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Stalin as a Military Leader


Stalins reputation as a military leader is a hotly contested issue. He appointed himself the Peoples Commissar for Defense in July 1941 and the commander in chief of the Soviet armed forces in August. As commander in chief, Stalin presided over the Supreme Command headquarters charged with the overall supervision, planning, and coordination of all military operations. Stalin possessed certain qualities, including a sharp memory, the ability to get to the root of the matter, and tremendous willpower, that distinguish military leaders.  

However, he lacked formal military education and military experience. Too often Stalin relied on the crude tactics of throwing masses of soldiers into frontal attacks that resulted in the prodigal waste of manpower. Many commentators blame Stalin for the incompetent meddling in military decision making during the first year of the war and for the exorbitant cost that the Red Army paid for their commander in chiefs crash course in military science.

Despite the success in repelling the Nazis from Moscow in December 1941, the series of defeats continued into the first half of 1942. Germans took some of the vital agricultural areas and came close to seizing Stalingrad (now Volgograd) on the Volga and occupying North Caucasus. The situation at the front began to improve for the Soviets only from around August 1942. Significantly, this turnaround coincided with the establishment of the post of deputy to commander in chief and the appointment of Army General Georgy Zhukov to it. From that time on, Stalin increasingly relied on his deputys superior military knowledge and expertise in planning military operations.

In addition to his supreme military authority, Stalin continued to wield absolute political power, which he had concentrated in his hands during the 1930s. With the start of the hostilities, he set up and chaired the State Defense Committee as the top executive body in charge of the overall supervision of the national war effort. Alongside Stalin, it included a score of prominent Politburo members, such as Vyacheslav Molotov, Lavrenty Beria, Kliment Voroshilov, and Georgy Malenkov. In the autumn of 1941 it authorized the setting up of a network of city defense committees in cities along the front line, charged with organizing defense. They were headed by first secretaries of district or city party committees and were comprised of four to five officials each. City defense committees played a vital part in mobilizing for the building of defense fortifications, overseeing the formation of volunteer units, and organizing military production at local enterprises.

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USSR in World War II


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