General Headquarters of the Supreme Command

General Headquarters of the Supreme Command


an organ of the military high command, specially created to carry out the strategic direction of the Soviet armed forces during the Great Patriotic War of 1941–45. Established June 23, 1941, by a decree of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR and the Central Committee of the ACP(B), the General Headquarters was originally named the General Headquarters of the High Command of the Armed Forces of the USSR. The staff included S. K. Timoshenko (chairman), G. K. Zhukov, J. V. Stalin, V. M. Molotov, K. E. Voroshilov, S. M. Budennyi, and N. G. Kuznetsov.

The name and the staff composition of the General Headquarters later underwent several changes. On July 10, 1941, in connection with the formation of the high commands of the northwestern, western, and southwestern axes, the General Headquarters of the High Command was renamed the General Headquarters of the Supreme Command (Verkhovnoe koman-dovanie), and on Aug. 8, 1941, the name was changed to General Headquarters of the Supreme Command (Verkhovnoe glavnokomandovanie). On July 10, 1941, Stalin became chairman, and B. M. Shaposhnikov joined the staff. On Feb. 17,1945, by a decree of the State Defense Committee, the staff composition of the General Headquarters was fixed: Stalin (chairman), Zhukov, A. M. Vasilevskii, A. I. Antonov, N. A. Bulganin, and N. G. Kuznetsov. Attached to the General Headquarters was the institute of permanent advisors, whose staff at various times included N. F. Vatutin, N. A. Voznesenskii, N. N. Voronov, A. A. Zhdanov, P. F. Zhigarev, K. A. Meretskov, A. I. Mikoyan, B. M. Shaposhnikov, and other military, party, and government figures.

The General Headquarters of the Supreme Command brought changes and precision to and specified the details on the structure and organization of the armed forces, planned campaigns and strategic operations, and assigned missions for and directed the combat activities of fronts and fleets. It coordinated the efforts of the Soviet armed forces and the armies of the allied states and organized the joint operations of strategic groups and operational units of various branches of the armed forces, and partisan groups. It also allocated large reserve units and available supplies to the various fronts, exercised control over the fulfillment of assigned missions, and directed the study and evaluation of the war experience. The working bodies of the General Headquarters were the General Staff and the directorates of the People’s Commissariat of Defense and the People’s Commissariat of the Navy.

The General Headquarters gradually worked out the most expedient methods of strategic leadership as combat experience was accumulated and military skills were improved at the higher command and staff levels. In the course of the war, the established two-level chain of command—from the General Headquarters to the fronts or fleet—completely proved itself. During certain periods of the war, particularly at the beginning, a three-level chain of command was used, in which intermediate levels of strategic leadership were established between headquarters and the fronts. These intermediate levels—the high commands of the strategic axes—were not active long: the northwestern axis existed from July 10 through Aug. 29, 1941, the western axis from July 10 through Sept. 11, 1941, and from Feb. 1 through May 3, 1942, the southwestern axis from July 10, 1941, through June 21, 1942, and the northern Caucasian axis from Apr. 21 through May 19, 1942. The axes’ high command was inactivated as the front stabilized and as leadership of the commanders of the fronts improved. In 1945, in the last stage of the war, the post of the commander in chief of the armed forces in the Far East was established to direct operations against militarist Japan. The commander in chief had broad authority to direct the fronts, the fleet, and the flotilla. The creation of a three-level chain of command was proved justified in the conditions encountered in military actions in the Far East.

During the course of the war, the General Headquarters’ methods of strategic leadership were constantly developed and perfected. The most important questions of strategic concepts and plans of operation were discussed at meetings often attended by commanders, members of military councils of the fronts, and commanders of the armed services and of combat arms. The supreme commander in chief personally formulated the final decision on questions under discussion. The directives of the General Headquarters played an important role in the conduct of the combat activities of the fronts and fleets. They usually indicated the goals and missions of forces in combat operations, principal axes where efforts were to be concentrated, ways to make use of mobile forces, and the required strength of artillery and tanks in breakthrough areas. The General Headquarters was able to exert an active influence on the course of operations because of the large reserves at its disposal.

During the war, wide use was made of the group of General Headquarters’ representatives. Knowing the concepts and plans of the General Headquarters and possessing authority to decide operational and tactical questions, the representatives were of great help to the commanders of large operational units in preparing and conducting operations. They coordinated the actions of the fronts, especially in determining the objectives, location, and time of their joint operations. At various times, the General Headquarters’ representatives at the fronts included Marshals of the Soviet Union G. K. Zhukov, A. M. Vasilevskii, S. K. Timoshenko, and K. E. Voroshilov, Chief Marshal of Artillery N. N. Voronov, and Generals A. I. Antonov and S. M. Shtemenko.


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