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Post How to Explain Soviet Motivation in WWII
Created by John Eipper on 06/20/19 7:46 AM

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How to Explain Soviet Motivation in WWII (Tor Guimaraes, USA, 06/20/19 7:46 am)

I found Cameron Sawyer's post of June 20th very informative, but I am somewhat contrary and surprised by his hesitation about one important point: "The main factor [for Soviet WWII success] was the Soviet military-industrial complex, with important support from Lend-Lease. Besides that, effective Soviet strategy and military doctrine, and then lastly, the high level of motivation and morale in the Soviet Army."

I agree that Cameron nailed the three most important factors but disagree in their order. While all three were critical, to me his last factor is my first, and the first was third. Without the high level of motivation and morale in the Soviet Army, the other two would fall apart. This is particularly important when you consider that such motivation also applies to the highly motivated mostly women doing the work in military production. Further, I was surprised by Cameron's hesitation regarding the reason for such motivation.

To me the reason is absolutely clear: The power of the German Barbarossa attack was the opening of the gates of hell. The violence and atrocities against Russian military and innocent civilians must have made the Russian people aware that it was a war for survival or doomsday for the whole nation. Under such conditions people get very extremely motivated, fearful and hateful. Also, Stalin went from a near nervous breakdown person to an impressive leader. Amazingly despite his horrible past misdeeds he became the father of the nation. He even learned not to mess with military tactics after some hard lessons, and let Zhukov run the show. Needless to say under Zhukov, Soviet strategic and tactical military performance overall was impressive throughout the war.

While Soviet industrial revolution under Stalin was amazing and critical to winning the war, the US was the arsenal of democracy. Once the British and US governments understood the Russian would fight seriously, Lend-Lease would have been stepped up. Yes, it would have taken much longer for the Soviets to have turned things around as they did, and they would not arrived in Berlin as quickly. The point is without competent and motivated military people, hardware means much less. Without much production, competent and motivated military might still win the war.

JE comments:  Wartime morale is a tricky concept.  You can possibly only measure it after the fact.  Has there ever been a case of a nation winning a war despite having lower morale?  Think of an example we're familiar with:  the US Civil War.  The Confederacy probably had higher morale until 1863 or 1864, but then we know what happened.  It's a tautology:  nothing defeats morale more than...defeat.

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  • Wartime Morale (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/20/19 5:00 PM)
    John Eipper commented on my post of June 20th, "Wartime morale is a tricky concept. You can possibly only measure it after the fact. Has there ever been a case of a nation winning a war despite having lower morale?"

    All great leaders know the great importance of their followers' morale and motivation for accomplishing difficult tasks. Measuring such feelings accurately is indeed vary challenging. However, after observing the results from actions and reactions between two opponents, their morale and motivation levels become clear.

    John mentioned the US Civil War as an example of a situation where the North won despite having lower morale, destroying the Confederate homelands and armies, thus destroying their morale. I interpret things differently. Both sides had good morale but the South had better military leadership until Grant was in charge. He made all the difference.

    Once recruited soldiers soon form very strong emotional bonds with their close fellow soldiers. They hate letting their buddies down come hell or high water. That become their main motivation to face death and suffering day after day. If we add good leadership to this basis then we have a strong army. Logistics becomes the next critical ingredient for success.

    Despite all that, wide disparity in military technology (broadly defined) can have a devastating effect. Thus despite opponents being equally motivated, the Polish army in WWII found totally futile to attack German tanks with cavalry. History is full of such examples where new weapons, new tactics, etc. can have devastating effect. In the US Civil War, after Grant took a drubbing from the Confederate forces, he just regrouped and moved forward toward Richmond. Historians tell us that his troops cheered that they were going after the enemy and had plans to finish the war which had been absolutely murderous already. That seems like great morale to me.

    Last, I see the US "victories" in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. as clear examples where total military supremacy by technology has won the wars to at least some extent, despite the fact that the American people want to get out. Unfortunately the political and military leadership profit from such interminable wars, thus you have to say they have a strong morale and motivation to make money, create distractions (for political purposes), and do their business. In other words, the nature of war has changed dramatically; it is a tool for profit and power. We can win at least temporarily through weapons supremacy as long as the people don't get too strongly against the horrendous costs in resources, life, and sneaky costs like making more enemies in the future.

    JE comments:  The US North had very low morale from McClellan's "Peninsula" campaign (1862) until Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863.  But this is my perception as a lifetime Civil War buff.  How do you really measure morale?

    The notion of Polish cavalry attacks on German tanks is the next WWII canard to be debunked by Cameron Sawyer.  Tune in early tomorrow!

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    • Morale during US Civil War (Tor Guimaraes, USA 06/25/19 5:35 AM)
      I agree with Cameron Sawyer's observations that Poles have had great military skills and successes. They have also produced some great scientists and mathematicians. However, I did see a video of Polish cavalry attacking a Panzer unit (tanks and infantry). Was that fake news?

      John Eipper's comments on my 21 June post ("The US North had very low morale from McClellan's 'Peninsula' campaign [1862] until Vicksburg and Gettysburg in July 1863. But this is my perception as a lifetime Civil War buff. How do you really measure morale?") made me realize that a nation may have low morale about a war but some sub-groups or individuals may concurrently have high morale. The term "morale" is used to represent the level of satisfaction of an individual with the whole situation; it is a group concept. The term "motivation" is more important to me because it is an individual concept: the willingness of a person to do his best to get something done. One can feel high morale (satisfaction with the situation) but not engage in whatever it takes to win the struggle.

      Last, while the US nation had some morale problems, since JE is a Civil War buff, he knows that Grant when it comes to the US Civil War had a very high motivation to win from the beginning, before he was instrumental in conquering Vicksburg. He believed that Confederates were traitors for breaking up the nation, and needed to be put down.

      JE comments:  The New York City "Draft Riots" of July 1863, which caused 120 deaths, were perhaps the lowest point of Union morale.  The ability of wealthy men to pay for a substitute gave fuel to the notion that it was a "rich man's war and a poor man's fight."  Tragically, most of the rioters' rage was directed against African Americans.

      Gary Moore has long studied mob violence.  Gary, what insight can you give us on the NYC Draft Riots?

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      • Polish Cavalry Charging German Panzers? (Edward Jajko, USA 06/28/19 3:30 AM)
        A response to Tor Guimaraes (June 25) and his, on the one hand, rather dismissive brush-off of the accomplishments of the land of my heritage (Poland) and, on the other, revival of a nasty canard from WWII on the basis of an alleged video of Polish cavalry attacking German tanks (which side made this supposed movie?): It's enough to make one wish to call down anathemas from God the Universe, were that possible.

        If Tor wants videos on this subject, let him look on YouTube under "Polish cavalry against German tanks." For further information, let him look in Wikipedia under "Charge at Krojanty."

        The initial responsibility for this canard lies in the hands of Italian journalists of the Fascist era, notably Indro Alessandro Raffaello Schizogene [!] Montanelli of Corriere della Sera, who jumped to a wrong post hoc, ergo propter hoc conclusion. He viewed the aftermath of the above-referenced battle and found dead uhlans and horses and clear evidence that tanks and armored cars had been in the fight. Ergo, the wrong conclusion, which was reinforced later in the memoir of Heinz Guderian.

        JE comments:  You cannot make up a name like Indro Alessandro Raffaello Schizogene Montanelli.  Our own Tim Ashby is a distant relative of Heinz Guderian, and Cameron Sawyer has long been a student of his tactics.  Did Guderian make the claim that the Poles charged his tanks with horses?  Why would he write such a thing, especially after the war?  It would hardly cloak his panzers in glory to admit they were effective against cavalry but useless when faced with Soviet T-34s.

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        • Indro Alessandro Raffaello Schizogene Montanelli (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 06/30/19 4:46 AM)
          Our friend Edward Jajko (28 June) seems rather annoyed by Indro Raffaello Schizogene (!) Montanelli. Ed even makes fun of the real surname of Montanelli--and this coming from a native of a nation famous for its unpronounceable names!

          But Montanelli's mistake, shared by the "great" Shirer, may be understandable. Italian public opinion, from Mussolini down to the last citizen, had a great liking for the Poles and later for the Finns, to whom arms were sent and volunteers came forward.

          Do not forget that during WWII Italy was the only country that really was friendly towards Poland and unselfishly tried to help.  Consider Mussolini's letter to Hitler, open borders for refugees, money sent through Ms Frassati, a friend of Mussolini, married to the Polish diplomat Gasvronski. Such acts were a great irritation to the Third Reich.

          However if the the Polish government was not foolish enough to order a charge against German Panzers on horses, it nonetheless after the death of Pilsudski embarked on a foolish campaign against Germany (and the USSR), even printing maps of the new hoped-for borders going back to nine centuries earlier and the time of Bolelasw I Chobry. It moreover claimed to be able to reach Berlin within a fortnight. On top of this, add the persecution of the German minority (or ex-majority) in some areas. Of course it is now politically correct to forget these things.

          Montanelli was generally a good journalist who also wrote some history books (very light). He was not a dedicated fascist. After the war he might have been considered a European liberal and for that he was shot and injured by the Red Brigades. Interestingly, he married a 14-year-old Eritrean girl (he was 26). She then became the wife of one of his Eritrean soldiers.

          Theoretically Edward is correct about the United Kingdom united by the monarchy, but in practice it is now more a "disunited" kingdom kept united by some old medieval tradition that however has a good record of integration of foreigners (Germans).

          JE comments:  It was the "Schizogene" part that took Ed Jajko aback, methinks.  Wikipedia tells us that Montanelli tried to write with a "milkman from Ohio" as his intended audience.  I take this to mean simply and clearly.  Today he might reference Joe the Plumber, another Everyman from Ohio.  (There aren't many milkmen left.)

          Eugenio Battaglia brings up the matter of Polish provocations to Germany.  I've always thought of this as Nazi propaganda to justify the invasion, but is there any substance?  Granted, even if you print a map of a medieval "Greater Poland," it doesn't warrant starting a war.

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      • Anti-Black Violence: Cincinnati 1841 (from Gary Moore) (John Eipper, USA 07/02/19 3:14 AM)

        Gary Moore writes:

        John Eipper considerately asked me to contribute on the subject of violent
        public feelings (riots and morale) in the North during the American Civil War.
        Rather than looking at the war's well-known draft riots, I'd like to point out
        some neglected bellwethers: a string of largely anti-black riots in the booming
        Cincinnati area in the 1830s-1850s. One reason: these may involve perhaps
        the first documented instance of a written ethnic cleansing plan in the nation's
        troubled racial history. Another reason: a shocked eyewitness (looking down
        on a burning city from the Ohio River bluffs) was Harriett Beecher Stowe,
        the fulcrum of the century a few years later when she wrote Uncle Tom's

        Beneath the polemics and hagiography on the Civil War, one of its mysteries
        is how Northern opinion so suddenly turned anti-slavery, so intensely. As late
        as the 1820s, abolitionists in the North were widely viewed as sentimentalist
        fanatics oblivious to the value of national unity, and were mobbed and denounced.
        Northerners doing so included some reverse sentimentalists along the lines of
        Pittsburgh's Stephen Foster ("Way down upon de Swanny Ribber..."), who idealized
        plantation life, but many vaguely envisioned slavery as being only an obnoxious
        national wart, not worth the cost of removal. Meanwhile, slavery was explosively
        growing, as Northern and European manufacturing advances demanded cotton for
        fabrics. Waves of pioneer planters pushed west, mass-buying so many slaves for
        new empires that trader-speculators were said to break up perhaps one in three slave
        marriages in the old settled regions. The occasional smuggling ship was still bringing in
        Africans (the Middle Passage had been outlawed since 1808), and movements like the
        Knights of the Golden Circle, unsung precursor of the as-yet-unborn Klan, made it
        clear that Southern hopes for a newly conquered slave imperium as far south as
        Panama and across the Caribbean (the Golden Circle) were very real and serious.
        The sources of this picture are all the more credible by their rejection of some of
        the more flagrant anti-slavery myths, such as supposed clandestine "stud farms"
        for depraved breeding.

        In the middle was "the Queen City of the West," Cincinnati, trading with slave-owners
        in Kentucky just across the Ohio River and beginning to divide explosively over large numbers
        of slaves escaping north. The Cincinnati riot of 1841 targeted a neighborhood housing such
        arrivals, accused as a crime nexus, with a tumultuous vigilante-style meeting prior to
        the riot producing a morbid scrap of paper showing how the neighborhood was to be erased.
        In the event, the rioters (disowned by many other whites) used a six-pounder cannon in efforts
        to seek their goal, but fell short, as mob fantasies often do when tested against resistant
        reality. The gun boomed through the nighttime glare of flames that could be seen from high
        on the bluffs where Harriet Beecher Stowe then lived. The family compound was at Lane Seminary,
        run by her distinguished father Lyman Beecher, both an abolitionist and a vehement anti-Catholic, who accidentally helped incite the burning of the Ursuline Convent in Massachusetts
        in 1834. The national landscape of passions and demonizations (i.e., "morale") was
        a complicated morass.

        And now fast-forward from Stowe to a figure of later fame, militia colonel John Chivington,
        who, while the Civil War still raged, led a Colorado massacre targeting peaceful, pro-settler Indians,
        in this case the Black Kettle faction of the Cheyenne. Chivington was tried and came to be nationally
        loathed, but his past before his 1864 massacre was somewhat obscured. He had been a
        dedicated Unionist, and he hated the institution of slavery, giving up a career as a preacher
        to join the Union army to help stamp slavery out. The westernmost fastnesses of the Civil War in
        New Mexico remembered Chivington as a hero, but forgot that he won the 1862 Battle of Glorieta
        Pass by a massive supply-line massacre--in this case of Confederate pack animals, apparently hundreds
        of them. War is brutal and transport is an established target, but Chivington seemed to be followed
        by a penchant for mass solutions, in somewhat the same vein as the racial cleansing plan of
        Cincinnati in 1841. As the Civil War neared, Northern opinion was making its tectonic shift,
        to reclassify slavery as a national toxin that must be purged--though many hated it more as a
        supposed Old World-style patrician ploy that would undermine the white American working man.
        Hence there was ambivalence toward the actual individuals caught in its grip, the slaves.
        The never-dying idea that the Civil War was actually waged for nefarious Northern economics
        ignores this vast landscape of passions. John Chivington and Harriet Beecher Stowe are only two
        of the individuals reminding that human sympathies, in all their convolutions, are not always
        as neat as the conspiracy theories.

        JE comments:  Cincinnati now celebrates its front-line abolitionist past with the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, but there are many blotches of racism in the city's history.  A quick question for now, Gary:  is the "morbid scrap of paper" that inspired the 1841 mob action still extant--or at least, do we know what it said?

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