Born and Bred on the Other Side of the European Frontiers

Thursday, March 3rd, 2016

In Panzer Battles, von Mellenthin describes the psychology of the Russian soldier with an emphasis on its Asiatic foreignness:

No one belonging to the cultural circle of the West is ever likely to fathom the character and soul of these Asiatics, born and bred on the other side of the European frontiers.

(I am of course aware that the Slavs migrated into Russia from the west, and were originally a European people. But the Mongol invasion of 1241, and the two centuries of domination which followed, gave an Asiatic twist in the Russian outlook and character, a development accentuated by the policy of the Tsars.)

Yet the Russian character must contain the key to an understanding of their soldierly qualities, their achievements, and their way of fighting. The human heart, and the psychology of the individual fighting man, have always been the ruling factors in warfare, transcending the importance of numbers and equipment. This old maxim held good during World War II, and I think it will always to so.

The Russian soldier is unpredictable, von Mellenthin felt — and American General George S. Patton felt the same way, as he’s quoted in General Patton: A Soldier’s Life:

The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asiatic, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinaman or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them, except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other Asiatic characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and is an all out son of bitch, barbarian, and chronic drunk.

He definitely did not see the Russians as true allies:

We promised the Europeans freedom. It would be worse than dishonorable not to see they have it. This might mean war with the Russians, but what of it? They have no Air Force anymore, their gasoline and ammunition supplies are low. I’ve seen their miserable supply trains; mostly wagons draw by beaten up old hoses or oxen. I’ll say this; the Third Army alone with very little help and with damned few casualties, could lick what is left of the Russians in six weeks. You mark my words. Don’t ever forget them… Someday we will have to fight them and it will take six years and cost us six million lives.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The US Army in Europe would have mutinied. There was a near mutiny over the prospect that the troops would be transferred to the Pacific Theater.

    There might also have been an insurrection at home. In many ways, Patton was an idiot.

  2. Have to agree with Mr. Sykes. I knew a Euro theater vet who had heard of the desire for a drang nach osten. He said the general feeling was screw you George.

    George never went into a battle without superior fire power and material. He might have smashed up the Russkies quickly or he may have found himself a victim of lengthening supply lines.

  3. Graham says:

    Not to pile on too much, but Patton’s assessment of Soviet combat power in 1945 seems way off. They had more men, tanks, guns, and may well have had more aircraft, and of comparable quality in some categories. [I stand to be corrected on the number- but they certainly had an air force, and a better one than they had had in 1941].

    If Mr Sykes is correct, and I don’t at all rule out the possibility, alarming how little it would have taken to provoke a mutiny.

  4. Grurray says:

    Von Mellenthin really was right about the Mongol influence, but it was more immediate than that quote implies. By 1944-45 most of the effective fighting force for the Soviets actually were Asians — Turkic Central Asians who were brought in as reinforcements. The only thing Russian Slavs proved before that was they could die in humongous numbers against the Germans. The ones left were too busy raping every Polish and Prussian female they could get their hands on to fight anyone.

  5. Grurray, I’d be very interested in a source for that assertion. None of the information I can find indicates that Asians made up more than 20% of the Red Army’s manpower in 1945.

  6. Slovenian Guest says:

    “They (the Soviets) could probably maintain themselves in the type of fighting I could give them for five days. After that it would make no difference how many million men they have, and if you wanted Moscow I could give it to you. They lived on the land coming down. There is insufficient left for them to maintain themselves going back. Let’s not give them time to build up their supplies. If we do, then we have had a victory over the Germans and disarmed them, but we have failed in the liberation of Europe; we have lost the war!”

    I agree, World War 2 was lost from my perspective as well, mua and all Eastern Europe would have welcomed further liberation. Hell, I’d preferred if Adolf made our lands German again, as it was a thousand years before WW1, over the god damned red plague!

    “I have never seen in any army at any time, including the German Imperial Army of 1912, as severe discipline as exists in the Russian army. The officers, with few exceptions, give the appearance of recently civilized Mongolian bandits.”

    “In my opinion, the American Army as it now exists could beat the Russians with the greatest of ease, because, while the Russians have good infantry, they are lacking in artillery, air, tanks, and in the knowledge of the use of the combined arms, whereas we excel in all three of these. If it should be necessary to fight the Russians, the sooner we do it the better. If we have to fight them, now is the time. From now on we will get weaker and they stronger.” via

  7. Patton makes a lot of assumptions based on very poor information in the quotes Slovenian Guest posts above. By ’45 the Red Army was as well honed a machine of conquest as the Allied forces in western Europe, but far larger. Both sides were exhausted in terms of morale and had diminished reserves of trained infantry. The western Allies had superior air forces, especially when it came to high-altitude work and strategic bombing.

    He’s wrong to think of the countries the Red Army had gone through as having been stripped of forage; the Soviets traversed those regions rather quickly. They stole everything that wasn’t nailed down and did a fair bit of raping (according to many first-person accounts, including that of my maternal grandmother), but the productive capacity of the land was relatively unharmed.

    Sadly, given the overall strategy that had been pursued since the start of the war, I don’t think it was possible for the western Allies to keep Eastern Europe from falling into Stalin’s hands. It would have been nice if FDR had even tried, though. Some people have suggested an Allied invasion of the Balkans instead of Overlord, in an attempt to beat the Soviets to the punch, but the logistics of that would be challenging almost to the point of impossibility.

  8. Rollory says:

    Patton had absolutely no clue what he was talking about.

    Most of the German effort in the later war was on the Eastern Front. That’s because that’s where all the pressure was.

    The Germans thought they could beat the Russians in a matter of weeks, too.

  9. Adar says:

    We promised the Europeans freedom but failed. FDR was a big man with talk but gave in to Stalin and did so with ease.

    We might have promised the western Europeans freedom but that was all.

  10. Cassander says:

    Everyone here talking about Soviet combat power is leaving out how dependent they were on Lend-Lease aid. Two-thirds of Soviet aviation gas, essentially all of their trucks, rail cars, and locomotives, half of their aluminium, and one-third of their copper and explosives were supplied by the West. Being cut off from those supplies, many of which they simply could not replace, would have massively reduced the Soviet ability to wage war even before considering the effect of atomic weapons.

  11. Kirk says:

    The question of whether or not the Soviets could have maintained their conquests in Eastern Europe if the US and UK had determined to free them is interesting, in that you can make arguments either way, and still have room for doubt.

    The biggest problem is that the US and UK were both thoroughly penetrated by the Soviets. FDR was virtually the catspaw of Stalin, so infatuated with him was he. The Eastern Europeans were doomed, no matter what, because of all the Soviet-sympathizers in the US government, and in the UK. Had the war continued into Eastern Europe, the amount of dissension and outright sabotage would have boggled the mind–Much like what happened in France in 1940.

    The Soviets were past masters at this game, and would have taken full advantage of all the criminal subversives in the ranks of the West. Looking back, we can see the bare bones of how it would have gone–Had Churchill and FDR/Truman wanted to, they would have been undercut at every single turn by “allies” in their own governments. Not to mention that after five years of calling the Soviets such wonderful things in the propaganda, suddenly turning on a dime to declare war on them would have been nearly impossible to accomplish in public opinion.

    The die was cast as far back as the moment when the US/UK determined to support the Soviets in 1941. Had they not chosen to call the Soviets heroes, and been more realistic in their portrayal of them in propaganda and public opinion, Eastern Europe might have been saved. As it was, it took five years and the advent of the betrayals of Korea before most in the West started seeing the Soviets and Stalin for what they were–Monsters.

    Patton would have needed a totally different set of conditions, before his ideas (which I hate to say, were fairly prescient…) could have been implemented. How much better off would the world have been, had we rid ourselves of all the great mass-murderers of the 20th Century in the same decade? Absent the machinations of Stalin and the Soviet Empire, how much better off would we be, world-wide? Would the horrors of the last few decades of terrorism have even happened, absent the support of the KGB and GRU? How many lives across the world would have been saved, had we strangled all the totalitarians in their cradles? Certainly, North Korea wouldn’t have happened, locking the people of that nation into permanent servitude to a league of madmen supported and created by Stalin. That’s just one small corner of things, as well.

    The whole horror show that was the late 20th Century could conceivably been much different, had the extent of Soviet perfidy been known early in the war, and had the Allies seen fit to set the table up for putting a stop to it.

    The Soviets themselves should have put Stalin on trial for the massive amount of incompetence he demonstrated throughout the war, and its a wonder he was never assassinated by his own people for the stupidity of most of his decisions. But, then, that’s the Russian nature–Incompetent leadership is to be expected, and followed until the absolute last. It’s too bad that Stalin didn’t suffer the fate of Nicholas, because he sure as hell deserved to.

  12. Kudzu Bob says:

    How much better off would the world have been, had we rid ourselves of all the great mass-murderers of the 20th Century in the same decade?

    Maybe not better off at all, at least with respect to Eastern Europe and the USSR. The really horrific mass murders carried out by the Soviets such as the Holodomor and the Great Terror were already behind them, and as George Kennan correctly anticipated, over time the revolutionary fires of communism burned themselves out.

    Moreover, the above assumes that the United States would have won its hypothetical crusade against totalitarianism, something that might not have been the case.

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