CHAPTER 27 – Undeclared War 265
In conditions where we are surrounded by enemies, a
sudden attack from us, an unexpected manoeuvre and
speed will decide everything.
STALIN (Vol. 5, p. 225, 1923)
The Soviet Union had five military districts on its borders where troops were assembling unremittingly and in secret. All eight internal military districts had been entirely abandoned by the Soviet High Command. All armies, corps and divisions, and almost all generals and their staffs had left these internal military districts in secret for the Soviet western frontiers. In addition to the five western frontier and the eight internal military districts, there were the Far East Front and three eastern frontier military districts: the Transcaucasian, the Central Asian and the Trans-Baikal districts.
In spite of the TASS denial of 9 May 1941, intensive preparations had been going on in the Central Asian and Transcaucasian military districts for the ‘liberation’ of Iran. The Central Asian district had been allotted the main role, while the Transcaucasian had been given an auxiliary part to play. As was usual, the final touch to the preparations was a large-scale exercise to be attended by the senior command staff of the Red Army. General Zhukov and his deputy Lieu-tenant-General N. F. Vatutin were to attend these exercises in May.
General Shtemenko, who was then a colonel in the Chief Operations Directorate of the General Staff, recalled the uneasy atmosphere surrounding these preparations: The main staff of our branch set off for Tiflis at the end of May. We were reinforced by other branches . . . Just before we left, it was explained that neither the Chief of the General Staff nor his deputy could come, and that the exercises -would be conducted by the officers commanding the troops, D. T. Kozlov in the Transcaucasian Military District and S. G. Trofimenko in the Central Asian Military District. However, the day after we reached Tiflis, Lieutenant-General Kozlov was urgently summoned to Moscow. There was a feeling that there was something out of the ordinary going on in Moscow. (General S. M. Shtemenko, General’ny Shtab v Gody Voiny, 1968, p. 20)
So the Transcaucasian Military District, which was a frontier one, was left without a commanding officer right on the eve of the ‘liberation’ of Iran. It may be argued that General Kozlov’s deputy, Lieutenant-General P. M. Batov, could have taken over the command of the district. Batov, however, was otherwise engaged. Using the best troops in the Transcaucasian Military District, Batov set up the 9th Special Rifle Corps. He then transferred it to the Crimea where, in co-operation with the Black Sea Fleet, it was given intensive training in naval assault landing operations. The Black Sea Fleet also trained a division from this corps in making assault landings from warships.
The Transcaucasian Military District remained without its commanding officer and his deputy until August 1941, when General Kozlov returned to carry out the ‘liberation’ of Iran. Here too, Hitler had upset Stalin’s plans. Because of Hitler’s unforeseen actions, the ‘liberation’ of Iran had to be postponed for a few months. When it did take place, it had to be done with reduced forces, so the ‘liberation’ had to do without the planned ‘radical socio-political reforms’. General S. G. Trofimenko, the officer commanding the Central Asian Military District, had been summoned to Moscow by Stalin, and the district’s headquarters had been seriously weakened and ‘dispossessed like kulaks’. In March 1941, Colonel N. M. Khlebnikov was called to Moscow from the headquarters of the Central Asian Military District and appointed Commander of Artillery in the 2yth Army in the Baltic area.
The 2yth Army made its first official appearance in the western part of the country in May 1941, but cadres allotted to it had gathered along the frontiers considerably earlier. Major-GeneralM. I. Kazakov, who was chief of staff in the district and later became a full general, was also called to Moscow in the wake of Khlebnikov and many other colonels and generals. He later wrote that he had observed from the aircraft an enormous number of military trains carrying troops and war material out of Central Asia. (Nad Kartoi Bylykh Srazheny, Moscow Voeniz-dat 1971)
General A. A. Luchinsky (then a colonel commanding the 83rd Mountain Rifle Division) was travelling in one of these trains. He shared a compartment with Major-General (later General) Ivan Efimovich Petrov. Luchinsky’s recollections of Petrov are invaluable. ‘We had been summoned to the People’s Commissariat for Defence. We were travelling together in the same compartment when a radio announcement proclaimed that Nazi Germany had attacked our country.’ Luchinsky does not tell us why he had been summoned to Moscow, but he says of his friend General Petrov that ‘He was appointed Commander of the 192nd Rifle Division not long before the war, and then of the 27th Mechanized Corps, at the head of which he too left for the front.’ (VIZHI976, No. 9, pp. 121-122)
Petrov converted the I92nd Rifle Division into a mountain rifle division; both it and the 27th Mechanized Corps secretly moved to the Romanian frontier. Petrov, meanwhile, went to Moscow to be given his combat mission. We come across this procedure on more than one occasion: the i6th Army, for example, was secretly moved to the Romanian frontier, while Lieutenant-General M. Lukin, its commanding officer, was in Moscow being given his combat instructions. Luchinsky’s brief article about General Petrov paints an apparently uneventful picture. But let us look at the order in which events occurred. First of all, Petrov set up the 27th Mechanized Corps, loaded it on to military trains, and sent it off to the front. Then, when he was already on the train, he heard the announcement that Germany had started the war.
The most interesting thing, however, happened several days later: the 27th Mechanized Corps was disbanded while it was travelling. In a defensive war, such purely offensive formations are simply not needed. In July 1941, all the other mechanized corps were disbanded as well. There were 29 of them in all. This situation seems quite absurd. The 27th Mechanized Corps was on its way to war before Hitler attacked. But as soon as Hitler began the war the 2y7h Corps was disbanded even before it had encountered the enemy. This is not as absurd as it seems, however. For the 27th Mechanized Corps was being transferred from Central Asia to the Romanian frontier in order to fight, not in the war which Hitler had just begun, but in a war which should have been started by some other means.
The inescapable conclusion is that, had Hitler not attacked, the 27th Mechanized Corps would still have taken part in a war. It was precisely to do so that it was travelling to the front. By launching Operation Barbarossa when he did, Hitler averted the war for which the 27th Mechanized Corps and 28 of its fellow corps, each with an estimated 1,000 tanks, had been created. Travelling on trains from Central Asia along with Petrov and Luchinsky were quite a few famous commanders, and others who were destined to become so. Among them was Major-General Alexei Simionvich Zhadov, who had been commanding a mountain cavalry division in Central Asia. On the eve of the war, he was made commander of the 4th Airborne Assault Corps, and reached the front at the height of hostilities. (VIZH 1971, No. 3, p. 124)
If anyone tries to prove to you that Stalin gathered his generals on the Soviet western frontiers in order to repel German aggression or to launch ‘counter attacks’, then remind him of General Zhadov, who changed a mountain cavalry division in Central Asia for an airborne assault corps in Byelorussia. Are airborne assault corps really intended for making counterattacks or repelling aggression? The Trans-Baikal Military District was abandoned, even though its troops were not just on Soviet territory, but in Mongolia where quite recently there had been a real war involving hundreds of tanks and aircraft, thousands of guns and tens of thousands of soldiers.
Of all the internal military districts and frontier districts in the east, the Trans-Baikal was the only one to have armies on its complement. There were two of them, the 16th and the l7th. The l7th Army was stationed in Mongolia, but in 1940 it had been ‘lightened’ to such an extent that the post of deputy officer commanding the army was occupied by a colonel, P. P. Polu-boyarov, because of a shortage of generals. As we already know, he too was summoned to Moscow and then posted to the North-West Front. The other army in the Trans-Baikal Military District, the 16th, had left secretly, travelling westwards. Although rumours about the Iranian frontier were spread among the wives who had remained behind, the i6th Army commanders knew that they were going to wage war, and they also knew against whom.
When the i6th Army left, the headquarters of the Trans-Baikal Military District was also ‘lightened’ when many of its officers and generals were transferred to the divisions and corps of the 16th Army. Major-General Petr Chernyshev, for instance, who commanded the i6th Army’s 152nd Rifle Division, was promoted and appointed commander of the combat training branch of the Trans-Baikal Military District. But, ‘when the army left, Petr Nikolaevich stated that he would “go to fight with his division”, and fixed it so that he was sent back to the 152nd’. (Major-General A. A. Lobachev, Trudnymi Doro-gami, Moscow Voenizdat 1960, p. 147)
It was not only second-rate colonels and generals who were raked in from Trans-Baikal. Some truly great commanders were gathered from here. Among the greatest were the officers commanding the district. Although only one officer commanded the district at any one time, the post was rotated with surprising frequency. In 1940, the Trans-Baikal District was commanded by Lieutenant-General F. N. Remezov. He was then sent off to take charge of the Orel Military District, where he secretly formed the 20th Army and, under cover of the TASS report, moved it to the German frontier. After Remezov, the Trans-Baikal District was fleetingly commanded by Lieutenant-General I. S. Konev. He was then transferred from there to the Northern Caucasus Military District, where he secretly formed the 19th Army and, again under cover of the TASS report, posted it to the Romanian frontier.
At this point Lieutenant-General P. A. Kurochkin (who later became a full general) took over command of the Trans-Baikal District. Before the TASS report, Kurochkin sent the 16th Army off, wishing its commanders and soldiers success in carrying out ‘any order given by the Motherland’. The 16th Army had the longest road to travel. That was why it set off early, so that it could appear on the Soviet western borders at the same time as all the other armies of the Second Strategic Echelon. And what of Lieutenant-General P. A. Kurochkin? It is no easy matter to send a whole army off in military trains in such a way that nobody finds out about it. Kurochkin completed his mission and heaved a sigh of relief. On 13 June, when the TASS report was being given out, Kurochkin was ordered to leave the Trans- Baikal District immediately for Moscow, to be given a new post.
The Red Star newspaper of 26 May 1984 testifies that on 22 June 1941 Kurochkin was in a compartment of an express train then approaching Irkutsk . . . The Trans-Baikal Military District had been abandoned and left without a commander. The Soviet Military Encyclopedia (Vol. 3, p. 357) states that it was September 1941 before another commander appeared in Trans-Baikal. Generals and officers were being transferred to the German and Romanian frontiers not only from the internal and semi-front military districts, but from a real front. A war was already taking place in the Far East. Armed skirmishes frequently grew into serious clashes, with hundreds of tanks and aircraft taking part on both sides.
A full-scale war between Japan and the Soviet Union appeared to be entirely possible at the time;indeed some foreign observers regarded it as inevitable. That was why there was no military district in the Far East, but a front consisting of three armies. At the end of 1940, the secret transfer westwards of generals and troops, in entire divisions and corps, began. Many senior commanders left the Far East Front without being replaced, or at least without worthy successors. Major-General P. T. Kotov, the chief of operations in the front headquarters, was transferred secretly westwards in this way.
Major-General P. G. Grigorenko, who was a lieutenant-colonel at the Far Eastern Front headquarters at the time, recalls that ‘Ivan Stepanovich Konev, Markian Mikhailovich Popov, Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov, and many other senior military commanders were called westwards even before Shtern was.’ (Memoirs: Detinetz, New York 1981, p. 246) Popov (later to become a full general) commanded the 1st Army, while Konev (subsequently Marshal of the Soviet Union) commanded the 2nd Army. I totally reject any idea that these generals were being transferred because a German invasion had been foreseen. The war found Popov in the post of officer commanding the Northern Front on the Finnish border, while Konev moved up to the Romanian frontier at the head of his heavy shock army.
General Konev took an interesting path from his position as officer commanding an army in the Far East to a similar post in an army on the Romanian border. Konev did not travel in a straight line. He dodged and weaved. Having given up the command of the 2nd Army in the Far East in April 1941 (Soviet Military Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, p. 409), he then assumed command of the Trans-Baikal Military District. Having made his mark here, he then quietly made an unadvertised appearance in Rostov, and took command of the Northern Caucasus Military District. It was here that Konev completed the formation of the 19th Army and became its commanding officer.
At the end of May 1941, in what General S. M. Shtemenko described as ‘conditions of the strictest secrecy’, he began to move the divisions and corps of his army up to the Romanian frontier. He held four posts in a short space of time. These stretched from the easternmost frontiers to the most western ones. Stalin always hid his best generals and marshals before every offensive operation (but never before a defensive one). This particularly applied to Zhukov, Vasilevsky, Konev, Rokossovsky and Meretskov. In spring 1941, as always happened before all the most important offensives, Konev was covering up his tracks in such a way that even his closest friends would never know where he had gone. Konev was not the only one who was covering up his tracks.
Konev and other commanders temporarily held a number of posts as a blind; the same ‘decoy’ posting would often be passed from one officer to another. Colonel-General F. I. Kuznetsov gave up the command of the General Staff Academy to take over the Northern Caucasus Military District. He handed this over to Konev and then appeared on the East Prussian border, holding the post of officer commanding the North-West Front. After General Konev had secretly disappeared from the Far East, the 2nd Army was left in the hands of General M. F. Terekhin, who was no substitute for a man of Konev’s abilities. The situation was even more interesting in the ist Army of the Far Eastern Front. After General Popov had left for the Northern Front, a worthy replacement, in the person of Lieutenant-General Andrei Ivanovich Eremenko (later Marshal of the Soviet Union) took his place. But Eremenko did not remain in charge for long.
On 19 June 1941 he was ordered to hand over the 1st Army and report immediately to Moscow for another appointment. After the German invasion had begun, Eremenko became officer commanding the Western Front instead of General D. G. Pavlov. That was not the purpose of his visit to Moscow, however. On 19 June, such a turn of events had not been foreseen. Pavlov was firmly seated in his post of officer commanding the Western Front. Stalin must have called on Eremenko to fulfil some other mission which remains unknown, and possibly also unfulfilled. I had the opportunity to meet Eremenko after he became a Marshal of the Soviet Union. I tried to sound him out on this subject without arousing his suspicions. My impression was that Eremenko was not dissimulating, but that he really did not know what Stalin needed him for on 19 June 1941.
I pointed out to the Marshal that he had not been the only one in this position. I said that Sivkov, Kurdyumov, Zhadov, Petrov and Luchinsky had all been travelling on trains towards Moscow at the same time. The Marshal was very interested in all this. I regretted that I was not a Western historian with a passport of some democratic country in my pocket, for I was simply unable to take the conversation with the Marshal any further. Eremenko was interested, and suggested another couple of generals who were moved from the Far East. Major-General N. E. Berzarin was deputy officer commanding the 1st Army. Eremenko told me something which he had left out of his memoirs. When he left the Far East, he handed over the command of the army to his deputy Berzarin. Yet at the end of May, Berzarin was summoned by Stalin to Moscow and secretly appointed to command the 27th Army, then in the Baltic area not far from the German frontier.
Major-General Vassily Andreyevich Glazunov (later Lieutenant-General and officer commanding the Red Army airborne assault troops) was at the beginning of 1941 commanding the 59th Rifle Division in the 1st Army on the Far Eastern Front. Eremenko was very attached to the 1st Army, and did not want to see it left without a commander and at the mercy of Shelakhov, the ‘headquarters rat’. But Stalin had already picked Eremenko’s deputy, as well as the corps commanders, and the experienced divisional commanders had long since been transferred westwards. In the 59th Division there was only the experienced, martial clear-sighted General Glazunov. Eremenko told me that he immediately sent an enciphered message to the General Staff proposing that General Glazunov should be given the 1st Army.
It was a big jump to go straight from a division to an army. But what else was there to be done when there were no more operational commanders left in the Far East? Moscow immediately agreed that Glazunov was indeed a worthy commander, and in the enciphered reply ordered Glazunov to give up command of the division immediately, and instead take over command of the 3rd Airborne Assault Corps on the Romanian frontier. At the beginning of June 1941, Stalin ordered that all Soviet airborne assault troops, including those which had recently been transferred from the Far East, should be concentrated on the western frontiers. Then at the last moment he assembled infantry and cavalry generals from distant frontiers and made them into commanders of airborne assault corps.
This applied not only to Generals Glazunov and Zhadov, but to Generals M. A. Usenko, F. M. Kharitonov, and I. S. Bezuglyi as well. The urgent transformation of infantry and cavalry generals into airborne assault officers is not a preparation for defence. It is not even a preparation for a counter-offensive. It is a sign of aggression in preparation; aggression which is inevitable, imminent, and on a vast scale.
CHAPTER 28 – Why Stalin Deployed the Fronts 275