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Old 02-04-2015, 09:21 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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Part II:


Vladimirsky Hall, the Kremlin, 19 May, 1987; 1500 Hours Moscow Time:


Marshal Sokolov had received a full State Funeral, with interment in the Kremlin Wall, and now the funeral party was gathered in one of the Kremlin's grand halls for a reception. After the funeral procession from the Defense Ministry to the Kremlin, Marshal Sokolov's remains were interred in the Kremlin Wall, next to one of his predecessors, Dimitry Ustinov, who had died in 1984. Though many of those in attendance no doubt felt that Sokolov would now be kicking Ustinov in the rear, because he, along with many other officers, blamed Ustinov for laying the military groundwork for the war, a war that the Soviet Union was now losing.

After the funeral, there was a reception in Vladimirsky Hall, and many generals, admirals, Central Committee Members, and a number of both candidate and full members of the Politburo had gathered. Not only to pay their respects to Mrs. Sokolov, but also to talk business. And the current situation at the front was a major topic of discussion.

“How bad is it?' General Mikhail Mosiyev, the Commander of the Moscow Military District, asked General Grachev. Both men glanced over at Marshal Akhromayev, who was paying his respects to Mrs. Sokolov and her two sons, both of whom were generals themselves. One was the commander of a training tank division in the Ukraine, while the other son was on leave from a combat post. Not in America, mind, but as Chief of Staff of the 40th Army in Afghanistan. “Bad as they say?”

“Worse,” Grachev replied. “I've been wondering: was it like this in the OKW Operations Room during Kursk?”

Then Marshal Akhromayev came over. “This is Operation Bagration, only this time, we are the Fascisti. I imagine that Marshal Kribov is feeling like Model right now. Trying to put out the inferno that men like Zhukov, Rokossovosky, Bagramyan, and such set alight.”

“And who is our fireman this time?” Mosiyev asked. “If it's as bad as General Grachev has said-”

“It is, General,” Akhromayev said. “We'll be lucky if we keep the Red River line in Texas and Louisiana, and hang onto West Texas as best we can.”

Moisyev shook his head. “And whose genius was it to start this war?”

Just then, the members of the Defense Council arrived, led by General Secretary Viktor Chebrikov. KGB Chairman Boris Kosov, Interior Minister Boris Pugo, Ivan Volkov, the head of GOSPLAN; Feydor Alexandrov, the Chief Ideologist of the Party; and Foreign Minister Dimitry Tumansky. There was the ritual applause given the General Secretary, who gave a polite nod, then went over to where the widow, dressed in mourning black, sat, with her two sons and the rest of the family. Chebrikov spoke to the widow, and to those watching, something must have made Mrs. Sokolev very upset, for she stood up in a towering anger, and slapped the General Secretary on the face. There was a hush in the hall, and many expected Chairman Kosov to order his protective detail to arrest the widow on the spot. Instead, Chebrikov spoke further to the widow, and told Kosov not to get involved. Then he went to a microphone.

“Comrades, I am glad that all of you could come. First, we honor the late Marshal Sokolov, a man who gave his all to the Rodina, and to the inevitable triumph of our cause. Though we have had some setbacks-”

“That, Comrade General Secretary, is an understatement,” General Grachev muttered.

“Our cause is just, and victory is certain,” Chebrikov continued. “Though one can certainly understand why a grieving widow would react as she did, having lost a devoted husband, father, and grandfather. Still, Marshal Sokolov gave everything he had to achieving the final victory, and we will continue to march on until we have done so. And now, I have an announcement to make.”

“Now what?” General Moisyev said. “We've had enough blather for one day.”

“The full Politburo has met, and has decided on an new Defense Minister.”

“Let me guess: Yazov,” General Berkenev said to Akhromayev. Marshal Dimitry Yazov was CINC-FAR EAST, and was engaged in not only supporting the resupply effort to Alaska, but also conducting operations along the Soviet-Manchurian border, keeping the remnants of the Chinese Army on their side of the border, as well as conducting air attacks against targets in South Korea and Japan. However, the consensus in the General Staff was that the success that Yazov had was largely due to his staff, and that Yazov wasn't fit to command anything higher than a division.

“Would you rather have Marshal Orgakov?” Akhromayev asked. Marshal Nikolai Orgakov had been the Chief of the General Staff prewar, before being sent to become CINC-WEST in East Germany. Though NATO had been dissolved, there were still forces in East Germany and in Czechoslovakia, just in case. Though a number of GSFG's premier units had been sent to North America, they had been replaced with divisions brought forward from the Soviet Union. However, Orgakov was loathed in Moscow, for he had helped with the initial planning for the war, and he had been blamed for the plan's initial failure. CINC-WEST wasn't the post it had been earlier, but was a decent way to put a general out to pasture.

“Not particularly,” Berkenev said. “You, though, are the only other choice. Unless they want to bring Marshal Kribov back from his command.”

“The man has enough troubles at the moment,” General Grachev said.

“After considering a number of possible candidates for the position, the Poliburo has decided to appoint Marshal Sergei Akhromayev to the position of Defense Minister of the USSR,” General Secretary Chebrikov announced. And there was at first a hush among the crowd, then there was the ritual round of applause.

Several generals turned to Akhromayev, who simply nodded. “Well, I have been tried and condemned, and must go forward to execution.” He went up to the General Secretary, shook hands, and embraced. “I accept the post, Comrade General Secretary.”

“I realize that this is a difficult time,” Chebrikov said. “However, in spite of the untimely death of your predecessor, and the situation at the front, I know you will take things in hand, and get a firm grip on the situation. And lead our forces to final victory. You have the support of the Politburo, the Central Committee, the Party, and the People.”

“I serve the Soviet Union!” Akhromayev said.

“Good, Comrade Minister. You are not only Defense Minister, but are also a full member of the Politburo and the Defense Council,”

“Thank you, Comrade General Secretary,” Akhromayev nodded. Though silently, he was wishing that Chebrikov would be the next one to drop dead.

“Congratulations, Comrade Minister,” Chebrikov said, and there was another round of applause. Then Akhromayev went back to the generals.

“Congratulations, Comrade Minister,” General Grachev said. “Though I imagine you would rather have a field command.”

Akhromayev nodded. “You imagine correctly, Grachev,” he replied. “First, when you get back to the Ministry?”

“Comrade Minister?”

“I want a list of candidates for the position of Deputy Defense Minister. And please, leave Orgakov and Yazov off the list.”

“As you wish, Comrade Minister,” Grachev said.

Then the service chiefs came over to offer their congratulations. Though one, Admiral Vladimir Chernavin, lingered for a few minutes. “Comrade Minister, I need a one-on-one talk with you. In your office, as soon as possible.”

“Of course, Comrade Admiral,” Akhromayev said. “What can I do for you?”

“You know the naval situation?”

“Yes, and your predecessor, the great Admiral Gorshkov, built the Soviet Navy into a world-class fighting force. However...”

“However, it is not the Navy we need. And we've taken serious losses in this conflict. I need more materials for cruiser, destroyer, and submarine construction. If I'm to escort our convoys to Alaska, Cuba, and Mexico, I need cruisers and destroyers. And submarines to interdict the enemy sea lines of communication,” Chernavin pressed.

Akhromayev knew exactly what was needed. He had been regularly briefed on the war at sea. “Come by my office, tomorrow morning. I'll press the Defense Council to allocate more resources to new construction and for battle-damage repair in the shipyards.”

“Thank you, Comrade Minister, but it's not just that. My Naval Aviation force needs more long-range bombers. And we need to finish our carrier construction as soon as possible. If our convoys had their own air cover....”

Akhromayev knew what the Admrial meant. “You know the saying, you go to war with what you have, not with what you wish you had. But...bring that up as well. I'll see what can be done.”

Chernavin was relieved. “Thank you, Comrade Minister.”

Then Major Sorokin brought over a young Tank Forces Major. “Comrade Minister, may I present Major Nikolai Sokolov, from the 734th Independent Tank Regiment? He is the grandson of Marshal Sokolov.”

“Comrade Major,” Akhromayev nodded politely. “Please accept my condolences on the loss of your grandfather. He will be deeply missed.”

“Thank you, Comrade Marshal,” Major Sokolov replied. “I was able to get emergency leave from Cuba. Our regiment was supposed to be in Kansas for the offensive, but never got there. We were in Cuba, awaiting our T-80s. They never arrived. Some American or British submarine commander got lucky, they say, and sank the ship carrying my battalion's tanks.”

“How much of your regiment's equipment made it to Cuba?' Akhromayev asked.

“Barely half,” Major Sokolov replied. “Right now, we're not fit to deploy any further.”

“Your unit was a veteran one, correct?”

“Yes, Comrade Marshal. We deployed with T-64s and BMP-1s. And we were very good. In February, we turned over our equipment to another unit, and went to Cuba to await the T-80s. Only one battalion's worth of tanks arrived, though.”

“I see...” Akhromayev said. “When do you fly back to Cuba?”

“Day after tomorrow, Comrade Marshal,” Sokolov replied.

“Not anymore,” Akhromayev said. “Report to my office at 1200 tomorrow. New orders will await you. I want veteran officers on my staff, and we'll be cleaning out the useless ones. And it will look good on your record, should a regiment or brigade become available.”

“Comrade Marshal,” Sokolov gave a slight bow. “Thank you.”

“And the rest of your family?'

“My uncle only has daughters. However, my brother Vitaly is a fighter pilot in Alaska. He's been busy defending against American air strikes from carriers and their long-range bombers. He is a fighter pilot, and is doing what fighter pilots want to do.”

“I understand, Comrade Major,” Akhromayev said. “However.....your family has paid dearly for its service to the Rodina. If he is injured severely enough, he will be evacuated home. I promise it.”

“Thank you, Comrade Marshal.”

While Akhromayev was making his rounds, General Maslov was doing so as well. He met several candidate members of the Politburo, and found that they had only found out the day before the extent of the disaster, and were shaken. Minister of Petroleum Mikhail Sergetov was visibly upset. “How bad is it, really? My son is a tank officer, and has seen his share of combat.”

“It's worse than you think. We'll be back halfway to Mexico if we're lucky,” Maslov said.

Mikhail Gorbachev, a former full member who'd been demoted to candidate status after Andropov's death, asked. “Now what?”

“Comrade Minster,” Maslov said. “We'd better start thinking of a way out.”

Boris Yeltsin, the Party Boss of Moscow and also a candidate member of the Politburo, nodded. “This war has gone on long enough. And have you heard the latest?”

“What?” Maslov asked. What could this civilian have heard to interest him?

“At the last meeting before Marshal Sokolov's death, Interior Minister Pugo suggested releasing Gulag inmates, those sentenced for criminal offenses and are between the ages of eighteen and thirty, and drafting them into the military.”

Maslov was appalled. “What? Robbers, rapists, and murderers? In the Army? That's the last thing we need. We have enough trouble with the ALA having done the same thing.”

“Comrade General, given the need for military manpower...” Yeltsin said. “If you have another solution, you people in the ministry had better come up with one.”

“I'll inform the Marshal. He won't like this any more than you do.”

While Maslov had been talking with some of the civilian opposition, Akhromayev had been talking with General Berkenev and Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnkyh. The Deputy Minister had been talking with American and British negotiators in Geneva about a possible diplomatic solution to the war. And, like the generals, wanted a way out.

“I'll be returning to Geneva, but I doubt the Americans and British will even talk,” Bessmertnkyh was saying. “All of our offers, even the most recent one, have been turned down.”

“And what was that?” Akhromayev asked.

“We would give up our demand about annexing Alaska, and make it an independent state, along with British Columbia. As well as our intention to give California, Arizona, and New Mexico back to Mexico, and make Texas an independent Socialist state, under our tutelage and the Cubans,” the diplomat replied.

“And the Allies rejected those out of hand?” Berkenev asked.

“Totally,” Bessmertnkyh replied. “Our last offer eliminated all of that, except for Texas. An independent Texas would be a buffer between America and Mexico.”

“And after the failure of the Wichita offensive,” Akhromayev said. “They summarily dismissed that offer as well.”

“Totally,” the diplomat nodded. “They threw down a copy of Le Monde in front of me, With a headline about the American offensive. I was told, bluntly, that 'We'll see you on the Rio Grande.' Talk to us then.” And the American, British,and Canadian negotiators walked out.”

“They mean to settle this on the battlefield, “ Berkenev observed.

“Yes,” the Marshal confirmed. “They have the initiative now, and they won't let go.”

“I see...” the diplomat noted.

“What are the chances they'll return to the talks?” Akhromayev asked. “If we can hold them, and inflict a sharp reverse.”

“If you can do that, Comrade Marshal, it would give me some leverage. If they return, that is. Right now, I don't see that happening. I'll return to Geneva, but I'm not optimistic about my chances.”

“Better you stay there for a while,” Berkenev said. “It's more beneficial to your health.”

“I see no reason to argue with that, Comrade General.”


Minister's Office, Ministry of Defense, Moscow, RSFSR, 21 May, 1987, 0800 Hours Moscow Time:

Marshal Akhromayev sat behind his desk, and looked at his staff. After receiving the morning situation briefing, he had been appalled. The pocket in Colorado was being steadily ground down, and several attempts at a breakout, by Soviet, Cuban, and East German troops, had been a slaughter. Only a division's worth of Soviet troops had managed to get away, while the Poles, Czechs, and Hungarians had fought for a few hours, then allowed themselves to be overrun by the Americans. General Berkenev had even shown the staff a clip from American television, with a reporter talking to a Nicaraguan lieutenant. The reporter had asked the Nicaraguan why his battalion had surrendered without a shot being fired, and the man had replied with sound civilian logic. “We didn't fire back because that would have been a mistake.” Already, there were rumblings from Managua that the Nicaraguans' enthusiasm for the war was cooling significantly. The same was true in Warsaw and Prague.

“The American pincers will close in a few hours, Comrade Marshal, if they haven't already. Every attempt at a breakout has ended in a massacre,” Grachev reported. “Once the forces inside the pocket have exhausted their ammunition, and they will within four or five days, they will surrender.”

“And Kribov can't relieve them,” Akhromayev noted. “If he had another tank army, he could try. Or if General Kozlov, the commander of 2nd Central Front, hadn't committed 3rd Shock Army...” Third Shock Army, one of the most powerful formations in GSFG, had been in America since the start. They had run wild in Texas and Oklahoma, and now...they had been gutted at a place in Kansas called Newton, north of Wichita, and found the U.S. VII Corps waiting for them. It had gone as expected-if one was an American, and Third Shock had been sent back reeling. Its commander, Starukhuin, had reformed and tried again, but had run into a buzz saw of tanks and anti-tank guided weapons. Now, the entire Soviet front line was being steadily pushed back into Eastern New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas, and only a fierce delaying action was preventing things from getting worse.

“Yes, Comrade Marshal,” Grachev replied, and the other officers nodded agreement.

“All right. Now that Kribov's back in full command, we may have a chance on the Red River line. Keep pressing the Navy to get more supplies and equipment into Cuba and Mexico, and see what we can do about getting those units that have been shot up refitted. We'll need them all in the weeks and months to come.”

“Comrade Marshal,” Baranov nodded.

“I'll be taking with Admiral Chernavin later today, and see what we can do to help the Navy. Now, I'm not in favor of this idea to draft inmates out of the Gulag into the Army. We've got reservists called to the colors in 1985 who were in either the Strategic Rocket Forces or the Voyska PVO, correct?”

“Yes, Comrade Marshal,” his chief of personnel, a full general, replied.

“Good. Get me CINC-SRF and CINC-PVO here, as soon as possible. I want to cut those reservists loose and get them into the Army. We need the manpower. PVO men can go into army air defense units, while the SRF personnel are mainly guards, correct?”

“That is so, Comrade Marshal.”

“Good. We can use those guards in motor-rifle units, while PVO men can also go into artillery fire-direction teams. It's better than using Gulag inmates.” Akhromayev said, relaying what he'd been told about drafting Gulag inmates into the Army to help with the manpower shortage.

“Yes, Comrade Marshal.”

“All right: Berkenev: try and get some back-channel contacts of your own with the Americans. I don't care if it's in West Berlin, Bangkok, or Hong Kong. Find out what their minimum conditions are for ending the war. I know, this is the Foreign Ministry's job, but with Tumansky, he's as hard-line as they come.”

“I will see to it, Comrade Marshal,” Berkenev replied.

“Now, talk with the candidate members of the Politburo, and see what they're up to. They aren't happy about being left in the dark, and only briefed when the Defense Council feels like it. Do you have anyone in mind?”

“General Maslov does, I believe, Comrade Marshal,” Berkenev said, gesturing to the Deputy Chief of the General Staff.

“Good. Talk to him, and start sounding those people out. Before you go: I want you to remember this. As of today, we are not fighting for the final victory of socialism. Anyone who still thinks we are needs to see the footage the Americans are beaming all over the world. Footage of burning tanks, wrecked APCs, corpses of Soviet soldiers, and shocked prisoners being sent to the American rear. We've lost the initiative, and right now, we're losing the war.”

“Comrade Marshal?” General Georgy Novikov, the Chief of the Red Army Political Directorate, asked.

“Party dogma is a poor substitute for battlefield reality,” Akhromayev said. “Right now, we're fighting for an honorable peace. A peace that enables us to withdraw from the war with our dignity and honor somewhat intact. If, that is,” the Marshal added, nodding at Berkenev, “the Americans and their allies will let us.”

His staff looked at each other, then at the Marshal.

“Right now, if we get out of this with a return to the prewar status quo, we'll be damned lucky. That's what we're fighting for, Comrades. Thank you, and I will see you tomorrow morning.”

After the staff had left, only Major Sorkin had remained. He knew that the consequences for his brother might be serious, but Arkady was airborne through and through. The Major saw as Akhormayev filled his tea cup, then went to his office window, and looked out over Moscow. “Comrade Marshal?”

“There's only one thing I'm wondering,” the Marshal said. “How many good Russian boys are going to die in a losing war before all is said and done?”

“Too many, I'm afraid, Comrade Marshal,” Sorokin replied. “But we can only do our duty.”

“Exactly so, Comrade Major,” Akhromayev said, finishing his tea. Then his speaker phone buzzed. “Yes?”

“Comrade Marshal,” his secretary's voice came over the speaker. “Admiral Chernavin is here.”

“Send him in, please.” Before the Admiral came in, Akhromayev turned to Sorokin. “Major, before today is over, arrange a visit for me to the Airborne Officers' College in Ryazan, and the Kharkov Guards Tank Training College. I want to get into the field as much as possible, even in this job.”

Sorokin smiled. “Yes, Comrade Marshal.”

“Good, off with you, then,” Akromayev said as Admiral Chernavin entered the office. This would be an earful, he knew. “And close the door after the Admiral enters.”

“Comrade Marshal,” Sorokin replied.

“Good morning, Admiral,” the Marshal said as the doors closed. This would be a long talk, he knew.....
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