Union of Soviet Socialist Republics’ Options to Counter the 1941 German Invasion

Timothy Heck is a free-lance editor focusing on military history and national security topics.  An artillery officer by trade, he is working on several projects related to the Red Army during and after the Great Patriotic War.  He can be found on Twitter @tgheck1 Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  On June 22, 1941 Germany invaded the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

Date Originally Written:  August 13, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  October 24, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article is written from the point of view of the Soviet High Command’s (Stavka) options for handling the German invasion of the USSR which began on June 22, 1941.

Background:  On June 22, 1941 German troops in significant strength (at least Army-sized) attacked the border of the Soviet Union in all military districts.  The attacks came as a surprise to the Soviets, in spite of the presence of several operational indicators[1].  At the strategic level, intelligence failed to detect obvious signals of an imminent invasion[2].  Despite intelligence shortcomings, the Soviet Red Army repelled these attacks and defended the Motherland at heavy cost.

On June 23 positional fighting continued with Soviet defenses holding firm in most sectors and making small gains in others.  Today, the Germans are expected to continue attacks in local settings in division-level or below strength.  The Red Army has several options to respond.  Options 1a and 1b are manpower-based decisions while Options 2a and 2b involve combat deployment.  

Significance:  Massed German forces pose an existential threat to the Soviet Union’s security.  German military capability and capacity remain high.  While the German campaign model is of short, aggressive thrusts, a long war would likely involve the destruction of recent Soviet significant economic and social progress made during recent five-year plans. Conversely, failure to destroy the Hitlerites presents a threat to the long-term stability of the USSR.

Option #1a:  The USSR initiates a full military mobilization. 

While reservists in the Kiev and the Western Special Military Districts remain mobilized until autumn 1941, complete mobilization is required for full war.  Mobilization Plan 41 (MP-41) would activate approximately 8.7 million men and women, arrayed in over 300 divisions, which outweighs estimated German strength of approximately 200 available divisions[3].  

Risk: 

Economic:  Full mobilization would result in significant disruption to the Soviet economic base. First, mobilized manpower would be removed from the labor pool, tightening all sectors’ resources. Second, the necessary industrial retooling from peacetime to war material is a long-term detriment of the Soviet economy.  Third, mobilized manpower would be unavailable for the upcoming harvest.  Fourth, as the majority of Soviet economic assets travel via rail lines, their use for mobilized forces will impact delivery of necessary civilian goods, including agricultural products and raw materials.  

Equipment:  Current industrial capacity and military stores are unable to fully equip the mobilized force in the near term.  Furthermore, a full-scale mobilization risks adding excessive use to all items not specifically needed to address the German threat, requiring accelerated replacement and procurement plans. 

Gain: 

Strategic flexibility:  A fully mobilized Red Army provides flexibility without concerns about manpower restrictions should further combat operations become necessary.  MP-41 gives commanders strategic and operational reserves needed for mobile warfare, regardless of whether Option 2a or 2b is selected.

Readiness:  A full-scale mobilization brings all reserve formations to table of organization and equipment strength, allowing commanders to improve individual and collective training levels, and improving combat readiness.

Option #1b:  The USSR initiates a partial military mobilization.

A limited mobilization could be used to replenish losses in forward units, recall specialists to duty, and / or reinforce against potential Japanese aggression in the East.  A limited mobilization would focus on current operational and strategic needs. 

Risk: 

Excessive scope/scale:  Any level of mobilization creates excess manpower to train, administer, and equip.  Given current Red Army shortages, excess personnel risk being underused.  Furthermore, an excessive mobilization shortens service life for items used by excess personnel.  

Inadequate scope/scale:  Inadequate mobilization fails to give the Red Army the manpower needed for either Option 2a or 2b.  Likely, subsequent mobilizations would be required, increasing the complexity of operational-level planning by adding phasing requirements.

Gain:

Planned preparedness:  Recalling selected personnel / units tailors the mobilization to meet current or anticipated needs without creating waste.

Minimized disruption:  The impact on the Soviet economy would be reduced, allowing for continued progress on the Third Five Year Plan and its focus on consumer goods.  Excessive disruption would adversely impact the Soviet citizens’ quality of life.

Option #2a:  The Red Army counterattacks against the German forces.

With the forces currently or soon to be available, launch an immediate counterattack along the East Prussia-Berlin or Prague-Vienna axes[4].  

Risk: 

Material readiness:  While the Red Army possesses approximately 13,000 tanks along the German-Soviet border, many units have limited mobility needed for offensive operations[5].  Many airfields are overcrowded and squadrons displaced as a result of recent re-alignment in the Red Air Force[6].

Japanese involvement:  Given the Japanese-German-Italian alliance, the possibility exists that Japan will declare war against the USSR.  This would necessitate dividing forces to deal with both enemies, a risk compounded if forces are relocated from Siberian and Manchurian districts.

Gain: 

Operational initiative:  Choosing when and where to attack gives the Red Army the operational initiative in support of strategic objectives.

Potential alliance with Western Allies:  An immediate counterattack would align with Western interests and possibly set the conditions for an alliance.  Such an alliance would gain access to Western technologies, intelligence, and equipment while further dividing German attention and strength.  While capitalist states cannot fully be trusted, there exist mutually aligned interests in countering Germany that could be exploited.

Option #2b:  The Red Army maintains current defensive posture along the western border.  

Risk:

Continuing threat:  Without internal political collapse in Germany, the German military threat cannot be removed by a defensive Red Army.  In any war, the most one can hope for when playing defense is a tie.

Unprepared defenses:  Soviet defenses, especially in recently liberated territories, remain vulnerable.  Assuming continued German aggression and nationalist remnants, these territories are at risk of capture by German forces.

Gain:

Flexibility:  Remaining on the strategic defense now does not preclude going onto the offensive at a later date.  Furthermore, the Red Army can rebuild on its chosen timeline and to its desired end state (Option 1a or 1b).  

International support:  By remaining on the defensive rather than waging war on the German forces, including their civilians, the Soviet Union retains moral superiority, furthering the cause of Socialism worldwide.  Given recent Capitalist propaganda during and after the Finnish War, appealing to the League of Nations would advance Soviet interests in the long-term by showing a respect for the organization and giving the appeal a perceived moral grounding.  

Other Comments:  None.

Recommendation:  None. 


Endnotes:

[1] Alexander Hill, The Red Army and the Second World War.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019, p. 206.  For more on available indications and warnings, see David M. Glantz and Jonathan M. House, When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. Revised and Expanded Edition. (Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press, 2015), pp. 48-51.  See also Amnon Sella, “‘Barbarossa’: Surprise Attack and Communication.’” Journal of Contemporary History 13, No. 3 (July, 1978).

[2] Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started World War II? (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1990), pp. 320-321.

 [3] Hill, 198 and 192-3.

 [4] Hill, 196.

 [5] Hill, 199.

[6] See Mikhail Timin and Kevin Bridge, trans. Air Battles Over the Baltic: The Air War on 22 June 1941—The Battle for Stalin’s Baltic Region. Solihull, UK: Helion, 2018.

Germany Option Papers Timothy Heck Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)

Germany’s Options in the First Moroccan Crisis

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which ran from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.


Rafael Loss is a California-based defense analyst. He can be found on Twitter @_RafaelLoss. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  The German Empire was a latecomer to the “Scramble for Africa.” Looking for “a place under the sun,” the first Moroccan crisis in 1905-06 presented an opportunity for Germany to further its colonial ambitions and improve its position among Europe’s great powers.

Date Originally Written:  May 31, 2019.

Date Originally Published:  September 19, 2019.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the German Empire under Kaiser Wilhelm II[1]. While representative of the competing views within the German government, the two options presented are somewhat stylized to draw a starker contrast.

Background:  Following the Franco-Prussian war and its unification in 1871, the German Empire was a latecomer to the “Scramble for Africa.” Only in 1890 did it adopt Weltpolitik, seeking possessions abroad and equal status among the European imperial powers. On a visit to Tangier in March 1905, Kaiser Wilhelm II provoked a diplomatic spat by challenging France’s dominance in Morocco. As the crisis escalated, Germany called up reserve units and France moved troops to the German border. In early 1906, a conference in the southern Spanish town of Algeciras sought to resolve the dispute[2].

Significance:  The Entente Cordiale of 1904, a series of agreements between Great Britain and France which saw a significant improvement in their relations, marked a major setback for German efforts, perfected during the Bismarckian period, to manipulate the European balance of power in Berlin’s favor[3]. The Entente not only threatened Germany’s colonial ambitions, but also its predominant position on the European continent—a vital national security interest. The Algeciras conference presented an opportunity to fracture the Franco-British rapprochement. In hindsight, it arguably also offered the best off-ramp for Europe’s diplomats to avert locking in the alignment patterns that contributed to the unraveling of the European order only eight years later.

Option #1:  Germany weakens the Entente by seeking closer relations with France (and Britain). This option required a constructive and conciliatory stance of Germany at Algeciras. (This option is associated with Hugo von Radolin, Germany’s Ambassador to France.)

Risk:  Rebuffing French bilateral overtures, Germany had insisted that a conference settle the Moroccan issue from the beginning of the crisis. Appearing too compromising at Algeciras risked undermining German credibility and status as a great power determined to pursue legitimate colonial interests. Alignment with France (and Britain) also jeopardized Germany’s relations with the Russian and Austro-Hungarian monarchies and could further increase domestic pressure for democratic reform.

Gain:  A successful pursuit of this option promised to alleviate Germany’s security dilemma, located between France to the west and Russia to the east, with the British navy threatening its sea lines of communication. This option would also reduce dependence on Austria-Hungary and Italy, who were seen by some as rather unreliable allies, and could eventually facilitate the emergence of a continental block—with France and Russia—against Britain’s maritime primacy. Moreover, this option could improve relations with the United States, a rising great power and increasingly important player in colonial affairs.

Option #2:  Germany weakens the Entente by pressuring France. This required a bellicose negotiating stance and raising the specter of war to deter Britain from coming to France’s aid. (This option is associated with Friedrich von Holstein, the Political Secretary of the German Foreign Office.)

Risk:  While consistent with Germany’s heretofore assertive opposition to France’s dominance in Morocco, leaning on France too hard at Algeciras risked escalating a peripheral diplomatic dispute to major war in Europe, for which public support was less than certain. It could also precipitate an arms race and alienate the other delegations, especially since Germany had already secured concessions from France, including the dismissal of a disliked foreign minister and the conference itself. Furthermore, it was uncertain whether even a total diplomatic victory for Germany at Algeciras could weaken the Franco-British rapprochement, as the status of the Entente itself was not part of the negotiations, or even strengthen their resolve in the face of German adversity.

Gain:  Successfully pressuring France promised not only greater influence in colonial affairs in North Africa but also exposure of the hollowness of the Entente Cordiale. Without British support for either France or Russia—Britain had sided with Japan during the Russo-Japanese war—Germany’s position on the European continent would improve considerably, particularly since Russia and Germany had discussed a defense treaty the prior year. Separately dealing with the challenges at land and at sea would also make it easier for Germany to contest Britain’s maritime primacy at a convenient time, perhaps even with French support as the end of the Entente might reignite Franco-British competition. Domestically, humiliating France yet again could be expected to increase popular support for the Kaiser and the conservative elites.

Other Comments:  Kaiser Wilhelm II and Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow ultimately instructed their representatives at the conference to pursue Option #2.

With Britain, Italy, Russia, Spain, and the United States siding with France, however, Germany was largely isolated and, at last, had to accept an unsatisfying settlement. Germany’s actions in 1905 and its combative posturing at the conference failed to fracture the Entente[4]. To the contrary, rival blocks began to consolidate which severely limited the room for diplomatic maneuver in subsequent crises. Worsening tensions between Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy (Triple Alliance) on the one side and Britain, France, and Russia (Triple Entente) on the other, ultimately led to the outbreak of general war in August 1914.

Recommendation:  None.


Endnotes:

[1] Lepsius, J., Mendelssohn Bartholdy, A., & Thimme, F. (1927). Die grosse Politik der europäischen Kabinette, 1871-1914. Sammlung der diplomatischen Akten des Auswärtigen Amtes: Vols. 20.1 & 20.2. Entente cordiale und erste Marokkokrise, 1904-1905. Berlin, Germany: Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft für Politik und Geschichte.

[2] Anderson, E. N. (1930). The first Moroccan crisis, 1904-1906. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

[3] Sontag, R. J. (1928). German foreign policy, 1904-1906. The American Historical Review, 33(2), 278-301.

[4] Jones, H. (2009). Algeciras revisited: European crisis and conference diplomacy, 16 January-7 April 1906 (EUI Working Paper MWP 2009/01). San Domenico di Fiesole, Italy: European University Institute.

Germany Morocco Option Papers Rafael Loss Small Wars Journal Writing Contest