| Changes in the political configuration of the
Soviet Union's western frontier, which occurred in
1939-1940, brought the necessity of numerous
corrections in the Soviet strategic defence plans.
Since the spring of 1940 those corrections had been
made at the General Staff, and involved Marshal
Boris Shaposhnikov (Chief of the General Staff),
Gen. Nikolay Vatutin (Chief of Operations of the
General Staff), Gen. Alexander Vasilevskiy (Deputy
Chief of Operations of the General Staff), Gen.
Kirill Meretskov (Deputy People's Commissar for
Defence), Gen. Gherman Malandin (Deputy People's
Commissar for Defence), Gen. Andrei Anisov (Deputy
People's Commissar for Defence), Gen. Georgiy Zhukov
(Commander of the Kiev Special Military District),
and many lower-ranking officers of the General
Staff. Gen. Vasilevskiy thus wrote about that work:
We were working concertedly and hard. Operational
plans occupied all our thoughts on those days. Nazi Germany was deemed
the most probable, and main, opponent. It was accepted that Italy would
enter the war alongside Germany, but she would limit herself, as it was
specified in the plans, to the military operations in the Balkans to
create a menace to our southern frontiers.
Most likely on the German side would operate Finland (whose leadership
embraced pro-German stance after the fall of France and the disaster of
the English troops at Dunkirk), Romania (Germany's typical "raw material
appendage" since 1939,
which in the summer of 1940 completely abandoned the policy of
neutrality and sided with the fascist block), and Hungary (at that time a
member of the "Anticomintern Pact" as well). B. M. Shaposhnikov
favoured the view that an armed conflict may be limited to the western
frontiers of the USSR. In that case the operational plans foresaw
concentration of the main forces in the west. Although those plans did
not exclude a Japanese attack on our Far East, they provided for
concentrating there forces sufficient to maintain stable situation.
Furthermore, as we discussed the direction of the probable enemy thrust,
B. M. Shaposhnikov maintained that the most convenient to Germany, and
therefore the most probable, was deployment of the bulk of the German
forces in the north to the mouth of the River San. Our plans provided,
accordingly, for deployment of our main forces along the line from the
Baltic coast to Polesye, that is in the operational zones of the
North-Western and Western Fronts. The southern sectors were assigned to
two Fronts as well, but with lesser number of troops and equipment.
Overall, it was expected that Germany woud need 10 to 15 days to deploy
its forces along our borders, beginning from their concentration.
Possible dates of attack were not discussed. Those were general plans.
Those plans, along with the plan of the strategic deployment of the Red
Army forces were reported directly to I. V. Stalin in September 1940 in
the presence of some members of the Party's Political Bureau. (...)
As he commented on the most probable direction of the enemy thrust, I.
V. Stalin voiced his point of view. According to him, in case of war,
Germany would try to concentrate its main efforts not in the centre of
what would become the line of the Germano-Soviet front, but in the
south-west, in order to wrestle from us our most valuable economical,
industrial and agricultural, areas. Therefore, the General Staff
received orders to re-work the plans to bear in mind amassing the bulk
of our forces in the south-western sector. [Василевский А. М. (1978)
New plans foresaw that the war from the onset would
assume protracted and heavily materiel course, and that in the initial
phase the Germans would not risk to engage th bulk of their forces in
fights, but they would gradually introduce fresh troops in the sectors
where they gain local successes. Therefore, the Soviet plan foresaw
organizing the Red Army's forces in two strategic echelons. The forces
of the first strategic echelon, comprising resources of the five
westernmost military districts, received the following orders:
Second strategic echelon, formed along the line of
the rivers Dnieper and Western Dvina, had to be introduced in fights
after the collapse of the German initial offensive with the task of
unfolding counter-offensive operations, crushing the German forces in
the main sectors of hostilities, and conducting major strategic
operations coming out of the actual military situation.
- to prevent incursion of the enemy forces into the Soviet territory;
- to cover, through flexible and active defence, based on the system
of so-called fortified districts, areas of concentration and deployment
of the Red Army's second strategic echelon;
- to organize anti-air defence and air force operations to maintain
regular railway communication, and uninterrupted transfer and deployment
of the troops;
- to scout the areas of concentration and strength of the engaged enemy units and reserves;
- to wrestle the command of the air from the enemy;
- to disorganize concentration, and to stall the advance of the
enemy troops through attacks on railway nodes, bridges, and
Soviet military and state authorities reviewed that plan twice in
February and April 1941, and received the final approval upon
implementation of Stalin's directive to concentrate the main effort in
the south-western direction. Operational deployment of the first echelon
units according to the strategic defence plan was accepted, and
respective orders were communicated to the appropriate commands in the
beginning of May 1941. The operational deployment provided for the
following organization of the Soviet defences:
To the support of the land forces were designated
the naval forces of the Northern Fleet (Adm. Arseniy Golovko), Baltic
Fleet (Adm. Vladimir Tributs), and Black Sea Fleet (Adm. Filipp Oktyabrsky), as well as units of long-range bomber aviation.
- Leningrad Military District (Gen. Markian Popov)
was assigned to assume defences along the Finnish frontier, from
Murmansk and Petsamo on the Barents Sea to Vyborg on the Gulf of
Finland, and farther along the coast to Tallin. Altogether, the
Leningrad Military District deployed 18 infantry divisions and 4
armoured divisions along the 1670km-long front.
- Baltic Special Military District (Gen. Fyodor Kuznetsov) was assigned to defence of the Baltic coast from Tallin to Memel (Klaipeda), and the frontier
from Memel to Grodno along the River Niemen. Altogether it had to cover a
720km-long front with the centre of gravity between Tilsit and Grodno,
where were concentrated most of the District's 26 divisions, including all 4 armoured divisions.
- Western Special Military District (Gen. Dmitry Pavlov)
was assigned to cover the 470km-long front from Grodno to Wlodawa with
the centre of gravity around Grodno and Minsk. Gen. Pavlov had 44
divisions under his command, including the most worthy armoured ones.
- Kiev Special Military District (Gen. Mikhail Kirponos) was assigned to defence of a 860km-long frontier from Wlodawa to Lipkany.
- Odessa Military District (Gen. Yakov Cherevichenko)
was assigned to defence of the state border from Lipkany to the Black
Sea along the 650km-long front, where it had deployed the 9th Army, and
the 2nd and 18th Mechanized Corps.
A particular feature of the deployment of the Soviet defences was that
each army, despite of having stretched its defence sectors, detached
strong units for the second line, and assigned to counter-attacking
enemy forces wedging into the first line. Effectively, 63 infantry
divisions were deployed along the first line of the Soviet defence,
while 51 divisions, including all the armoured and mechanized ones, were
deployed along in the second line and reserves. Some 100 to 150 km
behind the second line, military districts deployed 45 reserve
divisions, and another 20 divisions were detached to the strategic
reserve of the Supreme Command.
To make those plans true, in May and the beginning of June about 800
thousand reservists were mobilized and sent to reinforce divisions of
the first line. Also, it was decided to transfer 28 infantry divisions
from the central to the frontier provinces of the USSR, and to create
new armies: 16th (Gen. Mikhail Lukin), 19th (Gen. Ivan Konev), 20th
(Gen. Fyodor Remezov), 21st (Gen. Vasiliy Gerasimenko), and 22nd (Gen.
Filipp Yershov). However, the process of reinforcement had not been
finished before the outbreak of the war. Thus, instead of the planned 63
divisions the first line of strategic defence was formed of 56
divisions and 100,000 border guards. The second line was formed of 52
divisions, that is slightly more than planned, but they were incomplete
and deployed some 100 to 150 km behind the first line. Reserves
comprised 62 divisions at various stages of formation, and they were
deployed as an average 400km from the western border.
Therefore, the Soviet leadership strove to gain by all means time to
increase combat capabilities of the elements of the strategic grouping.
Very characteristic in this question are Kirill Meretskov's memoirs, who
recalled the conversation with the people's commissar for defence,
Marshal Semyon Timoshenko on 21 June 1941, who outlined to him the main
concern of that time:
Previous directives are still valid. To win peace for the country, as
much as possible: a year, six months, a month. We shall gather the
harvest. We shall build new factories. More mechanized corps shall be
formed. We shall launch production of the fast aircraft. May be the
international situation will improve. But if it won't, if the war breaks
out anyway, not now, but later, it'll be easier to wage it. We must win
time whatever it takes! Another month, another two weeks, another week.
May be the war will start tomorrow. But we must do everything possible
so it won't start tomorrow. Do everything possible and a little bit of
impossible. Don't surrender to provocations; after all the treaty with
Germany is enacted. Don't go with the flow, but take the situation under
control, manage it, stream it into the right direction, and make it to
work for the concepts we have worked out. But what can we do today so
the war will not start tomorrow? [Мерецков К. А. (1968)