The Germans had been shocked at the wastefulness of Soviet tactics in throwing infantry into frontal assaults on the battlefield. They knew that the Red Army had been haemorrhaging men from the beginning of the war. They were constantly surprised that more men could constantly be found for new attacks. Surely, sooner or later, there must be a limit.
Boris Gorbachevsky was a Red Army junior officer whose Rifles unit had been on the advance all summer. Now they were pulled out of the line for some recuperation and replenishment. New recruits were brought in to fill the ranks – poorly educated and barely trained. He was shocked:
My meetings with the new recruits left me dissatised and unhappy. Many of them were from the southern republics, which meant we would have to teach them some Russian quickly.
Many had never held a rifle in their hands before arriving here and didn’t even know what it was called. You ask one Uzbek fellow:
“Do you understand what a rifle is, and what it’s for?” “I’ve never thought it over, Comrade Officer.” “Well, give it some thought now. When you go into battle, shoot at the fascists. And if they come after you, you simply can’t get by without it. The rifle is your protection. Do you know what a fascist is?” Silence.
I had to carry on such conversations. Many of the new soldiers were uneducated and illiterate. A few, for example, thought islands floated on the sea. But I sought from the very first minutes of their arrival to help the new conscripts feel as equals among equals.
I asked the company commanders to place their new soldiers under the wings of experienced soldiers. We had to teach the new arrivals how to overcome the fear of tanks and how to handle their fear during bombing attacks, particularly from Ju-87 Stukas.
We had to teach them how to handle themselves on the battlefield and on the defense, how to rise from the ground at the start of an attack, and how to understand and always remember their responsibility to the oath they had taken. Finally, they had to learn the elementary things — an understanding of which flank was the right flank, and which the left.
Bombing attacks were the most difficult thing for them both physically and psychologically.
“Remember, friend,” experienced frontline soldiers told them, “if an airplane is flying at a high altitude, it is harmless for you — screw him, and let him fly on. But when he comes at you in a dive, strafing you, or he’s already released a bomb – then take cover: the bomb, damn it, will undoubtedly fall nearby.”
The Germans bombed us for entire days. Where was our air force? We never saw it. Up to thirty or forty German airplanes would wheel above us, releasing their deadly loads in turn. Whenever the Junkers appeared, the howling of the new recruits was terrifying.
It was hard to teach these people to adapt to frontline conditions. But no matter how strangely, it was easier to deal with this category of new recruits than with a different segment of the reinforcements.
In step with the liberation of occupied regions, the ranks of battalions and companies would be fleshed out with local residents as well. Of course, they were only those who had not collaborated with the Germans.
Most often these were just opportunists: why bother with them? They had been hunted down and rounded up, and many of them, not all, were sent to fight. For some reason these sorts of recruits were nicknamed “fiancés.” There was no noticeable sign of a willingness to fight with fervor among them.
Many of these recruits looked at their new position as a cancer, which, naturally, only raised hatred in their hearts for military authority. The mobilization of people of draft age in the newly liberated regions was a complex issue, but their appearance in the acting army was not very welcome among the commanders.