Review: Fallen Soviet Generals

Fallen Soviet Generals

Aleksander A. Maslov’s Fallen Soviet Generals is a long, detailed, historical list of how general officers died in World War II. It’s a book I’ve mentioned before on this blog, but it deserves a full review of its own. Because the subject is interesting to me (for some reason), I enjoyed the book in spite of its obviously morbid topic.

This has the weakness of a dry history book. It’s not very lively or engaging for someone not into the subject matter, and it’s not helped by the book both being originally written in another language and being translated/edited by David Glantz, a legendary historian whose prose is nonetheless sometimes, er, flat. But it also has the strengths, meticulously categorizing how, where and when every single Soviet general died in the war.

The topic is interesting to me because, especially to an American (the US lost only twenty generals in World War II, less than a tenth the Soviet total) used to technology where they theoretically should be at less personal risk, the loss of a general officer seems like a strange aberration. Yet it clearly wasn’t, and there are many conflicts where it would be. Even for conflicts of a different technological type, Maslov’s book remains an excellent resource for how and why general officers could die in battle.

The Dead Generals of World War III

I’ve finished reading Aleksander Maslov’s Fallen Soviet Generals, a chronicle of the fallen general officers of the Red Army in World War II. Over two hundred Soviet generals were killed, on average one every six days. German general casualties were similarly massive. The Western Allies got off lightly (the United States lost twenty generals), although there were exceptions. In Vietnam the U.S. Army lost five generals.

The subject of how generals died after the invention of the telephone and radio has been a area of weird fascination for me, and I even chose it as the subject of my first (probably too goofy given the seriousness of the topic) ebook.

No doubt there would be a lot of generals dying in a hypothetical World War III, even a purely conventional one, along with their subordinates. The causes can be divided into two main categories:

Deep Fire

“Deep Fire” refers to anything to strike deeper, and encompasses air strikes, long-range artillery, surface-to-surface missiles and special forces raids. This would likely be the leading cause of general deaths. The long-range fire strike complex (to use the Soviet term) abilities of both sides had increased dramatically from World War II, and command installations are clear targets for “big-ticket”, scarce weapons.

Close Fire

“Close Fire” refers to direct fire and, for the sake of convenience, shorter-ranged battlefield mortars and artillery. While the advances in deep fire and targeting would potentially render it secondary, it cannot be counted out as a form of killing generals. Maslov’s book gives countless examples of how, in twisted, confused, rapidly mobile engagements, command posts ended up close to enemy soldiers and armored vehicles, with very dire consequences for those inside them. Especially in a conflict with overwhelmingly more mechanization than the Second World War, something similar is bound to occur.

Of course, these categories can be blurred. Is a long-distance tank raid “deep” or “close?” Is a CAS airstrike on a forward command group “deep” or “close?”

Either way, the generals will not be spared.