CHAPTER 23 – The Military Districts 226
There is a long-established procedure in the Red Army whereby the command leaves for the place where the operations are to take place before the troops arrive there.
Marshal K. ROKOSSOVSKY (Soldarsky dolg, Moscow 1968, p. 166)
As the Soviet general moves up the promotional ladder, he passes in turn through the posts of commander of a division, commander of a corps, and then of officer commanding an army. The next post, officer commanding a military district, is not just a step upwards. It is a sharp quantum leap. The fact is that an officer commanding a military district is not simply a very high-ranking military chief; he is in his way the military governor of great territories where millions and indeed tens of millions of people live. He is not only responsible for the troops and their military training, but also for preparing the population, industry, transport and agriculture to fight a war. He is responsible for protecting the communist regime in the territories entrusted to him and, should the need arise, to resort to armed force to defend that regime.
Before World War II, the territory of the Soviet Union was divided into sixteen military districts. Eight of them had common frontiers with foreign states. The remaining eight had no frontiers and were therefore considered internal military districts. Each district, of course, was important in its own way. It was in the internal districts that vast industrial potential, transport arteries and great human resources were concentrated. On 13 May 1941, the officers commanding seven of these internal military districts (the exception was the Moscow District) were given a directive of ‘special importance’. The headquarters of the military districts were to be converted into army headquarters. The officers commanding the military districts were to head these armies personally; they were to take along with them all the corps and all the divisions which made up the complement of their districts.
Within exactly one month, on 13 June 1941, they were ordered to begin a secret regrouping in the western part of the country. On 13 June 1941, under cover of the TASS report, all the divisions which belonged to the Urals Military District began to move secretly westwards. The divisions were combined into corps, and the corps were in turn combined into the 22nd Army. Lieutenant-General Filipp Ershakov, the officer commanding the Urals Military District, personally stood at the head of this army. Dimitri Sergeyevich Leonov, corps commissar and member of the Military Council of the District, and Major-General Georgy Ferdorovich Zakharov, Chief of Staff of the District, became respectively members of the Military Council and Chief of Staff in the emergent army.
Officers in charge of artillery, engineers, the rear, communications and all the rest, took all those under their command into the 22nd Army, and put them aboard military trains which then moved off heading west. Who then was to remain behind in the Urals? The Urals contained (and continue to contain) the world’s largest steel, tank and shell production complexes. The Urals meant lines of communication of the utmost importance. The Urals also meant concentration camps, with hundreds of thousands and, quite possibly, millions of prisoners. Would it not be too dangerous to leave all these territories without a military governor? It might be suggested that every commander has a deputy who stands in for him during his absences. But the trouble here was that Lieutenant-General M. F. Lukin, the deputy officer commanding the Urals Military District, had already been given orders to leave for Trans-Baikal.
He had set up the i6th Army there, and at the time when the TASS report was issued, his army was secretly moving westwards. After all the Command Staff had departed, therefore, the completely unknown Major-General A. B. Katkov was left in charge of the Urals Military District, with practically no staff to support him. The same thing happened in the Khar’kov Military District. We know that the :8th Army was formed on the eve of the war on the Romanian frontier. The command and headquarters of this army was the command and headquarters of the Khar’kov Military District. Lieutenant-General A. K. Smirnov, the officer commanding the district, Major-General V. Ya. Kolpachki, its chief of staff, Major-General S. K. Goryunov, its air commander, and everyone under their command, were transferred to the i8th Army on the Romanian frontier, thereby leaving their military district without any leaders at all.
The 19th Army was formed from the troops and headquarters of the Northern Caucasian Military District. Lieutenant-General I. S. Konev, officer commanding the district, combined all the troops of his district into the I9th Army, stood at its head and moved it westwards in secret, thereby leaving the district without any military control whatever. In theory Major-General Max Reiter, the German communist and Konev’s deputy, should have taken his place, but as we are already aware, he was not in the Caucasus at the time, but in Cherkassy, where the military trains of the ipth Army were arriving. Let us glance at the command staff of the Air Force (the V VS) in the North Caucasus Military District. The officer commanding the VVS was Air Major-General E. M. Nikolaenko, the VVS Chief of Staff was Colonel N. V. Korneev, the commander of the Fighter Air Division was Air Major-General E. M. Beletsky.
We find them in exactly the same posts after the TASS report was published, but no longer in this military district. They were in the iQth Army, which was secretly being moved into the Ukraine. The 2oth Army, likewise, was simply the officers and troops of the Orel Military District under another name. Lieutenant-General F. N. Remezov, the officer commanding this district, combined all his troops with those of the Moscow Military District under his command. He turned the district headquarters into the headquarters of the 2Oth Army and moved secretly westwards, thereby leaving the heart of Russia at the mercy of fate and without any military control. The 21st Army was the Volga Military District. The officer commanding the district, Lieutenant-General V. G. Gera-simenko, became officer commanding 2ist Army, General V. N. Gordov, chief of staff in the district became 2ist Army Chief of Staff.
Commanders of all sorts of troops and services, and hundreds of other commanders, simply changed the words in their titles from ‘Volga Military District’ to ’2ist Army’. If for instance you were to learn that Air Chief Marshal G. A. Voro-zheikin was head of the air forces in the Volga Military District at the beginning of June 1941 (with a lower rank at that time, of course), you could be absolutely sure without looking up the records that after 13 June he became Air Chief in the 2ist Army and then moved to the German frontier. If you knew that Colonel-General Yu. V. Bordzilovsky, who commanded the engineering troops in the district, although of course with a lower rank, was serving at the same time and in the same place in the engineering branch, then you could say without fear of contradiction that after the TASS report came out, he served in the engineering branch of the 2ist Army.
The 24th Army was formed in the Siberian Military District, whose commanding officer was Lieutenant- General S. A. Kalinin, while the 28th Army was formed from the Arkhangelsk Military District, under the command of Lieutenant-General V. Ya. Kachalov. On 13 June 1941, the very same day that strange reports were being broadcast by Soviet radio, the established order of military and territorial government which had been in force in the vast territories of central Russia, Northern Caucasus, Siberia, the Urals from Arkhangelsk to Kuban’ and from Orel to Chita to all intents and purposes ceased to exist. If a revolt had erupted, there was nothing there to suppress it. All divisions had gone off to the German frontier. What was more, there was nobody left to take a decision to put down a revolt.
Practically all the generals had also gone off secretly to the western part of the country. Revolts were usually put down by the NKVD, but a very serious one would have been too much for the NKVD troops alone to handle. The army would have been needed. The question now arises – what was going on? Did Stalin perhaps not trust his officers commanding in the internal military districts and decided to replace them all at the same time? No, it was not like that. Stalin took the precaution of shooting all those whom he did not trust, and replaced them with others in whom he had confidence. It is essential to realize that practically no one was left behind to take the places of the generals who had left.
After Lieutenant-General S. A. Kalinin, the officer commanding the Siberian Military District, converted all his troops and his headquarters into the 24th Army, which he then secretly transported westwards, no new general arrived in Siberia until 1942. (SovietMilitary Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, p. 338) In all other internal military districts, new commanding officers did not arrive for several months, or else those who came were third-rate generals who, either before or afterwards, were never given the honour of commanding a military district or an army. Major-General Matvei Timofeyevich Popov in the Volga Military District is a striking example of this. It only remains for us to suppose that all commanders and their troops had gone off to do something more serious than protecting Soviet authority in the country’s internal areas.
If it had been contemplated that they should do something less important than this, they would of course all have stayed where they were. Moscow was the exception among the eight internal military districts. This is understandable, as the capital lay within it. In contrast to all other internal military districts, it was commanded not by a lieutenant-general, nor even by a colonel-general, but by General of the Army Ivan Tyulenev. But even the exceptional position of the Moscow Military District did not save it from being denuded of its headquarters and troops. All its troops were sent to reinforce the First Strategic Echelon and the 2Oth Army of the Second Strategic Echelon. All reserves of arms, ammunition and property were sent from the Moscow Military District to the western frontiers. Then came the turn of the command.
At that time General I. V. Tyulenev held a very high rank, as well as enjoying Stalin’s special trust; too high a rank for someone who was just to command an army. The Politburo therefore decided in Stalin’s presence to appoint Tyulenev officer commanding the Southern Front. When he left for there, he took with him the Moscow Military District’s entire headquarters, which was headed by Major-General Gavrill Shishenin. The decision to re-form the command and headquarters of the Moscow Military District into the command of the Southern Front and transfer them to Vinnitsa was taken on 21 June 1941, but there is sufficient evidence to show that this decision came as no surprise to the officers in the headquarters.
Many branches of the headquarters were already on the move; Major-General A. S. Osipenko, for example, deputy officer commanding the air force of the Moscow Military District, was already on the Romanian frontier at the beginning of June 1941. The command and headquarters left for Vinnitsa, effectively abandoning the military district of the capital city without handing over their duties to anyone, since nobody had been appointed to take the places of the departing commanders. Lieutenant-General P. A. Artem’ev did not take over its command until 26 June, after Germany had attacked. (Ordena Lenina Moskovsky Voennyi Okrug, Moscow, Moskovsky Rabochy 1985, p. 204)
Artem’ev, moreover, was not a soldier but a Chekist. The post which he went on holding and brought When he left for there, he took with him the Moscow Military District’s entire headquarters, which was headed by Major-General Gavrill Shishenin. The decision to re-form the command and headquarters of the Moscow Military District into the command of the Southern Front and transfer them to Vinnitsa was taken on 21 June 1941, but there is sufficient evidence to show that this decision came as no surprise to the officers in the headquarters.
Artem’ev, moreover, was not a soldier but a Chekist. The post which he went on holding and brought [Some text appear to be missing here]
along with him to the Moscow Military District was that of head of the Directorate of Operational Troops of the NKVD. Then in July, Stalin appointed K. F. Telegin, who was a divisional commissar for NKVD troops, and who later became a lieutenant-general, to be a member of the Military Council of the Moscow Military District. He also was a pure-blooded Chekist, who had previously served in OSNAZ units. During the Great Purge, he was political commissar for the NKVD internal troops of the Moscow District, and following that he held some responsible position inside the central apparatus of the NKVD. Even during the Great Purge, the military districts had remained military. Now, in time of war, there was no difference between the Moscow Military District and the Moscow NKVD District. The Moscow Military District did exist in theory, but there were no Red Army military units in Moscow. There were only two NKVD divisions and 25 detached fighter battalions, also of the NKVD.
Lieutenant-General Konstantin Ferdorovich Telegin recalls that when these ‘new people’, that is the Chekists, first arrived in the Moscow Military District headquarters, many branches in the headquarters lost much of their staff. The two most important branches, operations and intelligence, had completely ceased to exist. The new people had little understanding of the inherent characteristics of military matters, and they had to ‘waste no small amount of time and effort learning about the state of the district and its problems and capacities’. (VIZH, 1962, No. I, p. 36)
Thus, under the cover of the TASS statement, the most high-ranking military commanders at the head of armies, and including even one who commanded a front, were secretly transferred to the German frontier, thereby leaving all the internal military districts at the mercy of fortune and the NKVD. It is beyond dispute that nothing like this has ever happened in Soviet history either before or since. It is also indisputable that these movements were connected with a war which, for the Soviet Union, was quite unavoidable. If there had been the slightest doubt that war might possibly be avoided, at least some commanders here and there would have remained at their posts.
Nor were these actions in any way preparations for a defensive war. In a lengthy defensive war, not all the commanders are sent off to the enemy frontier. Somebody stays behind in those territories where the enemy might suddenly appear. It is also absolutely essential in a prolonged defensive war that generals and real soldiers, and not policemen, remain in the most important industrial areas and transport centres, in order both to defend them and to ensure that the full potential of these great territories in the heartland of the country is fully and properly used to meet the needs of war. There is only one circumstance in which the generals would have nothing to do in these industrial centres. That would be where the Soviet High Command was planning a sudden war on enemy territory, relying on reserves which had been mobilized before the war began, rather than on armaments to be produced in the course of it.
In that event, their place would be on the enemy frontier. Lieutenant-General K. F. Telegin himself makes the position quite clear: ‘Insofar as it was supposed that the war would be fought on that enemy territory which, in the pre-war period, bordered the district, stockpiles of mobilized reserves of arms, equipment and ammunition were transferred to the military districts on the frontier.’ (K. F. Telegin, op. cit.)
CHAPTER 24 – The Black Divisions 234