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. At the strategic level, intelligence failed to detect obvious signals of an imminent invasion. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Many airfields are overcrowded and squadrons displaced as a result of recent re-alignment in the Red Air Force.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 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).
 Viktor Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started World War II? (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1990), pp. 320-321.
 Hill, 198 and 192-3.
 Hill, 196.
 Hill, 199.
 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.