January 12, 2023

1943. The Red Army's Major Fronts

"Stalin's Fronts"
"The Russians divide the fighting line into these twelve fronts," p. 27 (Map illustration by Marc R. Fore)
From Newsweek, September 13, 1943, pp. 25-27:
Fourteen Fronts

The guns spoke in Moscow again last week. Nearly every night 124 cannon[s] boomed out a message of victory across the blacked-out capital. They were saluting Russian triumphs on the long front to the west . . . Taganrog . . . Yelnya . . . Sumy. Nearly every day there came from the Kremlin an order of the day, congratulating whole armies, giving divisions the right to call themselves Taganrog divisions, Yelnya divisions, and so on. For as the third winter of the war approached the Germans all along the line were in retreat toward new positions they think they can hold.

The biggest and most important battle developed in the Ukraine. There the Nazis were being driven out of an area important to them in every sense, industrially as well as strategically—the Donets Basin with its net of railways, factories, and coal mines. Plunging on from Taganrog, the Russians freed one industrial city after another and rolled forward on Stalino, which the Germans had once called Russia's Essen.

North of the great Donets battle, three German positions were threatened—Kiev, base of the southern Dnieper line; Bryansk, under multipronged Russian attack; and Smolensk, the object of a direct Russian drive, when the hard driving Red Army made a double thrust along two rail lines to the east.

The Germans, for their part, admitted that they were withdrawing in most sectors. The tone of their High Command communiqués was more defensive than at any other time since the start of the war. But there were still no indications of a Nazi rout or a disaster approaching that of Stalingrad. One sure sign of disaster is large-scale surrender and even the Russians did not claim the capture of any great numbers of Nazis.

Front: The Russian front is so tremendous and the place names so confusing that the moves and countermoves on this vast checkerboard are hard for even military experts to follow. The Soviets themselves have divided it into fourteen separate fronts. Bill Downs, Newsweek and CBS correspondent in Moscow, last week cabled the first definite news of where these fourteen fronts are (see map, page 27).

Here is Downs's listing of the twelve most important of the fourteen, along with the commanding general of each (he omits two, the Karelian and the Murmansk, facing Finland, because they are at present inactive and the commanders on them have not been announced):

Leningrad, commanded since Jan. 16 by Col. Gen. Leonid Govoroff, the heavy-set artilleryman who helped defend Moscow in the dark days of 1941 and last year commanded the troops that broke the German ring around Leningrad.

Volkhov, headed by Gen. Kyril Meretskoff, who led the Soviet campaign against Finland in 1939, and at Leningrad helped breach the German lines.

Northwestern, last reported under the command of Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, who once was top man in the Red Army, fell into oblivion after the loss of Rostov last year, then re-emerged as commander of the line guarding Moscow on the northwest.

Kalinin, in charge of the least known commander of all—Col. Gen. Maxim Purkaeff, whose sole publicized job was that of military attaché in Berlin in 1939.

Western, under Gen. Vassily Sokolovsky, who was promoted to the rank of full general on Aug. 28 for his flank attack on Orel which resulted in the fall of the city. Last March he captured Vyazma; now he is presumably leading the attack from Spas Demensk.

Bryansk, headed by Gen. Markian Popoff, who before the war was commander of the Leningrad military district. Last winter he won fame at Stalingrad, then swept on to make the winter campaign's deepest penetration into the Donbas. This summer he helped break the abortive German offensive at Kursk and later led troops striking eastward for the Orel breakthrough.

Central, under Gen. Konstantin Rokossovsky, the "boy wonder" of the Red Army. At 38, tall, handsome Rokossovsky is one of the most experienced commanders in Russia. In 1941 his cavalry helped halt the German attack on Moscow; last winter he led the break-through from the Don that saved Stalingrad and trapped the German Sixth Army; this summer he fought against the Germans at Kursk.

Voronezh, commanded by Gen. Nikolai Vatutin, the tank expert who headed the southwestern front in last winter's offensive and broke across the Ukraine to Voroshilovgrad. This summer he led the attack on Belgorod and then pushed south to flank Kharkov from the north.

Steppe, under Gen. Ivan S. Koheff, 46-year-old veteran of the Czarist Army, who grew up with the revolution and the Red Army. In 1941 he fought in the battle of Moscow, and later became commander of the Kalinin front. For his part in last month's victory at Kharkov he was raised from the rank of colonel general.

Southwest, commanded by Gen. Rodion Malinovsky, stocky, dark-haired, 44-year-old veteran of the last war. Last winter his tanks and cavalry whipped a German army sent to save the troops trapped at Stalingrad, pushed them back through Rostov, and then swung down to the steppes of the Northern Caucasus. At Kharkov he set the pace in the hard fight from the southwest.

Southern, under Col. Gen. Fedor Tolbukhin, who led an army that routed Marshal von Paulus's Sixth Army at Stalingrad, and whose encircling tactics are rated tops by the Red Army.

Caucasian, commanded by Col. Gen. Ivan Maslennikoff, who helped save Moscow when he recaptured Kalinin, northwest of the capital. Last winter he led the drive which pushed the Germans out of the Caucasus to the present Kuban bridgehead.

These, then, are the sectors which make up what is called the Russian front. As much as anything else they indicate the vast nature of the conflict in the east for any one of these sectors would be a full-scale front anywhere else in the world.