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:
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.
Mother Russia Is Calling You, WWII poster by Irakli Toidze (1941)
Soviet propaganda poster of 1941. The inscription reads:
"Join the ranks of the front brigades, a fighter needs your hands and aid!"
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 is 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.
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
We will ruthlessly defeat and destroy the enemy!
Nonaggression Treaty Between the
The epic battle of
All of this is thoroughly entwined into prize-winning historian Antony Beevor’s chronology of this nightmarish era, but he also takes pains in The Fall of Berlin 1945 to clarify that the individual Russian soldier was often generous and kind to German civilians. Beevor cites personal interviews, diaries, correspondence, and official Russian, German, American, British, French, and Swedish archives in chronicling the lives and experiences of soldiers and civilians trapped in the prolonged horror of
It begins among Berliners in the Christmas season, 1944. The demolished city had few amenities and only short rations and endless tension to offer is citizens. Overcrowded air raid shelters were off limits to foreign workers, especially the Ostarbeiter, slave workers from the East. Nazi propagandists’ regular reports of atrocities, rape, plunder, and murder by advancing Russian armies increased the citizens’ fears, unsoothed by official claims of fanciful "wonder weapons" to be unleashed against the Reich’s enemies by the Führer. At the front, battle-hardened German troops were battle-weary. The savage retribution exacted by Russian armies became their prime motivator. They no longer fought for Hitler, for
The capture of
As attacking armies encircled
Plagued by their internecine competition, poor coordination, and bad communications, Russian forces suffered great casualties through inadvertently shelling, bombing, and shooting each other. None of this altered the ultimate outcome, when after weeks of rooftop, cellar, house-to-house, and street barricade fighting, Chuikov’s army reached the city center and invited negotiations for surrender. German emissary General Hans Krebs’s delegation brought news of Hitler’s suicide, but they either could not or would not meet the surrender deadline set by the Russians. Chuikov ordered a punitive resumption of artillery and rocket bombardment, bringing further devastation on the wretched citizenry.
Detailed communiqués between Allied and Soviet top leadership and the generals in the field add fascinating and enlivening commentary to the narrative. There are first-person accounts of victors and the vanquished—individual Russians and Germans, inviting revealing comparisons of the struggles, suffering, achievements, and heroism that characterized both sides.
Capitulation of the Nazi regime was negotiated by Hitler’s "heirs." When the firing ceased, the once beautiful city was just rubble inhabited by starving, stunned, displaced people. It was a stark and fitting tribute to the vile regime that lately had occupied its halls of power and a sorry end to mankind’s sorriest episode. Beevor’s final chapters critically review events attendant to Russian and Allied consolidation of their occupation. Stalin treated returning Russian veterans as heartlessly as he had treated them in battle. Injured veterans, even amputees, met hostility and even deportation to remote villages. There was almost no medical care provided to them.
Soviet archives revealed that Hitler’s corpse was identified quickly but its whereabouts kept secret on pain-of-death orders from Stalin. It was exhumed in secrecy in 1970, cremated, and the ashes dumped in the sewers of
Beevor’s account is so absorbing that the reader will shudder with empathy for the suffering of the people whose stories are told here. There will be despair at the degradation and inhumanity imposed on a civilian population by an all-consuming war and admiration for the kindnesses shown by human beings to each other under extreme stress. Americans of the 20th and 21st centuries have not yet been subjected to the total war that Europeans twice created for one another. This account should be one more good reason to do all that we can to avoid it. If the reader can derive any such comfort from these revelations, Antony Beevor’s edifying account will have had a perhaps unintended salutary effect.
the Eastern Front
The war fought between
In the late 1930s, the
In September 1939, the Nazis conquered
Hitler began planning Operation Barbarossa—a six-week campaign to defeat
Operation Barbarossa began at daybreak on June 22 when 30 bombers attacked airfields in western
Soviet bomber pilots were sent out to meet the Germans, but the lack of experienced leadership because of the purges was obvious. The inexperienced pilots flew in tight formations, maintaining steady courses and altitudes. They had neither fighter escorts nor gunners and were easy targets for the well-trained Luftwaffe. The German pilots piled up victories quickly. Werner Molders became the first pilot to pass the 100-victory mark, and Erich Hartmann became
The Germans advanced eastward quickly, capturing cities and taking hundreds of thousands of prisoners. But their rapid move was reckless--the Luftwaffe was forced to abandon damaged aircraft and essential spare parts. The Luftwaffe eventually would lose as many planes to maintenance problems as combat. And no matter how many units the Germans killed, shot down, or captured, more Russian soldiers always arrived.
New Soviet aircraft began arriving too. In spite of the purges, the Soviets had still managed to develop a strong aircraft industry. The MiG 3 high-altitude interceptor, which had been unknown prior to the invasion, debuted. Its top speed exceeded anything the Luftwaffe could produce, although the inexperienced VVS pilots rarely used it to its potential. And the Ilyushin Il-2 Shturmovik, a low-altitude attack aircraft, boasted easy handling, powerful armament, and invulnerability to ground fire that made it a devastating ground attack aircraft against the German Panzer units, who called it the "Black Death." Stalin made the plane a production priority, calling it "like air, like bread" to the VVS.
Hitler was determined to reach
The Russians were in better shape. Their planes were equipped for colder temperatures. And as the Germans approached Moscow, the entire Soviet aviation industry—1,500 facilities with 10 million employees--picked up and moved east across the Ural Mountains, away from the battlefront, to even more inhospitable conditions and no buildings in place at all. Within weeks of their move, however, they had constructed new plants and resumed aircraft production. By December, they had reached their previous production level and by the start of 1942, they had surpassed it. New airplanes began to stream back to the front, supporting counteroffensives during the winter that had pushed the Germans away from
As summer of 1942 came, Hitler rerouted his ground troops toward the oil fields in the south. In November, an estimated 300,000 German soldiers found themselves trapped in
Fighting was fierce: hand-to-hand combat was common. But Hitler declared
Gradually, the Germans were pushed back to
Soviet pride, shame
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. Bush is due to attend ceremonies in
Right, because many North Americans and British mistakenly believe their nations alone defeated National Socialist Germany. In fact, Stalin's
- When Allied forces landed at
- The Soviet defeat of
So it's right to honour
Nazi concentration camps like
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
German-Soviet aggression did. We forget Hitler and Stalin jointly invaded, then partitioned
In 1939, Hitler, whose major crimes still lay ahead of him, was seen by many Europeans as a hero who had pulled
This aspect of the war remains taboo. At
What should the Allies have done? In 1939, the 20th-century's leading military thinker, Maj.-Gen. J.F.C Fuller, urged
Too much lingering wartime propaganda still clouds our historical memory. Some other forgotten points:
- In the 1920s, Churchill authorized using poison gas against rebellious Kurdish tribesmen in
- As German generals Rommel and Guderian were smashing across the
- WWII was not a simple conflict between democracy and tyranny, as we are misinformed, but a clash between imperial powers, ideology and economic systems.
- No sooner were the
- At war's end, 15 million ethnic Germans were driven from ancestral homes across
Secret tales from Vienna
At the height of the Cold War, plans for an invasion had spies and soldiers on edge
There are also fresher memories of the post-war era when the Soviets shared control of
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
Half a century later, Wells' presence still haunts
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
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
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
This region, and the Fulda Gap to the south, were the Warsaw Pact's expected invasion route into
However, the Soviet General Staff had developed a brilliant plan to outflank the bulk of NATO forces in north
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.
This vast enveloping attack, whose northern flank would be in large part protected by the
A Soviet column would take
Had this plan worked, it would have been more successful than the 1914 Schlieffen Plan and as great a triumph as
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.
Its 600,000 tough soldiers prepared to fight the Red Army from their mountain fortress redoubts at Sargans, Gothard and
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
But it would have been a very, very close run thing.
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 "
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 andactions: 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
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
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-
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
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,
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
Stalin's indictment of the collusion between the flaccid old imperialisms (
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
Neville Chamberlain when the latter became Prime Minister in May 1937.
The Cliveden set took the view that, while the
The rebirth of German economic power under the dynamic and providential leadership of Adolf Hitler had created a strategic vacuum in
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
Chamberlain's policy was to collude with fascism. One of his first acts was to send Sir Nevile Henderson ("Our nazi ambassador to
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
Within months Hitler moved against
On April 22 Hitler told a secret conference of Party and military personnel the West had written off
'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
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
Chamberlain 'gave the Führer to understand that
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
The Czech government capitulated, but not all at once.
The Anglo-French appeasers had achieved an old dream: the creation of a four-power pact (with fascist
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
Some of the mud stuck, as Chamberlain intended. The
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
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
'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
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
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
Five days later—and three days after Stalin delivered his Central committee report to the
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
By March 1939 German troops had traversed
At the end of August, a week before
The 'London Poles' were a footnote in history. They hoped that the
Through all this, the British stubbornly persisted with their vision of an Anglo-German rapprochement. When the Panzers rolled into
British policy had only one aim: to cajole, wheedle, guide and direct
Events moved swiftly;
This was a notion worthy of the
At the insistent request of the Soviet government, which continued its urgent, not to say frantic, search for allies against Hitler
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
Chamberlain had been scrupulous not to guarantee the
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
Only a few days before Molotov's speech
It was agreed that negotiations with
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
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
It was obvious to the general public, never mind political leaderships, that a German attack on
Not until the release of Cabinet papers 30 years later did Strang's secret instructions for the conduct of the
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
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
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
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
Wohlthat was told 'there were still three big regions in the world where
Additionally, the British would prevail on
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
Hitler did not respond directly to the latest British overtures. His main concern was that the
In any case, Hitler had no worries about the likely British response to a German attack on
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
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
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
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
While it crawled around the coast of
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
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
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
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
But the refusal of
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
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
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
It is worth considering what such a plan would have entailed for the
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
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
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.
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
The British, of course, did not send
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
Only in 1971 did incontrovertible evidence appear proving that
This revelation made it finally impossible to suggest, as several generations of historians and publicists have tried to, that it was the
The collapse of the
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
The French and British, backed by
In the words of the Methodist Recorder there should be a war for a 'new order' in
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..." [CW, 33, 1966, 447]
And: "examine the policy pursued prior to the war, the policy that led to and brought about the [
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..." [CW, 31, 1966, 241]
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..."