1937 02 A New Military - Changes to Armaments and Tactical Doctrine since WWI

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Status: In Research

Please post any ideas or research for this episode that you want to contribute in this topic. If the episode hasn’t been assigned to an author yet, you can note your intent to write in the string too, and we will contact you to discuss.

I could give you some research about the immediate and long-term influence of Polish-Soviet war on the Red Army if you think that’s interesting.

Edit: I will base it mostly on the White Eagle Red Star by Norman Davies (and some minor works) so if you are familiar with this publication it probably won’t be anything new to you.

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Good book on the Polish Soviet war, considering it was written in the days of the cold war. Has there been any new revelations since the fall of the Soviet Unition.

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@Veles that would be great!

Ok, Spartacus, my initial plan was to give you my research about the immediate and long-term influence of Polish-Soviet war on the Red Army but I ended up creating something much bigger. Namely, I wrote you a short dissertation about the history of the evolution of cavalry in the interwar period. Don’t worry I’ll try to post tomorrow all the research on the immediate and long-term influences of Polish-Soviet war on Red Army and the world in general.

I suspect that unfortunately most of it will be unusable for the video but I’m sure you’ll be able to fish out the most interesting and useful stuf for the script.

Part 1 : The fate of cavalry
With the eruption of the Great War in 1914 past and future, the old and the new clashed on the battlefields across Europe. Literally. Both soldiers and their commanders weren’t prepared for what was coming in this new type of war. Machine guns, barbed wire, planes, tanks and unprecedented density of soldiers on the front challenged the old ways of fighting. It was especially true for cavalry, one of oldest combat arms of the armed forces around the world.

The new challenges of the modern warfare crafted in fires of the Great War raised a question: What future awaits the cavalry? The question raised many heated discussions and it soon turned out that despite the general agreement that cavalry has seen it’s days as the main combat arm, each armed forces however approached and solved this issue in a different way.
We have to remember that each individual army had to face different challenges and was following a different doctrine. To quickly sum up all the most important doctrines: The French were convinced that the key to winning an engagement was firepower superiority. Germans belived trust in lightning strikes and maneuverability. While the British and Italians seem to put their trust in the mechanization of their militaries.

Immediately after the First World War, most French theoreticians announced the total twilight of the cavalry, but this did not mean its complete elimination from the ranks of the French army. Initially, the number of cavalrymen was reduced by 50%. But this “discrimination” of cavalry didn’t last long. Already in the year 1923 24 of 36 cavalry regiments were merged into 4 cavalry divisions (consisting of 6 regiments each). Those divisions were formed as independent forces meant to operate on their own while the rest of the cavalry regiments were allocated to different infantry divisions. Ten years later in 1934, the number of cavalry divisions was increased to five (30 regiments). Each regiment inside the division consisted of 3 line squadrons, 1 heavy machine gun squadron using cars. Each division also had additional motorcycle battalion, 2 squadrons of horse artillery, a squadron of armored cars and air squadron. Additionally, a brigade sipahi was created.

Generally speaking, the idea of creating large units, especially armored-motorized was unpopular in the French army. It was supposedly a result of the experiences gained in the Great War. It clearly had a detrimental effect on the French Army.

In the same time, German army learned a lot from their loss in The Great War coming to completely different conclusions also regarding cavalry. The discussion among the German officers regarding this topic was surprisingly devoid of any major clashes. Even in 1934, the command of Reichswehr was still recognizing cavalry as one of the main combat arms of the army, being present in all phases of any maneuver and battle. This statement can be supported with all German combat instructions published in that time.

The first person who proposed the creation of independent armored units was Heinz Guderian after he “acquainted” himself with works of B. Liddell Hart, de Gaulle, and Mannsberger. His ideas meet strong opposition among the German command, especially among the commanders of different combat arms. Guderian however, found supporters of his ideas among the most influential people at that time general Ludendorff and the chancellor Hitler.

After establishing mandatory military service in Germany in 1935, the organizational work started in full swing. Cavalry lances were abandoned. In 1936, the cavalry was reorganized. Of the 14 cavalry regiments, 11 were handed over to corps’ commanders for reconnaissance purposes. The other three regiments were used to form the 1st Cavalry Brigade which was located in East Prussia. Soon, however, the problem of cavalry returned as in 1937 during grand army maneuvers in Western Pomerania independent cavalry regiment quite easily dispersed motorized recon unit. This event has become a reason to renew heated discussion about the role of cavalry. Eventually, the discussion lead to forming a new postulate regarding cavalry according to which from now on it should be formed into larger units. Such units were never created but the possibility of forming them during the war according to needs was never excluded. Reitercorps and Standarte SS were supposed to serve as a base for forming such units.

In short, German views on cavalry were still associating big hopes with this formations. Initially, members of German command were pointing out the importance of cavalry in the implementation of the Blitzkrieg doctrine. With time, however, cavalry was naturally replaced by cars, trucks, and motorcycles due to the rapid motorization of the German army.

When it comes to USSR, forming a clear doctrine for Red Army was a bit slow due to different schools of thinking represented by two different groups of which the Red Army’s officer corps was composed. One of them was represented by the former officers of the tsarist army, the second by the young revolutionary officers who were promoted to commanders of various levels during the Russian Revolution and Polish-Soviet War.
Probably Mikhail Vasilyevich Frunze was first in realizing that incoming war will be "total’ in nature and that technology will play the key role in it.

When it comes to cavalry, it had a special place in Soviet military doctrine as Red Army had whooping 100 cavalry regiments in its ranks (most likely the biggest cavalry force in the world). Cavalry was seen in Russia as an elite force. It was caused by inheriting great cavalry traditions of the Russian Empire and even more importantly by very successful use of cavalry during the Civil War, Polish-Soviet war and “surrounding” conflicts.

That’s all for now, another part together with the relatively short research about the influence of Polish-Soviet war on the Red Army and the militaries and military theorists around the world will be posted tomorrow.

I hope you’ll find something useful here.

Part 2: The effects of Polish-Soviet war on military doctrines
In the military sphere, the Polish-Bolshevik war attracted quite a lot of attention, most of it, however, quite missguided.

Primo, it served as an ego boost for cavalrymen around the world. Even in the US, as an example, I can give you an article from the “Cavalry Journal” titled: The Polish-Bolshevik Cavalry Campaigns Many people were arguing that the Polish-Soviet war was a proof that cavalry is still useful in modern conflict.

Secundo, many disregarded the potential lessons coming from this conflict. General Redcliffe for example, although he noticed the mobility prevalent in the war, he disregarded it arguing that it was an effect of “medieval conditions” of this war that can not be applied to modern armies. Most theoreticians and officers around the world were still under the spell of the Great War, blindly believing that fortifications will play a key role in incoming conflicts.

The only people who really learned their lessons from the events of, Polish-Soviet War were people who took an active role in it. Most notably Charles de Gaulle, Mikhail Tukhachevsky, and Władysław Sikorski. All of them become huge advocates of mobile warfare and extensive use of tanks, planes and motorized infantry. All of them were heavily criticized, a common date for people walking in the avant-garde.

De Gaulle was probably the last French soldier and officer still believing in offense and aggressiveness, paradoxically as pointed out by Norman Davies, thanks to serving in the foreign Polish army, where the Napoleonic spirit was still “well and alive”. The experience he gained in Polish-Soviet war combined with his sharp intellect allowed him to realize the only thing preventing the combining the mobility seen in P-S war and firepower from I World War was the failings of available technology. de Gaulle revealed his thoughts to the world in the book Le Fil de l’épée which definitely influenced Heinz Guderian.

General Sikorski represented similar mindset. During the Polish-Bolshevik War, Sikorski successfully used combined arms and mobility in 1920 near Wkra river to inflict heavy losses to Soviet troops. His raid on Kowel with the participation of motorized infantry was considered by some of his followers as the first use of blitzkrieg in practice. Later in his life, Sikorski wrote a book that was published in France in 1935 under title La Guerre moderne - The Modern War. In his book, Sikorski recommended the offensive use of tanks and planes. He even predicted that Wehrmacht will be first in the world to use them in such manner as in his opinion it was the only armed force that wasn’t burdened with traditions.

Tukhachevsky was the only one of the three who did not live to see the triumph of his ideas. At the beginning of the 30s, he launched experiments with commando units, peashooter divisions and heavy tanks in which the German Luftwaffe and Panzer Corps secretly participated.

To directly quote Norman Davies: At the end of this story, the extreme malice of fate manifested itself, when in 1939-1941 Heinz Guderian - Tukhachevsky’s student, and as he admitted himself, de Gaulle admirer - realized the prediction of Sikorski

Ok, that’s the end of part 2. There will be part 3 in which I’ll try to talk more about the changes in armaments.

Sources used so far:
N. Davies, White Eagle, Red Star. The Polish-Soviet Wat 1919-20
H. Smaczny, Księga Kawalerii Polskiej (in literal translation: The Book of the Polish Cavalry)
R. Wapiński, Władysław Sikorski, Warsaw 1978
M. Kukiel, Battle of Warsaw, 2005
R. Citino, The German Way of War: From the Thirty Years’ War to the Third Reich, 2005


Yeah, quite a lot. The thing about Norman Davies is he has this annoying habit of not updating his works so right now we know way more about the Polish-Soviet War than previously. Unfortunately, most of this informations are only available in Polish.

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