Historian

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,

-AR-

Image source: http://www.glantzbooks.com/

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Historian

“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.

Conclusion

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?
Historian

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

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Introduction

I had the pleasure of having some email correspondence with Nigel Askey, the author of http://www.operationbarbarossa.net/, 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.

Destroyed_T_34
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.

Conclusion

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,

-AR-

Historian, SIGINT, Soviet Radio Reconnaissance, Uncategorized

Learning About the Past

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by the conflicts that occurred on the Eastern Front during World War 2.  The size and scope of it is beyond my comprehension.  Conflict stretching from the Arctic Circle to the Black Sea, from Stalingrad in the East to Vienna in the West.  Millions of people fought and died in these four years, not just Germans and Russians, but Finish, Romanian, Italian, Hungarian, Ukrainian, Polish, among a host of nationalities.  It was a conflict that drew combatants from all across Europe and Asia but was not limited to military combatants.  It drew civilian and military alike into the conflict.  It was a conflict, the likes of which I hope is never seen again.

I want to understand how this war was fought.  I would like to understand not just the why but the how, and what occured to the best of my ability.  To this end, I will ask questions, seek insights, and hope that the community at large can assist me in finding answers that will hopefully shed some insight on how, why, and who fought in this conflict.

Thank you for your time, and I hope that these questions, comments, and posts I put forth inspire, entertain, and inform you.

-AR-