The Russian Way of War: Operational Art, 1904-1940

Article excerpt

The Russian Way of War: Operational Art, 1904-1940 by Richard W. Harrison. University Press of Kansas (http://www.kansaspress.ku. edu), 2501 West 15th Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66049-3905, 2001, 368 pages, $39.95.

In the summer of 1941, the Red Army was nearly annihilated during the opening phases of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. Poorly led, improperly deployed, and in the midst of reorganizing and reequipping, even the finest and most lavishly equipped Soviet formations fared poorly in their initial confrontations with the German army. Yet, following the catastrophes of 1941, the Red Army recovered and was able to conduct ever more complex and effective operations, ultimately grinding down the Wehrmacht.

Sheer weight of numbers-both human and material-certainly played a part, but the stereotype of the "Soviet juggernaut" is only part of the story. This significant, major study is more concerned with examining the intellectual and theoretical roots of this remarkable resurgence. Harrison has produced a concise, thoroughly researched examination of the development of "the operational art" in tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union. In the author's own words, this study strives to illuminate "the rich heritage of operational thought and practice accumulated by the Soviet army and its imperial predecessor" (p. 1). The result is an exceptionally readable and convincing "intellectual history" of an army.

Systematic study of the operational level of war-- defined in Soviet parlance as "the connecting link between strategy and tactics" (p. 2)-is essentially a twentieth-century phenomenon. Dramatic advances in the practice of war, including the expansion of armies, increased weapons range and lethality, and the advent of modern command and control, necessitated changes in military thought. The author convincingly argues that operational art represents "a distinctly Russian response" to these challenges.

Harrison develops a series of quantitative "indices"-number of troops engaged, length of front, depth of operation, and duration. He argues that significant increases across several indices amounted to a qualitative change in the military art and that the Soviets developed new terminology and concepts to confront this change. His excellent narrative traces the development of Russian/Soviet operational thinking from the Russo-Japanese war through military symposia and war games on the eve of Operation Barbarossa. …