What is it about?

During the Russo-German War the Wehrmacht found its military operations limited by its railway capacity in Russia while the Soviets managed to use their railways to sustain large offensives. This paper examines the reasons behind these differences, reasons that arose from Soviet experience during the race to industrialise in 1932-35 and German failure to understand how this was accomplished

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Why is it important?

This is the first work to compare German and Soviet railway statistics and experiences during the Russo-German War 1941-45. On the German side there has been a tendency to support the military officers view of railways and to concentrate on the partisan war to explain the German-run railways failures. On the Soviet side, Marxist-Leninist historiography has limited their exploration of "the other side of the hill".


Railways provided almost all the heavy lift to run military operations and the economy on both sides during the Russo-German War and yet the studies into this area have been very limited and largely conducted during the period 1950 and 60s when historical studies in this conflict were constrained by political and social factors. Even the classic study by Schuler failed to make any comment on the Soviet railways, always accepting the premise that they were technologially inferior. Yet the work by the American economist Holland Hunter shows that the Soviet railways in the period 1932-1941 were one of the most efficient in the world second only to the US railways. The aim of this article was to reconcile these two viewpoints and explore the reasons behind the German failure to exploit the Soviet railways in a more efficient manner. In June 1944 Army Group Centre had to make the choice between transporting much needed reinforcements or vitally needed munitions, as there was insufficient railway capacity to transport both. This shows how 3 years of occupation and work by the Reichsbahn had failed to equip the Wehrmacht with the railways that they needed behind the front. The Battles for Moscow and Stalingrad had both been hamstrung by logistical problems that stemmed in large part from problems with the railways, while the slow build up for Kursk was due to the same reason, yet the Soviets managed to launch offensive after offensive over railways that had just been destroyed by the retreating Ostheer. Railways are a vital factor in the study of military operations during the war and they should be at the centre of any historical assessment.

H. G. W. Davie
University of Wolverhampton

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The Influence of Railways on Military Operations in the Russo-German War 1941–1945, The Journal of Slavic Military Studies, April 2017, Taylor & Francis, DOI: 10.1080/13518046.2017.1308120.
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