Digging for Victory: Mobilization of Civilian Labor for the Battle of Kursk, 1943 Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Giblin, Daniel
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of History
  • This dissertation examines the mobilizations carried out in spring and early summer 1943, by the Red Army and civilian authorities in preparation for the Battle of Kursk, the largest tank battle in history and the turning point in the war against Hitler. This work centers on four main themes. First, it explores the initial demands the Red Army and returning Soviet civilian officials placed on a population that had just been liberated from German occupation. Even though the people had been terrorized and exhausted by eighteen months of Wehrmacht rule, the Red Army demanded that the people provide labor for its rear services while Moscow required that the collective farmers of the oblast launch a sowing campaign designed to bring in a harvest of prewar proportions. Second, it describes the elaborate propaganda campaign that Kursk’s civilian leaders organized as a means to induce the people to support the Red Army with foodstuffs and labor, while still ensuring a successful sowing operation. In this the authorities attempted to construct a relationship that characterized the people as aggrieved victims of Nazi atrocities and the Red Army as their avenging angels of death. As such the people had to devote their labor to the Soviet military, thus enabling their instrument of vengeance the means to destroy the German invader. Third, this dissertation analyzes the Red Army leadership’s decision to make a deliberate defensive stand in Kursk Oblast given the string of reckless offensives in the preceding half year of fighting. Here, one sees that the Soviet military leadership had learned that the Red Army’s two major successes in the Soviet-German War, at the battles of Moscow and Stalingrad, hinged on firm defensive stand that exhausted the German army followed immediately by a strong counteroffensive. Finally, this dissertation explains how the Red Army mobilized the people to prepare Kursk’s tank-friendly, open territory into a vast trap for the Wehrmacht’s vaunted armored forces that had, using its Blitzkrieg tactics, been wildly successful the preceding four summers of the war. By investigating the mobilization for the Battle of Kursk at the grassroots level, this dissertation uncovers a matrix of interactions between the Red Army, the returning Bolshevik Party leaders, and the civilian population in a time of extreme crisis. It shows that the Soviet Union, as a mobilization society, possessed an ability unique to all belligerents to commandeer the countryside’s vast labor reserves to serve immediate military necessity. A close examination of the mobilization processes at work, however, uncovers a rivalry between two state institutions trying to maximize their access to an unfree labor pool, while members of that work force protected their own interests through various forms of peasant resistance. As the Soviet state gave military commanders legal fiat to incorporate nearby civilians in their rear services and impress them into labor crews numbering in the tens of thousands, local political leaders relied on prewar networks of personal connections for mutual protection in order to execute the onerous tasks mandated by the state. While these three entities seemed to work at cross purposes, they still managed to create the first defensive structure that withstood the onslaught of the Nazi fighting force.
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  • In Copyright
  • Lee, Wayne
  • Krylova, Anna
  • McReynolds, Louise
  • Raleigh, Donald
  • Browning, Christopher R.
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2016

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