SIGINT, Soviet Radio Reconnaissance

Belorussia 1944 – Soviet General Staff Study

While reading “Belorussia 1944 – Soviet General Staff Study” translated and edited by David M. Glantz and Harold S. Orenstein I was as intrigued by the information discussed in the lead up to the operation as I was in the description of the operation that followed.  In particular, from my interest in Soviet Signals Intelligence in World War 2, was the passage on reconnaissance of the enemy which was inconsistent between the four fronts examined.  Of the four fronts examined in this study, 1st Baltic Front, 3rd Belorussian Front, 2nd Belorussian Front, and 1st Belorussian Front,   only two of the fronts have sections that discuss reconnaissance of the enemy, 1st Belorussian and 1st Baltic, and the information they identify in the section is significantly different.

The 1st Belorussian Front identifies that reconnaissance of the enemy has been ongoing for this operation since May and it identifies two means by which intelligence had been procured.  In particular, intelligence was gathered through imagery intelligence provided by 16th Air Army’s reconnaissance aviation and  ground reconnaissance.  It is stated that 400 night and daylight reconnaissance raids occurred during the preparatory period resulting in the a number of prisoners, documents, and weapons seized. (Page 56).  However these are the only means of intelligence discussed.

Significantly, 1st Baltic Front discusses the fact that “all types of reconnaissance” were utilized in the reconnaissance of the enemy prior to the operation, including ground reconnaissance to capture 18 prisoners, radio reconnaissance, air reconnaissance, and sound reconnaissance.  The resulting information from all these means of collection was consolidated at Front Headquarters and then plotted on a general intelligence map. From my perspective the passage on radio reconnaissance was interesting due to the lack of mention anywhere else.  “Radio reconnaissance (radiorazvedka) successfully detected enemy radio stations of Sixteenth Army in Ludza, the Third Panzer Army in Beshenkovichi, the X Army Corps in Rudnia, the I Army Corps in Borovukha, the IX Army Corps in Ulla, the LIII Army Corps in Vitebsk, the 87th Infantry Division in Skaby, etc” (Pg 30).

From reading this book, and in particular these passages, it is clear that reconnaissance of the enemy was a difficult and highly classified subject to discuss in the Soviet Army even post World War 2. The inconsistent manner in which the fronts discuss reconnaissance of the enemy and the means used to gather this information is telling.  My interpretation from this work, is that radio reconnaissance and sound reconnaissance were classified top secret and therefore not eligible for inclusion in a secret staff study where as aviation and ground reconnaissance were classified secret.

Interesting questions that remain unanswered in my mind include:

  1. Did every front have radio reconnaissance capabilities or were they an uplift provided prior to operations by Stavka?
  2. What unit conducted the radio reconnaissance, what were their capabilities, and when were they formed?
  3. Is radio reconnaissance mentioned in other soviet staff studies?

Ultimately the question is how effective was Soviet Radio Reconnaissance during World War 2 as it is a topic that largely remains in the shadows.



Review of: Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942 and 1943-1945

I recently purchased Robert Forczyk’s work  Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942.  Having quickly read this work I was eager to order the follow on volume that focuses on the period from 1943 through 1945.  The reason I was eager to purchase the second volume was that these books approached tank warfare from a view point other then the hard penetration tables and values by which most discussion of armoured warfare is considered.  Rather, these books provided greater attention to the the training, organization, and tactics that while not as commonly studied had a decisive impact on the innumerable battles throughout the conflict.  Robert Forczyk’s experience as an armoured officer enable him to keenly identify the differences and highlight how these differences manifested themselves on the battlefield and as an explanation for the performance of the German and Soviet Forces.

The first book largely covers the period of German supremacy as they had superior training, organization, and experience.  The first part of the book focuses on the forces and organizations of the Soviet and Germans.  However rather then limiting himself to the military forces involved he includes the economic forces such as their respective manufacturing capabilities and philosophies.  This is followed by an overview of the battles fought in 1941 and 1942 diving into particular moments and vignettes to highlight organizational differences.  While this period is largely comprised of German victories and advances, interesting examples of German setbacks are included.   I found that the strength of this work was in his assessment of tactical actions while weakest when discussing operational and strategic decision making.

The second book, Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1943-1945, predominately covers 1943 with scant attention to 1944/1945 (40 pages out of 240). While the battles of 1943 are discussed in some detail I believe that a critical analysis as to why the German formations and tactics that were so successful in penetrating Soviet lines in 1941 and 1942 were incapable from 1943 onwards is lacking.  Likewise not enough attention is focused on the development of Soviet doctrine to enable their tank corps and tank armies the opportunities to pierce and conduct deep battle operations.  The Soviet Union won the war, and the action of their tank armies were the champions of armoured combat and it is important to understand the evolution and evaluation of this product. 

While I may disagree with the conclusions reached in both books, I do appreciate the perspective that Robert Forczyk has provided.  I would recommend his first work “Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942” as in interesting introduction to armoured warfare on the Eastern Front.  However, I am less inclined to recommend the second work which I feel doesn’t fully account for the evolution of combat forces.  In both instances I appreciated the perspective he approached these works from and the insights his background was able to provide.


SIGINT, Soviet Radio Reconnaissance

The Black Hole of SIGINT

Soviet SIGINT During World War 2

A lot of information has been written about Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) during World War 2.  Movies have been made and books written about the trials and tribulations of Bletchley Park and the British effort to conduct cryptologic analysis of the Enigma machine in order to support the war effort.  Lesser known but still acknowledged are the efforts that were made by Poland prior to the war in solving German Crypto and their efforts to defeat the Enigma machine.  The efforts of the United States, in particular in defeating the Japanese Purple and Red cryptologic ciphers are published and impact considered when reviewing the battles of the Pacific.  Yet nothing is mentioned concerning Soviet SIGINT during World War 2.  There has been virtually no leaks, little mention, and therefore no acknowledgement of the efforts made by the Soviet Union in breaking the communication means of their adversaries and allies.  This lack of writing, this absence in and of itself is interesting and worth exploration.

Given this complete lack of information, there are three explanations that should therefore be considered:

  1.  The Soviet Union did not partake in SIGINT;
  2.  The Soviet Union was unsuccessful in their SIGINT and do not want their failures published; or
  3. The Soviet Union were successful and consider SIGINT a matter of intelligence to be classified and protected for a period of greater then 50 years.

My view is that the first option should be dismissed out of hand.  While there is limited knowledge of the Soviet SIGINT activities, they do exist and prove efforts were made.  My personal knowledge and bias makes me believe that option 3 is the correct option.  In particular while studying Electrical Engineering the contributions of Russian mathematicians and physicist in the 20th Century were pronounced.  Cryptographic work is heavily based in math and cryptologist are often chess players.   I would therefore be surprised if the Soviet Union did not have a large, and successful SIGINT program during World War 2.

I would propose that the Soviet Union had a successful SIGINT program during World War 2.  In particular I would like to explore the possibility that the Soviet Union was successful in deciphering German codes and the Enigma machine. I know that I will never be able to prove Soviet success as only the declassification of Soviet records will definitively prove their success or failure.  However, I hope that through an examination of Soviet capabilities both prior to, during, and after the war a technical trend line can be developed.    Further, I hope that by studying Soviet actions during the war additional evidence can be gained to prove that they had succeeded in breaking German codes.  As I discover information I will post it to the blog, and I would gladly invite comments or collaboration in this endeavour.

I will end this post by thanking Geoffrey Jukes for all the work he has done on this theory to date.




Review of: Take Budapest!

Take Budapest! The Struggle for Hungary, Autumn 1944 by Kamen Nevenkin.

I recently had the pleasure of reading Kamen Nevenkin’s book “Take Budapest! The Struggle for Hungary, Autumn 1944”.  This book explores the initial Soviet attempt to take Budapest in October and November 1944.  The Soviet attempt to seize Hungary in 1944 is initiated when the coup of Arrow-Cross party led by Szalasi ended the possibility of Hungary negotiating an armistice and leaving the war.  What Mr. Nevenkin does particularly well, is focusing in on the actions of the 2nd Ukrainian Front, in particular the 46th Army spearheaded by the 2nd and 4th Guards Mechanized Corps in their attempt to seize Budapest from the march.  He balances the Soviet actions and reports with the responses by Army Group South, in particular the 1st, 13th, 23rd, and 24th Panzer Divisions, and Panzer Grenadier Division “Feldherrnhalle”, and the Hungarian Armies 1st Huszar Division and 1st Armored Division in their attempts to counterattack and halt the Soviet offensive.  Kamen Nevenkin does an excellent job juxtaposing the two adversaries’ attempts to gain control and seize the initiative in a balanced manner.  His efforts bring to light this neglected action.

“Take Budapest” commences with an introduction of the economic and political reasons that the Germans would want to fight over Hungary.  These reasons, oil, food, industry, and their last remaining ally remain valid and are a root cause as to why the Germans continue to invest resources into defend Hungarian territory until 1945.  These reasons are contrasted with the strategic and political reasons the Soviets would want to seize control of Hungary, to assert control over the Balkans, divert German forces from the central sector, and provide an avenue to quickly seize Austria, the only country that had not been divided into a post war sphere of influence between the allies.  Hungary was a central focus for Germany and a secondary theatre for the Soviets, a deliniation that Mr. Nevenkin unfortunately, does not fully explore.

The majority of the book, and its great strength, is the focus on the conflict that occurred from 28 October to 6 November 1944. Kamen Nevenkin goes into detail about the planning of the operation from the Soviet perspective, in particular providing background and context behind Stalin’s call to Malinovskii on the 28th of October and the differing reports that would have influenced Stalin’s decision.  With Stalin’s order the attack begins and the actions of each corps, division, and in some instances brigades or battalions are reported. Where this action is covered in “The Road to Berlin” by John Erickson in 3 pages, it is the enhanced view of this action enables Mr. Nevenkin to explore the importance of flak units defending Kecskemet, the introduction of the 4th Guards Mechanized Corps,  and the Attila lines are all given amazing coverage.

My primary issue with this book is a weak conclusion which leads me questioning whether or not the Soviets, and Stalin in particular made the correct call in trying to seize Budapest from the march.  I would also have liked to have read a summary of the effort that was required by the Germans and Hungarians to halt this advance.  Finally, and it is a minor point, I wish the tables and charts were slightly clearer in explaining what was being defined.

“Take Budapest” provides a cut and thrust history of panzer divisions and mechanized brigades on the road to Budapest.  For any historian interested in tactical to operational level history I highly recommend this book.  It would also be great for war gamers looking for late war scenarios of armoured combat as, especially after the first day when the German Panzer Divisions entered the fray to stop the Mechanized Corps in a series of meeting engagements.  It compliments very nicely “Tomb of the Panzerwaffe” describing the final spasms of Nazi Germany in the dying months of the 2nd World War.


This book leaves me with some outstanding questions, in particular:

  1. While not explicitly stated, it could be argued, that Hungary was a critical front for the Germans due to the economic factors but a secondary theatre for the Soviets. To confirm this I would have to examine the disposition of German and Soviet formations commencing in October 1944;
  2. What information did Stalin have on the night of the 28th? While he orders Malinovskii to attack immediately vice waiting 5 days before commencing the assault (which would have resulted in an assault date of 3 November) was this because he was aware of the German troop movements or the actions to further fortify the Hungarian capital?  Both reasons would have been cause to push for an immediate assault to catch the enemy off guard;
  3. What was the lasting impact of this operation? How does this leave the situation in Hungary between November 1944 and January 1945?

An Evening of History with David Glantz

A meeting with Colonel David Glantz (Rtd)

This past April, I had the distinct pleasure of spending an evening discussing history with Mr. Glantz.  Mr. David Glantz has studied the Soviet military for over the last 40 years, initially studying the Soviet military as an adversary during the Cold War and subsequently, through his work as a historian.  As an author of over 20 books, numerous articles, he has shared his knowledge of the Eastern Front with English readers, exploring this previously neglected field of history.  His access to, and use of primary source material, in particular Russian source material not previously seen has presented the English reader with a new perspective from which to study the battles that raged on the Eastern Front.

Needless to say, I was excited to meet him, but in addition to the traditional historical discussions, I wanted to ask Mr. Glantz about his transition from military officer to historian.  Currently serving in the military, I was keen to hear what advice he could provide to me?

We talked about the history of the Second World War.  The amount of history, stories, and studies left to be discovered.  We talked about how you can translate your experience in the military to the study of military history, using your knowledge of military documentation, units, and tactics to understand the documents written in the past.  However, the most important thing I could do to study the history of the Eastern Front, would be to learn both Russian and German as this would allow me to read the original primary documents.

On the subject of reading, I love libraries and his study, with four walls with shelves from floor to ceiling filled with books, and a desk in the middle, was, from my perspective beautiful.  His collection of books and primary documents, both in English, German, and Russian spanned unit histories, biographies, and after action studies and it is from this location, surrounded by information, that he writes each day.

As much as I wanted to learn about the transition from military officer to historian there were more than a few historical questions that I wanted to ask.  One of the questions I asked Mr. Glantz was his opinion concerning the controversy as to whether or not the Soviets could have liberated Warsaw in August 1944 prior to the Germans destroying the city.  One argument commonly made, states that the Soviet Army halted on purpose short of Warsaw, letting the Germans kill all the Polish rebels in the city.  Another argument is that the Soviet Army at the end of Operation Bagration did not have the strength to overcome the German reserves thereby preventing the Soviet forces from reaching the city.

Mr. Glantz’s response to this question amazed me both for its clarity, and his documentation readily available with which he was able to substantiate his opinion.  In his view, the Soviet Army was not in a position to liberate the city of Warsaw.  Both because of the movement of German forces from Army Group South north, but also significant German anti-tank forces transferred to halt the Soviet advance.  To illustrate the situation facing the Soviet forces, he pulled out the maps showing unit and formation locations from both the German, Soviet, and combined perspectives on a daily basis.  The Soviet militaries inability to reach Warsaw did not mean that politics did not factor into the Soviet considerations as the Soviets refused to permit allied aircraft from landing in their territory.  The restriction on western aircraft and by extension western aid was political, and this lack of aid accelerated the defeat of the Polish resistance.  While militarily, the Soviets could not have intervened, they could have provided greater support to the resistance.

Politics and military action were intertwined throughout the Second World War, not only concerning Warsaw but also Berlin.  We discussed the Vistula-Oder Offensive’s halt in February 1945.  Mr. Glantz theorized that the reason for the halt of Soviet offensive was actually the Yalta conference, as the question of Austria whose occupation was not yet agreed upon.  To ensure that Soviet forces were in possession of Austria when Germany surrendered, Zhukov’s forces were halted short of Berlin, and only upon seizure of Vienna was Berlin allowed to be seized.  It was an interesting discussion that provided greater context to the books I have recently read concerning Operation Spring Awakening and the requirement to hold back by the 3rd Ukrainian Front for the subsequent attack to Vienna.

It was a pleasurable evening, and during the drive home, I reflected upon the topics we talked about, from the situation outside Warsaw, to the latest activities in the Crimea, and the changes in to access of the Russian achieves.   I am very grateful to Mr. Glantz for the fact that he made time in his schedule to meet with me, to offer new insights and share his passion for history.  The lasting effect of the evening is that I will be looking to learn Russian in the new year.

With sincere thanks,


Image source:

1941 - Eastern Front, Directive 21 written as an Op Order

Directive 21 – Operation Barbarossa

As I would like to understand the conflict on the Eastern Front, and in particular Army Group South during the months of June to August 1941, it is necessary to understand the orders that Army Group South was operating under. Directive 21 was the order that initiated planning for Operation Barbarossa. This directive was signed 18 December 1940, and its signature accelerated the process by which preparations were made to invade Soviet Russia. To better understand the initial instructions, and thereby assess the success or failure of Army Group South I have attempted to transpose this directive into an orders format to aid in my understanding of the various groups, tasks, and objectives at this point in the planning process. Comments or feedback would be appreciated.

For those who wish to read the original text of Directive 21 is available online at  or a copy can be received through the archives in the United States Department of State, “Documents on German Foreign Policy: From the Archives of the German Foreign Ministry.” Series D (1939-1945), The War Years, Volume 11: February 1 – June 22, 1941.  Document 532, pp 899-902.


18 Dec 1940





2. The German Wehrmacht must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign before the conclusion of the war against England in order to …


3. Concept of Ops. My intent is to have the Army, supported by the Air Force, employ all available units to destroy the Russian army in Western Russia. This will be accomplished through daring operations led by deeply penetrating armoured spearheads. This penetration will encircle Russian forces preventing them from withdrawing into the depths of Russia. The main effort is the destruction of the Russian Army. The end state being the advancement of German borders to the Volga-Archangel line at where the Asiatic Russians Air Force will be unable to interfere with German production.

4. Army.

a. Overview (in accordance with plans submitted to me). The theatre of operations will be divided into a Southern and a Northern sector by the Pripet Marshes, the main weight of attack will be delivered in the Northern sector where two Army Groups will be employed.

b. Northern Sector.

i. Phase 1 – Stage 1. Army Group Centre will have the task of advancing with powerful armoured and motorised formations from the area around and north of Warsaw, routing the enemy forces in White Russia.

ii. Phase 1 – Stage 2. Commenced upon destruction of the enemy forces in White Russia, strong mobile forces will advance northwards and, in conjunction with Army Group North operating out of East Prussia in the general direction of Leningrad, to destroy the enemy forces operating in the Baltic area.

iii. Phase 2. Only after destruction of enemy forces in White Russia and the Baltic area, including of the occupation of Leningrad and Kronstadt, will the attack be continued with the intention of occupying Moscow. While Moscow is an important centre of communications and of the armaments industry, only a surprisingly rapid collapse of Russian resistance could justify the simultaneous pursuit of both objectives (Leningrad and Moscow).

c. Southern Sector.

i. Phase 1. The Army Group operating south of the Pripet Marshes will also seek, in a concentric operation with strong forces on either flank, to destroy all Russian forces west of the Dnieper in the Ukraine. The main attack will be carried out from the Lublin area in the general direction of Kiev, while forces in Rumania will carry out a wide enclosing movement across the lower Pruth. The task of the Rumanian Army to hold down Russian forces in the intervening area.

ii. Phase 2. With the enemy forces west of the Dnieper destroyed, the pursuit of the enemy will seek an early capture of the Donets Basin which is important for the war industry.

d. Scandinavia.

i. Protection of Norway. The most important task of Group XXI, even during these eastern operations, remains the protection of Norway.

ii. Murmansk. Any forces available after carrying out this task will be employed in the North (Mountain Corps), at first to protect the Petsamo area and its iron ore mines and the Arctic highway, then to advance with Finnish forces against the Murmansk railway and thus prevent the passage of supplies to Murmansk by land. The question whether an operation of this kind can be carried out with stronger German forces (two or three divisions) from the Rovaniemi area and south of it will depend on the willingness of Sweden to make its railways available for troop transport.

iii. Finland. The Finnish Army, in conjunction with the advance of the German North flank, will hold down the strongest possible Russian forces by an attack to the West, or on both sides of Lake Ladoga, and to occupy Hangö.

5. Air Force.

a. The Air Force will have to make available for this Eastern campaign supporting forces of such strength that the Army will be able to bring land operations to a speedy conclusion and that Eastern Germany will be as little damaged as possible by enemy air attack. This build-up of a focal point in the East will be limited only by the need to protect from air attack the whole combat and arsenal area which we control, and to ensure that attacks on England, and especially upon her imports, are not allowed to lapse.

b. It will be the duty of the Air Force to paralyse and eliminate the effectiveness of the Russian Air Force as far as possible. It will also support the main operations of the Army, those of the central Army Group and of the vital flank of the Southern Army Group. Russian railways will either be destroyed or, in accordance with operational requirements, captured at their most important points (river crossings) by the bold employment of parachute and airborne troops.

c. In order that we may concentrate all our strength against the enemy Air Force and for the immediate support of land operations, the Russian armaments industry will not be attacked during the main operations. Such attacks will be made only after the conclusion of mobile warfare, and they will be concentrated first on the Urals area.

6. Navy.

a. The main efforts of the Navy will continue to be directed against England even during the Eastern campaign.

b. The Navy will protect our own coasts and to prevent the break-out of Soviet Russian naval units from the Baltic. As the Russian Baltic fleet will, with the capture of Leningrad, lose its last base and will then be in a hopeless position, major naval action will be avoided until this occurs.

c. After the elimination of the Russian fleet the duty of the Navy will be to protect the entire maritime traffic in the Baltic and the transport of supplies by sea to the Northern flank.

7. Coordinating Instructions.

a. Probable Allied Participation. Participation by Romania and Finland is to be expected. Their tasks are:

i. Romania is to pin down Russian forces where Germans are not committed and otherwise act as auxiliary service in the rear;

ii. Elimination of Hango by Finland; and

iii. Use Swedish railroads and highways for the concentration of German North Group.

b. Timings.

i. Preparations are to be completed by May 15, 1941.

ii. In certain circumstances orders for the deployment against Soviet Russia will be issued eight weeks before the operation is timed to begin.


8. The Command Relationship with Finish and Romanian Forces is undefined.

9. Orders are need to know and transmission of the directive kept secretive so as to avoid discovery of these preparations against Russia.

10. Commanders-in-Chief are directed to submit their plans of on the basis of this directive.


“Operational Readiness” vs “Irrecoverable Losses”

“Operational Readiness” vs “Irrecoverable Losses”

Often historians will examine a battle or campaign and use “irrecoverable losses” as the measure of effectiveness when evaluating the performance of each side.  A person dead, captured, or permanently disabled can no longer fight.  A tank lost to the enemy or burnt out on the battlefield cannot be recovered and is likewise lost.  As such, this statistic is easily defined and measurable.  However, just examining “irrecoverable losses” does not provide the whole story of combat effectiveness of a unit.  “Irrecoverable Losses” as a tool of measurement favours the attacker, who is often in control of the battlefield, and doesn’t accurately reflect the attrition of the unit due to repairable combat losses and the resulting decrease in Operational Readiness.  To more accurately reflect the combat ability of a unit or formation the actual operational readiness of the unit should be measured and tracked and from this information losses incurred by transport or combat can be tracked.  This measure will provide greater fidelity to historians in understanding why decisions were made by commanders.

Operational Losses

Each day, and sometimes several times in a day, depending upon the reporting cycle, every unit would report their operational strength in an administrative report or a situation report  Typically, this report would include a summary of the major weapon systems, personal, fuel, rations, and ammunition held by the unit.  The intent of this information is to provide the commander with an overview as to the status of the unit on a recurring and regular basis to contribute to the decisions he will make.  It feeds the administrative chain to determine where supplies are required.  These reports are required on a regular basis as changes in operational readiness could occur through any of the following actions:

  1. Arrival of new equipment, supplies, or personal;
  2. Repair or recovery of equipment and personal;
  3. Combat losses;
  4. Administrative losses; and
  5. Ordered transfers of equipment.

There are many different factors that could affect a unit or formations status on any given day which would change the losses incurred even if the activity was the same.  Conducting the same activity but in different months would have differing effects.  A unit operating in severe weather degrades quicker due to higher consumption of resources and higher levels of mechanical failure then one operating in fine weather.

Every action conducted by the formation would result in changes to this value.  A day of travel would result in losses to equipment, through driver fatigue or equipment wear amongst other reasons.  The majority of these losses would be easy to fix, but some would be, or could be irrecoverable.  A day of combat would result in typically a higher loss of operational readiness as tanks are destroyed or knocked out.  The intensity of the fighting, the mission, and the opposition would determine the number of losses suffered.  Conversely, a day of rest would typically produce time for the unit to recover, conduct repairs and maintenance thereby increasing its strength.  The amount of strength recovered would demonstrate the resiliency and recovery capabilities of the unit.

Repair and Recovery

Each nation during World War 2 conducted and defined repair and recovery differently.  The Germans classified damaged vehicles as either Short Term (under a month to repair), Long Term repair (greater than a month), or requiring factory overhaul.  Furthermore a vehicle could move from one category to another making it difficult to track the extent of damage due to combat.  The Soviet Union classified damaged vehicles as requiring minor repairs, light overhaul, or a major overhaul.

Regardless of the level of damage, a vehicle requiring repair is out of combat.  Its time out of combat is dependent upon not only the repair capabilities of the unit, but the parts that the unit holds.  If the repair parts are unavailable, a repair may only take an hour cannot be conducted and the vehicle remains out of combat.  While a talented repair team may be able to make do with sub-standard, or non-regulation parts they cannot completely make up for a lack of regulation components.

Historical Example of Issues with Irrecoverable Losses

In Tomb of the Panzerwaffe by Aleksei Isaev and Maksim Kolomiets conclusion is that the 3rd Ukrainian Front, in 10 days of combat, claimed 324 German tanks & SPs, and 120 Half Tracks burned on the battlefield and a similar number knocked out.  The German Panzer Army stated that their “irrecoverable losses” were 42 tanks and 1 half track with 396 tanks in repair for short and long term and 228 half tracks in repair.

Regardless of how irrecoverable losses are measured, Russian photographs from the battlefield in mid March clearly picture 279 individual German tanks and SP guns with unique soviet trophy numbering.  In my mind, and looking at the pictures it is clear that the Germans lost, irrecoverably, at least 279 tanks and SP guns but the more telling is the fact that the German Panzer Army was not positioned to stop the Soviet offensive to Vienna.

A Modern Example of Operational Readiness

Having served in Afghanistan, I am aware that a vehicle may be damaged in combat and classified as follows:

1st Line – In unit repair capabilities.

2nd Line – In formation repair capabilities

3rd Line – Theatre level repair capabilities

4th Line – Return to Canada for repair.

Beyond Economic Repair

While the number of LAVs Canada had destroyed in Afghanistan is reported to be 13, and less than 34 vehicles of all types destroyed, there were 359 vehicles damaged including 159 LAVs.  The result of the damaged LAV’s is that the Canadian Army deployed to Afghanistan had to regularly rotate the LAVs from Canada to Afghanistan to ensure that the required number of operational LAVs (including operational spares) were present at any given point in time.  The effect was that the Canadian LAV fleet was completely engaged over the course of the conflict in Afghanistan.  Post Afghanistan, Canada is upgrading and overhauling our LAV fleet.

Using “Irrecoverable Losses”, the Canadian losses in LAV would be minimal, however the real impact from our 7 years of LAV use in Afghanistan is that Canada needed to replace and repair their whole fleet.


Loss in readiness is the superior measuring tool when analysing the impact of combat decisions made during World War 2.  It is the tool used by the commanders on the ground to identify their strengths and weaknesses when they made the decisions they did.  While these numbers do change over time that change this change is indicative of the regenerative powers of the unit.  As I examine the actions of Army Group South in 1941 and the Soviet Forces countering them, I will endeavour to use Operational Readiness as my measuring tool to determine the impact of the various actions undertaken by both forces.

Future Questions

In the 21st century it may be easier to repair then replace, but during World War 2:

  1.  Was it easier for the Soviet Union and Allies to replace then repair?
  2. To what extent did the German lack of steel necessitate repairs on vehicles which would otherwise be written off?
  3. Finally even if the tanks could be recovered from the battlefield what was the repair capability and doctrine of the various forces during World War 2?

A conversation with Nigel Askey concerning operational losses on the Eastern Front

Adobe Photoshop PDF


I had the pleasure of having some email correspondence with Nigel Askey, the author of, and several works on the readiness and operations that occurred in the Eastern Front in 1941.

Issue – Operational Readiness vs Irrecoverable Losses

We had an interesting discussion on operational readiness, vice irrecoverable losses.  Personally, I have had difficulties in understanding the German “irrecoverable” tank losses, and indeed their “irrecoverable” losses when compared to the change in their actions often do not appear to make sense.  I asked myself if each nation defined all tank losses equivalently?  Did the Germans and Allies have the same definition of “Beyond Economic Repair” and “irrecoverable” or were the Germans more willing to repair their tanks as the cost of shipping and repair was less then building a new tank?  Were the allies more willing to simply replace a broken tank as it was cheaper then repairing?  

Discussion – Loss in Readiness

In all of Nigel’s articles, he only ever uses ‘irrecoverable tank of AFV losses’. In this sense irrecoverable can be defined as ‘the vehicle is permanently destroyed or written off, or is captured by enemy forces’.  When developing ROCP (Relative Overall Combat Proficiency) calculations he treats both sides both sides are treated the same (i.e. measuring irrecoverable losses only).  Nigel defines the term ‘loss in readiness’ as something that could be corrected by internal supply and repair which contrast with irrecoverable losses which could not.

A clear example of an irrecoverable loss.

For example, if a unit with 100 tanks moves 100 miles from point A to B had 10 tanks break down so in simplistic terms the unit has only 90%  of its tanks ‘operational’. This is without coming close to any enemy forces at all. The unit has not ‘lost’ 10 tanks at that point in time but lost 10% of its ‘operational readiness’. Depending on the ‘operational ROCP’ level of the unit (i.e. its trained support infrastructure) and the level of supplies and spares available, the unit will recover its readiness. A high ROCP unit will fully recover in a day, but a lower ROCP unit will recover much slower.  No matter what a combat unit does, as soon it moves or attacks it will suffer significant operational readiness loss (and fatigue, which is a whole separate issue).

Therefore, in his view, in the early tank battles in Barbarossa, and indeed, up until Kursk when the Germans typically remained in control of the battlefield their tank losses were insignificant by there measure, but the operational effectiveness of their divisions greatly decreased.  Nowhere is this more apparent then the initial weeks of Barbarossa.  The German Panzer Divisions began at full strength, but by August, 5 short weeks latter, most Army Group Centre German Panzer Divisions tank elements were near, or below 50% due to a combination of combat and mechanical losses.

He postulates, that any individual unit report on its % operational readiness is almost useless in establishing any sort of ‘actual irrecoverable loss’.  A unit continually defending against overwhelming forces had no choice but to remain even if its ‘operational readiness’ has drooped to almost zero. This would not necessarily mean the division has taken particularly heavy ‘irrecoverable losses’. This can only be determined by divisional strength reports, and replacement sent or/and received reports, to HQs at a later date.


In Nigel’s view, we should forget unit operational readiness loss percentages if you want to talk about irrecoverable losses. Especially if this is the only data available. You have to go beyond individual unit reports and short time frames to get the real numbers for battles and campaigns from higher level command reports (eg corps or higher, or totals over a campaign) over longer periods.  I would like to express my thanks to Nigel Askey for his insights and sharing his opinion.  While I may not completely agree with his view to only consider irrecoverable losses I believe that this discussion has provided me with a new perspective to consider and shown the knowledge and extent of consideration he has given to this issue.

With Sincere Thanks,


1941 - Eastern Front

22 June 1941 – Soviet Mechanized Corps in the Kiev Special Military District

Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union commenced 22 June 1941.  It was the largest invasion to ever occur in European History and included not only Germany, but Italy, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia, and Finland invading the Soviet Union that was aided by the Commonwealth and United States through lend lease.

Prior to the commencement of Barbarossa, the Soviet theory was that the German attack would focus on the south into the Ukraine where the majority of resources were located.  When the invasion occurred, the German emphasis was on the centre region (Western District) through Army Group Centre.  In the Ukraine, the Kiev Special Military District had 7 Mechanized Corps attached to it.

The questions I would like to examine are focused on the effectiveness of soviet mechanized corps in June/July 1941.  In particular:

  1. Formation of the Mechanized Corps
  2. Location at the commencement of Operation Barbarossa
  3.  Readiness of the Mechanized Corps prior to June 1941
  4.  Operations that occurred during June/July 1941
  5.  Effect in stopping/slowing down the German forces in June/Jul 1941
  6.  Limitations
  7. Lessons learnt from the engagements and how they were incorporated into future mechanized and tank corps doctrine



Review of: Stalin’s Favorite: The Combat History of the 2nd Guards Tank Army from Kursk to Berlin

Stalins Favorite

Stalin’s Favorite was a book that I was looking forward to reading and now that I am, I can honestly say it was worth the wait.  It is incredibly detailed, yet unique in my experience in the English langue to read such a rich history so beautifully displayed.

Each chapter focuses on a particular combat operation ending in this volume in Romania in 1944.  The chapter begins with an overview of the operation, key orders, day by day combat descriptions, the after action reviews conducted, and key combatants who received medals or recognition in that operation.  There are plenty of tables listing day by day tank and personal readiness which is a treasure trove of information.

Some surprising facts in reading this book were:

1. As much as the Germans will remark upon the mud, rain, and snow, it also affected the Soviet forces equally. In both winter engagements (Jan/Feb 1943 and 1944) the weather had an adverse effect on the Army’s mobility and supply.  This book goes into the inability to transport artillery shells to support the operation.

2. During the battle of Kursk the Army was deployed on the Northern Front and this clearly lays out the three options that were developed in response to possible German actions prior to the commencement of operations. Day by day action is recounted and when the 16th Tank Corps conducts a disorganized assault and has the 107th Brigade decimated the failure in this action is laid bare. However, subsequent actions are also shown as being more successful contributing to the overall Soviet success at Kursk.

3. The Sevesk Operation is interesting in differentiating first day casualties in causing a breach and an inability to follow through on the offensive.  The change in German tank tactics, to engaging at 1500 – 2000 m was interesting to note.

4. Korsun, I have read the book “The Korsun Pocket” by Niklas Zetterling and while he talks about the challenges facing the German army in extracting Group Stemmermann due to the weather, he rarely utilizes Russian sources to show the impact the mud had on the mobility of the 2nd Guards Army in responding to the German push. This book is a welcomed and opposing counterpoint to this novel.

I was surprised to see the continued use of light tanks in the Army until 1944. Prior to the Korsun engagements the tank formations consist roughly 1/3 T-70 and 2/3rds T-34. The first mention of SU-85’s and JS-1’s (with the 85mm) is in the battles of the Korsun Pocket. The common perception that in 1943 the USSR had SU-85’s and in 1944 T-34/85’s is, at least from this armies perspective, false. I am aware that latter in 1944 they will receive T-34/85’s and JS-2’s and I am looking forward to reading how the army sees these tanks as an improvement. There is no doubt though, that for a period of almost a year in 43/44 the German tanks outclassed everything the USSR had.

For anyone interested in the eastern front and the Russian perspective of operations at the Brigade to Army level I would highly recommend this book, from operational summaries, to lessons learnt, and notable actions it is a wealth of information. I look forward to the second volume and the continued actions of this tank army.