Russia In World War 2

The great war plan, preparations, collapse, and recovery - a revised view

The history of Russia in World War 2 is still being revised. In the first decades after World War 2, the historiography of Russia's part in the war in between 1939 and the end of 1941, was largely based on a combination of the strictly censored Russian state propaganda's version and of what was known outside Russia, which was then closed behind the "Iron Curtain" of the Cold War.

Eventually, two new factors provided new insights and new proofs which enable a revision that let us get much closer to the truth.

The first factor was the great and laborious work of a few open-minded 2nd generation independent researchers like Viktor Suvorov and Mark Solonin, which applied analytic approaches to the vast scope of publicly available Russian wartime and post-war documentation and literature, detected thousands of small details of information that slipped over the years through the Soviet censorship, and processed these into coherent new insights which dramatically changed our perception of what happened, both before the German invasion (Suvorov's work), and after it started (Solonin's work).

First and foremost of these researchers was Vladimir Rezun (known by his pen name Viktor Suvorov), a Russian military intelligence officer who applied his deep knowledge of intelligence gathering and analysis methods, and of Russian military doctrines, to Russia's World War 2 military literature, with dramatic results.

The second factor was the partial removal of the deep cover of censorship from Russian military and state archives for a period of just five years, between the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union in 1991 and the gradual recovery of conservative nationalism in the Russian government, marked, for example, by the rise to power of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer. This gap of five years of relative openness was used by historians to access previously closed archives and reach documents which provide previously unavailable proofs that further support the claims of Suvorov and the other researchers. Since the mid-1990s, 'mainstream' western historiography increasingly accepts both the main claims and the main supporting facts and evidence of the pioneering work of researchers like Suvorov, and the "history as we know it" of Russia in World War 2 is being re-written.

The 'old' historiography of Russia in 1939-1941 can be summarized to this:

  • In August 1939 Stalin's Communist Russia signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler's Nazi Germany in order to keep the aggressive Hitler away from Russia.
  • The two dictatorships' mighty armies then attacked and occupied Poland from West and East and divided it between them.
  • While Hitler occupied half of Europe from Norway to Greece, Russia occupied the Baltic states and parts of Finland and Romania.
  • To keep Hitler appeased all this time, Stalin's Russia provided Germany, as agreed, with large quantities of war materials and even operational support services to assist the German war effort.
  • On June 22, 1941, Germany, together with its allies (Finland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, Italy), invaded Russia in a gigantic surprise attack.
  • The mighty German military, the most efficient in the world then, applied its successful Blitzkrieg tactic, and the terrible unpreparedness and deployment in concentrations close to the border of the giant Russian army, helped the Germans to achieve tremendous and rapid victories that defeated the brave and fully equipped but surprised and unprepared Russians, forcing millions of encircled Russian soldiers to surrender.
  • Hitler's German military, exhausted and not equipped for the harsh Russian winter, was finally stopped just before Moscow.
  • Russia survived and recovered from its enormous losses, increased its strength while fighting fiercely, and eventually pushed the Germans all the way back to Berlin, emerging from the long and terrible war as a super-power, an equal only to the United States. Most of this story is correct, but there are two major problems with this story that attracted the attention of the analytical researchers, and which I will discuss here:

    1. It appears as if in all the time of years months and weeks before the German invasion in June 1941, the Russian military and leadership were consistently irrational and made almost every possible mistake, not just in how and where the majority of the giant Russian forces were deployed, but even in terms of military planning, military procurement, and political decisions. This was simply too bad to be true and demanded a better explanation, which Suvorov provides.

    2. It appears as if once the fighting started, the quality advantage of the formidably efficient Germans over the poor Russian soldiers was so great, that it resulted in amazing, enormous, total and almost immediate German victories that dwarfed even their great victories in France a year earlier. The alleged tremendous rate of German success in destroying the giant Russian military in the first days and weeks of the invasion, was simply too high to be true, and demanded a better explanation, which Solonin provides.

    The most prepared for war - the great Soviet war plan

    It is well known how the western allies prepared for the invasion of Normandy for over two years, how they considered every possible aspect of the enormous preparations, trained huge forces, some purposely trained for specific roles, invented new purpose-designed weapons and other equipment, and even conducted smaller scale invasions in order to find out early enough where they were wrong and fix it before the big operation.

    Under Stalin's dictatorship, Russia's military, industrial, domestic, and diplomatic preparations for a second World War were of greater magnitude. Furthermore, in August 1939 Stalin was in a position in which he could prevent Hitler's invasion of Poland, the invasion that started World War 2, and he knew it well and said so. But at that decisive point in history, instead of preventing war, Stalin did the opposite. He cleared the way and provided guarantees for Hitler to invade, after he knew for sure that this will start a war not just in Poland but also in Western Europe, a war that the Communist ideology expected, planned and prepared for, and desired. Then, with Germany at war with Britain and France, Stalin's Russia moved to the 2nd phase of its long term preparations. Russia moved to a maximum effort war regime in which it enormously expanded its military force and military production rates, expanded its territory westwards, by force, which also gave it a long common border with Germany, and finally in 1941 began to mobilize millions and transferred its enormous attack-oriented forces to the German and Romanian borders, and prepared to enter the European war in a gigantic attack that would:

    1. Immediately cut Germany's main source of oil in Ploesti, in southern Romania, just about 120 miles from the Russian border, in order to paralyze Hitler's armed forces for lack of oil (as eventually happened in 1944).
    2. Defeat the exhausted Germany and its allies across the entire front from the Finland in the North to the Black Sea in the South - a mirror image of the German attack that eventually started in June 22, 1941.
    3. Continue with the Communist "liberation" of the entire Europe, by advancing all the way first to Germany, then to France, and Spain, bringing all of Europe under the brutal totalitarian regime which the Russian people already "enjoyed" then, that made Russia one big prison with countless prisons in it.

    Hitler's Germany managed to be the first to attack, by a narrow gap of a few weeks at most (Suvorov's conclusion, based on various evidence, is that Russia's Red Army was going to attack on July 6, 1941, so Hitler got ahead of them by exactly two weeks). The German attack forced the Red Army put its operational plans aside. It returned to those plans and implemented them three years later, except that since by then the situation was different, Communism occupied only Eastern Europe, not all of it.

    The plan to invade Germany and conquer all of Europe in the name of Communism's expansionist ideology, is likely the greatest secret of World War 2 that remains officially Top Secret. The Communist Empire kept that secret for five decades, preferring to appear peaceful and militarily incapable, even dumb, than to appear as the aggressive expansionist "Evil Empire" that it always was. And modern Russia, nationalist but no longer Communist, understandably might never officially admit that either, although key evidence slipped out of their control.

    Some key details :

    Expansionist Ideology - While Hitler's Nazi ideology publicly officially and repeatedly declared since the 1920s that its goal is nothing short of global domination by force, the Communist Soviet Union declared the goal of global conquest by force, but it started even earlier. The Soviet Red Army's official defining goal is the same. Not national defence but rather global conquest by aggressive global war to bring Communism to power everywhere.

    Although they were natural enemies for centuries and fought each other so many times, including in the first World War, the Communist Russia made an allegedly irrational secret deal with post-WWI Germany in 1922, even before Hitler's era, in which in return for secretly providing nothing more than training grounds and facilities for the German military to keep its shape and further develop advanced military technology and tactics in total violation of the peace treaty imposed by the western countries, Russia in return got direct access to the best and latest tactics and military technologies of its most capable past and future enemy, the German military, which was indeed the most efficient and most technologically advanced military force in the world then. The mutual strategic interest of the two enemies created a secret deal that enabled a dramatic improvement of Russian military doctrines and technology, and supported a recovery of German military power after WWI, which was later turned against the western powers, as Communism predicted and wanted.

    Since 1931, despite its bad economic situation, Russia increased its military industry potential to that of a super-power. Masked as public sports, it trained ten of millions of men in expensive state-paid military 'sports' like parachuting, gliding, flying, weapons training, and other 'sports'. Participation was initially voluntary, and then became mandatory. By 1935 Russia had 140,000 glider pilots, and in Dec. 1936 the government's youth newspaper called for training 150,000 aircraft pilots, all state-paid and of course quite expensive. By 1941 there were 121,000 'civilian sports'-trained pilots. The other pilots were of course trained, and then mass-trained, by the Russian Air Force. The number of flight schools in the Russian Air Force increased to 12 in 1937, to 18 in January 1940, to 28 in Sept. 1940, and to 41 in early 1941. Russia trained military and para-military pilots and paratroopers at an enormous cost and at an incredible rate which even dramatically increased in 1939 and then even further in 1940, far beyond any reasonable defensive need. In 1941 the Russians had a million trained military paratroopers, a fantastic number, suitable only for a gigantic war of aggression, not for defending Russia as plain infantry. Tens of millions were 'just' trained in the cheaper 'sport' of weapons training. By June 1941, after more than doubling the manpower of the regular military, Russia had an additional reserve military force of 29 million already trained soldiers.

    In August 1939, Stalin had secret negotiations with Germany and, separately, with Britain and France. On one hand, Hitler told Stalin he was going to attack Poland and needed to know whether Russia will allow it (or even participate) or will it fight against it. On the other hand, Britain and France assured Stalin that if Hitler will invade their ally Poland they will declare war against Hitler. Knowing that, and knowing that Hitler did not believe in Britain's and France's resolution to defend Poland, Stalin gladly promised his support to Hitler. It is true that due to the 'weakness' of the French and British proposals, Russia had strong reasons to choose to make the deal with Hitler as it did, but historians now have the proof that Russia made the deal with Hitler with explicit intention and knowledge that this will start a European war that will first exhaust Germany France and Britain and then the fully prepared Russia will attack Germany and will occupy all of Europe. Stalin clearly explained all that to his government in a meeting on Aug. 19, 1939, in which he told them exactly why Russia is going to sign (four days later) the deal with Hitler's Germany, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, that cleared the way for Hitler to start World War 2.


    Between August 1939 and June 1941, when Germany was at war in the West, Russia devoted all its resources to prepare for war with Germany. In that period the regular Russian army expanded from 2,000,000 soldiers to 5,500,000 soldiers, and many millions more were given military training in order to be called as ready reserves once the war starts. In fact, between Aug. 1939 and June 1941, the Russian army expanded and moved towards the western border from remote inland regions at such rate that the German intelligence simply could not keep track of it, and was therefore terribly wrong in its estimates of the size of the Russian force it was about to attack.

    The Russian military industry, that was already enormous, switched, in January 1939!, to an extreme wartime regime, and produced vast quantities of tanks, aircraft, and particularly vast stockpiles of ammunition, so much that there was a separate government minister for ammunition production beside the minister of military industry. Work hours increased. In June 1940 the entire country switched to seven days of work per week, then work hours increased too, initially to 10 hours per day, then to 12 hours per day, and since mid 1940 the penalty for any failure to provide the requested quotas or product quality, or even just being late for work, was years in prison. This wartime work regime was so extreme that later, even in the worst days of the war, there was no need to add to it, since Russia was already making its maximum war effort since before Hitler invaded. The Russian army's General Staff also worked since 1940 around the clock, preparing for war like mad, although Russia was still allegedly with excellent relations with Germany. Since Feb. 1941, under Zhukov, the Russian army General Staff and units' staffs worked 15 to 17 hours per day, seven days per week, preparing for war.

    The military production and mobilization effort in Russia since January 1939 was so extreme that it could not be sustained for a long time. It was a major countdown for a planned war, exactly as designed by the Russian military doctrine, which defined not only wartime tactics but also put equal emphasis on detailing the optimal path to an optimal planned war - a full scale mobilization of the nation and the industry, to be followed by a gigantic surprise attack and the occupation of the enemy countries.

    All resources were put into mobile aggressive military measures and units (tanks, a million paratroopers !!, tactical attack aircraft, etc), not into defensive or 'static' measures ( land mines, fortifications, anti-aircraft units, long range bombers etc.). The entire doctrine of the Russian armed forces was aggressive. Defensive tactics were not taught at all and were considered defeatist in an army that by definition was intended to conquer all other countries.

    Millions of maps of Germany and Romania were distributed in the Russian army. Maps of Russia were few.

    Hitler always intended to invade Russia and declared it, but the war against Britain forced him to delay that, but when Stalin annexed the eastern part of Romania by ultimatum, and got his army to a distance of just 120 miles from his source of oil in Ploesti, Romania, that's when Hitler realized how dangerous his position was, and that he had to move fast, so although this meant war in two fronts (Britain in the West and Russia in the East), a thing that Germany always wanted to avoid, he ordered his army to prepare to invade Russia as soon as possible, "in the first clear days of May 1941". Unexpected complication in the Balkans eventually postponed the German attack until June 22nd, 1941.

    In June 1941, shortly before the German invasion, Russia removed border fences and other obstacles along its western border, to enable rapid border crossing - of the the Russian army moving West, not in order to help the enemy cross into Russia. The entire NKVD border guards force evacuated the border and moved inland, replaced in their positions by regular army units.


    The majority of the Russian army and Air Force and enormous stockpiles of ammunition were concentrated along the border, not inland. Furthermore, the enormous piles of ammunition were plainly deployed in the fields and near the border region's train stations, exposed to the weather, not in weather-proof depots and bunkers, so they could not survive the autumn rains and the winter. This in itself has only one meaning, that Russia was going to invade Germany in the summer of 1941.

    This enormous amount of ammunition was placed very close to its consumers, the artillery, armor, and infantry units, and was going to be consumed soon, in the planned Russian attack. Russia even placed many new large ammunition factories, built in 1939-1941, close to the border, not inland, where their output could be quickly shipped to the border, but where they were also very vulnerable in case of an invasion into Russia.

    The most significant concentrations were in Poland and along the Romanian border in the South. Along the southern end of the Romanian border, near the Black Sea, and near Ploesti, were very large concentrations of mountain infantry, Marines, amphibious units, paratroops, bombers, which were far more useful to attack Romania's mountains, and oil fields, than to defend the Russian flat terrain behind them. For defensive purposes, the entire Russian military array at the southern end of the border was simply irrational, and very vulnerable to attack, but
    it was perfect for attacking Romania and cutting off Hitler's oil supply as fast as possible.

    The only doctrine in the Soviet military was that of a full scale surprise attack that comes after a hidden mobilization, and followed by deeper attacks into enemy territory. Nothing else was taught in Russian military academies.

    The modern Russian military historiography is full of evidence that the Russian army was preparing since 1940 for a planned aggressive war against Germany.


    The Russian Air Force always used long range heavy bombers. In August 1939 Stalin ordered to abandon further procurement and development of heavy bombers and shift all resources to tactical ground attack aircraft, which are more suitable for an aggressive war, in which the plan is to conquer vast enemy territories in a fast war, not destroy its cities with bombers in a long war of attrition. This is exactly like what happened in the German Air Force, for the same reasons. Britain and the US developed long range bombers - but they did not intend to conquer enemy countries. Germany, and Russia, did. Also, the date of Stalin's decision, and other similar military procurement and mobilization decisions, matches that of his his main decision to star a war to conquer Germany and the rest of Europe, the decision in Aug. 19, 1939 that opened the door for Hitler to invade Poland and conveniently start that war for Stalin. 

     In June 1941, behind the Soviet armies on the border, in addition to the military police units that were supposed to block deserters there were also three full mobile armies of the NKVD, the Russian secret police, and of Communist party officials. Their role was to take full political control of the occupied countries and eliminate all resistance. Blocking deserters is useful for defence too, but such an enormous political-police force is useful only for a planned war of occupation.

    To summarize, driven by its expansionist Communist ideology, Russia (then the U.S.S.R, or Soviet Union) planned and prepared in every possible military and civilian aspect, and at an enormous scale and cost, to an aggressive war of invasion and occupation, and NOT to a war of defense. While Hitler's aggression was genuinely his own, Russia cynically used it with the intention that while Germany and the western powers will exhaust each other at war, which they did, Russia will maximize and complete its enormous preparations for war, and will in the summer of 1941 perform a gigantic surprise attack that will first cut Hitler's Romanian oil supply, then defeat Germany, and then continue to complete the occupation of all of Europe, all the way to Spain. This was the largest, longest, and deepest pre-war effort ever in history, but it was knocked out of course (yet partially implemented later, in 1944, resulting in the occupation of 'just' half of Europe) because of a combination of three factors:

    1. In mid 1940, following the Russian ultimatum to Romania, Germany's ally and only source of oil, Hitler realized how urgent it became for him to strike Russia (which he always intended to do) as soon as possible and regardless of his unfinished war with Britain and lack of readiness for the Russian winter. In July 1940 the German military was ordered to prepare to invade Russia as soon as the weather will permit in May 1941.

    2. Stalin was repeatedly warned by his intelligence services, military advisors, and by Britain, that the Germans are also preparing a giant surprise attack against Russia, and was advised by Zhukov and the General Staff to start the planned Russian surprise attack earlier, in May 1941, instead of waiting to complete ALL the preparations, but Stalin, relying mostly on the verified fact that the German military was not ready for Russian winter conditions, dismissed the warnings and preferred to wait just a little more t complete the preparations for the Russian surprise attack, but that was a little too late, and Hitler struck first, not prepared for winter, but still at enormous power, with the world's most effective army then.

    3. The human factor of morale. When the Germans invaded, instead of fiercely fighting back, the mighty Soviet military machine collapsed and disintegrated at an incredible rate.


    The missing part of the Red Army's collapse

    It is obvious that suffering a surprise attack by millions of soldiers of the world's best army is shocking, and can result in a military collapse, in high rate of casualties, in organized and unorganized retreats, in surrenders of entire encircled units, etc. Also, the German Blitzkrieg tactic was designed to achieve mass encirclements that will result in mass surrenders of encircled enemy units. The fact that the majority of the Russian ground and air forces, even some naval bases, were deployed close to the border, deployed in the fields and forests in pre-attack concentrations instead of being dug-in, or fortified, or deployed in deep arrays of multiple lines of defense, and further the fact that very large forces and equipment were still on the railways to the front when the Germans attacked, so that they or at least their vehicles were still stuck on trains, all that can further explain the tremendous losses and chaos that the Russians suffered in the first hours, days, weeks, of the German invasion.

    But what Russian historiography censored for decades, is the large scale of total morale collapse of Soviet armed forces and Communist party establishments which escaped, 'disappeared', or surrendered before they even were engaged in battle. Millions, from privates to Generals, individually or as entire units, abandoned their tanks, guns, air bases, without battle, and escaped on vehicles or on foot, or simply disappeared into the nearby villages and forests.

    Fighting and then losing is one thing. Massive and rapid escape without a fight and massive voluntary surrender, are another, and Soviet censorship tried to hide that, by further intensifying the myth of the destructiveness of the German attack, and by further intensifying the belief that the entire red army was right on the border. There are reports of entire unit staffs which escaped without battle and were found again hundreds of kilometers to the East. There were tens of Generals who disappeared and were never located again. There are reports of tank divisions which, although they were not right on the border and were not engaged in fighting in the first day, miraculously 'lost' 100% of their tanks and other fighting equipment in the second day of fighting, without actually being engaged in battle, and then escaped hundreds of kilometers eastwards almost without losing a single truck even to technical malfunction. There are reports of entire Air Force regiments which reported that they suffered negligible or no losses in the air or on the ground at the first day, and then simply abandoned their air bases and escaped by trucks and on foot. In 1941 Russia lost millions of soldiers. Only 32% of the reported losses were the dead and wounded. Millions surrendered, many of them as fast as they could, and so many others escaped from the front, either disappeared or remained in service, but only after a distant escape and after abandoning every weapon or equipment, even rifles and light mortars, that could force them to stay and fight.

    The apparent reasons for this mass unwillingness to fight were:

    A further intensified mental shock of those who were always trained educated and taught others that attack and victory are the only possible option, and suddenly found themselves under massive surprise attack for which they never planned or prepared.

    Stalin, the murderous dictator, was surrounded with people who told him much too often what he wanted to hear about Russia's preparations for war. The enormous reported numbers of material production and manpower training were perhaps correct. For example the figures of vast mass-training of pilots (which, by the way, were NOT volunteers, unlike pilots anywhere else in the world), and received minimal training, in order to keep up with the enormous training quotas dictated by Stalin.

    But what Stalin never suspected, was the possibility that in his regime of mass terror and fear, where so many millions were imprisoned and millions others killed by the police, and where tens of millions starved for years in order to pay for the enormous cost of the vast effort to convert Russia with a period of just two decades from a mostly agricultural country to an industrial militarist super-power with gigantic military power. Stalin never suspected that under a massive attack on his brutal regime, the people, the millions of soldiers who previously suffered from the regime, millions were former political prisoners of which many were recruited from hard labor prisons directly to war front military service, will favor surrender to defending their homeland, or will have no willingness to fight immediately as they realized that since they're country is being massively attacked there's a good chance that they can escape from the war without being punished by the formidable regime. Given the possibility that for the first time in their life non-cooperation with the Communist regime will NOT be severely punished, so many favored that option, and that's something the Russian censorship could never admit.

    So while in all material aspects Russia was enormously prepared for war, and could therefore theoretically manage much better than it did, even under a massive surprise attack, in morale terms, the Russian people in the front (which rapidly moved East all across the long front), were generally unwilling to fight for their terrible terror regime once fear of it was lost since the regime itself was being attacked and in danger.

    The Russian people starts fighting seriously

    One of the great laws of war is Never invade Russia.

    ~Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery

    History knows no greater display of courage than that shown by the people of the Soviet Union.

    ~Secretary of War Henry Stimson

    There were heroic exceptions of very persistent and fanatic Russian fighting of course, right from the very first moments of the German surprise attack. For centuries, Russian soldiers and civilians were known for their toughness, their ability to persist in terrible conditions. That's part of Russian culture, regardless of whether it's a result of having to survive Russia's cruel weather, as some suggest, or not.

    The Russian border fortress in Brest, Poland, for example, with 4000 Russian soldiers, was massively attacked and encircled immediately when the Germans invaded. Despite being besieged, outnumbered 10:1, running out of food, water, ammunition, the Russian defenders fought fiercely for five weeks, while the war front moved hundreds of kilometers behind them, and later resistance of a few survivors continued underground for months. For the Germans, Brest was a very bitter first taste of the type of fierce Russian fighting they would later experience in Stalingrad and elsewhere.

    In the city of Smolensk, on the main road to Moscow, the advancing Germans encircled in the 3rd week of fighting a large Russian force, but unlike other encirclements, this force did not surrender. It kept fighting fiercely, counter attacked the Germans, and eventually succeeded in braking out of the encirclement in order to continue fighting. Similar persistent fighting took place in Odessa, Murmansk, and elsewhere, and especially in Leningrad, which remained besieged, terribly starved, and shelled since the 3rd month of the war, and kept fighting for over two years until the horrible siege was finally removed by the advancing Russian army.

    What eventually changed the attitude of the millions of Russian soldiers and made such persistent fierce fighting the norm of the Russian army everywhere, was the gradual realization that they were under an attack of unprecedented deliberate cruelty that intended to literally decimate and destroy the Russian people, as Hitler ordered his army and S.S, according to the Nazi ideology of a war of racial destruction of the German "masters race" against the Russians in the occupied territories which were treated, both civilians and captured prisoners of war, with terrible cruelty that intended to make them all die of cold and starvation. Vast numbers of Russian prisoners of war died of starvation and of exposure to the harsh weather, and so were countless civilians in the captured villages who were either mass murdered or simply stripped of their winter clothing and left to die of exposure in the snow. With time, a stream of surviving starved refugees, both civilians and escaping prisoners of war, were able to escape back to Russian held territory and tell their terrible stories of the German treatment of the population and of captured soldiers. Many did not have to say a word, it was enough to see how starved they were. Russian media and military propaganda published their stories and pictures, and many were moved from one army unit to another, to be shown and heard. This, more than anything else, ignited what the Russians still call "The Great Patriotic War". The Russians everywhere realized that even compared to the cruelty of Stalin's terror regime, the alternative of Nazi occupation was far worse, and that they are literally fighting to avoid extinction by the Nazis. Initially heroic and fanatic Russian fighting was the exception, then it intensified when the Russians were literally fighting for home and family, in the battle of Moscow, and later, as the horrible realization of the monster they're facing became known to them, the Russians fought the toughest war in their tough history, with key examples Stalingrad
    , Kursk, and so many other places in their giant country. That way, although Russia lost about 85% of the enormous military production potential it prepared for the invasion of Europe, although it lost before the end of 1941 a military force that was more than double the size the that German intelligence originally estimated as the entire Russian force,

    Russia survived, recovered its military production far beyond German reach, recruited new millions of new soldiers instead of those lost, and fought a lengthy and costly war of survival, and revenge, that destroyed Nazi Germany, and Russia, despite its enormous losses, ended World War 2 as a super-power.


    Stalin's Secret War Plans

    Why Hitler Invaded the Soviet Union

    When the German armed forces invaded the USSR on June 22, 1941, Berlin described the offensive as preemptive in the face of imminent Soviet aggression. The claim was generally dismissed as Nazi propaganda. Recently disclosed evidence from Soviet sources, however, suggests that Moscow's foreign policy was not governed by neutrality when Europe went to war in 1939.

    Challenging established social and political structures through internal subversion, armed violence and terrorism, the Soviet Union was considered an outlaw state. It advocated the overthrow of all capitalist regimes and supported anti-colonial "independence movements" in underdeveloped territories. "This will invariably provoke the ruling classes of the Great Powers against us," the Communist Party's general secretary, Josef Stalin, told its Central Committee in 1925. 1

    During the 1930s, Stalin, now dictator of the USSR, observed how Germany, revitalized under Adolf Hitler's leadership, worked to revise the post-World War I structure of Europe imposed by the United States, England and France. Stalin and Hitler, therefore, were both at odds with the West.

    The USSR was an agrarian state, rich in natural resources, struggling with transition into an industrial power. More than half the necessary factory machinery was purchased from the United States. Germany survived economically by exporting manufactured goods and industrial equipment in exchange for raw materials. Fertile ground existed for German-Soviet cooperation.

    On May 3, 1939, Stalin sacked the USSR's foreign commissar, Maxim Litvinov. Having previously concluded an alliance with Czechoslovakia and France, Litvinov was identified with Moscow's anti-German foreign policy of the decade. His replacement by Stalin with Vyatsheslav Molotov was recognized as a gesture toward Germany. Only days later in Berlin, Georgi Astachov, the Soviet Union's diplomatic advisor, thanked the German Foreign Office for the respectful tenor the Reich's press had recently adopted toward the USSR.

    That spring, London and Paris invited Moscow to co-sign an Anglo-French guarantee to protect Poland and Romania from German aggression. The Soviets made commitment contingent upon permission from Lithuania, Poland and Romania to allow the passage of Soviet troops in the event of war. Poland refused. The protracted Soviet-Allied negotiations were conducted halfheartedly by the West; its military advisors had a negative appraisal of the Red Army.

    Moscow hosted an Anglo-French military mission August 12. The Soviet Union was represented by the chief of the general staff, Boris Shaposhnikov, Defense Commissar Kliment Voroshilov and the naval minister, Adm. Nikolai Kusnezov. The West sent second-rate negotiators with limited authority. The Soviets were insulted.

    In August, Stalin decided on an agreement with Hitler. A non-aggression pact with Germany assured the Soviet Union tangible advantages. The Soviets would recover eastern Poland, which had formerly belonged to Imperial Russia. The Germans pledged support in the USSR's claims on Bessarabia and agreed to define Eastern Europe's Baltic and Balkan states as belonging to the Soviet "sphere of interest."

    Germany was preparing to invade Poland in case a territorial dispute and related grievances defied peaceful settlement. England and France supported Poland. Stalin reasoned that were he to conclude a military compact with the West, the powerful coalition would probably discourage Hitler from war.

    A German-Soviet non-aggression pact, however, would give Hitler a free hand to invade Poland. England, as Poland's ally, would declare war on Germany, drag a reluctant France into the conflagration, and Italy would rush to Hitler's side. The Soviet formula for national security rested with aggravating the conflicting interests among the "imperialist" nations and maintaining neutrality as these states expended their resources in a prolonged struggle.

    Stalin had defined the premise during his March 10, 1939, speech in Moscow:Nonintervention represents the endeavor... to allow all the warmongers to sink deeply into the mire of warfare, to quietly urge them on. The result will be that they weaken and exhaust one another. Then... (we will) appear on the scene with fresh forces and step in, naturally "in the interest of peace," to dictate terms to the weakened belligerents. 2

    On August 23, 1939, the German foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, was in Moscow. He and Molotov signed the historic German-Soviet non-aggression pact. The following evening, Stalin hosted prominent members of the Soviet Political Bureau in his apartment. Among the dinner guests were Molotov, Voroshilov, Lavrenti P. Beria and Nikita Khrushchev.

    Stalin explained, as Khrushchev later recalled, that he considered war with Germany unavoidable, but had momentarily tricked Hitler and bought time. The Soviet premier described the treaty with Germany as a game of "who outwits whom."3 He concluded that the Soviet Union held the advantage both morally and militarily. A few months later, the Soviet Foreign Office explained Stalin's decision in a telegram to its embassy in Tokyo: "The ratifying of our treaty with Germany was dictated by the need for a war in Europe." 4

    On August 25, 1939, the Swiss periodical Revue de droit international published the text of a speech Stalin delivered on August 19 to a closed session of the Political Bureau in Moscow. He was quoted as follows:

    It must be our objective that Germany wage war long enough to exhaust England and France so much that they cannot defeat Germany alone.... Should Germany win, it will itself be so weakened that it won't be able to wage war against us for 10 years.... It's paramount for us that this war continues as long as possible, until both sides are worn out. 5

    In November, Stalin responded in Pravda that the Swiss article was a "heap of lies." 6 (The Russian researcher T. S. Bushuyevoy discovered Stalin's original text in the former Soviet archives in 1994; it conformed to the Swiss version.)

    Inside the USSR, an intensive armaments production program was under way. During 1938, it had increased by 39 percent, compared to 13 percent in civil industry. Emphasis was placed on armor, development of artillery and aeronautics. In September 1939 the USSR defense committee contracted the construction of nine aircraft production plants, and seven more to manufacture aircraft engines.

    This was supplemented by the conversion to fabrication of aviation components of a number of consumer goods factories. In 1940, Soviet production of modern combat airplanes increased over 70 percent from the previous year. The ground forces experienced a parallel upgrading of weaponry. Between January 1939 and June 1941, the Red Army received over 7,000 new tanks and 82,000 artillery pieces (including mortars).

    On June 26, 1940, a law was enacted extending the Soviet workday from seven to eight hours, and to seven days per week. Disciplinary action for tardiness or slothfulness in the factories was imposed on the work force. These are measures normally introduced during wartime.

    Conscription swelled the ranks of the Red Army. A force numbering 1 million men in the spring of 1938 surpassed 5 million by June 1941. The growth was summarized by the historian Roger Reese: "There were 198 rifle divisions in 1941, compared to fewer than 30 in 1927; 31 motorized rifle divisions in 1941 and none in 1927; 61 tank divisions in 1941 and none as late as 1939." 7

    The spirit imbued in the military was illuminated in the revised, 1939 edition of the Red Army's field service regulations. It stated that should war be "forced" on Soviet Russia, "We will conduct the war offensively and carry it onto enemy territory." 8

    In December 1939, the U.S. military attaché in Sweden reported to the War Department in Washington his assessment of the Red Amy:

    This absurd propaganda poster reads: "Soldiers of the Red Army save us!" The Russian people were gullible and tended to believe communist propaganda. As a result, they fought valiantly against the invaders. 

    The soldiers are practically all peasants or common laborers... fed with a constant stream of propaganda extolling the virtues of Communism and assuring them that they are making some sacrifices in the present in order that it may eventually triumph throughout the world. Being unbelievably simple-minded and kept in total ignorance of conditions outside Russia, many of them are actually almost fanatical in their zeal for what they have been led to believe is a holy crusade to rescue their own class from villainous oppressors. 9

    The war in Europe did not develop as Stalin had predicted. In the spring of 1940, the British withdrew from the continent. The German army conquered France in June without suffering appreciable losses. The ground war was wrapping up without England and Germany becoming "sufficiently worn down." Khrushchev later described how Stalin became unusually agitated following the Franco-German cease-fire in June 1940. He cursed the French for letting themselves be beaten and the English for fleeing "as fast as their legs could carry them." 10

    The Soviets seized a generous portion of Eastern Europe only days before France's surrender. In September and October 1939, the Soviet government had negotiated permission with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to establish military bases at their Baltic ports. In June 1940, Molotov reproached the Lithuanian prime minister, Anastas Merkys, for the alleged poor security provided the Soviet garrison; a Red Army soldier had supposedly been bushwhacked. On June 14, Molotov presented Lithuania's foreign minister with an ultimatum demanding reinforcement of the Soviet military contingent to prevent further "provocation." The diminutive republic acquiesced.

    Similar ultimatums were presented to Latvia and Estonia. On the 21st, the Baltic states were declared Soviet republics, following sham elections. Molotov told the Lithuanian foreign minister on June 30, "Now we're convinced more than ever that the brilliant comrade Lenin was not wrong in asserting that World War II will bring us to power in Europe, just as World War I helped us to power in Russia."11

    When Moscow presented its demand on June 23 to reoccupy Bessarabia, the formerly Russian eastern province of Romania, Ribbentrop pledged Germany's support. He asked only that the sovereignty of Romania's remaining territory be respected, to safeguard the Reich's economic interests.

    Apologists for the USSR, and they abound among historians and sociologists in democratic countries, excuse these Soviet land grabs as defensive measures. The threat of potential German aggression supposedly compelled Moscow to extend the USSR's frontiers to blunt the impetus of a German offensive. The premise ignores the fact that the Soviet operations in the Baltic and into Bessarabia occurred opposite a virtually undefended German border. Four German infantry divisions and six militia divisions protected the demarcation line shared with the Soviet Union. Two were transferred to the western front in June.

    Stalin possessed a splendid espionage network, which consistently forewarned him of German plans. His spies could not have failed to observe (and report) that there were no German deliberations regarding an invasion of the USSR at that time. The atmosphere in Foreign Armies East, the German general staffs section assigned to matters related to the Red Army, was described by Maj. Erich Helmdach, who was posted there in July 1940:

    I found genuinely peacetime conditions in the department. The air war against England generated far greater interest. There was no trace of "war preparations," except that a Soviet film, “The Breakthrough into the Mannerheim Line”, a documentary about the Soviet winter war in Finland, was screened for the general staff officers. The post-film summary by Col. (Eberhard) Kinzel was limited solely to disparaging observations on the military achievements of the Red Army and its antiquated combat ordnance.12

    How little the Soviets themselves promoted the "national security" pretext is illuminated by Molotov's remarks in an address to the Supreme Soviet on August 1, 1940. Citing the USSR's successful foreign policy, he stipulated that the Soviet Union should not be content with what had been achieved. In Stalin's words, the foreign commissar proclaimed, the nation must maintain a state of mobilization to wrest further successes: "Well achieve new and even more glorious victories for the Soviet Union." 13

    That summer, diplomatic relations with Germany deteriorated. When the Soviets exerted political pressure to gain control of Finland's nickel production (the Germans had contracted to purchase 75 percent of the yield), Hitler garrisoned the Finnish nickel mines at Petsamo with elite mountain troops. After the Red Army occupied Bessarabia, the Führer signed a treaty with Bucharest in August, pledging to protect Romania from aggression.

    In November 1940, Molotov traveled to Berlin to confer with Hitler and Ribbentrop. During the talks, the Soviet visitor belabored the German military presence in Finland and the Reich's guarantee to safeguard Romanian sovereignty. This, he protested, was an infringement on the Soviet Union's sphere of influence. All conciliatory arguments introduced by Hitler, Molotov resisted. The catalog of demands for Soviet preeminence in practically every region where Germany and the Soviet Union shared interests, which Molotov heaped on Ribbentrop during the final session, brought the diplomatic exchange to a fiasco.

    The question arises what Molotov, presenting patently unacceptable demands, expected to achieve through these negotiations. The contemporary German historian Walter Post offers this analysis:

    Moscow had to fear that England would either be finished off by a German amphibious operation, or, due to its military weakness and miserable financial situation, find itself ready to conclude a peaceful compromise with the Reich. The Soviet Union would then stand alone against a Germany that controlled the resources of the entire European continent. Moreover, the Soviet Union saw the danger of a cooperative effort among all the capitalist powers, including the Anglo-Saxons, against the USSR. To prevent this possibility, England had to be encouraged to continue waging war... To reinforce this hope and prevent a German landing operation against England, Moscow had to seek a conflict with Germany. With the threat of Soviet expansion toward Scandinavia and the Balkans in his rear, Hitler could not risk operation Sea Lion (the invasion plan for England). Instead, he had to transfer strong formations of his armed forces to the east to protect Germany's supply sources of nickel lumber, oil and grain. 14

    In December 1940, Soviet intelligence obtained a copy of a top-secret directive drafted by the Führer on the 18th. It opened with the words, "The German armed forces must be prepared, even before the conclusion of the war with England, to defeat Soviet Russia in a rapid campaign." 15 The document contained general military objectives in the east and specified that preparations had to be completed by May 15, 1941

    Late in 1940, the attention of Hitler and Stalin shifted to southeastern Europe. Germany was the only great power capable of protecting the Balkans from Soviet aggression. This was instrumental in Ribbentrop's persuading the governments of Hungary and Romania to join the Three Power Pact, the German-Italian alliance system, in November 1940. Bulgaria followed on March 1, 1941.

    Hitler's purpose was to arbitrate local border disputes and solicit permission to move an army through Romania and Bulgaria to invade Greece. Molotov bombarded the German embassy in Moscow with official protests. Germany, he scolded, had acknowledged in the August 1939 non-aggression pact that these states belonged to the Soviet sphere of interest. (The USSR's occupation of the Baltic states in June 1940 demonstrated how Moscow interpreted the classification, "sphere of interest.")

    A sharper confrontation developed over Yugoslavia. Though its cabinet yielded to German pressure to enter the Three Power Pact, factions within the government and the military received discreet encouragement from England, the United States and Soviet Russia. During a visit to Ankara, the British foreign secretary, Anthony Eden, was told by Yugoslavia's ambassador that Moscow had reassured him that were Yugoslavia attacked by the Germans, the USSR was ready to aid the defenders.

    On March 27, 1941, the pro-German Yugoslavian government was toppled by a coup. Hitler directed his general staff to prepare an invasion. The German army group poised in Bulgaria to strike Greece would simultaneously invade Yugoslavia, supported by another German force deployed in southern Germany.

    The new Yugoslavian government anticipated a military alliance with the USSR. Yugoslavia's ambassador in Moscow, Milan Gavrilovic, was told by Stalin, "I hope that your army can stop the Germans for a long time. You have mountains and forests, where tanks are ineffective." 16 He urged the Yugoslavians to organize guerrilla warfare. Gavrilovic was then bounced to Molotov, who explained to him he was the "victim of a misunderstanding, since it had never been intended to conclude a military alliance with Yugoslavia, or support Yugoslavia militarily." 17 Red Army formations along the western frontier were simply placed on combat alert four days after the Germans invaded Yugoslavia in April. This was calculated to force Hitler to beef up his defenses opposite the USSR and relieve pressure on the Yugoslavian army.

    This saber rattling by the Soviets was a rare public manifestation of the Soviet military presence in the western zone. In general, the Soviet media denied rumors of troop concentrations along the frontier. The defense committee had been secretly transferring combat divisions there since the summer of 1940. In April 1941, the Ural and Siberian military districts were ordered to release more formations. On May 13, an additional 28 divisions, nine corps headquarters and four army headquarters were relocated from the Russian interior. By June, according to recent Russian archival estimates, the Soviet armed forces had deployed 2.7 million men near the western frontier; the equivalent of 177 divisions. 18

    This enormous fighting force was allocated 10,394 tanks, over 1,300 of which were the formidable types KV and T-34. The army was supported by nearly 44,000 field guns and mortars. Over 8,000 combat aircraft occupied forward airdromes. The western military districts established command posts close to the frontier. Army staffs and front administrative personnel were ordered transferred there in mid-June.

    One hundred Soviet divisions were positioned in eastern Poland alone. A high proportion of armored and mechanized formations deployed near Bialystok and Lvov, behind geographic bulges protruding westward along the German-Soviet demarcation line. In a 1972 book, Marshal Ivan Bagramyan, in 1941 a colonel in the Red Army, commented on the troop disposition around Lvov:

    We regarded it a favorable assembly area in case we had to initiate widespread offensive operations. It was no accident that two of our full strength, most combat ready mechanized corps, the Fourth and the Eighth, were concentrated there. 19

    As for the Bialystok area, the Soviet Maj. Gen. Pyotr Grigorenko later offered this perspective:

    More than half the troops of the Western Special Military District were stationed around Bialystok and to the west, therefore in territory extending like a wedge deeply into that of the probable enemy. A troop arrangement of this kind would only have been justifiable... if these troops had been earmarked to launch a surprise attack. Otherwise, half of them would have been surrounded in a moment. 20

    Here, in "reactionary" classical Cyrillic, it is written: "Whosoever shall come to us with the sword shall perish by it. Upon this stood and stands the land of Russia." That was written by St. Alexander Nevsky (1220-1263). During World War II, Stalinist Russia briefly became the most conservative country in Europe. 

    The philosophy of the Red Army was attack oriented. The chief of staff, Georgi Zhukov, described the training at the Soviet general staff academy:

    Participants in the course were instructed that wars are no longer declared; the aggressor strives far more to insure all the advantages of a surprise attack... The strategy of warfare is above all anchored in the correct thesis that the aggressor can only be beaten through offensive operations. Other variables of battle, such as counterthrusts, fighting to cover retreats and operations in case of encirclement, were, with few individual exceptions, only touched upon. 21

    During May 1941, Zhukov and the defense commissar, Marshal Semyon Timoshenko, prepared an operational study for Red Army deployment in case of war with Germany. It was based on an initial plan submitted to Stalin the previous September. The May document included the following recommendation:

    In total, Germany and its allies can deploy 240 divisions against the Soviet Union. Considering that Germany, through the arrangement of its rearward services, can keep its army readily mobilized, it could deploy ahead of us and carry out a surprise attack. To prevent this and defeat the German army, I regard it as necessary to under no circumstances relinquish the initiative to the German high command; but to deploy ahead of the enemy and then attack the Germany army right when it is forming up, has not established a front and cannot organize the combat operations of its allied forces. 22

    On May 5, Stalin and assorted Soviet dignitaries attended commencement at the Frunze Military Academy in Moscow. During the following banquet, he proposed several toasts and talked volubly. An abridged transcript of Stalin's remarks that day, from Soviet archives, was ultimately published by the Russian historian Lev Besyemski in the March 1992 issue of the periodical Osteuropa.

    Stalin lauded the modernization of the Red Army. He rebuffed Gen. Michail Chosin, the director of the Frunze academy, for proposing a toast to the USSR's peaceful foreign policy. The dictator substituted these words:

    Now that we have become strong, one must go from defense over to the attack. To accomplish the defense of our country we are obliged to take the offensive.... We must reform our instruction, our propaganda, agitation, our press to pervade an attack spirit. The Red Army is a modern army, and a modern army is an offensive army. 23

    The Russian archives have never released the uncensored text of Stalin's commencement speech. The deleted portions may be revealed, however, by the testimony of four Soviet officers who attended the graduation ceremony. Captured by the Germans, Maj. Ivan Yevstifeyev, Maj. Pissmeny, Maj. Gen. Andrei Naumov and Maj. Gen. Vassili Malyshkin had no contact during captivity, but their recollections of Stalin's remarks are practically identical.

    The witnesses testified that Stalin had described the German army's "occupation" of Bulgaria and transfer of troops to Finland as "reasons for a war against Germany." 24 Discussing the preparedness of the Red Army, Stalin heralded its intended employment:

    For us, the war plans are ready... In the course of the next two months we can begin the struggle against Germany. It may surprise you that I'm telling you our war plans, but it has to be. We must take this step for our protection and take revenge for Bulgaria and Finland. There is a peace treaty with Germany, but that's just an illusion, a curtain behind which we can work. 25

    That same May 5, the military propaganda section received guidelines for "the tasks of political propaganda for the Red Army in the immediate future." The outline stated that "members of the Red Army must be prepared for a justifiable, offensive war." It further stipulated, "the present perception among many Red Army soldiers, commanders and political cadres that the German army... must be destroyed." 26

    Ten days later, Stalin dictated a personal directive for the Red Amy:

    The present international situation, which is filled with unforeseeable possibilities, demands revolutionary decisiveness and constant readiness to launch a crushing advance upon the enemy... The soldiers are to be schooled in the spirit of an active hatred of the enemy and to aspire to take up the struggle against him, to be ready to defend our fatherland on the territory of the enemy and deal him a mortal blow. 27

    Along the frontier, the German and Soviet field armies were massing for an imminent confrontation. German reconnaissance aircraft flew frequent sorties to monitor the Red Army. Stalin issued standing orders forbidding his troops to fire on them. The Soviet host, grossly underestimated by German military intelligence, continued to augment. "All the spare capacity of the entire national rail transport system had been taken up with this major and secret operation," observed the former Soviet staff officer Viktor Suvorov. He points out that this large Soviet force could not, as Molotov would claim, have assembled in the west for summer training exercises.

    The mobilized divisions could not have returned to the distant lands from whence they came. Such a move again would have absorbed the entire resources of the rail network for many months and would have resulted in economic catastrophe. 28

    The nature of these formations was illuminated in Suvorov's 1990 book, Icebreaker:

    The basis of Soviet strategy was the "operation in depth" theory.... The shock army was to... deliver those strikes in depth. Set up purely to solve offensive tasks, these shock armies had... a considerable quantity of artillery and infantry whose purpose it was to break the enemy's defense, and one or two mechanized corps with 500 tanks each... On June 21, 1941, all the Soviet armies on the German and Romanian borders... were of shock army standard. 29

    It was unfeasible to maintain such an overwhelming military presence to protect against a potential German invasion. The region lacked sufficient shelters for winter, and there was a dearth of training facilities, such as firing ranges, to maintain the army's combat preparedness. Shaposhnikov himself had stressed the necessity of committing soldiers to action shortly after deployment on the frontier; not only does their sense of readiness otherwise lapse, but such a troop buildup can only remain concealed from the potential enemy for a limited time.

    A wounded Russian, captured in a skirmish, is treated by a Finnish nurse in a field hospital. Soviet soldiers were told by communist political officers that they would be shot or tortured by the Finns if taken prisoner. Despite these lying warnings, many soldiers surrendered to the Finns, and were alive and unharmed when the war ended. 

    Neither political nor military documents fixing the date for a surprise offensive against Germany are available. Soviet officers captured during the fighting testified that many anticipated the order to attack in August or September 1941. Some said that combat operations were scheduled to begin early in July.

    The Soviet leadership, however, faced a serious concern. Stalin received reports that the Germans were preparing to invade the Soviet Union in June. His army on the front was undergoing feverish reorganization. Units were receiving new ordinance, recruit training was under way, many formations were under-strength. Other divisions were still en route by rail. It was estimated that the army would not be combat ready before the end of August. The dilemma is illuminated by Walter Post:

    The rapid progress of the German deployment and the reports piling up about the Germans' intention to attack in the latter half of June confronted the Soviet command with the problem of either changing the entire war plan to the strategic defensive, or advancing its own timetable for attack... A strategic defense would have required a total revision of the troop disposition, which because of the poor rail network could not be carried out in a short time.... The Soviet command had at this late hour no other choice but to maintain poise, camouflage its own deploying of forces as much as possible and hope for enough time to complete the concentration of its troops and attack according to plan. 30

    The Soviets hoped that were the German army to strike first, the initial thrust need not be decisive. "They felt the covering armies were fully sufficient to repulse an enemy attack while Soviet main forces were mobilizing and deploying to launch a counteroffensive." 31 The Red Army, as the German historian Max Klüver relates, "was in every branch schooled in attack and trained for the capability of responding to an enemy attack with an immediate counterblow." 32

    The Soviet general staff, however, had failed to appreciate how quickly the German army, upon arriving on the frontier, could launch an offensive. Shaposhnikov had estimated 10 to 15 days. To the Red Army's unpleasant surprise, the German armored and motorized divisions, right after reaching the border, struck with full fury. The captive Gen. Andrei Vlasov's remarks on the subject in 1942 were summarized by a German intelligence officer:

    The Soviets had been forming up since the beginning of the year, which, due to the bad Soviet railroad lines, went rather slowly. Hitler judged the situation perfectly and plowed right into the Soviets while they were deploying. This is how Vlasov explains the Germans' enormous initial success. 33

    Like any novel concept assailing accepted views, the premise that Hitler may have only technically been the aggressor in the German-Soviet war has encountered resistance. Among the opponents of the revisionist position is David Glantz, who introduces new evidence to defend established views. An authority on Soviet military affairs, Glantz provides a comprehensive analysis of the 1941 Red Army in his study, Stumbling Colossus. He argues that rapid expansion since 1939, among other factors, made the USSR's fighting forces unprepared to conduct a military operation in the scope of the purported preemptive offensive against Germany. Soviet commanders, as reflected at that time in their military periodicals, "demonstrated a clear Soviet appreciation of the superb German military performance... and an unmistakable realization that the Soviet military in no way matched German military standards." 34

    Glantz provides evidence that troops were unfamiliar with new ordnance, service branches of the army lacked experience in coordinated operations, and the level of training among inductees was inadequate. In the 37th Tank Division, for example, "About 60 percent of the enlisted personnel had joined the army in May 1941, and none had any general or specialized training." 35

    Glantz publishes a July 1941 analysis of the Soviet 15th Mechanized Corps on the first day of fighting by its acting commander, in which the officer states that personnel in the corps' motorcycle regiment had never fired a rifle.36 Stumbling Colossus also mentions that the "majority of KV and T-34 [tank] drivers had from three to five hours of service driver training." 37 Aware of the military's predicament, Glantz concludes, Stalin sought diplomatic solutions to problems with Germany.

    The American professor Roger Reese summarizes that expansion of the army "was pursued at a frantic if not altogether paranoid pace" since 1939, largely out of fear of Germany. The Red Army "inconsistently changed unit organization and reshuffled its leaders, creating a great deal of confusion, instability and systemic incoherence." 38

    Glantz's book in particular is worthwhile for balancing the perspective of recently available information. However, related factors should also be considered. The fact that the Red Army was experiencing a difficult period of reorganization, modernization and expansion from 1939 to 1941 did not prevent Stalin from employing it as an instrument of foreign policy. The invasion of Poland and the occupation of the Baltic republics and Bessarabia delayed progress in improving the army. A 1939-40 winter war against Finland cost the troops a quarter of a million casualties and widespread demoralization. Stalin was not deterred by the disastrous impact Soviet imperialism exercised on the struggling military establishment.

    The question arises, did the Soviet general staff really consider the fighting forces inadequate? Why would Zhukov and Timoshenko, who overestimated German strength, prepare an operational study for invading central Europe? "There is no direct evidence that Stalin ever saw it," Glantz maintains. 39 The study was dated May 15, 1941, and addressed to Stalin.

    The Russian historian Col. Valeriy Danilov argues that it would be absurd to presume that the Soviet defense commissar and the chief of staff would have prepared such a document to set before Stalin without authorization. Such arbitrary conduct by officers would have represented a rebuke against Soviet policy and implied that Stalin was in error. Considering the 1937 purge of the military hierarchy, it is doubtful that staff officers would have risked antagonizing him.40 It is more plausible that the study was accomplished on his orders.

    The controversy will continue, at least until the former Allied powers Britain, the United States and Russia, whose governments have liberally exposed Germany's wartime records, release the relevant material in their own archives. The Austrian newspaper Die Presse of April 4, 1997 quoted the Moscow journalist Konstantin Preobrashenskiy about use of the Russian archives. "Once again, the archivists only approve access to the documents when they feel like it. It is regrettable to see how what was accessible yesterday is today closed once more." 41


    1 Thadden
    2 ibid
    3 Post
    4 Thadden
    5 ibid
    6 ibid
    7 Reese
    8 Klüver
    9 Glantz
    10 Post
    11 Klüver
    12 Helmdach
    13 Klüver
    14 Post
    15 ibid
    16 Klüver
    17 ibid
    18 Glantz
    19 Klüver
    20 Post
    21 ibid
    22 ibid
    23 ibid
    24 Thadden
    25 ibid
    26 Post
    27 Thadden
    28 Suvorov, Viktor, "Who Was Planning to Attack Whom in June 1941, Hitler or Stalin?"
    29 Suvorov, Viktor, “Icebreaker”
    30 Post
    31 Glantz
    32 Klüver
    33 Post
    34 Glantz
    35 ibid
    36 ibid
    37 ibid
    38 Reese
    39 Glantz
    40 Thadden
    41 Ertl

    tern Front (WW


    Stalin, Appeasement, and the Second World War

    Mark Jones

    The issues raised by the revisionist histories of the past 20 years will not go away and have not been settled by the revisionist histories of the past decade. The complicity of the Western Powers in Hitler's criminal adventurism is a theme argued out in my book Moscow in World War 2 (Chatto and Windus, 1987, with Cathy Porter).

    It is not as if the opening of certain archives has changed the story, only fleshed it out a little. Nor can there by an doubts about Stalin's own views and role. Stalin's position was not just a matter of public record, his priorities were insistently clarified in his own words and actions: thus for example Stalin began his report to the 18th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), convened in Moscow in March 1939, not with a description of the 3rd Five Year Plan then reaching its climacteric, but with a tour d'horizon of the gloomy and threatening international scene.

    According to Stalin, a new imperialist war was already in its second year, 'a war waged over a huge territory stretching from Shanghai to Gibraltar, and involving over five hundred million people'.

    Linking the Great Depression beginning in 1931 with the 'conflicts and perturbations' which had led to war Stalin made the point that while the Western Powers were still in the grip of economic crisis, the 'aggressive countries' such as Germany, Japan and Italy were not- but only because their economies were already on a war footing. If peace were preserved, these countries would soon find themselves in a far more serious crisis as a result of the burden of arms spending. 'Unless something unforeseen occurs', those countries would soon be on a 'downward path'. The implication was clear: the new economic crisis 'was bound to lead, and is actually leading, to a further sharpening of the imperialist struggle'.

    It was no longer a question of competition in the markets, of commercial war, but of "a new redivision of the world, of spheres of influence and colonies, by military action". And Stalin listed the seats of conflict:

    In 1935 Italy attacked and seized Abyssinia. In the summer of 1936 Germany and Italy organized military intervention in Spain and in Spanish Morocco, and Italy in the south of Spain and the Balearic Islands. In 1937, having seized Manchuria, Japan invaded North and Central China, occupied Peking, Tientsin and Shanghai and began to oust her foreign competitors from the occupied zone. In the beginning of 1938 Germany seized Austria and in the autumn of 1938 the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia. At the end of 1938 Japan seized Canton...

    The territorial aggrandizement of the Axis Powers attacked the foundations of the international settlement following the 1914-18 war, and which had primarily benefited the victors in that war- France, Britain and the USA. It was their global interests which were now threatened.

    Stalin pointed to the "clumsy game of camouflage" used by the aggressors to conceal their real intentions. They claimed the Axis, founded on the Anti-Comintern Pact, was directed solely against Soviet Russia (but where, asked Stalin, are the communist hotbeds in the mountains of Abyssinia or the wilds of Morocco?) Unfortunately, Western leaders were only too anxious to take the anti-Soviet protestations of Hitler and Mussolini at face value. "Incredibly", the West was "conniving at this redivision of the world" in which anti-Sovietism thinly veiled imperial predatoriness. The West colluded with the fascist countries, not from weakness but because the nonaggressive countries, "particularly England and France, have rejected the policy of collective security". This policy of non-intervention "means conniving at aggression... and... transforming the war into a world war... it reveals an eagerness to see Japan... embroiling herself in a war with the Soviet Union.... and Germany" too.

    Treason and Treachery

    The "bourgeois politicians" of the West fantazised about a bloody and prolonged war, at the end of which the Western Powers would "appear on the scene with fresh strength... and 'in the interests of peace' would dictate conditions to the enfeebled belligerents". Contemptuously dismissing such an outcome as "cheap and easy", Stalin went on to utter an ominous warning to the British and French, and their American backers. These countries had practised a policy of appeasement towards the expansionist ambitions of the Axis Powers, Germany, Italy and Japan. They had stood by while one country after another had been subjected to fascist aggression. Stalin did not propose to 'moralise on the policy of non- intervention, to talk of treason, treachery and so on'. It would be 'naive to preach morals to people who recognise no human morality'. But, Stalin continued, 'the big and dangerous game started by the supporters of the policy of non-intervention may end in serious fiasco for them'. This was the clearest possible warning to those who hoped to channel German aggression towards the East. The Soviet Union would not allow itself to be diplomatically isolated and left to fight single-handed against Hitler Germany and its allies. This declaration could only have the meaning that if all its attempts at creating collective security arrangements came to nothing, the USSR would not hesitate as a last resort to seek an accommodation with Germany. Thus Stalin foreshadowed the possibility of a Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact six months before events brought it into existence.

    The apologists of appeasement who have tended to dominate debate more recently hinge their position on a great act of denial: for it was British diplomacy above all which opened the door to Hitler's world of demons. Perfidious Albion, not Stalinist Russia, by its acts of omission and commission, led the world into war.

    Stalin's indictment of the collusion between the flaccid old imperialisms (France, Britain, the US) and the hungry upstarts looking for a military 'window of opportunity' points up the essential fact of interwar diplomacy: inter-imperialist rivalry had mutated into a contest with world communism. Britain, still nominal guarantor of world capitalism, and not yet under US tutelage, made of virulent anti-communism the primary engine of policy.

    The significance of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact is that it did serve to foil Anglo-American attempts to embroil Hitler in a private war with the USSR. Stalin's deal with Hitler saved countless Soviet lives and made possible the final victory over Hitler Germany. It also ensures that Britain too was saved.

    It was a deal Stalin had tried to avoid, an eleventh-hour agreement reached on the eve of War. For a decade before that, the Soviet Union sought to create a genuine collective-security system based on the League of Nations.

    Few acts of great power diplomacy have been the subject of such vilification, misrepresentation, distortion and slander as the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. A stream of books, articles and programmes continues to be published and broadcast about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, designed to show that pre-war fascism was actually the same thing as Soviet Communism, that Hitler and Stalin were partners in crime, that the West was virtuous and even politically virginal and—above all—that there was no Anglo-American collusion with, and encouragement of, the Nazis. The truth was different—but the Nazi-Soviet Pact serves as a fig-leaf to cover British and American embarrassment. It was their policy which led to the Second World War. They'd rather we forgot.

    Blinded by hysterical anti-communism, suffused with imperial delusions of grandeur, the British establishment in fact had only one foreign policy goal since the signing of the Versailles Treaty which ended the First World War, twenty years before. As Thorstein Veblen had said, the desire to destroy Bolshevism 'was not written into the text of the Treaty [but was] the parchment upon which that text was written.' Hitler's seemingly superhuman intelligence, his ability to wrap the canny politicians of London, Paris and Washington around his little finger, resulted from nothing more than their own willingness to be duped. Actually they had no illusions about the Nazis: British statesmen referred to Hitler as 'the little corporal' and when British Foreign Minister Lord Halifax first encountered Hitler at Berchtesgaden, he mistook the Reich Chancellor for a butler. The Nazi's star diplomat, Herr von Ribbentrop, was universally derided in London as 'Herr Brickendrop' for his gaffes such as his propensity to give Nazi salutes to the king. What fascinated the financiers and patricians of London and Washington was not the Nazis' own illusions of Nietzschean grandeur but the aroma of easy money, the sexiness of raw power, which always goes with criminality and which explains the perennial proximity of bankers to gangsters. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was about as sexy as a workmen's social club in Barnsley. Earnest proletarian diplomats naturally cut no ice in the western corridors of power (British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain counted the Downing Street silver service, on the one occasion he felt obliged to receive Soviet ambassador Maisky, whose impassioned warnings about Hitler's intentions impressed him not at all. Chamberlain viscerally hated the Bolsheviks).

    These were the kinds of reasons which led London and Paris to stand idly by while the Nazis brazenly seized more territory (always in the east), grabbing Austria almost without firing a shot, although at the time Germany was weaker than either of the Western powers, rolling through Czechoslovakia and finally turning up on the Poles' doorstep. Hitler achieved his ends with astounding ease and like all gangsters planned to teach his social betters their place: but the idea of war with England still struck Hitler as odd, as an absurdity, something which grated against the proper scheme of things. England was supposed to fence German ill-gotten gains: that had been Chamberlain's role at Munich, when the Czechs were sold off. The idea that the two countries would go to war over division of the spoils was shocking, and when it happened Hitler was dismayed and piqued. He assumed it was a misunderstanding which could be solved in the usual discreet way, by private talks, perhaps involving the recently-abdicated king, talks aimed at seeing everyone right. Unfortunately for everyone the English had issued the Poles with a Guarantee, and to renege on it might be to reveal the truly parlous state of the English ancestral estates, for the empire was strung together with exactly such empty promises and gossamer guarantees. The whole house of cards might come down.

    Hitler hadn't thought of that; neither had Chamberlain until it was too late. The West had been ready to let Hitler have his way in everything as long as he also performed the 'historic' mission proclaimed in Mein Kampf - to destroy Bolshevism and so correct an 'error of history'. Soviet worries about international security and the oft-professed Soviet interest in sponsoring due process and legal framework in international relations rang no bells in London and Paris and even seemed laughable or incomprehensible given Lenin's bloodcurdling calls for World Revolution. What on earth were the cloth caps up to? The Olympian calm the Western powers maintained as Hitler flagrantly violated international agreements, their inaction at the time of the Anschluss with Austria, their betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich- all this was advance payment on Hitler's promise to head eastwards, against the Soviet Union.

    The history of interwar diplomacy makes baleful reading

    Another world war was not inevitable. It could be easily avoided if the Western Powers took seriously the need for collective security arrangements. That they did not was indicative of their bad faith. The evidence of this was manifest. The 1935 Neutrality Act may have reflected a popular current of isolationism, but the effect was to encourage the aggressors. On the day it became law, Italy invaded Ethiopia. The Act forbade the sale of arms to belligerents, but not of other commodities, including strategic raw materials. Guaranteed US non-intervention, all the Axis powers continued to trade heavily with the US, whose sales of fuel oil and other goods to Japan made possible its aggression against China and Korea. US loans and direct investment supported the growth of German war industry. By the mid-1930s the US portfolio totalled more than Reichsmarks 21 bn. General Motors, Ford, ITT, Standard Oil and many other US firms set up German subsidiaries which later supplied the Wehrmacht with more than three- quarters of its transport requirements and the Luftwaffe with engines, airframe aluminum and precision parts. US 'even-handedness' was not, of course, of much use to countries like Ethiopia.

    While the USA went about the business of non-intervention in its own way, Britain and France took a different route. They had to coexist with a resurgent Germany and sought to channel German aggression towards Russia. This required a more active form of 'non-intervention'. The British establishment, still suave with the emollient ease of empire, could patronise the Germans who were still inclined to be deferential: Ribbentrop confided to his diary a fantasy in which the Führer rode up Pall Mall with King George V in a gilded coach. Perhaps these dreams were shared by Hitler as well. The Führer had felt dismay more than anger when Lord Halifax mistook him for a footman at their first meeting at Berchtesgaden. Nevertheless, Hitler was able to overcome his awe sufficiently to do business. His sense of social inferiority soon led him to feel nothing but contempt for the effete English and their cobwebbed, crumbling empire. But Hitler did not want to destroy the British world of illusions, he wanted to take it over as a going concern.

    A Wine Merchant Makes German Foreign Policy

    Joachim von Ribbentrop, by trade a wine merchant, was ambassador to the Court of St James's before he became Reich Foreign Minister in 1938. He enjoyed London society and the patronage of the Astors, frequenting Cliveden where he became acquainted with former Secretary for Air the Marquis of Londonderry, an anti-Communist stalwart. They were on first name terms- 'Jo' and 'Charlie'. A Cliveden topic was the need for a rapprochement between England and Germany. Another was the problem of the Jews. Halifax, who became British Foreign Secretary in 1938, also attended the Astors' weekend parties. It was here that British policy towards central Europe developed, as applied by Neville Chamberlain when the latter became Prime Minister in May 1937.

    The Cliveden set took the view that, while the Soviet Union was the principal danger to the British Empire, the immediate threat to international stability lay elsewhere, in the Treaty of Versailles and its continuing consequences. The Versailles settlement had imposed particularly harsh conditions on defeated Germany and, what was worse, had created successor states to the Austro-Hungarian Empire which were viable only at the expense of German national interests, and which in any case could not serve as an effective cordon sanitaire around the Soviet Union.

    The rebirth of German economic power under the dynamic and providential leadership of Adolf Hitler had created a strategic vacuum in Europe given that the constraints of Versailles left Germany a political pygmy.

    This historical conspectus suggested an obvious programme and gave it a name-appeasement. The satisfaction of German demands would put right the recognised inequities of Versailles, remove the sources of tension and instability in Europe, and restore Germany to its rightful place. Britain's acknowledgement of Germany's dominant role in Europe made that country a potential ally and might reduce or remove German colonial pressure. Most importantly, a renewed Germany would be a decisive bulwark against Soviet communism. It would displace the locus of future instability further East, making the occasion of any future war that of purely Soviet-German relations. The Royal Navy and the Maginot Line would insulate the western powers.

    Chamberlain's policy was to collude with fascism. One of his first acts was to send Sir Nevile Henderson ("Our nazi ambassador to Berlin", as he became derisively known). Henderson drew up a 'Memorandum on British Policy Towards Germany'. This called for a comprehensive Anglo-German agreement which would include the demarcation of spheres of influence, world markets and raw material sources, and also colonial possessions. The whole sense of such an agreement would boil down to guaranteeing Britain her colonial possessions and preserving her great-power positions, having met Hitler's expansionist claims at the expense of other states (notably the USSR).

    At Halifax 's first meeting with Hitler he praised the Führer for having turned Germany into a 'bulwark of the West against Bolshevism' and put his imprimatur on German ambitions: 'All other questions', ran the minutes of the talks, 'could be said to relate to changes in the European order, changes that would probably take place sooner or later. Among these questions were Danzig, Austria and Czechoslovakia. England was only interested that any changes should be brought about by peaceful evolution'.......

    Within months Hitler moved against Austria. The Anschluss of 12 March 1938 might have posed a problem: Britain was a guarantor of Austrian independence, and the Austrian government had appealed for help. But as Sir Alexander Cadogan, permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Office and a supporter of the 'Drang nach Osten', told his diary, it would 'have been criminal to encourage Schuschnigg to resist when we couldn't have helped him. At the end of the day H. [Halifax] and I agreed our consciences were clear!'

    On April 22 Hitler told a secret conference of Party and military personnel the West had written off Czechoslovakia. 'Operation Green', the plan for its liquidation, was given the go-ahead.

    In Britain the Foreign Office drew up 'Plan Z', according to which the Prime Minister should wait until Nazi Germany had created a tense situation around Czechoslovakia before, on the pretext of "saving peace", personally meeting Hitler to negotiate that country's dismemberment. Cadogan told his diary that Czechoslovakia after all 'was not worth the spurs of a single British grenadier'.

    'Operation Green' was not a success. The Czech government refused to be cowed by German troop movements on the borders or by Nazi agitation among German-speaking Czechs. Hitler could not count on the collapse of mutual assistance undertakings between Czechoslovakia, France and the Soviet Union. The Germans backed down. This evidence of the effectiveness of collective security arrangements did not discourage Chamberlain from selling out Czechoslovakia when the crisis in Czech-German relations came to a head the following September. Following Hitler's brimstone speech to the Nuremburg Party rally, which seemed to presage quick action against the recalcitrant Czechs, Chamberlain invoked 'Plan Z'. On September 15 he arrived at Hitler's Berghof estate. Apologists for Chamberlain sometimes present a picture of this English gentleman, now in his seventieth year, being outfoxed and even cowed by the ranting dictator.

    The reality was rather different. Chamberlain told Hitler that 'from the moment of his appointment as British Prime Minister, he had been constantly occupied with the question of Anglo-German rapprochement'. In any case, there were 'at the present time, considerably more important problems than Czechoslovakia [which] need discussing'. Hitler, who had previously confined himself to expressions of concern for the civil rights of Czechoslovak Germans, now made plain that the real issue was the surrender of the Sudetenland to the Reich. Chamberlain scarcely batted an eyelid, declaring that Britain did not have an interest in the Sudeten-German question and that in any case 'as a practical person, he had already thought of how to bring about the possible inclusion of Sudeten Germans into the Third Reich'.

    Chamberlain 'gave the Führer to understand that Czechoslovakia could not remain poised like the point of a spear threatening the German flank.' This would be true even 'after the Sudeten Germans enter the Third Reich'. Hitler was quick to agree, saying 'this would be the situation as long as the Czechoslovak state has alliances with other states which threaten Germany'. Chamberlain asked Hitler 'if the German apprehensions would be removed vis-à-vis Czechoslovakia if it were possible to change the relationship between Czechoslovakia and Russia in such a way that, on the one hand, Czechoslovakia would be free from its obligations to Russia in the event of the latter being attacked, and, on the other, Czechoslovakia, like Belgium, would be deprived of the possibility of aid from Russia or another country'.

    Chamberlain's search for a justification for the liquidation of Czechoslovakia did not ignore, but was based upon, that country's role as linchpin of European collective security, connecting the Soviet Union with France and, through France, Britain, in the containment of Hitler Germany. It was precisely the demolition of collective security which Chamberlain sought.

    On 19 September the Czech government was handed an Anglo-French statement arising out of Chamberlain's meeting with Hitler. It called for the ceding to Germany of Czech territories containing a majority of Czech-speaking citizens. The rump state would be given 'guarantees' by Britain and France providing the Czechs tore up existing military assistance treaties. The precedent was set: solid military arrangements were replaced by worthless scraps of paper. Soon the British were 'guaranteeing' the Balkan states too, not to speak of Poland.

    The Czech government capitulated, but not all at once. Czechoslovakia had a strong army and defensible borders. It had repeated offers of Soviet military assistance, a solution for which there was considerable popular support (there were mass solidarity demonstrations outside the Soviet embassy in Prague at the height of the crisis). The Benes-Hodza government stalled public acceptance of Hitler's terms, partly to increase its leverage with the British, but partly also to give it time to manoeuvre the Soviet Union into a repudiation of its treaty commitments to Czechoslovakia - the indispensable step if British support was to be won. The crisis dragged on until Hitler issued a final ultimatum- he would invade Czechoslovakia on October 1st, when US President Roosevelt issued an appeal to both Hitler and Benes to 'settle their dispute peacefully', an approach which put aggressor and victim on the same level. Roosevelt suggested a conference of five countries: Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Czechoslovakia, to 'solve the dispute'. Since the only country still to stand by the Czechs -the Soviet Union- was not invited, there was no doubt as to how Roosevelt expected the 'dispute' solved. The conference was duly convened for 29 September; but the package of proposals finally adopted had already been worked out- not by the British government, but by Lady Astor's Cliveden set, during a dinner party. They were aided in their work by the US ambassador to London, Joseph Kennedy, who, according to Benes, 'supported and defended Chamberlain's policy of appeasement consistently and unconditionally'.

    After the Munich conference completed the mutilation of Czech sovereignty, Chamberlain asked Hitler for a private meeting. It was time to collect. The price for Czechoslovakia and a free hand in the East was Hitler's agreement to conclude pacts on non-aggression and cooperation with the British and French, including German guarantees of the integrity of their colonial possessions. Chamberlain emerged with his 'piece of paper'. One month later the French also concluded a non-aggression pact with Hitler Germany.

    The Anglo-French appeasers had achieved an old dream: the creation of a four-power pact (with fascist Italy and Germany) whose aim was the isolation of the USSR and the ultimate satisfaction of German territorial claims at its expense. Pravda said 'the world can clearly see that behind the smokescreen of fine phrases about Chamberlain having saved the peace at Munich, an act has been committed which by its shamelessness has surpassed all that has taken place since the first imperialist war'.

    Chamberlain and French premier Daladier had one residual service to make to Benes, who had obligingly held up the scenery while they carried off the cast. This was to foist responsibility for Czechoslovakia's fate onto the Soviet Union. In the effrontery of this act they followed Göbbels' favourite dictum about big lies being more believable. The Soviet Union had repeatedly and insistently made known its preparedness to stand by its treaty commitments to Czechoslovakia and its general commitment as a League of Nations member. Litvinov spelled this out from the Geneva rostrum: 'our War Department', he said, 'is ready to participate in a conference with representatives of the French and Czechoslovak War Departments in order to discuss the appropriate measures.... We intend to fulfil our obligations under the pact'. But the French and British governments and their media stooges continued to fling mud at the Soviets, the more so as the real implications of the Munich sell-out began to sink in. It suited their purpose to argue that Soviet support had not been forthcoming; like Benes, they too needed to argue that there had been no alternative to capitulation. In Britain Lord Winterton, a cabinet minister, said in a speech that 'Russia did not offer to help in the Czechoslovak crisis, but only made vague promises owing to her military weakness'. This statement was never retracted, a position of intransigence in which the minister concerned was supported by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain during a hostile Parliamentary question time. Soviet concern to dispel the miasma of public suspicion generated by this calumny led Ambassador Maisky to protest personally to the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax. Meeting him on 11 October 1938, while German troops were still in the process of occupying the Sudeten region acquired at Munich, Maisky told Halifax that 'the Soviet Union has never had anything to do either with the policy that led to Munich or with the Munich agreement itself [a fact known to Halifax, at any rate]...I am convinced that this agreement will have catastrophic consequences for peace and will be condemned by history'.

    Some of the mud stuck, as Chamberlain intended. The USSR was left with a dilemma: the more trenchantly its spokesmen criticised the West's appeasement of Hitler, the more its own perceived intransigence would predispose Hitler to solve bilateral problems by fighting rather than diplomacy (exactly the outcome sought by British). Yet to be seen supporting, even by a tacit silence, the policy of appeasing Axis aggression, was equally impossible.

    A Soviet-sponsored convention defining aggression had been concluded in the USSR in the summer of 1933, followed by a proposal to set up a collective security system in Europe comprising France, USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and some other states threatened by Nazism. The negotiations led to a Soviet -French and a Soviet-Czechoslovak treaty of mutual assistance being signed in May 1935. The USSR also worked to strengthen the League of Nations and tried to establish close co-operation with the USA and Britain, but with little success. British policy was to encourage Hitler to solve bilateral problems by fighting rather than diplomacy. This policy was covert. Appeasing Axis aggression was difficult in the face of popular opposition.

    In any case, the policy floundered from the start: making deals with criminals only encourages them. Thus the Nazi Hamburger Fremdenblatt remarked after Munich that 'England, with her feelings of honour, will be the first to realize that a proud and mighty nation of 80,000,000 people cannot tolerate the thought that it has been deprived of its colonial mission through a verdict imposed by violence'. So nothing was settled after all, and the 'piece of paper' Chamberlain had in his pocket had not bought peace.

    The British had nothing to show for the destruction of European collective security. Chamberlain's duplicitous diplomacy had not achieved even the minimal goal of satisfying Germany's immediate demands. As Pravda also commented:

    The British Conservative press and quarters supporting Mr Chamberlain want to make political capital by claiming that an accord with Fascist Germany and new concessions to Hitler would save Europe from war. There is no greater falsehood than this assertion. The policy of an agreement with the aggressor does not postpone but accelerates the advent of war.

    'An epoch of a rampage of crude force and the mailed fist policy is setting in' wrote Ivan Maisky, an old Bolshevik and now Soviet ambassador to Britain. 'A mood of die-hard reaction reigns in Britain and power is in the hands of the most conservative circles who fear communism most of all...The USSR remains the only bright spot on this gloomy background'......

    In France Soviet agents reported on a private conversation of the French Foreign Minister with some intimates, in which he bluntly said that 'sacrifices in the East are inevitable- it is essential to give an outlet to German expansionism'. At the time France was still formally a Soviet ally.

    A taste of the dream world inhabited by the appeasers was afforded by a speech made by British Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare, on the same day that Stalin spoke to the Moscow Party Congress of the 'treason and treachery' of the French and British. Calling for 'a 5-Year Plan for Europe, greater than any 5-Year Plan that this or that country has attempted in recent times' Hoare opined that 'a golden age' of rising living standards and 'incredible inventions and discoveries' was just around the corner if only 'the five men in Europe, the three dictators and the Prime Ministers for England and France worked with a singleness of purpose and a unity of action to this end- [they] might in an incredibly short space of time transform the whole history of the world...Our own Prime Minister', Hoare whimsically concluded, 'has shown his determination to work heart and soul to such an end. I cannot believe that the other leaders of Europe will not join him in the high endeavour upon which he is engaged'.

    Five days later—and three days after Stalin delivered his Central committee report to the 18th Party Congress—Hitler's tanks rolled into Prague, and the world was able to see the real fruits of appeasement. This time even the fig leaf of legality afforded by the Munich Agreement was dispensed with; the Germans went in 'to clear out a nest of Bolsheviks'.

    Chamberlain in London now was obliged to give thought to the 'guarantees' with which he and Daladier had equipped the rump Czechoslovak state. He had 'worked out a plan... which is pretty bold and startling', as he told his diary. 'I have an idea it won't bring us to an acute crisis, at any rate at once'. In a characteristically peccant manoeuvre Chamberlain announced that since 'Slovakia' had declared itself 'independent', the state Britain had guaranteed no longer existed, nullifying the guarantee! Such cynicism drew howls of protest even from the Conservative benches in the House of Commons. So great was the storm of public outrage that Chamberlain was obliged to make a public denunciation of appeasement, which became a taboo word. In future, fascist self-aggrandizement was to be resisted - by the application of more 'guarantees'. Chamberlain's adventurism was now cut entirely loose from the solid ground of historical reality, and British policy entered the squalid fantasy-world of the last years of peace. Only when British troops had to swim for their lives from the beaches of Dunkerque did its catastrophic consequences become clear.

    Hitler used the fanatical anti-communism of Western leaders to screen his own grand design, which however was transparent enough. First he would lay hands on the resources of the small countries of Central and Eastern Europe in order to strengthen Germany's strategic positions and war machine. Afterwards, when high political quarters in London, Paris and Washington were expecting him to attack the USSR, the Nazis would turn on France. Only then, backed by the military and economic resources of Western Europe would Hitler proceed to his next objective- the conquest and colonization of the Soviet Union.

    By March 1939 German troops had traversed Czechoslovakia and turned up on Poland's southern borders. The depth of the abyss to which Poland's 'opera' colonels had brought the country was brought into sharp focus. For twenty years the Poles had been ceremonializing venality into reasons of state, while they tried to parlay their walk-on part into a leading role. Perhaps this is not surprising; the Poles were the paupers of history and for 200 years had done without a state at all. They now fantasized a role as the West's outermost glacis, barring the way to Asiatic communism. To Litvinov's polite suggestion that they might have a problem with the Germans and should perhaps discuss a renewal of the Polish-Soviet Pact of 1932, they said 'Soviet participation in European polities' was 'needless'.

    At the end of August, a week before Germany attacked it, Poland's Foreign Minister Colonel Beck was to observe that 'No kind of military treaty connects Poland with the Soviets and the Polish Government does not intend to conclude such a treaty'. They too had entered fantasy-land. When the British gave Poland one of their 'guarantees' General Sikorski issued Britain with a 'reciprocal' guarantee. Three weeks later the Polish state had once again ceased to exist and Beck and Sikorski were refugees in London where Chamberlain told them the British were not in a position to help 'at the present time'. So neither guarantee was worth much.

    The 'London Poles' were a footnote in history. They hoped that the USSR and Germany would destroy each other, and that the post-war Poland which would rise on the ashes of those two countries to become Europe's dominant power. Six million Poles died during the war, a higher proportion of its population than in any other country. This was the fruit of the Polish refusal to enter collective security arrangements with the Soviet Union.

    Through all this, the British stubbornly persisted with their vision of an Anglo-German rapprochement. When the Panzers rolled into Prague the Federation of British Industry sent a delegation to Düsseldorf to negotiate with its German counterpart. Throughout that last summer of peace, talks took place on a many trade and bilateral questions. The guarantees given by Britain and France to Poland fit into this picture of burgeoning Anglo-German relations. Chamberlain stiffened the Poles, in effect giving them the right to declare war on Germany on behalf of Britain and France. But war was the last thing he expected. The British guarantees to Poland were made with the purpose of encouraging Polish intransigence and giving Hitler reasons to swallow Poland whole. Poland was a sacrificial pawn. British policy was to direct Germany against Soviet Russia. It had been for more than twenty years. The unilateral guarantees were an alternative to a political-military understanding with the USSR which was the only country actually in a position to help Poland. Chamberlain was trying to canalise German aggression away from the Western Powers. Hitler had once again been given the green light for aggression in the East. This was how Hitler himself understood the matter: when Britain and Germany did find themselves at war a few weeks later, no-one was more surprised than the 'strategic genius' in Berlin, unless it was Neville Chamberlain.

    British policy had only one aim: to cajole, wheedle, guide and direct Germany against Soviet Russia

    Events moved swiftly; Germany renounced its Non-aggression Treaty with Poland and the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Treaty, and seized the Lithuanian port of Memel. On April 7 Mussolini occupied Albania; Britain and France responded with 'guarantees' (!) for Greece and Romania. The Soviet Union invited them to conclude a mutual assistance pact. But this was the one self-evident step which, next to Germany and the USSR becoming allies, the Western Powers most feared. They responded with a suggestion that the USSR should make a unilateral statement as follows: 'in the event of any act of aggression against any European neighbour of the Soviet Union, which resisted such an act, the assistance of the Soviet Union would be available, if desired, and would be afforded in such a manner as would be found most convenient'.

    This was a notion worthy of the Downing Street dreamer, who had been encouraged by his success with the Poles into thinking that the Russians too could be persuaded to tie a noose around their own necks. However the Soviet government declined the opportunity to make war on Germany at London's bidding. On the very day this Whitehall provocation was delivered, Stalin's Tokyo agent, Richard Sorge, submitted an appreciation of Anglo-German relations which concluded 'Germany's main objective. . . is to compel Britain to recognise without a war Germany's claims to hegemony in Central Europe and to yield to its colonial demands. . . on this basis Germany will be prepared to conclude a lasting peace with Britain... and to start a war with the USSR'. In such a war the Japanese, according to Sorge, would also attack the Soviet Union with its Kwantung armies (the majority of Japanese land forces).

    At the insistent request of the Soviet government, which continued its urgent, not to say frantic, search for allies against Hitler Germany, the British and French agreed to talks in Moscow.

    These talks, herd in the summer of 1939, would decide whether there would be peace or war. It depended on the British and French. The Soviet commitment to collective security was crystal clear.

    But time was short. Stalin had said in his Central Committee report that the USSR would not pull other people's chestnuts out of the fire. Unfortunately it became clear that the British, desperately struggling to save an empire which in any case would disappear within twenty years, were now ready to burn whole groves of chestnuts.

    Chamberlain had been scrupulous not to guarantee the Soviet Union's neighbouring states on the Black Sea, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. These small defenceless countries, socially riven and with extreme right-wing governments, were perfect targets for Nazi indirect aggression.

    In a speech to the Supreme Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov said the British action was 'almost a direct invitation to Germany to leave Poland and other countries alone for the time being and to attack instead ... states on the Soviet borders by the time-honoured nazi methods of the instigation and financing of internal revolts and then marching in on the 'invitation' of the puppet government'. It was just these countries which the British wanted the USSR to unilaterally guarantee. So, just in case Hitler couldn't be embroiled in a war with Poland, Chamberlain's reserve position was to leave open a channel between Romania and Poland which would lead straight to the Soviet borders via the Baltic states.

    Only a few days before Molotov's speech Germany and Italy rounded off their preparations for war with the formal consummation of their 'Pact of Steel'. Two days later the British Cabinet met to discuss the ominous international situation. The minutes of their meeting make interesting reading. Agenda items included- Russia, Anglo-German relations, Danzig and the reinforcement of troops in Egypt. The discussion focused on the question of whether or not to pursue talks with the USSR for a mutual assistance treaty. After a long and involved discussion it was decided to continue negotiations in order, as one minister observed, to strengthen the British position so further initiatives could be taken in the search for appeasement.

    It was agreed that negotiations with Russia could indeed result in: a more "positive" policy, namely, agreement with Germany!

    This was the reality behind Chamberlain's damascene conversion from appeasement. But Chamberlain, who according to a diary entry of Nevile Henderson, counted the silver spoons after receiving Soviet ambassador Maisky at 10 Downing Street, felt deep loathing for the first socialist state. And according to Alexander. Cadogan, the Prime Minister experienced 'revulsion' at the very thought of alliance with Russia.

    But Chamberlain, Halifax and Daladier were coming in for growing criticism. Winston Churchill, who deferred to no-one in his detestation of Soviet Russia or his romantic attachment to Empire, told the House of Commons: 'I have been quite unable to understand what is the objection to making the agreement with Russia. . . for a triple alliance between England, France and Russia. . . solely for the purpose of resisting aggression... Clearly Russia is not going to enter into agreements unless she is treated as an equal, and not only treated as an equal, but has confidence that the methods employed by the allies.. . are such as would be likely to lead to success... Without an effective Eastern front there can be no satisfactory defence of our interests in the West'.......

    The Soviet Government proposed that the British speed up the crucial talks by including a senior figure with plenipotentiary powers, such as Lord Halifax, in their delegation to Moscow. This was reasonable. As Lloyd George was to point out 'Lord Halifax visited Hitler and Goering. Chamberlain flew into the Fuhrer 's arms three times in succession. He went specially to Rome to embrace Mussolini, to present him with official recognition of the conquest of Abyssinia, and practically to tell him that we would not bother about his invasion of Spain'. But for the Moscow talks the Government could only find William Strang, a middle ranking civil servant. Chamberlain and Halifax 'do not want any association with Russia', concluded Lloyd George.

    The Moscow talks were a sham from the start. On 29 June Zhdanov denounced in Pravda, British and French stalling: out of 75 days taken for the exchange of views 16 had been spent by the Soviet Government preparing its replies and 59 days were lost due to delays and procrastination by the Western side: 'this all shows that [they] do not want a treaty with the USSR based on the principles of equality and reciprocity, despite their protestations. . . . they want us to play the part of a hired labourer. . . The English and French do not want a real treaty, a treaty acceptable to the USSR. .. they want to talk about a treaty and , gambling on the alleged intransigence of the Soviet Union for the benefit of public opinion in their own countries, make it easier for themselves to make a deal with the aggressors'. . . While the Western Powers procrastinated, the crisis over Danzig deepened.

    It was obvious to the general public, never mind political leaderships, that a German attack on Poland was weeks away.

    Not until the release of Cabinet papers 30 years later did Strang's secret instructions for the conduct of the Moscow talks come to light. He had been told that 'the draft treaty should be as short and simple in its terms as possible. . . It is realised that this may leave loopholes in the text and possibly lead to differences in the interpretation of the treaty at a later date'.

    In other words, Strang was told to create a swindle which the British could later disown at their leisure.

    Herbert von Dirksen, Reich ambassador to Britain in 1938-39, called the British tactic 'Zwillingspolitik'- a twin track diplomacy whose primary objective was to encourage Hitler to come to an agreement.

    Dirksen's papers were discovered after the Soviet Army passed through his estate at Gröditzberg in 1945. Among them were documents detailing the secret negotiations between Hitler and Chamberlain which continued right through the summer and to which the Moscow talks were merely a side-show.

    On 22 July 1939, a few days before the Moscow talks resumed, the London papers were filled with a sensational story which was to make headlines around the world. Chamberlain proposed offering Germany a loan of one billion pounds sterling (4 billion US dollars) - an enormous sum. Secret talks between Hitler and Chamberlain, who tries to bribe Germany

    The story was leaked by the French, who feared the British were selling them out to Germany. There was an instant clamour in the press and political circles. The UK government's embarrassment was compounded by the German response. Hitler rejected the offer 'with indignation'. Hudson's proposal for a loan supposedly linked to German disarmament was dismissed as 'the fantasy of a government which has lost its grip on reality'. Hitler denounced an 'arrogant and shameless' offer which suggested Britain thought she was dealing with a 'defeated enemy'. But Dirksen's papers revealed a much more sinister story of Anglo-German collusion designed to conceal the real, and far more substantive negotiations going on by means of a synthetic hullabaloo over Hudson's 'offer'.

    These negotiations had begun more than a month earlier

    Dirksen explained the reasons for secrecy: 'the problem which is puzzling the sponsors of these plans [i.e. Chamberlain and Halifax] most is how to start the negotiations. Public opinion is so inflamed that if plans to negotiate with Germany became public they would immediately be torpedoed'. Discussions took place between Hitler's economic adviser Wohlthat and Sir Horace Wilson, a member of Chamberlain's kitchen cabinet. The essence of Chamberlain's proposal, relayed to Wohlthat, was as follows.

    Wohlthat was told 'there were still three big regions in the world where Germany and England could find wide opportunities for activity: the British Empire, China and Russia. England alone could not adequately take care of her vast empire and it would be quite possible for Germany to be given a rather comprehensive share. Just as little could Japan satisfy all China economically; in Russia the situation was similar'. Wilson went on to say that 'the British government had in view the conclusion of two pacts with Germany: the first on non-aggression and the second on non-intervention' in exchange for which, Chamberlain 'would end the British "guarantee" policy and agree to an acceptable settlement of the problems (sic) in Eastern Europe'.

    Additionally, the British would prevail on France to abrogate her Mutual Assistance Pact with Russia and abandon all her ties in South-East Europe. It was made clear that the British 'guarantee' to Poland was nothing more than a device to achieve the main aim- a broad alliance with Hitler Germany.

    The British wanted a 'non-intervention pact' in order to secure a general demarcation of spheres of influence throughout the world; this would be combined with an economic agreement which amounted to an eventual coalescing of the German and British economies in a mutual exploitation of each country's colonial empires. There was discussion of the 'need to open and exploit' world markets- including China and the USSR. Just in case anything had been left out, Wilson commented that, if Hitler had any other demands, 'the Fuhrer only has to take a clean sheet of paper and list the questions he is interested in'. These talks were continued in Berlin through early August, when Britain also agreed 'to recognize East Europe as Germany's natural lebensraum (living space)'; to settle the colonial question and end 'Germany's encirclement'.

    'Agreement with Germany is still Britain's dearest wish' wrote Dirksen. British efforts to woo Hitler continued into August. Sir Horace Wilson met Fritz Hesse, a Ribbentrop aide, at his Kensington town house to convey a new offer by Chamberlain to conclude a 25-year 'defensive alliance' with Germany. Hesse wanted clarification: did this mean the British would take Germany's side in a war with the Soviet Union? Wilson replied that it did.

    Hitler did not respond directly to the latest British overtures. His main concern was that the Soviet Union might still manage to persuade the French and British to negotiate seriously for a mutual assistance pact. His own overtures to the Soviet Government for a Non-aggression Treaty now became more insistent; and they were buttressed, of course, with the plentiful evidence of British bad faith now available to Hitler.

    In any case, Hitler had no worries about the likely British response to a German attack on Poland; he was now convinced, and could hardly be otherwise, that Britain would not go to war for the sake of Poland.

    Even if the British and French were obliged to honour their 'guarantees' to the extent of declaring war, the Reich would be in no actual danger from the West. So confident was Hitler of this that Germany's western borders were left undefended while the Wehrmacht was hurled at Poland.

    At the time the French could mobilise more than 100 divisions, 2000 aircraft and 3000 tanks.

    But this huge force remained immobilised behind the Maginot line.

    Faced with German intransigence and expansionism, the Western Powers writhed on the hooks of their own opportunism and adventurism.

    The tale of the Moscow Military Mission of the British and French allies reads more like a Feydeau face than the curtain-raiser to a war which cost so many lives.

    The Military Mission grew out of the Moscow talks for a collective- security pact, led by a junior Foreign Office official, Strang, in the summer of 1939.

    The Soviet government made plain it wanted a real bells-and-whistles treaty, not mere paper protocols. The Czechs had already seen the benefits of British guarantees, as the Poles were soon to do. As Zhdanov said, 'they want us to be their coolies', but Stalin had other ideas.

    So from the start the Soviet side put forward a condition that any political treaty should be supplemented with a military convention, and they should come into force at the same time and constitute 'one single whole'. The pact, if there was going to be one, had to have teeth.

    The Military Mission staff talks were necessary to agree on operational matters in military co-operation between the powers in time of war. These were concrete issues to do with force levels, dispositions and military strategy. That kind of thing, of course, was just what the French and British wanted to avoid at all costs.

    The British Mission was headed by Admiral Drax, a semi-retired naval with no experience of operational planning and known to be violently anti-Soviet. His French opposite number, General Doumenc, headed a mission as notably undistinguished and incompetent as the British.

    The British Board of Trade sent the mission to Russia on the slowest seaworthy boat they on Augusts 1939.

    While it crawled around the coast of Europe at 13 knots the officers of the missions played table tennis to pass the time. In order to avoid the talks taking a serious turn their instructions included various draft treaties which could be put to the Russians. Hammered together out of general formulas, abstract principles and self-evident platitudes, these were the raw material for what were intended to be protracted discussions.

    Apart from avoiding productive talks the other main task set the delegations was one of espionage. Thus the missions' instructions including questions on such matters as the calibre of Red Army leadership, the specifications of Soviet aviation fuel, Soviet naval policy in the Baltic and White Seas and so on.

    In the course of their voyage the Missions' senior members evolved a system of secret signals for use during the talks. If delicate issues arose on which positions needed to be coordinated, or if someone became indiscreet or compromised, the other members of the missions were to scratch, rub or blow their noses. To facilitate these manoeuvres Admiral Drax developed a terrifying cough. Doumenc was endowed with a fine aquiline nose which seemed to elongate as the talks progressed and the Western delegations became mired in self-contradiction and a mendacious frivolising of the serious issues at stake.

    The French and British intended to drag on the talks, for months if need be, until either Hitler was pressurised into reaching agreement with them, or until Germany attacked Poland. In such a situation, with the Wehrmacht right on Soviet borders, the USSR would presumably have the greatest difficulty in remaining outside the conflict whatever the then state of its relations with the Western Powers.

    But the talks took only a few days to reach a climax; the Soviet side were simply not prepared to be fobbed off by the obfuscatory tactics of the French and British.

    The talks broke down over the question of Soviet troops being allowed onto Polish or Romanian territory in order to make contact with the enemy. Replying to Marshal Voroshilov, Doumenc said: 'I agree with the Marshal that the concentration of Soviet troops must take place principally in the areas indicated by the Marshal, and the distribution of these troops will be made at your discretion. I think that the weak points of the Polish-Romanian front are its flanks and their limiting point. We shall speak of the left flank when we deal with the question of communications'.

    'I want you to reply to my direct question', repeated Voroshilov, whose patience finally gave out when confronted with this unintelligible evasion. 'I said nothing about Soviet troop concentrations. I asked whether the British and French General Staffs envisage passage of our troops towards East Prussia or other points to fight the common enemy'.

    General Doumenc: 'I think that Poland and Romania will implore you, Marshal, to come to their assistance'.

    Voroshilov: 'And perhaps they will not. It is not evident so far'.

    At this point, accompanied by vigorous nose-rubbing, the decrepit Drax broke in. 'If Poland and Romania do not ask for Soviet help they will soon become German provinces, and then the USSR will decide how to act', a statement which laid bare the totality of British wishful thinking on the subject of a Soviet-German war.

    After this the talks were adjourned at Soviet insistence until the Franco-British Missions could get an answer to this question from their governments (they had no powers to negotiate outside their narrow remit, let alone sign an agreement).

    The question of allowing Soviet troops through Poland was crucial, decisive. The Red Army (self-evidently!) had to have access to the Front, if military assistance to Poland was to mean anything.

    But the refusal of France and Britain to put pressure on the Poles over the question of passage to the Front in the event of war, was indicative of Franco-British aims.

    To have taken the question seriously would entailed serious discussion of the whole framework of military collaboration between the four countries, who would then be allies bound by common treaty commitments to take definite and prearranged steps in the event of aggression. Thus the French, for example, would have had to make commitments to open an offensive front on Germany's western borders.

    But the British and French counted on the mindless intransigence of the Polish colonels to abort such menacing discussions. The Poles said they were defending Christian Europe against the Godless Bolsheviks—and simultaneously defending themselves against Hitler! It is hard to feel sorry for them, especially because it was their fellow-countrymen who paid the price for their folly (the colonels mostly lived in quiet retirement in the London suburb of Kensington).

    The British goal was to embroil the Soviet Union in a war of annihilation with Nazi Germany and for the Soviet Union to begin such a war on its own territory, in other words in the most disadvantageous circumstances. For the same reason the Western Powers had refused to grant guarantees to the Baltic states against 'indirect' aggression, thus leaving the way open for Germany to sponsor the overtly fascist elements in their right wing governments into coups, resulting in these Soviet neighbours falling into German hands.

    And all the while the Moscow talks were still dragging on, Chamberlain orchestrated his secret talks with the Germans. As we have seen, these were aimed at turning the Non-aggression Pact which Chamberlain signed with Hitler in Munich in 1938, into a thoroughgoing collaboration with Nazi Germany in all spheres- political, economic and military. The Moscow talks for a mutual assistance treaty—like the unilateral guarantees liberally distributed to East European countries—were a charade. In his talks with Hitler, Chamberlain pledged to break off the simultaneous talks with the USSR should agreement with Germany be reached.

    It is worth considering what such a plan would have entailed for the USSR had Chamberlain succeeded. Still engaged in its attempts to construct a European framework for collective security, the Soviet Union would have found itself completely isolated. It would have had to face single-handed a united front of capitalist countries secretly formed and directed against it, with Germany armed to the teeth as a strike force.

    Chamberlain's plan thus posed a deadly danger to the Soviet people. As Churchill was to point out, 'a wholly different policy was required for the safety of Russia... The Soviet government were convinced by Munich and much else that neither Britain nor France would fight till they were attacked, and would not be much good then. The gathering storm was about to break. Russia must look after herself.

    Germany became increasingly persistent in her own overtures to the Soviet Union. Germany too wanted a Soviet-German Non-aggression Pact, an option which the Soviets government had steadfastly resisted during its search for authentic collective security. Now Hitler sent a personal message to Stalin asking for an agreement to be concluded, and despatched Ribbentrop to Moscow for the purpose. The effective collapse of the Moscow Military talks and the obvious imminence of a German attack on Poland forced the Soviet hand.

    The Soviet-German Non-aggression Treaty was signed on August 24, one week before the war began. Both sides understood from the start its real meaning- the pact was a truce which suited their temporary convenience.

    On August 17 Britain's Washington ambassador got word from US intelligence sources that the signing of a Soviet-German Non-aggression Treaty was imminent. This was one of the possibilities most feared by Daladier and Chamberlain. It meant the collapse, at least temporarily, of their planned war between the USSR and Germany. This did not mean, as Churchill knew, that they would then be in the position of having to wage war on Hitler unaided. The British had already sent a special emissary, Baron William de Ropp, to Berlin a few days before. One of his tasks, during his discussions with Alfred Rosenberg, head of the Nazi Party's foreign policy department, was to spell out the British stand in the event of a German attack on Poland.

    Rosenberg was told the British would fight a defensive war, that is to say, would take no action in defence of Poland or in retaliation for Germany's attack on that country. In particular there would be no aerial bombardment of German territory- and the Germans agreed to reciprocate, a decision which held throughout the 'phoney war' period. This 'deal' struck between de Ropp and Rosenberg would leave open the possibility of quickly ending the war because, de Ropp said, 'neither the British Empire nor Germany would wish to risk their future for the sake of a state which had ceased to exist'. This discussion pointed the way to a collusion which continued throughout the first months of the war, until Hitler struck at France in May 1940. But the British had still to deal with the possibility which now loomed up of a Soviet agreement with Germany.

    The British now resorted to tactics disgraceful even by their own standards. So deep is the shame which still attaches to British actions at this time that official records have been doctored to conceal the truth. Regrettably, Western historians have tended to connive in the cover up.

    When Britain's Washington ambassador got word of Ribbentrop's impending visit to Moscow he at once sent the news to the Foreign Office. According to the official version of events, the telegram did not arrive until 22 August, a delay of four days. During this time the British had one last chance to save the peace and fend off the impending catastrophe. At this final and crucial moment their actions would be conclusively revealing about their real intentions.

    Five days later when the Soviet-German Treaty became a fact the Western media raised an incredible storm of synthetic anger, claiming that both Britain and France had allegedly sought an alliance with the USSR but that the latter had 'double-crossed' them. This myth, assiduously fostered by western historians, still remains ingrained in popular consciousness.

    It is a myth which depends crucially on the circumstantial fact of the delayed diplomatic telegram. For had the telegram arrived on 18 August the British government would have had ample time to act to forestall the collapse of the Moscow military talks. A drastic step by the British government, such as a telegram to Moscow saying that Lord Halifax or the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Ironside, were ready to come to Moscow with plenipotentiary powers to sign the treaty, could have changed the course of events drastically and within hours. Nothing stood in the way, even at this eleventh hour, of a collective security arrangement capable of ensuring peace, other than the warmongering intransigence of the British themselves.

    The British, of course, did not send Halifax to retrieve the stalled talks. A treaty with the Russians was no part of the schemes of the appeasers. What they actually did was to send a British intelligence officer, Sydney Cotton, on a secret mission to Germany. He was to try to persuade Hermann Goering to return with him to London to meet and negotiate face to face with Neville Chamberlain. In a last twist of perfidy, an act of actual desperation, Chamberlain wanted to buy off Hitler's proposed pact with the Soviet Union by making the Germans a still better offer.

    'Agreement with Germany is still Britain's dearest wish'

    Göring agreed to fly in secretly on 23 August. Hitler however was still only concerned to beat the British at their own game of setting potential enemies at each other's throats. Göring didn't turn up; Hitler no longer had anything to fear from the British and was now only concerned to ensure Soviet non-intervention in the forthcoming attack on Poland.

    Only in 1971 did incontrovertible evidence appear proving that Halifax received on 18 August the Washington ambassador's telegram warning of the impending conclusion of a German-Soviet Non-aggression Treaty- that is, the day after it was sent.

    This revelation made it finally impossible to suggest, as several generations of historians and publicists have tried to, that it was the Soviet Union which ditched the Moscow talks and made war inevitable. But in reality the circumstantial evidence of British duplicity was undeniable from the start.

    The collapse of the Moscow talks meant that the last obstacle to Hitler's next move in the grand design for European and world domination had been removed. On September 1st German units crossed the Polish border. Chamberlain and Daladier made last desperate efforts to involve Mussolini in some form of 'mediation' before public opinion forced the two governments to declare war on Germany on 3 September.

    There now commenced what the French called 'drole de guerre', the phony war. The French army, that 'mirror of the national virtues', settled in behind its Maginot Line. The British began to organise an expeditionary force of seven divisions. Chamberlain broadcast a speech in German, in which he declared his attitude to the 'perfidy of the Führer' and gave a long list of Hitler's broken pledges. 'Hitler', he ended, 'has sworn to you for years that he was the mortal enemy of Bolshevism; he is now its ally. Can you wonder that his word is, for us, not worth the paper it is written on?'

    That at least made clear what Chamberlain thought Hitler's real error was. This speech marked the beginning of an intense propaganda campaign in Britain and France, and also in the US, to prepare public opinion not for the sacrifices and burdens entailed by real hostilities and by a real attempt to discharge British obligations to Poland and other countries ground under the Nazi jackboot- but for a very different goal.

    The French and British, backed by Roosevelt in the US, now began to campaign with brazen and shameless openness for a repudiation of the war against fascist Germany and for the conversion of Germany and Italy into allies in a war against the Soviet Union. A chorus arose from many and varied sources, all calling for the same thing-  a war against Bolshevism, a creed which according to the Daily Telegraph is 'as immoral, as murderous, as anti-social as that of Hitler Germany'.

    In the words of the Methodist Recorder there should be a war for a 'new order' in Europe, a war in which 'France and Germany, Britain and perhaps Italy would have fought side by side in...comradeship.'

    As Lenin had urged long before, "We must explain the real situation to the people, show them that war is hatched in the greatest secrecy... We must explain to the people again and again in the most concrete way, how matters stood... and why they could not have been otherwise..."

    And: "examine the policy pursued prior to the war, the policy that led to and brought about the [First World] war.... [we should not forget] the question of the class character of the war; what caused that war, what classes are waging it, and what historical and historico-economic conditions gave rise to it.'

    Most important: To whose advantage is it?'

    Prefiguring the supersession of inter-imperial rivalry by an epoch of class struggle on the international plane, Lenin said:

    ... in the present world situation following the imperialist war, reciprocal relations between peoples and the world political system as a whole are determined by the struggle waged by a small group of imperialist nations against the Soviet movement and the Soviet states headed by Soviet Russia...

    This foreshadowed the form taken by imperialist rivalry during most of this century, which has characterised by the coalescing of the robbers into one hegemonic band. This is ultra-imperialism, but not the kindly, meliorative thing Kautsky foresaw, but the decadent, planet-destroying capitalism we now enjoy.

    Lenin's notion that inter-imperial rivalry was bound to be overlaid by conflict between the world proletariat and world capitalism, was adopted by J.V.Stalin.

    Speaking to a Central Committee plenum in 1925, Stalin said that in a future war "we will not be able to stand idly by. We will have to take part, but we will be the last to take part so that we may throw the decisive weight onto the scales..."

    How did a well - informed, ultra-cautious politician such as Josef Stalin ever allow Adolf Hitler to achieve surprise in launching his invasion of the Soviet Union? It was inconceivable in 1941 and remains so to this day. 

    There was the carefully articulated campaign of disinformation mounted by Hitler to convince Stalin that the German divisions in Poland were not a threat to the Soviet Union. Germany troops were being prepared for the invasion of Britain, and it was easier to conceal them in eastern Europe than Germany or France. In addition Hitler knew that Stalin was desperately eager to reach a new agreement with him. Thus he carefully cultivated those hopes, always suggesting he intended to resume negotiations in the near future. This was the prospect which led Stalin in May 1941 to assume the post of chairman of the Council of Peoples Commissars. 

    Stalin believed until the last moment that war could be avoided. He expected a new agreement would be very onerous and to guarantee its fulfilment he took the unprecedented step of assuming full formal responsibility for the Soviet government. In Berlin Otto Meissner continued inconclusive talks with Vladimir Dekanozov, the Soviet ambassador, until the eve of Barbarossa.

    Stalin did not merely sit in the Kremlin waiting for Hitler to make him an offer. Instead he mounted his own disinformation campaign. A number of Soviet documents (obtained by August Ponschab, the German consul in Harbin, Manchuria) were purposely leaked in an attempt to provide Hitler with accurate information concerning Soviet intentions and aspirations. None of these documents were authentic, but the information contained in them was sufficiently plausible to seem genuine at the time. The Germans were led to believe that they had accidentally stumbled on a genuine source of information illuminating Soviet policy -- in particular the manner in which the Soviet government viewed its relations with Germany. All the documents stressed Stalin's reluctance to co - operate with Britain and America in any way. They also conveyed his sincere desire to reach agreement with Germany concerning Finland, the Balkans, Turkey, and the Middle East. They specified his objectives in these areas and trade-offs he was prepared to make in return. Most of all they magnified the efforts being taken by the British Empire and the United States to reinforce the United Kingdom and suggested that if Hitler did not invade Britain in the summer of 1941 it might prove impossible thereafter.

    If Hitler had been open to reason, intelligence data of this sort might well have convinced him to negotiate. But Hitler clearly was not open to reason. As in 1939, he intended to have his war, and no one, least of all the hated Stalin, was going to stop him. This is what Stalin did not understand. He believed Hitler to be rational and if offered a good enough deal, willing to negotiate a settlement without resorting to war. Thus, perversely, any military precautions Stalin might take against a sudden German attack would only complicate, perhaps prevent, the opening of negotiations. Thus, as a matter of policy, not conviction, Stalin ignored all warnings that Hitler intended war, and gave the monstrous order not to fire on the Germans should they attack.

    Stalin was deceived, but why was he,  the least trusting of all men, taken in? Clearly he was overconfident, badly served by his ideology and far out of his political depth in confronting the Nazi menace.

    Did the Cold War have its origins in  the years prior to World War II ?

    These were  the charges brought by the resurgent Republican Party in the United States when they turned on the Roosevelt and Truman administrations and blamed them for "the loss" of Eastern Europe. The newly emergent school of British historians (John Charmley in particular) blame Winston Churchill for "the loss" of the British Empire. If only he had cut a deal with Hitler (the always rational Hitler in whom Stalin also trusted!) he would have turned Nazi and Communist against each other while the British Empire sailed serenely into the second half of the twentieth century.

    Stalin got the better of everyone. Hitler, Churchill, and Roosevelt all failed equally in dealing with him. Stalin saw himself as a master politician, a superb diplomat, a true military genius able to mount fantastic military adventures on short notice.

    Stalin had been planning for some time, but especially after 1938, to launch a grand 'Drang nach Westen', to expand the Soviet Union and its influence as far westward as possible. It is of course hard to explain the fifteen hundred kilometre march of the Wehrmacht to Stalingrad as a Soviet Drang nach Western. Churchill and Roosevelt were only too ready to leave the fighting of the war to the Red Army. The western leaders were aware that every Soviet casualty saved a western life. There were of course more than twenty-five million Soviet casualties. What western government would have taken this burden on its shoulders?

    There was no core of rationality at the heart of Hitler's policies -- a rationality with which compromise was possible. Instead, there were a will to power and an unlimited appetite for blood and territory with which it was impossible to reach agreement.

    Roosevelt and Churchill did not make this mistake. Despite their intense anti-Bolshevism they realized that Nazi Germany was a far greater danger to their democracies and could only be crushed with the full co-operation of Soviet Russia. No one understood great power politics better than Roosevelt and Churchill, and they created the alliance which would overwhelm Nazi Germany. Although they controlled all the economic resources needed to win the war they lacked manpower and a political consensus to spill British and American blood in sufficient quantities to achieve their purpose.

    In the end Stalin provided all the casualties needed to win the war, not because he wanted to but because Hitler left him no other alternative.

    Secret tales from Vienna
    At the height of the Cold War, plans for an invasion had spies and soldiers on edge

    By Eric Margolis
    September 16, 2007

    VIENNA -- Memories of past glories still haunt this majestic imperial capitol of the now sadly vanished Austro-Hungarian Empire.

    There are also fresher memories of the post-war era when the Soviets shared control of Vienna with Britain, France and the United States. A large, freshly gilded Soviet war memorial still looms over the city.

    The old, sinister days of spying, kidnapping and black marketeering were captured here by Carol Reed's magnificent film, The Third Man, starring Orson Wells as the charming thug, Harry Lime.

    My father used to produce plays with Wells, and the actor often regaled us with amusing tales about making this film in the ruins of Vienna under the baleful eyes of the KGB.

    Half a century later, Wells' presence still haunts Vienna. I half imagine seeing him in the twilight, dressed in a long, black great coat and fedora, slipping around a corner into the dusk.

    Vienna also has another fascinating secret.

    Back in the 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, I was studying international law at a Swiss university.

    A group of Swiss Army officers in mufti (civilian dress) were arrested by Austria for spying on its modest fortifications on its Czech border.

    Many jokes about "chocolate spies" were made at the time over this seeming trivial incident. But the Swiss, as always, were deadly serious.

    The Swiss officers were monitoring Austria's eastern defenses against the Soviet Warsaw Pact because their intelligence service had uncovered frightfully alarming news.

    State Secret

    This information still remains a Swiss state secret, but thanks to my contacts with the Swiss military, I can reveal it for the first time.

    NATO's defenses were concentrated on the North German Plain -- the hundreds of miles of flat terrain running from the Bavarian Alps up to the North Sea and supplied by the vast Belgian port complex of Antwerp.

    This region, and the Fulda Gap to the south, were the Warsaw Pact's expected invasion route into Western Europe. U.S., German, British, Canadian, Dutch and Belgian troops were massed there, awaiting an attack.

    However, the Soviet General Staff had developed a brilliant plan to outflank the bulk of NATO forces in north Germany.

    It was a variant of the pre-First World War German Schlieffen Plan.

    The Soviet version called for a major deception and pinning attacks in the north, while a mass strike force of at least 60 armored and mechanized divisions would sweep west from Czechoslovakia into neutral Austria, cross it, and then erupt into eastern Switzerland.

    The Red Army would have to fight its way through the Swiss fortress zone at Sargans, then drive west on an axis: Zurich-Bern-Neuchatel-Lausanne-Geneva.

    Bound for Paris

    From Geneva, the Soviet blitz would break out into France's Rhone Valley near Grenoble and Lyon, swing northwest along the Saone River and envelop Paris from the south and west.

    This vast enveloping attack, whose northern flank would be in large part protected by the Alps and Vosges, would come up behind NATO forces deployed much further east.

    A Soviet column would take Antwerp and Rotterdam, thus cutting off the main supply lines of American, British and Canadian forces, and then attack them from the rear.

    Had this plan worked, it would have been more successful than the 1914 Schlieffen Plan and as great a triumph as Germany's 1940 campaign against France.

    Like von Manstein's and Guderian's audacious attack through the Ardennes forest in May, 1940, a Soviet offensive through Austria and Switzerland would have struck the least expected spot -- NATO's underbelly.

    Austria lay naked, but Switzerland was ready.

    Its 600,000 tough soldiers prepared to fight the Red Army from their mountain fortress redoubts at Sargans, Gothard and St. Maurice in the Valais.

    The Swiss would have seriously delayed Soviet attacks, perhaps giving NATO time, were it fleet enough, to withdraw its northern forces eastward, and pull back troops to defend the strategic Rhone Valley.

    But it would have been a very, very close run thing.

    May 8, 2005 
    Soviet pride, shame

    Honour Russia's sacrifice but don't forget Stalin's crimes and the Allies' culpability, Eric Margolis writes

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. Bush is due to attend ceremonies in Moscow tomorrow commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Soviet Union's victory over Germany in 1945. It is both right and wrong that he be there.

    Right, because many North Americans and British mistakenly believe their nations alone defeated National Socialist Germany. In fact, Stalin's Soviet Union, not the western democracies, played the decisive role in defeating Adolf Hitler and his European allies. While rightly honouring our own heroic veterans, it's time we also recognize and pay homage to Russia's dauntless courage, endurance and suffering.

    - The Soviet Union inflicted 75% of all World War II German casualties in titanic battles involving millions of men. Soviet forces killed 3 million German troops, and lost 11.3 million, with 18.3 million wounded. Twenty million Russian civilians died.

    - Britain lost 340,000 men, Canada 43,000, and the U.S. about 150,000 in the European Theater. The $11 billion of U.S. military aid to the U.S.S.R. helped Stalin, but was not decisive.

    - When Allied forces landed at Normandy, the Wehrmacht's "guts had been ripped out by the Soviets," said Winston Churchill. Had the Allies met 1940's strength and quality German troops, with an intact Luftwaffe, they would have been driven into the English Channel. However battered, the Wehrmacht fought ferociously from 1944 to '45, recalling Churchill's dictum, "You will never know war until you fight Germans."

    - The Soviet defeat of Japan's forces in Manchuria has been ignored. In a brilliant, Blitzkrieg campaign along a 3,000-km front on Aug. 9, 1945, Soviet Far Eastern armies crushed Japan's weakened 710,000-man Kwantung Army, killing 80,000 and capturing 594,000.

    So it's right to honour Russia's valiant soldiers. But it's also wrong to keep on ignoring the Soviet Union's monstrous crimes or the Allies' alliance with the tyrant who committed them.

    Nazi concentration camps like Buchenwald and Auschwitz are household names. But who recalls even more murderously prolific Soviet death camps like Kolyma, Vorkuta and Magadan?

    Stalin told Churchill he had killed 10 million farmers in the early 1930s, and hailed the butcher of 6 million Ukrainians, Commissar Lazar Kaganovich, as "our Himmler." The best current estimate of Stalin's victims is 20 million murdered before WWII, and 10 million from 1941 to '53, a total "democide" of 30 million. Hitler's toll was around 12 million after 1941.

    Nor did German aggression alone begin the war in Europe.

    German-Soviet aggression did. We forget Hitler and Stalin jointly invaded, then partitioned Poland under the notorious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, that Moscow has never renounced. Seven million Poles died, half of them were Jews. The U.S.S.R. then went on to invade Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

    In 1939, Hitler, whose major crimes still lay ahead of him, was seen by many Europeans as a hero who had pulled Germany out of economic collapse, restored national dignity and provided the main bulwark against the very real threat of communist mass murder engulfing western Europe. Yet Britain and the U.S. chose to become war partners with Stalin, by then history's worst mass killer. Churchill and particularly Franklin Roosevelt must share indirect guilt for Stalin's crimes, just as they would had they joined Hitler.

    This aspect of the war remains taboo. At Yalta, the left-leaning Roosevelt, besotted by "Uncle Joe" Stalin's power, delivered half of Europe to communist rule, replacing a greater tyranny for a lesser one.

    What should the Allies have done? In 1939, the 20th-century's leading military thinker, Maj.-Gen. J.F.C Fuller, urged Britain not to go to war over Poland, but await the inevitable war between Germany and the U.S.S.R. that would destroy them both, then liberate Europe. Otherwise, he warned, Stalin would emerge the victor. Hitler was declared "the supreme evil" and ideological war was declared. Fuller was pilloried and ignored.

    It's time Canada, the U.S. and Britain face their culpability in abetting Stalin. They should demand Russia come clean over Stalin's crimes and prosecute Soviet officials and police who are still alive. Bush at least took a first step by rebuking the Kremlin for its invasion of the Baltic states. Continuing to beat the drums about Nazi crimes, however horrible, while ignoring egregious communist crimes is profoundly dishonest.

    Too much lingering wartime propaganda still clouds our historical memory. Some other forgotten points:

    - Germany's September 1939 invasion of Poland did not begin WWII. It began five months earlier when Fascist Italy invaded little Albania. Or arguably in 1936 when Japan invaded China.

    - In the 1920s, Churchill authorized using poison gas against rebellious Kurdish tribesmen in Iraq and on India's northwest frontier. In the '30s, Italy used poison gas and concentration camps to break resistance in Libya.

    - As German generals Rommel and Guderian were smashing across the Meuse on May 12-15, 1940, in the epic Battle of France, Hitler remarked that his generals were more eager to march on Berlin than Paris. The failure by Britain and the U.S. to support anti-Nazi Germans in the late 1930s and again in 1944 proved a tragic mistake.

    - WWII was not a simple conflict between democracy and tyranny, as we are misinformed, but a clash between imperial powers, ideology and economic systems. Italy's fascism, and Germany's National Socialism, threatened not only Europe but Britain's and America's capitalist system and money-lending financial elites. In 1939, the British Empire still ruled swathes of Asia and Africa. Germany, Italy and Japan went to war against the British, French, Dutch, Belgian colonial empires and the U.S. Pacific Imperium.

    - No sooner were the Netherlands liberated from German occupation by Canada in 1945 than Dutch troops were sent to re-occupy the former Dutch colony, Indonesia, which had proclaimed independence. Dutch and British colonial forces massacred tens of thousands of Indonesians from 1945 to '49, acting with far more brutality than German troops did in Holland.

    - At war's end, 15 million ethnic Germans were driven from ancestral homes across Eastern Europe. Two to 3 million Germans were killed. Two million German women were raped by the Red Army.


    The Battle of Stalingrad
    One of bloodiest battles ever, it was the German army's greatest defeat

    Kursk- the greatest tank battle of World War 2
    The last major German offensive in the East

    Black Sun Redux

    Site Meter




    German Invasion of the U.S.S.R.

    Operation Barbarossa

    by: Earl F. Ziemke
    Historian, Office of the Chief of Military History
    Department of the Army

    Operation Barbarossa German offensive operations, June 22 - August 25, 1941

    The summer of 1940, after France had surrendered, found Adolf Hitler in a quandary. He had won three whirlwind campaigns, but the next in logical order, the reckoning with Great Britain, was one for which he had little stomach. By his own admission he was a lion on land but a coward on water, and he began planning for an invasion of the British Isles with scant enthusiasm. At the same time he toyed with other projects: the capture of Gibraltar or the Suez Canal, a landing at Haifa, a North African campaign. None of these was significant enough to resolve any of his major problems: how to dispose of Britain; how to secure the Lebensraum (space for living) for which the war was ostensibly being fought; how to end the war on German terms before the United States could arm and intervene; how to deal with the Soviet Union, a "friend he neither liked nor trusted. Most pressing at the moment was the question of Britain. Poland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and part of France were occupied, but the British showed no inclination to quit. The more he thought it over, the more Hitler became convinced that the British hope eventually to find an ally in the USSR. If that were true, then the way to bring the British to heel quickly was to remove their last hope.


    Exactly when Hitler decided that he would have to fight the
    Soviet Union is a moot question. The idea of an inevitable clash between Nazism and Soviet communism was one of the least ambiguous tenets of his political philosophy. If, during the period of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, he did not talk about it, he also did not renounce it. On the other hand, it cannot be assumed that, in turning against the Soviet Union when he did, Hitler was merely executing part of a preconceived program. As in nearly all of his decisions, there was a progression involving the original idea, a specific strategic concept, events and circumstances that seemed to him to confirm the validity of the first two steps, and, finally, a period in which he developed an unshakable determination to see the enterprise through.

    The idea of inevitable conflict with the Soviet Union Hitler had expressed in Mein Kampf. In July 1940, the apparent stalemate in the war with
    Britain brought the Soviet Union to the forefront of his strategic thinking as an inviting target in itself, as the last obstacle to German hegemony on the Continent, and as the lever with which to bring Britain to terms. At the same time, by acting as an equal--even an independent--partner, the Soviet government appeared to confirm the line of thought which he had begun to follow. In June 1940, during the week before the Franco-German armistice, Soviet troops occupied Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. The secret protocol to the 1939 pact placed the three Baltic states in the Soviet sphere of influence, but the Russians' timing was a disquieting sign that they intended to take their share of every German victory. At the end of June, the Russians forced Romania to cede Bessarabia and northern Bucovina to them, a step that brought them closer to the Romanian oilfields, on which the Wehrmacht was heavily dependent. Then, in July, the Soviet government renewed its pressure on Finland. By treaty Finland was in the Soviet sphere of influence, but in occupying Norway Germany had secured an access route to the Finnish nickel-mining region near Petsamo (now Pechenga) on the Arctic coast, and in July 1940 the German firm I. G. Farbenindustrie signed a contract for the entire output of the Finnish mines.


    As early as June of that year, the German Army General Staff was speaking of the USSR as the possible next scene of operations. On July 21, toward the end of a conference regarding the projected invasion of the British Isles, Hitler instructed the commander in chief of the army, Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, to begin planning a campaign against the Soviet Union. Ten days later, on July 31, in another conference concerned mostly with the war against Britain, Hitler declared that a reckoning with the Soviet Union was necessary. He said that he had wanted to proceed with it that fall, but because of the severe Russian winters had decided to wait until May 1941. The operation would have to be swift and final, and he was allowing five months for its completion. Any longer period would involve the army in winter warfare and might give the British and Americans time to intervene. In these two almost casual statements, Hitler, if he had not made an irrevocable decision (and perhaps he had not), at least set a course from which he never later saw any reason to deviate.


    On August 1, Col. Gen. Franz Halder, chief of the Army General Staff, described to Gen. Erich Marcks a campaign against the Soviet Union employing two army groups, one striking toward Moscow (Moskva) and the other toward Kiev. He assigned to Marcks the task of developing the details. By August 5, Marcks had completed a plan that called for a main effort directed toward Moscow, a secondary effort in the south in the direction of Kiev, and a subsidiary thrust toward Leningrad. There was still much planning to be done, but the Marcks program did establish the army's concept of Moscow as the outstanding strategic objective.


    A visit by Foreign Commissar Vyacheslav M. Molotov to Berlin on November 12-13, 1940, produced the first overt signs of a rift between Germany and the USSR. The purpose of the visit was to discuss the Soviet Union's joining Germany, Italy, and Japan in a four-power alliance. Molotov came armed with demands and complaints. He wanted to know whether Germany intended to honor her treaty obligations with respect to Finland. Lately, in his opinion, the Germans had shown too great an interest in that nation, and the Soviet Union intended to intervene there as it had in the Baltic states. The Soviet government also wanted bases in Bulgaria and control of the Dardanelles. Hitler, on the other hand, talked glowingly of Soviet expansion to the east, into India for instance, and he issued a thinly veiled warning that he would not tolerate further Soviet encroachments in Europe. Concerning Finland, he stated that any new disturbance in the Baltic area would place a heavy strain on German-Soviet relations. The meeting had a definite, if subtle, effect on both partners. The Russians continued to maneuver diplomatically but carefully avoided overt acts. Hitler was thoroughly annoyed at the Russians' display of grasping independence, and he believed that they would not have dared to assert themselves as they had without a secret agreement with the British.


    Preparation of Operation Barbarossa


    On December 18, 1940, Hitler signed Führer Directive No. 21, subtitled " Operation Barbarossa. The directive, which was based on the work of several planning groups, was the strategic outline for a campaign against the Soviet Union. It laid down a plan for a two-phase operation. In the first phase the German Army was to engage the Soviet main force as close to the western border of the Soviet Union as possible, cut it up by encircling movements, and destroy it and so prevent the Russians from fighting a delaying action across the vast spaces of their country. The second phase would take the form of a rapid pursuit to a line running north and south from the Volga River to Arkhangelsk (Archangel). The destruction of the Urals industrial area farther east could be left to the Luftwaffe.

    The directive divided the German forces into three army groups, two north of the
    Pripet (Pripyat) Marshes and one to the south. The northernmost army group would strike toward Leningrad, the one in the center toward Smolensk, and that in the south toward Kiev. The central army group would be the strongest, but after the attack began, it might be required to divert some of its strength to help its neighbor on the north toward Leningrad. Hitler had included this idea over the almost unanimous opposition of his generals, but in a sense he was taking the more orthodox view. Leningrad, Smolensk, and Kiev were situated at nearly equal distances from the frontier; therefore, in the light of the over-all strategy, they should have been taken before the army drove deeply into the interior. The generals, on the other hand, had the better argument. In their opinion the main force had to be directed without any diversions toward the primary objective, Moscow, for it was there that the decisive battle would be fought after the Russians had been forced to concentrate all of the forces they could assemble to defend the capital and hub of the country's communications systems.


    In the directive, Hitler also stated that Romania and Finland were to be considered prospective allies in the war against the Soviet Union. Arrangements would be made with both countries in due course. Hitler instructed the German Army of Norway to be prepared to occupy the Petsamo region and to conduct an offensive from Finland to cut the Murmansk (Kirov) Railroad.


    Toward the end of January 1941, the Army General Staff completed an operations order that assigned specific missions to the various army groups. Army Group North, commanded by Field Marshal Wilhelm von Leeb, was to attack from East Prussia toward Leningrad. It would place its greatest strength on its right flank and turn to the left, driving the Russian defenders back against the Baltic coast. Army Group Center, under Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, operating north of the Pripet Marshes, would employ strong tank forces to complete two giant encirclements, one closing near Minsk and the other east of Smolensk. The final decision as to whether this group would continue directly toward Moscow or halt at Smolensk and divert forces to Army Group North could be avoided, since it was contrary to German staff practice to carry definitive planning past the first phase of an operation. Army Group South, commanded by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, was to attack from southern Poland and Romania, its flank armies converging on Kiev to trap the Soviet armies in the western Ukraine in a great pocket west of the Dnieper (Dnepr) River. (In March, Hitler became convinced that the southern flank army would not be able to fight its way across the Dniester or Dnestr River; consequently, he assigned to the army on the north the mission of striking toward Kiev and then sweeping southward inside the great bend of the Dnieper.) At a conference on February 3, General Halder summarized the plan for Hitler and informed him that the first echelon of troops was moving into assembly areas behind the frontier. At the close of the conference, Hitler approved the operations order and declared, " The world will hold its breath when Operation Barbarossa begins.


    The first starting date set for Operation Barbarossa was May 15. The plans had provided time for a preliminary campaign in Greece, but when Yugoslavia was added to the Balkan campaign after the anti-Axis coup of March 26-27, the timetable had to be revised. Barbarossa was postponed to June 22.


    Within the small circle of high-ranking officers and government officials who knew about Barbarossa, opinions varied. Although some of the generals occasionally expressed random doubts, once the planning was well under way, most of them came to share the view of General Halder that the campaign would be completed in 8 to 10 weeks. A notable exception was the military attache in Moscow, who believed that Soviet industrial capacity, particularly that east of the Urals, was being greatly underestimated. Members of the German Foreign Office contended that so much could be obtained from the Soviet Union by political means that a military conquest was superfluous. The German ambassador to the Soviet Union told Hitler that Josef Stalin " would give the shirt off his back to avoid a war with Germany. Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, because he regarded the Nazi-Soviet Pact as the crowning achievement of his career, and Reich Marshal Hermann Göring, because he thought that the Luftwaffe would be overstrained, both tried to dissuade Hitler from the venture.


    While Hitler honed and polished his military plans, the first objective of Soviet policy was to avoid provocation. From the beginning the Nazi-Soviet Pact had hardly been an instrument of mutual faith and confidence, but the Soviet government became even more conciliatory as it came to realize that it was alone with Hitler on the Continent. After badgering Finland through the winter of 1940-1941, the Russians moderated their tone in the spring. They did not renounce their aspirations in the Balkans, but on the eve of the German sweep into that area they refrained from giving the Yugoslav government the mutual assistance pact which it desired and on April 5, 1941, signed instead an innocuous treaty of friendship and nonaggression. In the light of subsequent events the most significant Soviet step was the conclusion on April 13 of a treaty of neutrality with Japan.


    In the last week before the attack, Stalin remained desperately committed to the hope that he could avoid war by not giving Hitler an excuse for an attack. He ignored warnings from Britain and the United States, and shipments of strategic materials from the Soviet Union to Germany continued until the hour when the German armies crossed the border. The worst effect of Stalin's attitude was that it left the Soviet Army and people psychologically unprepared for war. The German attack came as a devastating surprise. In the closely controlled Soviet society few outside the highest governmental circles had even suspected that a conflict was brewing.


    Opposing Forces


    The German Army High Command (Oberkommando des Heeres or OKH) assigned 148 divisions, including 19 Panzer divisions, to the invasion of the USSR. Total personnel strength was 3,050,000 men. Initially the armies had 3,350 tanks, 7,184 artillery pieces, 600,000 motor vehicles, and 625,000 horses, and the Luftwaffe provided 2,500 aircraft of all types. The Finnish Army added 500,000 men, and Romania furnished 14 divisions or about 250,000 men. After the invasion started, Hungary, Italy, and the puppet state of Slovakia also furnished contingents of troops. An additional 5 German divisions under the direct control of the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht or OKW) were earmarked for the attack out of northern Finland to cut the Murmansk Railroad. The most significant assets of the German Army on the eve of the Soviet campaign were its skill and experience in conducting mobile warfare. The highly successful Panzer corps of the French campaign had been succeeded by an even larger mobile unit, the Panzer group. Four of these were to spearhead the advance into the USSR. The Panzer groups were in fact powerful armored armies, but until late 1941 lingering conservatism among some senior generals prevented their being given the status of full-fledged armies.


    Figures on the strength of the Soviet armed forces during World War II and earlier periods remain military secrets. German estimates, which were approximately correct, placed the total initial strength of the Soviet Army at 203 divisions and 46 motorized or armored brigades. Of these, 33 divisions and 5 brigades were in the Far East, while the rest were either on the western frontier or at stations in European Russia. By this reckoning total Soviet personnel strength on hand in Europe to meet the invasion was about 2,300,000 men.

    The number of Soviet military aircraft was at least twice and possibly as much as three times that of the Germans, but most of the planes were obsolete models. Newer designs were just going into production.

    The Russians may have had as many as 10,000 tanks, most of them mechanically not inferior to the German types and one, the T-34 Stalin tank, heavier and more powerful than any tank the Germans had until late 1943. The T-34, however, was not as yet in full production.

    The Winter War of 1939-1940 against
    Finland had revealed many deficiencies in the Soviet Army. The most serious of these were also ones which could not be corrected easily or quickly. Much of the time, Soviet leadership had been very bad. Incompetence in the lower and middle officer grades had been matched by rigidity and lack of imagination at higher levels. Although the troops had displayed some good qualities, including stubbornness and indifference to hardship, they had proved unskilled and lacking in initiative. The war with Finland had severely damaged Soviet military prestige abroad, but the poor showing made in the conflict did not provide an absolute index of Soviet military potential. In a nearly all-out war, Soviet troops had successfully withstood a Japanese attempt to thrust into Outer Mongolia between May and September 1939.


    In June 1941, the defense of the western border was assigned to the Leningrad, Special Western, Special Kievan, and Odessa military districts. If war broke out, these were to become front headquarters and hold the attackers until the forces in the interior could be mobilized. (The Russian term 'front' is translated as 'army group', but in terms of strength and of the size of sector that it usually occupied, the Soviet front in World War II was more nearly equivalent to a German or American army.) The recently acquired western territories provided a buffer but also forced the army to meet an attack in front of the Stalin Line, the fortified line built in the 1930's behind the pre-1939 border.


    German Campaign: June 22-December 5, 1941


    Shortly before midnight on June 21, telegraphic orders were dispatched from the Soviet People's Commissariat for Defense, instructing the frontier military districts to place themselves on a war footing. By then it was too late. Many units never received the orders, and among those that did, few were capable of responding effectively in the two or three hours remaining to them.

    Before dawn on June 22, the German armies had crossed the border. Army Group North, striking northward from
    East Prussia, encountered only 7 divisions on the border, and its advance through the Baltic states was swift. By the end of the month, having destroyed an estimated 12 to 15 Soviet divisions, the army group drew up to the Dvina (Western Dvina) River. On July 10, it reached Pskov and Opochka on old Soviet territory. On that day the Finnish Army opened its attack southward into the Karelian Isthmus. Meanwhile, Army Group Center, advancing north of the Pripet Marshes, had completed one large encirclement around Bialystok in the first week and another around Minsk in the second. The two pockets, which had been cleaned out by July 11, yielded 290,000 prisoners of war. Army Group South, meeting greater resistance than had been expected and slowed by heavy rains, was nevertheless making progress toward Kiev.


    The German intention was to destroy the Soviet Army west of the Dvina and Dnieper rivers. On July 3, General Halder believed that this was being accomplished. He predicted that the German forces would meet only scattered resistance east of the rivers, and Hitler concluded that the Russians had lost the war.


    When they had a chance to do so, the Russian troops fought well, but their commanders generally displayed little or no familiarity with the tactical principles of concentration and maneuver. They spread their tanks and infantry equally over the entire front, and they seldom attempted a mobile defense, partly because in those days the officer suspected of having abandoned a position voluntarily was a prime candidate for the firing squad.


    The Soviet government faced the staggering task of mobilizing and organizing its armed forces to meet an invader already across the border and advancing into the interior at an average rate of nearly 20 miles a day. The first step was to convert the border military districts to fronts. On June 30, the State Defense Committee was created with Stalin as its chairman. It assumed all political, economic, and military power in the country. Then, on July 10, three strategic high commands, designated as the Northwest, West, and Southwest forces, were formed. From the first these forces were no match for the comparable German echelon, the army group headquarters, for their staffs lacked the capacity to direct very large forces and the lesser commands performed so erratically that coordinated operations were hardly worth attempting. The fronts proved to be the largest units which the Soviet commanders and staffs were able to handle effectively, and they were gradually reduced in size as new ones were added.


    In a radio address on July 3, Stalin announced that the Soviet government would welcome aid from the West. He also proclaimed a " scorched earth policy, which would leave the invaders "not a kilogram of grain nor a liter of gasoline. Most important, he called on the people to fight for Russia and so placed himself and the far from popular Communist system at the head of a great national movement. In the long run, Russian nationalism decided the war. It was not automatically ranged on the side of the Soviet government, but Hitler, bent on conquest, rejected it and Stalin cultivated it.


    Through July and the first week in August, the German armies continued their advance. Army Group North was slowed by the swampy, heavily forested country between Lakes Peipus and Ilmen, but it planned to launch its final drive to Leningrad on August 10. By August 5, Army Group Center had taken 100,000 Russian prisoners in a pocket around Smolensk. Three days later, it captured another 38,000 prisoners near Roslavl, where it had trapped a force moving to relieve Smolensk. The army group then took its two panzer groups, which had traveled more than 350 miles, out of the front for refitting, which was expected to require about two weeks. Army Group South, on August 5, eliminated a pocket around Uman, in which it had trapped between 16 and 20 Soviet divisions, and then swept into the Dnieper bend, destroying all the Soviet units that could not escape across the river.


    By mid-August, the first phase of the offensive was nearly ended. Before the Army Group Center panzer groups were ready to move again, the German High Command would have to decide whether Moscow was to be the main objective. The generals had no doubts; they were convinced that the Soviet Army could be forced to fight the decisive battle of the war before Moscow. Hitler appeared not to have made up his mind, but he insisted that to him Moscow was not a military objective: it was only, as he put it, a geographical expression. At the end of July, he regarded Leningrad as the most important objective and wanted to divert a panzer group from Army Group Center to hasten the advance northward, but the generals persuaded him to transfer only a corps. After considering the problem and arguing with the generals several weeks longer, Hitler announced his final decision on August 21. He intended to give priority to the flanks, in the south taking the Crimea and the Donets Basin industrial region and cutting the Russians off from the Caucasus oil, and in the north taking Leningrad and joining forces with the Finns. Only after Leningrad had been secured and Army Group South was well on its way would the advance toward Moscow resume. In the meantime, Army Group Center would divert strong forces to assist Army Group South.


    On August 25, the Second Army and the 2d Panzer Group turned southward from the Army Group Center flank. Three weeks later, on September 16, the spearheads of the 2d Panzer Group and the 1st Panzer Group, which had moved northward from the Dnieper bend, met 150 miles east of Kiev. Rain and mud slowed the German attack, but with misguided determination elements of seven Soviet armies remained in the closing pocket. Army Group South took 665,000 prisoners.


    On the northern flank, in the second half of August, the Finnish Army and Army Group North closed in rapidly on Leningrad. On August 31, the Finns reached their pre-1940 border on the Karelian Isthmus 30 miles north of Leningrad, and on the same day an Army Group North division arrived at the Neva River 10 miles southeast of the city. Four days later, the Finnish Army opened an offensive east of Lake Ladoga toward the Svir River, where it expected to make contact with German forces coming from the southwest. On September 8, Army Group North took Shlisselburg (German, Schlüsselburg) on Lake Ladoga and severed Leningrad's land connections with the interior of the Soviet Union. The city probably could have been taken in a few weeks despite exceptionally stiff Soviet resistance had it not been for several unusual circumstances. In the first place, Hitler decided that Leningrad was to be surrounded and not entered, and the army group therefore had to try to maneuver into the narrow isthmus to the east. Secondly, the Finnish commander in chief, Field Marshal (later Marshal of Finland) Baron Carl G. E. Mannerheim, refused to cross the border and close in from the north. Apparently he did not want to do what he conceived to be the Germans' work for them, and he also did not want to lend substance to the old Soviet argument that the Finish border on the Karelian Isthmus was a threat to Leningrad. Finally, in the second week of September, Hitler removed Army Group North's armor. He left the army group one motorized corps, and demanded that it be withheld for a thrust toward the east to meet the Finns on the Svir when the time was ripe.


    Hitler had decided on September 6 to concentrate German strength on Moscow after all. Army Group Center was to be reinforced at the expense of its two neighbors, and Army Groups North and South were to complete their missions with the forces remaining to them. On October 2, after a fateful six weeks' pause, Army Group Center returned to action. Rested and refitted, it was in first-class condition. Within two weeks it had completed three large encirclements, two near Bryansk and the other west of Vyazma. Together these operations brought in 663,000 Russian prisoners. The chief of the operations branch of OKW, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, stated that the complete military collapse of the Soviet Union in the near future appeared "not unlikely. Hitler stopped the advance of the Army of Norway to the Murmansk Railroad, which had been going slowly, as no longer necessary. Then, before Army Group Center finished clearing the three pockets, the fall rains set in, and for a month the advance toward Moscow slowed to a crawl as the Russian dirt roads dissolved into ribbons of mud.


    In the south, Army Group South made good progress, carrying its advance on the north to Kharkov and the line of the upper Donets River, and striking along the coast of the Sea of Azov for Rostov-on-Don. On October 27, the Eleventh Army forced its way into the Crimea across Perekop Isthmus. By mid-November, it possessed all of the peninsula except Sevastopol. Then, on November 20, troops of Army Group South took Rostov. During the next week, however, briefly but ominously the tide turned. The Russians opened their first successful offensive, and by the end of the month had forced the Germans from Rostov and back to the Mius River.


    Army Group North, on October 16, attacked across the Volkhov River toward Tikhvin and the Svir River, which the Finnish Army had reached at the end of September. After the first two or three days the fall rains overtook the operation, and before the end of the first week the troops were leaving their tanks and trucks behind, bogged down on muddy roads. On November 8, German troops broke into Tikhvin, but there they stayed until mid-December, when Russian units closing in on all sides forced them back to the Volkhov.


    In the Army Group Center sector freezing weather set in during the second week of November, and while the troops chopped their tanks, guns, and vehicles out of the frozen mud, the German High Command had to decide whether to make the final thrust to Moscow immediately or wait until the next spring. No one wanted to fight in the Russian winter. Field Marshal von Bock, the army group commander, thought that he could still finish in time, and his decision apparently tipped the balance. On November 15, in cold, clear weather, the army group pushed forward and immediately began developing a sweeping double envelopment, which it intended to close east of Moscow. Two Panzer groups struck north of the city, while a third approached it from the south.


    The good weather lasted a few days, but before the month ended the temperature fell below zero, and snowstorms and fog reduced visibility to a few feet. In the first days of December, the northern force came within 21 miles of Moscow, while the southern spearhead stood 40 miles south of the city.


    On December 5, Col. Gen. Hans Reinhardt, who was in command of the force north of Moscow, reported that his troops were exhausted: he could hold his sector only if the Russians did not attack, for he had no reserves. On the same day, Col. Gen. Heinz Guderian, commanding the spearhead armor on the south, recommended that the offensive be halted. His forward units were meeting massive resistance from the Russians, and the cold had become too severe for the troops and the vehicles.


    First Soviet Winter Offensive:
    December 1941-March 1942


    During the summer and fall of 1941 the Soviet armies retreated because they had to and not (as was claimed as long as Stalin lived) because of a masterful strategic plan. The nation suffered staggering losses, including two thirds of its prewar coal-producing areas, three fourths of its iron and manganese ore production, and a population of 35,000,000. Nevertheless, the sacrifices bought time, which the Soviet regime exploited with ruthless energy. Even while they were in full retreat, losing, destroying, or tearing down and shipping to the east entire industrial complexes, the Russians managed to recruit and equip fresh armies. As of December 1, Soviet casualties probably totaled between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 men, but at the same time the Germans identified at or near the front 280 rifle and cavalry divisions and 44 tank or mechanized brigades.

    The Soviet High Command did not share Hitler's doubts concerning the strategic importance of
    Moscow. In the summer and fall it sacrificed entire armies and groups of armies in attempts to hold the western approaches to the capital. It would have sacrificed more in the battle for the city itself had not the earliest and coldest winter in a half century almost literally frozen the German armies in their tracks.

    The long delays in August, September, and October and the German loss of momentum on the northern and southern flanks in November had given the Russians time to assemble strong reserves around
    Moscow. Possibly, had the cold not set in, the German armies would have battled their way through that mass of men as they had through others, but victory, as Bock predicted late in November, would have been achieved by the narrowest of margins. As it was, the German offensive ground to a halt on December 5.


    On the morning of December 6, the West Front, commanded by Army Gen. (later Marshal) Georgi K. Zhukov, counterattacked. Its offensive in the Moscow sector was joined on the north by the left flank of the Kalinin Front under Col. Gen. (later Marshal) Ivan S. Konev, and on the south by the right flank of the Southwest Front under Marshal Semyon K. Timoshenko. The effect was devastating. Army Group Center had thrown its last reserves into the attempt to take Moscow; it had no prepared positions, and the troops could not dig into the rock-hard ground. The German trucks and tanks were not winterized, and the troops lacked winter clothing, because according to the plan the war should have been over before winter. The generals wanted to retreat, but Hitler refused to do so. There was no place to go, he said, and once a retreat began it would become a rout. The few local withdrawals that he permitted led to such heavy losses of equipment that he became convinced that the only solution was an absolutely rigid defense. On December 18, he issued an order calling for fanatical resistance. Units were to stand firm no matter what the danger.

    This order marked a turning point in the German conduct of the war. On December 19, Brauchitsch resigned. His authority had been declining for months, and after December 6 Hitler had pushed him aside. He was not replaced. Influenced by a growing disdain for professional military men and by a desire to give the troops the feeling that they were backed by the fuhrer's will and guided by his genius, Hitler took over as commander in chief of the army. Before the end of the month the three army group commanders followed Brauchitsch into retirement, and several lesser generals were dismissed for having carried out unauthorized withdrawals.

    Under the weight of the Soviet offensive the German spearheads north and south of
    Moscow quickly crumbled in spite of Hitler. Gaining confidence, the Soviet High Command expanded the offensive until the whole Army Group Center front was aflame, and Army Group North was nearly as hard pressed. At the end of December, a breakthrough on the north and a deepening thrust in the southern flank brought the Germans to an astonished realization that the Russians were attempting nothing less than to encircle Army Group Center.


    On January 15, 1942, for the first time in the war, Hitler issued an order for a large-scale withdrawal. He authorized Army Group Center to move its front opposite Moscow back to a line running north and south 85 miles west of the capital. The withdrawal was not far enough to escape the threatening encirclement, but it shortened the front and freed troops for the flanks. At the same time winter clothing, much of it donated by German civilians, began to arrive. After mid-January and until well into February, the crisis grew. Although Army Group Center regained some control on its southern flank, for weeks it was nearly helpless against the thrust from the north and barely managed to keep open its lifeline, the road and railroad running eastward from Smolensk. On the boundary between Army Groups North and Center the front was torn open in a 160-mile gap between Rzhev and Lake Ilmen. At Demyansk, south of the lake, two German corps totaling 100,000 men were encircled and had to be supplied by air.


    Great as their successes were, however, the Russians lacked the military finesse to turn their opportunities to full account. The grand design, the encirclement of Army Group Center, was not executed. The Demyansk, Kholm, and other smaller pockets came into existence largely because Hitler refused his units permission to maneuver. By mid-February, the Soviet offensive had lost most of its momentum and appeared no longer to have any objective other than to gain additional ground and inflict random damage on the Germans. In the first week of the month, Army Group Center managed to anchor its front on the north around Rzhev, and in the second and third weeks fresh divisions began moving in from the west to narrow the gap to Army Group North. In March, the gradual German recovery continued until the spring mud and floods brought operations to a temporary halt.


    Even though the first Soviet winter offensive was militarily inconclusive, it had tremendous effects. Soviet military prestige rose, and the two-year-old myth of German invincibility was shattered. Possibly even more important, the Soviet government acquired a firmer hold on the loyalty of its people on both sides of the front. Paradoxically, Hitler did not lose and perhaps gained stature among his troops. He had again demonstrated his talent for overcoming what appeared to be impossible odds. He had told his men to stand and fight, and they had. His will and the soldiers' spirit had met the test better, the generals were forced to admit, than military science could have done. For the German Army, the most tragic consequences lay in the future, when Hitler tried to make the system of rigid defense work against better-equipped, better-trained, and better-led Soviet forces.

    German Summer Offensive of 1942

    By the spring of 1942, Hitler had assumed direct and complete control of operations on the eastern front. He used the chief of the Army General Staff, General Halder, as his personal chief of staff. During the winter he had reduced the discretionary authority of the army group and army commanders. From his headquarters at Rastenburg (now Ketrzyn) in East Prussia he issued orders to the front by telephone and teletype. Meanwhile, Stalin, aided by members of the Politburo attached to the major commands, kept a similarly tight rein on the Soviet generals.
    In a directive issued on April 5, Hitler outlined his plans for the summer. The German armies would regain the initiative along the entire eastern front but, aside from possibly taking Leningrad to link their forces with the Finns, would launch a full-scale offensive only in the south, toward the Don River, Stalingrad (now Volgograd), and the Caucasus oilfields. As preliminaries to the offensive, Army Group South was to complete the conquest of the Crimea, where the Russians still held Sevastopol and had acquired a large beachhead on the Kerch Peninsula during the winter, and eliminate a 60-mile-deep bridgehead around Izyum on the Donets River below Kharkov, also a legacy of the winter fighting.
    The advance into the Caucasus, when it had first become a subject for concrete German planning in October 1941, had been considered an expedition to be completed in a few weeks. In April 1942, however, Hitler saw it as a decisive stroke. Not only would the Soviet oil-producing regions be cut off, but presumably by the time that had been accomplished, an even more important objective would have been attained--namely, as Hitler stated in the directive, "the final destruction of the Soviet Union's remaining human defensive strength. He assumed that the Soviet Union would sacrifice its last manpower reserves to defend the oil and, losing both, would be brought to its knees.
    For Hitler and for most other members of the German High Command, the war in the Soviet Union had become increasingly a game of numbers. The Germans were waiting for the time when Soviet manpower was exhausted. As long as the Russians continued to expend men at the rate they had during the previous summer, fall, and winter, it seemed not to matter much where the German Army took the offensive. The Caucasus operation, however, appeared to present an opportunity to attain four objectives simultaneously. Before it ended, the human arithmetic could be expected to turn irreversibly against the USSR. If Stalin chose not to draw the proper conclusion and remained in the war, the Soviets would be doubly handicapped by the loss of oil and so could be conquered at leisure. Germany, on the other hand, would solve its greatest economic problem, the lack of adequate oil resources, and would also be in a position to carry the war into the Middle East.
    The operation was to be carried out in stages. In the first phase, successive enveloping thrusts, beginning in the north on the Kursk-Voronezh line, would smash the Russian southern flank and carry the German front to the Don River. Then the attack would proceed to Stalingrad and across the Kerch Strait to the Taman Peninsula and strike into the flank of the Soviet Caucasus defenses. After the time and direction of the attack could no longer be concealed, Army Group South would be divided into Army Groups A and B. Army Group B, commanded by Bock (whose retirement had lasted only about a month), would open the offensive on the north. Later, Army Group A, under Field Marshal Wilhelm List, would attack along the line of the lower Don and into the Caucasus.
    As of April 30, German casualties in the campaign totaled 1,167,835. For a time during the winter, battlefront strengths had been low in some sectors, but as spring wore on, men returning from hospitals and replacements refilled the units. In the regroupment for the summer offensive, Army Group B took command of the Second, Fourth Panzer, and Sixth armies, the first two being transferred from Army Group Center. Army Group A was assigned the First Panzer, Eleventh, and Seventeenth armies. For the first time the German allies Italy, Hungary, and Romania took the field in earnest, each providing an army. All three of these armies were deficient in equipment and training, and the Romanians and Hungarians would rather have fought each other than the Russians. The allied armies were expected mainly to lend substance to Hitler's claim that he was conducting a selfless "crusade against bolshevism and occasionally to provide cover on the German flanks.
    Encouraged by the past winter's successes, the Soviet High Command also planned to take the initiative when good weather returned. It intended to keep the Germans off balance by means of local attacks at Leningrad, Demyansk, Orel, Kharkov, in the Donets bend, and in the Crimea, and so to lay the groundwork for another general offensive. In April, Marshal Timoshenko's Southwest Front began preparing the Kharkov operation, which embodied two enveloping thrusts, one across the Donets north of Kharkov and the other from the Izyum bridgehead south of the city. After encircling and destroying the Germans around Kharkov, his troops were to strike southwestward to Dnepropetrovsk.

    On May 12, the Southwest Front attacked. While the thrust north of Kharkov gained some ground initially, it was quickly stopped. The attack from the Izyum bridgehead went well the first day and then rapidly lost momentum on the second. Timoshenko apparently realized that he had encountered an overwhelming buildup of German strength. With the support of his member of the Military Council (political commissar), Nikita S. Khrushchev, he appealed to Stalin for permission to stop the offensive. Stalin refused. On May 17, a strong German armored force, which had been assembled and was ready before the Southwest Front entered the trap, struck into the Izyum bridgehead from the south. Two days later, Stalin allowed Timoshenko to turn his units around and try to extricate them, but by then it was too late. On May 25, the ring closed, and in a short time the Germans eliminated the pocket, taking approximately 240,000 prisoners.
    The planned Soviet summer offensive disappeared in the Kharkov debacle, and the Soviet government accelerated its diplomatic and propaganda campaigns for a second front in western Europe. The effect of the battle would have been greater if the Germans had been able to begin their own offensive immediately, but they were not ready. The Eleventh Army still had a mission to complete in the Crimea, which required another month. Sevastopol was finally taken by the Germans on July 1, after an eight-month siege.
    Meanwhile, at dawn on June 28, the Second and Fourth Panzer armies opened the German summer offensive. They quickly pushed their way through the inner flanks of the Bryansk and Southwest fronts and advanced eastward toward Voronezh, reaching the outskirts of the city four days later and taking it on July 6. The Fourth Panzer Army then turned southeastward along the Don to meet the Sixth Army, which had moved eastward from Kharkov on June 30. The German armies again held the upper hand, but the first two thrusts, to Voronezh and east of Kharkov, which had been planned as great encirclements on the 1941 pattern, brought in less than 100,000 prisoners. Disappointed, Hitler on July 13 replaced Bock with Field Marshal Maximilian von Weichs as commanding general of Army Group B.
    The Russians had abandoned the rigid defensive tactics which cost them so many men in 1941. They were still far from having mastered the mobile defense: the Bryansk and Southwest fronts were badly mangled in the retreat, but they did get the bulk of their forces across the Don. In mid-July, the Soviet High Command organized the second phase of its defense. The headquarters of the Voronezh Front took over most of the Southwest Front sector on the Don, and Timoshenko assumed command of the newly created Stalingrad Front, which was composed principally of three fresh armies, two of them established on a line south of Kletskaya across the inside of the Don bend. The South Front, opposite Army Group A, was ordered to wheel back, pivoting on Rostov, to bring its front parallel with the lower Don.
    Hitler had originally intended to execute a third encirclement inside the Don bend, which was to clear the entire line of the Don before the offensive was carried toward Stalingrad and into the Caucasus. On July 13, he changed his mind and ordered Army Group A, to which he attached the Fourth Panzer Army, to turn southward, cross the lower Don, and force the Russians back into a pocket around Rostov. In moving to the south, the Fourth Panzer Army passed forward of the line thrown up by the Stalingrad Front, leaving the Sixth Army to meet the two fresh Soviet armies alone.
    Rostov fell on July 23 without producing the expected large numbers of prisoners. On the same day, Hitler issued a directive setting forth new objectives. He transferred a Panzer corps from the Fourth Panzer Army to the Sixth Army and ordered the latter to clear the Don bend, cross the narrows between the Don and the Volga, and take Stalingrad. He also instructed Army Group A to fan out south of Rostov, clear the Black Sea coast, and capture the oilfields at Maikop and Grozny. At the same time, the army group would have to yield the headquarters, all of the heavy artillery, and about half of the divisions of the Eleventh Army, which were being shifted to the north to take Leningrad and so prepare the way for a joint German-Finnish thrust to Belomorsk to cut the Murmansk Railroad. As he had at the same stage of the 1941 offensive, Hitler was dispersing the German effort.
    Army Group A was on the threshold of the Caucasus, but the distances were tremendous: 200 miles to Maikop and nearly 400 miles to Grozny. To reach Baku and Tiflis, the mountains had to be crossed. On July 29, the army group cut the last Soviet rail line into the Caucasus. Two days later, Hitler issued another directive. The Russians, he reasoned, could do nothing further to defend the Caucasus, but they could be forced to expend their last reserves defending Stalingrad and their lifeline, the Volga River. He ordered the Fourth Panzer Army to make a 180 degrees turn and advance on the city from the south. On the same day, two new Soviet armies joined the Stalingrad defense forces.
    The German successes continued in August, but without bringing any major objective closer to attainment. East of Leningrad, Army Group North withstood a Soviet attempt to break the siege, but as a consequence had to abandon its own plan to take the city. Army Group A seized Maikop, but found the oilfield completely destroyed. A mountain company planted the swastika flag on Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in the Caucasus, but Soviet troops continued to hold all the passes. Two armored corps headed toward Grozny, but were slowed down and finally stopped for several weeks by gasoline shortages: the trucks making the long trip from Rostov were burning nearly as much gasoline as they could carry. The Sixth and Fourth Panzer armies closed in on Stalingrad from the west and south, but had to spread their forces thinly to cover their flanks and so lost their momentum.
    At the end of the month, the eastern branch of German Army intelligence concluded that the Soviet Union had lost less territory and fewer men than it had anticipated on the basis of the 1941 experience and would therefore be able to conduct another strong winter offensive. In September, it reached the dismaying conclusion that Germany, far from winning the game of numbers, was perilously close to losing it. The total German and allied strength on the eastern front, excluding Finland was 3,138,000 men. The Soviet Union had 4,255,000 men either on the front or as readily available reserves. Moreover, the Soviet pool of draftable manpower was about three times greater than that of Germany.
    Hitler now apparently realized that victory was slipping away from him and began looking for scapegoats. On September 9, in a minor dispute over tactics, he dismissed Field Marshal List as commanding general of Army Group A, and he also told Halder that he intended to relieve him as chief of the Army General Staff. For a time he also considered removing his most trusted military adviser, General Jodl. In one of the most unusual arrangements of the war, Hitler for two and one-half months took personal command of Army Group A, which he then ran from his forward headquarters near Vinnitsa in the western Ukraine 700 miles behind the army group front. On September 24, Gen. (later Col. Gen.) Kurt Zeitzler replaced Halder.
    In August, to cover the lengthening front, Army Group B had placed the Hungarian Second and Italian Eighth armies along the Don below Voronezh. By mid-September, the Sixth Army had pushed the Russians into a bridgehead at Stalingrad 9 miles long and no more than 3 to 4 miles deep, but there for the next two months the Soviet Sixty-second Army under General (later Marshal) Vasili I. Chuikov forced the Germans into a battle of attrition on a scale not seen since World War I. In early October, to gain troops for the fighting in Stalingrad, the Sixth Army turned its flank on the Don over to the Romanian Third Army. On October 14, Hitler issued an order terminating the summer operations except at Stalingrad and at several points in the Caucasus.

    Second Soviet Winter Offensive:
    November 1942-March 1943

    While Army Groups A and B marched across southern European Russia to the edge of Asia, the Soviet Union raised, equipped, and trained new armies in preparation for the coming winter. During the summer the Soviet Army carried through a reorganization that did not (as Soviet historians have since claimed) place it at the pinnacle of military science, but did give it the ability to operate effectively against weakened and overextended German forces. Beginning in 1941, the Soviet staffs, aided by the military academies and other special groups, had closely studied German tactics and operating methods. They had learned much and had not been purely imitative scholars. The defensive battles of the summer of 1942 already showed a great increase in flexibility and imagination. Armor had been released from its role of infantry support, and tank armies were being created. At the higher levels commanders had emerged--Zhukov was the best example--who had not only mastered the German tactics, but had adapted them to their own forces' capabilities and limitations.
    The fall of 1942 also marked the culmination of a successful effort to establish a partisan movement behind the German front. Attempts in 1941 to incite partisan activity had produced only a mediocre response, but in the winter, when the whole northern half of the German front crumbled, the Soviet High Command was able to send recruiters into occupied territory and virtually draft a partisan movement. During the spring and summer the partisan detachments were drawn together into brigades and brought under tight control from the Soviet side of the front. By fall the movement was nearing its approximate maximum strength of 200,000 men, nine tenths of them operating behind Army Groups Center and North.
    In August, General Zhukov and Gen.eral(later Marshal) Aleksandr M. Vasilevski had assumed direction of the coordination of Stalingrad's defense as representatives of the high command. The last of the strategic commands, the Southwest Forces, had been disbanded in the spring of 1942; thereafter, when conditions required broader direction than the fronts could give, temporary higher headquarters were established under representatives of the high command. Most frequently it was Zhukov who performed this function. In the first week of October, he perfected a plan for a counterattack at Stalingrad. A massive buildup during the rest of the month and the first two weeks of November raised Soviet strength around the city to 12 armies, including a tank army, under three front headquarters.
    After waiting for freezing weather to create suitable conditions for overland tank movements and the Allied landings in North Africa to occupy the Germans in the west, the Russians opened their offensive at Stalingrad on November 19. The Fifth Tank Army attacked the Romanian Third Army north of the city and demolished its front in a few hours. The next day another force struck south of Stalingrad, achieving an even more spectacular success against a Romanian corps on the Fourth Panzer Army front. On November 22, the Soviet spearheads met at Kalach on the Don River, and the Sixth Army and approximately half of the German and Romanian troops of the Fourth Panzer Army (250,000 to 300,000 men in all) were encircled.
    Two days before, Hitler had created a new headquarters, Army Group Don, under Field Marshal Erich von Manstein, which he entrusted with the mission of rescuing the Sixth Army. Adhering to his fanatical resistance doctrine of the previous winter, he refused the request of Gen. (later Field Marshal) Friedrich Paulus, commander of the Sixth Army, to evacuate Stalingrad and break out to the west. On December 19, the Fourth Panzer Army under Army Group Don advanced to within 35 miles of the Stalingrad pocket, but Hitler again refused to permit the now badly weakened Sixth Army to break out of the encirclement. In the meantime, after smashing the Italian Eighth Army on the Don on December 16, the Russians had extended their offensive west of Stalingrad. They were clearly intending to move via Millerovo to Rostov and cut off Army Groups Don and A. Army Group A, which Hitler had placed under Col. Gen. (later Field Marshal) Ewald von Kleist on November 22, was still in the Caucasus, its left flank 350 miles from Rostov. On December 28, Manstein was forced to order the Fourth Panzer Army to withdraw south of Stalingrad. Army Group Don was fighting for its own existence and that of Army Group A.
    Early on the morning of January 14, 1943, the Russians moved up the Don for the third time, this time to strike the Hungarian Second Army. The Hungarians collapsed even more quickly than the Italians and Romanians had, opening a 200-mile (320-km) gap in the German front between Voronezh and Voroshilovgrad. In another scythelike sweep the Russians turned southward to the Donets, threatening to envelop the German remnants of Army Group B and Army Group Don, which was still endeavoring to hold open Army Group A's lifeline to the west at Rostov.
    On January 25, the Russians struck northward once more to hit the German Second Army, which was already withdrawing from Voronezh, and in three days they encircled two of its three corps. Hitler, who for a month had vacillated and discussed counterattacks to relieve Stalingrad, finally had to draw some conclusions. On January 27, he transferred the First Panzer Army to Army Group Don. Since this army was all that could still be removed through Rostov, the rest of Army Group A had to begin withdrawing into a large beachhead on the Taman Peninsula. This maneuver immobilized 400,000 men at a time when the entire southern flank of the eastern front was being shattered.
    On January 31, Paulus, refusing to take the hint implicit in his promotion to the rank of field marshal the day before (no German field marshal had even been made prisoner), surrendered the troops that he still controlled in Stalingrad. A pocket around a tractor works in the northern suburbs of the city held out until February 2. On February 6, unwilling to risk another encirclement, Hitler gave Manstein permission to withdraw Army Group Don to the line of the Mius and Donets rivers, from which Army Group A had moved forward in July 1942.
    In nine days, Army Group Don executed the retreat to the Mius. Meanwhile, the First Panzer Army moved to the army group's left flank on the Donets. But the Soviet offensive was still moving forward at full speed. The right flank of Army Group B was forced back to Kharkov, which it lost on February 14-16. A 100-mile gap opened between the flanks of Army Groups B and Don, through which Soviet units struck southward and westward across the Donets. Six Soviet tank corps forming the Popov Group, named for its commander, Col. Gen. Markian M. Popov, moved forward to sever Army Group Don's communications lines. On February 13, it cut the Dnepropetrovsk-Stalino railroad, and by February 19 it had reached the Sinelnikovo railroad junction 20 miles east-southeast of Dnepropetrovsk and had begun to turn southward toward Zaporozhe.
    On February 12, Hitler had removed the headquarters of Army Group B and divided its front between Army Groups Center and Don, simultaneously redesignating the latter Army Group South. At the same time he ordered 7 divisions transferred from France and Belgium to Army Group South. A week later he ordered Army Group A to begin evacuating troops by air from the Taman Peninsula to reinforce Army Group South; 100,000 troops were transferred by the end of the first week in March.
    On February 18, without waiting for the arrival of the divisions from the west or the troops from Army Group A, Manstein initiated a series of maneuvers that were to produce the last German victory of the war. He ordered the headquarters of the Fourth Panzer Army to move to Dnepropetrovsk at about the center of the gap between the First Panzer Army and the southern flank of the former Army Group B. There, with at first 4 divisions, he began creating a new Fourth Panzer Army. In eight days after February 20, the Fourth and First Panzer armies joined their flanks, trapping the Popov Group between them, and the Fourth Panzer Army closed up on its left to the front west of Kharkov.
    At the end of the month warm weather set in, and the question then was whether to continue the advance toward Kharkov at the risk of its being halted by the approaching thaw. On March 7, the weather turned cold, and Manstein decided to proceed. The Fourth Panzer Army moved rapidly to the north, and despite knee-deep mud on all the roads reached Kharkov on March 11. Seven days later, after mopping up the Soviet divisions trapped west of Kharkov, the army carried its advance 30 miles farther north and took Belgorod. Except for several bridgeheads, in which Soviet troops held on doggedly, Army Group South had regained the line of the Donets to Belgorod. Immediately to the north the Russians held a large salient west of Kursk.
    Operation Citadel
    For the past three years the coming of spring had heralded new German triumphs. The year 1943 was different. The victory on the Donets that ended the long winter retreat had restored German morale at the front, but not even Hitler deluded himself into believing that the next summer would see the swastika flag replanted on Mount Elbrus or German outposts again looking eastward into Asia from the high bank of the Volga. In the late spring there was an ominous quiet on the eastern front.
    Since June 1941, German attention had centered in the east. In the early months of 1943, quite suddenly that, too, changed. Dangers which might have been overcome easily, had the Russian campaign developed according to schedule, threatened on all sides. In January 1943, United States Flying Fortresses staged the first daylight bombing attack on Germany. Thereafter bomb damage, particularly in the Ruhr, mounted alarmingly. A second Stalingrad had been in preparation in North Africa since November 1942. When the British Eighth Army broke through the Mareth Line late in March 1943, it became inevitable. That the British and Americans would follow their victory with an invasion of Italy or the Balkans was certain, and the day of the major test, the landing on the Channel coast, might come within the year.
    On the other hand, the failure of Hitler's fanatical resistance doctrine during the winter had produced a substantial bonus. The long retreat from the Don, Stalingrad, and the Caucasus, as well as a voluntary retrograde movement which Army Group Center executed in February and March to shorten its front, had created surplus strength on the eastern front approximately equivalent to two armies. The disastrous winter had also forced Hitler to recall to active duty his tank expert, Guderian, and to appoint him inspector general for armor. By spring Guderian, working with Albert Speer, the minister for armament and munitions, had the new Tiger and Panther tanks coming from production lines by the hundreds. If another offensive in the style of 1941 or 1942 was no longer possible, neither was Germany helpless.
    The most profitable strategy seemed to be to consolidate the so-called Fortress Europe and to exploit the Clausewitzian axiom that defense was the stronger form of warfare. Some of the generals proposed building an East Wall, a permanently fortified line across the USSR, but Hitler disapproved. He did, however, instruct Army Group North to plan an operation to take Leningrad and stabilize the northern flank by joining forces with the Finns. He also began reinforcing the Army of Norway to enable it to occupy Sweden if that country attempted to support Allied operations directed against northern Europe. Nevertheless, after nearly three months' hesitation, he decided that he needed one more big victory in Russia, a victory, as he put it, "that will shine like a beacon around the world." On June 12, he announced that he intended to execute Operation Citadel.
    Citadel, a two-pronged attack to eliminate the Soviet salient west of Kursk, had been planned in March to be executed as soon as the ground dried and while the Russians were still off balance from their defeat at Kharkov. Bad weather and various mishaps, as well as Hitler's own uncertainty, had caused repeated postponements. By the time he decided to proceed, the German forces for Citadel were at peak strength, and so, as one of the generals pointed out, were the Russians.
    Operation Citadel began on July 5. The Ninth Army on the north and the Fourth Panzer Army on the south struck toward Kursk across the base of the Soviet salient. For three days the attack went well, but on July 9 the Ninth Army was stopped before a heavily fortified ridgeline and stayed there four days. On July 12, the Russians, confident that they had taken the measure of the Ninth Army's offensive, launched a strong attack of their own against the front north of Orel behind the Ninth Army. The Fourth Panzer Army was then just beginning to gather momentum.
    On the next day, July 13, Hitler called the army group commanders to his headquarters and informed them that he had decided to halt Citadel. The situation north of Orel was precarious, and he was concerned about a Soviet threat to the Donets Basin; but his greatest source of worry was Sicily, where American and British troops had landed on July 10. The Italians, he said, were not fighting, and it was necessary to create new armies to defend Italy and the Balkans. Troops would have to be removed from the eastern front. Partly to gain troops for Italy, and partly because the offensive opened by the West Front, under Gen. (later Marshal) Vasili D. Sokolovski, and the Bryansk Front, under General Popov, had already gone too far, Hitler was forced to yield his own salient around Orel, ending the German threat to Kursk.
    Soviet Summer and Fall Offensives:
    August-November 1943

    As the Russian campaign entered its third year, the world watched expectantly for the answers to two questions. Could the Germans recover from the effects of the winter battles for a second time and make another bid for victory? If not, could the Russians take the initiative without their old ally, "General Winter? Citadel answered the first question, and the Soviet Army's subsequent performance erased the last lingering doubts inherent in the second.
    After two years of war the Soviet Army was about to prove that it had completed its apprenticeship. It had developed tactics suited to large-scale offensive operations and had adapted them to its own limitations, which consisted primarily of a lack of initiative in the ranks and a frequent inability on the part of commanders and staffs below army levels to execute tactical maneuvers requiring precision or sensitivity to changing situations. The German Blitzkrieg technique had delivered the decisive stroke with precision, speed, and economy of effort. The Russians, on the other hand, favored a broader lateral scope and more conservative execution. They adopted the breakthrough and penetration as basic tactical maneuvers, but they preferred to achieve the decisive effect by a series of relatively shallow strokes along the breadth of the front rather than by one or several deep thrusts. Although the Russians claimed that Stalingrad had supplanted Cannae as the classic encirclement battle, they did not employ the double envelopment as frequently as the Germans had. More often they were content with a single thrust or with parallel thrusts, the objective being to force their opponent back on a broad front rather than to achieve a deep penetration along a single line of advance.
    On the morning of August 3, 1943, in the sector from which the Fourth Panzer Army had launched the southern arm of the attack toward Kursk, the massed artillery of the Soviet Sixth Guards Army laid down a barrage of several hours' duration on the German 167th Infantry Division. When the artillery lifted its fire, 200 tanks roared into the German line, followed by waves of close-packed infantry. Before nightfall the German division was reduced to a few dazed survivors. Pouring through the gap, the Russians reached and took Belgorod on August 5. In another three days they had opened a 35-mile-wide gap on the right flank of the Fourth Panzer Army, giving them a clear road to the Dnieper River 100 miles to the southwest. On the same day, Manstein, the commanding general of Army Group South, informed Hitler that he lacked enough divisions to close the northern flank or to hold the long line on the Donets below Kharkov. He would either have to yield the Donets Basin or receive 20 divisions from somewhere else.
    As he had on other occasions when confronted with unpleasant choices, Hitler avoided the decision by moving in an altogether different direction. He suddenly revived the idea of an East Wall, which he had rejected earlier. On August 12, he ordered construction started on a fortified line that was to begin in the south at Melitopol, run due north to the Dnieper River near Zaporozhe, follow the Dnieper to Kiev and the Desna to Chernigov, thence take a line almost due north to the southern tip of Lake Pskov, and, running along the west shores of Lakes Peipus and Pskov, anchor on the Gulf of Finland at Narva. While it appeared that in ordering the East Wall Hitler had accepted a general retreat on the eastern front as inevitable, subsequent decisions revealed that he actually intended to establish a barrier behind which the armies could not retreat and, since no work of any kind had as yet been done on the so-called East Wall, give himself an excuse for holding out farther east.
    In the last two weeks of August, the Soviet High Command expanded the offensive to the south and north. Kharkov fell on August 23. To the southeast the Russians broke through on the Donets south of Izyum and on the Mius River line east of Snigirevka. In the last week of the month they penetrated the Army Group Center front in three places. On August 31, Hitler gave the Sixth Army permission to retire from the Mius to the Kalmius River " if necessary. Three days later, he took a second positive step, ordering Army Group A to begin evacuating the useless beachhead which it still held on the Taman Peninsula.
    The Sixth Army could not halt on the Kalmius. During the morning of September 6, a motorized mechanized corps and 9 Soviet rifle divisions broke through on the boundary between the Sixth and First Panzer armies. The next day a tank corps slipped through the gap, and, leaving the infantry behind, the two armored corps moved westward. By September 8, they were approaching Pavlograd, 30 miles east of the Dnieper and 100 miles behind the Sixth Army front. On that day, Hitler allowed the Sixth and First Panzer armies to start withdrawing to the line on which he had intended to build the East Wall, from Melitopol to the Dnieper north of Zaporozhe.
    By September 14, the northern flank of Army Group South was disintegrating. The Fourth Panzer Army was split into three parts, and the Russians had a clear road open to Kiev. To the north, Army Group Center fared no better. The Second Army's front on the Desna, which was to have been part of the East Wall, was riddled with Soviet bridgeheads, and on September 14 the Russians began an offensive directed at Smolensk. The next day, Hitler gave the two army groups permission to retreat to the line of the Dnieper, Sozh, and Pronya rivers. In most places the retreat was already under way, and in the last week of the month it developed into a race with the Russians for possession of the river lines. At the end of the month, as the last German troops crossed the rivers, the Russians had five bridgeheads on the Dnieper between the confluence of the Pripyat River and Dnepropetrovsk.
    In two and one-half months, Army Groups South and Center had been forced back for an average of 150 miles on a front 650 miles long. The Germans had lost the most valuable territory they had taken in the Soviet Union. In an effort at least to deny the Russians the fruits of those economically rich areas, Hitler had instituted a scorched-earth policy, but in the end even that satisfaction was denied him. Nearly all of the factories, power plants, mines, and railroads could be destroyed, but the Germans lacked the personnel to transport or destroy more than a fraction of the agricultural and economic goods.
    The Dnieper affords the strongest natural defense line in western European Russia, especially when the battle is moving from east to west. Fortified and adequately manned, the Dnieper line could have constituted an ideal defensive position, but Army Group South was so badly battered that the river provided at most a degree of natural protection and a tenuous handhold. Of the East Wall nothing was in existence; much of the proposed line had not even been surveyed.
    On reaching the Dnieper, the Soviet Army had attained the original objectives of its summer offensive. Ordinarily the shortening of the German front, the defensive advantages of the river, the lengthening Russian lines of communications, and the attrition of the Russian forces could have been expected to bring the two sides into temporary balance. But Hitler had sacrificed too much of his strength east of the river. In contrast, the Russians' numerical superiority had enabled them to rest and refit their units in shifts, and they reached the Dnieper with their offensive capability largely intact. Before the last German troops crossed the river, the battle for the Dnieper line had begun.
    In the first week of October, the whole eastern front was quiet as the Russians regrouped and brought up new forces. To underscore the victories achieved so far, they began renaming the front commands. Opposite Army Group South and the Sixth Army, which had passed to Army Group A, the Voronezh, Steppes, Southwest, and South fronts became the First, Second, Third, and Fourth Ukrainian fronts.
    On October 9, the Fourth Ukrainian Front launched 45 rifle divisions, five tank and motorized mechanized corps, and two cavalry corps against the Sixth Army's 13 divisions in the line between Melitopol and the Dnieper. Within three weeks it drove the Sixth Army back across the flat, dusty Nogai Steppe to the lower Dnieper. Hitler refused last-minute requests to evacuate the Seventeenth Army from the Crimea, claiming that the Russians would thereby gain airfields from which to bomb the Romanian oilfields. When the Sixth Army retreated beyond Perekop Isthmus, the Seventeenth Army was cut off, and in the first week of November Soviet troops gained beachheads on the Sivash Sea near the base of the isthmus and on the Kerch Peninsula.
    While the Fourth Ukrainian Front was engaged below the Dnieper bend, the Second and Third Ukrainian fronts operating against the First Panzer and Eighth armies carved a bridgehead 200 miles wide and 60 miles deep on the river between Cherkassy and Zaporozhe. On the south the Third Ukrainian Front threatened important iron and manganese mining areas near Krivoi Rog and Nikopol, which Hitler was determined to hold at any cost. The Russians had taken a large bridgehead at the confluence of the Pripyat and the Dnieper in September. South of it, on November 3, the First Ukrainian Front broke out of two smaller bridgeheads, and three days later it took Kiev. During the rest of the month it drove the Fourth Panzer Army back west and south of the city, threatening to demolish the entire left flank of Army Group South. To the north the Belorussian Front forced the right half of Army Group Center back from the Sozh River. Around Nevel, on the boundary between Army Groups Center and North, the First and Second Baltic fronts made a deep salient in the German front.
    December brought some relief to the German armies, which for a few weeks regained their balance and even managed to counterattack west of Kiev. By this time the best solution for the German predicament would have been to withdraw Army Group South and the Sixth Army to the next major river, the Bug (Southern Bug), but Hitler would not consider it. He talked vaguely of retaking Kiev and of reopening the Crimean front. Actually, German prospects were worse than they had been in the two preceding winters. Opposing 3,000,000 German troops the Soviet Army had 5,700,000 men and an overwhelming superiority in tanks and artillery. In the summer and fall offensives the Russians had repeatedly laid down artillery barrages heavier than any since the great battles of World War I. Moreover, the German Army faced two new dangers: its manpower reserves were rapidly being exhausted, and an Anglo-American invasion in the west within the next half year was nearly certain. In November, Hitler notified the eastern front that it would have to manage on its own resources until the invasion had been defeated. The danger in the west, he said, was greater than that in Russia, and he could no longer take the responsibility for allowing the western front to be weakened for the benefit of other theaters of war. He suggested that possibly the eastern front might trade space for time, but events soon were to prove that he was constitutionally incapable of adopting this course.
    Offensives on the Outer Flanks
    In the winter of 1943-1944 the weather, as always in Russia, became the third force in the fighting, but with a difference. The hard freeze which usually set in by mid-December and lasted into March did not arrive at all that winter in the south, and in the north it was frequently broken by thaws. Rain, sleet, slush, and mud tested the endurance of men and machines. Again the Russians had the advantage. They had sufficient reserves to give their troops occasional periods to rest and dry out. Their tanks, having wider tracks, performed better in mud than did the German armor. Their American-built lend-lease trucks ran through mud that hopelessly mired the two-wheel-drive German trucks. Both sides relied heavily on the light, high-riding one-horse panje wagon, the Russian peasant's answer to mud.
    On Christmas Eve, the First Ukrainian Front drove two armies into the southern rim of the Fourth Panzer Army's front around Kiev, and the next day it developed a strong secondary thrust to the west. Either of these thrusts could ultimately smash the entire southern flank of the eastern front. The thrust moving southward, if it reached the Black Sea coast, would envelop Army Groups South and A between the Dnieper and Dniester rivers. The thrust moving to the west, on reaching the Carpathian Mountains, could be employed to drive the two army groups back against the Black Sea and into the Balkans. Considering the first thrust the greater danger, Manstein ordered the Fourth Panzer Army to concentrate on stopping the Soviet armies going south, but even that task was temporarily beyond the army's strength. By mid-January, the First Tank Army, spearheading the First Ukrainian Front's southern thrust, had gained 65 miles and was approaching Uman.
    On January 10, 1944, the Third and Fourth Ukrainian fronts opened a two-pronged offensive against the Sixth Army. By the end of the month, mainly because Hitler rigidly insisted on holding the mines near Nikopol and Krivoi Rog, the Russians had nearly encircled the army's main force in the angle of the front east of Krivoi Rog. Not until February 19, after the army had lost nearly all of its vehicles and artillery, did Hitler give it permission to retreat to a line on the Ingulets and lower Dnieper rivers.
    In the two years that had elapsed since the first Soviet winter offensive, Army Group North had by comparison with the rest of the eastern front been almost stationary. It had yielded some ground on the right, but it had kept its line firmly anchored on Lake Ilmen. Below the lake the old Russian towns of Staraya Russa and Kholm had lain directly on the front since the summer of 1941. Even the breakthrough at Nevel in October 1943 was more significant as a portent of a possible Soviet drive to outflank the army group in the south than for the immediate loss of ground it entailed. South of Lake Ladoga the army group had fought three battles to keep Leningrad under siege and had held the Russians to a token gain of a few miles along the lake shore. From the Volkhov River to the Gulf of Finland the front resembled a World War I battlefield. It was a complicated lacework of trenches and shell holes, the result of two and one-half years' fighting in which gains and losses on both sides could be measured in yards. By January 1944, however, the stable front no longer reflected the actual condition of the army group, which had lost its best divisions through transfers.
    On January 15, the Leningrad Front launched two strong attacks, one south of the city and the other from the pocket around Oranienbaum (now Lomonosov) to the east. On the same day, the Volkhov Front struck at Novgorod north of Lake Ilmen. By the end of the fifth day of the battle, the German front was disintegrating in all three places, and on January 19 the Soviet troops completed the liberation of Leningrad. Thereafter the entire left flank of Army Group North cracked. Hitler, concerned about the effect that a more extensive retreat would have on Finland, which was already negotiating tentatively with the Soviet Union, at first ordered the army group to build a new front line on the Luga River. This attempt had no chance of success, and on February 13 he was forced to order the army group back into the Panther Line, the Narva River-Lake Peipus-Lake Pskov section of the ill-fated East Wall. The Panther Line was the only major part of the wall on which substantial work had been done, and when the army group reached it on March 1, it held.
    During January and February, Army Group South fought in knee-deep mud, sleet storms, and blizzards to keep its front together. The First and Fourth Panzer armies managed to halt the Soviet southward thrust northeast of Uman, but by that time the First and Second Ukrainian fronts, with Zhukov commanding as at Stalingrad, had encircled two German corps northwest of Cherkassy. Army Group South concentrated almost its entire tank strength to rescue the corps, and on the night of February 17 approximately 30,000 men, about half the number originally in the pocket, broke out. In the meantime, the left flank of Army Group South had been driven behind the 1939 Polish border nearly to Kowel (Kovel), Luck (Luts'k), and Dubno. At the end of February, Army Groups South and A held a weak but (for the first time since Christmas) almost continuous line about halfway between the Dnieper and the Bug.
    Western Ukraine and the Crimea: March-May 1944
    After mid-February, it appeared to the German High Command that the army groups on the eastern front had seen another winter through. Army Group North was retiring to a fortified line. Army Groups South and A were less well provided for, but after the breakout from the pocket near Cherkassy the Russians were not on the march anywhere, and anyone who wanted to overlook the fact that the Soviet armies had continued to move through an abnormally warm, wet winter could assume that in a matter of days--in a few weeks at most, when spring set in--the front would sink into the mud for a month or so.
    Field Marshal von Manstein was not so hopeful. He believed that the Russians would attempt at least to advance another 35 miles and cut the Lwow (now Lvov)-Odessa railroad behind Army Group South's left flank. The signs were plentiful that they could resume the offensive if they wished. During the fighting in January and February, the four Ukrainian fronts had at no time brought all of their strength to bear, and their reserves, instead of declining, had grown enormously. By mid-February, the Soviet High Command had shifted five of its six tank armies to the area opposite Army Group South. Three of them remained in reserve. At the end of the month the sixth tank army also appeared. The American-built trucks, the wide-tracked Soviet tanks, and the panje wagons had proved their ability to keep an offensive rolling through mud.
    On March 4, the First, Second, and Third Ukrainian fronts attacked. The First Ukrainian Front, the strongest of the three, struck due south from the vicinity of Shepetovka into a gap between the First and Fourth Panzer armies' flanks. The Second Ukrainian Front hit the Eighth Army's center east of Uman, and the Third Ukrainian Front drove through the center of the Sixth Army below Krivoi Rog. The Soviet offensive advanced rapidly through the mud. Except on the left against the First Ukrainian Front, the Germans usually lacked sufficient troops even to place temporary roadblocks in the Russians' way. In quick succession the Soviet spearheads crossed three potential German defense lines, the Bug, Dniester, and Prut rivers. In the last week of March, the whole First Panzer Army was encircled at Kamenets-Podolski and had to break out to the west. After gaining 165 miles on the three main thrust lines, the Soviet offensive halted in mid-April, leaving the Germans with a front which at its center was backed up against the Carpathians, and which they managed to hold only by utilizing, for the first time since Stalingrad, one Hungarian and two Romanian armies.
    At the height of the offensive, on March 30, Hitler had called the commanding generals of Army Groups South and A, Manstein and Kleist, to his headquarters and had dismissed them. On the eastern front, he had explained, the day of the master tacticians was past. What he needed were ruthless generals who would drive their troops to the utmost and extract the last ounce of capability for resistance. The two new-style generals whom he appointed were Field Marshal Walter Model to command Army Group South and Colonel General (later Field Marshal) Ferdinand Schörner to command Army Group A. A few days later, in a typical empty gesture, he redesignated Army Groups South and A as Army Groups North Ukraine and South Ukraine.
    On April 8, almost as an afterthought, the Fourth Ukrainian Front launched an attack on the Crimea. The Seventeenth Army's front on Perekop Isthmus disintegrated in two days, and by April 16 the army was forced back to a small beachhead around Sevastopol. Until early May, Hitler had insisted on holding Sevastopol--to keep Turkey neutral, he said. By then the Russians had a clear field of observation across the whole beachhead to the tip of Cape Khersonesski. During four nights, German ships from Constanta, Romania, attempted to evacuate the army, but only about half of the 65,000 men on the peninsula escaped. Meanwhile, on May 9, Sevastopol was reoccupied by the Russians.
    SOVIET VICTORIES: 1944-1945
    Collapse in the Center: June-August 1944
    In April and May 1944, it appeared, at least to Hitler and his closest advisers, that destiny might yet be made to bow to the Führer's will. Everything depended on whether the invasion in the west, to which the United States and Great Britain had committed themselves at the Teheran Conference (November 28-December 1, 1943), could be defeated. A victory in the west would release the approximately 45 percent of its strength which Germany had retained there while awaiting the invasion.
    Hitler's luck and his ability to win against heavy odds seemed not to have deserted him completely. Despite the disastrous winter, he had succeeded in maintaining his determination not to weaken the western defenses for the sake of the east. In March, he had been forced to send several panzer divisions to the east, but by the end of April he managed to form new divisions to replace them. Thereafter he was as nearly ready as he intended to be, and the Russians helped him indirectly by giving no sign that they intended to do anything to make their allies' landing easier. German industrial output was still rising. Synthetic oil production reached its peak in April, and the Luftwaffe had about 40 percent more planes than it had possessed a year earlier. The production of tanks and weapons was sufficient to equip new divisions for the west and to replace some of the losses in the east. All in all, it seemed that Germany could await the next roll of the dice with some confidence.
    By mid-June, the dice had been rolled, and Germany had lost. Beginning in April and continuing through May and into June, the United States and British air forces staged bombing raids that eliminated 90 percent of the German synthetic oil production. On June 6, United States and British troops landed in Normandy, and in the next several days the strategy that Hitler had carefully nurtured since November 1943 collapsed. The powerful counterattack that he had envisioned did not materialize. Because he expected a second landing north of the Seine, he refused to take troops from the Fifteenth Army, which was closest to the Normandy beachhead, and decided instead to draw reinforcements from more remote areas. Consequently, the invaders were not driven from the beaches, and the German forces in Normandy were forced to the defensive.
    In the east, Hitler and the Army General Staff expected the Russians to renew their pressure against the southern flank, attempting to smash Army Group North Ukraine against the Carpathians and drive Army Group South Ukraine into the Balkans. For the center they predicted a quiet summer. To meet the expected attack against Army Group North Ukraine, they transferred a panzer corps from Army Group Center and so deprived the latter of more than 80 percent of its tanks.
    Army Group Center held the last major stretch of Soviet territory left in German hands: Belorussia eastward to the ancient gateway to Moscow between Vitebsk and Orsha 290 miles west of the Soviet capital. On June 22-23, the Russians attacked--not Army Group North Ukraine, as had been expected--but Army Group Center. Vasilevski was coordinating the First Baltic and Third Belorussian fronts at Vitebsk and Orsha, while Zhukov coordinated the Second and First Belorussian fronts opposite Mogilev and Bobruisk. In three days the Russians had made deep penetrations along the entire front. Hitler, who was determined not to yield any more ground in the Soviet Union, refused to allow segments of the front still standing to retreat. The Third Panzer Army on the north lost contact with Army Group North and began to drift with the Russian tide. In the center the flanks of the Fourth and Ninth armies were broken through. By the end of the month, the First Belorussian Front had trapped and was destroying two thirds of the Ninth Army around Bobruisk. Only the headquarters and one corps escaped. The commanding general of the Fourth Army had taken matters into his own hands and ordered his troops to retreat, but the army had to make its way through roadless forests and cross the Dnieper, Drut, and Berezina rivers. The Russians on its flanks were moving faster, and on July 3 they closed the army's last escape route at Minsk. In less than two weeks, Army Group Center had lost 25 of its 38 divisions.
    On June 28, Hitler had combined the command of Army Groups Center and North Ukraine under Field Marshal Model. He intended by this step to facilitate the transfer of divisions from Army Group North Ukraine to Army Group Center, but by that time the former was itself threatened and could not spare many troops. To gain troops the generals favored withdrawing the northward-jutting front of Army Group North from the Narva-Lake Peipus line to a short line between Daugavpils (Dvinsk) and Riga, but Hitler would not agree. He was concerned about the effect on Finland and the danger to the navy's submarine training ground in the Baltic Sea. All Model could do was to commit what reinforcements arrived, maneuver to gain the semblance of a coherent front, and wait for the Russians to lose their momentum.
    In July, the Soviet offensive spread to the flanks. On the north the First Baltic Front drove into the gap between Army Groups Center and North toward East Prussia and the Baltic. On its right the Second and Third Baltic fronts forced Army Group North back to the Pskov-Daugavpils line. On July 29, a spearhead of the First Baltic Front reached the Baltic west of Riga and cut off Army Group North.
    On the southern flank of Army Group Center the First Belorussian Front, powerfully assisted by an offensive which the First Ukrainian Front began against Army Group North Ukraine on July 13, developed a two-pronged thrust toward Brest (Brest-Litovsk). Late in the month, the First Belorussian Front carried its advance past Brest to Lublin and then turned northwestward toward Warsaw (Warszawa). The Russian point reached nearly to the Warsaw suburb of Praga on July 31. On the next day an uprising led by Tadeusz Komorowski (General Bor) broke out in Warsaw. East of the city, however, the Germans encircled and destroyed the leading Soviet tank corps, and thereafter the Russians left the Warsaw insurgents to their fate. While the First Belorussian Front devoted its attention to consolidating two bridgeheads south of Warsaw, the SS moved into the city, where after two months of savage fighting General Bor surrendered on October 2.
    In August, the Soviet offensive subsided. Advancing as much as 350 miles in a little more than a month, the fronts had outrun their supplies. Army Groups Center and North Ukraine had been forced back to a line on the Vistula (Visla) and Narew (Narev) rivers and the East Prussian border, and the Russians held valuable bridgeheads across both rivers.
    Beginning on August 16, Army Group Center launched a small counteroffensive that opened a narrow land corridor south of Riga to Army Group North. The respite was brief. On September 14, the three Baltic fronts began attacking toward Riga. When the Leningrad Front joined the offensive and on September 17 broke through at Tartu, Army Group North had to retreat to avoid being cut to pieces. At the end of the month the army group barely succeeded in escaping through the corridor south of Riga. On October 1, the First Baltic Front attacked due westward to the Baltic coast, which it reached near Memel (Klaipeda) on October 10. With that, Army Group North was cut off once more and had to withdraw into Courland (Kurland) west of Riga. It might still have broken out to the south, but Hitler insisted that it stay in Courland. He intended, he said, to open an offensive from there soon.
    Operations on the Southern Flank
    Although its front had been quiet, Army Group South Ukraine was badly weakened by mid-August 1944. It had lost 5 of its 6 armored divisions and 4 infantry divisions through transfers. The Romanians, both troops and civilians, were thinking increasingly of peace. On the morning of August 20, the Russians attacked. The Second Ukrainian Front struck southward past Iasi, and the Third Ukrainian Front pushed westward from two bridgeheads on the Dniester near Tiraspol. On August 25, they trapped the inner flanks of the Sixth and Eighth armies in an encirclement near Kishinev. On the same day, Romania, having announced its acceptance of Allied armistice terms on August 23 (the armistice was signed on September 12), declared war on Germany. The front dissolved into chaos. Some elements of the Eighth Army escaped into the Carpathians, while survivors of the Sixth Army fought their way southward between the mountains and the lower Danube River. On August 30, the Second Ukrainian Front captured the Ploesti oilfields, and the next day it entered Bucharest (Bucuresti). The Third Ukrainian Front occupied the Dobruja, and on September 8 crossed into Bulgaria, which requested an armistice (granted September 9) and declared war on Germany.
    The thrusts into Romania and Bulgaria automatically brought about the collapse of the German southeastern theater: the 300,000 Wehrmacht troops, organized into Army Groups E and F, who were defending the Adriatic and Aegean coasts and fighting partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece. Army Group E in Greece and Albania, after airlifting its troops from Crete and the other Greek islands, was forced to undertake a long and precarious march through the mountains of western Yugoslavia, which it did not complete until mid-November. Meanwhile, in September, the headquarters of the Eighth Army and the Sixth Army, using what troops they still retained, established fronts in the eastern Carpathians and the Transylvanian Alps. Farther to the west the Hungarian Second and Third armies formed a line on the border. In the second half of the month the Second and Third Ukrainian fronts regrouped and began turning northward for an offensive into Hungary and northeastern Yugoslavia.
    The Third Ukrainian Front began operations on September 28 with an attack from Bulgaria toward Belgrade (Beograd). Three days later, the Second and Fourth Ukrainian fronts, coordinated by Marshal Timoshenko, began driving across the mountains in eastern Hungary. Belgrade fell on October 20. On the same day, the Second Ukrainian Front took Debrecen, and the Germans evacuated Transylvania to escape encirclement. By the end of the month the Second Ukrainian Front was across the Tisza (Tisa) River, and the Third Ukrainian Front had turned northward from Belgrade along the east bank of the Danube, which it began crossing near Apatin. In November, both fronts launched attacks toward Budapest against stiff German resistance. (Troops from Army Groups E and F had reinforced the Sixth and Eighth armies.) The first Soviet troops reached the outer Budapest defense ring on November 8, but Soviet progress was slow for the next six weeks. Finally a thrust by both fronts, begun on December 20, completed the encirclement of Budapest on December 27. Two days later, a Soviet-sponsored provisional Hungarian government declared war on Germany.
    Operations on the Northern Flank
    Finland had gained its territorial objectives by November 1941, and after December of that year it had watched the war on the German front in the south with growing apprehension. The country was fortunate in that both Britain and the United States saw a certain amount of justice in its cause against the Soviet Union. At the Teheran Conference, President Franklin D. ROOSEVELT and Prime Minister Winston CHURCHILL had persuaded Stalin to offer the Finns a negotiated peace on terms that would leave the country independent, but after a first appraisal of the Soviet terms the Finnish government, in March 1944, had found them too onerous and rejected them.
    On June 9, the Russians opened an offensive on the Karelian Isthmus, and in a month they had driven the Finnish Army back nearly to the 1940 border. The Finns were fortunate again in that a somewhat less than masterful Soviet performance, their own quick recovery after initial defeats, and German aid enabled them to keep the Russians from breaking into the heart of the country. On September 2, Finland appealed for an armistice, and on September 19 it signed the Soviet peace terms, which were oppressive but did not include a military occupation.
    When the armistice went into effect, the German Twentieth Mountain Army still occupied Finnish Lapland north to the Arctic coast. After failing in 1941 to take Murmansk or to cut the Murmansk Railroad, it had settled down to positional warfare along the Soviet-Finnish border. Finland's removal from the war threatened to leave the army's southern flank dangling in a void. At first, Hitler wanted to swing the flank westward and hold northern Finland for the sake of the nickel mines near Petsamo, but later he decided to withdraw the entire army into the northern tip of Norway and then southward along the German-built coastal road. On September 6, the 200,000-man Twentieth Mountain Army began a four month's march across 500 miles of Arctic wilderness. In accordance with the Soviet armistice terms, the Finns attempted to disarm the Germans, but after several clashes in the south they did not interfere with the retreat (Finland formally declared war on Germany on March 3, 1945). The Russians, after failing to destroy the German corps stationed at Petsamo, halted their pursuit west of Kirkenes, Norway.
    Advance into the Reich: January-April, 1945
    At the turn of the year 1944-1945 the eastern front, bisected by the mountains of eastern Czechoslovakia, stood in the north approximately on the line reached in August 1944. In the south it followed the Czechoslovakian border to the west of Budapest and then veered southward along the line of Lake Balaton and the Drava and Danube rivers. In the north the Russians had bridgeheads across the Narew and Vistula rivers at Rozan, Serock, and Sandomierz. In the south they had encircled Budapest and had nearly reached the last German-held oilfield at Nagykanizsa. The routes to Berlin and the Silesian industrial region lay open across the Polish plain, but Hitler hoped that he could recover some of his prestige by a victory in the south. After Christmas he had transferred the 4th SS Panzer Corps from the Warsaw front to the front near Budapest.
    Between January 12 and January 14, the First, Second, and Third Belorussian fronts and the First Ukrainian Front attacked. Exploiting the bridgeheads, each front achieved a complete breakthrough on the first or second day. The Second and Third Belorussian fronts went northwestward and westward against East Prussia from the line north of Warsaw. By January 26, they had driven a spearhead through to the Baltic coast east of Danzig (Gdansk), and they then began cutting up the two German armies to the northeast. The First Belorussian and First Ukrainian fronts moved westward from the front between Warsaw and the Sandomierz bridgehead toward the Oder River. After the first four days the breakthrough was so thoroughly accomplished that the Soviet armies could move in columns along the roads at speeds averaging between 20 and 25 miles a day. The First Belorussian Front bypassed Poznan on January 22, and by February 3 had drawn up to the Oder on a broad front 36 miles east of Berlin. A week earlier, the First Ukrainian Front had reached the middle Oder and established several bridgeheads. On February 8, it began attacking across the Oder north of Breslau (now Wroclaw), and by early March had cleared Silesia and had then halted on the Neisse (Lusatian Neisse) River line.
    On the northern flank of the First Belorussian Front the newly created German Army Group Vistula still held a long front between the lower Oder and lower Vistula in early February. In the middle of the month the Germans attacked from that front into the rear of the Russians on the Oder opposite Berlin. The attack failed, and on February 24 the First Belorussian Front turned to the north. By March 10, it had thrown one German army back against the Baltic coast near Danzig, had driven through Pomerania (Pomorze) to the sea, and had cleared the right bank of the Oder to its mouth.
    On the front in Hungary the Germans staged three attempts during January to relieve Budapest. The third, which began on January 18, penetrated deeply into the Soviet front but did not reach the city. On January 27, the Third Ukrainian Front counterattacked, and Budapest fell on February 13. In mid-February, Hitler transferred the Sixth Panzer Army from the Ardennes to Hungary, where he illogically insisted on attempting to regain the Danube line. The offensive began on March 6 and continued for 10 days without significant gains. On March 16, the Second and Third Ukrainian fronts struck back and in a little more than a week broke through on both sides of Lake Balaton. On March 30, the Russians crossed the border into Austria, and on April 13 they took Vienna.
    Last Soviet Offensive
    By April 1, 1945, Germany had been defeated. Silesia was gone, and the Ruhr was encircled. The output of tanks, artillery, and ammunition in the first quarter of 1945 was only about half the monthly average for 1944. From January through March, the Luftwaffe received between a twelfth and a twentieth of its requirements in aviation gasoline. The eastern and western fronts stood back to back with no room in which to maneuver. The war continued because Hitler was still in command, and he hoped for another "miracle of the house of Brandenburg, a collapse of the enemy coalition like that in the Seven Years' War which had rescued Frederick the Great from similarly desperate straits.
    On the Oder-Neisse line the Russians in April regrouped the Second Belorussian Front in the north under Marshal Konstantin K. Rokossovski, the First Belorussian Front in the center opposite Berlin under Marshal Zhukov, and the First Ukrainian Front in the south under Marshal Konev. The First Belorussian and First Ukrainian fronts opened the offensive on April 16. Konev's armies achieved a complete breakthrough on the first day. The First Belorussian Front, heading straight toward Berlin from a bridgehead at Kustrin (now Kostrzyn) on the Oder River, was not so fortunate. It required two days to break out of the bridgehead and then was stopped again on April 21 at the outskirts of Berlin. In the meantime, the First Ukrainian Front had turned two tank armies to the northwest. By nightfall on April 24 they and elements of the First Belorussian Front coming from the north had closed a ring around the city. The next day, the Soviet Fifth Guards Army made contact with the United States First Army at Torgau on the Elbe River south of Berlin, and Germany was split into two parts.
    Hitler had decided to remain in Berlin to the end. From his elaborate air-raid shelter he attempted to maneuver armies as he had in the old days. His first order, following the standard pattern which had failed so often in the past three years, was to hold the line and close the gaps. It was impossible to execute. On April 20, the Second Belorussian Front forced the Third Panzer Army from the Oder. By that time the Ninth Army was trapped between the flanks of the First Ukrainian and First Belorussian fronts. On April 24, Hitler ordered the Ninth Army to strike toward Berlin from the south and the Twelfth Army, facing American forces on the Elbe, to turn around and drive into the city from the west. The Twelfth Army managed to make the turn and reached Beelitz, 18 miles southwest of Berlin; there it was halted. On April 30, Hitler committed suicide, and two days later resistance ended in Berlin.
    In the last week of the war the German armies on the eastern front all had one objective: to escape capture by the Russians. North and west of Berlin the Third Panzer, Twenty-first, and Twelfth armies succeeded in making agreements with United States Army commands which allowed them to pass through American lines. Army Group Center's Fourth Panzer, Seventeenth, and First Panzer armies were farther east on the upper Elbe River and in Czechoslovakia. After the unconditional surrender in Reims on May 7 (a second surrender ceremony was held in Berlin on May 9), they attempted a mass escape to the west but were stopped forward of the American-Soviet demarcation line, and nearly all of them, or about 1,000,000 men, passed into Soviet captivity. Some troops of Army Groups South, E, and Courland escaped in the last days, but most fell prisoner to the Russians. All told, the Russians took about 2,000,000 prisoners in the days immediately preceding and following the surrender.
    In sheer material and human destructiveness the Russian campaign had no equal in World War II. The total German dead, either as battle casualties or as prisoners of war, probably numbered about 3,500,000. Soviet losses were at least twice as great and may have gone much higher without even beginning to include deaths among the civilian population resulting from German or Soviet action. That Germany lost the campaign can be attributed primarily to its being forced into a conflict of mass against mass which far outran its industrial and human resources. Unable from the first to compete with the Russians in expending human life, the Germans were eventually crushed by the weight of Soviet arms. After 1941, Soviet war materiel production quickly overtook and surpassed that of Germany. Additionally, the USSR received lend-lease aid, mostly from the United States, valued at over $11 billion. Among the more significant items were 409,526 trucks, 12,161 tanks and self-propelled guns, 14,000 airplanes, and 325,784 tons of explosives. Furthermore, the Soviet Union was able to commit more than 90 percent of its military strength against Germany, while the Germans were forced to retain a large part of theirs (35 to 45 percent in the years 1943 and 1944) in other theaters.