ or Kaunas? None of these fortresses is in any way inferior in strength to Verdun, and each could have been turned into an impregnable bastion, thereby raising the stability of the whole defence system. In addition to these fortresses, the regions possessed some old and less powerful fortifications, such as double caponiers, each one intended for a rifle company. The walls and ceilings were of reinforced concrete three metres thick.

Colonel Starinov recalled that the head of the GVIU (the Chief Military Engineering Board of the Red Army) ‘proposed that use be made of the old Tsarist fortresses near the frontier and set up zones of engineered obstacles. This proposal was never accepted. It was said that it would have served no purpose.’ (Miny Zhdut Svoego Chasa, Moscow Voenizdat 19, p. 177)

In February 1941, Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov became Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army. No other marshal or general this century has occupied such a senior post without having suffered even one military defeat. Thus Zhukov, whose greatness had already been proved by his lightning rout of the Japanese 6th Army, held virtually supreme military authority, and might have been expected to bring order to the Molotov Line. Zhukov’s arrival, however, did nothing to improve the situation. On the contrary, construction work in the Brest-Litovsk region was given a lower priority. (Anfilov, op. tit, p. 166)

The meaning of the words ‘lower priority construction’ need not be explained to the reader who is acquainted with Soviety reality. In practice, it means that construction is almost completely frozen. But even this coin has another side to it. Captured documents of the German 48th Motorized Corps show that the German High Command had formed an altogether different impression. The German troops saw intensive construction work going on day and night; what was more, at night the work took place under floodlights.

What is one to make of this? Were the Soviets really such idiots as to betray their construction sites on the frontier by floodlighting them every night? How can one reconcile ‘lower priority construction’ with this frenetic burst of floodlit building? One is drawn to the inevitable conclusion that the Molotov Line was built, as Marshal of the Soviet Union I. Kh. Bagramyan put it, as a ‘deliberate display’.

In his memoirs, Colonel-General Sandalov records a conversation with Mikhail Ivanovich Puzyrev, the commandant of the Brest- Litovsk fortified zone. ‘I brought the fortified zone right up to the frontier itself,’ Puzyrev told him. ‘It was very unusual. Before, we had always built the DOTs a certain distance from the frontier. But there was nothing to be done about it here. We had to be guided by political, and not only by military considerations.’ (Perezhitoe, Moscow Voenizdat 1966, p. 64)

This presents us with another enigma. The Soviet troops were concealed in the woods, forbidden to show themselves ‘so as not to provoke a war’. But at the same time, as a result of political considerations unknown to us, they were importunately displaying to the enemy their intensive preparations for defence, without fear of provoking any diplomatic or military complications. How can one reconcile all these conflicting facts? As usual, the apparent inconsistency of Soviet military
planning is put down to sheer stupidity.

I should have accepted this explanation but for one snag. The Stalin Line and the Molotov Line were the work of the same man, Professor D. Karbyshev, lieutenant-general of the engineering troops. On the Stalin Line he did everything right, well up to the level of world standards and higher. He provided for everything: the careful camouflaging of every DOT, the great depth of every fortified region, the engineered defences, the security zone and much else. But then the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed and one of the world’s most brilliant military engineers suddenly became stupid, and everything he did had been wrong. Above Karbyshev stood the great Zhukov.

Everything he did was right, both earlier and later. But suddenly, in the first half of 1941, Zhukov changed into an idiot and had begun to issue idiotic orders. It was just at the time of Zhukov’s arrival at the General Staff that ‘the fortified zones on the old frontiers were disarmed to their previous state, while construction on the new frontiers went ahead at a snail’s pace’. (Starinov, op. tit., p. 178)

The story about stupid Stalin, stupid Zhukov and the idiot Karbyshev will not hold water, for the reason that at that very same time Adolf Hitler and the German generals were doing exactly the same thing. They took exactly the same decisions, but no one considered what they did to be idiotic. Between 1932 and 1937, particularly strong fortifications had been built on the banks of the Oder to protect Germany from attacks from the east. They were first-class combat installations which blended into the surrounding terrain and were very well camouflaged, and rank among the highest achievements of military
engineering in the first half of our century.

Once the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed, the German army moved east and these splendid fortifications were abandoned, never again to be occupied by troops. Many combat installations were used to satisfy other needs. In the Hochwald region, for example, there was a powerful fortification complex containing 22 four-storey combat installations, connected by a 30-kilometre underground tunnel. All this was handed over to the aircraft industry to house a plant which produced aircraft engines. Having moved out to meet the Red Army in the middle of Poland, the German troops began to build a new line of fortified regions.

They were built in secondary sectors, right up against the Soviet frontier. Neither minefields nor engineered defences were put down in front of the new fortified regions. Work went on day and night. The Soviet frontier guards saw what was going on, and reported it ‘to the proper quarters’. (Pogranichnye Voiska SSSR 1939 — iyun’ 1941, Sbornik doku-mentov i materialov, Moscow Nauka 1970, Document Nos. 344 and 287)

Construction work went ahead intensively until May 1941, after which, as Soviet jargon would have it, the defences were ‘regraded to the category of non-first priority’. Of 80 combat installations planned to be built on the banks of the frontier river San, only 17 were completed. All of these were inadequately camouflaged. In comparison with the defences on the old German frontier, these were light installations. The walls and ceilings were each 1½ metres thick, and the armoured component parts 200mm. each. On the old frontier on the Oder line, the armoured component parts had been much stronger, with thicknesses up to 350mm.

Exactly the same thing was being done on the Soviet side. On the Stalin Line there were strong armoured cupolas and very heavy armoured parts; in the building of the Molotov Line on the banks of the same river San, Soviet engineers used comparatively thin armoured parts of a thickness of up to 200mm. When I was a Soviet officer, one frequently saw German and Soviet DOTs on opposite sides of the same small river. If photographs of the DOTs were shown to an expert, and he were asked to say where the German and Soviet DOTs were, he would not be able to tell the difference.

Why did the German commanders fail to erect as many strong fortifications on their new frontiers as they had done on their previous border? Because they had no intention of defending themselves for a long period in that place. A defensive fortification is one thing and an offensive fortification is another.

Before launching an attack every general must act in accordance with one of the main principles of strategy and concentrate great masses of troops in very narrow sectors; thus the German troops were concentrated in two salients in the Suwalki and Lyublin areas, while Soviet troops were concentrated in two salients in the areas of Lvov and Bialystok. In order to assemble these shock groupings in the main sectors, the secondary sectors would have to be denuded of their resources, even if nerve were needed to do this. These sectors should have previously constructed fortified zones, so that they should not be left completely exposed. The fire-power and combat installations in these zones would enable fighting troops there to be released for battle.

An offensive fortified zone should be placed to one side of the main axis; your troops will advance over the frontier bridges. Fortifications are not needed here. But, on the side where there are no bridges, your troops must be withdrawn and you must erect a fortified zone in their stead. This will allow a comparatively small garrison to control fairly wide expanses of territory. Offensive fortified zones do not need to have depth. You do not intend to defend yourself here for long. There is no need to put down minefields round about; all the gaps will be used by your own troops when they move on to enemy territory.

The best approach is to move up the DOTs to the frontier river itself, so that when the offensive begins they can be used to give fire support to the advancing troops. There is, of course, no need to build positions in the rear, for by doing so you condemn a part of your garrisons and caponier armament to inactivity. It is better to bring them all up to the frontier itself. Your defensive construction works should not be camouflaged; let the enemy see your defensive building, and let them conclude that you are preparing only for defence. That was exactly what the German generals did.

Not long before, in August 1939, Zhukov had operated precisely in this way at Khalkhin-Gol: ‘By these measures, we strove to give the enemy the impression that there was a total absence of preparatory measures of an offensive nature on our side, and to show that we were carrying out extensive works, the purpose of which was to organize defence, and only defence.’ (Zhukov, op. cit., p. 161)

The Japanese were successfully deceived. They took Zhukov’s ‘defensive’ works at face value, and paid the price when they fell to his crushing lightning strike. After that, Zhukov did the same thing on the German frontier, although on a much larger scale. But he did not succeed in taking in the German generals; they were familiar with this strategy, having used it themselves. On 22 August 1939, just two days after Zhukov dealt his surprise strike at Khalkin-Gol and while the Molotov—Ribbentrop negotiations were in progress, the German Army was preparing to go into Poland.

General Guderian was ordered to take over the ‘Fortification Headquarters Pomerania’; the aim was to lull the Poles by making purely defensive preparations. At the same time, he quickly constructed some comparatively light fortifications in secondary sectors, so that a few more fighting troops might be released to take part in the main attack. Guderian was again building defences in the spring and summer of 1941, but this time it was on the Soviet frontier. If Guderian was building concrete pillboxes on the bank of a river on the frontier, it in no way meant that he was thinking about defending himself. It signified the exact opposite.

And if Zhukov was ostentatiously building exactly the same kind of boxes on the bank of the same river, what could that mean? The Stalin Line was multi-purpose. It could be used to defend the country or serve as a springboard for attack. Wide corridors were therefore left between the fortified regions to allow the mass of Soviet troops to pass through on their way to the west. After the frontier had been moved a couple of hundred kilometres to the west, the Stalin Line completely lost its importance as a fortified springboard for further aggression; and once the Molotov—Ribbentrop Pact had been signed, Stalin no longer had any intention of thinking in terms of defence.

This is why the Line was dismantled and then broken up. It was in the way of that great mass of troops who had their sights secretly fixed upon the German frontier. It would also hinder the process of supplying the Red Army with the millions of tons of ammunition, food supplies and fuel it would need on its victorious ‘liberation’ campaign. The corridors between the fortified zones were perfectly adequate for both military and economic needs in peacetime, but in the course of a war, rivers of consignments of supplies would have to be split up into thousands of little streams, so that they would be invulnerable to enemy counter-action. The fortified regions squeezed transport columns into comparatively narrow corridors. That sealed the fate of the already redundant Line.

Exactly the same situation existed in Germany, on both its eastern and western frontiers. Ever since the Franco—Prussian War, German attacks on France had been traditionally planned to come from the north. The Siegfried Line was built in the 1930s, to the south of this sector; that is, in a secondary sector. The German Army passed far to the west in 1940, and the Siegfried Line turned out to be unnecessary. Since it never occurred to Hitler at the time that four years later he would have to defend himself on his own borders, the Siegfried Line was abandoned. It was turned to account in a very original way. Its combat installations were handed over to farmers for storing potatoes. Some installations, which were fitted with impregnable armoured doors, were simply locked up. When the need arose to open them again, no one could find the keys. (K. Mallory and A. Ottar, Architecture of Aggression, Architectural Press, 1973, p. 123)

One may, of course, call outstanding Soviet and German generals idiots, but there was no idiocy here. They were simply aggressors. Both thought in terms of attack, and when their fortifications could no longer be used for the purposes of attack, they were either demolished to make way for their advancing troops or, if the opportunity arose, their combat casements were handed over to farmers for storing potatoes.

CHAPTER 12

Why Did Stalin Need Ten Airborne Assault Corps? 107

Published on June 3, 2013 at 5:06 am  Leave a Comment  

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