Russian Reactions to Bombardment

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Russian reactions to bombardment puzzled von Mellenthin (Panzer Battles):

Experience shows that the Russian soldier has an almost incredible ability to stand up to the heaviest artillery fire and air-bombardment, while the Russian Command remains unmoved by the bloodiest losses caused by shelling and bombs, and ruthlessly adheres to it preconceived plans. Russian lack of reaction to even the heaviest shelling was proved though not explained during Operation Citadel. The question is worth considering, and the following factors may influence their attitude.

The stoicism of the majority of Russian soldiers and their mental sluggishness make them quite insensible to losses. The Russian soldier values his own life no more than those of his comrades. To step on walls of dead, composed of the bodies of his former friends and companions, makes not the slightest impression on him and does not upset his equanimity at all; without so much as twinkling an eyelid he stolidly continues the attack or stays put in the position he has been told to defend. Life is not precious to him. He is immune to the most incredible hardships, and does not even appear to notice them; he seem equally indifferent to bombs and shells.

Naturally there are Russian soldiers of a more tender physical and psychological structure, but they have been trained to execute orders to the letter and without hesitation. There is an iron discipline in the Russian army; punishment meted out by officers and political commissars is of a draconian character and unquestioned obedience to orders has become a feature of their military system.
Russian indifference to bombardment is not new; it was apparent during World War I and Caulaincourt comments on it in his description of the Battle of Borodino in 1812. He describes how the Russians “stood firm under the fire of a devastating bombardment,” and says that, “the enemy, smashed by the guns, and pressed simultaneously on all points, massed their troops and held firm despite the ravages made in their ranks by the guns.” He quotes Napoleon as saying that, “it was quite inexplicable to him that redoubts and positions so audaciously captured and so doggedly defended should yield us so few prisoners,” and he gives the Emperor’s comment, “these Russians let themselves be killed like automatons; they are not taken alive. This does not help us at all.”

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