Why Arms for the Communists?
The people perish for want of steel.
In 1933, the German colonel (later general) Heinz Guderian visited a Soviet locomotive engineering works at Kharkov. Guderian saw that, in addition to locomotives, the yard was producing tanks as a side product. The tanks were being produced at the rate of 22 a day.
When assessing the output of side products at one Soviet plant in peacetime, it must be remembered that in 1933 Germany was producing no tanks at all. In 1939, Hitler came into the Second World War with 3,195 tanks, that is, less than the Kharkov locomotive engineering works, working on a peacetime footing, produced in six months. When assessing the significance of an output of 22 tanks a day, it must also be borne in mind that in 1940, even after the Second World War had begun, the United States had in all only about 400 tanks.
What of the quality of the tanks which Guderian saw at the Kharkov engineering works? They were tanks which had been created by that American tank genius, J. W. Christie. Nobody, apart from the Soviet tank makers, appreciated Christie’s achievements. One of Christie’s American tanks was bought in the United States and sent to the Soviet Union under false documentation; the tank was described as an agricultural tractor. The ‘tractor’ was then produced in large numbers in the Soviet Union as a Mark BT – initials for the Russian words ‘high-speed tank’.
The first Mark BTs had a speed of 100 kilometres per hour. In the present day, there is not a tank crew anywhere which would not envy such a speed. The shape of the hull of the Mark BT tank was simple and efficient. No tank at that time, not even those being produced for the United States Army, had a similar form of armament. The best tank in operation during the Second World War was the T34, a direct descendant of the Mark BT. The shape of its hull was a further development of the ideas of the great American tank builder.
The principle of mounting its front armour plating in a sloping position was used, after the T34, on the German Panzer tank and then on all other tanks subsequently produced elsewhere in the world. In the 1930s, practically all tanks in all tank-producing countries were designed and produced with the engine at the rear and the transmission system at the front. The Mark BT was an exception to this rule. The engine and the transmission system were both in the rear. It would take another quarter-century before the rest of the world understood the advantages of this structure.
The Mark BT tanks were continuously being improved. Their radius of action on one fuelling was increased to 700 kilometres. Fifty years later this is still a dream for the majority of tank crews. In 1936, Mark BT tanks produced in series were fording deep rivers underwater and along the river beds. Even now, at the end of the twentieth century, not all tanks used by the probable enemies of the Soviet Union have the same capability. Installation of diesel engines on the Mark BT tanks began in 1938. This was done elsewhere only ten or twenty years later.
Finally, the Mark BT tank carried a weapons system which was very powerful for that time. Having said so many positive things about the numbers and quality of Soviet tanks, one must note one minor drawback. It was impossible to use these tanks on Soviet territory
The basic characteristic of the Mark BT tank was its speed. The quality so dominated all its other characteristics that it was even used in the name it was given. The Mark BT is an aggressor tank. In all its characteristics, it is remarkably similar to the small but completely mobile cavalry warrior who emerged from the countless hordes of Genghis Khan..
This great world conqueror vanquished all his enemies by delivering lightning strikes with great masses of exclusively mobile troops. Genghis Khan destroyed his enemies not, in the main, by force of arms, but by swift manoeuvre in depth. Genghis Khan did not need slow, sluggish knights, but hordes of light, fast-moving troops, capable of covering vast distances, fording rivers and moving deep into the rear of enemy territory.
That was just what the Mark BT tanks were like. By I September 1939, more of them had been produced than any other tank of any other type by any other country anywhere else in the world. The mobility, speed and radius of action were bought at the price of lighter and less thick, though still efficient armour.
Mark BT tanks could only be used in an aggressive war, only in the rear of the enemy and only in a swift offensive operation, in which masses of tanks suddenly burst into enemy territory, bypassing his centres of resistance and racing into the depth of his heartland, where there were no enemy troops, but where his towns, bridges, factories, aerodromes, ports, depots, command posts and communications centres were situated.
The strikingly belligerent qualities of the Mark BT tank were also achieved by means of using a unique system of tracks and suspension. On unmade roads, the Mark BT operated on heavy caterpillar tracks, but once on a good road, the tracks were discarded and it then shot ahead on wheels, like a racing car. It is, however, well known that speed is not compatible with crosscountry performance. The choice is therefore between, on the one hand, a high-speed car which will go only on good roads, or on the other, a slow-moving tractor, which will go anywhere.
The Soviet marshals favoured the high-speed car. Thus, the Mark BT tanks were quite powerless on Soviet territory. When Hitler began Operation Barbarossa, practically all the Mark BT tanks were cast aside. It was almost impossible to use them off the roads, even with caterpillar tracks. They were never used on wheels.
The potential of these tanks was never realized, but it certainly could never have been realized on Soviet territory. The Mark BT was created to operate on foreign territory only and, what is more, only on territory where there were good roads, as already observed.
Let us glance at the Soviet Union’s neighbours. Then, as now, there were no good roads in Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, China, Mongolia, Manchuria, or Northern Korea. Zhukov used Mark BT tanks in Mongolia, where the terrain is as flat as a billiard table.
However, he used them only with caterpillar tracks and was dissatisfied with them. Off the roads, the tank tracks often raced round without gripping the surface, while the wheels, because of the comparatively great pressure they had to bear, whether they were off the road or even on unmade roads, simply spun round and sank into the earth while the tank remained stationary.
To the question, where could the enormous potential of these Mark B T tanks be successfully realized, there is only one answer: in central and southern Europe.
The only territories where tanks could be used, after their caterpillar tracks were removed, were Germany, France and Belgium.
To the question as to which is more important for the Mark BT tanks, the wheels or the caterpillar tracks, Soviet textbooks of that period give a clear-cut answer: the wheels. The most important characteristic of the MarkBT, speed, is attained on wheels. Caterpillar tracks are only a means for reaching foreign territory. For instance, Poland could be crossed on caterpillar tracks which, once the German auto-bahns had been reached, could then be discarded in favour of wheels, on which operations would then proceed. Caterpillar tracks were regarded as an auxiliary device which was supposed to be used only once in war, then to be discarded and forgotten.
It is exactly like the parachutist who uses his parachute for the sole purpose of landing in enemy territory. Once there, he throws the parachute away so that he can operate without being burdened by a heavy load which he no longer needs. It was precisely this attitude which was adopted towards caterpillar tracks. Those Soviet divisions and army corps which were equipped with Mark BT tanks did not have on their complement any vehicles whose purpose it was to recover the caterpillar tracks which had been thrown away and bring them back. After the Mark BT tanks had discarded their tracks, they had to finish the war on wheels.
Some types of Soviet tanks were named after communist leaders, like the ‘KV, for Klim Voroshilov,3 and the ‘JS’, for Joseph Stalin. Most Soviet tanks, however, were given a designation which contained the index letter ‘T’. Sometimes, in addition to ‘T’, the index 3 Voroshilov was first a Marshal of the Soviet Union, one of Stalin’s closest allies; he later became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet. included the letter ‘O’ (which stands for the Russian word for ‘flame-throwing’), ‘B’ (the initial letter of the Russian word for ‘high speed’) or ‘P’ (indicating ‘amphibious’4).
Then in 1938, the Soviet Union began to work intensively on the production of a tank which bore the highly unusual index number of A-2O. What does ‘A’ mean? There is not one Soviet textbook which gives the answer to this question and to date it remains undeciphered by many experts. For a long time I sought an answer and finally found it at Factory No. 183. This plant produced locomotives, but had other, less ‘peaceful’ production on the go at the same time.
People with great experience at this plant say that the original meaning of the index letter ‘A’ in this case stood for ‘Autostradnyi’ — motorway. Personally I find this explanation convincing.
The Mark A-20 tank was the latest development in the Mark BT family. The main characteristic of the Mark BT figured in its name, so why should the main characteristic of the Mark A-2O not be expressed in the same way? The purpose, I suggest, of the Mark A-20 was to reach the motorways on its caterpillar tracks and, once there, to discard the tracks, and convert itself into the king of speed. At the end of the twentieth century the Soviet Union does not have one kilometre of highway which can be even remotely described as a motorway. Fifty years ago, and for long after that, there were no motorways in Soviet territory. Nor were there motorways in any of the countries which bordered the Soviet Union in 1938.
One year later, however, in 1939, Stalin partitioned Poland under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and thereby established a common frontier with a country which did have motorways. That country was Germany.
It is said that Stalin’s tanks were not ready for war. That was not so. They were not ready for a defensive war on their own territory.They were, however, designed to wage war on others.
As it was for Soviet tanks, so it was for Soviet aircraft in both quality and numbers. Communist falsifiers of the facts say nowadays that the Soviet Union did of course have many aircraft, but the majority were inferior. They were obsolete planes and they therefore could be disregarded. Let us consider only the contemporary Soviet aircraft – the MIG-3, the Y A K-1, the PE-2, the IL-2; in doing so we shall in no way find ourselves discussing antiquated flying machines.
4 The Soviet Union was the only country in the world which produced amphibious tanks in massive numbers. In a defensive war, there is no need for a tank to pass over water. Therefore, when Hitler set Operation Barbarossa in motion, Soviet amphibious tanks had to be discarded because they were unsuitable for defensive warfare. Their production, like the production of the Mark BT tanks, stopped immediately.
Alfred Price was a British airman who, throughout his lifetime, flew 45 types of aircraft and logged more than 4,000 flying hours. This is what he thought of these ‘antiquated flying machines’: The most heavily armed fighter in service in September 1939 was the Russian Polikarpov I-i6, a progressive development of an aircraft which had first entered service in 1934 and fought in the Spanish Civil War … In terms of armament. . . it had never been surpassed.
The I-16 Type 17, which appeared in 1938, carried two synchronized 7.62 ShKAS machine guns on top of the engine cowling and two 20mm ShVAK cannon in the wings. The ShKAS had a rate of fire of 1,600 rounds per minute after synchronization and a muzzle velocity of 2,700 feet per second; the ShVAK had a rate of fire of 800 rounds per minute and a muzzle velocity of 2,600 feet per second.
In both cases these figures were better than those for any comparable weapon and they conferred upon the Type 17 a weight of fire of more than double that of the Messerschmitt 109E-I and nearly three times that of the Spitfire.
The hefty punch of this tubby Russian fighter was years ahead of its time . . . Those who believe that the Russians were backward peasants prior to the Second World War and advanced after it only because they were able to make use of German expertise might care to ponder these points. (Alfred Price, World War II Fighter Conflict, London 1975; pp. 18-21)
To this it must be added that in August 1939, Soviet fighters were the first aircraft in the world to use rockets as armaments in combat conditions. What is more, Soviet aircraft builders had created a plane, unique in the world, which had an armoured fuselage.
The IL-2 was virtually a flying tank, with super-high-powered weaponry by any standard, including eight heavy rocket shells. What does all this mean? Why was it that from the very first day of the war the Soviet Air Force yielded mastery in the air to the enemy? The answer is simple. Most Soviet pilots, including fighter pilots, had not been trained to fight air battles. So what had they been trained to do? They had been trained to strike at ground targets. The regulations of the Soviet fighter and bomber Air Force (BUIA-4O and BUBA-4O) pointed Soviet pilots towards staging one grandiose, lightning offensive operation, in which the air force
would catch the enemy air force napping with one blow and seize supremacy of the air.
Even in 1929, the Soviet magazine, War and Revolution, published a basic article entitled ‘The Initial Period of War’. This drew the conclusion, to be repeated in Soviet Air Force regulations, including those of 1940 and 1941, that ‘it is highly advantageous to take the initiative and be first to attack the enemy. Once the air force has taken the initiative in attacking the airfields and hangars of the enemy, it can then count upon having supremacy in the air.’ (War and Revolution, No. 9, pp. 19-20 (1929))
The Soviet air theoreticians did not have in mind some general enemy, but a clearly defined one. Alexander Lapchinsky, the chief Soviet air strategist, illustrated his books with very detailed maps of standard bombing targets. These included the railway junction at Leipzig, at the Friedrichstrasse in Berlin and its railway station, and other such places.
In explaining how Soviet territory had to be defended, Lapchinsky said ‘a determined ground attack attracts enemy air forces towards itself like a magnet and serves as the best means of defending the country from them. The air defence of the country is not a manoeuvre from depth, but a manoeuvre into depth.’ (Vozdushnaya Armiya, Alexander Lapchinsky, Moscow 1939; pp. 176-7)
It was precisely for this purpose in 1941 that the entire Soviet Air Force was concentrated on the very frontiers of the country. For example, the field aerodrome of the i23rd Fighter Regiment was only two kilometres from the German frontier. In battle conditions an aircraft, in order to save fuel, takes off towards the enemy. Aircraft of the I23rd Regiment, like many others, were thus compelled to gain height after takeoff by flying over German territory.
Both during the war and after it, the Soviet Union built quite a few aircraft which were, at the same time, excellent and surprisingly simple. The greatest achievements of the Soviet Air Force, however, were not in building aircraft which would destroy enemy planes in the air. They lay in the building of aircraft which would destroy planes and other enemy targets on the ground.
The IL-2 was in just such a category. Airfields were its most important targets. When he had created this aggressor aircraft, Sergei Ilyushin stipulated one minor defensive detail. The first model of the IL-2 had two seats. From one, the pilot flew the aircraft and attacked his targets, while seated behind him in the other the air gunner protected the rear of the aircraft from enemy fighter attack.
Stalin personally telephoned Ilyushin and ordered him to discard the rear gunner and his machine gun, and to produce the IL-2 as a one-seater aircraft. Stalin, it seemed, needed the IL-2 for a situation in which not one enemy fighter would succeed in taking off. After Operation Barbarossa had been launched, Stalin rang up Ilyushin again and ordered him to produce the IL-2 as a two-seater aircraft, as before. In a defensive war even aggressor aircraft need to have some defensive armaments.
1927 was the year when Stalin took his place, finally and permanently, at the summit of power. From then onwards, he concentrated his attention not only on consolidating his dictatorship, but also on the problems of the whole communist movement and world revolution. 1927 was the year in which Stalin finally drew the conclusion that the Second World War was inevitable; that there had to be a decisive conflict with social democratic pacifism which was delaying its start; and that the Nazis, striving for power, had first to be supported and then destroyed.
The same year also marked the beginning of the industrialization of the Soviet Union. This was done through a series of five-year plans, the first of which began in 1927. When the first five-year plan began, the Red Army had 92 tanks. When the plan was completed, it had more than 4,000. Even so, the military bias in the first five-year plan was not very noticeable. Most attention was paid to the industrial base which was to be created and which would subsequently produce arms, rather than to arms per se.
The second five-year plan continued the development of the industrial base. It produced coke ovens and open-hearth furnaces, great electrical power stations and oxygen plants, rolling and blooming mills, mines and pits. The production of arms was not yet the important issue. Even so, Stalin was not losing sight of it. 24,708 military aircraft were produced during the first two five-year plans.
Then came the third five-year plan, which should have been completed in 1942. This was the plan to turn out actual military products in enormous quantities and of very high quality. Industrialization was bought at a high price, however. Stalin let the standard of living of the populace fall to a very low level. Vast reserves of gold, platinum and diamonds were sold to foreign markets.
Churches and monasteries, imperial repositories and museums, were pillaged. Icons and valuable books were put on the foreign market. Paintings by the great masters of the Renaissance, collections of cut diamonds, and treasures from museums and libraries were all given over to export. Similarly, Stalin forced timber and coal, nickel and manganese, oil, cotton, caviar, furs, grain and much more on to the export market.
Then, in 1930, he began his notorious collectivization programme. The peasants were driven by force into collective farms, so that all their crops could be taken from them without payment. In communist jargon this was called ‘transferring resources from agriculture to heavy industry’. The result of collectivization and the hunger which followed it was ten to sixteen million dead. Stalin, meanwhile, went on, throughout this period, selling five million tons of grain every year abroad.
Why was collectivization needed? For industrialization. Why industrialization? Not, in any way, to raise the standard of living of the nation. Life during the NEP, and before industrialization and collectivization, had been perfectly tolerable. Had Stalin been interested in the standard of living of the people, then he needed neither industrialization nor collectivization. He needed simply to preserve the NEP. Living standards now, however, reached an awesomely low level.
Robert Conquest has recently published a book, The Harvest of Sorrow (1987), on these fearsome five-year plans, complete with pictures showing skeleton-like children. They portray a situation as bad as, if not worse than, those we have witnessed in communist Ethiopia or Pol Pot’s Cambodia in recent times.
Industrialization and collectivization were intended to produce arms in vast quantities. Why did the communists want arms? To defend the people? The answer is no. If Stalin had sold only four million tons of grain a year instead of five for his motorway tanks, parachute silk and Western military technology, millions of children would not have died. Weapons are used in all countries to defend the population from appalling calamities – above all, their children, who are a nation’s future.
In the Soviet Union, it was the other way round. In order to obtain arms, the populace, children included, were subjected to fearful disaster. Just one statistic will serve to underline its scale. In World War I Russia lost in all 2.3 million people. In peacetime, however, Stalin was responsible for the destruction of approximately five to seven times more people for the sake of acquiring motorway tanks and offensive aircraft. The communist turned out to be many times more terrible than the imperialist war.
The growth in Soviet military might was in no way dictated by an external threat, for it began before Hitler came to power. The annihilation of millions of children for the sake of obtaining armaments was going on whilst Stalin was making strenuous efforts to suppress western pacifists and at the same time raising up the Nazis. It may be objected that while Stalin sacrificed millions of people, he nevertheless created arms to defend the survivors.
This is not valid. We have already seen, and shall see again, that the arms created were in no way suitable for the defence of his territory nor the protection of his people; indeed, he would be compelled either to use them in a way for which they were not intended, or to discard them altogether.
For precisely what, then, were these vast arsenals of arms intended, if not for the defence of the Soviet territory or populace?
Why Stalin Partitioned Poland p25-31