The Rear of the Red Army 1939-41
The Red Army conducted three major operations before the events of June 1941, these were the Battle of Khalkhin Gol, the Occupation of Poland in 1939 and the Winter War with Finland in 1940. These operatiions were all characterised by a common element, supply and transportation problems, with roads and railways blocked by traffic jams, stores rotting beside the road while troops starved on the front line and delays in delivering ammuition. After each of these failures, an investigation was launched and changes made, which by June 1941 meant that the Rear of the Red Army was split between 4 commands. In addition the invasion caught the Rear in the midst of its shift from the Military Districts behind the old frontier to new forward positions behind the new Curzon Line border 300 km deep into former Polish territory.
The Red Army as a whole was short of transport with only 200,000 vehicles with the Army while it awaited the calling up of 200,000 civlian vehicles from all over the Soviet Union. There were delays in these requistions since the level of servicability was low, due to the large number of organisations operating the fleet and the small size of these operators, typically each one had only 6 vehicles. With no transport, Tank Divisions set off for battle and ran out of fuel, artillery batteries found themselves with no shells and food ran short. The Germans won the first round of encirclement battles close to the frontier without difficulty and by the end of July Heeresgruppe Mitte was conducting the second round of encirclement battles around Smolensk only 5 weeks into the war and 600 km deep into the Soviet Union.
The genesis of change
In May 1938, at the height of the purge of the Red Army, a former political commissar of the 1st Cavalry Army and military beauracrat, was sent from Moscow to be Head of Military Construction in the Kiev Special Military District. He made a success of the job and was promoted in October 1939 to the post of Chief Intendant of the Red Army at the age of 47-year-old with the rank of General and his name was Andrei V. Krulev. Being in a new post he decided to consult an expert in the field, so he turned to General K. E. Goretskii, a Red Professor, former Assistant Chief of the Red Army’s Central Supply Directorate, Technical Specialist and the Tsar's former Quartermaster General. However with Khrulev being a relatively junior member of the Military High Command, he was unable to make any serious changes in time for the Winter War, although he did contribute to the post war committe of inquiry.
At the beginning of July 1941, Khrulev had not received any directives from the General Staff about what equipment and supplies was needed by the Fronts and Armies, so he went together with the chief of the Main Artillery Directorate, General N.D. Yakovlev to see the Chief of the General Staff Zhukov. He was sitting in his office tired with bloodshot eyes from sleepless nights and when Khrulev asked him about the supplies for the troops, Zhukov waved his hand and said: "I can not tell you anything. I am largely not in a position to understand the situation, and what the troops need now - I do not know." Seeing that the General Staff was only capable of concentrating on operational matters, Khrulev and Goretskii set about drawing up a scheme for an integrated logistics organisation for the Red Army.
According to Khrulev's own account (VIZh 06.1961) "in delineating those rear service entities that should come under his control, “took a pencil and added one more service, artillery supply, to those under the rear service chief ’s jurisdiction.” This would have given Khrulev direct control of all ammunition, artillery, and small-arms supply, as well as weapon repair and maintenance responsibilities. This major logistic role was then the responsibility of the Main Directorate of Artillery GAU. Goretskii, however, as he had earlier, objected strongly to Khrulev’s penciled annotation, and was able to dissuade him from adding the artillery supply service to the proposal on the grounds that this key function, because of its vast scope, would be incompatible with Khrulev’s other proposed duties. Khrulev reluctantly agreed, thus setting in motion a division of logistic responsibility that continues to the present day."
It must have been some meeting, when Khrulev and his small team from the Intendant's office went to present their scheme to Stalin, however they did have the support of A.I. Mikoyan, who had set up the meeting and was a member of the State Defence Committee. Here was a scheme for setting up a huge, unified logistics organisation in the middle of the Battle for Smolensk, it was presented by a junior Staff Officer, who had as his advisor a Techincal Specialist (Stalin had most of them shot starting in 1928) and former Tsarist General (Stalin had shot most of them as well leaving only Boris Shaposhnikov as a sole senior survivor,) they were using as their main piece of evidence the Imperial Army's 1914 Supply Regulations and most importantly the Chief of the General Staff objected to the scheme in no uncertain terms, saying "I do not agree. The authors of this paper want the Rear to trample over the General Staff". Nonetheless Stalin took the paper, gave Zhukov a look and signed it. The following day Zhuko would be dismissed his post and sent to the front as Front Commander of the Reserve Front and then on the 10th September sent to Leningrad.
Khrulev was given just 3 days until the 1st August 1941 to get his plan into shape and start to implement his reforms. It was a crucial decision but all went well and the Main Directorate of the Rear of the Red Army would be a key element in the Soviet Unions ability of defeat Germany. There were still many trials and tribulations to come, inefficiency and incompetence were rife in the system and it would take much effort to eliminate these, but at its heart was a means to concentrate supplies at the point of decision that the Germans did not possess. This ability would be a major factor in the Red Army's ability to halt the German advance in front of Moscow that winter and agai at Stalingrad in 1942.
Khrulev himself would increase his responsibilities in March 1942 when he became Narkom of the NKPS responsible for the Soviet Unions railways and he remained Chief of the Main Directorate of the Rear until the end fo the war, one of the few people with direct access to Stalin. Goretskii remained a key advisor about logistics matters and received the awards "For the Defense of Moscow" and "For Victory over Germany".