Joseph Stalin

Joseph Stalin bore the greatest responsibility for some of the disasters at the beginning of the war (for example, the Battle of Kiev), but can be equally praised for the subsequent success of the Soviet Army, which would have been impossible without the unprecedentedly rapid industrialization of the Soviet Union, which was the first priority of Stalin's internal policy throughout the 1930s. Stalin's Great Purge of the Red Army in the late 1930s consisted of the legal prosecution of many of the senior command, many of whom were convicted and sentenced to death or imprisonment. The executed included Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a proponent of armoured blitzkrieg. Stalin promoted some obscurantists like Grigory Kulik (who opposed the mechanization of the army and the production of tanks), but on the other hand purged the older commanders who had had their positions since the Russian Civil War, and had experience, but were deemed "politically unreliable". This opened up those places to the promotion of many younger officers that Stalin and the NKVD thought were in line with Stalinist politics, many of whom proved to be terribly inexperienced, but some were later very successful. Soviet tank output remained the largest in the world. Distrust of the military led, since the foundation of the Red Army in 1918, to a system of "dual command", in which every commander was paired with a political commissar, a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Larger units had military councils consisting of the commander, commissar and chief of staff, who ensured that the commanding officer was loyal and implemented Party orders. Following the Soviet occupation of eastern Poland, the Baltic states and Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in 1939–40, Stalin insisted that every fold of the new territories should be occupied; this move westward left troops far from their depots in salients that left them vulnerable to encirclement. There was an assumption that, in the event of a German invasion, the Red Army would take the strategic offensive and fight the war mostly outside the borders of the Soviet Union; thus few plans were made for strategic defensive operations. H

wever, fortifications were built. As tension heightened in spring 1941, Stalin was desperate not to give Hitler any provocation that could be used as an excuse for an attack; this caused him to refuse to allow the military to go onto the alert even as German troops gathered on the borders and German reconnaissance planes overflew installations. This refusal to take the necessary action was instrumental in the destruction of major portions of the Red Air Force, lined up on its airfields, in the first days of the war. Stalin's insistence on repeated counterattacks without adequate preparation led to the loss of almost the whole of the Red Army's tank corps in 1941 – many tanks simply ran out of fuel on their way to the battlefield through faulty planning or ignorance of the location of fuel dumps. While some regard this offensive strategy as an argument for Soviet aggressive strategic plans, the offensive operational planning was not, by itself, evidence of any aggressive foreign policy intent.[citation needed] Unlike Hitler, Stalin was able to learn lessons and improve his conduct of the war. He gradually came to realise the dangers of inadequate preparation and built up a competent command and control organization – the Stavka. Incompetent commanders were gradually but ruthlessly weeded out. At the crisis of the war, in autumn 1942, Stalin made many concessions to the army: unitary command was restored by removing the Commissars from the chain of command. After the Battle of Stalingrad, shoulderboards were introduced for all ranks; this was a significant symbolic step, since they had been seen as a symbol of the old regime after the Russian Revolution of 1917. Beginning in autumn 1941, units that had proved themselves by superior performance in combat were given the traditional "Guards" title. But these concessions were combined with ruthless discipline: Order No. 227, issued on 28 July 1942, threatened commanders who retreated without orders with punishment by court-martial. Infractions by military and politruks were punished with transferral to penal battalions and penal companies, and the NKVD's barrier troops would shoot soldiers who fled.