Sunday 26 July 2015

World of Tanks History Section: What's in a Name? Germany vs USSR

How do you give a codename to an operation? Winston Churchill had a very sober opinion on this topic. For example, one must not brag too much, like "Operation Victorious", but a name like "Slaughter" or "Confusion" will demoralize your own soldiers. Definitely avoid strange and unpleasant names like "Street Brawl". One must also maintain secrecy and not reveal the nature of the operation in the name.

How did the two biggest combatants in WWII, Germany and the USSR, follow these principles? What names did they give to their plans?

Germany: Colours, Mythology, Fanfare

In WWI, Germany created a tradition of taking names from religion, mythology, or medieval history. Names like "Saint Michael", "Achilles", and "Roland" were supposed to raise morale of an army fighting a difficult war. These names are also pretty solid from the point of view of secrecy.

In WWII, the Germans kept their tradition of big and bold names. The attack on the USSR, originally codenamed "Fritz" after the son of one of the planners was renamed to "Barbarossa". Did Hitler think about how naming a military campaign after an emperor that spent a lot of time fighting with Slavs might give away the nature of the operation? Any spy that discovered the name of the operation wouldn't have to think much to find out who it's aimed against.

Interestingly, earlier German operations had much more humble and neutral names. For instance, a set of "coloured" plans to occupy Europe. The annexation of Czechoslovakia was "Green", invasion of Poland was "White". The attack on Benelux states and France in 1940 was named "Yellow". An offensive in the south-west USSR in 1942 was named "Blue". These names revealed nothing about who the operation was aimed against or where action would take place.

The Germans repeated their mistake of associating the name with the location. An offensive aimed at the Kola peninsula from Finland was named "Arctic Fox", the capture of nickel mines near Murmansk was named "Reindeer", a plan to drop paratroops on the Caucasian city of Maikop was named "Shamil", after a leader of the mountain men.

At the same time, the Germans also had misleading names. For instance, an offensive in the Ardennes in 1944 was called "Watch on the Rhine", an invasion of Denmark and Norway was called "Weser Exercise". The famous "Operation Citadel", the summer offensive against the Kursk Salient in 1943, also falls in this category. Its defensive name turned into a double failure: not only did the Germans fail to regain initiative, but suffered a costly defeat.

USSR: Planets and Commanders

At the start of the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet commanders had little time to come up with names for obvious reasons. By the end of 1942, this changed.

Operation Uranus was one of the famous ones, the defeat of Germans at Stalingrad. Famous Soviet intelligence worker Pavel Sudoplatov writes in his memoirs that People's Commisssar of Defense Vannikov described to him Stalin's meeting with Soviet scientists in October of 1942 and discussions of a nuclear bomb. Stalin was so impressed that he decided to call the offensive the name of its main component [Uranium and Uranus are the same word in Russian, "Uran"]. 

One must then ask what chemical elements resulted in the names of "Mars" (Kalinin Front offensive against the German 9th Army between Rzhev and Sychevka) and "Saturn" (breakthrough to Rostov and Taganrog, cutting off a German group in the Caucasus)? It is more likely that Soviet commanders were inspired by astronomy rather than chemistry, and Sudoplatov was mistaken.

American historian David Glantz wrote about "Operation Jupiter" that was allegedly designed to defeat the Germans at Vyazma. However, latest research shows that there was no such operation, and the forces that were supposed to take part in it were fighting in other places. The ambitious "Saturn" mentioned above was also corrected down to "Small Saturn", a much more humble offensive at the Don river.

Soviet strategists aimed no less than others to maintain secrecy of their operations. The liberation of North Donbass was given a meek title "Hop", the penetration of the Leningrad blockade carried the name "Spark".

After heavy fighting in the first half of the war, it was considered necessary to lift the spirits of troops, remind them of their army's glorious history, and show that the enemy can be beaten not only when defending, but when attacking. In 1943 and 1944, names of famous commanders were given to operations. "Polkovodets Rumyantsev" that defeated Prussian forces in the Seven Year War liberated Belgorod and Kharkov, "Polkovodets Kutuzov" liberated Orel, Mtsensk, and many other cities. Of course, "Bagration" became the crowning jewel of this series, after which Army Group Center was shattered into pieces. None of these names give a hint to where the attack will take place.

The Red Army's greatest battle, the assault on Berlin, had no name. This is yet another confirmation of the fact that you can't win a war with a name, but giving a good name to an operation is still an art.

Original article available here.

1 comment:

  1. "Did Hitler think about how naming a military campaign after an emperor that spent a lot of time fighting with Slavs might give away the nature of the operation?"

    Fighting slavs? He is most known for fighting Italian city and his participation in the Crusades, not for fighting Slavs.
    Fiting name for a campaign that was seen as a crusade against bolsevism though.