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    I have only one comment to make on Maj Alfred B. Ruggles’ article “We Should Study More Dead Russians”.

    Maj Ruggles states:

    While many apologists claim tactical and operational-level commanders were hindered by an increasingly unhinged Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s mismanagement of his armed forces paled in comparison to Josef Stalin’s terrible treatment of his military forces.

    Comparing “Hitler’s mismanagement” of the German Army with Stalin’s “terrible treatment of his military forces” — I assume Maj Ruggles is referring to the Great Purge of 1936-1938 when Stalin decimated the officer ranks of the Red Army — is not only comparing apples to oranges, but is irrelevant in the context of his overall argument.

    Until exacting vengeance for the failed 20 July 1944 coup d’état attempted by Generals and General Staff Officers, Hitler fired generals; he rarely executed them. Being fired by Hitler — who started firing Generals in December 1941 when the Wehrmacht was in dire straits on the Eastern Front — is in no way comparable to being executed by Stalin for being an “enemy of the people” prior to the war.

    Ask one question: would you whether be a Soviet Marshal in 1937 or a German General in 1943 — facing the wrath of your national leader (dictator) and his normal modus operandi for dealing with military leaders he considered a problem? There is no comparison.


    In response to Maj Alfred Ruggles’s “We Should Study More Dead Russians; and spend less time studying the German way of war,” (MCG, Nov19), I applaud Maj Ruggles for his zeal to help the Corps become better warfighters. We have come a long way since the late 1970s and early ‘80s when we saw the need to get ready to fight the “next big one,” which was thought to be against the Soviets.

    As Head of Tactics Instruction and teaching tactics at the Amphibious Warfare School, 1979–1982, I was heavily involved in the revamping which lead to the development of “maneuver warfare.” Yes, we studied the Germans a lot because we thought we were going to be fighting the Russians. There were living German veterans who had faced the Russians on the battlefield, and we wanted to understand the lessons they learned in so doing. In 1979, certainly the Russians were not going to coach us on how to fight them.

    My study of the Germans began with my 1976 study of the Russo-Finnish Winter War, 1939-40, which was followed by their “Continuation War” against the Russians, 1941-44. In both cases, the Finns with their “Motti tactics” made a good account of themselves against the Russians, though badly outnumbered. The title I gave my research paper on the subject was “How the Finns Stayed Free,” thus recognizing that while there was no decisive victory over the Russians, Finland survived as a free and independent nation—unlike the states across the Baltic (Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia). Finnish soldiers had fought the Russians, and I wanted to know what they learned.

    Through the 1970s, I wanted to find veterans who fought against the Russians so we could learn as much as we could about what fighting Russians was like should the Cold War turn hot. In studying the Finnish experience, I soon discovered that the Finns had learned much of what they applied against the Soviets from the Germans who supported the Finns for strategic reasons. Also, in my quest to talk to veterans who had experience fighting Russians, interviews with German veterans of World War II’s Eastern Front were a natural. There were certainly many more German veterans to talk to than there were Finns. Germany deployed nearly four million soldiers on the Eastern Front compared to a Finnish deployment against Russia numbering about 350,000 in the Winter War.

    One of my early opportunities was an interview with a former German colonel, Hans Pestke, who was in the United States during 1983 to visit his daughter. Following participation in the invasion of France in 1940, he deployed to the Eastern Front in 1941 and fought the Russians as he rose in grade from captain to colonel. We published the interview in the Gazette in October 1983. I also had the opportunity to meet personally and talk with retired German Gen Friederich von Mellenthin, who had served as Gen Herman Balck’s Chief of Staff in the battles of Kursk and Kiev and during the German retreat through Ukraine. I asked: What was it like at the Division level to do battle with the Soviet Army? What did you learn about them? What strengths and weaknesses did you discover about them and how did you take advantage of what you discovered?

    Vietnam—my war—was the experience that in so many ways shaped my propensity to keep studying after I was back in the United States after the war. Never did I then, nor do I now, look back at that part of my life—commanding a rifle company in Vietnam—as a “loss.” We knew, and our Government knew, that if we would have been ordered to go North and seize North Vietnam, we could have and would have. Against the North Vietnamese in the field, never did I have a sense of “losing.” Regarding the strategic level, I prefer that we had fought GenVictor Krulak’s war instead of GEN William Westmoreland’s, but the sudden transition from President John F. Kennedy to President Lyndon B. Johnson caused it to be otherwise. Even still, in the field—the Marine Corp against North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong guerrillas—my Marines never lost even a single infantry firefight. It is a myth that we, at the company level, had at our disposal a lot of air support. We got it when we could, but most often it was rifleman against riflemen. It is riflemen who make opposing riflemen throw up their hands and surrender, and Marines won. Taking prisoners who came to us with hands raised above their heads was a common experience. Yet never, not once, did any of my Marines so capitulate. That says a good deal about who was out-maneuvering whom and driving him to futility—as one must do in order to win wars.

    Though I disagree with Maj Ruggles that we somehow became Germanophiles in the so-called “reform” years, post-Vietnam, I applaud him for caring and his readiness to “crack the books” and study the art of war—as employed by no matter whom.

    However, the Cold War and the Soviet Union are now history, and what the Russians were doing in the 1940s actually has little to do with their tactical modus operandi today. In the 1940s (and earlier, according to centuries of history) it was massive assaults with seemingly little regard for the enormous casualties suffered by Russian infantry. Then in the 1980s, as the Cold War continued and I served in O.S.D., 1983-4, we were confident our superior tactics would make up for what we lacked in numbers, considering the Soviets’ fighting style back then. As prospects grew over the possibility of a United States-Soviet confrontation in Europe, it was the Soviets who “blinked first,” even though they outnumbered us.

    But that was then, and this is now. I still have a vivid memory of the Marine Corps Gazette’s publisher in my office at Quantico, VA, mid-1970s. “You know, Mike,” he said, referring to Gazette articles that were appearing then on how we might fight the Soviets, “every month I send a copy of our latest edition to the Kremlin. They never miss a payment on their subscription.”

    Clearly, they did read what we were writing. Though now in the 21st century, their army is smaller than it was in the Cold War; however, it is far better in terms of leadership and combat savvy as well as in terms of tactics—much more like our own.

    Of course, we need to be ready—for anything. To fight the Russians now, after the old Soviet Empire is long gone, would be a travesty. Not just politically but culturally, Russians and Americans have much in common. The several Russians I have come to know admire our American freedoms, and we share many of our tastes in art and music. Our Christian heritages also bring us together.

    Quite recently, this past 17 and 18 October, I visited Quantico for the first time in several years. My visit featured a reunion with the Marines who had been my students as captains in the Amphibious Warfare School, 1981-82; followed by a morning sit down with President of the Marine Corps University, Gen Jay Bergeron, and his Chief of Staff, Col John Lemons. In Quantico’s Breckinridge Hall, as I awaited my appointment with the general, I chatted with officers of all Services as they arrived for class as Command and Staff College students. They were highly motivated and brimming with intellectual curiosity. When I came back home, I was on cloud nine with memories of the struggle and controversy that so marked much of my (and our) quest for change in the 1980s, especially the study of military history and the creation of a professional reading list (originally the Amphibious Warfare School reading list, which, thanks to the insightfulness of Gen Alfred M. Gray, would become the Marine Corps Reading List).

    The old argument that so confounded me in the ‘80s, “Let’s just do it like we’ve always done it,” is dead and gone now at Quantico, I discovered to my elation. Today’s attitude among Marines is, “Let’s keep building on what we’ve learned—and do it better and better, while all the while looking for new ways to win.” Everything from H. M. Smith, to George Patton, to Georgy Zhukov, to Erwin Rommel, and including the Maoist-trained guerrillas is game for study. Add to the list Marshal Mannerheim of Finland.

    From a personal standpoint, while still on active duty, I took the opportunity to gain insights into the Russian way of war both then and now. As a Marine major, I enrolled in an on-campus graduate program at George Washington University, Washington, D.C. My Master’s Degree is in “Russian and Military History.” My classes were in the evenings after work. I was mentored by some great professors, several of them of Russian heritage. In fact, one, the late Dr. Vladimir Petrov, was granted a commission as a captain in the German Army after escaping from a Stalinist labor camp during World War II.

    Maj Ruggles, welcome to the club. Let us all work together in the spirit I found to be so alive at Quantico last October. I look forward to further interaction. Regarding those Russians, since we have it on good authority that the Soviet Army command never missed a copy of the Marine Corps Gazette through the ‘70s and ‘80s, I do not for a moment think they are not reading it now. So-called “maneuver warfare,” as developed and practiced by Marines, is studied currently by Estonia, the Army of the Netherlands, the French Foreign Legion, and many others—including the Russians.

    As Marines, let’s work together. It is not whom we study, but what we study. It is not the nationality, but the tactics and strategies that have worked and that have changed—or failed to change—to meet the needs of changing situations. Go back to Napoleon, study his victories and the Russian victories over him—or was it the Russian “mud season” and ensuing winter that gets credit for the win? Napoleon’s encounter with Duke Wellington at Waterloo adds yet another dimension.

    Armies change character based on their perceived needs and imminent threats, not their national culture, race, or language. The Russian Army of the 21st century is not the Soviet Army of 1945 or the Russian Army of 1812. It is near to a diametrically opposed opposite. It is formidable both in tactics and equipment. Additionally, we better study today’s Chinese. But it is not about nationality! There is no single way of fighting that defines a nationality, race, or culture. Each culture can adapt and change, and will do so if they have the drive and determination. It is about what works and what wins.

    But as in everything, however, there is an exception: There is one culture that has come to stand above the others world-wide through dedication and never-ending study and training. It has instilled a sense of duty in its warfighters as has no other in history. It is like a tribe. They are ready to fight, and they are going to win—every time—because they work together, study, and keep current with changing situations. They do not build fences around whom they study. They study everybody who is relevant. They are the he United States Marines. What works is we Marines, when we work together.
    Col Michael Wyly, USMC(Ret)

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by Harley.
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