NAVAL INSTITUTE PRESS
To Scarlet Alexandra
Naval Institute Press
Title: Stalin’s grand design to start World War II.
This paper meets the requirements of ANSI/NISO z39.48-1992 (Permanence of Paper).
All photos are from the author’s collection.
Hitler had a red flag. And Stalin had a red flag. Hitler ruled in the name of the workers’ class, his party was called the workers’
party. Stalin also ruled in the name of the workers’ class; his power system officially bore the title of “dictatorship of proletariat.”
Hitler hated democracy and struggled against it. Stalin hated democracy and struggled against it. Hitler was building socialism.
And Stalin was building socialism. Under the title of socialism Hitler saw a classless society. And Stalin, under the title of
socialism, saw a classless society. In the midst of the classless society built by Hitler, and in that built by Stalin, flourished
slavery in the truest sense of the word.
I have planned to write this book since I discovered that the Soviet version of the history of
World War II was a lie and concealed the USSR’s responsibility for planning the start of the war. The primary reason for my decision
to defect to the West in 1978 was to make my discoveries available to the Russian people and the world public.
Since then I have been able to publish several books on military topics. All of them received wide acclaim in the West, but that was
not the case with the book of my lifework — The Icebreaker, published in English in Great Britain in 1990. It quickly sold out,
but for reasons never explained to me, the publisher refused to print further editions.
Solving puzzles is not for everyone, but for me it is a passion. I feel that I am truly blessed, for fitting pieces together is my job. It is strenuous work that
mobilizes your patience and attention; but the benefits are great. You switch off the world of turmoil, you forget about your concerns, debts, and ailments.
Hated faces of enemies and opponents dissolve into darkness. Your heart starts beating calmly and steadily. Your
brain is cleansed of evil plots, and your soul freed of dirt and soot. No, I am not an archaologist who, out of clay pieces, assembles
an ancient Egyptian pot, and from glass fragments, a precious Roman vase. Neither am I an anthropologist, who out of tiny splinters of
bone assembles the skeleton of a mammoth hunter. I am a spy. An intelligence operative of a rare breed, an analyst from the Main
Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces (GRU).1
What was left for them to do? They published the document. The book titled 1941 came out a year and a half later, in March 1998. It was a collection
of documents. The collection was compiled by A. N. Yakovlev, a former member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the
Communist Party of the Soviet Union, E. T. Gaidar, a former head of the Russian Government, E. M. Primakov, a former head of the foreign
intelligence service (who later became the head of the Russian government), and many other respectable politicians.
The Struggle for Peace, and Its Results
We rely entirely on the hope that our revolution will unleash a European revolution.
World War I ended on November 11, 1918. Within forty-eight hours, on the morning of November 13, an attempt was made to bring about a second world
war. At that time the concepts and names “World War I” and “World War II” did not yet exist. The war of
1914–18, because it was a collision of gigantic empires, was called the Imperialist War. It was also called the Great War, because
it surpassed all previously known wars in magnitude, expenditure, and number of participants. No previous wars had known such extended
fronts, such intense battles, such massive losses, or such great social and economic consequences. The barbarity of a global
slaughterhouse was so obvious that an overwhelming majority of people considered a repeated occurrence of such madness impossible. For
this reason, the war of 1914–18 had another name, which is now forever forgotten, the Last War. Many thought that the gory absurdity
of the Great War would sober all its participants, and eternally eradicate the desire to fight.
First Attempts to Unleash a Second World War
The West, full of imperialist cannibals, has turned into the hearth of darkness and slavery.
As a result of World War I, Europe found itself in a situation which the Communists called revolutionary. In 1918 Communist parties formed in many European
countries. In Kiel, German navy seamen called a strike on November 3, 1918. Two days later, the strike spread to all of northern Germany, and on November 7–8 it reached the main
industrial regions and the capital city, Berlin. The strikes were suppressed, or subsided on their own. But in January 1919, a Soviet
republic was declared in Bremen. The Hungarian Soviet Republic formed in March. In April, the Bavarian Soviet Republic followed. Following
the Soviet example, these Communist nations formed Red Armies and secret police squads, which called themselves “extraordinary
commissions in the struggle against counter-revolution.” These extraordinary commissions immediately instigated a reign of terror
against all layers of society, and the Red Armies threw themselves into revolutionary wars to “liberate” the neighboring
nations. A part of the Hungarian Red Army marched into Slovakia and, on June 20, 1919, proclaimed the Slovak Soviet Republic. A Communist
government formed immediately and declared a policy of nationalization of all private lands and annulment of private
property. It nationalized all commercial enterprises, banks, and transportation systems. For silencing the voices of discontent, they
formed the Slovak Red Army and Extraordinary Commission. At the same time Soviet Ukraine declared war on Romania, and began preparations
to advance west, to connect with Soviet Hungary.
Every person joining the Communist Party accepted this ideology, meaning he or she agreed to fight against the interests of their own nation, if it became necessary, and to use all methods, including covert and violent action. Suddenly the intelligence services of the Soviet Union received legions of volunteers from practically every nation in the world. All that remained was to select the most competent ones, train them, finance them, and assign them to missions in the fight against their own countries and governments.
In the 1920s Soviet intelligence suddenly became the most powerful intelligence organization in the world. Thousands of Germans, Czechs,
Hungarians, Americans, English, Japanese, and French selflessly worked in the name of a bright future for all humanity. In actuality,
they worked for the interests of the Kremlin.
In 1920 Russian Communists undertook a new attempt to spark a second world war by ripping through Poland into Germany. Although the most favorable conditions for revolution had already lessened, Germany in 1920 was still an acceptable place for class struggles. Germany was ruined and dishonored. All her ideals were besmirched and mocked. The country was enveloped in a harsh economic crisis; in March 1920 Germany experienced a general strike, estimated to have had more than 12 million participants. Germany resembled a powder keg, waiting for just one spark. The Red Army was supposed to bring this spark to Germany. The mood of the Red Army was reflected in its songs and marches. One of the most popular Soviet marches of 1920 included the words: “We’re getting Warsaw, Give us Berlin!” The contender for the unoﬃcial march of the Red Army was another song of 1920 called “White Army, Black Baron,” which contained the famous verse:
In the summer of 1920, the western front of the Red Army, under the leadership of the ruthless General Mikhail Tukhachevski, began to advance with the objective of crushing Europe. Excerpts from order #1423 given to the western front on July 2, 1920, announced: “Fighters of the Workers’ Revolution! The fate of the World Revolution will be decided in the West. The path to the world fire lies over the dead body of White (anti-Communist) Poland. We will carry happiness and peace on our bayonets to the working people of the world. To the West! To decisive battles and thundering victories!”3
In the days when the Red Army was advancing toward the Polish cities of Warsaw and Lvov, a second congress of the Comintern was taking place in Russia. The Headquarters of the World Revolution then issued a call:
On July 23, 1920, directly from the Comintern congress, Lenin telegraphed Stalin at the Polish front: “Situation in Comintern is outstanding. Zinoviev, Bukharin, and I think that it would be proper to encourage a revolution in Italy. My personal opinion is that, to do so, Hungary has to be sovietized, possibly along with Czechoslovakia and Rumania.”5 In a conversation with the French delegates to the congress, Lenin was even blunter: “Yes, the Soviet troops are in Warsaw. Soon, Germany will be ours. We will conquer Hungary again; the Balkans will rise against capitalism. Italy will tremble. Bourgeois Europe is cracking at the seams in the storm.”>6
The Red Army stepped onto Polish territory and immediately in the first occupied city declared the creation of the PSSR — the Polish Soviet Socialist Republic. 7 Felix Dzerzhinski, the head of the Soviet secret police and an ethnic Pole, led the PSSR. By the end of the second congress of the Comintern, Warsaw was half surrounded by the units of the Red Army. Prior to the Polish counterattack, the Red Army crossed the Vistula River in the vicinity of the town of Włocławek — 360 kilometers, or ten marching days, from Berlin.8
There was no common border between Soviet Russia and Germany. In order to spark the fires of revolution, it was necessary to tear down the dividing barrier — Poland. On September 22, 1920, Lenin spoke to the Ninth Conference of the Russian Communist Party and bluntly described the logic guiding the Bolsheviks in their drive: “ The defensive war against capitalism is over, we have won. . . . We are now going to try to attack them, to help the sovietization of Poland. . . . We have set ourselves a task: to seize Warsaw. . . . It turned out that not just the fate of Warsaw is being decided, but the fate of the whole Versailles Treaty.”9
To the Communists’ misfortune, Tukhachevski, who did not understand strategy, was in command of Soviet troops. Tukhachevski’s armies were crushed near Warsaw and fled in disgrace. In the critical moment, Tukhachevski lacked strategic reserves, and this decided the outcome of the grandiose battle. This time, Europe was fortunate. The Soviet Communists had to postpone the revolution in Europe until 1923.
The First Contact
If a revolutionary shake-up of Europe is to begin, it will be in Germany
The crushing of Tukhachevski’s army in the summer of 1920 in Poland created unpleasant consequences for Russian Communists. The Russian
people, whom the Communists, it seemed, had succeeded in drowning in blood and completely subordinated to their control, suddenly made a
last-resort attempt to rid themselves of the Communist dictatorship. At that moment, Lenin and Trotsky were making preparations for a new
world war. On December 22, 1920, Lenin advised his fellow party members: “We ended one line of wars, we must prepare ourselves
for the second.”>1 Lenin was ready for any sacrifice in the name of war: “We are
severely lacking in everything, yet we are no poorer than Viennese workers. Viennese workers die, starve — their children also die,
starve — but they do not have the most important thing that we possess: hope. They die, oppressed by capitalism, they find
themselves in a position to make sacrifices, but their sacrifices are not like ours. We sacrifice for the sake of the war
that we are waging against the entire capitalist world.”2
Walter Krivitsky, one of the most highly positioned chiefs of Soviet intelligence, who took part in the events, wrote: “We were sent to Germany for reconnaissance, mobilization of dissident elements in the Ruhr region, and preparation of workers for an opportune moment to start an uprising. We immediately formed three types of organizations in the German Communist party: an intelligence and reconnaissance service, acting under the supervision of the Fourth Directorate of the Red Army; military formations to serve as the core of the future Red Army of Germany; [and] small fighter squads, whose orders included lowering the morale of the Reichswehr (German Army)4 ( The intelligence officers of the German and all other Communist parties worked under the leadership of the Fourth Directorate of the Red Army. The Fourth Directorate, after changing its name several times, subsequently became known as the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces, or GRU.)5
Although the attempt to take control of Germany in 1921 suffered defeat, in Moscow preparations immediately began for a new seizure of power in Germany
and the world. On December 30, 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was born. In this name there are no national or
geographical limits. According to the plans of the founders of the USSR, the Union was meant to spread throughout the world. The
“Declaration of the Founding of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics” proclaimed that the USSR is only the first
decisive step in a creation of the World Soviet Socialist Republic. The number of republics was planned to expand until the entire world
formed one giant Communist state. The Founding Declaration of the USSR was an open and direct declaration of war to the rest of the world.
This was an official document that stated the main purpose of the existence of the giant state: to destroy and subordinate all
remaining states of the world.
Let’s examine the dates. In August of 1923, Stalin decided that “German Communists, by themselves, will have to seize power in Germany.” After this,
in October, high-ranking Soviet officials were sent to Germany, and one of Stalin’s agents conducted talks with the Nazis and
discussed cooperative actions. In other words, the Soviets were saying on the one hand, “Dear Nazis, please help the Communists
take power in Germany.” On the other hand, they were saying “Let the Communists rule Germany by themselves.”
Stalin’s Role in the Rebirth of German War Power
Only one country — Soviet Russia — can win in the event of an all encompassing conflict.
After World War I, Central and Western Europe were in such a debilitated state that a large war could not arise because no nation was capable of starting one.
France was among the main victors. Under the terms of the Versailles Treaty, Germany paid huge reparations to France, and the French had
no motive to start a new war in Europe. The main concern of the French government was to maintain the new existing situation in Europe as long as possible.
French generals chose strictly defensive strategies. They built the Maginot Line along their border, fashioned after the Great Wall of China.
Why Did Stalin Like Hitler’s Book So Much?
Germany’s most evil enemy is and will always be France.
A study of the war between Germany and the Soviet Union should start with the question: Why did Hitler invade? In 1924 Hitler wrote in his book Mein
Kampf : “We want to return to that point, where our previous development halted six hundred years
ago. We want to halt Germany’s constant efforts to expand to the south and west, and have our sights set towards the
territories situated to the east.” This phrase became famous and has been quoted time after time. Politicians, diplomats, generals,
historians, and journalists have tirelessly repeated these words. Even in the 1920s this quote was cited in the essays and public
speeches of Soviet leaders. Trotsky, Bukharin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev repeated it. In the 1930s, especially after the Nazis came to power,
Hitler’s frankness resounded with new authority. Any public speaker on the impending war began with this proclamation by Hitler.
Yes, he read it. Moreover, Stalin was the first foreign reader. He was its greatest scholar and fan. The first translation of Mein Kampf was into Russian, under Stalin’s personal orders. The book was published for the leadership of the party and the army. Marshal of the Soviet Union Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovsky wrote: “In our time we all read Hitler’s book Mein Kampf .”1 The translation was completed without obtaining the author’s permission. But his royalties were paid, though not right away. At the moment Mein Kampf was published, Stalin was not the only leader — there was a whole crowd of leaders in the Kremlin. Not all of them understood the meaning of Hitler’s creation. Comrade Stalin, however, immediately grasped, weighed, and evaluated everything. After having strangled his competition, Stalin paid his due to the author of Mein Kampf.
The number of copies printed in Russian at that time is unknown to me. One thing is clear: the circulation was minimal. For those few copies
of the precious book, Stalin paid generously. How much did he pay? Stalin gave Hitler power over Germany. “Without Stalin, there
would have been no Hitler, there would have been no Gestapo” — so said Trotsky in October 1936 as he evaluated Stalin’s aid to
Hitler.2 Without Stalin’s help, Hitler could not have come to power. Yet even such an incredible fee seemed too little to the generous Stalin.
On August 23, 1939, he presented Hitler with Poland, and the rest of Europe. If Stalin had not appreciated Mein Kampf,
the political career of Adolf Hitler would have ended in 1933 with a crushing defeat in the elections.
Only once we understand Stalin’s methods can we understand why Stalin liked the Munich dreamer and his book so much. The answer can be
found in Hitler’s book, Chapter XIII: “We must take every point of the Versailles Treaty separately, and systematically make it
clear to the broadest masses of the population. We must achieve an understanding among 60 million German men, women, and children, and
make them feel the shame of this treaty. We must make these 60 million have a deep hatred for this treaty, so that their scorching
hatred brings the will of the people together and evokes a cry in unison: GIVE US BACK OUR ARMS!”
Industrialization and Collectivization
For us, Germany’s “national liberation” lies not in a war with the West, but in a proletarian revolution
In 1927, a Five Year Plan for developing industry was adapted in the Soviet Union. This began
the industrialization, over-industrialization, super-industrialization. After the first, the second Five Year Plan
followed, and then a third one.
Dal’stroy is the most powerful and almost autonomous kingdom in the GULAG Empire. Dal’stroy was founded in 1932–1933 on the shores of the Sea of Okhotsk, [at] the mouth of the river Kolyma. The main task was obtaining gold. Local forests, coal, and other resources were exploited only for the internal needs of Dal’stroy. All work was done by the inmates, including the construction of villages and towns for the freely employed, construction of thousands of kilometers of roads, barracks for inmates, etc. By the early 1940s, Dal’stroy stretched a length of 1,300 km from north to south, and 1,700 km from east to west, encompassing the western part of Kamchatka and eastern Yakutia. Dal’stroy was not subordinate to the local administration.3
Starting in the late 1930s and all the way into the beginning of the 1950s, several hundred thousand inmates were mining up to 100 tons of gold a year for
Stalin.4 In 1939, just Dal’stroy by itself mined 66.7 tons of gold on Kolyma. The plan for 1940 was for 80 tons of gold. And the production
of gold kept on growing. For comparison’s sake: In tsarist Russia, the maximum production of gold was 64 tons, in 1913; average annual gold
production in the world in 1930–39 was 803 tons. Therefore, just the Kolyma camps were providing Stalin with 12 percent of the world’s
Stalin’s Role in Elevating Hitler
If Russia makes peace, this peace will only be temporary.
The year 1927 was when Stalin finally secured and firmly established his place atop the power structure. From this moment, Stalin’s attention was
concentrated not only on fortifying his dictatorship, but on issues of the Communist movement and the World Revolution. Stalin needed
victory in Europe, especially in Germany. For this, he needed to eliminate three obstacles that were preventing the German revolution.
Stalin had to bring order to the German Communist Party and force it to execute orders coming from Moscow, establish common borders with
Germany, and destroy the German Social Democrats.
Hitler’s National Socialist Workers’ Party faced a crisis. At first glance, Hitler seemed to be the winner and the most popular politician in Germany,
and therefore should have taken power. However, he did not have an absolute majority, and could not take power. But combined, the Social Democrats and the Communists had more votes.
Hitler’s National Socialist Workers’ Party was in a deep financial crisis as well, its funds diminishing fast. Goebbels wrote in his diary: “All hope has disappeared. . . .
There is not a pfennig in our cash boxes. . . .
Nobody gives us any credit. . . . We are on our last breath.” Goebbels’s entry on December 23, 1932, said: “I am overwhelmed by a terrible feeling of loneliness,
which borders on a sense of total loss! The year 1932 was a sequence of one misfortune after another. It should be erased completely. . . . We have no prospects, no hopes left.”
Facing bankruptcy, Hitler, as recorded in Goebbels’s diary, considered two options: the first was flight, the other was suicide. Ten years after the crisis, Hitler himself told his inner circle: “ The situation was at its worst in 1932, when we were forced to sign many debt obligations in order to fund our press and election campaigns, and keep the party running. . . . In the name of the NSDAP, I signed for these obligations, knowing that if the NSDAP stopped functioning, everything was lost.” 7 At the end of 1932, Hitler’s time would be up, and he would be finished as a politician. For the time being he was still the most popular political figure in Germany, but his party was in deep debt, and running out of money. German National Socialism faced doom until Hitler was saved by Stalin.
Comrade Stalin did not just save Hitler; he handed him the keys to power. Democracy is structured in such a way that, during the turning points of history, minority groups play the key roles.
This occurs because history has innumerable possible courses and outcomes. When everything goes well, people agree with the leaders’ course of action, but during times
of crisis alternative ideas and plans arise. Policy alternatives split the nation almost evenly between two diametrically opposed views. In such a situation,
a third party — a minority — becomes the kingmaker, and its role can be decisive.
Acting on Stalin’s orders, the German Communist leaders chose the second option — they did not wish to form a block with the Social Democrats. Publicly, for regular Communists and workers, the Communist Party policy against the Social Democrats was explained with twisted reasoning: there is no radical difference between a regime of parliamentary democracy and a fascist dictatorship. Both are forms of dictatorship by the bourgeoisie, which was growing more and more reactionary. The German Communist leaders kept repeating, after their Moscow masters, that a fascist-like turn taken by the bourgeois parties and their Social Democrat supporters was even more dangerous than the Nazis because the Social Democrats hid their true motives. German Communist leaders told the workers: We are Communists, struggling against capitalism and fascism, while the Social Democrats are acting as protectors of capitalism, and are becoming de facto allies of the fascists. Therefore, the Social Democrats are really nothing more than a “left wing” of fascism, or they are “social fascists,” a party which conducts a policy of “hidden fascism” that is more dangerous than Nazi policy. The peace-loving policy of the Social Democrats prevents war; therefore it prevents revolution and, ultimately, prevents the victory of the Working Class, while the Nazi policy enhances the chances for war and revolution and, ultimately, the victory of the Working Class. From this bizarre dialectic, they concluded that Hitler’s party must carry out the main attack on the Social Democrats, since they were the most dangerous enemy, which still retained some influence over the worker class and hindered an effective war on capitalism.
Hitler came to power as a result of this perverted ideological mind game. German Communists, out of instincts for self-preservation, should have joined a coalition with
the Social Democrats. But Stalin intervened and opened the way for Hitler. The first time there was open cooperation between the Nazis and Communists was in August 1931 in Eastern Prussia,
where the Social Democrats were in power. The Nazis initiated a referendum to oust the Social Democrats. At first the Communists were opposed to the referendum. However, after instructions
from Moscow, they changed their minds. The Nazis and Communists joined forces under a common red flag, on which the swastika and the hammer and sickle were intertwined.
Despite the Communists’ calling the plebiscite a “Red Referendum” and the Nazis “working people’s comrades,” the referendum failed to gain a majority.
Stalin and the Destruction of Soviet Strategic Aviation
Given the existence of a massive invasion army,
Stalin could have averted World War II with one stroke of his pen. He had many such opportunities. Here is one of them: In 1936, the Soviet Union developed
the heavy high-speed, high-altitude bomber TB-7 (later renamed Pe-8). Here are reviews of it:<
The confidence of the engineers and leaders of industry is understandable: the TB-7 was not being built just anywhere. Russia is the motherland of strategic bombers.
I say this with pride and without irony. At the beginning of the twentieth century, when the entire world was flying on single-engine planes,
Russia was the first in the world to start producing twin-engine airplanes. The world did not have the time to fully appreciate this advancement,
when the great Russian engineer Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky built the first four-engine heavy bomber Ilya Murometz in 1913. The Murometz was unrivaled in terms of armament,
bomb capacity, and range for several years. It had the best navigation system, bomb-aiming sight, and the first electrical bomb release mechanism in the world.
For defense, it had eight machine guns, and there had even been an attempt to install a 76-mm cannon on board. In 1914, Russia became the first country in the world to
create a unit of heavy bombers—a squadron of air ships.
Stalin’s Preparations for War: Tanks
Germans were surprised to discover that it was practically impossible to stop the Red Army’s KV tanks.
Stalin’s goal was to develop and mass-produce the best tanks in the world.
Tanks were to be the spearhead for the Soviet offensive against Western Europe,
and Stalin set about developing them as he built Soviet industry.
The T-34 was famous, because all its innovations were incorporated into one design, and it achieved a harmonic combination of all its
remarkable qualities. On top of everything, the T-34, unlike other tanks, was good for mass production. Any large-scale automobile
factory could be converted to produce this tank. The production of the T-34 did not demand a highly qualified workforce. It was easy to use
and repair. The T-34 had almost inexhaustible reserves for improvement. Its weight could be significantly increased without lowering the
quality of its movement characteristics.
The Panther’s main flaw was its complex design, which made the tank unfit for mass production. Only 5,976 tanks of this model were
produced. Additionally, another 392 self-propelled guns based on the Panther were made.16
The Soviet Union produced nine T-34s for every Panther.17
For every self-propelled gun based on the Panther, the Soviet Union produced thirteen Su-85 and Su-100 self-propelled guns based on the
T-34. Just of these two types, 5,139 self-propelled guns were produced.18
The Germans were unable to design a good tank for mass production. Therefore, until almost the very end of the war Germany had to produce obsolete models to supplement the Tigers and Panthers and compensate for the losses incurred in battle. The American tank expert Steven Zaloga went so far as to consider the production of Panthers a mistake: “ The decision to enlist among weapons such a large, heavy, and complex tank as the Panther in the category of medium tanks was one of the factors that limited the German tank production to a level much lower than the Soviet.”20
The Panther and the T-34 should not even be compared. Comparing them is like comparing boxers from different weight classes. If Stalin didn’t have any other tanks, then we would be forced to compare the T-34 with the Panther. But Stalin had the IS-2. The IS-2 was adopted in the same year as the Panther, and weighed the same. They should be compared. The Panther resembled the IS-2 tank in another aspect as well: the Panther was a complex, expensive tank for elite formations. The IS-2 was deployed in exactly the same way, to fight in heavy breakthrough tank units and nowhere else. With the same weight and roughly equal mobility characteristics, the IS-2 had a much more powerful armor and surpassed the Panther in fire power.21
In 1941, only two armies in the world recognized the necessity of heavy tanks. Obviously, they were the German and the Soviet armies. The order
to begin project development of the first German heavy tank was given on May 26, 1941. The project was called MK4501: 45 tons, model one. The
project resulted in the Tiger. Once again the German designers were unable to stick to the planned weight. The tank was supposed to be 45
tons, but came out at 57 tons. However, this happened later: in 1941, obviously, there was no tank yet. By June 22, German designers
had only made the first set of sketches. It was still a long time until the test models made of metal, but at least the attempt to
create a heavy tank was made on paper.
Germany and the USSR shared the two first places in heavy tank production. There was nobody in third place. Elsewhere around the world, generals
and designers did not even think of drafting a heavy tank on paper. The situation was such that while Germany had a heavy tank just on paper,
other countries did not have heavy tanks even on their minds, while the Soviet Union was the only country in the world that in 1941 had
heavy tanks both in experimental stages and in series production. The Red Army was the only army in the world that had heavy tanks among
As for the KV, the same trick was used. It was described as a great tank, but there were “only” 508 of them. Once again, I
will repeat that the rest of the world had none! Besides, 508 KVs were just in the first strategic echelon of the Red Army on May 31,
1941. On the same date, the second strategic echelon had an additional 128 KVs. By June 21, factories unloaded another 41 KVs.
Yet another 34 KVs were produced, but not yet shipped.23 Thus, on June 21, 1941, the Soviet Union had 711 KV tanks, and
continued their production through all of 1942, while German designers drafted sketches, made prototypes, and assembled test
Colonel General A. I. Rodimtsev remembered: “During the course of eleven months of war, we did
not know a single instance in which a German gun pierced the armor of this tank. It had happened that a KV tank had ninety to one hundred
dents from enemy shells, but still continued to go into battle.”26
Other Soviet generals had many similar examples. Perhaps Soviet generals were embellishing the situation? No. In German sources of
that time there was a subdued panic: German tankers were used to their tanks being the best in the world, and suddenly they came
against the KV. They were unprepared. German documents of the time are sufficiently known. I will not repeat them. The general conclusion
for the year 1941 was: “ Thee KV is the most frightening weapon that a soldier has ever had to encounter in battle. Anti-tank guns
are powerless against it.”
The KV remained the most powerful tank in the world throughout the first half of World War II, right up
to the Stalingrad battle. No other country in the world had anything comparable in the same weight class. The KV design had reserves for
improvement, which enabled it to undergo several stages of development from the KV-1 to the KV-13. Later, it turned into the
IS-1 and then the IS-2, the most powerful tank of World War II.
Stalin had a remarkable pair: the most powerful heavy tank, in terms of fire power and armor, for elite units, and a wonderful, mass-produced,
truly medium T-34 for regular units. Stalin understood that the T-34 needed to be improved, but it couldn’t be allowed to turn into
a heavy, complex, expensive tank for the elite. In that case, the T-34 would stop being a mass-produced tank, and the war would be
lost. Soviet designers succeeded in improving the characteristics of the T-34 during the war, but in weight and in simplicity of
production and maintenance they kept it in the medium tank class, which could easily be put out by the tens of thousands.
On the “Obsolete” Soviet Tanks
If I had known that the Russians really possessed such a number of tanks
. . . I think I would not have started this war.
When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, the German armed forces had zero tanks, while the Red Army had 4,000 tanks. In the whole of 1933, not a single tank
was produced in Germany; in contrast, 3,819 tanks of all types and modifications were produced in
the Soviet Union.1 The production of tanks in Germany began in 1934: in the next five
years, German factories produced 2,683 tanks.2 Soviet factories in the same time period produced 14,283 tanks.3
On January 1, 1939, the Red Army was equipped with 21,100 battle-ready tanks.4
In 1939, Hitler started World War II with 3,195 tanks, the same number that Soviet factories produced per year in peacetime.
In the Soviet Union, all aspects of Christie’s “tractors” were carefully studied. An
entire family of tanks was created based on their design — the BT-2, BT-5, BT-7, BT-7A, and BT-7M. BT stood for bystrokhodnyi
(high-speed) tank. The shape of the BT was simple and rational. Not a single tank in the world during the prewar period and the early
period of World War II had an armor of such a shape. The best tank of World War II, the T-34, was a direct descendant of the BT. The shape of
its body was a development of the idea of the great American designer. After the T-34, the principle of a sloped location of the
frontal armor sheets was used on the German Panther, and later on tanks around the world.
The BT tanks could only be used in aggressive warfare, only in the enemy’s rear, and only in a decisive aggressive operation, when hordes of tanks suddenly broke
through onto enemy territory and bypassed points of opposition, thrusting deep behind enemy lines, where there were no enemy troops,
but where all cities, bridges, factories, airports, ports, storage facilities, command posts, and communication units were located.13
Seventy years ago, there were no highways on Soviet territory. And in 1939, not a single immediate Soviet neighbor had an autobahn either. But in
the following year, through the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Stalin divided Poland and established common borders with a nation that had
autobahns. This nation was Germany.
So, what was the nature of the “light and obsolete” T-37A? Here is some information about it. In August 1935 upon orders from Voroshilov, the Commissar of Defense of the USSR, seven T-37As started out from Leningrad, traversed several tens of kilometers on caterpillar tracks, then sailed along the river Luga, through impenetrable weeds, then on to the river Shelon and Lake Ilmen. There was a storm on the lake. The distance across the lake was 55 kilometers. The tanks crossed this distance in 8 hours and 15 minutes. Then they came to the river Volkhov, the Novoladozhsky Canal, and the ferocious, treacherous river Neva. All seven tanks reached the finish line by the Petropavlov fortress. In eleven days they had crossed seven hundred kilometers, six hundred of them by sailing — all this without a single accident or even a breakdown.
Ofcourse, not every single T-37A and not every tank driver was capable of setting such a record. Nonetheless, this is a record that since 1935 has not been successfully repeated by anybody. Nobody has even come close to reproducing it. Until 1941, the position of the rest of the world regarding the creation of amphibious tanks had barely changed. In 1941, no country in Europe and America (other than the Soviet Union) had amphibious tanks as part of its national armament. That year, only in Japan did the emperor’s fleet begin implementing the floating Gami tank for amphibious assaults; the Gachi and Togu floating tanks were introduced later on.16
The Soviet T-37A was produced from 1933 until 1936. A tank, if there is no war, can serve for ten, fifteen, even twenty years. In theory, the T-37A tanks that were
produced in 1933 were scheduled to be replaced between 1943 and 1948, perhaps even later. The last tanks, produced in 1936, did not have to
be replaced until 1951 to 1955. How could they be too old in 1941? And how did it happen that unique tanks, which by 1941 had only served
five to eight years, were completely obliterated from the historical record?
It is interesting that the Kremlin historians remember the T-34 and the KV, but forget about the T-40. Meanwhile, the T-40 had a new,
never-before-seen body shape, weighed 5.5 tons, and was armed with two machine guns: the large-caliber DShK and the regular DT. A
variant of this model, the T-40S, was armed with 20-mm automatic cannon instead of the DShK. By June 21, 1941, a total of 277 T-40
tanks were built.19
Winged Genghis Khan
Logic hinted that we should not wait for the enemy to bring all his aviation into action,
Stalin is not a real name. It is the most famous of many pseudonyms of a man who for thirty years led the most criminal and most bloody empire in human history. But it is not his only pseudonym. Like every big criminal, Stalin had several different names and nicknames: “Vasiliev,” “Chizhikov,” “Besoshvili” (“son of the devil”), “Ivanovich,” and others. His closest comrades had the right to use the nickname “Koba” in their tight circle. Under this name Stalin was known long before he came to power, when he was a simple bank robber.
In extraordinary cases, Stalin used yet another secret pseudonym: “Ivanov.” Sometimes a minister, ambassador, general, admiral, or marshal received a cable, which began simply and harshly: “Comrade Ivanov ordered . . .” The highest-ranking leaders of the Soviet Union knew that this order must be obeyed at any cost, quickly, precisely, and within the indicated deadline. There was only one price to pay for an imprecise or untimely fulfillment of “Comrade Ivanov’s” orders — one’s life. In turn, every high-ranking official — a minister, ambassador, marshal, or other — could at any moment write a letter or telegram and send it simply to the address: “Moscow. Ivanov.” Bypassing all steps, the letter or telegram with such an address without any delays was laid directly on Stalin’s desk.
And one more fact which seems at first glance to have no ties to anything said above. In the summer of 1941, the Red Army suddenly employed completely unusual weapons: the multiple-launcher rocket weapons BM-8 and BM-13. They entered history under the name “Stalin’s Pipe Organs” or “Katyusha.” On August 6, 1941, the Red Army was equipped with a multiple-launcher rocket artillery system, the BM-8-36, and in the summer of the subsequent year, 1942, the BM-8-48.1 A salvo from one BM-13 was sixteen rocket-propelled rounds of 132-mm caliber. A salvo from the BM-8 was thirty-six rocket-propelled rounds of 82-mm caliber (forty-eight rounds starting in 1942). One battery consisted of four to six BM-8s or BM-13s. Usually one target was fired upon not by one battery, but by a group of batteries or even regiments. The advantage lay in the fact that hundreds or even thousands of missiles covered a huge territory almost simultaneously. Fire from a group of batteries was an avalanche of fire, accompanied by wild roar and noise. Many German soldiers, officers, and generals remember that this was a terrible weapon. General Field Marshal Albrecht von Kesselring: “ The terrible psychological effect of ‘Stalin’s Pipe Organs’ is a highly unpleasant memory for any German soldier who was on the Eastern front.”2
The statistics are as follows: on June 1, 1941, the Red Army had seven BM-13 rocket launcher vehicles. One month later, there were seventeen
such vehicles. Some were destroyed in battle, but others were produced, and by September 1 there were forty-nine of them.
Production of the BM-8 began at the same time. By October 1, 1941, the Red Army, despite its losses, had 406 BM-8s and BM-13s. Later on,
the count would mount into the thousands, and soon this weapon became a mass weapon. Despite losses of industrial and raw material bases,
the Soviet Union managed to quickly supply its army with a principally new system of weapons.
Marshal Ivan Pstygo: “ The Su-2 made a strong impression — it was a bomber, but looked like a fighter — small, compact, beautiful.”
If Stalin was preparing for a truly defensive war to protect the Motherland, then he should have ordered his designers to create the
best fighter in the world, capable of defending the skies over the Soviet Union. But this did not interest Stalin either. Nikolay
Polikarpov was among those present at Stalin’s dacha. He was a great designer of fighters: he had already created the I-15 and I-16
fighters. The I-15 was unequaled in its horizontal maneuverability. It was this aircraft that pilot Vladimir Kokkinaki used to set a world
altitude record of 14,575 meters on November 21, 1935. And the I-16 opened a new page in the world development of aviation: it was the
first mass-produced high-speed monoplane in the world. In 1936 Polikarpov was already working on even more powerful machines: he had
the lead in the world race for the best fighter. Stalin should have left Polikarpov alone, not bothered him and not distracted him.
Polikarpov knew how to make fighters; his pace should not have been interrupted. There was a race on, and every hour, every minute was
worth its weight in blood. But no: Stalin ordered Polikarpov to drop all his work on creation of a fighter and start developing a light
bomber, the Ivanov. Stalin was not very interested in fighter planes for a defensive war.
Pavel Osipovich Sukhoy fulfilled Stalin’s demands to the highest level. He won the contest. Sukhoy’s Ivanov was launched into production immediately, in
two factories. Then it began to be produced at a third factory. Additionally, factories that produced other types of planes were
ready upon orders to switch to making the Ivanov. In 1940, after the new indexing system was introduced, Sukhoy’s Ivanov was named
the Su-2 in honor of its creator.
On Stalin’s orders, several variants of the Ivanov airplane were created. Each designer jealously guarded his secrets from his
competitors, but every Soviet designer came up with the same winged hyena: a light bomber, bearing more resemblance to a fighter in
appearance, size, and flight characteristics. Every Soviet designer chose the same scheme independently from his competitors: a monoplane
with a low wing location, one radial engine in a dual row, with an air-cooling system. This is no miracle. It’s just that all the
designers were given one task: to create an instrument for doing the same job. Since the job was the same, the instruments created by
different designers to perform it were also quite similar.
The Ivanov was created later than the Ju-87. Therefore, the Ivanov’s characteristics were higher, and in terms of designs the two planes
had significant differences. But in spirit and general idea, in their assigned roles, the Ju-87 and Ivanov are twins. The plane
Nakajima B-5N and the Ivanov are brothers, not just in idea and spirit, but in their main characteristics as well.
About “Obsolete” Airplanes
Air force superiority is on the side of the enemy. The number of our units
[that are] active on the front has been drastically reduced.
From the moment that aviation came into being, the problem of acquiring air superiority — and, ideally, complete air domination — presented itself before military strategists. Without air superiority, victory is impossible. Air superiority can be attained through one of two ways: either destruction of the enemy’s air force on the ground, or through air battles. Usually both of these methods are used simultaneously. However, a commander of any rank unavoidably has to determine, based on the way the situation develops, which of these two methods is his priority at the given moment, and which is secondary. Before the war starts, the military and political high command of the country should clearly determine its position on the given question: which of these methods will be primary, especially in the early period of the war? If the primary method of attaining air superiority is to be the way of air battles, the attention of all designers should be turned to creating fighter aircraft. Designers of fighter aircraft should be given the best production facilities, the best aircraft engines, the most expensive equipment, and the rarest materials. If it is decided to win air superiority through air battles, the best pilots need to be sent to fighter aviation. These fighter pilots should be given the largest part of training resources and fuel, even if it is done at the expense of training other pilots. If, however, we have decided to win air superiority by destroying the enemy’s air force on the ground, then the attention of the designers should be turned to creating planes of an entirely different nature. Low-flying attack planes and light bombers are perfect for carrying out raids on air bases. The low-flying aircraft is not designed for air battle. This plane needs neither record speed, nor altitude, nor maneuverability. This plane has to meet entirely different requirements. It must be well defended from powerful fire from the ground, and must carry its own weapons powerful enough to destroy targets on the ground.
Both methods of attaining air superiority have their advantages and disadvantages. If we decide that the primary method of winning superiority in the air is to be
through air battles, then we must be prepared for large losses of planes and pilots, and for prolonged, exhausting battles. The training
of fighter pilots is a risky venture that requires a lot of time and huge expenditures. This method of winning superiority in the air has
only one advantage: it is universal; it can be used in any situation. If we decide to win air superiority through destruction of the
enemy’s air force on the ground, the task can be accomplished quickly. During the course of one day or even just a few hours, we
can secure not just superiority but total domination. All this can be accomplished with just one sudden, powerful raid, and no exhausting,
prolonged air battles would need to follow. And we would not need to spend tremendous resources on training pilots. Even pilots of
relatively low qualification are good for this job. They do not need to learn tricks. It is enough to teach them how to take off and
land, to follow a route, and to shoot at stationary targets on the ground. This scenario has only one drawback: it can only be used
against an enemy who is not awaiting an invasion.
When creating this attack airplane the designer, Ilyushin, included a small defensive detail as well. The early model of the Il-2 was a two-seater.
Pilot and gunner sat back to back: the pilot flew the plane and destroyed targets on the ground, while the gunner, with a 50-caliber
machine gun, covered the hind hemisphere from attacking enemy fighters. Stalin personally called Ilyushin and asked to have the
gunner with the machine gun removed, and make the Il-2 a one-seater. Stalin ordered the entire decrease in weight to be used to enlarge
the bomb load and the fuel tank. Stalin needed the Il-2 for situations in which not a single enemy fighter would have the time to
get off the ground.
Germany mastered the following air forces for the purpose of waging war against the USSR: 3,520 war planes of all kinds (bombers, fighters, reconnaissance, transport, and communications aircraft), plus 307 Finnish planes, 393 Romanian, 48 Hungarian — a total of 4,268 planes.7 The total number of aircraft available to Germany on June 1, 1941, was 6,852, including 823 reconnaissance planes, 2,017 single-engine fighters, 232 double-engine fighters, 2,141 bombers, 501 dive-bombers, 719 transport planes, 133 communications planes, and 286 planes belonging to the Navy.8 But Germany was simultaneously fighting on many fronts, from the North Atlantic to the Egyptian border.9 Against Stalin, Hitler could only send 2,510 airplanes, including the Hs-123, which had a speed of only 338 km/h, and assorted types of aircraft used for transport, communications, and medical purposes. 10
Stalin had 2,769 of the newest models Il-2, Pe-2, MiG-3, Yak-1, and LaGG-3. But that was not all: Stalin did not just have five new types of planes, he had twelve. He
also had the Ar-2, Er-2, Su-2, Pe-8, Yak-2, Yak-4, and Il-4. The Er-2 bomber had a range of 4,000 km. Hitler did not have such a bomber
until the very end of the war. The Soviet bomber DB-3f (Il-4), released in 1940, had a range of 3,300 km with M-88 motors and a normal bomb
cargo, while the Il-4, released in 1941 and equipped with M-88B motors, had a range of 3,380 km. Hitler did not have this kind of
aircraft either. On September 7, 1936, Ilyushin’s DB-3 bomber raised 2,000 kg to an altitude of 11,005 meters. is record (among
others) was officially registered by the FAI ( Fédération Aéronautique Internationale )
and remained a record throughout the entire war. Not a single dual-engine airplane in the world could repeat this performance. This
record was beaten only after the war, in 1946, and not by the B-17 “Flying Fortress” but by the four-engine “Super
Fortress,” the B-29. How many bombers did Stalin have? The DB-3fs alone, on June 22, 1941, numbered 1,846. This is more than the number
of all types of bombers used by Hitler to attack the Soviet Union. In other words, Stalin had more of the newest planes than Hitler had new
and old ones combined.
On top of the newest fighters, Stalin had the “obsolete” I-16. The situation on June 22, 1941, was that the air force of the western border regions of the USSR alone had at its disposal a total of 4,226 fighters, of which 1,635 were I-16s. Add to that another 344 I-16s in the air forces of the Northern, Baltic, and Black Sea fleets, to a total of 1,979.15 Here is what British pilot Alfred Price, who in his lifetime flew in over forty types of airplanes and spent over four thousand hours in the air, thought about this airplane. His opinion of the “obsolete” Soviet fighter: “ The most powerful weapon among the series of fighters in the world in September 1939 was possessed by the Russian I-16, which twice surpassed the Bf-109e and almost three times the ‘Spitfire-1.’ Among all prewar fighters in the world, the I-16 was unique in the sense that it alone had an armor protection around the pilot. Those who think that the Russians were backward peasants before the Second World War and only moved forward under the influence of using German expertise need to remember the facts.”16 To this it must be added that by 1941 the I-16 had not and could not have become obsolete.
Starting in 1937, the I-16 was produced with a cannon and machine-gun armament. The legendary British Spitfire in 1940, during the course of the Battle of Britain, had no
can-non. The great American Mustang and Thunderbolt fighters even by the end of the war had no cannon. The I-16 had an amazing lifting power of
553 horsepower per ton of weight. This was a record statistic, and not a single warplane in the world had such power. By the end of the war,
not a single plane in the world had reached such a result — the Spitfire Mk-IX and Bf-109K came close, but only when the engine was
working in an extreme regime that could not be turned on for longer than seven minutes.
It’s interesting to point out what Germany’s own fighter pilots thought of the I-16’s capabilities: “ The I-16, with an able pilot inside, was a dangerous enemy. German pilots did not at all consider the I-16 an easy target. Even though they could almost always win the initiative in air combat against the Ishachok (“little donkey”—a Russian nickname for the I-16), the pilots tried to avoid maneuver-based combats against Russian veterans. Among themselves, the Germans used to say that one should not corner a rat, referring, of course, to the plane’s nickname, Rata, earned on the Spanish front. If the Messerschmitt pilots did not follow this principle, the fight could turn out very badly for them indeed.”19 From 1934 to 1942, 10,292 I-16 units were produced. This number includes 3,189 I-16 type 15s (UTI-4), the training versions of the aircraft. So the total of combat ready I-16 units produced was 7,103.20
Aside from this plane, Stalin also had the I-153. There were 3,437 of them produced. This plane had lower speed than the I-16, but it had
phenomenal maneuverability. It climbed to a height of 5 kilometers in exactly a minute less than the Bf-109. The I-153 did a turn in 12
seconds. It had time to make two full turns faster than the Me-109 did one.
Precisely for this reason Soviet aviation in 1941 was concentrated along the borders.The field air base of the 123rd fighter air force regiment, for example, was located only two kilometers away from the German border. In a war situation, this saves fuel during takeoff in the direction of the enemy. In the 123rd regiment, just like in many others, the majority of altitude gain after takeoff was to be acquired over German territory. Ten years after these events, Major V. Khmelev, then an eyewitness, described them: “ The bomber aviation air bases [were] located no further than 80 km from the new German-Soviet border. It was at that time clear to every Soviet soldier and officer that the entire Red Army was feverishly preparing for aggressive operations of unheard-of dimensions.”22 But Hitler attacked first, and from the first day of the German invasion many Soviet air bases found themselves under the tracks of German tanks. Aside from the huge losses in planes, entire air bases — with unbelievable reserves of fuel, ammunition, and other supplies, without which conducting war was impossible — were lost to the enemy.
Soviet Airborne Assault Troops and Their Mission
In the battles to come, we shall operate on the territory of the enemy.
Airborne assault troops are designed for action in sudden, decisive offensive operations. “ The use of paratroops is pointless unless they are part of an offensive operation,” said one military newspaper in 1940.1 The Field Rules of the Red Army for 1936 (PU-36) states: use of airborne assault troops can only be made in the course of offensive operations and only in conjunction with regular troops advancing against the enemy.2
The Soviet Union was the first nation in the world in which airborne assault troops were created. They were created in 1930, before Hitler
came to power in Germany. Only two other nations developed airborne troops before World War II: Germany, in 1936, and Italy. By the
beginning of the war Hitler had four thousand parachutists and Italy had trained seven hundred parachutists.
At the beginning of the war, the Soviet Union had more than one million trained parachutists, according to the official Communist Party newspaper,
Pravda, on August 18, 1940. In light of declassified documents it is clear that this was a deliberate underestimation of the real number, which
arguably was closer to two million parachutists. Never before had the world seen such large-scale preparations for offensive war. To
calm fears of Soviet aggression, Pravda lowered the number of Russian paratroopers to one million.
In 1939, Stalin ordered the destruction of guerrilla warfare bases and partisan units that were designed for action on Soviet territory in the event of enemy aggression. Instead, Stalin ordered the formation of new paratroop forces. In the Moscow military district three regiments consisting of three battalions each and several separate battalions, five hundred to seven hundred parachutists each, were formed.7 In April 1941 five air assault corps were secretly formed in the Soviet Union.8 All the corps were stationed in the western regions of the Soviet Union. Each corps included an administration, staff, service formations, three air assault brigades, an artillery battalion, a separate tank battalion (of fifty-four tanks), and other formations. Each corps numbered 10,419 men.9
Twice awarded the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union,” Colonel General Alexander Rodimtsev, who in May 1941 was commander of the 5th Air Assault Brigade of the 3rd Paratroops Corps, testified about those events in his memoirs. At that time, Rodimtsev was a colonel with combat experience in Spain, where he had received his first Hero of the Soviet Union medal. Rodimtsev recalled:
The 212th Air Assault Brigade, secretly transferred from the Far East, trained next to Rodimtsev’s brigade in “conditions that were closer to actual battle conditions.” Rodimtsev said its soldiers and commanders each had one hundred and sometimes even up to two hundred jumps, while the commander, Colonel I. I. Zatevakhin had at least three hundred jumps.10
Rodimtsev’s account was mirrored in the memoirs of Colonel I. G. Starchak, titled Battle from the Sky,
and by General A. S. Zhadov, who in 1941 was a major general in command of the 4th Air Assault Corps. 11
Zhadov attested: “All brigade and corps formations were manned with well-trained personnel, supplies, and weapons.”
The Soviet Union entered World War II with the highest number of glider pilots in the world. In 1939
alone 30,000 people were simultaneously training to become pilot gliders. The pilots’ skills frequently reached the highest
levels. For example, in 1940 there was a demonstration of eleven flying gliders towed by just one plane. In the late 1930s, more than
ten design bureaus in the Soviet Union were competing fiercely to create the best military cargo glider. O. Antonov, aside from the
winged tank, created the large military glider A-7. V. Gribovsky designed the magnificent military glider G-11. D. Kolesnikov created
a glider for carrying twenty soldiers — KTs-20, while G. Korbula worked on creating a giant glider.
The gliders that were produced in the spring of 1941 had to be used in the summer of 1941, or, at the latest, in the early fall. Unlike
ordinary warplanes, gliders had light and fragile bodies and wings. They could not be parked outdoors, and all available hangars were
already full with previously produced gliders. Keeping a huge cargo glider outdoors, during fall winds and rains, and winter cold and
snow, would harm it beyond repair. The mass production of cargo gliders in 1941 meant they were intended for use in 1941. If Stalin had
intended to drop hundreds of thousands of his airborne troops into Central and Western Europe in 1942, the mass production of gliders should have been
scheduled for spring of 1942.
Aside from the DC-3, the Soviet Union had several hundred TB-3 strategic bombers, which could also be used as cargo planes.19
All large-scale drops of paratroops in the 1930s were done from the TB-3. There were enough of them to lift several thousand paratroopers
and heavy weapons, including tanks, armored cars, and artillery.
In defensive war there is nowhere to jump. One must stop enemy tanks. All five air assault corps of the first wave were sent to stem the German tide. However, everything had already been prepared for the now-useless landing. Parachutes had been delivered to the air base loading areas. Commander of the 4th Air Assault Corps Zhadov recalled how he summoned Captain A. I. Goryachev, the aide to the chief of operations sector of the corps staff: “‘Do you know, comrade captain, what is gold?’ He was dumbfounded by such an unanticipated question, but nevertheless answered: ‘I have an idea, but I never had any gold.’ ‘Not true,’ I said to him. ‘A parachute was given to every Red Army soldier and commander. This is our nation’s gold. Do you know where there are thousands of parachutes sitting out in the open? In the forest, one kilometer east of the river Berezina. Organize the transportation of this precious material to the rear.’”23
Captain Goryachev carried out the order. He found trucks, and under machine-gun fire from the advancing Germans, brought the parachutes
to a safe place, for which he was rewarded with a medal. But these parachutes were never used again.
The loss of the Caucasus and its oil would have meant defeat for Stalin. The fall of Stalingrad would have meant the same thing: oil was transported through the Caspian Sea up the Volga. The easiest way to cut off the oil artery was to take Stalingrad. All that was needed was to get to the banks of the Volga, to set up a stronghold there, and to sink all incoming petroleum barges. Soviet troops were retreating in a disorganized manner. More simply put, they ran. Stalin issued the threatening order No. 227 that introduced anti-retreat detachments and penal battalions. The detachments were NKVD squads with machine guns, positioned behind the troops, and in the event of unauthorized retreat they fired on their own soldiers. Commanders who did not show enough tenacity in combat had their rank signs torn away and were sent to penal battalions as regular soldiers to expiate their guilt with their blood.
The demoralized Soviet troops could not be stopped by monstrous orders. Fresh reserves were needed. But regular reserves had already been
used up during the winter offensive and in unsuccessful attempts to break through the Leningrad blockade and prevent defeat
in Kharkov and in the Crimea. The focal point of the eastern front, the small town of Rzhev, was also the scene of heavy casualties.
The last Guards miracle occurred in March 1945 in Hungary, during the course of the Battle of Balaton when the Germans mounted their last
Where did Stalin get the reserves? Lieutenant General of the KGB V. A. Kirpichenko, who was a private in the war, recalled: “I served in the air assault troops-elite. We were trained and then practiced continually, but sent into action only in January 1945, not as airborne assault troops but as ordinary infantry. We broke the German blockade around Balaton, and earned Stalin’s praise by stopping the last German offensive during the course of the war. To achieve this, we lost half of our troops.”25
Stalin never had the opportunity to use his paratroopers for his planned sudden attack against Germany to start the war. The Germans’ surprise attack established a significant presence in the air, preventing the effective deployment of Soviet paratroops and glider assault troops. Stalin’s airborne offensive was doomed. However, Stalin kept the paratroops in reserve. When crisis situations arose, he gave these elite units the honored title of Guards and sent them to fight German tanks as regular infantry soldiers.26
That explains the “miracle.”
About the Brilliant Military Leader Tukhachevski
After the unheard-of violence conducted by the Bolsheviks against the very people
In 1937, Stalin carried out an assault on the high command of the Red Army. There are countless legends about this period. This is what they sound like:
All these legends fall apart as soon as they are examined. Let us begin with the first legend about the brilliant troop leader Tukhachevski.
Tukhachevski and all other participants of that war against their own people declared themselves heroes of the Civil War.
Pay particular attention to the date of Tukhachevski’s order: June 23, 1921. Twenty years later, Russia would be invaded by different occupants, but they would act in almost the same way. The difference was that Hitler herded the enemy’s population into a ravine and machine-gunned them, while Tukhachevski, on top of this, besieged the entire population of his own country with a mutual criminal responsibility. Later on this method would be called, in the criminal underworld, “forced snitching.” This is precisely what Antonov-Ovseenko, Tukhachevski, his deputy Uborevich, and all other strategists did: they forced all the people to become traitors and rats, forced them to betray their neighbors, relatives, fathers, and brothers, and then go after them in the forests and kill them. Tukhachevski introduced universal betrayal, using fear to crush and destroy the centuries-old Russian village morale. He replaced all moral codes with fear for one’s own skin, and made each person accountable for all the others’ deeds. Tukhachevski’s idea was to crush the people’s sense of their own worth. When we speak of the defeats of 1941, we blame Stalin. Let us not forget that the crushing of the people was done under the immediate command and on the initiative of the very same strategists who were later, during the purges, eliminated by Stalin.
In 1941, the masses who were taught by Tukhachevski to value only their own skin a priori could not have exhibited heroism.
On the other hand, all these strategists would have been incapable of leading the people into war. It is well known that an army that has sullied its uniforms with the blood of its own people is incapable of fighting against outside enemies. The primary reason for the decay of any army is its use against its own people. Everyone who has actively participated in this could no longer be a troop leader.
Here is another pearl from the treasury of strategist Tukhachevski’s combat experience:
The great strategist has strange logic: the bandits “are hiding in the forests and taking out their impotent rage on the local
population,” so Tukhachevski orders execution of hostages taken out of this very same local population.
Tukhachevski encountered real enemy troops only once. The Western front of the Red Army under Tukhachevski’s command headed to the West with the
intention of breaking through to Germany and unleashing a Communist revolution. But Tukhachevski did not reach Germany. His hordes were
defeated near Warsaw by the Polish army commanded by Pilsudsky.
Tukhachevski strove to get power in the stupidest way. He made a bigger fool of himself than anyone in the Civil War, and yet he declared himself a
winner. He decided to personally edit the three-volume book Civil War, 1918–1921, portraying himself as a great strategist and blaming others for his
defeats. Here it must be stressed that Tukhachevski strove specifically to edit history, not write it. Everyone who has read
Tukhachevski’s book, March beyond Vistula (Pokhod za Vislu, would agree that Tukhachevski was incapable of relating his thoughts.
Marshal Joseph Pilsudsky crushed Tukhachevski, first on the battlefields and later in the pages of his book The Year 1920.
Pilsudsky exposed both Tukhachevski’s incapability to fight and his incapability to relate past events. Pilsudsky did not leave any
part of Tukhachevski’s book standing: “ The extreme vagueness of the book gives us the image of a man who analyzes only
his own brain or his heart, purposefully rejecting or simply not knowing how to tie his own thoughts with the everyday existence of
troops, which not always corresponds to the plans and intentions of their commander, but often contradicts them. . . . Many events in the
operations of 1920 occurred as they did precisely because [of] Tukhachevski’s propensity to command the army with such an
“ Multi-million [strong] armies deployed on the fronts stretching hundreds of thousands of kilometers.”1
is is how Tukhachevski describes World War I. Fronts stretching hundreds of thousands of kilometers? Is this not nonsense? France,
Britain, their vassals from the colonies, and later the United States fought against Germany. The Western front stretched from the
shores of the North Sea to the Swiss border. In a straight line, this does not even make five hundred kilometers. A front is obviously not
drawn in a straight line. But even with all possible bends and turns, one cannot scrounge up enough for a thousand kilometers. And
all the millions of French, British, Australian, New Zealander, Canadian, and then American troops in World War I were positioned
along these kilometers. If the front had stretched hundreds of thousands of kilometers, how many millions of soldiers would be
needed to cover it?
Yet for decades this was published not only in the Selected Works of Tukhachevski, but in compilations that demonstrate the best accomplishments of
Let us compare and evaluate this number.<
The 2,980 German tanks were built not during one year, but during all the prewar years. Tukhachevski, on the other hand, proposed to build
50,000 to 100,000 tanks in just one year.
In total, during the prewar months of 1939 and all the subsequent years of the war, Germany produced 24,241 tanks.
Japan built 5,085 tanks, most of them light.
After the war the Soviet Union, already a much more powerful industrial giant, had 50,000 tanks, or even slightly more.
But these tanks were not produced in one year; they had accumulated for decades.
The Soviet Union at that time could not have devoted half a million automobiles to the tank troops. It could not have given a quarter
million either. It could not have devoted so many automobiles not just to the tank troops, but to the entire armed force. And if it
had, then agriculture, the transportation system, construction, and industry would have been left without automobiles and tractors. If
all automobiles were given to the tank troops, then how much fuel, oil, and spare parts would those cars have used up?
Let us assume that Tukhachevski decided to keep 1.8 to 3.6 million soldiers in the tank troops alone. Where would they have been
trained? Practically everyone who finds himself in tank forces needs special preparations. These soldiers would have needed to learn how to
be radio operators, repairmen, gunners, scouts, and commanders. Would everyone have had to go through training divisions? How many training
divisions would have been needed?
For mass production, one needs not just an industrial base, but also a model of the machine that is to be produced. In 1928, there was no
industrial base, and there was also no fitting tank model for production. In 1927, the Red Army enlisted into its armament the MS-1
tank. The power of its engine speaks for everything else: 35 horsepower. The armor of the MS-1 tank was held together with rivets.
Its maximum speed was 16 km/h. On Red Square, for the parade, it went up to 19 km/h. This was our best tank. A small (by our standards)
series of these tanks was needed for designers to get their first experience in the creation of a tank, and for troops to get the
opportunity to use real tanks in training, although they were extremely weak and flawed. This tank was also useful to the troops for
small border disputes. When there is nothing better . . . But to make them by the tens of thousands? Who needs them? Perhaps we could
have bought a foreign model? There was nothing to buy. In 1928, nobody in the entire world could have offered a model worthy of being
mass-produced in a large series.
Stalin, on the other hand, proposed an entirely different plan: to create during peacetime an airplane for mass production, but to produce it in a
small series. The beginning of the mass production was to happen only after the beginning of a victorious war.
Only one who first conquers his own people can overcome a powerful enemy
Power struggles never died down in the Communist Party. Party purges followed one after the other. Stalin drove all his opponents out of the party, and then they were arrested, tried, sent to prisons and labor camps, and executed according to court sentences without an appeal. Stalin put those he personally chose and cultivated into the opened positions. An equally continuous process of replacing the personnel in the secret police, and in the fields of science, art, literature, industry, trade, and agriculture went on at the same time as the permanent purges of the party. Arrests and trials of engineers, historians, and members of defunct political parties and organizations were constant. Any dictator acts in this way, and without any hints from outside sources. In order to lead the country to conquering other nations, any dictator begins with terror against his own surroundings. In order to raise many men and lead them to conquer the world, in order to reach “the last sea,” Genghis Khan before all had to conquer the most powerful and rich princes. Those who did not want to follow him had their spines broken on his orders.
This is exactly what Stalin did. In order to raise the nation to accomplish great deeds, he first of all had to obtain unquestioning obedience.
But in all the purges, for many years the army was the exception. The purges left the army alone. Stalin for a long time made sure to see
that at the very top he had his own man. The army was only purged by Tukhachevski himself, who chased out all those he did not like
personally. But Stalin had to reach the army sometime! Didn’t he? Could he have possibly, without receiving the German false
document, left the army untouched?
Let us imagine that in 1937 Stalin executed all commanders — every single one, from platoon commanders to marshals. He herded them all into abandoned cellars and
machine-gunned them down, and then appointed new commanders to their posts. Let’s imagine this complete change of the command staff.
Here is what would have happened: by the summer of 1941, all the newly appointed commanders would have had four years of experience.
How could it be that the purge occurred in 1937, but by 1941 the majority of commanders had less than a year’s experience in
their positions? There are objections that the executions happened not only in 1937, but in 1938 as well. Good, we can allow that the
commanders appointed in 1937 were in the following year machine-gunned in the cellars. Another, third group of command
personnel was appointed. In this case, the third group appointed in 1938 should have had three years of experience by 1941. If a full
change of command occurred, the majority of these commanders could not have gone anywhere. Understandably during three years someone
drowned, someone became a drunk. One, two, three hundred were executed in 1939, 1940, and the first half of 1941. There could have
been some shuffing and reshuffling. But the majority should have stayed in their places. How did it happen that the purges
occurred in 1937–38, but in three to four years the new commanders did not have even a full year of experience at their
Let’ sallow that 40,000 out of 206,000 were executed. This is less than 20 percent. The question is the same, only seen from a
different perspective: how did it happen that less than 20 percent were executed, but in 1941 the majority of commanders did not
have a year of experience at their occupied post?
We were told of 40,000 executed, but in reality there were 10,868 arrested, and of them 1,654 were executed or died in prison before their trials started.
There is a difference between arrest and execution. Some of those arrested were executed, but not all of them. I will use an example
to explain the difference. In 1937, Commander of the 5th Cavalry Corps Konstantin Konstantinovich Rokossovskii was dismissed
from the ranks of the Red Army. He was not just dismissed, but also arrested. But this is not yet an execution. He was imprisoned, and
then let out. He fought through the entire war. He finished the war with the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union and commanded the
victory parade at the Red Square. He was not alone among the 10,868 arrested commanders; many of them were set free.
But what happened to the rest, who were dismissed but not arrested? Where did they go?
Gerasimov had also found that many of the purged commanders were heroes of the Civil War. Treated as such, they were quickly promoted to the
political leadership and, though retaining their high ranks, they in fact left active military service. On the other hand, their less
illustrious comrades had to plod through the ranks and thus acquired the experience that the political leaders clearly lacked.
All the peoples who fall under the “protection” of victorious
Germany will also become our allies.
On July 18, 1936, the radio station of the city of Ceuta (then in Spanish Morocco) transmitted several times the code phrase: “ The skies above all of Spain are
clear.” This was the signal to begin the militant uprising against the Spanish Republic.
The People’s Army was formed out of the parts of the Spanish army that remained loyal to the Republic. Volunteers from around the world came to the defense of the Spanish republic and formed seven international brigades. According to the figures of one of the brigade leaders, K. Sverchevsky, the total number of international volunteer troops was no less than 42,000.5 Volunteers from fifty-four nations of the world were enlisted in the Republican army.6
The Soviet Union could not remain on the sidelines. V. A. Antonov-Ovseenko arrived in Spain. In 1917 he had been one of the key figures during the Communist takeover in Russia. He had been among the leaders who stormed the Winter Palace, and had personally arrested the provisional government. Having taken down the legal government, Antonov-Ovseenko entered the illegal government that was not recognized by Russia’s allies, but was recognized by her enemies with whom Russia was in a state of war. In 1936 Stalin appointed Antonov-Ovseenko general consul of the Soviet Union in Barcelona. He began with recommending to the Spanish Republic’s government to hide the gold reserves of the country. Where should they hide it? In Moscow. The Spanish gold reserves were brought out of the country, and never again returned. They say that the anarchists were thieves. That was true. But the gigantic reserves of Spanish gold were taken away not by anarchists, but by the unselfish Communists. The Spanish gold reserves were payment for the supply of weapons. The supply was indeed a large one, but it should openly be declared that the Soviet Union did not support the government of the Spanish Republic out of honorable feelings, but for gold, which Antonov-Ovseenko brought out of the country.7
Stalin appointed Jan Karlovich Berzin, commander of the 4th Directorate of the General Staff of the Red Army, to the position of chief military advisor to the Spanish Republican army. Overall, 2,065 commanders of various ranks were sent from the Red Army to Spain: 772 pilots, 351 tankers, 100 artillerists, 222 general military advisors, and 204 interpreters.8 Additionally, through the NKVD line, the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs, and other administrations, several hundred more Soviet diplomats, intelligence and counterintelligence officers, saboteurs, journalists, agitators, party workers, and military industry specialists were sent to Spain. The total number of volunteers, including civilian specialists, was around three thousand.9
Stalin sent to Spain 648 warplanes, 347 tanks, 60 armored cars, 1,186 artillery weapons, 20,486 machine guns, and 497,813 rifles.10
Aside from this, Spain received from the Soviet Union shells, cartridges, bombs, military equipment, food supplies, fuel,
lubricants, and medications.11 These deliveries of arms could have been much larger, but Spain was blockaded. Soviet merchant ships sailed out of Black Sea ports.
In the Mediterranean Sea, the Soviet Union had neither a military fleet nor military naval bases. Defenseless merchant ships crossed the
entire Mediterranean Sea to reach Spanish shores. From the Black Sea straits to the destination ports, these ships were followed by
Italian and German airplanes and warships. And at the end of their destination, near the Spanish coast, they were awaited by General
Franco’s warships, airplanes, and submarines. Nonetheless, despite the blockade, Stalin managed to transfer to Spain a huge, by
any standards, amount of strategic cargo.
It is impossible to win without allies, but with allies like those winning was even more impossible. On March 28, 1939, Madrid fell — the
last bastion of the Republic.14 As a result of an almost three-year-long war, General Franco had won.
Soviet military advisors were evacuated.
Immediately upon arrival in the country, their passports and all other documents were taken away from them. Once he had become part of an international brigade, a
volunteer ceased to be a volunteer. He turned into an armed slave, for whom escape was virtually impossible. Somehow, for some reason,
fires occurred more frequently in buildings in which the volunteers’ documents were kept, and the cars that transported these documents
were more frequently in the line of fire. As the result, the majority of fighters from international brigades were left without any
documents, while the Soviet intelligence network received real passports and other personal documents for thousands of young men
from fifty-four countries. These documents were used by the Military Intelligence to provide authentic identity documents for illegal
agents and to improve Soviet document falsification techniques.
Everything happened just as Trotsky had predicted. In the next year, 1940, Germany fought against France, while Stalin “with all his masses” crushed the
neutral countries on his western borders, making his way toward Germany. Even now, over sixty years later, having read Trotsky’s
generalizations and predictions and appraised their accuracy, we have to ask: how could he know all this? Trotsky did not keep any secrets.
He was the organizer of the Communist takeover of Petrograd in 1917, he was the creator of and a former commander of the Red Army, the
Soviet representative at Brest-Litovsk, the first leader of Soviet diplomacy, a former leader of the USSR, and a former helmsman of the
World Revolution. He knew better than anyone the nature of Communism, of the Red Army, and of Stalin. Trotsky said that all his predictions
were based on open Soviet publications. Trotsky was the very first in the world to understand Stalin’s game, which was not understood
by the Western leaders, and which at first was not understood by Hitler.
The joint Soviet-Nazi military parade was such an unexpected and unusual event that no Soviet commander would take the challenge of developing
specific details of such a parade. Before making any decision any military officer would make sure that his superior officer
approved and supported it, and the superior would do the same with his higher command. In any case all the details were supposed to be
immediately reported to and vetted by Stalin. In this particular case we shouldn’t blame Soviet military officers for lack of
initiative or for being incapable of making decisions on their own. After all, the joint military parade is a political military
manifestation of the intentions of both nations to the rest of the world. No one can do this without the clearance of every single
detail at the highest political level. This is why we have every reason to believe that from the Soviet side the chief stage director of this
show was Stalin; nobody else would ever dare to take such responsibility.
And that was not all. Stalin opted to send a brigade commander who several months prior was in Spain, where he bravely fought against
German Panzers. To rub it in, Stalin decided to humiliate Hitler further — Semion Krivoshein, the commanding Soviet officer
of the joint Soviet-Nazi military parade in Brest, was Jewish.
Stalin’s Trap for Hitler
According to this agreement, it turned out that Hitler started the war.
In the beginning of May 1939, on the border between Mongolia and China near the river Khalkhin-Gol, an armed conflict occurred between Soviet and Japanese troops. Mongolia was under Soviet control. The adjoining Chinese territory was occupied by Japan. The clash of Soviet and Japanese troops turned into battles, fought with the use of aviation, artillery, and tanks. Nobody declared war, but the intensity of armed operations grew. On June 1, 1939, the government of the Soviet Union officially declared: “We will defend the borders of the Mongolian People’s Republic as we defend our own.”1
Actions went according to those words. Precisely on that day, June 1, 1939, the deputy commander of the Byelorussia military district G. K. Zhukov was summoned from
Minsk to appear in Moscow. On the following day, Zhukov flew out of Moscow to Mongolia. There, he took command of the Soviet and Mongolian
troops and defended Mongolia from Japanese aggression just as he would have defended the territory of his own country.
The absence of common borders with Hitler’s Germany was a great asset for the Soviet Union. If the Soviet Union was thinking in terms
of defense or neutrality in case of war, the Red Army needed no corridors to pass through Polish territory. But Stalin was not
planning on defense, and certainly not planning on staying out of the war. He needed corridors through Polish territory on one hand in
order to establish a Communist regime in Poland, and on the other hand because the corridors enabled him to deliver a surprise attack
to Germany from the rear, in case it became engaged in a war against France and Britain. No other use for passages through Poland can be
Stalin knew that Great Britain and France had given their guarantees to Poland. But how serious was their word? The French and British delegations let him know that it was serious! If Hitler started a war against Poland, Great Britain and France would declare war against Germany. This was exactly the information Stalin was waiting for. Hitler thought that his invasion of Poland would go unpunished, like the entrance of German troops into the Rhineland demilitarized zone, like the Anschluss (union) of Austria and Germany, like the taking of Czechoslovakia. Stalin now knew that Hitler would be punished for invading Poland. The key to the ignition of World War II fell into Stalin’s hands. It remained for Stalin only to give Hitler the green light: Attack Poland, I will not act against you (but France and England will declare war on you).
Half a century later, Soviet generals slowly started to admit that Stalin and the Red Army opened the way for Hitler to invade Poland. Army General A. Mayorov: “In planning the invasion of Poland, Germany feared most of all the Soviet Union, not England and not France. That is precisely why fascist leaders hurried to conclude a pact about [the] invasion with the USSR.”5
The head of the GRU, Army General P. I. Ivashutin, expressed this sentiment more clearly: “With this pact, Hitler untied his
hands for aggression.”6 Simply stated, if Stalin had not signed a pact with Hitler, there would have been no invasion of Poland, and there would have been no
World War II.
Below, as a source of comparison, are several excerpts from Stalin’s speech at the Politburo session from August 19, 1939: “If we accept Germany’s proposal about the conclusion of a pact regarding invasion, she will of course attack Poland, and France and England’s involvement in this war will be inevitable. Western Europe will be subjected to serious disorders and disturbances. Under these conditions, we will have many chances to stay on the sidelines of the conflict, and we will be able to count on our advantageous entrance into the war. . . . It is in the interest of the USSR — the motherland of workers — that the war unfolds between the Reich and the capitalist Anglo-French block. It is necessary to do everything within our powers to make this war last as long as possible, in order to exhaust the two sides. It is precisely for this reason that we must agree to signing the pact, proposed by Germany, and work on making this war, once declared, last a maximum amount of time.”
In 1924, Hitler wrote in his book Mein Kampf (Chapter XIV): “Already the one fact of concluding an alliance between Germany and Russia would mean [the] inevitability of a future war, the outcome of which would be predetermined. Such a war could only mean the end for Germany.”10 Fifteen years went by, and on August 19, 1939, Prime Minister and People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the USSR Vyacheslav Molotov, on Stalin’s orders, handed to the German ambassador in Moscow von Schulenburg a plan for the nonaggression pact. Stalin’s proposals were so attractive that Hitler accepted. Hitler correctly predicted his fate. As he foretold, the alliance with Moscow meant inevitable war, the outcome of which was predetermined. This war meant the end for Hitler’s Germany.
Results of the Moscow Pact
Stalin was craftier then Hitler. Craftier and more sly.
On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed an agreement in Moscow about the destruction of the Polish state and the division of the Polish
territories. Poland had mutual assistance agreements with France and the United Kingdom and, therefore, the attack by the Soviet Union and
Germany automatically led to a European — and hence world — war. Indeed, in eight days, on September 1, 1939, World War broke out.
It was a direct and unavoidable result of the agreement reached in Moscow.
Stalin entered history as an innocent victim and the liberator of Europe.
The German government kept repeating its demands and kept getting refused. Red Army units started military action in Poland only after two and a half weeks — September 17. Stalin’s troops committed similar, or maybe even worse, atrocities in Poland, but Great Britain and France did not declare war on the Soviet Union. Great Britain, France, and their allies were interested in preventing Germany from using Soviet strategic resources. To do so, it was necessary to keep Stalin at their side at any cost and, in case of war between Germany and the Soviet Union, to keep the Red Army from being defeated.
As a result of the pact signed in Moscow in 1939 Stalin achieved a war, one which he desired and for which he had planned and prepared for a long time: The nations of Western Europe were mired in a destructive war, but the Soviet Union remained neutral. Now Stalin could wait for the total exhaustion and self-destruction of Central and Western Europe. Hitler guessed Stalin’s intentions and in 1941 suddenly and almost fatally struck the Soviet Union. In this critical situation, Stalin received free aid from the United States and Great Britain, which in volume and quality did not have a historical precedent. At the same time, the Soviet role in unleashing World War II was quickly and thoroughly forgotten. In the final count, Poland, for whose freedom the Western European states had entered World War II, did not gain its freedom, but was given, along with all of Central Europe and part of Germany, into Stalin’s control.
It is customary to consider Britain and France among the victors. However, this is clearly a mistake. The purpose for which Great Britain
and France entered World War II was ensuring Poland’s independence. This aim was not achieved as a result of the war;
therefore, there is no cause to celebrate victory.
Blitzkrieg in Poland and Mongolia
It was the Russians who first put forward the idea of amassing mobile units.
In August 1939, on the river Khalkhin-Gol in Mongolia, aside from a crushing blow there were other possible choices for action. Soviet troops could have, for
example, taken defensive positions and postponed the prepared attack. Aggression is always risky. In the event of Soviet success, Japan
would receive a lesson to last for years to come. In the event of failure, the entire world would talk of Stalin’s army purges
and accuse him of making the army unfit for fighting. In the event of failure, Zhukov could be executed, but his blood would
not wash away the military’s disgrace.
The operation on the Khalkhin-Gol was brilliant in planning and in execution. Zhukov took a lot of risks, but they were justified.
Zhukov ordered the air bases moved as close to the front lines as possible. Tis allowed airplanes to carry less fuel and more bombs. The intensity of
the use of aviation grew sharply: planes took off, and before they even reached cruising altitude, unloaded their bombs, quickly returned, took more bombs,
and repeated the process. When Soviet tanks went far ahead, aviation could support them without relocating the bases.
Zhukov moved hospitals and supply bases to the front lines as well — supplying ammunition, fuel, and everything necessary
for battle was carried out quickly and efficiently, and evacuation of the wounded did not demand excessive time, so after a
short time the soldier found himself on the operating table. Zhukov moved his and all other command posts to the front lines, so he was
personally able to see the battlefield panorama, and when the troops moved forward, it was no effort for him to move his command
post after them. During the preparations for this offensive, Zhukov forbade almost all use of radio communication. Communication
was conducted mainly through wires with short sentences, which were understood only by the two people speaking. The operation was prepared
in complete secrecy. Each officer received directions only within the frames of his duties and had no concept of the overall
plan, the scope, or the dates of the offensive. Actually, many people did not know about the offensive at all. Zhukov fooled
not only the Japanese spies but, before all, his own soldiers and officers. Until the last moment, they thought that they were
preparing defenses for a prolonged period. If his own soldiers and officers believed this, the enemy surely did as well.
On August 29, 1939, Stalin gave Zhukov the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for his lightning defeat of the Japanese Sixth Army. On September 1, Germany attacked Poland.
It is interesting to compare the two lightning operations: the Soviet one in Mongolia, and the German in Poland. The difference lay in
the fact that the whole world witnessed the German actions in Poland. Embassies from all over the world were located in Warsaw; there were
many foreigners in Warsaw and other Polish cities, many journalists in particular. They all witnessed the war and described it in their
newspapers and magazines. Hitler’s propaganda demonstrated to the entire world the amazing successes of German troops. The whole
world saw the menacing footage on their screens: dive-bombers roaring wildly as they flew toward the ground, dropping their deadly loads, and soaring
back into the clouds, tanks breaking Polish barricades, letting through hordes of cheerful motorcyclists.
At first glance, the Red Army’s lightning operation in Mongolia and the German blitzkrieg in Poland are not comparable in scale. The
German troops participating in the invasion of Poland numbered 1.6 million soldiers and officers. The Soviet group in Mongolia
numbered only 57,000 men. In numbers of people, the German operation surpassed the Soviet one twenty-eight times. However, if one looks at
the number of tanks and airplanes, the numbers are comparable. The German operation against Poland had the participation of four times
more airplanes, and six times more tanks, than the Soviet operation in Mongolia. The numbers are quite on the same scale.
In contrast, Soviet troops in Mongolia used the BT-5 tanks, with 400-horsepower engines, and the BT-7 with 500-horsepower. The sum power of tank engines used in
Mongolia constituted more than half of the sum power of tank engines used by Germany in Poland. In the area of tank armament, the Red Army
clearly surpassed the Germans. At Khalkhin-Gol, practically all Soviet tanks were armed with the most powerful tank cannon of that
time, with 45-mm .46-caliber barrels. In addition, Soviet armored automobiles were armed with the same cannon. The German army, or any
other army in the world, had nothing comparable at the time. The majority of German tanks during the blitzkrieg in Poland had no
cannon at all. The Pz-I only had machine guns. The Pz-II had 20-mm cannon. The Pz-III had weak 37-mm cannon, and there were less than a hundred tanks of this
model. The Pz-IV had 75-mm cannon with a very short barrel, which was not meant for and not fit for battle against enemy tanks.
There was also a big difference in the conditions under which the operations were conducted. In September 1939, the conditions for conducting a lightning war in Poland were superb. A continuous defense by the Polish army along the perimeter of the country was impossible. Poland, to its misfortune, was an ideal location for the demonstration of tank capabilities. Western Poland formed a wide protrusion, surrounded on three sides by German territory. Its border with Germany stretched two thousand kilometers; after German occupation of Czechoslovakia, the German-Polish border increased by another eight hundred kilometers.5
The German army did not have to break through defenses. Ahead of it lay flat terrain, ideal for advance and totally unfit for defense.
The river Vistula flows through Poland, but there was no need to cross it. Hitler’s troops were located on both sides of the Vistula. There were no other serious water
barriers. An attack on Warsaw could be carried out from any direction. The distance from mainland Germany to Warsaw was 230 kilometers, and from the border of Eastern Prussia
to Warsaw was 110 kilometers. This meant that there was no need to relocate supply bases — troops could be supplied from stationary bases built
during peacetime. There was no need to transfer thousands of tons of ammunition, fuel, and other equipment. In theory, a thrust on Warsaw
could be carried out without refueling tanks. Fill up the tanks in Germany, and go! There were no defenses ahead, since they were
impossible. There was no need to set up field hospitals, because the wounded could be taken to stationary peacetime
hospitals. Aviation bases also did not need to be moved — the air force could conduct its missions from permanent air bases. Command
posts with communication lines also stayed in place in underground bunkers. Only small mobile groups of commanders needed to be sent
Immediately after the fall of the government in Warsaw, the Polish government in London was created, and it was acknowledged by most nations of the
world and by the League of Nations. According to Polish tradition, underground local governments and an underground state formed on
occupied territory. Armed forces were revived. Using the most cautious methods, the Polish Army counted 350,000 soldiers and
officers, well trained, organized, and armed. Moreover, Poles fought against Hitler on all fronts: in Britain, France, Italy,
Africa, Holland, and the Soviet Union. Starting in 1939, the number of Polish formations fighting Hitler constantly was around one
million people. The blitzkrieg started in 1939 in Poland, and ended in 1945 with the storming of Berlin, in which the Polish First and
Second armies took part.
In 1939, the Red Army received a unique and invaluable experience in breaking through powerful field defenses of the Japanese army in Mongolia. At that time not a single
army in the world had such experience. From this experience, the right conclusions were drawn: even more attention needed to be given
to the issue of breaking through defenses, and even more sophisticated weapons, designed specifically for this purpose, had to
be developed. The experience of Khalkhin-Gol showed: if the enemy has dug himself firmly into the ground, aviation is incapable of
breaking through such defenses, even if the bombing concentration is 80 tons per square kilometer. Artillery is needed. Soviet artillery
was already the most powerful in the world, but from September 1939 began the unfolding of new artillery formations and the construction
of new ammunition factories.
Zhukov moved air bases to the very borders, with one hundred — sometimes two hundred — planes in each location. Zhukov moved hospitals,
supply bases, command posts to the borders. Zhukov moved to the border thousands of tons of ammunition, fuel, and spare parts for
tanks and planes.
Mobilization is war, in our minds there is no other meaning for it.
From time to time we find a lot of interesting materials in the archives, but we will not find what is most important. Here is why: “How many times have I
told you — do whatever you want, but do not leave behind any documents, do not leave any traces.” These are the words of
Stalin himself. He uttered them publicly at the Sixteenth Congress of the Communist Party. The records here note the “Homeric laughter of
the entire audience.” The congress laughed heartily — comrade Stalin had made a joke. Understandably, Stalin was not talking of
himself, but of his opponents, who apparently were guided by the principle of leaving behind no traces or documents. But the congress
laughed in vain. Stalin always ascribed his own intentions, principles, and methods to his enemies. Soon after, Stalin executed
all his enemies, as well as almost all the delegates present at the Sixteenth Congress who had laughed so heartily. He left a very
minimal number of documents about these executions.
Air Force Colonel General A. S. Yakovlev: “During the meetings of Stalin’s inner circle there were no stenographers, no secretaries present, no records or
protocols were kept.”2 Marshal of the Soviet Union D. F. Ustinov was the People’s Commissar of Arms during the course
of the war: “During the meetings and conferences conducted by Stalin, discussions of problems and the making of decisions frequently occurred without records,
and often without the corresponding paperwork marking the decision made.”3
In other words, decisions were made but were not fixed on paper, just like in the Mafia.
Colonel General B. Vannikov was the People’s Commissar of Ammunition: “At the meetings and conferences Stalin had a habit of discussing questions and making decisions without protocols or records. . . . From this it is clear that the understanding of many events just based on documents is incomplete and unclear, and in many cases incorrect.”5
Hitler’s meetings were known for being held in the presence of large crowds. Everything said by Hitler was fixed for history by three
stenographers and a personal historian. Stalin’s meetings on the other hand were simply secret gatherings of plotters and
conspirators, in spirit and in essence. No documents and no traces were left of these meetings. Therefore, as Stalin taught us, we will
look not at the words, which are hidden from us, but at the actions, which are in the open.
In a strange coincidence of events, it was precisely on this day — September 1, 1939 — that the fourth emergency session of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR
ratified the universal military draft. There had been no such law in the history of the USSR. A surprising thing: while children and
adults were taught to fear Hitler, while Hitler was considered to be a tyrant and monster, the country could do without a draft. But as
soon as a non-aggression pact was signed, a universal mandatory draft all of a sudden became necessary.
These ideas, in various orders and manners, are voiced by many different authors. B. M. Shaposhnikov differed from his predecessors only
in that he expressed the ideas clearly, briefly, and concisely: “Mobilization is not only a symptom of war, it is war itself.
An order by the government to declare mobilization constitutes a de facto declaration of war. . . . In modern conditions, a mobilizing country
must make a firm decision ahead of time to conduct war. . . . In a general mobilization, it is understood that there can be no more
return to peacetime positions. . . . We maintain that only a general mobilization has value, the concentration of all resources and forces
necessary for achieving victory.” The book ends with a decisive declaration: “Mobilization is war, and we cannot understand it
in any other way.”
The law adopted on September 1, 1939, allowed for an increase in the ranks of the Red Army from 1.5 million men in the spring of 1939 to 5.7 million in the spring of 1941 without declaring mobilization and alarming the neighbors.10 Additionally, this law allowed for the preparation of 18 million reservists, so that at any moment they could fill the ranks with the desired number of soldiers.
This army development had a time limit, because Stalin called several age groups into the Red Army at the same time — in essence, all the young men in the country. The
duration of army service for the majority of the population — privates in ground forces and NKVD (Political Police) forces — was two years,
so the country had to enter a major war before September 1, 1941. If not, all the young people would go home on September 1, 1941, and then there would be almost nobody left to draft.
All these new armies — assault and mechanized corps, tanks, air force, and all other divisions — would have to be disbanded. It is
impossible to maintain an armed force of this size without a war: it does not produce anything and it consumes everything produced by the country.
The creation of such an army could only lead to war. The modern Russian ministry of defense acknowledges this. “No nation can
maintain a mobilized army with any intent other than war: the economy cannot stand the strain, and the mobilized but unused army begins to
decay.”11 This was said about the mobilization conducted by Stalin starting on August 19, 1939.
Mobilization of the Economy
A doctrine about war fought on enemy territory took hold during the
prewar years, which was of a clearly aggressive nature.
For many years, the People’s Commissariat of Defense Industry was in charge of arms production
in the USSR. On January 11, 1939, it was dismantled, and four new People’s Commissariats were created instead: one for the
shipbuilding industry, one for weapons, one for the aviation industry, and one for ammunition.
Italy was not the only country that sold warships to Stalin. On May 31, 1940, the unfinished German cruiser Lutsow, renamed the Petropavlovsk, arrived in Leningrad and was delivered to the shipyard of shipbuilding plant #189. A cruiser is a huge and complex structure, the building of which would have taken several years to complete, and there was not enough time to introduce changes into its design and to equip it with Soviet weapons. It was decided to build it completely according to German designs and equip it with German weapons, and Germany supplied the weapons.
All this seems unbelievable: May 1940, the heat of the German blitzkrieg in Western Europe, the British fleet blockading the German navy. Hitler had only two options
left — either to fight against Britain, for which he needed a powerful fleet, or to seek peace with Britain, for which he also
needed a powerful fleet: an enraged Britain would obviously not negotiate with a weak Germany, but instead would demand its immediate
withdrawal from all occupied territories. Hitler lagged far behind Britain in the number of above-water ships, and in this critical time
he was selling his unfinished, most modern ship to Stalin!
In March 1939, at the Seventeenth Congress of the Communist Party, the commander of the Pacific fleet, 2nd Rank Flagman N. G. Kuznetsov
declared: “ The fleet must transform itself, and it will, just like the entire Worker-Peasant Red Army, into the most powerful
attack fleet.” Stalin rewarded him for such words by promoting him to People’s Commissar of the Navy. Kuznetsov kept his
word — he did his best in order to prepare the Soviet fleet to launch surprise attacks. But entirely different ships with
entirely different characteristics are needed for defense: submarine hunters, picket boats, minesweepers, and net-layers.
According to Kuznetsov’s orders, all reserves of shells, mines, torpedoes, and ship fuel were transported to the German borders in
Liepaja and to the Romanian borders in the river ports of the Danube. There, these reserves were quickly seized by the Germans. The port of
Liepaja was located so close to the German border that the battles for the city had already begun on June 23, 1941.5
Nobody had prepared to defend Liepaja from a land attack. Aside from everything else, in Liepaja were concentrated (and lost) three
quarters of the Baltic fleet’s fuel reserves.
Right from the start there was a problem to be solved: where to locate all the new factories that would be producing shells, gunpowder, cartridges, and so on. The issue of finding locations for the new ammunition industry entailed the issue of the character of the next war.
If Stalin had planned to carry out a sacred defensive war, if he planned to hold down his borders, the new ammunition factories should have been built behind the Volga River. There they would have been fully secure — the enemy tanks and airplanes could not reach so far inland. If Stalin was not sure of his strength, if, as we have been told, Stalin was afraid of Hitler and had reservations about the Red Army’s ability to hold the borders, if there had been a belief that it might be forced to retreat — in that case the new factories should have been built not behind the Volga but even farther inland, in the Ural Mountains, where there are raw materials, a sufficient industry and energy base, and where the factories would have been completely secure. Let the enemy take huge territories, but our industrial base would remain whole — then Hitler would have a taste of what a wounded bear is like.
But neither the first nor the second option was even briefly discussed; there was no need for them. The Red Army had no plans to retreat, just as it had no plans of holding down the borders of its country. According to Stalin’s plans, the Red Army had to advance forward into a war-devastated and weakened Europe. If the Red Army crossed the borders and advanced, the ammunition factories along with all the other ones (tank, artillery, etc.) would be left behind farther and farther in the rear. Let us imagine that the Red Army needs to be supplied with a small quantity of ammunition, for example 100,000 tons, or 200,000 tons. How could they be transported from the Urals to the western borders? A standard military train could carry nine hundred tons. Imagine how many trains would be needed, how many railroad cars, how many locomotives. Estimate how many workdays would be spent by all the railroad personnel, how much coal would be burned, how many train guards would be needed for how many days.
Aside from all this, it is important to remember that shells were not the only things that would have to be transported along the railroad lines. The railroads during war are crowded with troops, repair crews, hospitals, cisterns, and so on. In other words, if we prepare an attack, the transfer of hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition and all other equipment has to be done in secret, and secrecy is best achieved by shortening the distance to be covered during the transfer. In an ideal situation, all factories would be located right at the borders. Then the trains would need to travel only a couple of hours, not days across the entire country. In that case, the demand for transportation decreases, and one train can be reused for several trips. This frees up the internal railroad lines for other military needs. So, it was decided to build the new ammunition factories closer to the borders, as close as the metal-forging bases permitted, and not behind the Volga or in the Urals. The locations chosen were Zaporozhie, Dnyepropetrovsk, Dnyeprodzerzhinsk, Kharkov, Krivoy Rog, and Leningrad.
The ammunition factories put out more and more production, while the voracious Ammunition Narkomat consumed the nation’s metal resources, including copper, nickel, chromium, lead, tin, and mercury. The more nonferrous metals went to producing ammunition, the less there was left for all the other areas of industry. The question arose as to how long this could be expected to last.
There was another question: what to do with all the ammunition that was produced? All of us have had to solve math problems in school that began with something like: “Water pours from a pipe into a certain container, and simultaneously pours out through another pipe.” Such problems can be found in mathematics textbooks from centuries ago as well, even in the famous math book written by Magnitsky that was used to teach children during the reign of Catherine the Second. Stalin and all the military leaders, politicians, and economists also were at some point schoolboys and solved problems that asked about the water running in through one pipe and out the other. In 1939 that was precisely the case that came about: the Red Army consumed a certain amount of ammunition for its military training, for the “wars of liberation,” and for “international aid” to Mongolia and China. If the amounts of ammunition coming in and being spent were equal, there would be no problem. But if the supplies coming in were greater than the amount that was being used, then soon there would be no more room to hold all the supplies.
The holding capacity of the artillery storages was known, as was the amount of ammunition used by the army. Through a simple arithmetic calculation it would be easy to determine when there would be no more space to hold all that was produced. What could be done then? Should new storage facilities be created? That is not quite so simple. Imagine that you have been given the task to build storage facilities that are to hold one million tons of ammunition. If the humidity levels at the facility rise above the norm, the metals will be corroded and the gunpowder will become wet. What would comrade Stalin and his loyal disciple comrade Beria do to you in that case? And if the temperature rises slightly above the norm or if the air is slightly too dry . . . . The storages cannot be close together or close to cities and factories — they must be far away from everything that could be harmed by their explosion. To make it short, additional storage facilities are not a valid solution. No matter how many are built, they will become too full if more ammunition pours in than pours out — and more and more was pouring in every day.
Aside from the undertakings of the Ammunition Narkomat, 235 factories under the jurisdiction of other Narkomats were also used to produce various types of ammunition during peacetime.6 And on top of all this, aside from the Ammunition Narkomat (which itself was huge) the chief directorate for construction of gunpowder, shell, cartridge, and missile factories was created in January 1941. This monster united under its control twenty-three construction areas. Note that all this was geared not toward building storage facilities but toward building new factories. The new directorate put up new factories with astonishing speed and gave them over to the Ammunition Narkomat. They now had to think of how to put to use all that they produced. In April 1941, an order came from the chief artillery directorate of the Red Army to transport the output of the Ammunition Narkomat to the western state borders and lay it on the ground. Ask anyone who has fought on the front what this means.
In the border regions of the Soviet Union the Red Army lost an unthinkable amount of artillery shells that were laid out on the ground. An equally unthinkable amount of shells was lost in railroad trains. In Byelorussia alone 4,216 railroad cars full of artillery shells were left at the border stations.7 Why were shells kept in railroad cars? Where were they going to be taken? If defense was being prepared, the shells should have been issued to the troops. If retreat was prepared, there would have been no need to concentrate the shells in the border regions.
But this is not what is most important. The most important is the fact that at the very beginning of the war almost all industry capable of producing new ammunition was lost. “From August to November 1941, the German troops took 303 Soviet gunpowder, shell, and missile factories, which had a production capability of supplying 101 million artillery shells, 32 million mines, 24 million air bombs, [and] 3,600 tons of TNT. This constituted 85 percent of all output from the Ammunition Narkomat.”8 In addition to all this, the mobilization reserves of the most valuable raw materials were concentrated in those factories, including lead, forged steel, and tin. All this went to Germany and was used against the Red Army. But Stalin’s prewar potential was so great that he was able to rebuild his industries during the course of the war behind the Volga River and in the Urals, and produce all that later was used to defeat the German army.
When the Ammunition Narkomat was created, nobody was posing a threat to the Soviet Union. Japan had a powerful air force and navy, but its land army was relatively small, and it was engaged in a rather unpromising war in China. Japan had limited reserves of raw materials. Soviet intelligence reported to the government that Japan could possibly decide to wage a large war in order to seize raw material sources, but the Japanese were primarily interested in those regions where the mining and purification of the materials was already set up, because Japan needed those resources immediately. In other words, Japan would fight to control the southern territories, and it would not venture into Siberia, where resources were unlimited but where their mining and purification would take several years and huge expenditures.
The Soviet General Staff, the government, and Stalin himself were not very afraid of German aggression in early 1939. There was no common border with Germany back then, so Germany could not attack suddenly. The creation of the Ammunition Narkomat in January 1939 could not be a response to German war preparations. Soviet intelligence knew that at that moment German industry was operating on a peacetime regime. In June 1939 the chief of the GRU, Ivan Proskurov, reported to Stalin that Germany was unprepared for a large-scale war: if Germany invaded Poland, it would use up its air-bomb supplies within ten days. Germany had no reserves.
After the war, the book Results of World War II came out in Germany. Field Marshal K. Kesselring, Colonel General H. Guderian, Colonel General L. Rendulic, Lieutenant General E. Schneider, Admiral E. Godt, and others were among the authors of the book. When comparing the analysis made by Soviet intelligence and the actual events, we must acknowledge that Soviet military intelligence was mistaken. The German supply of bombs ran out not after ten days of war, but on the fourteenth day after the attack against Poland.
Apparently the best studies of the development of the German army during the reign of the Third Reich were done by Major General B. Muller-Gillebrand.9 The general said that in 1939 the German High Command of the land troops demanded that a reserve of ammunition be created that could last for four months of war. However, such reserves were never created. If a four-month supply is taken as 100 percent, then there was in actuality only 30 percent of pistol cartridge reserves, enough for 36 days of war; 15 percent of ammunition for mountain guns; 12 percent of mortar shells for light mortars, and 10 percent for heavy ones. The best supplies were for the heavy field howitzers — there were enough shells to last for two months of war. The worst case was with the tank shells. In September 1939 the main tank of the German Wehrmacht was the Pz-II, equipped with 20-mm cannon. There was only 5 percent of the needed supply of shells required for four months of war, meaning only enough for six days of combat.10
Despite all this, Hitler was not eager to mobilize the country’s industry toward war. The German army waged a war, which began as a European conflict and turned global, but German industry remained operating on a peacetime regime.
For fifty years the Soviet government has been persuading us that in 1939 war was unavoidable, the world was headed for war, and Stalin could do nothing but sign a non-aggression pact with Germany. An analysis of the conditions of German industry in general, and in the area of ammunition production in particular, allows us to assert that the situation was not at all so critical. The world was not headed for inevitable war, and a war could have been averted, if Stalin had wanted to avert it. And what is more, if in September 1939 the Red Army had intervened on the side of Poland, Stalin would not have lost anything, while Hitler could have suffered a devastating defeat simply because he did not have enough ammunition. But Stalin did not capitalize on the German weakness.
When the war began, the German situation regarding ammunition did not improve, but in May 1940 Hitler delivered a fatal blow to France. There were enough shells and missiles to carry out the attack, but if Stalin had attacked Germany in 1940, there would have been nothing left for Germany to use in fending off; his attack, because her industries had still not been mobilized. After this followed the Battle of Britain, and once again the German air force was engaged in a war but German industry was not. Then Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. Here, he had tremendous luck — at the very border he was able to take huge quantities of Soviet supplies. Without these supplies he would not have been able to reach Moscow.
The seizure of Stalin’s supplies was a tremendous achievement for Hitler, but he had to also think of shifting his own industry to a wartime regime. Hitler, however, was in no hurry to do this. The war in Russia was serious business, and the German army had to spend more shells than ever before. The production of ammunition did not in any way correspond to the expenditures required by the army. Major General B. Muller-Hillebrand cites entire pages of clear-cut statistics. Here are some figures randomly chosen from many thousands like them. In October 1941, the German army engaged in ferocious battles with the Red Army and used 561,000 75-mm shells, while the industry during that period produced only 75,000 of those shells. In December, 494,000 were used and 18,000 received from the factories.11
This could not have lasted for very long. But Hitler was in no hurry. In December 1941, Stalin carried out powerful attacks against the German army near Moscow. In December, Hitler declared war on the United States of America. It would seem to be the perfect time to shift industry from a peacetime to a wartime regime. But Hitler still waited. Only in January 1942 did he make the decision to gradually begin the shift of German industry to fulfill wartime needs. The difference between Stalin and Hitler was that Hitler first waged a war against the entire world, fought for over two years — and only then began to mobilize his industries. Stalin, on the other hand, acted in the exact opposite manner. Stalin tried with all his powers to delay the moment when the Soviet Union would have to enter into the war, but he began mobilizing the industries and setting them on a wartime regime back in January 1939.
During the course of World War II, the Red Army had the most powerful artillery in the world. The artillery was used correctly, meaning that it was secretly concentrated in masses on narrow strips of territory and used in sudden, intense strikes. In the Stalingrad operation, the Don front under Lieutenant General K. K. Rokossovsky broke through defenses on a narrow strip of land — only twelve kilometers. Here, besides the tanks, twenty-four rifle regiments supported by thirty-six artillery regiments led the breakthrough. Rokossovsky concentrated 135 guns on every kilometer, and 167 weapons per kilometer in the primary locations. During the course of the war, the concentration of artillery, tanks, infantry, and aviation constantly increased. By the end of the war, the Soviet staffs began to use kilotons as units of measurement for calculating the power of artillery attacks. Soviet artillery began to speak the language of the atomic age.
In the Vistula-Oder operation, the Soviet command used 34,500 guns and mortars. They were not evenly distributed throughout the force, but rather concentrated on the strips where the breakthrough was to occur. In the strip covered by the 3rd Guards Army, the concentration reached 420 weapons per kilometer. During the course of the war, the duration of artillery softening-up constantly shrank, while artillery power grew. In the same operation, in the area covered by the 5th Shock Army, the duration of softening-up was planned to be reduced to 55 minutes.12 It began well, but after 25 minutes it was ended. Twenty-three thousand tons of ammunition was used during the 25 minutes, and 15,200 shells of medium and large caliber were used on each kilometer of that front. Penal battalions marched through the breakthrough and did not meet any opposition. Their actions confirmed that additional softening-up was not necessary, nobody would offer any opposition. This saved thirty minutes of time (very significant in war) and thirty thousand tons of ammunition.
Even more artillery was used in the Berlin operation — over 42,000 guns and mortars. Along the breakthrough areas, huge quantities of ammunition were concentrated, as well as huge quantities of weapons. Marshal Ivan Konev broke through thirty-six kilometers of front line, and used 8,626 weapons to do it. Marshal Zhukov concentrated fewer arms — 7,318 guns and mortars — but broke through thirty kilometers of front line, so he actually had higher concentrations of artillery. The main forces of the tank and air force armies were also gathered in these areas, as well as corresponding amounts of infantry.
The record was set in the area occupied by the 381st Rifle Division of the 2nd Shock Army, during the course of the East Prussian operation: 468 guns and mortars on one kilometer of front line, not counting the Katyusha salvo-fire installations. During the course of the war the Red Army used 427 million shells and artillery mines and 17 billion cartridges. Just divide this by the number of German soldiers and determine how many shells that makes per soldier. To this you can add the number of hand grenades, land mines, and air bombs. Who could resist such a mighty army?
Here we must also remember that in the war the Soviet Union used only 15 percent of the prewar potential of the Ammunition Narkomat; all the rest was lost during the early periods of the war. Hitler’s surprise attack not only annihilated tens of divisions of the Red Army and destroyed the strategic reserves; he also occupied the territories where the newest ammunition factories were located. The Red Army destroyed its own factories or simply abandoned them as it retreated. Some machines were evacuated, but try to move at least one furnace for thousands of kilometers. . . . Try to transport even one thousand tons of ammunition from the border forests to the railroad stations, load them into trains, and evacuate them under enemy fire.
Hitler delivered a surprise blow to Stalin. Stalin lost almost all his ammunition factories. He had to fight back using only 15 percent of the might of the Ammunition Narkomat.13 The results of the war are well known. Try to imagine what could have happened if Hitler had stalled with his attack and would have, instead, himself been attacked by Stalin. In that case, Stalin would have been using not 15 percent of his ammunition, but the full 100 percent. What would the outcome of World War II have been then?
The Winter War: Finland
The Red Army will consider its Bolshevik mission complete when it achieves control of the entire globe.
In October of 1939, immediately after the division of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union, Stalin’s diplomats addressed the government of Finland, demanding the cession of the Karelian Isthmus.1 In exchange, they offered the Finns a piece of territory twice the size of the isthmus. Upon first glance, the proposition seems alluring — Finland sacrifices 2,761 square kilometers, and receives 5,528 square kilometers in return. However, the proposition was not alluring, but rather contemptuous. The Karelian Isthmus is a direct gateway to the capital of Finland, the largest ports and most populated regions. The geo-graphical disposition of Finland is such that any aggression could come only from the Soviet Union, and only through the Karelian Isthmus. Precisely for this reason, the Finnish army, starting in 1918 (after winning its independence fighting against Russian and local Bolshevik troops during the Russian civil war), began an extensive buildup of defenses on the Karelian Isthmus. Starting in 1929, the scope of the buildup expanded significantly. On the Karelian Isthmus emerged a solid strip of fortifications and obstructions, which became known as the Mannerheim Line, named for the country’s commander-in-chief, who had won the war of independence in 1918. Finland spent practically all of her military budget for the ten years preceding the war on the creation of this line of fortifications. Military experts from all countries of the world unanimously agreed that no army, taking any amount of time, could break through the Mannerheim Line. Nevertheless, Stalin’s envoys demanded from Finland the cession of her main and only defense structure, meaning they wanted the Finns to put down their arms and hand over to the Red Army, without a fight, the road to their country’s unprotected internal regions — well developed and heavily populated. In exchange, they were offering a huge piece of swampland and marshy woods, in which no one lived and which no one needed.
The “exchange” of territories was the first step in the plan. Stalin had prepared a second step as well — a revolution in Finland and takeover by the Communists. Already in October 1939 the 106th Rifle Division of the Red Army was supplemented with Finnish Communists who lived in the Soviet Union.2 When necessary, this division could be declared the “national army of Finland” and used as a weapon against the legal government. Stalin had prepared a new Communist “government” as well, which was strengthened with officers from the NKVD and the military intelligence. This “government” could at any moment, in accordance with “the will of the Finnish people,” be sent to Helsinki. Stalin had started the formation of this “government” already in June 1939. He decided to appoint Division Commander A. Anttila of the Red Army to the position of “minister of defense.” Down the road, the same man became a major general in the Soviet army. In the plans, the future “minister of the interior” of Finland was an operator of the NKVD, T. Lekhen. At the head of the “government,” Stalin had put the Soviet intelligence officer Otto Kuusinen. Conveniently, Kuusinen was also appointed as “minister of foreign affairs.”
Kuusinen had already once been the member of a Communist government in Finland. In 1918, he had created the Communist party of Finland using Soviet money, and had tried to stage a coup. After his plans for a government turnover failed, he spent over a year in the country underground and conducted intensive terrorist activity against Finland in the interests of the World Revolution. After his cover was blown, he fled to the Soviet Union. In 1921 Kuusinen entered the ranks of the highest officials of the Comintern and became one of the leaders of the World Revolution. In 1937 Stalin mercilessly cleansed the Comintern, and a large majority of the leaders were executed. Kuusinen, for some particularly useful service, escaped execution and in 1941 he became a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In 1952 he became a member of the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU, meaning he entered the most elite group of leaders of the Soviet Union.
Kuusinen’s wife, Aino, was an intelligence agent for the General Staff of the Red Army. From 1931 to 1933 she was in the United States illegally, and from 1934 was in Japan working with Richard Sorge. In 1938 Stalin ordered her to return to the Soviet Union and threw her in jail.3 And so, this Communist Otto Kuusinen made preparations for delivering freedom and happiness to the Finns, while his own wife roted in Stalin’s jail, and Stalin could at any moment either raise him to the highest leadership position in the USSR or place him before a firing squad.
Three months before the start of the war in Finland, in August of 1939, the Red Army in a surprise attack obliterated the Japanese Sixth Army in Mongolia. Logic would lead us to the conclusion that if the Red Army had the capacity to destroy an entire Japanese field army, Finland could not possibly present any difficulties. Stalin knew the strength of the Red Army, and was certain that Finland would accede without a fight to all his demands. For this reason he did not conduct any serious preparations for war. However, the people and the government of Finland turned out to be unwilling to bend to Stalin’s requests.
Stalin issued an order to crush Finland. For an attack, the Soviets needed a pretext. As if on demand, on November 26, 1939, seven artillery shells allegedly flew in from the Finnish side and exploded on the Soviet side, killing three privates and one junior officer.4 Finland’s government declared that no shell could have come from Finnish territory, because Finland had no artillery near the border. Finland furthermore declared immediate willingness to invite experts from neutral countries or to create a joint committee of Finnish and Soviet experts for further investigation of the incident. But Stalin did not need any investigation. Since Finland “attacked” the Soviet Union, the Red Army must “strike in retaliation.”
On November 30, 1939, after a brief but intense artillery softening-up, the Red Army crossed the Finnish border, having as its objective taking Helsinki by December 21, 1939 — Stalin’s sixtieth birthday. The main strike was carried out on the Karelian Isthmus; secondary strikes were carried out along the entire Finnish-Soviet border, from the Baltic Sea to the Barents Sea. Radio Moscow declared that the Finnish people rose up against capitalists and the Red Army was heading forward to assist the uprising. Units of the Red Army occupied the small village of Terioki. Immediately, Kuusinen’s “government” arrived from Moscow to this village and went to work. All the “ministers” of the new Communist Finland for some reason spoke Russian. Kuusinen’s son kept the records and protocols, also in Russian. The “government” established diplomatic ties with the USSR on December 1, and on December 2 it signed an “agreement on mutual help and friendship between the Soviet Union and the Finnish Democratic Republic.” The agreement was signed by comrades Molotov and Kuusinen and printed in two copies, but in only one language—Russian. Comrade Kuusinen also signed in Russian, using the Cyrillic alphabet.
However, a victory march on Helsinki did not happen. The Mannerheim Line was not located on the immediate border, but deeper in the territory behind the “security pale.” This pale was a strip of land that started at the border and stretched from twenty-five to sixty-five kilometers deep into Finnish territory.5 The security pale was a strip of land full of traps, barricades, obstacles, and minefields. The entire space was filled with granite boulders and concrete blocks, forest blockages, scarps and counterscarps, and anti-tank trenches. In this strip for many years, on purpose, there had been no industrial or transportation buildup. Finland did not keep any large military formations or any large amounts of supplies here. All existing bridges on this strip were wired with explosives and ready to be blown up or burned, along with everything else in sight, by the Finnish border patrol in the event of retreat.
The security pale is a kind of shield used by the defending side against the aggressor. When trapped in this line, the aggressor loses speed of movement, and his troops sustain casualties even before encountering the main forces of the enemy. In this territory the defending side employs only small but very mobile units. The units burst out from under cover, carry out sudden attacks, and quickly retreat to new positions, which were prepared beforehand. These light squads try to pass themselves off as the main forces of their army. The aggressor is forced to stop, turn his troops, and spend shells on empty spaces, while these light squads of the enemy have already quickly and covertly retreated and are preparing ambushes in new positions.
Upon finding himself in the security line, the aggressor loses his most significant advantage — surprise. While the aggressor carries out an exhausting struggle against the light defense squads, the main forces of the defending side have time to achieve full readiness and meet the aggressor in convenient positions. Finland’s army acted exactly in this manner. The deeper the security pale stretches, the better for the defense. There can never be too much of a good thing. While breaking through a deep security pale, the aggressor involuntarily shows the main thrust and direction of his movements. Losing the element of surprise, the aggressor himself becomes its victim — the depth of the security pale is unknown to him, so the encounter with the main forces of the defenders occurs at a moment previously unknown to the aggressor, but well planned by the defense.
On the Karelian Isthmus and on other sections of the security pale, Finnish snipers and light mobile squads were fully active and operating to the best of their capacity. Here is a standard situation: a column of Soviet tanks, motorized infantry, and artillery is moving along a forest road. To their left and to their right there is nowhere to go — impassable woods, packed with land mines. Ahead of them is a bridge. The Soviet demolition experts check for mines and come back reporting that the way is clear. The first tanks begin to crawl onto the bridge — and together with the bridge they fly up into the air: packs of dynamite had been inserted into the supporting beams of the bridge during its construction; they are undetectable, and even if they had been discovered, any attempt to diffuse them would have triggered an explosion. Thus, the Soviet column, many kilometers in length, like a giant snake, is stopped in its path. Now, the Finnish snipers spring into action. They take their time. Bang, bang, bang, and once again the forest is silent. And again, bang, bang. The snipers strike from somewhere far away. They hit only Red Army officers and tow-truck drivers. A diversion through the forest is not an option — keep in mind that on both sides of the road lie impenetrable minefields. Any attempt by the Soviet demolition experts to approach the destroyed bridge or to defuse the mines is met by a prompt and accurate response by the Finnish snipers.
The 44th Rifle Division of the Soviet Red Army, which had been advancing four hundred kilometers north of the Karelian Isthmus, was locked in place on three parallel roads which led to three blown-up bridges. In one day of fighting, the division lost practically its entire commanding staff. The same was true in other divisions — the columns became immobile, and could not take a step back or a step forward. At night, the columns suffered brief surprise attacks from somewhere far away in the woods. At night, the Finns fired out a couple of rounds of shells at a time from their concealed positions in the bushes, hitting the defense-less ranks. Then again all became quiet, until the next round.
It is said that the Red Army did not show its best side in Finland. This is true. But let us imagine in place of the Soviets a division from any other army. What can they do in such a situation? Pull back their columns? Heavy artillery and tractors with huge howitzers in tow cannot pull back. Finnish snipers hit tractor drivers, one by one. With tremendous diffculty, inch by inch, the column manages to crawl backwards; meanwhile, behind them another bridge explodes. The column is locked in. All the paths that lead to that other bridge are also blocked by mines, and the snipers there are also taking their time and hitting, one by one, commanders, sappers who try to disarm land mines, and drivers. Far ahead is the practically impenetrable line of concrete fortifications — the Mannerheim Line. To break through this line without artillery and thousands of tons of ammunition is impossible. . . Soviet troops reached the Finnish fortifications, but their heavy artillery was far behind, bogged down between minefields and blown-up bridges, and under fire. In total, during their retreat on the Karelian Isthmus the subdivisions of the Finnish army destroyed 143 bridges and viaducts.
As a result of these actions, it took the Red Army two weeks to pass through the security pale. After this, the divisions of the Red Army reached the main line of defense, having already suffered heavy losses, with a broken morale and without ammunition, fuel, or supplies. Their maneuvering capability was strictly limited: any step off the main path could become the last step. The rear had lagged behind and was constantly under threat of repeated attack by the light squads of Finnish soldiers, who had flawlessly memorized the area and knew secret safe passages through all the minefields.
Having overcome the security pale, the Red Army found itself halted by the fortifications of the Mannerheim Line. The line was in fact a brilliantly camouflaged defense structure, well integrated into the surroundings, and stretching 135 km in width and up to 30 km in depth. Its right flank met the shore of the Baltic Sea; its left flank bordered Lake Ladoga. All in all, the Mannerheim Line counted 2,311 concrete, ironclad, and wooden defense structures. The fighting on the Mannerheim Line was especially tenacious. The Red Army succeeded in breaking through the Mannerheim Line only on March 12, 1940, in the process sustaining colossal casualties, in both men and arms: 126,875 soldiers and officers were either killed in action, or disappeared without a trace, or died from wounds and disease. Additionally, the army counted 188,671 wounded, 58,370 ill, and 17,867 frostbitten.6
On March 13, 1940, the war between Finland and the Soviet Union was ended. The war lasted 105 days and became known as the Winter War. The Soviet Union received the Karelian Isthmus, but Finland kept her independence.
The whole world was shocked by the unbelievable weakness of the Red Army. The giant Soviet Union could not take care of Finland, whose population was only slightly more than 3.5 million. All around the world, newspapers were filled with caricatures and reports of the Soviet Union’s utter lack of readiness for any war, no matter how small.
A conviction arose among military men, writers, historians, and politicians that the Red Army had demonstrated in Finland complete and utter lack of capacity to wage war. For many decades this idea has been taught in military academies, schools, and universities. However, the actions of the Red Army during the Winter War do not demonstrate weakness. They exhibit tremendous strength. First of all, it is necessary to keep in mind that the Red Army acted in conditions that no army had previously faced. It was conducting an attack in an average temperature of 21 to 24 degrees Celsius below zero. Sometimes it was warmer, but frequently it was colder. On the very first night of the war, the temperature was registered at minus 39 degrees Celsius. Some nights had been even colder. Action was taking place not only on the Karelian Isthmus, but also a thousand kilometers to the north, up to the Arctic Circle and even farther. The cold there was even more severe. Not a single army in the world had conducted an offensive operation, even a failed one, under a temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius. In such temperatures, no one had even attempted to conduct massive attacks, because it is impossible. Nevertheless, the Red Army conducted successful offensive operations in temperatures of minus 30 degrees Celsius and colder. Stalin ordered the army to act in impossible conditions, and the Red Army did the impossible.
How did the Finns defend themselves in those conditions?
Defense is a whole different story. For twenty years, practically Finland’s entire military budget went to funding the creation of fortifications on the Karelian Isthmus. Beyond the infinite minefields, the anti-tank trenches and granite obstacles, the concrete tetrahedrons, and the wire obstacles that stretched in rows of ten, twenty, and thirty, there was a place marked on the map as “hill 65.5,” protected by forty-seven rows of thick barbwire on metal stakes, connected to mines. In the last rows of barbwire, instead of stakes railroad tracks had been driven into the ground. Behind these rows of barricades were concrete casemates. Each major defensive construction stored ammunition and fuel, contained warm sleeping quarters, a restroom, a kitchen, a dining room, and had running water and electricity. Communication lines, command posts, hospitals — all were below ground, under concrete, in the woods, hidden in the snow, all in warmth. The snipers who spent days waiting for their victims, and the soldiers of the light ski squads which raided the rear of the Red Army, were warmly clad and well equipped. Finnish soldiers are born, raised, and trained to act in these conditions. They know that, after several days of active patrol or ski raids, they will return to their comfortable bunkers, where a bowl of hot soup waits for them and where they can rest before their next assignment. They know that in the event that they are wounded, an operating table well below the ground awaits them, along with a clean, dry, and warm hospital bed.
But try attacking under these conditions. Try to amputate a leg when beyond the thin cloth wall of the hospital tent the temperature is minus 40, and inside it is minus 30.
In addition to the cold, there was the snow. The depth of the snow cover was up to 1.5 meters. Even if the temperature had been warmer, but the snow cover the same, conducting offensive operations would still have been impossible. Under the snow were the swamps. Deep snow acts as insulation, so the swamps do not freeze. Furthermore, chemical reactions take place in the swamps and radiate heat. As a result, even in the most severe cold, people, cars, and tanks fall under the snow and drown in the marshes. But even this is not all. There are not only swamps, but also lakes. Many of them also do not freeze, and for the same reason: where there is no snow, the water freezes to the bottom, but where there is a thick snow cover, the ice is very thin, and can perhaps support a person, but not a tank. Finland is a land of a thousand lakes, but how can you tell what is a lake and what is a field? Everything around was white, fluffy, sparkling. “ The theater of operations consisted of 50 percent woodlands, 25 percent water, some swampland, and only about 10 percent of the total surface could be crossed by tanks.”7
On top of everything, under the snow were granite boulders. To the eye, the fields looked even under the snow. But as soon as the tanks tried to cross them, they ripped their tracks and broke their rollers. This happened even before they reached the minefields. The whole environment in Finland is one big anti-tank measure. Tanks cannot do anything here. Everywhere is either a field full of boulders, or a lake, or an impassible thicket of a forest. And all this is laced with millions of mines. A mistake can be made, but only once.
During the 105 days of the war, there were twenty-five days of flying weather. The rest of the time, blizzards or snowfall impeded flight. In December, there are very few daylight hours. Complete darkness falls at four o’clock. And farther north the day is even shorter, if there is any daytime at all. Any place where trees can grow, there is impenetrable forest. Tanks cannot do anything in the woods; artillery fire cannot be aimed in such thicket. There is no visible horizon. The observer cannot see where his shells go — he can hear them fly above his head, but he cannot see where they land. From the battery he hears yells: Too close? Too far? Who can tell? The only view of where the shells land is from the very field these shells land on. On the other hand, the Finnish artillery had always fought in these regions. Every battery had during years of peace drilled in these areas, and the aimers, observers, and commanders knew by heart the data for precision shelling.
And so, the Soviet artillery was pretty useless, the tanks were useless, for this environment is not for tanks. The air force also could not help, for it could not see anything. A tactics manual teaches: “From above, the forest resembles an even surface, and to locate troops in a forest is a rare occurrence.” Under normal conditions, it is difficult to pick out enemy troops in a thick forest. But here, there was nothing to pick out — the Finns were under the snow, underground. In the daylight, the smoke from their stoves could be observed only where they wanted it to be seen, in decoy locations. But where is this daylight anyway?
The advancing armies could not go underground, because in December in Finland the frozen ground is little different from granite. And the wounded did not need to be dragged to the hospital, because in such extreme cold the wounded froze to death even with relatively light blood loss. In 1944 the German Colonel General L. Rendulic fought in the same regions:
This impenetrable region was further fortified by obstacles, and anti-infantry and anti-tank devices. Manmade obstacles were worked into the natural surroundings with great skill. Streams and small rivers crisscrossed the region and had high cliffs for shores. The shores were scarped. All bridges were blown up. All paths leading to the bridges were mined and under constant fire by the snipers. Behind all this was the main defense line, seven to twelve kilometers in depth.
But we know all this only now. Back then, the Soviet command knew none of this. Behind the main line they once again found fortifications and another security pale, and again minefields, barricades, and another fortified line.
The walls of the defense structures were concrete, one and a half to two meters thick. The above-ground walls were covered by armored plates, and all this was buried under multi-ton granite boulders and covered with soil. All was camouflaged and hidden. Above these casemates rose tall, thick pine forests, which in turn were covered with snow. Machine gunners, riflemen, and artillerymen were sitting behind the steel and concrete fortifications. Deep embrasures dimmed the flashes of fire and dulled the bangs. The Finns fired at point-blank range, while the advancing troops thought they were under long-range fire.
The Finns used cement of the brand “600” in the construction of their fortifications. For every cubic meter of concrete, they used 95 kilograms of steel armature. Here are the results: Soviet 280-mm mortar guns and 203-mm howitzers fired directly on the Finnish strongpoint named “pillbox #0031.” They used specially designed ammunition for firing on concrete. A 203-mm shell for the B-4 howitzer weighs 100 kg.9 The 280-mm shell for the B-5 mortar weighs 246 kg. There were 1,043 of the 203-mm shells and 116 of the 280-mm ones fired at the pillbox #0031. Only after this did the pillbox cease to resist attack. One hundred and thirty-two tons of shells for one pillbox!
Let us imagine preparations for the shelling of this pillbox. First of all, it must be located — this costs many human lives. Then one has to approach the pillbox through mine-fields and other obstacles. This also costs many human lives. Then, under constant fire from the pillbox, one must calculate and prepare positions for one’s arms, and then secure them in these positions. The 203-mm howitzer weighs 17.7 tons in battle-ready position, and 19 tons in travel-ready position. The 280-mm mortar gun weighs 18.4 tons and 19.7 tons, respectively. They must be taken apart and towed by tractors on the small country roads and roadless terrain, since the pillbox is never located on a major road. During the transportation, the assembly process, and the positioning, these giants are extremely vulnerable. Then it is necessary to bring in the shells. The net weight of the ammunition used to shell one pillbox #0031 was 132,836 kilograms. But the shells are stored in secure wooden crates, which create additional weight. Boxes weighing 200 to 300 kg must be loaded onto trucks and brought to the firing positions on narrow dirt roads. Here, they must be unloaded. And this is only the shells. There are also the charges. Several tens of kilograms of gunpowder are needed in order to push a shell of such mass from the barrel. In a weapon of such caliber the charges are separate, and instead of cartridges one must use powder bags — silk sacks full of gunpowder that catch flame when used. Several tens of tons of gunpowder in silk bags constitute a very capricious and extremely dangerous cargo. Transportation and storage of this cargo is a very delicate, labor-intensive, and risky occupation.
If during the shelling of the pillbox #0031 the 203-mm howitzer fired one shot every two minutes,10 then for 1,043 shots they needed 2,086 minutes, or almost thirty-five hours. But firing constantly without breaks is impossible. One can only shoot during daylight, or it is impossible to correctly direct the fire. But perhaps the pillbox #0031 was under fire from an entire battery, not just a lonely howitzer? These weapons are so huge and cumbersome that one battery only has two of them. One battalion has three batteries — six howitzers. If the shelling comes indeed from a battery or from an entire artillery battalion the time needed to take down the pillbox diminishes. But then other difficulties appear: it is one thing to set up one howitzer in a good firing position, a whole different story if one needs to set up two, or six. Plus, the 280-mm mortar guns are nearby and firing away. It becomes very simple for the enemy to detect the firing positions of these giant weapons. These monsters, when in firing position, are extremely vulnerable to all fire.
Furthermore, the barrel of the 203-mm howitzer weighs five tons. At the moment it fires, a giant shell instantly accelerates to a speed of 607 meters per second. The barrel undergoes tremendous heat and dynamic stress. It can quickly overheat, to the point that all firing needs to be stopped. Additionally, the barrel wears out quickly and often needs to be replaced. All this is involved in shelling just one pillbox #0031.
The shelling of Finnish pillboxes was not always as successful as the case described here. Against the pillbox #0011, the Soviets unleashed 1,322 shells from 203-mm howitzers and 280-mm mortars — almost two hundred tons. The pillbox was partially damaged, but even after this it continued to resist. Sometimes, at the cost of much blood, Soviet combat engineers crawling under crossfire made their way to the Finnish pillboxes and attempted to blow them up. They discovered that a charge carrying 5,500 kg of explosives was not sufficient for blowing up a pillbox.11
From April 14 to April 17, 1940, in Stalin’s presence, the Kremlin assembled a council of the supreme command staff to discuss the events of the Winter War and share opinions. It was decided that the 203-mm howitzer did not have enough power to destroy such constructions as the pillboxes. To solve this kind of problem a 305-mm howitzer was needed.12 For the record: the 1939 model of the Soviet 305-mm howitzer B-18 weighed 45.7 tons, and a shell for it weighed 330 kg. The initial speed of the shell was 530 m/s. The maximum distance the shells could be fired was 16.6 km. Only such “monster-weapons” were suited for the destruction of the Finnish defenses.
The military experts of the West should have recognized the amazing warfare capabilities of the Red Army and the fallacy of their assumptions. From the actions in Finland, there could be only one logical conclusion: nothing is impossible for the Red Army. If it was capable of advancing in such conditions, then it was capable of advancing in any other conditions — there could be no worse conditions than those in Finland in the winter. If the Red Army had broken through the Mannerheim Line, then it was ready to crush Europe and whoever got in the way. In Finland the Red Army proved that it could accomplish any task, even an “impossible” one. The victorious Red Army accomplished what the strategists of the West had deemed unfeasible. But the strategists did not accept the fallacy of their predictions. Instead they declared the Red Army to be unfit and unprepared for war.
However, all who had followed the developments of the Winter War did not pay attention to certain inconsistencies. The first strange thing happened on March 12, 1940, after the Red Army broke through the Mannerheim Line. After this, a completely defenseless Finland spread out before it. Finland could now be taken by bare hands, like a turtle whose shell has been ruptured. But the Red Army, having broken through the impenetrable defense system of the Finns, stopped its advance. Why? In December 1939, already having premonitions of the strength of the Mannerheim Line, the Red Army should have stopped its advance and not gone to storm it. But if the Red Army did storm the line and, at the cost of unimaginable casualties, managed to break through it, it should have used what it gained. Stalin broke into the safe, but then did not take anything from it. Where was Stalin’s logic?
The second inconsistency: all leading military experts before the Winter War declared that breaking through the Mannerheim Line could not be done by any army. The Red Army did the impossible. Furthermore, it broke through the line impromptu, for it had not prepared for such limiting conditions. The Red Army broke through the line in only three months, when all the military experts of the West had maintained that it could not be done in any time frame. And now, all of a sudden these same experts began talking of the Red Army being completely unfit for war.
The third inconsistency: the first and loudest reports of the Red Army’s poor performance in Finland came in newspapers funded by Stalin. Stalin’s court poet, Alexander Tvardovsky, suddenly began speaking of the “infamous war.” For some reason he was not executed. For some reason, he was awarded Stalin’s praises. Stalin was wise enough to end his “liberation crusade” after the Mannerheim Line was broken and Finland was deprived of her security barrier.
Military operations in Finland were ended on March 13, 1940, and only three months later the three Baltic states, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia, surrendered to Stalin without a fight and became republics of the Soviet Union. The governments and military leadership of these countries had carefully watched the war in Finland and drew from their observations a frightening, but correct conclusion: the Red Army was capable of carrying out impossible orders, and it would not be stopped by any number of casualties. If Stalin commanded the Red Army to annihilate somebody, it would sustain whatever losses it took to accomplish the order. Therefore, the three states surrendered without firing a single shot. They understood that resistance was futile. Meanwhile, Stalin issued an ultimatum to the leadership of Romania: give up Bessarabia. Remembering the experience of Finland, the Romanian government did not even organize lengthy talks: it handed over Bessarabia, and on top of it Northern Bukovina.
The Red Army conducted in Finland a unique and unparalleled operation. The Red Army performed in a fashion unrivaled and unrepeated by any army in history, but for some reason Hitler concluded that it had performed poorly. German generals were watching wonders unfold before their eyes, but did not understand the significance of what they were seeing. German generals were unable to appreciate what they observed. Thus, the people surrounding and counseling Hitler made strange deductions concerning Stalin’s readiness for war. Goebbels’s diary from those days is full of remarks of this sort: “November 11, 1939: The Russian army presents no value. The army is poorly commanded, and it is even more poorly armed. . . . December 4, 1939: The Russian Army is of little value. . . . January 23, 1940: The military strength of Moscow is almost insignificant.”13 Goebbels wrote down not only his own opinion, but also Hitler’s: “He once again notes the catastrophic state of the Russian army. It can hardly be used for military action.”14
For the Red Army, the war in Finland was a vaccine against hubris, boastful dispositions, and underestimating the enemy. The war in Finland taught the Red Army a lot: in 1941 near Moscow and in 1942 near Stalingrad, German troops met the Red Army, which by then knew how to fight in the winter. The German army, however, was not at all taught by the war in Finland. This war played a dirty trick on Hitler. He did not understand this war, did not correctly assess its hardships, and therefore made disastrous miscalculations. He suddenly decided that the Red Army was not ready for war and was unfit for any kind of action. Hitler turned out to be wrong. No conclusion about the strength of the Soviets follows out of the fact that the Red Army did not reach Helsinki. On the contrary, it follows that the Red Army was capable of reaching Berlin.
Many German generals realized that the Red Army, according to the results of the fighting in Finland, was assessed incorrectly. During the Battle of Stalingrad, Goering had publicly declared that the war the Soviet Union had launched against Finland was “perhaps one of the biggest cover-ups in world history.” Goering believed that Stalin deliberately “sent to Finland a few divisions, equipped with obsolete weaponry, in order to hide the creation by the Soviet Union of an unprecedented war machine.”15 In closed circles, Hitler himself admitted the mistake. This occurred on April 12, 1942. Hitler said the following: “ The entire war with Finland in 1940, just as the Russian advance into Poland with obsolete tanks and weapons and poorly clothed soldiers, was nothing other than a grandiose disinformation campaign, because Russia at that time controlled arms which made it, in comparison with Germany and Japan, a world power.” He also said, on June 22, 1942: “Back home in Russia, they created an extremely powerful military industry . . . and the more we find out what goes on in Russia, the more we rejoice that we delivered the decisive blow in time. The Red Army’s weaponry is the best proof that they succeeded in reaching extremely high achievements.” 16
Germany’s Strategic Resources and Stalin’s Plans
The Fuehrer noted that the objective of gaining control of the Finnish Gulf is paramount,
War is gluttonous, that is why every strategist constructs maps of supply routes that enable key raw materials to reach his country and the country of his opponent. His goals are to defend his supply lines and cut those of the opponent. If one draws a map of supply sources and supply routes, it becomes clear that Germany’s position in 1939 was particularly difficult. After 1939 the position did not improve; it actually worsened. On the grand scale, Germany has no raw materials. Germany is tied by thousands of fragile strings to the rest of the world. Taking over Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, France, Yugoslavia, and Greece, and conducting the Anschluss of Austria and Germany did not solve Germany’s supply problem. Gaining control over millions of people and huge territories that did not contain raw materials only led Germany to spread herself thin, and did not bring any advantages.
Here is another aspect of the problem: Germany, France, Belgium — all have powerful steel-casting industries, but they do not have much iron ore. Too many things on the front and in the rear, from the soles of soldiers’ boots to battleships, are made of steel. Due to steel shortages, German leaders — as high-ranking as Goering — seriously considered the possibility of building locomotives of concrete instead of steel.1 Due to steel shortages, damaged bridges were repaired using wooden logs instead of steel beams. Due to steel shortages, railroad rails from spare tracks were used to repair the damaged sectors of primary tracks. Railroad tracks with two-way traffic were transformed into one-track roads. This slowed the entire rhythm of production in Germany and in the countries Germany occupied.
In any case, Hitler could not have counted on a quick victory — he had too many enemies. A long war was a path to suicide for Hitler, in the most literal sense of the word. In order to maintain for just a few years what he wanted to establish, he needed to gain iron ore supply. The richest ore mines in Europe, with high iron readings of up to 60 to 65 per-cent, were located in the area of Kiruna-Ellivare in the very north of Sweden, and arrived at German ports through the Baltic Sea. 2
One of the weakest links of the German economy was the loading of iron ore in the Swedish port of Lulea, followed by the long trip along Finland’s coast through the Gulf of Bothnia, past the Åland Islands, past the islands Gotland, Oland, Bornholm, and then the unloading in the German ports. The iron ore was loaded almost at the Arctic Circle and was transported across the entire Baltic Sea from the northernmost to the southernmost ports. Neither the British, nor the French, nor any other fleets posed any threat to the transport of iron ore across the Baltic. For a foreign fleet, breaking into the Baltic Sea was like breaking into a mousetrap and staying trapped there. But the Soviet Navy did not need to break into anything. It was already there, in its bases, peacefully awaiting the right opportunity.
For defending the Soviet Union a fleet in the Baltic Sea is not needed at all. Prior to 1940, the Soviet Union held a very small piece of seashore there. For more than two hundred years St.Petersburg (known as Leningrad in the Soviet era) was the capital of the empire, and for that reason along this stretch of shoreline all the Russian tsars, beginning with Peter the Great, had erected fortifications. The entire shoreline was transformed into a chain of sea fortresses, fortified regions, and coastal artillery batteries/p>
A coastal battery is something more impressive than a field artillery battery. A coastal battery can be compared to the artillery turret of battleships and cruisers. Under these turrets there are labyrinths of concrete casemates. A battleship turret weighs several hundred tons, sometimes even several thousand. Unlike the one on the ship, the same gun turret mounted on land can be defended by armored plates of any weight. Under the turret it is possible to erect casemates from fortified concrete with walls of any thickness. And it must be said that the Russian tsars put down enough concrete and steel in St.Petersburg’s surroundings, and the Bolsheviks added even more.
The coastline defenses of the Soviet Union’s Baltic fleet on June 21, 1941, had 124 coastal batteries armed with 253 weapons from 100 to 406 mm in caliber and 60 weapons that were 45 and 76 mm in caliber.3
The statistics of the coastline defense weapons are impressive. For example, a 305-mm cannon could launch shells weighing 470 kg to a distance of 43.9 km. One of the turrets had the capacity to fire six rounds a minute, almost three tons of metal. A 406-mm weapon launched a shell weighing 1,108 kg to a distance of 45.5 km. This weapon was capable of firing the next round only twenty-four seconds after the preceding one.4
Aside from coastline batteries and forts, the Leningrad region had a rather impressive concentration of naval cannons on railroad platforms. These long-range weapons were parked in concrete hideaways. There is a web of railroads around Leningrad, so the long-range weapons on railroad platforms could be maneuvered quickly and fired from prearranged and well-concealed firing positions, and then quickly moved away. The most important weapon of railroad artillery was the 180-mm cannon with shells of 97.5 kg. It could fire five rounds a minute, and its range was 37.8 km. There were also even more powerful cannons: the 203-, 254-, and 356-mm. The 356-mm cannons on railroad transports shot shells weighing 747.8 kg and had a firing range of 44.6 km.
Three naval fortified regions protected the direct gateways to Leningrad: the Kronstadt, Izhorsk, and Luzhsk, so the routes to the city could be shelled by powerful crossfire from all directions. Each battery, each fort, each fortified region, and each naval base had ammunition and supplies enough to last them for the entire four years of the war. No one would have the idea of launching an amphibious assault here or storming the city. Besides, Leningrad had ninety-one anti-aircraft batteries with a total of 352 anti-aircraft cannons. Why on earth would the Baltic region need a fleet on top of all this?
If the Soviet Union meant to defend itself, it did not need battleships in the Baltic Sea. In case of need, even without battleships, it was possible to quickly unload barges full of mines at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland and thus to cut off the approach to Leningrad. In defensive warfare a Soviet Baltic fleet was unnecessary. In fact, that is what happened —the Soviet Baltic fleet stayed without action for the entire duration of the war. In the event of attack by an aggressor, the Soviet Baltic fleet was extremely vulnerable. The aggressor could simply block the Soviet fleet by laying a couple of hundred mines on the shallow accesses to the naval bases. Indeed, that was done by the German fleet in June 1941. In a defensive war, ships, especially large ones, are forced to sideswipe in a shallow and narrow gulf, trapped in a blind alley.
In 1939 Hitler launched World War II against the rest of the world, having in his possession only fifty-seven submarines. His opponents were the almighty British and French fleets and, potentially, the U.S. navy. Hitler’s navy had to lead an uneven battle in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. In the Baltic, Hitler had almost nothing left. In the summer of 1941 in the Baltic Sea, the German navy had only five training submarines and twenty-eight torpedo motorboats, some of which were also used for training. The rest were secondary forces: mine blockers, various motorboats, and minesweepers.5 But peace-loving comrade Stalin watched the struggle between Germany, France, and Britain and beefed up the might of his Baltic fleet. What for?
In 1933 Stalin had already said: “ The Baltic Sea is a sealed bottle, and we can’t open it.”6 Nevertheless, out of every three battleships, Stalin kept two in the Baltic, as if in a corked bottle. In 1941 on the Baltic Sea alone Stalin had sixty-nine submarines.7 No one in the world had such a number of submarines collected in one place. What task could Stalin set before his battleships and submarines in the closed aquarium of the Baltic Sea? Only one: to sink German transports of iron ore. There was no other work there for them.
Aside from submarines and battleships, Stalin had two cruisers, twenty-one destroyers, forty-eight torpedo motorboats, and other forces. On the Baltic Sea, the German navy did not even have its own air force.8 The Soviet Baltic fleet had 656 war planes, mostly bombers and torpedo carriers.9 Once again we ask: what was this all for? Why such a huge quantity of torpedo carriers and bombers, if Hitler had no large ships in the Baltic? The answer is always the same: the targets were not his warships, but his transports of ore. At any moment, the Soviet fleet could have raised anchor, reached the German and Swedish ports, blocked them with thousands of mines, and sunk the defenseless transports. This would have ended the war for Germany, and this must have been known and understood in Berlin from the start. Hitler fought against Britain and France, while behind his back Stalin held up high a glittering ax.
At the end of November 1939, Stalin made a huge mistake — he launched a war against Finland. The victory in Finland was a second warning to Hitler that Stalin was approaching the Swedish sources of ore. The Red Army, acting on Stalin’s orders, got through the Finnish fortifications and halted its advance. Finland without the fortifications was defenseless. At any moment, Stalin could have given another order and renewed the advance of the Red Army. From Finnish territory it could have bombed Swedish ore mines and railroads unhindered. No one could have impeded this. The seizure of the Åland Islands alone would have been enough to close off the mouth of the Gulf of Bothnia, which would have meant an end to World War II with a Soviet victory.
And that was not all. In the part of Europe that was occupied by Hitler there are no forests. The forests are in Finland and Sweden. Any possible cessation of the shipment of lumber across the Baltic Sea carried with it a multitude of consequences, and all were negative. The wood was needed for building and restoring railroad ties and for mining coal, which was needed for forging steel. No wood meant no transport along the railroads. During peacetime in Germany there was already a yearly timber shortage of about 6 million tons. Instead of wood pulp they had to use potato foliage. The Fuehrer himself attests to that.10
But that was just during peacetime, when no one hindered the transport of timber across the Baltic Sea. As soon as Stalin’s submarines struck German timber carriers, Germany would have wound up without wood at all. Potato stalks would not have sufficed to make up the shortage, because they cannot replace good wood in all its uses. It is possible to make poor quality paper out of them, but impossible to make railroad ties, impossible to timber coal mines.
On top of everything else, Germany had no nickel. It was impossible to fight without nickel — but the nickel supplies were in Finland. At the beginning of 1940, during the course of the war against Finland, the Red Army had seized control of the nickel mines in Petsamo, and then in the spring of 1940, according to the peace treaty, returned them. But now nickel was obtained according to joint Soviet-Finnish shareholding companies with the participation of Soviet engineers and workers. The Soviet government insisted that the director of the entire operation be a Soviet man. Nickel from Petsamo went to both Germany and the Soviet Union. Germany was receiving 70,000 tons from this area, or 70 percent of Germany’s annual demand of this strategic mineral.11 However, the nickel supply could be stopped at any moment. The Soviet 104th Rifle Division, under Major General Morozov (of the 42nd Rifle Corps of the 14th Army) stood right outside the nickel mines.
German strategists did not fear a new Soviet invasion of Finland in vain. On November 25, 1940, the People’s Commissar of Defense of the USSR, Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Timoshenko, and Chief of General Staff of the Red Army General K. A. Meretskov signed a directive to the staff of the Leningrad military district. Only one copy of the document was produced, and it was labeled top secret and especially important. Let’s remember the date — November 25, 1940 — we will return to it later on.
The document begins by saying:
This plan of action was given the name “S.3-20.” The plan was to be put into action at the moment of receipt of a coded telegram with the signature of the chief of the general staff and the following contents: “Commence execution of plan ‘S.3-20’.”12
In this plan there was no mention of the fact that the Soviet Union would fight for the “guarantee of safety to the city of Lenin,” that is, Leningrad. And there were no hints that military actions must be initiated only in response to enemy aggression. The usual words “if the enemy wages war upon us . . .” were absent. Here, it was much simpler: at any moment, the Leningrad staff would receive a telegram from Moscow, and Soviet armies would advance to the Gulf of Bothnia, to the Swedish border, to the Åland Islands! The trusted comrades at the right moment would set up a new “provocation of the Finnish war machine on our frontier,” and those whose job it was to do so would explain to the workers of the world the meaning of the “peace-loving global politics of the USSR” and the necessity of our “counter-blows to the Finnish aggressors.”
The plan “S.3-20” could have been a stand-alone one, but it could also have been part of a much broader scheme. The plan “S.3-20” allowed the armies of the Leningrad and Arkhangelsk districts, together with the Baltic fleet, to deliver blows to Finland before the Red Army hit Germany, simultaneously, or slightly later. But in any case, the blow to Finland was also a blow to Germany. In the event of putting plan “S.3-20” into action, Soviet troops were to seize the nickel mines in Petsamo and the Åland Islands, and make their way to the city of Kemi. It was not a coincidence that in 1940, on the Baltic Sea, the first marine infantry brigade was formed under the leadership of the Soviet saboteur Colonel Parafilo. It remained only to send to the Leningrad headquarters the coded message: “Bring plan into execution.” There is no need to search for a plan for war against Germany. If plan “S.3-20” had been realized, it meant a deadly blow not only to Finland, but to Germany as well.
In the summer of 1940, Stalin committed another error: he brought Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union, organized on their territory the Baltic special military district, and concentrated all the forces of that region on the border of Eastern Prussia. This was completely unnecessary, and even harmful, for defense. Some say that Stalin moved his border to the West and thus strengthened the safety of the USSR. But in fact the situation was exactly the opposite. Before the occupation of the Baltic states, the Red Army had a divisive barrier in this region. Consequently, in the event of aggression Hitler’s armies had to crush the armed forces of three independent states before meeting the Red Army. Even if he had to spend only a few days in order to crush the armies of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, a surprise attack on Soviet airbases in this direction would have been out of the question. The Red Army would have had the chance to put its forces on high alert and take its positions. After the destruction of the three states’ armies Hitler’s forces would have approached Lake Chudskoe, which is impossible to cross. If they had tried to go around the lake, Hitler’s armies would have come straight into Soviet fortified areas.
But everything unfolded according to a different scenario. The Red Army came out of its fortified areas to the front lines in Lithuania, right up to the German border, and transferred there its air bases, staff headquarters, communication centers, and strategic supply resources. For the people of the three Baltic states, Stalin’s army became the aggressor and occupant, and Germany, if it decided to attack the USSR, would have become the liberator.
On June 22, 1941, the Red Army suffered a surprise attack from the German armies along the entire stretch of the border, including the Baltic states. The command centers were disrupted and Soviet aviation suffered significant losses on border air bases. Moreover, a widespread popular uprising in the Baltic states flared up against the Red Army. The Soviet “liberators” were shot at from every rooftop. The Red Army was left in the Baltic region without any fortified regions, and behind their backs, on Russian territory, remained empty fortified areas without any troops. German troops led by General Field Marshal von Manstein seized them immediately.
Skeptics disagree: if Stalin had not occupied the Baltic states, Hitler could have seized them without war, by simply moving his troops there as he did in Czechoslovakia. To this theory, there is a rebuttal. It should have been explained to Hitler clearly that if German troops attempted to enter the Baltic states area, the Soviet Union, without warning, would begin sinking German transports of ore and wood in the Baltic Sea, setting up mines in the entryways of German ports, and bombing Berlin. The Soviet Union would form international brigades and launch them into the Baltic states’ territory together with millions of Soviet volunteers. And when Hitler’s forces grew weak in the war with the USSR, Britain and France would use the opportunity and strangle Germany according to their best interests, eliminating it as a dangerous adversary and once again imposing retributions.
Such a declaration would have been correctly understood around the world. In such an event the people of the Baltic states would not have been enemies of the Soviets, but their allies. In such an event, the “forest brothers” (the Baltic states’ partisans) would have been shooting the backs of German soldiers, not the Soviets. In such an event, international brigades would have been fighting on the side of the Baltic states. There were always enough volunteers to be found around the world.
In August 1939 the Soviet Union’s position was announced loud and clear: Mongolian territory will be defended from Japanese aggression as if it was our own. And that was done! This position was correctly understood in the entire world, including Japan. As a result of this decisiveness and strictness, Japanese aggression against the Soviet Union was averted. Why did the Soviet Union, in 1939, not take the same position regarding the Baltic states?
The occupation of those states by the Red Army made sense only if there were plans for an aggressive war against Germany. The Red Army came right up to the German border and transferred its air bases to the very front edge of that border. From the bases in Lithuania it could support the advance of Soviet troops right up to Berlin. Additionally, the Soviet navy received naval bases in Tallinn, Riga, and Liepāja. The primary forces of the navy and reserves were immediately transferred there. From Liepāja to the routes taken by caravans carrying ore, nickel, and wood to Germany, there was a very small distance. A strike from this area could be sudden and crippling.
For Hitler, this would have been the curtain call. Hitler understood that at any moment the Soviet fleet could cut the only tie binding the faraway Swedish ports with the metal-forging bases in Germany.
The Carving Up of Romania, and its Consequences
Had we not succeeded in halting Russian troops during their entrance into Romania
Stalin strove to persuade Hitler that he wanted peace. At the same time, Stalin very persistently crawled toward the vital life-sustaining resources of Germany. For Stalin, it was not enough that the Red Army and fleet had under their control all the routes through which Germany got her iron ore, timber, and nickel. Stalin decided to move his divisions right up to the regions from which Germany received its petroleum supplies.
In August 1939, Stalin (with Molotov’s hand) signed a pact, according to which Hitler got a war on two fronts, and according to which the British fleet blocked Germany and did not allow petroleum shipments to come in by sea. Germany had only one possible source of oil significant enough to be noted — Ploieẟti in Romania. The loss of this source of oil would have put a complete stop to German production, army, aviation, and navy. On June 9, 1940, the People’s Commissar for Defense, Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Timoshenko, signed a directive about the creation of the southern front. General G. K. Zhukov was nominated to command that front. The front consisted of the 5th, 9th, and 12th armies. Overall, the southern front consisted of thirteen corps: ten rifle corps and three mounted corps. Together there were forty divisions: thirty-two rifle divisions, two motorized rifle divisions, and six mounted divisions. There were fourteen separate brigades: eleven tank brigades and three paratroop brigades. Reinforcements consisted of sixteen heavy artillery regiments and four artillery battalions of high power. The Southern front’s aviation consisted of twenty-one fighter and twenty-four bomber regiments. The total number of troops was 460,000 soldiers and officers, using twelve thousand guns, three thousand tanks, and two thousand planes.
Having concentrated such might on the Romanian border, Stalin ordered Zhukov to use threats or battle to obtain Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina from Romania, and to secure arm’s-length access to Romania’s undefended oil fields, which were two hundred kilometers from the border.
Zhukov’s Southern front was ready to crush Romania, but in the sumer of 1940 he did not have to fight. Romania’s leaders had witnessed the brilliant victories sustained by the Red Army in Finland and had a clear understanding that it was better to accede to Stalin’s wishes without battle. The sides agreed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict. At the end of June 1940 Romanian troops retreated from and Soviet troops entered Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. These territories were added to the constituency of the Soviet Union.
In June 1940 three paths were open before the Southern front commanded by General Zhukov: two were correct, one was deadly. The first correct path: deliver a blow to Bessarabia and continue to advance toward the oil fields of Ploieẟti. Three thousand Soviet tanks and two thousand airplanes were more than enough to reach the oil fields and ignite a fire. This would have meant the end for Germany. If the Southern front in June 1940 had dealt a blow to Romania, World War II would have ended in 1940 with a victory by the Soviet Union and an establishment of Communist regimes over the entire European continent. If the events had unfolded in such a manner, giant colonies of the French, Belgian, and Dutch empires would have been transferred to Stalin’s control.
The second path was more risky, but promised even more victories: in June 1940 Stalin could have simply done nothing. He could have waited. He would not have had to wait much longer. After defeating France, Hitler could have delivered a blow to Britain. The risk for Stalin lay only in the fact that after the defeat of France, Britain and Germany could have concluded peace. In that case, Stalin would have been left one-on-one against Germany. However, if Hitler, as he planned, landed his troops in Britain, the task of “liberating” Europe became much simpler: Zhukov would have struck the Romanian oil fields, then the Red Army would have begun its “liberating operations” in Europe, all while the best German troops were off the continent, in Britain, from where they could return immediately.
The third path was deadly. In June 1940 Zhukov’s Southern front took over Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina — then halted halfway to the oilfields of Ploieẟti.
Hitler said in 1942 that he was able to force Stalin to be satisfied in 1940 with Bessarabia alone. This was not so. Firstly, in the summer of 1940 Stalin had not yet set for Zhukov the objective of crushing Romania. Secondly, in 1940, in the heat of the fighting in France, Hitler had no means of exerting influence over Stalin. If Stalin had ordered his troops to crush Romania in the summer of 1940, nobody would have been capable of stopping the advance of Zhukov’s Southern front.
As a result of the “liberation crusades” the distance from the new Soviet frontier to the oil fields of Ploieẟti was now just 180 km. This was a clear, open area. Troops from the Odessa military district were concentrated at the very border, ready as soon as they got the first order to continue the “liberation” right up to the oil wells. Soviet tanks numbered over three thousand; the Romanians had sixty tanks. The Soviet “obsolete” BT-7M tank even officially had a speed of 86 km/h (in reality it was faster). The Romanian tanks opposing it were FT-17s, and had a maximum speed of 9 km/h. Therefore, the Soviet tanks could just disregard their Romanian opponents, ignore them and bypass them at their will. Even if one were to set one thousand Soviet tanks against sixty Romanian ones, even then the remaining two thousand could advance to Ploieẟti unhindered, without leaving the main road and without maneuvers. Even if they were to advance at only 25 km/h, they would have needed only seven to eight hours — one night! Moreover, Stalin did not just have simple tanks, but fast-moving ones, made especially for such advances. The area ahead of them was even and flat, the ground was hard, and the roads were in good condition. The BT tanks could easily reach a speed of 40 to 50 km/h here, and without their tracks that would rise to 70 to 80 km/h. at would have come to only three hours of plain driving time. And it was not at all necessary for all the tanks to reach the oil wells. If only ten tanks had reached them that would have sufficed. Oil fields can be ignited with incendiary shells, or even with a simple soldier’s lighter. Without oil, one cannot fight. Oil is not only fuel; it is also a raw resource for the chemical industry, without which one cannot get by. If only one Soviet tank company of ten tanks had wound up in the Ploieẟti vicinity, and if each driver had had a box of matches, the war in Europe would have ended with the early defeat of the Third Reich.
A seizure of Ploieẟti by Soviet troops, or just a fire in the oil production areas, would have meant paralysis for Germany. In the event of Ploieẟti falling to the Soviets, all German tanks, automobiles, cruisers, battleships, submarines, and airplanes would have been stopped in their tracks. Who cares that you have talented generals, officers, soldiers, pilots, and artillerists? Without fuel all their talents would be completely useless. A freeze on oil supply to the German war machine opened up the way for thousands of other Soviet tanks. From Brest and Lvov, from Belostok and Grodno, the road to Berlin was now very short. If the German army and aviation were paralyzed, and no one offered resistance, then on good roads the tank units could reach not only Berlin and Munich, but Paris and Marseille as well.
In May and June of 1940 Hitler was crushing the armies of Britain, Belgium, Holland, and France. German tank units headed for the Atlantic Ocean, making a huge detour around Paris. Practically the entire Germany army fought in the West. Hitler victoriously crushed France and British troops on the continent. Against France and Britain, Hitler threw his entire naval fleet, air force, all his tanks, and all his heavy artillery. The best German generals fought there. And in the rear, on the borders of the Soviet Union, Hitler left only ten weak infantry divisions. Here, there was not a single tank, a single airplane, a single heavy artillery weapon. Most importantly, the ten infantry divisions were all in Poland and Slovakia. In Romania, there were no German troops.
In June 1940 neither Hitler nor his generals had any intentions or plans to attack the Soviet Union. The Oberkommando des Heeres (OKH — German Army High Command) and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW — Supreme Command of the Armed Forces) had neither rough drafts nor preliminary designs for a war against the USSR. They had no orders from Hitler in this regard. Not a word was said about war against the USSR.
After the defeat of France, Hitler ordered a drastic reduction in German armed forces. This reduction was widespread and intense, for there were no plans, hints, or foresight indicating that a war against the Soviet Union might be approaching. And all at once came the Soviet strike against Romania. Oil is the blood of war. Without oil, fighting becomes impossible. Stalin’s axe was raised over the oil production in Romania.
In Berlin, it was finally recognized that the Soviet threat to Germany was lethal. Soviet tanks advanced to Romania, causing chaos in German headquarters: if the tanks did not stop, if they advanced another 180 km, then Germany would capitulate within the next few months. Romanian troops made no resistance and put up no obstacles to the Soviet advance. There were no German troops in Romania. It was impossible to quickly transfer troops from France. Even if it had been possible, a large number of German troops in Romania could not have received adequate supplies. Even if it had been possible to provide supplies, then Germany would have been forced to have fewer troops in Poland, meaning an even more direct road to Berlin would have been laid open to Stalin’s tanks.
Soviet troops occupied Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina and stopped. Berlin breathed a sigh of relief. However, what would have happened if, the next day, Stalin had ordered the advance to continue? A solution was found: in case of an emergency, it would be necessary to deliver a warning blow to the Soviet Union, using ten divisions in another location, thereby creating for the Red Army a diversion from Romania. After conducting the battles on maps, the German high command understood that ten divisions would be insufficient. They decided to use twenty, and saw the same result. They increased the number of divisions, again and again. In the end, it was decided: in order to not allow Stalin to seize or destroy the oil industry in Romania, it was necessary to deliver a blow to the Soviet Union with the might of the entire German armed forces.
On July 21, 1940, Hitler for the first time in a very tight circle uttered the idea of the “Russian problem.” On July 21 the head of ground forces, General Field Marshal W. Brauchitsch, received an order from Hitler to begin developing a specific plan for war in the East. The next day, Brauchitsch entrusted Halder, the head of general staff for ground forces, with fully evaluating all the different potentialities “in a military operation against Russia.” Major General Erich Marcks was then appointed to Halder’s staff as an aide for developing the specifics of the eastern campaign. On July 29 Marcks began planning a military campaign against Russia.1
For the Soviet Union, the consequences of a bloodless victory in Romania were catastrophic. First of all, neutral Romania was faced with a terrible choice: whose side should it take? Europe was being torn into pieces by two monsters, Hitler and Stalin. Stalin had suddenly demanded Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, and Romania was forced to give them up. What would Stalin demand tomorrow? Hitler, on the other hand, did not demand anything. The choice was simple, and Romania got Hitler’s protection. The result: the Soviet Union obtained another hostile country along its border; the front, that was supposed to protect the USSR in case of war, stretched for almost another eight hundred kilometers; and Hitler received an ally that held oil. Without oil, Germany could not fight. In other words, having Romania in his arms, Hitler could attack the Soviet Union. Without this new alliance the attack would have been impossible. But the most important effect lay in something else. Stalin frightened Hitler. It was precisely the “liberation” of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina that acted as the last warning for Hitler. A direct Soviet threat arose over the oil fields of Romania, and precisely because of this threat Hitler ordered his commanders to prepare a strike against the Soviet Union.
In Stalin’s career there were few errors. One of the few, but the most significant one, was the occupation of Bessarabia in 1940. He could have taken Bessarabia and continued on to Ploieẟti, which would have meant the destruction of Germany. Or, he could have waited until Hitler landed troops in Britain, and after that he could have taken over all of Romania. This too would have ended the “thousand-year Reich.” Stalin, however, made one step in the direction of oil, took over the launching ground for the next attack — and stopped to wait. Through these actions, he showed interest in Romanian oil and alarmed Hitler, who before this had concentrated on the West, North, and South, without paying much attention to “neutral” Stalin in the East.
On July 16, 1940, Hitler signed the directive No.16 concerning preparations for landing troops in Great Britain. The operation was given the code name Zeeloewe (Sea Lion); the plan was for the operation to be completed by August 15. But the annexation of Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the Soviet Union forced Hitler to make a sharp U-turn and look at what was happening behind his back.
Why did Stalin need Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina? Here is the official answer of the Soviet historians to that question: “From the Bessarabian territory, the Soviet air force could keep Romanian oil industry, which was the main supplier of oil to Germany, under constant threat. Northern Bukovina was needed because through its territory went a railroad of strategic importance, which stretched from Odessa through Kishinev, Chernovtsi, to Lvov, and which had a European track which enabled it to allow usage by railroad cars from all over Europe.”2
Here is what Hitler had said regarding the same matter,(Piker, Hitler’s Table Talks, entry made on June 27, 1942):
Soviet historiography advanced Hitler’s argument. It talks not only of a real Soviet threat to the only German oil source, but also about a segment of railway for European cars. In the Soviet Union, the railways use a broad gauge. Central and Western Europe use a narrow gauge. In September 1939, during the partition of Poland, the Red Army seized half of Poland’s locomotives and railroad cars. They were useless in the territory of the Soviet Union, because the gauge on the “liberated” territories was quickly changed to fit the broad Soviet standard. But Stalin prepared for the “liberation” of Germany and the rest of Europe. During the course of the first future operations, before the German gauge was amended to fit the Soviet standard, Stalin would need many locomotives and trains with a narrow gauge to supply his troops that were quickly moving westward. The Polish locomotives and trains clearly did not suffice to supply millions of tons of ammunition, arms, liquid fuel, and spare parts. That is why Stalin took Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina — to expand the number of trains for railways with a narrow gauge. In the course of the Bessarabian campaign, Soviet forces captured 141 locomotives, 1,866 covered train cars, 325 half-covered train cars, 45 platforms, 19 cisterns, 31 passenger cars, and 2 luggage cars.4 But even that was not enough for Stalin. At the Soviet-Romanian talks in July 1940, regarding the settlement of contested issues, the Soviet representatives demanded that Romania return all captured mobile railroad units. On July 31, 1940, the two sides signed an agreement on the transfer of 175 locomotives and 4,375 cars to the USSR by August 25.5
In a defensive war, trains seized in Poland, Bessarabia, and Northern Bukovina would not have been needed. Thus, Stalin needed Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina not for defense, not in order to “bring the people happiness.” Stalin’s plot was much broader and deeper: to take Hitler by the throat and to bring “happiness” to all of Europe.
A question arises: are we not giving too much importance to the role played by Romanian oil? Did not Germany establish her own production of synthetic fuel? Such an
industry did indeed exist, but the problem of fuel was still not resolved. First of all, it is important to keep in mind that
synthetic fuel can never compete in quality with fuel made from petroleum. The use of synthetic fuel significantly lowers the tactical
and technical characteristics of weaponry, most of all airplanes, tanks, and ships. Your designers can create a wonderful aircraft,
your factories can have the best technological capabilities in the world, your workers and engineers can put into the building process
of the plane all their talent and effort, but with low-quality fuel the plane will still be slow, weak, and clumsy.
Now, let us talk about quantity. Germany’s minimum requirements for oil in 1941 were estimated at around 20 million tons.6 Hitler had allies who had armies, navies, and air forces, but they too did not have petroleum. They too had to be supplied by German fuel. Germany in 1941 was producing 4.1 million tons of synthetic fuel — one-fifth of the bare minimum. If one keeps in mind the allies, with whom Germany had to share, then the percentage of synthetic fuel in the overall balance of 1941 is completely insignificant. Aside from synthetic fuel, real petroleum came to Germany from Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, and Poland. Altogether, in 1941 that made 1.3 million tons. So for 1941 Germany made synthetic fuel and received real petroleum from occupied countries — together, this makes 5.4 million tons of fuel. Without the Romanian oil, with the remaining amount of fuel the German armies, navies, air forces, transport, and industry would have been able to fight for only three months out of the year and would have had to spend the remaining nine months shivering — until the next year.
Hitler thought that if the Red Army defeated Romania in 1940 or 1941, without Romanian oil Germany could hold on until the spring of 1942. This optimism cannot hold up when checked with arithmetic. Without Romanian oil only a quarter of the needs of the German economy and armed forces would have been met, and with poor and very expensive fuel at that. A taking of Romania by the Red Army in 1940 or 1941 would have turned into a catastrophe for Germany within two to three months.
How much oil was coming from Romania? In 1941, 5 million tons came in. This was not enough. But without it living and fighting were made impossible. While receiving oil from Romania, Germany could balance on a tightrope, somehow making do with an amount about half of its minimum needs. The petroleum situation in the invading army (which, clearly, was in a privileged position relative to all other consumers) on the eve of the war against the Soviet Union was the following: aircraft fuel was more or less in good supply; car and diesel fuel, on the other hand, was predicted to be at a 10 percent deficit even in July, and by August, the army on the Eastern front was going to have to be fueled, for the most part, by supplies directly out of Romania. By fall, the German petroleum reserves were predicted to be completely exhausted, with aircraft fuel only at 50 percent of the required amount, car fuel at 25 percent, and diesel fuel at 50 percent.7 Thus, the German high command depended heavily on the brevity of the Russian campaign, on shipments from Romania, and on plundered reserves.
During the course of the entire war, Germany’s problem with petroleum was never resolved. On June 6, 1942, the OKW evaluated the situation: “ The supply of fuel and oil materials in the current year will be one of the weaknesses of our military potential. The shortage of oil materials of all sorts is so great that freedom of operations will be threatened in all three branches of the armed forces, and will have a negative effect on military industry as well. . . . A small improvement can be anticipated toward the end of the year, when new factories for the production of synthetic fuel will be launched, but this will not bring a drastic improvement in the supply of Germany.”8 Germany’s supply worsened as the war progressed. Toward the end of the war, Germany was the first in the world to start producing jet-engine planes. The Me-262 fighter surpassed all other planes in speed and weapons. Germany produced 1,433 of them. However, there was not enough kerosene, and without kerosene the best fighter in the world could not fly. Out of almost 1,500 planes of this type built, only slightly more than two hundred took part in battles. The rest remained on the ground.
In the summer of 1940 Stalin made a fateful mistake. Already in 1939 Hitler had found himself in a strategic dead end, without an exit. In 1940 Stalin raised axes over Hitler’s head from two sides: over iron ore, timber, and nickel in the north, and over oil in the south. Stalin stalled, waiting for Hitler to attack Britain. But in 1941 Britain was not dangerous to Hitler. The danger came from Stalin. Hitler had no other choice. So, he jumped on Stalin. On June 21, 1941, Hitler wrote a letter to Mussolini: “Russia is trying to destroy the Romanian oil fields. . . . The task for our armies is eliminating this threat as soon as possible.” Herein lies the cause of Hitler’s attack. Tis was not at all a struggle for Lebensraum (living space).
The strategic miscalculations of 1940 were so rough, deep, and frightening that their catastrophic consequences for the fate of the Soviet Union could not later be resolved by any genius decisions and brilliant victories. Because of Stalin’s and Zhukov’s mistakes, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, destroyed its army, and crushed a large part of Soviet industry. In the end, the Soviet Union was unable to conquer Europe. Stalin lost the war for Europe and global domination. The free world survived, and it could not coexist with the Soviet Union. Therefore, the crumbling of the Soviet Union became inevitable. The roots of that crumbling lie in Zhukov’s victorious venture into Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina in the summer of 1940. The Soviet Union won World War II, but for some reason disappeared from the globe after this distinguishing victory. When Communists celebrate the so-called “victory day,” I ask: Where is this great victorious country? Where did it disappear? Germany lost the war, but we see her, one of the mightiest powers of contemporary Europe, at whose feet we now beg. So where is the great, mighty, uncrushable Soviet Union? Germany lost, but it is still here. The Soviet Union won, but it no longer exists. Who needs such a victory?
Destruction of the Buffer States between Germany and the Soviet Union
We are doing a deed that, if it succeeds, will turn the whole world
upside down and will free the entire workers’ class.
It is a fact of history that on June 22, 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union, suddenly and treacherously. However, it is a very strange fact. Before World War II, Germany had no common border with the Soviet Union and therefore could not attack it, especially in a sudden fashion. Germany and the Soviet Union were separated by a solid barrier of neutral countries. In order for the Soviet-German war to take place, it was necessary to create the right conditions: to destroy the barrier of neutral countries and establish common Soviet-German borders.
Everyone interested in the date June 22, 1941, before cursing Hitler and accusing him of treachery, has to answer at least two questions: who destroyed the buffer row of neutral countries between Germany and the Soviet Union and what for? The barrier between Germany and the USSR was double-layered, and only in one place single-layered. Poland was the only country that had at once a border with both Germany and the Soviet Union. Poland is the shortest, most direct, most convenient route between the USSR and Germany. Poland is the thinnest part of the dividing wall between the two countries. Obviously, the potential aggressor, wishing for a Soviet-German war to take place, would try to cut a corridor precisely in this location. Contrarily, the country not wishing for a war should, with all its might, all its wisdom, all the force of its international authority, not allow its adversary to penetrate Polish territory. Or, as a last resort, begin fighting that opponent on Polish soil, without letting him on its territory.
Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf : “We want to return to that point, at which our previous development six hundred years ago was halted. We want to halt Germany’s constant advance to the south and the west of Europe and decisively point our finger in the direction of territories located in the east.” In the 1930s, especially after the Nazis came to power, Hitler’s frankness sounded with a new power. But Hitler could not attack Stalin, because they did not share any borders.
Hitler began his movement to the east by turning to Stalin with a proposal for joint efforts in making a hole in the dividing wall between them. Stalin, with pleasure, accepted and enthusiastically tore down the Polish wall, hacking a corridor to meet Hitler. Hitler’s motives were understandable. But how does one explain Stalin’s actions?
Communist historians invented explanations for the deeds of the Soviet Union. The first explanation: having bloodied and ripped apart Poland, the Soviet Union moved its frontiers to the west, and thus fortified its security. What a strange explanation. Soviet frontiers were indeed moved two to three hundred kilometers, but at the same time Germany moved its frontiers two to three hundred kilometers to the east. This move decreased, rather than increased, the Soviet Union’s security. Furthermore, the completely new factor of a common Soviet-German border arose, which carried as a consequence the possibility of sudden war between Germany and the Soviet Union. Explanation number two: having axed Poland in the back at the moment of her desperate fight against the Nazis, Stalin attempted to delay the moment the Soviet-German war would start. This explanation stems from the old pretext: we started a fire in the neighbor’s house, hoping that the fire will reach and destroy our house later than it destroys his. The third explanation: France and Great Britain did not want to make a deal with the Soviet Union. It is a blatant lie. France and Great Britain did want an anti-Hitler treaty with the USSR and started negotiations in Moscow. The negotiations were suddenly stopped by the Soviets who immediately signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany.
Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, and Romania were natural allies of the USSR. Unlike France and Britain, these countries were potential victims of Hitler’s Drang Nach Ost (Drive towards the East). With them, the USSR should have sought an alliance against Hitler. But Stalin was not seeking such an alliance, and in the cases where pacts did exist, the Soviet Union did not act in accordance with them. Stalin could have remained neutral, but instead he stabbed in the back those who fought against Hitler.
Having crushed Poland, Hitler broke a corridor through the dividing wall. Now, he had a common border with the Soviet Union that was 570 km in length. Hitler calculated this to be sufficient and went back to his affairs in the west, in Africa, in the Mediterranean, and in the Atlantic. What should Stalin have done, when presented with a corridor 570 km in length and with some time to spare? He should have hurriedly fortified his defenses precisely in this area. Along the old borders, there was a powerful row of fortified regions. It should have immediately been reinforced and improved. And it should have been complemented by a second line of defense, and a third, fourth, and fifth line. He should have urgently begun to lay mines under roads, bridges, fields, begun to dig anti-tank trenches and cover them with anti-tank artillery.
Sometime later, in 1943 in Kursk, the Red Army prepared to push back the advance of the Germans. During a short period of time Soviet troops created on the huge front six continuous lines of defense, each one hundreds of kilometers in length. The lines were situated one behind the other, so the total depth of defense was 250 to 300 km. Each kilometer was saturated with trenches, communication tunnels, covers, and firing positions. The average concentration of mines in a given area was brought to seven thousand anti-tank and anti-personnel mines per kilometer of front line. The concentration of anti-tank weapons was brought to a mind-blowing level: forty-one cannons per kilometer, not counting field and anti-aircraft artillery and dug-in tanks. In no time an empty field was transformed into a truly impenetrable defense.
In 1939 conditions for defense were much more favorable: forests, rivers, swamps, few roads, and lots of time. Soviet troops could have created a powerful barrier on the new Soviet-German border, especially since the opening was not wide. But at that moment the Soviet Union stopped producing anti-tank and anti-aircraft cannon. Instead of making the area impassable, it was quickly made more penetrable. The Red Army built bridges and roads, expanded and improved the railroads. Previously existing fortifications were torn down and buried under mounds of ground. One participant of those events, professor and Colonel I. G. Starinov of the GRU, candidly described what went on: “A stupid situation arose. When we faced weak armies of small countries, our borders were truly locked. But when Nazi Germany became our neighbor, the defense structures along the former border were abandoned and even partly dismantled.”1 And: “Engineering command of the Red Army sent a request for 120,000 railroad mines of delayed action. In the event of an invasion, this amount would have sufficed to paralyze the German army’s supply routes from the rear, on which it entirely depended. But instead of the requested amount, they sent . . . 120 mines.”2 By the way, a mine is the most simple, most inexpensive, and highly effective weapon. The Soviet Union had huge land mine production, but after the new borders with Germany were established this production was curbed.
What did Stalin do aside from dismantling his own defenses? He also tore to pieces the barrier of neutral countries. For Hitler, one hole in the wall was enough. For Stalin, it was not. Hitler (with Stalin’s help) demolished the leadership of only one country in the dividing barrier — Poland. Stalin (without outside help) did the same in three countries (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), tried to do it in a fourth country (Finland), and actively prepared for doing it in a fifth country (Romania), having first ripped from it a huge chunk of land. Hitler strove to force only one opening in the wall, Stalin tried to demolish the entire wall.3 And Stalin accomplished his goal. Only ten months after the signing of the non-aggression pact the dividing barrier was completely destroyed, from the Arctic Ocean to the Black Sea, by Stalin’s efforts. There remained no neutral countries between Stalin and Hitler, and thus the conditions for attack were set.
During this short time all of Stalin’s neighbors to the west became his victims. Aside from nations sharing borders with the Soviet Union, Lithuania, which did not have any common borders with the USSR at all, also fell under Stalin’s domination. The appearance of Soviet troops in Lithuania meant that they had truly reached Germany’s real borders: from September 1939 the Soviet-German border passed through the conquered Polish territories, and from the summer of 1940, Soviet troops came to the border of Eastern Prussia. Here it cannot at all be said that the monstrous Hitler was hacking corridors to the east, and the stupid Stalin was assisting him. No, Stalin hacked corridors to the west without any outside help.
Did the Red Army plan to stop at the borders it attained? The answer was given by the People’s Commissar of Defense of the USSR, Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Timoshenko: “In Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia we destroyed a power of landowners and capitalists hateful to the workers. The Soviet Union grew significantly and advanced its borders to the west. The capitalist world was forced to tremble and cede to our will. We, the fighters of the Red Army, should not be content and stop at what has been attained!”4 This was not the speech of a politician and not the announcement of a journalist. It was an official decree for the Red Army. But to the west of Soviet borders there was only Germany, or her allies; and a pact had been signed with Germany
Stalin made no secret of how a true Communist should view promises and pacts: “ The question of struggle . . . needs to be examined not from the standpoint of fairness, but from the standpoint of demands of the political moment, from the standpoint of the political demands of the [Communist] Party at each given moment.”5 “A war can turn upside down each and every pact.”6 Here are the “political demands”: “History says that when any country wants to fight against another country, even one that it does not neighbor, it begins to seek out borders, through which it could reach the borders of the country it wants to attack,”7 Stalin wrote.
Stalin needed a situation in which “capitalists gnaw at each other like dogs.”8 The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact created precisely that situation. Pravda’s tone was excited: “Each war like this one brings us closer to that happy period, when there will be no more killings among people.”9 Lieutenant General S. M. Krivoshein describes a conversation with his deputy, P. M. Latyshev (at that time Krivoshein commanded the 25th Motorized Corps): “We made a deal with the Germans, but this does not mean anything. . . . Now is the best time for a final and constructive resolution to all of the world’s problems.”10
Before the war, the main Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, did not call upon the Soviet people to build defenses. Pravda’s tone was different: soon the entire world will belong to us. “ Our country is great. The globe itself needs to rotate nine hours in order for our huge Soviet country to enter the new year of its victories. There will be a time when it will need for this not nine hours, but a whole twenty-four. . . . And who knows where we will be greeting the New Year in five or ten years: along what time belt, on what new Soviet meridian?”11 With the date of the Soviet break-in into Europe approaching, Pravda became more and more straightforward: “Divide your enemies, temporarily satisfy the demands of each of them, and then crush them one by one, without giving them an opportunity to unite.”12
Hitler decided that he should wait no longer. He made the first move without waiting for the blow in the back from the liberating axe. But even having started the war in the most favorable circumstances that had ever existed for an assailant, he was unable to win. Even in the most unfavorable of circumstances, the Red Army managed to “liberate” half of Europe and dominate Eastern Europe for half a century. One wonders what the outcome would have been if the best German forces had left the European continent to go to Africa and the British Isles, and, behind their back, the Red Army had destroyed the only German oil source in Romania?
Destruction of the Security Pale on the Eve of the War
Mines are powerful stuff, but they are a means for the weak, for those defending themselves.
To prevent a sudden enemy attack, a country preparing for defense deploys its troops not on the very border, but deeper in its territory. Between the border and the main line of defense, it creates a continuous zone of obstacles and barriers. This zone is called the security pale. Its purpose is to wear down the aggressor before he meets the main forces of the defense.
In the 1920s, during their attempt to occupy Poland, commanders of the Red Army saw the effectiveness of the Polish security pales for the defense of Poland and had the bitter experiences of advancing through such pales. That is why after the Polish war the special Soviet government commissions studied the western regions of their country and determined the most and the least penetrable zones. All bridges in the western regions of the country were prepared for explosion. Bridge patrols were ready to blow up the bridges at any moment. Aside from bridges, large pipelines, depots, water pumps, water towers, high mounds, and low gullies were all wired for explosion.1 At the end of 1929, in the Kiev military district alone, sixty demolition squads, numbering 1,400 people, were trained and ready. They had at their disposal “1,640 fully ready charges and tens of thousands of incendiary pipes that could be put into action almost instantly!”2 Such work was conducted in other military districts as well.
In addition to demolition experts’ squads, railroad-blocking battalions were formed in the western regions of the country. Their task included completely demolishing major railroad centers in the event of retreat, blocking the main routes, and installing powerful charges with delayed-action detonators in the event that the enemy attempted to restore the roads. Ukraine had four such battalions by 1932. 3 On top of that, railroad switch transfers, communication equipment, telegraph systems, and in some cases railroad tracks, were all prepared for evacuation. The Soviet security pale was constantly improving. The list of objects prepared for explosion or evacuation became longer. New obstacles and barricades were erected, new forest abatises were prepared, and artificial reservoirs were dug in front of defensive structures; areas of the region could be turned into swamps if necessary.
In September 1939 the border of the USSR was moved 200 to 300 km to the west. The depth of the security pale increased greatly. Moreover, the railroad system on the territories acquired after the division of Poland was poorly developed. Out of 6,696 km of tracks, only 2,008 were two-way, and even they had a low capacity. In case of emergency, it was very easy to make them completely unusable.
In November 1939, the Red Army in Finland learned the hard way that a security pale could ease the position of the defense and complicate the position of the aggressor. Crossing the Finnish security pale required a huge expenditure of time, strength, resources, and blood.
All Soviet commanders expressed their awe at the Finnish line of defense, and among them was K. A. Meretskov, Commander of the 7th Army during the war against Finland.4 After having surmounted the Finnish defense line and evaluated its qualities, Meretskov was appointed Chief of the General Staff. In accordance with his newly acquired experience, he should have reinforced the Soviet security pale. But he did exactly the opposite. Meretskov ordered the destruction of the security pale created earlier on the old western borders, the disbanding of the demolition experts’ squads, the dismantling of the charges, the disarming of the mines, and the flattening out of all barricades. He also ordered his troops not to create a security pale on the Polish territory annexed to the Soviet Union in 1939; to lead the main forces of the Red Army to the edge of the borders (without protecting those forces with any kind of security pale); to move the bulk of the strategic supplies of the Red Army from the depths of the country to the western regions; to build air bases and roads in Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine; to transform one-track railroads into two-track ones (to raise their cargo-carrying capacity); and to build new roads leading straight to the German border.
Here are the results of that policy. In 1939, Poland was divided between Germany and the Soviet Union. Some rivers became borders. Bridges on those rivers that were not used were still kept intact. In the line held by the 4th Army alone, there were six such bridges.
The former Chief of Staff of the 4th Army, Colonel General L. M. Sandalov, asked: “Why, to ask frankly, were so many bridges across the Bug [river] kept intact in the line of the 4th Army?”5 The German command hoped to use the bridges in an aggressive war, and thus did not ask for their destruction. But what did the Soviet command hope for?
At the beginning of the war, a huge number of German troops went across those bridges, crushing the Soviet 4th Army in a surprise attack. The defeat of the 4th Army opened the way to the rear of the really powerful 10th Army, which also suffered unimaginable devastation. Without encountering any more barriers, Guderian’s tanks headed straight for Minsk in Belarus. The German troops advanced without complications, taking bridges on the rivers Daugava, Berezina, Nieman, Pripiat, and Dnepr.
In January 1941, Stalin replaced Chief of General Staff K. A. Meretskov for not being sufficiently active in the construction of new roads, bridges, and air bases in the new regions. On February 1, 1941, General of the Army G. K. Zhukov replaced Meretskov as Chief of the General Staff. The work began at a truly Zhukov speed. Before 1941, the Red Army had five railroad brigades. Zhukov immediately increased this number to thirteen, ten of them in the west of the country. Each brigade consisted of one regiment, two separate battalions, and supply units. Almost all railroad troops were concentrated in the western border regions and worked intensively to modernize old railroads and build new ones right up to the border.6 Some of the new railroad lines were:
The names of some of these stations demonstrated that the Soviet leadership regarded the border area as its own rear zone, where in the event of a quick advance to the west the Soviet army would have to deliver millions of men, millions of tons of ammunition, fuel, and other supplies.>
Simultaneously with the construction of railroads, automobile roads were built in the western regions (for example, Orsha—Lepel, Lvov—Peremyshl, Belaya Tserkov—Kazatin, Minsk—Brest). What were those roads built for?
During preparations for a defensive war, roads parallel to the front line are laid down, so that reserves could be moved from passive areas of defense to dangerous areas. Those roads must not be near the border, but much deeper in the country, leaving the border regions as clear of roads and bridges as possible. But the Red Army was building roads and railroads from east to west, which was usually done when preparing for advance, for a quick transfer of reserves from the depths of the country to the borders, and for further supplying the troops after they crossed the borders. New roads led to border towns: Peremyshl, Brest, Iavorov. Zhukov remembered: “ The web of automobile roads in Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine was in poor condition. Many bridges could not hold the weight of the medium tanks and artillery.”7 Zhukov should have rejoiced at that fact. He should have commanded his men to covertly weaken the support beams on those bridges and thus lure the attacking enemy to send his tanks to those weakened bridges, to their sure demise. Instead, he built roads and replaced old bridges with new ones, so that any tank and any artillery could pass through.
The official History of the Kiev Military District stated: “In early 1941, Hitler’s forces began to build bridges, railroads, and field air bases.”8 Obviously, these were signs of preparations for attack. The Soviet railroad forces were doing exactly the same: “Railroad troops in Western Ukraine worked to develop and strengthen the railroads.”9 Railroad brigades, created by Zhukov’s order, completed a tremendous amount of work on the Soviet territory, but their main job was planned to be on enemy territory: they had to follow the advancing army and quickly get through the enemy’s security pale, repair enemy roads and bridges, and change the European narrow gauge to the broad Soviet standard one. Right on the borders, they piled huge reserves of railroad tracks, demountable bridges, construction materials, and coal.
In addition to the ten railroad brigades in the western regions, almost all the Soviet engineering troops were concentrated along the western borders. Various construction units and squads were active before the war in the border strip. The task was to prepare the “initial points for attack, [the] foundation of passageways for columns, . . . operational and tactical camouflage, organization of joint action in the storming groups with infantry and tanks; [and] to provide the equipment for crossing rivers.”10
On the eve of the war, the USSR launched a gigantic campaign to modernize and widen its road network in the western regions. All that work harmed the USSR very soon.
Hitler used the roads, bridges, stocks of coal, rails, and the sectional bridges that the Soviet leadership prepared in the western regions of its country.
As we know, all that did not help the invading German army: its advance was not as fast as planned. But even this advance could have been stopped if Zhukov had not built roads on the eve of the war, had not created huge reserves of railroad tracks, bridges, and construction materials. He should have introduced an effective system of defense: all bridges should have been blown up, all materiel reserves liquidated, railroads and trains evacuated, roads destroyed, drowned, turned into swamps and saturated with mines.
On Soviet territory, all mines were disarmed and the barriers taken down. On the eve of the German invasion, General of the Army D. Pavlov, a commander of the Western Special Military District (then already secretly transformed into the Western Front), said that the Soviet sappers were not paying enough attention to preparing themselves properly for removing mines and other obstacles on enemy territory.
If the Soviet marshals had known better, they would have started their war on June 21: then they would not have needed to take down German obstacles, because the German army was doing on the German territory exactly what the Red Army was doing on Soviet territory. In early June, German troops were disarming mines, evening out barricades, and concentrating troops right on the border, without keeping in front of them any security pale.
Soviet Marshal K. S. Moskalenko, who in 1941 commanded the First Artillery Anti-Tank Brigade, counted those German actions as an unquestionable piece of evidence that the Germans would attack soon.11 At the same time, the NKVD border troops were dismantling their own barbwire on the very border to clear the way into enemy territory for the “liberation” army. They had cut barbwire in exactly the same way before the “liberation” of Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Bessarabia, and Northern Bukovina. Now it was Germany’s turn.
Partisans or Saboteurs?
Leninism dictates that a socialist country, using the favorable world situation,
Through partisan actions, one can fight against even the strongest enemy. The aggressor can take over the country in a matter of days, but then for years wage an exhausting war against partisan groups. History abounds with examples of small and poorly armed partisan units eventually defeating powerful armies.
The Red Army had a vast experience fighting against partisans. Commanders of the Red Army knew how difficult and costly partisan warfare could be. During the Russian civil war, the population of the former Russian Empire resisted the Communists mostly through partisan methods. An entire partisan army under the leadership of Nestor Makhno was active in southern Ukraine. In the Tambov province, after the civil war, the Communists waged a real war against the partisan army of Alexander Antonov. In Siberia and in the northern Caucasus, war against partisans continued until the mid-1920s and in Central Asia until the beginning of the 1930s.
Soviet leaders knew that partisan tactics would win the war against any aggressor. The Soviet Union has the largest territory of any country in the world. That territory naturally facilitated partisan warfare. Did Stalin create light mobile units and station them in the woods in the event of a German attack? Yes, Stalin created such units. They were created back in the 1920s. In Belorussia alone, during peacetime there were six partisan units, numbering three hundred to five hundred men each. One should not be confused by the seemingly small numbers. The units were comprised only of commanders, organizers, and specialists. Each peacetime partisan unit was a nucleus, around which at the very beginning of the war developed a powerful formation numbering in the thousands.
Secret bases for peacetime partisan groups were created in impenetrable forests and islets amid the swamps. During peacetime, subterranean shelters, hospitals, storages, and workshops for the production of weapons and ammunition were built. In peacetime, only Belorussian secret subterranean storages held ammunition, weapons, and supplies for fifty thousand partisans. Secret schools were formed for preparing partisan leaders, organizers, and instructors. Secret research and development centers worked on creating special means of warfare, arms, communication channels, and equipment. Partisans were often subjected to training and tests, with divisions of the NKVD often playing the role of the enemy. In addition, small groups were prepared for undercover activities. These groups, in case of aggression, did not retreat to the forests, but stayed in the cities and towns, with the task of “gaining the trust of the enemy” and “offering him assistance.”
That sort of work was conducted not only in Belorussia, but also in Ukraine, in the Crimea, in the Leningrad region, and other areas. The same duties were simultaneously, but totally independently from the NKVD, performed by the Soviet Military Intelligence: it set up secret bases, apartments, and hiding places, and prepared lines of communication for conspirators. Soviet Military Intelligence had its own secret schools, its own organizers, and its own instructors. Aside from the NKVD and the military intelligence, the Communist Party prepared some of its leaders in the western regions of the country for transfer to an underground position in the event of a territory takeover by the enemy.
The partisan units were formed in the so-called “death zone”—the Soviet security pale, where during retreat of Soviet troops all bridges should be blown up, tunnels buried, railroads destroyed, and telephone cables and other communication channels evacuated. The partisans had to prevent the enemy from restoring the destroyed infrastructure. The partisans were almost undefeatable — their leaders knew safe passages, which the enemy did not know, through the giant minefields; in an emergency, the partisans could easily disappear from any pursuers into the mined forests and swamps, which were impassable to the enemy.
The security pale and partisan groups, ready at any minute to act in a zone of destruction, were the great defenses of the Soviet Union. However, in the second half of the 1930s, as the country’s industrial and military might grew, the Soviet Union tended to fight enemies on their soil rather than protect Soviet land. From that period, defense systems became unnecessary. “Whole caches of weaponry, ammunition, [and] explosives, intended for partisan forces and kept hidden, were liquidated. The network of partisan training schools, along with their very competent leaders, was eliminated. Partisan battle groups were disbanded. Only the few partisan leaders who confronted the fascists in Spain kept their places. Among them were A. K. Sprogis, S. A. Vaupshassov, N. A. Prokopyuk, I. G. Starinov, and others.”1
On November 30, 1939, the Red Army began the “liberation” of Finland, and hit up against the same elements of self-defense that had earlier existed in the Soviet Union: a line of concrete fortifications, a security pale before it, and light squads of partisan fighters within. The light ski units of Finnish partisans carried out sudden strikes and then immediately disappeared into the forests. The Red Army suffered tremendous casualties from those strikes, and all its modern technology was useless in the fight against an enemy that evaded open battle. Perhaps, having learned a cruel lesson in Finland, Stalin changed his mind and once again created partisan formations in the western regions of the Soviet Union? No, he did not.
One of the fathers of Soviet military terrorism, GRU colonel and professor I. G. Starinov, between 1930 and 1933 headed the secret school that prepared partisan groups which were subordinate to the Soviet Military Intelligence. The colonel wrote in his memoirs: “Safely hidden underground, the weapons and explosives awaited their hour. But before this hour could come, the covert partisan bases were emptied, unquestionably with the knowledge of, and, probably, under direct orders from Stalin.”2
During the war, P. K. Ponomarenko was Chief of the Main Staff of the Partisan Movement. After the war, he voiced his anguish and frustration: “Stalin’s incorrectly aimed statements that, if attacked, we would fight only on enemy territory led to the complete dismantling of all efforts to harness the experience from previous partisan wars and to develop corresponding mobilization directions. As a result, the initial phase of the war was marked by a particularly difficult effort to organize the partisan movement. The Party had to pay dearly for Stalin’s mistakes.”3
Colonel of the KGB S. A. Vaushpass4 spent the 1930s training Soviet partisans in case of enemy aggression and occupation. He explained the reason for the disbanding of the partisan formations on Soviet territory: “During those threatening prewar years, a doctrine arose about war on foreign soil . . . it had [a] very clearly expressed aggressive character.” 5
We can agree with these statements or we can dispute them. But so far, no other reason for the destruction of the partisan movement has been put forward.
Destruction of the Stalin Line
Only naïve people think that defense is the main task of fortified regions. No, fortified regions are built for a more reliable
preparation for advance.
From 1926 to 1937, thirteen fortified regions were constructed along the western borders of the USSR. That chain of fortifications was unofficially known as “the Stalin Line.”
A fortified region (FR) was an area prepared for defense; at the same time, it was also a military formation, equal to a regiment or a brigade in number but equal to a corps in firepower. Each FR had a command and staff, from two to eight machine-gun and artillery battalions, an artillery regiment, several separate heavy artillery batteries, a tank battalion, a communications battalion, an engineering-sapper battalion and other formations. Each FR occupied an area from 100 to 180 km long and 30 to 50 km deep. The region was equipped with a complex system of concrete and armored military and supply buildings, mostly subterranean. Within the FR, there were underground concrete storage units, electricity stations, hospitals, command centers, and communication quarters. The underground constructions were connected through a sophisticated system of tunnels, galleries, and covered passageways. There was also an intricate web of railroads for bringing in materials, maneuvering armored trains, and quickly transferring reserves to the troops. Each FR could independently conduct military operations during a long period of time and in isolated conditions.
The fortified regions were built by the distinguished fortification expert of the twentieth century, Professor Dmitryi Karbyshev. In 1940, he was awarded the rank of lieutenant general of engineering troops. Simultaneously with the developments on the western frontiers, Karbyshev’s projects also encompassed construction of fortified regions in the Far East and in the Trans-Baikal region. Those field strongholds are still in use today, in the twenty-first century. In 1990, the Soviet military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda described one of the active military buildings: “ This is mono-concrete. Solid cast. The depth of the walls is up to one and a half meters. For half a century, they have been there, but even today not a single shell could take them. . . . Roofs of casemates have a low-profile. Ammunition. Command. Diesel engines. Batteries. Filters. An automatic heating system. . . . In this shell, filled with instruments and arms, one feels as if [one is] in a giant buried tank or a submarine hidden underground.”1
Each FR consisted of “pillboxes,” each equipped with its own defenses and each capable of independently defending itself if fully encircled by the enemy, diverting to itself significant enemy forces and attention. The main fighting unit of the fortified region was the LFP — long-duration firing point. Krasnaya Zvezda described one of the standard LFPs from the Stalin Line, the LFP #112 of the Mogilyov-Podolsk FR, as follows: “ This was a complicated fortified underground structure, consisting of communication passages, caponiers, and compartments. In there, one could find arms, ammunition, foodstuffs, a mess hall, running water (by the way, still in working condition), a ‘red corner,’ [and] observation and command posts. 2 The LFPs are armed with a machine-gun post of three embrasures in which, on stationary rollers, were three ‘Maxim’ machine guns and two half-canopies with 76-mm cannon in each.”3 Such an LFP can be considered average. There were also thousands of small, armed constructions with one or two machine guns, as well as giant fortified ensembles.
Major General P. G. Grigorenko, a participant in the construction of the Stalin Line, described in his memoirs one of the field strongholds built in the simila rMogilyov-Podolsk FR: “Nine firing points, connected by underground passageways, were on the high shores of the Dnestr and kept the river and the opposite shore under dense gun and machine-gun fire.”4 Another partici-pant in the construction of the Stalin Line, Colonel R. G. Umanskyi, wrote of multi-kilometer underground structures in the Kiev fortified region.5 Yet another participant, Colonel General A. I. Shebunin, said that many concrete defensive structures in the Proskurov fortified region were protected by artificial water barriers. In this FR was raised “a mighty line of defense, which counted more than a thousand various military field strongholds. Many objects were so thoroughly masked that even from close up it was difficult to guess their real designation.”6
Construction of the Stalin Line was not publicized like the construction of the French Maginot Line. The Stalin Line was built in secrecy. During the construction of each field stronghold, NKVD units put cordons around several areas. The construction went on simultaneously in all areas, but it was the real thing only in one — the rest were decoys. Not only the local population but also the construction workers had a very vague understanding of what was being built and where.
There were many differences between the Soviet Stalin Line and the French Maginot Line. The Stalin Line could not be bypassed: its flanks went right to the Baltic Sea in the north and the Black Sea in the south. The Stalin Line was built not only to stop infantry, but mostly to stop tanks. The Stalin Line was much deeper. Aside from concrete, the Soviets also used huge quantities of steel, and granite boulders.
Unlike the Maginot Line, the Stalin Line wasn’t built at the very border, but deeper into Soviet territory. A line of fortified regions in the depth of the country means that the first enemy artillery strike will be carried out against an empty space rather than the defending army. Therefore, during a surprise attack, defending garrisons have a minimum of several days to take their places in the casemates and prepare their arms and defense. If the fortified regions are in the depth of the country, the enemy, before beginning the storming, must cover from 20 or 30 to 100 or 150 km of territory saturated with minefields and other unpleasant surprises. The aggressor will have to cross many rivers and streams whose bridges have been destroyed. Before the storming, enemy troops will already have suffered significant casualties in the hundreds of ambushes along the way.
The security pale before the Stalin Line not only reduced the speed of the enemy and wore out his strength, but it also served as a fog over the sea, behind which hid a row of icebergs. Not knowing the exact location of the field strongholds of the Stalin Line, the enemy could unexpectedly find himself right in front of Soviet armed structures and in the midst of their deadly fire. The location of the Stalin Line deep in Soviet territory, behind the security pale, produced the opportunity to counter the surprise element of attack with a surprise element of defense. The fortified regions were masked and hidden in such a way that in most cases a clash between the aggressor and Stalin’s army would be unexpected for the aggressor.
Unlike the Maginot Line, the Stalin Line was not continuous. Rather wide passage-ways were left between the fortified regions. In an emergency, the passages could quickly be closed with land mines, barricades, or field defense by regular troops. Or the passages could stay open, offering the aggressor the option to not storm the fortifications head on, but to squeeze between them instead. If the enemy attempted the latter, most of his advancing troops would be crushed in several isolated columns. Each column had to advance through a corridor shelled from all sides, with its flanks, rear, and communication lines under constant and serious threat.
The thirteen fortified regions on the Stalin Line came at a tremendous cost in effort and money. In 1938 it was decided to strengthen all thirteen regions by building within them heavy artillery installations. The construction of eight more regions started. In one year, the new fortified regions counted 1,028 armed field strongholds.
Then, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed. The pact created a common border between Germany and the USSR. In such a threatening atmosphere, Stalin could have done any number of things to increase the safety of the western Soviet borders and guarantee the USSR’s neutrality in the war. Instead, in the fall of 1939, at the beginning of World War II, he ordered further construction of fortified regions to stop.7 Garrisons in fortified regions on the Stalin Line were the first to be cut back in numbers, and then completely disbanded. Soviet factories lowered the output of arms and special materials for field stronghold structures. The existing fortified regions were disarmed; their ammunition, weapons, observation instruments, and communication lines were put in storage.8 Some buildings were given to the farming associations for use as crop silos. Most were just buried in soil.
In addition to lowering the production of arms for fortified regions, Soviet industry, after the start of World War II, stopped producing other defense weapons. For example, the production of anti-tank cannon stopped completely, as well as the 76-mm division cannon, which could be used against tanks.9 Anti-tank rifles were taken out of production and out of the supply of the Red Army. They were taken away from all formations and put in storage.10 Everything connected with defense was mercilessly dismantled and destroyed. At the same time, the Red Army was fighting in Finland, where Stalin and his marshals saw that fortified regions and security pales had tremendous value for defense.
To be fair, during the summer of 1940, the construction of a line of fortified regions began right on the new Soviet-German border. However, the new line was never finished. In the General Staff of the Red Army, these regions were unofficially (and with a dose of irony) referred to as the Molotov Line. It had the same “father”: Professor Karbyshev. The decision to construct it came on June 26, 1940. 11 But the defense buildup on the new borders proceeded very slowly, while the destruction on the old borders was surprisingly fast. In the summer of 1941, the tragedy of the Stalin Line reached its climax. Wrote General Grigorenko:
The Stalin Line on the old border was already destroyed, while the Molotov Line on the new border was not yet built. Soviet generals and marshals, after Stalin’s death, unanimously expressed their anger. Here are the words of Chief Marshal of Artillery N. N. Voronov: “How could our leadership, without building the necessary defenses on the new western borders of 1939, decide to liquidate and disarm the fortified regions on the old borders?”13 In addition, as Marshal M. V. Zakharov declared, it was decided to severely limit or even stop the production of all FR-type weaponry.14
This is a “red herring” argument used by pro-Communist historians to distract us. They want us to bemoan the folly of breaking the old fortifications line before the new one was ready. But the relevant question is: why break the old one at all? Two lines surely provide better defense than one.
Another pretext is that old fortifications were destroyed in order to move their weapons to the new ones. This is just another set of fallacies. Firstly, the weapons could have been left in the old line, and there had been enough time to order the Soviet industry to supply FR-type weaponry for the new line. But we know that the production of this type of weaponry was reduced immensely in favor of offensive-type arms.
Secondly, one does not demolish his old house just to move the furniture to the new one, unless the old house is not needed. With weapons in the fortifications it is exactly the same.
Thirdly, pro-Communist historians hope that we do not remember the chronology of the events: Stalin started to demolish the old line in September 1939, and decided to build the new one only on June 26, 1940. They want us to believe that the cause came after its consequence.
The dates demonstrate that there was no connection between those two events, except for the fact that the Stalin Line was built for a defensive war and the Molotov Line was built for an aggressive war against Germany, as we shall show further on.
In comparison with the Stalin Line, the Molotov Line was a thin chain of rather light field strongholds that did not require much armament. For example, in the western special military district in Belorussia, there were 193 field strongholds built near the new border. The old one had 876 much more powerful ones. In other military districts, the ratios between the newly built constructions and those destroyed earlier were even more astonishing.
The Molotov Line drastically differed from the Stalin Line in design and in detail. There were four main differences between the field strongholds torn down near the old borders and those created near the new ones: the Molotov Line was built so that the enemy could see it; it was built on secondary locations; it was not covered by a security pale, minefields, or other engineered obstacles; and the builders did not use many opportunities available to them to fortify the line, and did not rush to complete their work.
For example, such a secondary location was in the Brest area. There the border river was crossed at once by six railroad and automotive bridges. The main strategic direction of attack of the Germans was Warsaw-Brest-Minsk-Smolensk-Moscow. That’s why the bridges of Brest had huge strategic value. But the new fortified region was built 27 km north of Brest where there were no bridges! The fortified regions of the Molotov Line were pushed to the very edge of the border. They were not covered by a security pale, and in case of sudden attack, the garrisons had no time to take firing positions and prepare their arms.15
Unlike the Stalin Line, the fortified regions of the Molotov Line had very little depth. All that could be built on the very edge of the border was built there. According to Lieutenant General V. F. Zotov, rear defenses were neither built nor planned.16 New fortifications weren’t built on locations tactically valuable for defense, but along the state border, following its twists and bends. New military buildings were not defended by barbwire fences, mines, trenches, or tetrahedrons. There were no engineered obstacles in the construction area. The new constructions were not camouflaged.17
At the same time, the German generals were doing the same. Between 1932 and 1937, mighty field strongholds were built on the shores of the Oder River, shielding Germany from strikes from the east. These were first-rate military structures, blended with the landscape and brilliantly camouflaged. I will not describe them in detail, but they are a formidable example of the German preciseness, accuracy, and industriousness. Fortified regions in the area between the Oder and the Warta rivers could serve as examples of the highest achievement of military engineering of the early twentieth century.
As soon as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed in Moscow and the German army invaded Poland, the magnificent field strongholds near the old German border were abandoned and never again occupied by armies. Many field constructions were used for other purposes. For example, in the Hochwald region there was a powerful fortification ensemble, which included twenty-three four-story military constructions, connected by 30 km of underground tunnels. It was transformed into a factory for airplane motors. Having advanced and met with the Red Army in mid-Poland, the German troops began constructing a new line of fortified regions. They were built on secondary locations and pushed right up to the Soviet borders. In front of the new fortified regions, there were no minefields and no obstacles. The Germans worked night and day, and the Soviet border patrol saw that very clearly.18
German construction continued until May 1941, after which, to use Soviet language, “construction was rated as a second-class priority.” Out of eighty military constructions planned to be built on the border river San, only seventeen were completed. They were all insufficiently camouflaged. Each of these constructions could be described as light compared to those on the old German-Polish border: relatively thin walls, and steel armor plates of just 100 mm. On the old borders, along the Oder line, they had used much stronger armor plates of up to 350 mm. Soviet officers later saw both German and Soviet LFPs on both sides of the same river. If one showed photos of the LFPs to an expert and asked him to distinguish the German from the Soviet, he would be stumped. They were identical twins: when building the Molotov Line on the shores of the same river San, Soviet engineers also used relatively thin armor plates of 100 mm.
While their neighbor was weak Poland, German troops erected on their borders powerful fortifications; as soon as they crushed Poland and established a common border with the Soviet Union, the Germans abandoned the old fortifications, and built along the new borders, very slowly, only light defense structures. Just like the Red Army! That was because both sides did not plan to defend their new borders for long.
Fortification can be both defensive and offensive. If you are planning to attack, then you follow these rules during the construction of fortified regions:
These rules governed the actions of the Soviet and German generals from 1939. In August 1939, Zhukov brilliantly used these rules in Khalkhin-Gol: “With these actions, we strove to make the enemy believe in the absence of any sort of preparations for advance from our side, and to show that we [were] conducting widespread defensive works, and only for defense.”19 The Japanese believed in Zhukov’s “defensive” works and paid dearly for their folly. Later, on a much grander scale, Zhukov staged the same deception on the German border.
However, he did not fool the German generals. They had their own identical experience with Poland. On August 22, 1939, during the negotiations of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and preparations of the German army to invade Poland, General Guderian received an order to command the “fortification team of Pomerania.” The goal was to calm the Poles by showing them strictly defensive preparations, while raising, with minimal effort, light fortifications.
In the spring and summer of 1941, Guderian again was building defenses, this time on the Soviet border. If Guderian built light concrete boxes near the border, it did not at all follow that he intended to defend himself. It meant exactly the opposite. And if Zhukov built identical boxes along the same borders, what did that mean?
The Stalin Line was universal: it could be used either for defense or for attack — the wide passages between the fortified regions were left intact to let through masses of troops advancing west. When the border was moved a few hundred kilometers west, the Stalin Line completely lost its use as a fortified launching ground for attack, and Stalin did not need it for defense after he signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. As a result, the Stalin Line was disarmed and then dismantled: Stalin was not planning to fight on his territory. After Germany got bogged down in a war against Great Britain, Stalin no longer needed the fortified regions in the depths of Soviet territory.
Hitler faced the same situation, not only on his eastern borders but on the western ones as well. There, in the 1930s, he built the Siegfried Line. Traditionally, since the times of the Franco-Prussian War, a German attack on France was always planned in the north. The Siegfried Line was built to the south of that direction — in other words, on a secondary location — following the principle of attacking the primary and fortifying the secondary location. In 1940, the German army advanced far west, and the Siegfried Line became useless. At that time, Hitler had no idea that in four years he would have to defend his own borders again. The Siegfried Line was abandoned. Its new use was quite unusual — the military constructions were given to farmers for storing potatoes. Some of the military structures had their unbreakable armored doors locked from within; when someone wanted to get in, the keys were nowhere to be found.20
We could, of course, call outstanding Soviet and German generals idiots. But stupidity is not the explanation here. Simply put, both sides were aggressors. Both were thinking in terms of attack, and when fortifications could no longer be used for invasion, they tore them down or put them to whatever use they saw fit.
Trotsky Murdered, Molotov in Berlin
Hitler will send his main forces west, and Moscow will want to use the advantages of her position.
On August 21, 1940, in Mexico, Leon Trotsky was gruesomely murdered. An agent ofthe NKVD, Spanish Communist Ramon Mercader (also known as “Jacques Mornar Vandenrein” and “Ramon Ivanovich Lopez”) posed as an idealistic Trotskyite and penetrated Trotsky’s inner circle. Trotsky liked the essays Mercader wrote and the pleasant young admirer became a fixture at Trotsky’s home. On the day of the murder, the two of them were alone in Trotsky’s office. Trotsky was bent over his desk reading an article by Mercader when his guest pulled out an ice-pick from inside his trench coat and crushed Trotsky’s skull with a monstrous blow.
Mercader was arrested at the scene of the crime; but he refused to testify. The Mexican court sentenced him to twenty years in prison. On May 6, 1960, three months short of completing his term, he was released for good behavior. Mercader returned to the USSR and was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union with the “Golden Star,” and the highest governmental award, the Order of Lenin. He was given a position as a researcher at the Marxism-Leninism Institute of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union Communist Party. At that time, people joked that, after becoming a staff fellow at such a respectable academic institution, Mercader was writing a multi-volume dissertation on the topic of “Alternative Uses for Ice-Picks.”
Some said that Trotsky’s murder had no meaning, that Trotsky had few followers, lived in remote Mexico, and posed no threat. It was said that the murder was Stalin’s personal vendetta and a manifestation of his paranoia. But some ambiguities remained. Why was Trotsky in Mexico in the first place?
Trotsky reached the peak of his career in October 1917. Under his leadership, the Bolsheviks engineered the state coup and the takeover of Petrograd (St. Petersburg), the former Russian capital. Trotsky was effectively the founder and leader of the Red Army during the entire Civil War. However, already during the Civil War, he was not the most important man. He shared the top powers with Lenin. Gradually, Trotsky was relegated to secondary roles. His slide from the top accelerated and turned into a rapid fall. By 1923, Trotsky was the head of a leftist opposition within the Communist party, meaning that he was in the minority. By 1927, Trotsky was ousted from all his posts and deprived of all duties and privileges. On November 7, 1927, Trotsky tried to give a speech in front of a column of demonstrators headed for Red Square, but he was pelted with empty bottles and stones. Killing Trotsky was not a challenge. There would have been plenty of volunteers. Why didn’t Stalin kill Trotsky then?
In early 1928, Stalin exiled Trotsky to Kazakhstan. A year later, he sent Trotsky to Turkey. Again, we ask: what for? In Kazakhstan, Trotsky was completely isolated and fully monitored by Stalin’s secret police. The Soviet Union’s borders were hermetically sealed, and running out of the country was extremely diffcult. For Trotsky, it would have been completely impossible, since he was under constant surveillance. He could not run away from Stalin. He did not even exhibit any desire to do so. As a political opponent, Trotsky was completely disarmed. He had no power strings, no influence, no money, and no means of communication. No one published anything he wrote. His letters were checked, detained for several months, and in most cases simply disappeared. Trotsky’s followers were harshly persecuted. Monstrous beatings of Trotskyites in dark alleys were just the earliest and most modest manifestations of Stalin’s aversion. Later on, there were exiles, prisons, torture, public trials, and executions. Millions disassociated themselves from Trotsky. Only a few individuals remained true to him.
Human nature is such that people befriend those who are rich and powerful, but when someone falls from the top to the bottom of the power ladder, the number of his friends and supporters falls drastically. Suddenly volunteers appear to kickyesterday’s boss. Stalin exterminated millions whom he considered to be his enemies or potential enemies. Stalin sent his opponents to Siberia, to the Far East, to Kazakhstan, to Sakhalin and Kolyma, or directly to the execution cellars. Only one enemy, Trotsky, the most significant one, Stalin brought out of Kazakhstan and sent to the heavenly islands in Turkey’s Sea of Marmara.
If Trotsky had been dangerous, Stalin could have isolated him the same way he isolated Lenin in the last years of his life.1 Trotsky could have perished on the operating table, like Michael Frunze, who replaced Trotsky as the leader of the Red Army, in 1925. Trotsky could have drowned in a lake, like Efraim Skliansky, Trotsky’s deputy commander of the Red Army during the Civil War, in 1925.
Stalin, at that time, had three secretaries: Bazhanov for “daylight operations,” Mekhlis for “twilight” ones, and Grigoryi Kanner for “dark” operations. Bazhanov remembered that Michael Frunze had to be placed on the operating table by force; that was how much Stalin cared for the health of his buddy. Frunze was right to put up a fight. Death awaited him on the operating table. He must have guessed this. The arrangements for the operation were handled by Kanner. When the secretary for “daylight operations” Bazhanov heard about this, everything was clear to him.2 Bazhanov described how he received news of Skliansky’s puzzling death: “Mekhlis and I immediately went to Kanner and unanimously said: ‘Grisha, it is you who drowned Skliansky.’ Mekhlis and I were completely certain that Skliansky was drowned on Stalin’s orders, and the “accident” was organized by Kanner and Iagoda.”3 By the way, Kanner was executed by a firing squad in 1937, Iagoda in 1938.
In Kazakhstan, Trotsky could not publish anything. By letting Trotsky go free, Stalin gave him the opportunity to say and write anything he wanted, including the most horrible things about Stalin. Why did Stalin postpone Trotsky’s murder for so long? In the 1930s, Stalin accused all his enemies in the country of being Trotskyites. Trotskyites and those who were branded Trotskyites were executed by the thousands or sent to the camps by the thousands. Meanwhile, Trotsky himself was free. He lived on islands of fantastic beauty in Turkey, then in the south of France, in Norway, and finally in Mexico. Then, all of a sudden, the hunt for Trotsky began. There were several assassination attempts until the successful blow with the ice-pick.
Did Stalin’s paranoia increase? No. On the eve and at the very beginning of World War II, Trotsky presented a clear and imminent danger not only to Stalin, but to the entire Soviet leadership. Trotsky fanatically supported the World Revolution. Once he realized that it had failed in Germany and throughout the world he warned that Soviet Russia could not survive encircled by capitalist states. The only hope was to turn Soviet Russia into a military camp and use its forces to aid revolutions whenever and wherever an opportunity appeared. Stalin insisted that Trotsky was wrong and the Soviet Union first had to build “Socialism in One Country.” The Soviet Union would not export revolution. Then Stalin took more radical measures than Trotsky had proposed to turn the Soviet Union into a military camp. He carried out forced collectivization and industrialization, and built the GULAG camps for forced labor. Under Stalin the Soviet Union became an industrial power and the military base for World Revolution. Summing up, Trotsky loudly called for the World Communist Revolution. Stalin acted to achieve the same goal, but said that Trotsky’s slogans were wrong.
Stalin’s rhetoric was successful and duped Trotsky, who thought he was exposing Stalin when he declared to the world that Stalin had betrayed the cause of Communism and World Revolution. Trotsky did not understand that criticism was necessary for Stalin and was part of his plan. With his accusations, Trotsky dulled the fears of the West that Stalin would pursue World Revolution. Trotsky claimed that there was no reason to fear Stalin, that Stalin was “the greatest mediocrity in power,” and that his regime would implode from within. “Stalin’s personal dictatorship clearly nears its sunset,” Trotsky said in November 1931. 4 Thus, with Trotsky’s dubious endorsement, the West helped Stalin to create a powerful military industry, and to prepare his country and army to crush Western civilization.
Trotsky’s opinion had credibility for Western politicians; after all, he had played a key role in the revolution, the Civil War, and the establishment of the Red Army. Trotsky launched the World Revolution, but he lost power. Stalin, if one believed Trotsky, was not instigating revolution but building socialism in one country, the Soviet Union. Stalin let Trotsky leave the Soviet Union and provided him with publicity around the world. Contact with Trotsky was a standard accusation against so called “enemies of the people” at every political trial in Moscow. Stalin could have called his enemies any number of names, but he stubbornly called them Trotskyites, giving Trotsky additional political weight. If Trotsky had asserted the opposite, if he had said that Stalin was preparing for aggression, if he had warned the West of the dangers of Stalin’s malice, he would have been murdered as early as 1927.
Gradually, Trotsky sensed Stalin’s true intentions. He stopped writing that Stalin had betrayed the cause of the World Revolution and started writing that Hitler had come to power with Stalin’s help. “Without Stalin, there would be no Hitler,” said Trotsky. “Hitler was preparing for war. . . . The strike against the West in the near or far future could only be realized in the conditions of a military alliance between Fascist Germany and Stalin.”5
On September 4, 1939, Trotsky reminded the world that “the Kremlin had fed oil to the Italian campaign into Abyssinia,” and now it fed oil to Hitler’s war against Europe. Trotsky asked why the pact of non-aggression between the Soviet Union and Germany had turned into war. “Is it unclear why Hitler began the advance on Poland immediately after the embraces between Ribbentrop and Molotov? Stalin knew very well what he was doing. For an attack against Poland and a war against England and France, Hitler needed favorable “neutrality” from the USSR, plus Soviet raw materials. The political and economic agreement provides Hitler with one and the other.”6
At that point Trotsky stopped being useful to Stalin, and Stalin decided to get rid of him. Moreover, Trotsky had become dangerous. He warned Great Britain and France that the root of all evil was not Hitler, but Stalin. Without Stalin’s “neutrality” toward Hitler, without Soviet petroleum, chrome, tin, nickel, platinum, iron ore, cotton, grain, manganese, copper, vanadium, molybdenum, and tungsten, Hitler could not have unleashed the war in Europe. But Trotsky warned Hitler as well. Back in June 1939, when very few people in the world had any idea that in a couple of months World War II would start, Trotsky exhibited amazing foresight when he wrote: “Hitler is going to strike to the west with his main forces and Moscow will be eager to fully take advantage of the situation.”
Trotsky’s predictions began to come true. In May 1940, Hitler invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, and Stalin fully exploited the situation. On November 12, 1940, Soviet foreign minister Molotov arrived in Berlin and presented to Hitler a long list of territorial claims on behalf of the Soviet Union. These demands were repeated on November 25, 1940, when the Soviet Union proposed a peace pact between Germany, Italy, Japan, and the USSR. The Soviet Union demanded:
Hitler and his officials were dumbfounded by such extraordinary demands and did not respond.
On November 13, 1940, Molotov asked Stalin for instructions “about China, Turkey, and our interests regarding the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.”7 Stalin advised Molotov: “Do not expose our interest in Persia. . . . If the Germans suggest a division of Turkey, you can show our cards.”8 In this correspondence, Stalin “suggested” to Molotov to obtain Germany’s consent for another self-serving step to be taken by the Soviet Union. He told Molotov to advise Hitler that the Soviet proposal for an alliance with the Axis powers would “not be possible without a guarantee of our control of Bulgaria and the passage of our troops into Bulgaria.”
In November 1940, Germany was in a difficult position. World War II had been going on for more than a year, and no end was in sight. Germany could win only in a quick war. On the evening of November 13, during talks between Hitler and Molotov, the British air force bombed Berlin. The meeting that had started in a luxurious reception room ended in an underground bomb shelter. With the air raid, Churchill showed Hitler and Molotov that Great Britain did not plan to surrender.
For a drawn-out war, Hitler needed tremendous quantities of strategic raw materials, which Stalin could provide. During the meeting, Molotov repeatedly reminded Hitler that without Soviet raw materials German victories in Europe would have been impossible: “ The current status would not have been achieved without the influence of the German-Russian agreement [of August 1939] on the great German victories.”9 “As far as Germany is concerned, these  agreements secured a safe rear for Germany and played a major role in the development of a military campaign in the West, including France’s defeat.”10 “Germany, not without the help of the pact with the USSR, was able so quickly and with military glory to execute its operations in Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Holland, and France.”11
Stalin twisted Hitler’s arms. Trotsky predicted that Stalin “would want to fully use the advantage of his position.” That was precisely what Stalin did. Hitler told Molotov that Germany had conquered so much territory in one year of war that it would need a hundred years to develop it. He offered: if space was needed, Germany and the Soviet Union could both move to the south of their borders. Molotov agreed with the proposal, but added that they had to discuss the issue of the Danish straits Store Baelt and Lille Baelt, as well as the straits between Denmark and Sweden and Norway, Sund, Kattegat, and Skagerrak. For the Germans, these straits were a strategic necessity, since they already occupied Denmark. Why would the Soviet Union need them?
Hitler told Molotov: “While the war is going on, Germany is extremely interested in receiving nickel and timber from Finland.” Hitler wanted to know whether the Soviet Union was preparing a war against Finland. If so, could it be postponed to a later date? Molotov answered that Finland was in the Soviet sphere of influence and that Germany had to remove its troops from Finland. Molotov “did not understand why Russia had to postpone the realization of its plans by six months or even a year. After all, the German-Russian pact did not contain any time limits and within their respective spheres of influence neither of the countries had its hands tied.”12
The Soviet Union had enough oil for both internal consumption and export. The Soviet Union did not need Romanian oil, while Hitler talked about Germany’s complete dependency on Romanian petroleum, asserting that Germany would defend the Romanian oil industry at any cost. Hitler hinted that the Soviet Union should move away from Romanian oil. The Soviet Union had already taken over Northern Bukovina. With that invasion, the Soviet Union violated the pact about the division of the spheres of influence. Molotov replied that the Soviet Union did indeed take something from Romania, and did indeed violate the previously reached agreement with Germany. But the Soviet Union would not give up what it got; moreover, Stalin wanted Southern Bukovina and Bulgaria. “ The fate of Romania and Hungary also interests the Soviet Union, and under no condition can it ever be indifferent to it.” 13
Hitler reminded Molotov that they had agreed about the division of Europe back in August 1939. Molotov responded that it was time for a new division of Europe that would give an advantage to the Soviet Union. “ The USSR considers last year’s agreement fulfilled, with the exception of the question of Finland. . . . Now it is time to talk about a broader agreement between the USSR and Germany.”14 Further discussions were in the same tone.
During the course of the talks, Molotov did not raise questions about the security of the Soviet Union. Hitler brought up questions of safety from a Soviet invasion of territory crucial to Germany, but he did not receive any satisfactory reply. On the morning of November 14, 1940, Molotov left for Moscow. On November 25, the German ambassador to Moscow was told that Germany had to withdraw its troops from Finnish territory immediately. In addition, all the claims Molotov had made in his talks with Hitler and Ribbentrop were confirmed, even the demand to create Soviet bases on the Bosporus and Dardanelles straits.15 On the same day, November 25, 1940, the People’s Commissar of Defense of the USSR, Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Timoshenko, and the Chief of General Staﬀ of the Red Army, General K. A. Meretskov, wrote a directive to prepare a plan for a new war of aggression against Finland.16
Hitler was preparing for a big war against Great Britain when Stalin demanded new territories in Europe — territories on which Germany’s economy and armed forces depended completely. If a war against Britain weakened Germany, what would Stalin demand? Hitler found an answer to all of Stalin’s demands. “After Molotov’s departure, Hitler gathered his most trusted subordinates and clearly let them understand that he planned to invade Russia.”17
The use of new means of struggle and new attack tactics has great value for our success.
A conference of the High Command of the Red Army began on December 23, 1940. It lasted nine days and ended on the evening of December 31. The highest-ranking leaders of the Red Army — 274 marshals, generals, and admirals — attended.
The conference was convened in utmost secrecy. The generals arrived in Moscow in closed railroad cars or in military airplanes. They were met in remote places, and in closed cars they were delivered to the inner courtyard of “Hotel Moscow.” The generals arriving in Moscow from other places were forbidden to go into the city. The newspapers of military districts continued to print the portraits of their commanders and reports about their daily activities, creating the impression that they were not in Moscow but at their posts. Before the start of the conference, the generals were led into buses in the hotel’s inner courtyard and driven to the General Staff building. At the end of the day, they were returned to the hotel in the same fashion. Understandably, the hotel itself was “cleared of outside elements” and placed under special security and surveillance.
Zhukov delivered the first and most important lecture on new tactics of sudden attack. Furthermore, most of the other speakers discussed only that subject. For example, Lieutenant General P. S. Klenov, Chief of Staff of the Baltic special military district, who spoke following Zhukov’s lecture, talked about special operations: “ These will be operations of the starting phase, when the enemy’s armies have not yet completed their concentration and are not prepared for deployment. These are operations of invasion, for carrying out a whole chain of special tasks. . . . This is use of large air and, perhaps, mechanized forces, while the enemy has not yet prepared for decisive action. . . . The mechanized forces will have to be used independently, and they will solve the tasks of invasion into enemy territory.”1
The title of the second (and very important) lecture was “ The Air Force in an Offensive Operation and the Struggle for Air Superiority.” The lecturer was Lieutenant General P. V. Rychagov, Chief of the Air Force Main Directorate of the Red Army. Zhukov described the lecture as “very informative.”2 We had to wait another half a century, until the demise of the Soviet Union, for the publication of the conference records. The essence of the “very informative lecture” boiled down to this: “ The best means of defeating [an] air force on the ground is a simultaneous strike at a large number of air bases where the enemy’s aviation is possibly located.”3
Colonel General of Tank Troops D.G. Pavlov, commander of the Western special military district, delivered the lecture titled “ The use of mechanized units in contemporary offensive operations and breakthrough by mechanized corps.” Pavlov said: “Poland has ceased to exist after seventeen days. The operation in Belgium and Holland ended after fifteen days. The operation in France, before France’s capitulation, lasted seventeen days. These are three very characteristic numbers, which cannot but force me to accept them as a possible number for our calculations of our offensive operation.”4
At that time, according to the Soviet Field Statute, the line of defense for a division was eight to twelve kilometers wide. The lecturers at the conference unanimously advocated a widening of that line. That regulation meant a very high density of troops for defense lines. Why put so many troops on the defensive, confining them to sitting without use, when those troops were needed on the offensive? Other possibilities were examined as well, including concentrating all the forces in those locations where the Soviet Union would carry out sudden strikes against Germany, leaving secondary locations defenseless with a completely bare border in those places. This theory was supported by the Chief of Staff of the Leningrad military district, Major General P. G. Ponedelin. When, a month after the conference, Zhukov became the Chief of General Staff of the Red Army he did not forget Ponedelin, who advocated the baring of the front. Zhukov offered Ponedelin a post in a primary location: Ponedelin became commander of the 12th Army in the Lvov-Chernovitsi bulge. Ponedelin acted in the interests of an offensive: all force was concentrated in the “hitting fist” and the border was left bare. In the summer of 1941, Ponedelin’s 12th Army, as well as all Soviet troops of the 1st Strategic Echelon, was crushed. Ponedelin himself was taken prisoner. After the war, he was brought to Moscow under guard, tried, and executed.
The lecture titled “ The Character of Contemporary Defensive Operations” was given by General of the Army I. V. Tulenev, commander of the Moscow military district. So, the questions dealing with defense were examined after all! Here is what Tulenev had to say in his lecture: “We have no established contemporary defense theory.”5 This was the truth. Until December 1940, Soviet military theory did not work on questions of defense. After December, it did not work on them either. Tulenev said that such a theory was unnecessary. The Soviet Union would defend itself, but only in separate secondary locations. The goal was to conduct grandiose sudden offensive operations on enemy territory, and therefore to amass huge forces in narrow areas. The Soviet Union had to take almost all forces out of secondary locations; it would defend itself in the bare areas. Tulenev expressed the thought that nobody disputed: “Defense will be a part of a general offensive. Defense is an indispensable form of military operations in separate secondary locations, which allows us to save forces for offensive operations and prepare attacks.”6
In the conclusive speech, the People’s Commissar of Defense, Marshal of the Soviet Union Timoshenko reminded his audience to keep in mind “the possibility of the simultaneous conduct of two, maybe even three, offensive operations on different fronts in the theater of war, with the purpose of strategically shaking up the enemy’s defense capabilities as widely as possible.”7 Defense at the primary locations was not foreseen, even theoretically. An opinion, which was prevalent in the Red Army from the moment of its founding, was confirmed at that conference: the most important thing was to advance with entire armies, fronts, and groups of fronts; but small formations — regiments or divisions, perhaps even a corps — would sometimes be left for defense in separate locations. Some agreed that if needed, an entire field army could be engaged in defense. . . .We must remember that in June 1941, on the European territory of the USSR, there were twenty-six field armies organized in five fronts, and a group of reserve armies. A situation in which two armies, side by side, could occupy themselves with defense in one location, was considered completely improbable, and was not examined even theoretically.
The conference of the High Command of the Red Army ended at 6 on December 31, 1940. Most of the participants were urgently and secretly sent back to their posts. Only the most important generals remained in Moscow. Even before the conference was over, at 11 on December 31, a group of forty-nine of the highest-ranking generals received instructions for a strategic staff game on maps. The maps denoted battles between the “Easterners” and “Westerners.” The scope and importance of this game was the largest of all the pre-war years.8 Pavlov, the Commander of the Western special military district, commanded the “Easterners,” or the Soviet troops. Zhukov, Commander of the Kiev special military district, led the “Westerners,” meaning the German troops.
Pavlov’s group had twenty-four generals, one rear-admiral, one navy captain of the first rank, one navy captain of the second rank, and one colonel. Zhukov’s group, which played the role of the German command, had twenty generals, admirals, and officers besides Zhukov. The first strategic game began on the morning of January 2, 1941, at the General Staff of the Red Army. The scenario of the future war was being played out. The supervisor of the game was Timoshenko, the People’s Commissar of Defense of the USSR. The referees of the game consisted of twelve top commanders of the Red Army, including four Marshals of the Soviet Union. The observers included Joseph Stalin and the entire Politburo.
A colossal battle raged on the giant maps. For the time being just on the maps, the two most powerful armies on the planet clashed. For several days and nights, without rest or sleep, the staffs of the two opposing sides evaluated situations, made decisions, gave orders and directions. For now just on paper, thousands of tanks and airplanes, tens of thousands of guns and mortars, and millions of soldiers were brought into battle. Hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition, fuel, and engineering and medical equipment were dispatched from the rear. Divisions, corps, and entire armies were going for the breakthrough. Soviet strategists were not working on any defense plans and not making any plans for rebutting a possible German aggression. They were thinking of a way to take Koenigsberg, Warsaw, Prague, Bucharest, Krakow, and Budapest. Soviet preparations for the invasion of Europe neared their final stage.
The game was called “Offensive Operation of the Front with Breaks through the Fortified Regions.” The theme was not simply an attack, but an attack on Germany and more precisely on Eastern Prussia, which was defended by a line of fortified regions. The attacker was the Soviet troops on the northwestern front, under Pavlov’s leadership. Pavlov delivered the blow to Eastern Prussia, to Koenigsberg, and Zhukov defended it.
The Communist leaders openly said that the war would be conducted only on enemy territory, as the popular Soviet antebellum song said: “And on enemy land we will crush the enemy, shedding little [of our] blood and by a powerful blow.” They had in mind a “deep penetration,” that is, a blitzkrieg. But this frankness always followed the condition that the enemy would force us into war. The Field Statute clearly stated that if the enemy attacked, the Red Army would transform itself into the most ferocious attacker of any aggressive armies.
It happened that Germany attacked precisely when the Red Army had everything ready to invade it. In November 1939, Stalin concentrated five armies on the Finnish border, got them ready, and then the Finns, as if on command, supposedly fired several cannon shells. Soviet newspapers exploded with rage: “We will repel the Finnish invasion!” “We will respond to the aggressor’s blow with a threefold one!” “We will destroy the band of pests!”
Preparations for attacking Germany followed the same rules. Stalin’s strategists, with a mysterious smile on their lips, said that if the enemy forced them into war, they would have to retaliate on enemy territory.
The tasks for the strategy game were designed according to that principle:
The scenarios of how the “Westerners” attacked, how the Soviet army managed to throw them back and get them off Soviet territory, were not played in the game. It was just mentioned that the Germans attacked and then the Red Army drove them back to the state border. The strategic game began precisely then, when there were no enemy troops on the Soviet soil. The “retaliatory actions” of the Red Army in Eastern Prussia began from that point. The German invasion of Soviet territory and the repelling of aggression did not interest Stalin, Zhukov, and the rest. They were interested in the conduct of assault operations from the border. The leadership concluded that “unfolding the main forces of the Red Army in the West and grouping the main forces against Eastern Prussia and in the direction of Warsaw brings about serious fears that the struggle on this front can turn into protracted fighting.”10
Afterward, they played a second strategic game, but the main idea did not change: the Red Army was still the advancing side. Actually, the game started when the “Easterners” were one hundred kilometers inside the land of the “Westerners.”
The actions of German and Soviet generals were almost mirror images of each other. One month earlier, the Germans played the same games. The gap in time between the actions of Soviet and German commanders was slowly decreasing. On November 29, 1940, a large strategic game on maps began in Berlin. The supervisor of the game was Major General Friedrich Paulus, the First Ober-Kvartirmeister of the General Staff of the Ground Forces. In Moscow, there had been two games, in Berlin only one, but it was divided into three stages: first, the invasion by German troops of Russian territory, and battles on the border; second, the German advance to the Minsk-Kiev Line; third, the conclusion of the war and destruction of the Red Army’s last reserves, if such were found to the east of the Minsk-Kiev Line. The Germans didn’t work out how they would reach Kursk, Moscow, and Stalingrad. The generals thought that one blow would bring down the entire Soviet Union and send the Red Army on the run. In Berlin, a debriefing followed each stage of the game. The main debriefing of all stages of the game ended on December 13, 1940. Nineteen days later, the strategic games in Moscow began, the second of which, as we know now, ended on January 11, 1941.
History is written by the victors. The Red Army seized the archives of the Wehrmacht Heer, and Soviet historians demonstrated the aggressiveness of German imperialism to the rest of the world, exposing their terrible plans. Meanwhile, Soviet archives were carefully locked. This gave the Communist propagandists and agitators the opportunity to say that Soviet generals, admirals, marshals, and Stalin himself suffered from a chronic love of peace.11 However, that love of peace was only pretence. The Soviet generals did not sleep. Like their German peers, they prepared an invasion.
Of the two Soviet games, the first one was decisive. “ The debriefing of the first one is concluded at the highest political leadership level in the country.”12 The “highest political leadership in the country” meant, of course, Stalin. He carefully followed the course of the first game and became convinced that the army would get bogged down in Eastern Prussia. Therefore, immediately after the first game, Stalin decided that a strike on Europe should be delivered from Ukraine and Moldova, and not from an area north of Polesye.
The second game, which dealt with “retaliatory measures” of the Red Army in Germany, Hungary, and Romania, took place between January 8 and 11, 1941. There were insignificant changes in each group of players. Certain generals were switched from side to side. A number of generals did not participate in the second game at all, others replaced them. But the main opponents remained the same. Only this time, Zhukov commanded the Soviet troops and directed the “retaliatory blow” on enemy territory, whereas Pavlov commanded the German and Romanian troops and tried to repel the Soviet advance. Why did they need to conduct two games?
Polesye — the biggest region of swamplands in Europe, possibly even in the world — lies between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. Polesye was unsuitable for the mass movement of troops and the conduct of military operations. The area divided the western theater of operations into two strategic directions. If one tried to be equally strong to the north and to the south of Polesye, then one had to simply divide one’s forces in two. However, the main principle of strategy was concentration. The drive to be strong everywhere causes the dissipation of forces and general weakness. Therefore, forces had to be concentrated in one of the two directions to deliver the decisive blow, while in the other direction they delivered just a secondary, auxiliary attack.
Theq uestion then was which direction should be considered primary and which secondary. The arguments about this did not end.Both options had their pros and cons.Invasion into Central Europe, north of Polesye, would be a direct blow on Berlin. However, in the attacker’s way lay heavily fortified Eastern Prussia and Koenigsberg. A blow to the south, however, was a diversion to the side, a roundabout route. However, it would be a blow to almost unprotected Romania, the oil heart of Germany. On synthetic fuel alone, Germany could not survive. Therefore, it was decided to play two games, compare the results, and make the choice. In the first game, the main attack on Central Europe was carried out north of Polesye, from Belarus and the Baltic.
In the second game, the invasion was carried out from Ukraine and Moldova. If Germany were crushed, the rest of continental Europe would shower Stalin with flowers and his tanks would have an open road right up to the Atlantic Ocean.
In the second game, Zhukov, in command of Soviet troops, attacked Romania and Hungary. He found it easy to advance. First of all, there were no modern fortifications there, like those in Eastern Prussia. Zhukov had indisputable superiority of aviation, tanks, and paratroops. “ The second game . . . ended with the ‘Eastern’ decision being made to attack Budapest.” Zhukov commanded the “Eastern” group in the second game, and it was he who made the decisions about breaking through to Lake Balaton and crossing the Danube River near Budapest. The decision so far was only made in the course of a strategy game, but Zhukov himself already said that the games did not have an academic character, but were directly tied to the imminent war. Stalin was not present at the second game and did not conduct its debriefings, because he had already made his choice after seeing the results of the first one. The Soviet invasion of Europe would be conducted south of Polesye.
All the Way to Berlin!
The peasant-worker Red Army will be the most aggressive of any attack army that ever existed.
By sending all his divisions to France, Hitler had turned his back on Stalin. Stalin then feverishly destroyed his defenses and increased the attacking power of the Red Army. The Dnepr military flotilla was one of the many defense systems of the Soviet Union.
The great river Dnepr blocked the way into the depth of Soviet territory to aggressors from the west. All the Dnepr bridges were mined before 1939, and they could be demolished in such a way that nothing would be left to restore. In all preceding campaigns, German troops had never had to cross a single water barrier equal to the Dnepr. The pressing of a few buttons, at least in the middle and lower Dnepr regions, could stop German tank units. In the early 1930s, the Dnepr military flotilla was created to prevent the crossing and establishment of temporary bridges across the river. By the beginning of World War II, the flotilla counted 120 warships and motorboats, including eight powerful coastal monitors with cannon up to 130 mm.1 On top of that, the Dnepr flotilla had its own air force, and shoreline and air-defense batteries. The left bank of the Dnepr was suitable for river warships: it had many islands, bypasses, and backwater hideaways, which allowed warships, including the largest ones, to hide from the enemy and carry out surprise attacks, preventing the enemy from crossing the river.
The Dnepr water barrier — with its bridges primed for demolition and the river flotilla that could act together with field troops, artillery, and aviation — could securely close off the roads to the industrial regions in the south of Ukraine and to the Black Sea bases of the Soviet Navy. The German blitzkrieg could be stopped on the Dnepr line, or at least be held up for several months. If that had happened, the entire course of the war would have been different. However, just when Hitler turned his back on Stalin, Stalin ordered the removal of mines from the Dnepr bridges and the disbanding of the military flotilla. The Dnepr flotilla could be used only on the territory of the Soviet Union and only in a defensive war. It was obvious why Stalin believed he did not need it.
Stalin divided the defensive Dnepr flotilla into two: the Danube flotilla and the Pinsk flotilla. In the summer of 1940, Stalin tore Northern Bukovina and Bessarabia from Romania. The Soviet Union received an area of several tens of kilometers on the eastern shore of the Danube River. The Danube flotilla, formed in advance, was immediately transferred to this area. It was not easy to transfer the ships from the Dnepr: small ships were sent by railroad, and large ones sailed in the Black Sea during quiet weather and with special precautions. The Danube military flotilla included sixty-three river warships and motorboats, among them five monitors and twenty-two armored motorboats, plus air force units, and anti-aircraft and shoreline artillery.2 The location of the flotilla was horrible. The Soviet shore of the Danube was bare and open. Ships were stationed at the banks, while Romanian troops stood nearby, sometimes three hundred meters from the Soviet ships. In the event of a defensive war, the entire Danube flotilla would fall into a trap from the beginning: there was nowhere to retreat from the Danube delta but to the Black Sea, the waves of which could sink the ships built for river. The flotilla had nowhere to maneuver. A surprise attack from the enemy would have meant machine-gun fire at the Soviet ships, not giving them the possibility to lift anchor and detach the mooring lines. Moreover, no enemy would invade the Soviet Union through the Danube delta, since it consisted of hundreds of lakes and impassable swamps. This means that the Danube flotilla was not needed to defend the newly “liberated” lands of Bessarabia.
There was only one possible action for the Danube flotilla: in the course of a general invasion by the troops of the Red Army, the flotilla could carry out operations up the river. If you amassed in the delta of a great river more than sixty river warships, they would have no-where to go except up the stream. There were no other directions. If it sailed up the Danube, the flotilla would have to fight on Romanian, Bulgarian, Yugoslavian, Hungarian, Slovak, Austrian, and German territory.
In a defensive war, the Danube flotilla would be useless, and it would be sentenced to immediate destruction at its open bases on the shores. But in a war of aggression, the Danube flotilla was deadly for Germany: it only had to sail three to four hundred kilometers up the river, and the strategically important bridge at Chernavoda would be within firing range of its cannon, which meant that the petroleum supply from Ploieẟti to the port of Constanza would be disrupted. Another hundred kilometers upstream, and the entire German war machine would stop, simply because German tanks, planes, and warships would be out of fuel.
Here is an interesting detail: several mobile shoreline batteries of the Danube flotilla were armed with 130-mm- and 152-mm-caliber cannon. If the Soviet command had truly decided that someone would try to invade the USSR through the Danube delta, the shore-line batteries should immediately have been dug into the ground, and at the first chance reinforced concrete caponiers should have been built. But no one built any caponiers, so the cannon remained mobile. Their mobility could only be used in aggressive operations: the mobile batteries could accompany the flotilla, moving along the shorelines and supporting the warships with fire.
The reaction of the Danube military flotilla’s commanders to the beginning of the Soviet-German war was surprising. The word “war” meant to Soviet commanders invasion, not defense. Having learned that the war had begun, the Soviet commanders finished their last preparations for landing operations. The actions of the Soviet flotilla commanders, as well as those of the 14th Rifle Corps, divisions of which were concentrated in the Danube delta region, and of the 79th Border Unit of the NKVD, were planned beforehand and meticulously worked out.
On June 25, 1941, the warships of the Danube flotilla, under cover of fire from the shoreline batteries, landed reconnaissance and sabotage units of the NKVD on the Romanian shores, followed by regiments from the 51st Rifle Division of the 14th Rifle Corps. Soviet soldiers acted decisively, boldly, and quickly. The complicated operation, which involved river ships and aviation, as well as field, shoreline, and ship artillery, units of the Red Army and the NKVD, was worked out with immaculate precision. On the morning of June 26, 1941, a red flag went up above the central church of the Romanian city of Kilia. A key springboard area of seventy kilometers of Romanian territory had fallen into Soviet hands. The Danube flotilla was preparing for further invasion operations up the Danube. To aid the flotilla, the 3rd Paratroops Corps stationed in the Odessa district could be sent out. But all this had to be cancelled, because on other areas of the front the Red Army was retreating; an order to retreat was issued to the Danube flotilla as well. With the Black Sea behind it, the Danube military flotilla found itself cut off from Soviet troops without the possibility of retreat. Most of its ships had to be sunk, while gigantic supplies, stored toward the movement of the flotilla up the river, had to be burned, or simply left behind.
Hitler and Stalin both understood perfectly well what the expression “oil is the blood of war” meant. Colonel General A. Jodl testified that, in an argument with Guderian, Hitler declared: “You want to invade without oil — well, we shall see what comes out of this.” As early as 1927, Stalin took seriously the problems of the impending World War II. On December 3, 1927, he said: “It is impossible to fight without oil, and he who has the advantage in terms of oil has the chance of victory in the impending war.”3 In June 1940, when nobody was threatening the Soviet Union, tens of Soviet river military ships appeared in the Danube delta. That step had no defensive value, but was a threat to the unprotected Romanian oil routes and consequently a deadly threat to Germany.
In July 1940, Hitler conducted intensive consultations with his generals and concluded that it was not at all easy to defend Romania: the supply routes extended all over and passed through the mountains. If a huge number of German troops were transferred to defend Romania, western Poland and eastern Germany, including Berlin, would be exposed to a Soviet attack. If a lot of troops were concentrated in Romania and tried to keep it at any cost, it would not help: the territory perhaps would be retained, but oil fields would still burn up from bombings and artillery fire.
In July 1940, Hitler for the first time said that the Soviet Union could be dangerous, especially if German troops left the continent for the British Isles and Africa. On November 13, 1940, in a conversation with Molotov, Hitler indicated the necessity to retain a huge number of German troops in Romania, obviously hinting that the Soviet military posed a threat to Romanian oil.4 Molotov ignored the hint. After Molotov’s departure in December, Hitler issued a directive for the preparation of Operation Barbarossa.
In June 1940, when the German army was fighting in France, Zhukov, on Stalin’s orders and without consulting the German allies, brought river warships to the Danube delta. Hitler asked the head of the Soviet government to divert the Soviet threat from the oil heart of Germany. Stalin and Molotov refused.
A fortnight after Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, on July 7, 1941, Stalin sent a telegram to the commander of the southern front, General I. V. Tulenev. In the telegram, Stalin demanded that the Soviet Union retain Bessarabia at any cost, “having in mind that we need the Bessarabian territory as a springboard for organizing our invasion.”5 Hitler had already delivered his sudden blow, but Stalin still did not think of defense — his main concern was organizing an invasion from Bessarabia, meaning an attack on the Romanian oil fields.
The invasion of Bessarabia by the Soviet Union and the concentration there of powerful aggressive forces, including the paratroops corps and the Danube flotilla, forced Hitler to look at the strategic situation from a completely different perspective and to take preemptive measures. But it was already too late. Even the sudden attack of the Wehrmacht Heer on the Soviet Union could not save Hitler and his empire.
In the memoirs of Marshal of the Soviet Union G. K. Zhukov, there is a map of the location of Soviet naval bases in the first half of 1941. Among these bases, one was in the vicinity of the city of Pinsk, in Belarus.6 It is at least five hundred kilometers away from the nearest sea. After the disbanding of the purely defensive Dnepr military flotilla, some part of its ships were sent to the Danube delta, and others were sent upstream to the tributary of the Dnepr — the river Pripyat’. Ships were sent up almost to the sources, where the width of the river hardly reached fifty meters. That was where a new base for the flotilla was built.
The Pinsk military flotilla almost rivaled the Danube flotilla in might — it included four 263-ton displacement Zhelezniakov – class monitors and five captured Polish monitors, ranging from 130- to 150-ton displacement. Altogether, the Pinsk flotilla had sixty-six river warships and cutters, a squadron of airplanes, a company of marines, and other units.7 It was difficult to use the Pinsk flotilla for defense: the coastal monitors that came here had their bows turned west, and turning such huge ships around in a narrow river was complicated. If the ships were needed for defense, they should have been left in the Dnepr, because there was nothing for them to do on the quiet forest river Pripyat’. It was unlikely that the enemy would advance through the impassable forests and treacherous swamps.
The purpose of the Pinsk flotilla remains unclear, if one does not think of the Dnepr-Bug Canal.
Immediately after the “liberation” of Western Belarus in 1939, the Red Army started digging a more than 100-km-long canal from Pinsk to Kobrin.8 The canal was built in the summer and winter. Sapper units of the 4th Army and “construction units of the NKVD” — that is, thousands of inmates from the GULAG — participated in its completion. The fact that the construction was commanded by Colonel (later Marshal of Engineering Troops) Alexey Proshliakov alone spoke of its purely military purpose. The canal was built in truly horrendous conditions. Equipment sank in the swamps, and the only way to complete the canal within the deadline set by Stalin was to do everything by hand. The canal was built. Nobody knows exactly how many human lives it cost. The canal connected the Pripyat’ with the river Bug. The only use for the canal could be to let ships reach to the Vistula basin and further west. The canal had no other use. In a defensive war, it would have had to be destroyed to prevent German river ships from passing through the Vistula to the Dnepr. In the defensive war of 1941, all the ships of the Pinsk flotilla had to be blown up and abandoned. At the end of 1943, when the Red Army was rapidly advancing west, a flotilla was once again formed on the Dnepr, and once again it went up the Pripyat’ River to the small river Mukhavets, which flowed into the Bug.
Admiral V. Grigoryev, who in 1943 received the new flotilla in the Kiev region, remembered the words of Zhukov: “‘Along the Pripyat’, you will be able to reach [the] Bug, Narev, and Vistula toward Warsaw, and then transfer to the German rivers. Who knows, perhaps all the way to Berlin!’ He made a sharp turn, gave me an intense look, and repeated, stressing each word: ‘All the way to Berlin! Ah?’”9
In 1945, Admiral Grigoryev reached Berlin with his flotilla.
The Red Army had no marines. For land battles, it was easier and cheaper to use regular infantry, and landing on faraway shores was not yet in the plans. But suddenly Hitler made a thrust to the west, baring his back to Stalin. This careless step by Hitler brought on the most radical structural changes within the Red Army: the remains of defense were obliterated, while the offense was strengthened. The Soviet Marines were born in June 1940, when Hitler crushed France. At that time, there were two ocean fleets and two sea fleets in the Soviet armed forces, as well as two river flotillas: the Amur and the Dnepr. The ocean fleet did not receive any marines. The Pacific and Arctic oceans did not interest Stalin at the time. The Amur flotilla safeguarded the far eastern Soviet borders and also did not receive any marines. The Dnepr flotilla was divided into two attacking flotillas, and the Pinsk one, located in the Belarussian forests, received a company of marines. How interesting: marines not on the oceans, but in the Belarussian swamps. We can infer from these facts where Stalin was preparing for defense and where he was preparing for invasion.
A brigade of marines numbering several thousand men was formed as part of the Baltic fleet, whose only possible enemy could be Germany and its allies. On June 23, 1941, Soviet marines received their “battle baptism” during the defense of the naval base at Liepaja. The base was less than one hundred kilometers away from the German borders, but had no land obstacles and was not at all prepared for defense. According to testimony from Soviet admirals and German trophy documents, the bay of Liepaja was packed with Soviet submarines “like a can of sardines.” The official history of the Soviet navy, published by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, openly acknowledged that Liepaja was being prepared as a frontline base of the Soviet fleet for aggressive warfare on the seas.10 The marines in Liepaja were situated so close to the German borders that in the first twenty-four hours of the war they had already participated in defensive battles, although, of course, they had been created for a totally different purpose. In a defensive battle, regular infantry was far superior to marines.
The Danube military flotilla had two land-army companies, which officially were not listed as marines. But even before the German invasion, at least two Soviet rifle divisions — the 25th Chapaev and the 51st Perekop from the 14th Rifle Corps — prepared themselves in the Danube region for action as marines, and in the first days of the war they landed on Romanian shores.
The Black Sea fleet had even more powerful forces. Officially it had no marines, but in early June 1941, the 9th Special Rifle Corps under the command of Lieutenant General P. I. Batov was transferred from the Trans-Caucasus to the Crimea. The corps was very unusual in its personnel, arms, and training. On June 18 and 19, 1941, the Black Sea fleet conducted grandiose training exercises of an aggressive nature, during which one of the divisions of the 9th Special Rifle Corps was loaded on warships and performed a landing on “enemy” shores. A landing of an entire division from warships had never before been practiced in the Red Army.
The Kremlin paid special attention to the joint exercises of the fleet and the troops of the 9th Special Rifle Corps. These exercises were observed by high-ranking commanders who had specially arrived from Moscow. One of them, Vice Admiral I. I. Azarov, said that all the participants of the exercises felt that the training was not being conducted without reason, and that soon they would have to use in war what they had learned.11 If the war began and the Soviet command sent the 9th Special Rifle Corps into action in accordance with its battle profile and designation of its preparations, where could it land? It was unlikely that it would land on Soviet shores, but possibly in Romania, Bulgaria, or Turkey. No matter where the troops landed, they would have to be supplied, which required either additional landing of troops or the advance of other Soviet troops through Romania to connect with the 9th Special Rifle Corps. During those same days, the 3rd Paratroops Corps, also in the Crimea, conducted grandiose training exercises with the landing of corps and brigade staff.
Soviet historians never connected these three events: the training of the 14th Rifle Corps for landing from ships of the Danube flotilla; the 3rd Paratroops Corps exercising in the Crimea (a short flight to the Danube’s mouth); the training of the 9th Special Rifle Corps to land from warships of the Black Sea fleet. But these events were linked in time, place, and objective. ey were the final stages of preparation for aggression on a grand scale.
Mountain Divisions on the Steppes of Ukraine
Airborne assault landings will be effective in mountainous battle areas. Since troops, headquarters, and support units, which operate in the rear,
In 1941, the Soviet Union was preparing, painstakingly and tirelessly, for war. Each Soviet army had its unique structure, character, and purpose. Each “cover” army was created to deal with a clearly defined task in the forthcoming war of “liberation.” Sufficient material has been published to provide for a separate study on each of the thirty Soviet armies that existed in the first half of 1941. If a detailed study were made of the structure, disposition, and direction given to the training of just one Soviet army, the “liberation” tendency inherent to all Soviet preparations would become quite obvious.
Take, for example, the 9th Army. In number and name, it was not different from other Soviet armies, but it was a very unusual army. In 1941, this was the most powerful army in the world. It had six corps, including two mechanized (by June 22, 1941, 799 tanks altogether) and one cavalry corps. In total, on June 21, 1941, the 9th Army counted seventeen divisions, including two aviation, four tank, two motorized rifle, two cavalry, six rifle, and one mountain-rifle division. The rifle, motorized rifle, and cavalry divisions had tanks as well. By June 1, 1941, the Odessa military district, the divisions and corps of which became part of the 9th Army, had 1,114 tanks.1 Another mechanized corps, the 27th (by June 22, 1941, it had 356 tanks), under the command of Major General I. E. Petrov, was to be added to the 9th Army. The corps was created in the Turkmenistan district and, before completing its formation, was secretly transferred west. After yet another mechanized corps was included, the 9th Army should have had twenty divisions, including six tank divisions.
The Soviet 9th Army was opposed by forces which had no tank divisions at all. The 9th Army was not yet completely manned and equipped, but it was planned to be in the next days and weeks, and by the highest quality weapons.
Colonel General P. Belov (at that time Major General, Commander of the 2nd Cavalry Corps of the 9th Army) testified that even the cavalry of this army was preparing to receive the best tanks in the world, the T-34.2 At the head of the 9th Army was a colonel general. At that time, this was an extremely high rank. In all the armed forces of the USSR, there were only eight colonel generals; moreover, in the mighty Soviet tank troops there was none, in aviation there was none, and in the NKVD there was none. At the head of thirty Soviet armies were major generals and lieutenant generals. The 9th Army was the only exception among them.
In addition, the most promising officers and generals were gathered in this exceptional army. Three future Marshals of the Soviet Union were among them: Malinovsky, Zakharov, and Krylov, future Marshal of Aviation and three-time Hero of the Soviet Union Pokryshkin, future Marshal of Aviation Pstygo, future Army Generals Petrov, Pavlovsky, and Lashchenko, and many other talented and aggressive commanders who had already proven themselves in battle, like the twenty-eight-year-old Air Force Major General Osipenko. They all expressed hopes, which in most cases were later fulfilled. A caring hand carefully picked the best and most promising and placed them in this army.
But where was this super-army located? Here an amazing discovery awaits us: the 9th Army was not located near the German border. In the first half of June 1941, the Soviet Union was forming the most powerful army in the world on the Romanian border. The 9th Army was created in the fall of 1939, immediately after the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Its appearance was always an unwelcome sign for the country on whose border it emerged. In the fall of 1939, the 9th Army was deployed on the Finnish border. A week after the completion of its formation and concentration, the 9th Army fought for the bloody “liberation” of Finland. After the Finnish war, the army disappeared. The 9th Army command was disbanded on March 26, 1940. The army suddenly appeared again in June 1940 on the Romanian border. Ahead was a “liberation crusade” into Bessarabia, and Soviet sources indicated that the 9th Army was created especially for the completion of that important task.3 After another brief “liberation crusade,” the 9th Army disappeared again and its command was disbanded on July 10, 1940. In reality, its troops remained on the border, but in order not to alarm the neighbors those troops were not officially called an “army.” On June 14, 1941, the 9th Army again “reappeared” on the Romanian border, in the same exact place where a year ago it had completed the “liberation.”4 A new “liberation crusade” of the 9th Army into Romania would have entirely changed the strategic situation in Europe and in the world, since Romania was Germany’s main source of oil. A blow to Romania meant death to Germany.
But Hitler did not allow any of that to happen. In the declaration made by the German government to the Soviets at the start of the war, reasons were listed for the German attack against the Soviet Union. Among them was the unjustified concentration of Soviet troops on Romanian borders, which presented a clear danger to Germany.
Let’s pay attention to the mountain rifle divisions in the 9th Army. The 9th Army was located on the Romanian border, and its headquarters was in Odessa. There are no mountains in the Odessa military district. The 30th Irkutsk Mountain Rifle Division of the 9th Army could be used only in Romania. There were plenty of mountains there. It is not at all coincidental that this division (commanded by Major General S. G. Galaktionov) was part of the 48th Rifle Corps of Major General Malinovsky, the most aggressive corps commander on the entire southern front. The 48th Rifle Corps was in the flank of the 9th Army which was closest to the front. If the 9th “Shock” Army moved to Romania, then most of the army would be fighting on flat land, while its right flank would scratch at the mountain chain.5 For this situation, it was most reasonable to have one mountain-rifle division, and precisely on the rightmost flank, which was exactly what was done.
Let’s examine another army, which was a carbon copy of the 9th Army. Formally, it was called just the 12th Army. It had one mechanized and two rifle corps, and other units. It had nine divisions, including two tank divisions and one motorized division. It was indistinguishable in number, name, and composition from other similar invasion armies. It had been set up specifically for the “liberation crusade” of the Red Army into Poland.6 It then had a tank corps, two cavalry corps, and two rifle divisions. It had little artillery and infantry, because there was no need here to break through a powerful defense. To the contrary, it had mobile troops necessary for a fast advance.7
Its subsequent fate was also typical. After the “liberation” campaign in Poland, the army stayed on the German border. Later, the 12th Army underwent the same transformation as all adjacent invasion armies. Its main strike mechanism was no longer called a tank corps, but a mechanized corps, to allay the fears of the leaders of neighboring countries. The deletion of the word “tank” from the corps’ name was followed by an increase in the number of tanks in the army. The cavalry was taken away from it. Its capacity for disrupting the enemy’s defenses was increased. The number of rifle divisions was tripled, and the amount of artillery in each division was doubled. In addition, one artillery brigade and four separate artillery regiments were added to the army. The capability to counter the enemy’s engineering defenses also increased when a separate regiment of engineers was brought into the army.
The unusual feature of the 12th Army was its ethnic composition. When Stalin was preparing to invade Poland in 1939, he filled the 12th Army with Ukrainians, apparently bearing in mind the long-standing animosity between Poles and Ukrainians. The army was formed in Ukraine. Therefore, the reservists were also drawn from there, and they formed a solid majority in the 12th Army. Far-reaching changes had already taken place in 1940. Ethnic Russians were appointed to key posts to mask the army’s unusual ethnic composition. The greater part of the army, however, was neither Ukrainian nor Russian. It was Caucasian: there were Georgians, Armenians, and Azeris in other armies, but their presence was particularly strong in the 12th Army. General Zhukov, who commanded the Military District, sought out Colonel I. K. Bagramian, an Armenian who was a longtime friend, from his job as a military academy lecturer, and appointed him Chief of the Operations Branch (War Planning) of the 12th Army. General Agrat Arushunyan, another Armenian, became the army’s chief of staff.
Zhukov gathered natives of the Caucasus into the ranks of the 12th Army because it was secretly but steadily changed into a mountain army. Zhukov personally demanded of its commanders that their troops should have a thorough knowledge of the Carpathian passes, not just on paper but from practical experience. In 1940, he ordered that “specially reinforced groups, made up of various combat vehicles and means of transport, should in the autumn be sent through the passes along all more or less passable routes to make sure they could be surmounted in practical conditions by tanks, motor vehicles, tractors, animal-drawn transport, and pack-carrying beasts.”8
During the same year, German generals were secretly carrying out identical experiments on their western borders in the mountains. Their goal was to prepare a sudden attack against France and its allies. The German generals had to make sure that troops, tanks, artillery tractors, and transport could pass through the Ardennes. The German mountain experiments were successful. The attack on France was unanticipated both in time and place, and it was deadly.
The Soviet commanders were preparing to do the same against Germany. Marshal of the Soviet Union Bagramian, then a colonel responsible for planning the military operations of the 12th Army, said: “When I was studying the operational plans, I was struck by the following fact — our frontier army had neither a deployment nor a border-protection plan.” The colonel’s words demonstrate that the safe of the operations branch of the 12th Army contained plans. They were complex documents that had to be studied. Yet among those war plans there were none for defense.
Bagramian also described training exercises of the 12th Army attended by General Zhukov. Only offensive tactics were worked on, and on the maps the war took place on German territory. The game began with Soviet troops crossing the border river San. The military game was against a real enemy and it involved top secret intelligence information. Differences arose between Zhukov and the army commander. Commander of the 12th Army General Parusinov insisted: “We must do our best to inflict maximum casualties on the enemy with our first strike.” Zhukov understood that these were good intentions, but he wanted a strike on a wide rather than a very narrow front. That was what the argument was about. Shortly after the argument, Parusinov was replaced by General P. G. Ponedelin, Zhukov’s old friend. Then, the experiments in how to master the mountain passes continued.
Zhukov wasn’t interested in the mountain passes because of defense. If he had wanted to make the passes impassable to the enemy, he would have sent his troops to the mountains, dug up all mountain paths and roads, and built reinforced concrete fortifications near the passes, instead of right alongside the border river. It would have been more economical; the enemy could not have observed the construction work and would have been unable to cross the passes. But would anyone really attack the Soviet Union across mountain ranges when there were plenty of open spaces?
The mountains were exceptionally important to the Soviet command. Germany was separated from her main source of oil by a double barrier of mountains, in Czechoslovakia and Romania. A Soviet strike across the passes in Czechoslovakia or Romania would effectively cut the oil artery. Marshal Zhukov wrote: “Germany’s weak spot was oil supply, but it made up for this to some extent by importing oil from Romania.”9 The experiments in the mountains continued. The capabilities of each kind of troops and every type of combat and transport vehicle, operating in the conditions which prevailed in the Carpathian passes, were carefully studied. Standards were established and carefully checked, and guidance was compiled for the troops. The time taken by various types of vehicle to negotiate these mountain passes was carefully recorded and analyzed. The collected information, of course, was crucial for the planning of offensive operations, especially lightning operations. Bagramian was recording time frames to plan on the basis of very specific data.
None of the experiments were needed for defense. If the Carpathian passes had to be defended from the enemy, then speed was not needed: the soldiers simply had to stay where they were and not let the enemy pass.
In the 12th Army, as in all other Soviet armies, things were not called by their real names. In January 1940, the 96th Rifle Division was reorganized into a mountain rifle division. In May 1941, three more rifle divisions (the 44th, 58th, and 60th) were converted into mountain rifle divisions. At the same time, the recently formed 192nd Mountain Rifle Division was also added to the 12th Army. What did one call the 13th Corps, which had two divisions and both were mountain rifle ones? What did one call the 17th Corps, in which three out of four divisions were mountain rifle ones? What did one call an army, which out of its three corps had, in fact, two mountain rifle corps, and in which the mountain rifle divisions were a solid majority? I would call the corps “a mountain rifle corps” and the army “a mountain army.” But the Soviet High Command had reasons for not doing this. The corps continued to be called, as before, the 13th and 17th Rifle Corps, while the army was simply called the 12th Army.
The mountain rifle divisions were given their official name on June 1, 1941, while the order was issued on April 23, 1941; the actual transformation of the divisions from “rifle” into “mountain rifle” divisions was going on as early as the autumn of 1940.10 The 12th Army also influenced adjacent armies. The 72nd Mountain Rifle Division under the command of Major General P. I. Abramidze had been trained in the 12th Army and was transferred to the adjacent 26th army. Lieutenant General I. S. Konev’s 19th Army, which was being transferred from the northern Caucasus, was then secretly deployed behind the 12th and 26th armies. It also had mountain rifle divisions, for instance, the 28th Division under the command of Colonel K. I. Novik. It was at this time that deployment of yet another army, the 18th, began in the area between the 12th (mountain) and 9th “super-shock” armies in the eastern Carpathians. There are sufficient documents to infer that the original idea was that the 18th Army would be a carbon copy of the 12th (mountain) Army, although like the 12th it did not bear that name. Any researcher who studies the archives of the 12th and 18th armies will be surprised by their absolute similarity in structure. It is a most unusual example of twin armies.
The mountain rifle divisions were reinforced with specially selected and trained soldiers. These divisions were transferred to a special personnel composition, very different from the regular rifle divisions; they received special weapons and equipment. Just before the war began, a school for mountain training was established in the Caucasus. It trained the best Soviet mountain sportsmen and climbers to be military instructors. Once fully trained, these instructors were sent to the Soviet western frontier, since it was precisely here, and not in the Caucasus or Turkestan, that in June 1941 a great number of mountain rifle troops were concentrated.11
It is time to ask: for which mountains? There is only one comparatively small mountain range on the Soviet western frontier. The eastern Carpathians resemble gently sloping hills rather than mountains. There was no point in having a powerful defense in the eastern Carpathians in 1941. First, that area of the Carpathians was dangerous and unfavorable for an aggressor coming from west to east. The enemy would come down from the mountains to the plains, and its army would have to be supplied across the whole of the eastern Carpathian, the Tatry, the Erzgebirge, and the Sudeten mountains. Second, the northern slope of the eastern Carpathians formed a blunt wedge on the enemy’s side of the frontier. If many Soviet troops were concentrated there for defensive purposes, even in peacetime, they would be surrounded by the enemy on three sides. By using the plains farther to the south, and especially more to the north of the eastern Carpathians, the enemy could strike at any time at the rest of the troops deployed on the mountains, thereby cutting their supply lines. Third, in 1941, there were too few enemy troops in the Carpathian Mountains to carry out an aggression, and the Soviet High Command was fully aware of this.12
The concentration of two Soviet mountain armies in the eastern Carpathians had catastrophic consequences. Nobody attacked these armies in the mountains. The German 1st Tank Group carried out its strike in the plain to the north of the eastern Carpathians, bypassing the mountains and cutting off the Soviet mountain armies from the main forces. The Soviet command confronted a dilemma: should they leave the two mountain armies in the Carpathian Mountains, where they would perish without a supply of ammunition and food, or should they urgently be led out of that mousetrap? They made the second choice. The two mountain armies, unprepared to fight in the plains, having light weapons and a lot of equipment useless in a flat area,13 fled from the mountains and immediately fell under attack from the German tank units. Having easily destroyed the fleeing Soviet mountain armies, the 1st Tank Group of the German army went ahead full speed and reached the rear of the Soviet 9th Army and defeated it. Once the German troops had dealt with those armies, the road opened to the totally undefended bases of the Soviet navy, to the Don basin, Kharkov, Zaporozhie, and Dnepropetrovsk. These were industrial regions of great importance. Once they were lost to the Germans, the Soviet Union produced only 100,000 tanks for the rest of the war, which was much more than Germany, but without the losses of these regions, the Soviet tank production could have been several times higher. When the Germans broke through to the south of Ukraine, the Soviet troops around Kiev found themselves in a very dangerous position. The Germans had cleared the road to the Caucasus and to Stalingrad—the heart of Soviet oil production.
The two mountain armies in the Carpathians in 1941 were completely unnecessary for defense. They were necessary only for offense. In early 1941, specially trained groups of rock climbers appeared in the mountain rifle divisions. But in the eastern Carpathians, they had nothing to do. Soviet troops had to be moved west by several hundred kilometers. The same factors that made the Carpathians unsuitable for aggression from west to east made them very suitable for aggression from east to west. As the troops moved ahead into the mountains, their supply lines remained on Soviet territory, mainly on very flat terrain. The eastern Carpathians jutted far out into the west and cut the enemy grouping in two. This was a natural spring-board which, if heavy forces were built up on it in peacetime, positioned them as if they were in the enemy’s rear. They only had to advance, threatening the enemy’s rear and thus compelling its troops to withdraw along the whole front.
Only negligible enemy forces were located in the Carpathian Mountains. The Soviet High Command knew this, and that was precisely why they had concentrated two armies there. The only way to use these armies in war was to move them forward. Two mountain ridges spread from the Carpathians: one went west toward Czechoslovakia, the other south toward Romania.
Stalin in May
Stalin [has] put before himself a foreign policy goal of tremendous importance, which he hopes to reach through personal efforts.
On May 4, 1941, Stalin became chairman of the Soviet government,1 replacing Molotov who became deputy chairman. At that time, many British and American politicians and diplomats were confused by that turn of events. For the first time in Soviet history, the top party and government leadership was officially concentrated in one man’s hands. In 1922, having assumed the position of general secretary of the Communist Party, Stalin refused to take any government positions. Stalin elevated his command post above the government and above the country. Officially, he was responsible for nothing. All successes were attributed to Stalin. All failures were attributed to his enemies, careerists who took advantage of and distorted the orders of Stalin the genius. The “victory of the collectivization” was a creation of Stalin’s genius, while millions perished from hunger because of the mistakes of regional level functionaries. Stalin officially had no ties to the Great Purge — Ezhov, the People’s Commissar for Interior Affairs, shouldered the whole blame. That period was derogatorily called Ezhovshchina .
It wasn’t Stalin who signed a pact with Hitler. The treaty entered history as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In Germany, the responsibility for the pact was borne not so much by Ribbentrop as by Adolf Hitler, the chancellor, though he was not present when the pact was signed. But Stalin, who was present at the signing, had no government position at that moment. On April 13, 1941, a pact was signed with Japan: Stalin was present, but again, did not shoulder any responsibility. Hitler many times invited Stalin to a personal meeting in a friendly atmosphere. But Stalin sent Molotov to meet Hitler.
Then, when the victors were clearly defined, Stalin, of course, personally met with Churchill and Roosevelt. During the course of talks at the highest level, Stalin never said no. Molotov did it for him. He even received the nickname “Mr. No.” All demands came from Molotov, all concessions from Stalin. Simply put, Stalin did good with his hands, and evil with the hands of others. Those who did evil on Stalin’s orders carried the responsibility, while Stalin remained clean.
However, in May 1941, Stalin took on the official burden of government responsibility. For Stalin a new title meant not a strengthening of power, but a limiting of it, more precisely self-limiting. From then on, he not only took the most important decisions, but also carried official responsibility for them. Until then, Stalin’s power had only been limited by the outside borders of the Soviet Union, and not always even by them. What forced him to voluntarily take on the burden of responsibility for his actions?
Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union N. G. Kuznetsov testified: “When Stalin took on the duties of Chairman of the People’s Commissars Council, the system of leadership practically did not change.”2 If practically nothing changed, why did Stalin need the new title? “Meanwhile, all of Stalin’s deeds and crimes were focused, logical and calculated.”3
What was Stalin’s logic? “I don’t know any problems that could relate to the internal situation in the Soviet Union and be so serious as to elicit such an action from Stalin. I would be more certain in stating that if Stalin decided to take the highest government position, the reasons for his action should be sought in the [realm of] foreign affairs,” reported Schulenburg, the German ambassador to Moscow. Soviet marshals said the same thing: Stalin’s appointment was tied to foreign affairs.4
Let us examine what foreign policy problems Stalin was expected to solve in May 1941. Germany crushed many European countries, so there could be no problems with the governments of those countries. The Soviet Union had friendly relations with France, the large part of which was occupied by Germany. There were no problems with Britain: it retained independence and stretched a hand of friendship to Stalin, exemplified in a letter from Churchill to Stalin dated July 1, 1941. Roosevelt was more than amicable toward Stalin: he warned him of dangers, and American technology flowed into the USSR. There were only two possible enemies. Japan had seen a demonstration of Soviet might at Khalkhin-Gol in August 1939, signed an agreement with the Soviet Union, and looked away from Soviet borders. Therefore, only Germany could have forced Stalin to take the step that seemed inexplicable at first glance.
What could Stalin, using his new official title of head of the government, undertake regarding Germany? There were three possibilities: establish an unshakeable peace with Germany; officially lead an armed struggle against German aggression; or officially lead a sudden attack on Germany.
The first possibility can be ruled out immediately, because Molotov had already signed a peace pact with Germany. Stalin continued to use Molotov for peace talks. It is known that even on June 21, 1941, Molotov tried to meet with German leaders, while Stalin made no such attempts.
The second possibility also doesn’t withstand examination. Stalin could not have assumed leadership in anticipation of a German attack, simply because he did not foresee it. In the first day of the war, the head of the government should have addressed the people and told them the terrible news. But Stalin avoided fulfilling his duties, and on June 22 Molotov spoke to the people. Why would Stalin sit in Molotov’s chair in May, only to hide behind his back in June? In a defensive war, Stalin used his well-tested method of ruling the country: he took all important decisions, but the responsibility for them was borne by Molotov, Malenkov, Timoshenko, and Zhukov. Only a month later did the members of the Politburo force Stalin to take the official post of People’s Commissar for Defense, and on August 8 the post of Supreme Commander in Chief. Would Stalin, “foreseeing a defensive war,” have taken a high leadership position, just to shun all responsibility as soon as such a war started?
We are left with the third explanation: Stalin had crushed Europe using Hitler’s hands, and was preparing a sudden attack against Germany. Stalin planned to personally lead the “liberation” as the head of the government of the USSR.
The Communist Party prepared the Soviet people and army for the fact that the command to begin a “war of liberation” in Europe would be given personally by Stalin. Pravda wrote on August 18, 1940: “And when the Marshal of the Revolution comrade Stalin gives the signal, hundreds of thousands of pilots, navigators, [and] paratroopers will descend upon the enemy’s head with all the might of their arms, the arms of socialist justice. The Soviet air force will bring happiness to mankind!” Similar statements filled the pages of Krasnaya Zvezda and all other Soviet newspapers and magazines.
Upon entering into office, every head of state declares his agenda. Stalin did so as well. Only Stalin gave his speech, which could be counted as an agenda, in the tight inner circle of the highest Red Army commanders, behind closed doors. On May 5, 1941, the day after his appointment as head of state, Stalin spoke in the Kremlin at a reception in honor of graduates from the military academies. The audience in the convention hall of the Great Kremlyovski Palace, where he gave the speech, consisted of graduates, professors, and teachers from sixteen academies of the Red Army and nine faculties of civilian universities, as well as representatives of the Red Army and the Fleet High Command (including the People’s Commissars in both organizations and the Chief of General Staff). Stalin arrived, followed by members, actual and potential, of the Politburo (except for N. S. Khrushchev, who was holding a Central Committee plenary meeting in Kiev). The audience numbered two thousand people. Stalin spoke for forty minutes. Considering Stalin’s capability for silence, forty minutes was an extraordinarily long time.
Stalin did not speak before graduates of military academies every year. There were only two such occasions. The first time had been in 1935. The Great Purge was secretly being planned when Stalin told the graduates of military academies that “cadres determine everything.” The meaning of Stalin’s words was simple: for great feats, the country needed good teams; good commanders would solve all problems, but without them, everything would be lost. It is doubtful that anyone at the time understood the meaning of Stalin’s words. But Stalin had in mind nothing less than the complete extermination of almost all of the Communist hierarchy — state, party, military, technical, scientific, cultural, and all others. Stalin planned almost a complete transformation of the leading layer of the country. Almost everyone who listened to Stalin’s speech in 1935 in two years landed in torture chambers and execution cellars.
In May 1941, Stalin for the second time spoke before graduates of military academies. Now, a more serious and dark deed was being planned, because this time Stalin’s speech was given in secrecy. Stalin spoke about the situation in Europe, the war, and Germany. In his usual manner, Stalin posed questions and then answered them. Was it true that the German army was invincible? This question was repeated in Stalin’s speech three times. Stalin’s answer was no. Stalin said that Germany fought under the flag of conquering other nations. Under that flag, Germany would not be successful. Stalin asked why Germany lost World War I. Because it fought on two fronts, he answered. This was a very direct hint. Stalin led his audience to a logical conclusion: Germany fought Great Britain, which was backed by the United States. If the Soviet Union opened a second front, Germany would be defeated, just as it was during World War I.have in my possession the unpublished memoirs of Major General of the Air Force M. V. Vodopianov, who was the very first Hero of the Soviet Union. According to Vodopianov’s memoirs, the listeners correctly understood Stalin’s hints, and the room was filled with applause and cheer. The General Secretary of the Comintern, the Bulgarian Communist Georgyi Dimitrov, wrote in his diary that Stalin at that moment was in an extremely good mood. During the banquet that followed his speech, Stalin twice made a toast: the first was to the commanders and the professors from the military academies, the second to the health of artillerymen, tankers, and aviators.5 A third toast deserved special attention. It was given by Lieutenant General A. K. Sivkov, who toasted Stalin’s peaceful foreign policy. Stalin intervened:
On May 5, 1941, Stalin made it perfectly clear to his generals that there would be a war with Germany and that the Soviet Union would be the aggressor. It is interesting to note that a few days after the celebration in the Kremlin, Lieutenant General Sivkov, who made a toast to Stalin’s peaceful foreign policy, was discharged.7
In March 1939, Stalin publicly accused Great Britain and France of wanting to draw all of Europe into war, while they stayed on the sidelines and would later “enter the scene with fresh forces, fight, of course, ‘in the interests of peace,’ and dictate their terms to the weakened participants of the war.”8 In the same speech, Stalin for the first time declared that the international arena needed to prepare for “surprises.” In August 1939, Stalin presented the first “surprise,” which stunned not only the Soviet people, but the entire world, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
On September 1, 1939, a week after this pact, Germany invaded Poland. On September 17, 1939, the Red Army suddenly attacked the rear of the Polish army. The following day, the Soviet government proclaimed on the radio the cause for the attack: “Poland [has become] a convenient staging ground for any unanticipated events that might create a threat to the USSR. . . . The Soviet government can no longer hold a neutral position towards these facts. . . . In light of such a situation, the Soviet government [has] issued orders to the High Command of the Red Army to order troops to cross the border and take under their defenses the lives and property of the population.”9
Here we can see the difference between Stalin and Hitler. They divided Poland and both conducted aggressive war on Polish territory. But Hitler sent his troops to Poland to “expand the living space for Germans,” while Stalin sent in the Red Army “to free the Polish people from the evil war, into which they were drawn by foolish governments, and to give the people the opportunity to lead peaceful lives.”10
Stalin’s propaganda could not conceal its joy that Germany was destroying more and more countries, governments, armies, and political parties. The Soviet leadership was ecstatic: Pravda declared it “[m]odern warfare in all its terrible glory!”11 A description of Europe at war read: “a pile of corpses, a pornographic sight, where hyenas eat hyenas.”12 On the same page of Pravda, there was a friendly telegram from Stalin to Hitler.
Suddenly, everything changed. May 1941 saw a sharp turn in all Soviet propaganda. Here is Pravda’s tone on the day after Stalin’s secret speech: “Beyond the borders of our Motherland burns the flame of the Second Imperialist War. All the burden of its countless calamities falls on the shoulders of the workers. The people do not want war. Their eyes are looking toward the land of socialism, which reaps the fruits of peaceful labor. They rightfully see in the armed forces of our Motherland — in the Red Army and Fleet — a reliable bulwark of peace. In the current tumultuous world situation we must be ready for all surprises.”13
The same tone and the same words were used in September 1939, when the Red Army suddenly attacked the rear of the Polish army and “helped the Polish people to get out of the war.”
June 13, 1941
Stalin was not one who openly declared his intentions.
On May 5, 1941, in the Kremlin, Stalin in essence told the graduates of the military academies to disregard official propaganda and to prepare for war.1 On June 13, 1941, Moscow radio broadcast a rather unusual announcement of the Soviet Union Telegraph Agency (TASS). It claimed that “Germany was following the conditions of the Soviet-German pact as flawlessly as the Soviet Union,” that the rumors of an impending German attack on the USSR “were clumsily fabricated propaganda by the enemies of Germany and the USSR, interested in broadening and prolonging the war.” The following day, central Soviet newspapers published that announcement; a week later, Germany invaded the USSR. Everyone knew the author of the TASS announcement. Stalin’s characteristic style was recognized by generals in Soviet staffs, inmates in the labor camps, and Western experts.
Both the Soviet and foreign press wrote extensively about the TASS announcement. Many of those who spoke out on the subject laughed at Stalin. The TASS announcement was sometimes described as a sign of nearsightedness. However, the June 13, 1941, TASS announcement was more mysterious and inexplicable than ridiculous. Only its author is clear, while the rest is a puzzle.
The TASS announcement did not at all fit in with Stalin’s character. The man most familiar with Stalin, his personal secretary Boris Bazhanov, characterized him in the following way: “Secretive and extremely sly. . . . He possessed an extraordinary ability to remain silent, and in this respect was unique in a country where everyone spoke too much.” Following are some more descriptions. A. Avtorkhanov: “He was an implacable enemy of word inflation and excessive talking. Do not say what you are thinking.” A. Antonov-Ovseenko: “At critical moments, Stalin’s actions came before his words.” Robert Conquest, a scholar of the Stalin era, noted Stalin’s secretiveness and silence as the strongest points of his personality: “Extremely reserved and secretive. We still have to peer through the darkness of Stalin’s exceptional secrecy. . . . Stalin never said what was on his mind, even regarding political goals.”
It has been said that the ability to keep silent is much less common among people than any other talent. From that standpoint, Stalin was a genius — he knew how to keep silent. This was not only the strongest point of his character, but his most powerful weapon. With his silence, he disarmed the vigilance of his enemies; Stalin’s attacks were always sudden and therefore fatal. Why then did he speak on June 13, 1941, and to a mass audience? Whom did Stalin address? Stalin’s empire was highly centralized, and the mechanism of state government, especially after the Great Purge, was so perfected that any order was immediately communicated from the highest ranks to the lowest executors, and was immediately carried out. If in June 1941 Stalin had some concerns that had to be related hastily to millions of executors, why not use the perfect power structure that communicated all orders without distortion or delay? If the TASS announcement of June 13, 1941, was serious, it would have been repeated on all the secret channels. But Marshal of the Soviet Union A. M. Vassilevsky testified that after the announcement was published in print it “was not followed by any directives regarding the armed forces or reexamination of previously adopted policy.”2 He also said that nothing changed in the agendas of the General Staff or the Narkomat (People’s Commissariat for Defense), “and nothing was supposed to change. . . . But because no directives followed it, we quickly realized that it was irrelevant both for the armed forces and for the country as a whole.”3
Not only was the TASS announcement not repeated through secret military channels, but at the same time as the announcement came out, an order was issued to the troops in certain military districts, for example, in the Baltic district, that was in meaning and spirit quite the opposite of the TASS announcement.4 While the TASS announcement was broadcast on the radio, the military newspapers that were inaccessible to outsiders began to publish radically different ideas. This was reported, for instance, by Vice Admiral I. I. Azarov.5
There were five military districts on the Soviet Union’s western borders: the First Strategic Echelon of the Red Army. Let’s examine what happened around June 13, 1941, in the Kiev special district. There are many records of the events of that day. One of them is kept in the Central Archive of the Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation.6 This is the “Directive from the People’s Commissar for Defense of the USSR and the Chief of General Staff of the Red Army to the Military Council of the Kiev special military district.” The document is dated June 13, 1941, and labeled “Top Secret, Special Importance.”>
The Soviet system of secret classification had four levels of secrecy: “For Official Use Only,” “Secret,” “Top Secret,” and “Top Secret, Special Importance.” There was one more level, established by Stalin: “Top Secret, Special File.” Documents in this category were produced only in one copy and could not leave the premises of the Kremlin. “Top Secret, Special Importance” was the highest level of secrecy that could have been used beyond the Kremlin. Such a document arrived at the staff headquarters of the Kiev special military district while the radio was broadcasting the strange TASS announcement. The directive ordered the “transfer [of] all deep-rear divisions and corps commands with the corps formations to new camps closer to the state border.”
Four armies were camped in the Kiev district; behind them were five rifle corps and four motorized corps. According to the directive of June 13, 1941, all five rifle corps in the Kiev district moved to the border: the 31st, 36th, 37th, 49th, and 55th. A rifle corps three divisions strong had 966 field-guns and mortars, 2,100 machine guns, and more than 2,000 automobiles. A rifle corps had 50,000 soldiers and officers. Five corps made a quarter of a million men. The directive further demanded “to keep the transfer of troops completely secret. March at night and conduct tactical training. Take along with the troops all movable reserves of ammunition and fuel.” The document was signed by the People’s Commissar for Defense of the USSR, Marshal of the Soviet Union Timoshenko, and the Chief of General Staff Army General Zhukov. “We had to prepare all operational documentation that dealt with moving five rifle and four motorized corps from the positions of permanent location to the border zone,” wrote Bagramian (at that time a colonel and chief of operational staff in the Kiev special military district).7 “ They took with them everything necessary for action. The move was conducted at night to secure secrecy.”8 Colonel General I. I. Liudovnikov (at that time a colonel and commander of the 200th Rifle Division in the 31st Corps) was one of those who executed this order: “We were ordered to begin a campaign . . . in full deployment . . . concentrated in the forests 10 to 15 km northeast of the border town Kovel. The move was to be made secretly, only at night, on forested terrain.”9 Marshal of the Soviet Union K. S. Moskalenko (at that time a major general of artillery and commander of the 1st Anti-Tank Brigade) remembered: “New trains kept arriving, with new men and new military equipment.”10 Thee official history of the Kiev military district stated: “Major General F. F. Aliabushev’s 87th Rifle Division on June 14, under pretext of training exercises, was moved to the state border.”11
The moving of troops to the border under the pretext of training exercises was done on orders from Moscow. Marshal Zhukov said: “ The Narkom [People’s Commissar] for Defense S. K. Timoshenko recommended to the commanders of military districts to conduct tactical exercises in the direction of state borders, with the effect of bringing troops closer to the regions of planned deployment for the purpose of cover.” As was previously done prior to the Finnish campaign of 1940, “covering the state borders” was a code expression meaning “preparing to cross the borders.” This recommendation was brought into effect by the districts, but with a significant difference: “a significant part of artillery did not take part in the move.” 12
Marshal of the Soviet Union K. K. Rokossovskii (at that time Major General, commander of the 9th Motorized Corps) explains that the artillery had been ordered to the border slightly earlier.13
That was a brief description of the events of this day in one of the five border military districts. On the eve of the broadcast of the TASS announcement, the commander of that same Kiev special military district received another directive, with the same signatures and same level of secrecy — “Top Secret, Special Importance.” The directive of June 12, 1941, stated:
Four armies and nine separate corps made up the Kiev special military district. In addition, in May 1941 began the intense transfer of troops to the Kiev district from the inner regions of the country and from faraway eastern and southern borders. Bagramian described May in the Kiev district: “On May 25, the command of the 31st Rifle Corps from the Far East arrived in the district. . . . In the second half of May, we received a directive from the General Staff that ordered [us] to receive the command of the 34th Rifle Corps from the North Caucasus district, four 12,000-strong divisions and one mountain rifle division. . . . [At] the end of May, train after train arrived in the district. The Operational Department turned into a train dispatcher bureau and received all information about the incoming troops.”15
Even before June 13, 1941, troops flowed from the central regions of the Soviet Union to the five border military districts. Just three armies from among these troops required 939 railroad trains — the 22nd Army from the Ural military district, the 21st Army from the Volga military district, and the 16th Army from the Trans-Baikal military district.16 The 57th Tank Division of the 16th Army came from Mongolia. Preliminary relocation of the armies began in May 1941; other troops were moving as well. The former deputy of the People’s Commissar for State Control, I. V. Kovalev, wrote that “in May [and] early June, the transportation system of the USSR had to complete [the] transportation of nearly 800,000 reserve troops. . . . These moves had to be conducted secretly.”17
The 16th Army consisted of six divisions, among them three tank and one motorized. It had a total of thirty regiments: eleven artillery, seven tank, five motor-rifle, six rifle, and one motorcycle. The army was small in number of divisions and regiments; however it was supreme in technology, especially tanks and artillery. The 5th Mechanized Corps of the 16th Army counted 1,076 tanks.18 The 57th Separate Tank Division counted 375 tanks, and the two rifle divisions had another thirty-two tanks. In total, the 16th Army had 1,483 tanks and 560 armored cars, among them 397 heavy armored vehicles armed with cannon. The 16th Army was transferred across seven thousand kilometers. Lieutenant General M. F. Lukin commanded the army. The chief of staff of the 16th Army was Colonel M. A. Shalin — the future head of the GRU.
The relocation of the 16th Army from the region beyond Baikal to Ukraine began on May 26, 1941, and was scheduled to end on July 10. Lieutenant General P. A. Kurochkin, commander of the Trans-Baikal military district, personally supervised the dispatching of trains. We can find many testimonials to this massive railroad operation, among them the memoirs of Major General A. A. Lobachev, who at that time was a member of the military council of the 16th Army: “ The chief of staff reported that an important cable came in from Moscow, concerning the 16th Army. . . . The order from Moscow proposed to relocate the 16th Army to a new place. M. F. Lukin was to immediately appear before the General Staff to receive directions, and Colonel M. A. Shalin and I were to organize the dispatch of trains.”19
Only three people — the Commander of the Army General Lukin, Lobachev, and the Chief of Staff of the 16th Army Colonel M. A. Shalin — knew that the 16th Army was being transferred west, but they did not know precisely where. All the other generals of the 16th Army were “secretly” informed that the army was headed for the Iranian border, and that the junior commanders were to be told that the reason for the transfer was training exercises; the wives of the command staff were to be told that the army was leaving for training camps.
I have interviewed hundreds of people from that generation, and they all had forebodings of the war. Where did they come from? They could not have known about Hitler’s preparations. They must have seen the preparations of the Red Army and understood that war was unavoidable. General Lobachev described the extraordinary level of secrecy with which the 16th army was transferred: the trains were sent only by night and they did not stop at large and medium stations; the staff of the 16th Army was moved in cargo railroad cars with the doors and windows completely shut; at small stations, where the trains stopped, everyone was forbidden to exit the train. At that time, a passenger train covered the Trans-Siberian route in more than eleven days, while cargo trains were even slower. One could transport soldiers and officers in fully closed cars, but here we are talking about the high-ranking staff of an army. Such level of secrecy was unusual even by Soviet standards. In 1945, a flow of troops going in the opposite direction traveled on the Trans-Siberian railroad, heading for a surprise attack on Japanese troops in Manchuria and China. For the purposes of secrecy, all the generals wore officers’ uniforms, with many fewer stars than they had earned, but they still traveled in passenger trains. In 1941, on the other hand, generals were being transported in cargo trains. What for?
There were five military districts in the First Strategic Echelon of the Red Army. We examined what happened in the Kiev special military district on June 13, 1941, and on the days before and after that date. The same went on in the four other military districts. On June 14, the military council of the Odessa military district received an order to create an army headquarters in Tiraspol.20 This indicated the creation of the 9th Army on the Romanian border. From June 14 to June 19, the military councils of all the western border districts were directed to send out the frontline army commands to their field headquarters by June 22 and 23. Zhukov’s June 19 telegram to Kirponos, the commander of the Kiev special military district, stated: “ The People’s Commissar of Defense has issued the following orders: the command should leave for Ternopol by June 22, 1941, leaving the subordinate district commander in Kiev. . . . The selection and transfer of front command is to be kept top secret, and the district staff personnel should be notified of said secrecy.”21 Zhukov sent out similar telegrams to Kuznetsov, the commander of the Baltic special military district, and Pavlov, the commander of the Western special military district, on the same day. The command of the Northwestern Front, along with its district’s commander, should have arrived at Panevezhis on June 22 and 23; the same should have happened on the Western front at Obuz-Lesni. This mass exodus of front and army command units was approved by Stalin on the pretext of conducting joint summer training for commanders and troops.
On June 14, the military council of the Baltic special military district approved a plan for the relocation of a row of divisions and regiments to the border zone.22 Here are some standard reports from those days. Major General S. Iovlev (at the time commander of the 64th Rifle Division of the 44th Rifle Corps, 13th Army) recounted: “On June 15, 1941, the commander of the Western special military district, General D. G. Pavlov, ordered the divisions of our corps to prepare for relocation in complete formation. . . . We were not told our destination.”23 Colonel General L. M. Sandalov (at that time colonel, chief of staff of the 4th Army of the Western special military district) remembered: “On the southern wing of the 4th Army a new division appeared — the 75th Rifle Division. It advanced from Mosyr and set up well-concealed tent camps in the forests.”24
Marshal of the Soviet Union K. A. Meretskov (at that time general, and the Deputy People’s Commissar of Defense) said: “According to my orders, training exercises of the mechanized corps were conducted. The corps was brought out, as part of the training, to the border zone and left there. Later I told Zakharov that the corps of Major General R. I. Malinovsky was also in the area, and must also be brought to the border zone as part of training excercises.”25 Marshal of the Soviet Union R. I. Malinovsky (at that time major general, commander of the 48th Rifle Corps of the Odessa military district) confirmed that the order was executed: “ The corps left the Kirovograd region for Beltsy on June 7, and on June 14 it was in its place. This move was disguised as extensive training excercises.”26 Marshal of the Soviet Union M. V. Zakharov (at the time major general, and chief of staff of the Odessa military district) recounted: “On June 15, the command of the 48th Rifle Corps, the 74th and 30th Rifle Divisions concentrated, under the guise of training, in the forests several kilometers to the east of the city of Beltsy.”27 The marshal noted that the commands of the corps, the units, and the 74th Rifle Division were on high alert. He said that the 16th Tank Division also participated in the “training.” Marshal of the Soviet Union A. I. Eremenko (at that time commander of the 1st Army) said: “On June 20, the staff of the 13th Army received an order from the command of the Western military district to relocate from Mogilev to Novogrudok.”28
Not only armies, corps, and divisions were transferred to the borders. We have hundreds of testimonies of much smaller units being transferred as well. Lieutenant General V. F. Zotov (at the time a major general, and chief of the engineer troops of the Baltic special military district) remembered: “ The sapper battalions were mobilized according to wartime regulations . . . ten battalions, which arrived from the Far East, were completely armed.”29 Colonel S. F. Khvaley (at the time deputy commander of the 202nd Motorized Division of the 12th Mechanized Corps of the 8th Army) recounted: “During the night of June 18, 1941, our division left for field training.”30 As the colonel put it, “it so happened” that the units found themselves right at the border before the war began, in the immediate vicinity of the state frontiers.
A small fragment is known from the military order received on that same day by Colonel I. D. Cherniakhovsky, commander of a tank division in that same 12th Mechanized Corps: “Upon the receipt of this order, commander of the 28th Tank Division Colonel Cherniakhovsky is to bring all units to battle condition in accordance with plans of high alert, but without declaring a state of alert. All work is to be conducted quickly, but without noise, without panic and talk; have the necessary norms of portable and transportable reserves needed for life and battle.”31
Trophy German documents indicate that the Germans’ first encounter with the 28th Tank Division occurred near Siauliai. However, as Marshal P. P. Poluboyarov testified, the division was supposed to come out of Riga to the Soviet-German border.32 The German invasion found this division, like so many others, still on its way, because it simply did not have enough time to reach the border. The memoirs of Major I. A. Khizenko begin with the chapter “Marching toward the Border.”33 He wrote about the 80th Rifle Division of the 37th Rifle Corps: “In the evening of June 16, General Prokhorov gathered all staff personnel for a conference. He declared an order from the commander of the Kiev special military district to move the divisions to a new region of concentration. . . . There are talks that the impending march will be an unusual one.”34
This list is endless. Overall, the First Strategic Echelon of the Red Army had 170 tank, motorized, cavalry, and rifle divisions. Fifty-six of them were located right on the border. They could not move any farther ahead. But even of these, everything that could move was moving forward and hiding in the border forests. General I. I. Feduninsky, commander of the 15th Rifle Corps of the Fifth Army, testified that he led four regiments from the 45th and 62nd Rifle Divisions “into the woods, closer to the border.”35 The remaining 114 divisions of the First Strategic Echelon stayed in the deeper territories of the western border districts, and could be moved to the border.
How many of the 114 divisions began to move toward the border in the wake of the reassuring TASS announcement from June 13, 1941? The answer is: all of them! “Between June 12 and June 15, all the western military districts were issued an order to move all deeply located divisions closer to the state borders.”36
Now, let’s look at what was happening on June 13, 1941, in the inner military districts of the Soviet Union, in the far inland Urals, and in the Siberian and Altay provinces. Lieutenant General N. I. Birukov, commander of the 186th Rifle Division of the 62nd Rifle Corps of the Ural military district, recounted: “On June 13, 1941, we received an order of special importance from staff headquarters, which stated that the division had to move to a ‘new camp.’ The address of the new quarters was not given even to me, the division commander. Only when passing through Moscow did I find out that our division was to concentrate in the forests west of Idritsa.”37
In peacetime, a division receives “secret,” but very rarely “top secret,” documents. A document of “special importance” can appear in a division only during wartime and only in extreme cases, when an operation of great importance is prepared. Many Soviet divisions did not receive a single documentwith this label of top secrecy during the four years of the war. Yet, it was peacetime when the commander of the 186th Rifle Division received a document of such an exceptionally high level of secrecy. The document’s contents were ostensibly trivial: send the division to a new camp. General Birukov, however, placed the words “new camp” in quotation marks. He and the superior officials who had sent the document knew perfectly well that they were not talking of a “new camp,” but of something much more serious.
All divisions in the Ural military district received similar orders. Official records of the district clearly fixed the date: “ The 112th Rifle Division was the first to begin loading. On the morning of June 13, the train left the small railroad station. . . . Other trains followed. Then began the loading of units from the 98th, 153rd, and 186th Rifle Divisions.”38 The 170th and the 174th Rifle Divisions, artillery, sapper, and anti-tank units followed. New administrations were created for operating the Ural divisions, while the old ones were submitted to the command of the staff of the new 22nd Army.
This mass of staffs and troops moved from the Urals toward the Belorussian forests under the cover of the reassuring TASS announcement. The 22nd Army was not alone. General S. M. Shtemenko wrote: “Right before the beginning of the war, under the strictest secrecy, additional forces began to gather in the border forests. Five armies were transferred from the depth of the country toward the borders.”39 General S. P. Ivanov, who in the early 1970s headed a group of experts researching this issue, added: “At the same time, three more armies were preparing for relocation.”40 All these armies would form the Second Strategic Echelon of the Red Army.
Why didn’t all eight armies move simultaneously? In February, March, April, and May, a grandiose secret transfer of Soviet troops — from the inner regions to the borders — was conducted. It was concluded in time, but thousands of railroad cars had to return thousands of kilometers back inland. Therefore, on June 13, when the new, giant, secret movement of troops began, there were not enough cars for all the armies. The Second Strategic Echelon contained seventy-seven tank, motorized, and rifle divisions, not counting tens of separate regiments and hundreds of separate battalions. They all began their secret movement toward the western borders of the USSR under the cover of the TASS announcement.41 To the 114 divisions of the First Strategic Echelon, we must add seventy-seven divisions of the Second Strategic Echelon that began to move toward the western borders from the central regions of the country, from Siberia, and even from the Far East.
Everything that Soviet officers, generals, and marshals wrote about in their memoirs was fully confirmed by reports of German intelligence to their commanders in the spring and early summer of 1941: the Red Army was heading in giant surges toward the western borders. Many independent sources confirm the same fact. The massive Red Army movement toward the western borders was felt even in Soviet prisons. G. Ozerov, one of the deputies of airplane designer A. N. Tupolev, at that time was in prison, together with Tupolev and his entire design bureau. They received an order to create the best dive-bomber in the world. They were told that if they designed the plane, they would be let out of prison. They designed behind bars, but had constant contact with engineers from airplane and automobile factories, and with officials from the People’s Commissariat of Aviation Industry. Former inmate Ozerov recounted: “Inhabitants of dachas along the Belorussian and Vindavsk roads complain that they cannot sleep at night [because] trains with tanks and cannon are being herded through!”42
Thus, “right before the war, in accordance with orders from the General Staff of the Red Army, certain units of the western special military district began to move to the state border.”43 Having crushed the First Strategic Echelon and broken through its defenses, the first German units suddenly stumbled across new divisions, corps, and armies (for example, the 16th Army near Shepetovka in late June), about whose existence the German commanders had no idea. The plan for the blitzkrieg was built on calculations of lightning-speed destruction of the Soviet troops right along the borders. But having completed this plan, the German army discovered a new wall of armies, which was coming out of the Northern Caucasus, Volga, the Urals, Siberia, Trans-Baikal, and the Far East.
Thousands of railroad cars are needed for the transfer of even one army. They have to be sent to the station of departure, loaded with the army, heavy weapons, and reserves, and then cross thousands of kilometers. If the German troops encountered Siberian, Ural, and Trans-Baikal armies at the end of June, then their transfer to the west had not begun on June 22, but earlier.
The movement of the Soviet navy began at the same time as the movement of ground troops. Before the war, the Soviet Baltic fleet left the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland, heading west.44 The fleet’s objective was to act on the naval communication lines of the enemy.45 Simultaneously with the transfer of ground troops and navy, an intensive relocation of aviation was taking place. During the dark early hours of the day, aviation divisions and regiments were transferred in small units to air bases, some of which were less than ten kilometers from the border. In addition to operational air force units, a rigorous transfer of the newest airplanes to these units was under way. Colonel General L. M. Sandalov recounted: “From June 15, we began to receive new combat technology. Kobrinsky and Pruzhansky fighter regiments received the Iak-1 fighters, armed with cannon; the ground attack regiment got the Il-2 plane, the bomber regiments [got] the Pe-2.”46
Fighter regiments of that time had sixty-two planes each, ground attack regiments had sixty-three, and bomber regiments had sixty. Consequently, a single division (the 10th Mixed Air Force) was awaiting the arrival of 247 new planes. The general reported that the division did in fact begin to receive new technology, but old planes remained in the division. The division turned into a giant combat organism, comprised of several hundred planes. This process occurred everywhere. For example, the nearby 9th Mixed Air Force Division also received 262 new MiG-1s and MiG-3s, as well as several tens of Pe-2s and Il-2s.47 On the morning of June 22, that same western front got an order to receive 99 MiG-3s at the Orsha airfield.48 If they were to be received on the morning of June 22, the planes evidently were ready to be shipped out on the evening of June 21. Chief Marshal of Aviation A. A. Novikov reported that on June 21 the Northern Front, where he was commander of the air force, received a trainload of MiG-3 fighters.49
Besides the fighter planes, a mighty stream of tanks, artillery, ammunition, and fuel was also flowing in. At dawn on June 22, a trainload of heavy artillery regiments came into the Siauliai station.50 There were endless rows of trains full of ammunition. The Krasnaya Zvezda noted: “On the evening of June 21, 1941, the supervisor of the railroad station at Liepaja was told: ‘Receive a special train. It carries ammunition. It must be sent to its destination as a matter of priority.’”51 Liepaja at that time was very close to the border, but the train was in transit, meaning it was going to the border lines.
Railroad cars on all fronts were full of ammunition, which was usually done in preparation for an offensive of great depth. In a defensive war, it was easier and cheaper to store ammunition in previously prepared storage depots. Having used up all the ammunition from one storage depot, the troops easily retreated to another, where ammunition awaited them, then to a third, and so on. But before an invasion, ammunition was loaded onto mobile transport, which was very risky and expensive. For example, the southwestern front had 1,500 railroad cars of ammunition at the small Kalinovka station alone.52 Colonel General I.I.Volkotrubenko reported that in 1941, after the German attack, the western front alone lost 4,216 railroad cars of ammunition.53 There were five fronts, and it is incredible how much ammunition was stored on all fronts. Some of it fell into German hands; some of it was successfully rescued. In the middle of June, that incredible number of troops and ammunition — under the cover of the TASS announcement — was rolling toward the German borders in railroad cars.
Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K.Kurkotkin reported that in the beginning of June the “Soviet government, following a proposal by the General Staff, approved a plan to move 100,000 tons of fuel from the inland regions of the country.”54 In addition, “about 8,500 railroad cisterns with fuel [were] amassed at railroad intersections.”55 If the smallest 20-ton cisterns were being used, this would have meant much more than 100,000 tons. The most frequently used cistern in 1941 was the 62-ton. These 8,500 containers were at the stations waiting to be unloaded in the first days of the war. We also have to take into account all that was destroyed by enemy air raids at the railroad stations in the first minutes and hours of the war. Colonel General I. V. Boldin, deputy commander of the Western Front, related that the 10th Army (the most powerful army on the Western Front) had sufficient supplies of fuel in storage and in railroad containers, but lost everything in the first minutes of the war.56 On the eve of the war, this mass of cisterns was moving toward the borders, together with troops, military equipment, weapons, and ammunition.
June 13, 1941, marked the beginning of the biggest organized movement of troops, arms, ammunition, and other military supplies in history. Now is the right time to look once again at the TASS announcement of June 13. Many historians for some reason focus their attention on the introduction of this announcement, which speaks of German intentions. But the TASS announcement also speaks of Soviet intentions, and the most interesting information is contained there: “Rumors that the USSR is preparing for war against Germany are false and provocative. . . . e gathering of air forces and reserves of the Red Army and the impending maneuvers have as their objective nothing but [the] training of reserves and [the] testing of railroad functioning; they are conducted, as is known, yearly, so to imagine that these events are hostile to Germany is ridiculous.” Comparing the announcement with what occurred in reality, we find a big discrepancy between words and deeds.
The TASS announcement talked about the “testing of railroad functioning.” This is questionable. The movement of Soviet troops began in February, in March it intensified, in April and May it reached grandiose proportions, and starting on June 13, 1941, it reached an all-encompassing character. The only divisions that did not participate in the move were those already at the border, those that remained in the Far East, and those that were preparing to invade Iran. The full concentration of Soviet troops along the German border was planned for July 10.57 For almost half a year, railroad transportation, the main means of transportation in the country, was paralyzed by secret troop transfers. In the first half of 1941, the government plan for industry was only fulfilled for the military requirements. The main reason was that transportation was almost exclusively used for secret military transfers. The second reason was the secret mobilization of the male population to the newly formed armies. The disruption of the government plan could hardly be called “testing.”
The TASS announcement described it as “usual training,” but Soviet marshals, generals, and admirals contradicted that claim. Major General S. Iovlev said: “ The unusual aspect of the gatherings, not foreseen by plans of war readiness, alerted people.”58 Vice Admiral I. I. Azarov remembered: “Usually, training was conducted closer to the fall, but here they were beginning in the middle of the summer.”59 Colonel General I. I. Ludnikov said: “Usually, reserves are called in after the crops have been harvested. . . . In 1941, this rule was broken.”60
Major General M. I. Kazakov at that time was at the General Staff headquarters. There, he encountered the commander of the 16th Army, Lieutenant General M. F. Lukin, and other generals. Their armies were secretly being transferred by train; the commanders of the armies moved ahead of their troops and arrived in Moscow by airplane. In Moscow, they received their last instructions. General Kazakov said: “It was clear that it was not maneuvers they were going to. It was something else.”61>
Did Stalin have a premonition and concentrate troops along the borders for defense? That explanation is implausible. The massive operation described above couldn’t be defensive. Troops preparing for defense dig themselves into the ground. They take over the largest fields that the enemy will have to cross, close off roads, establish barbwire barriers, dig anti-tank trenches, and prepare covers behind the barricades. The Red Army did nothing of the kind. However, Soviet divisions, armies, and corps destroyed all previously constructed defensive structures. Troops were concentrated not behind water barriers, in a fashion convenient for defense, but in front of them, which was convenient for offense. Soviet troops did not take over vast fields that the enemy would need to cross, but hid in the woods, just like the German troops preparing for invasion. Perhaps all this was just a demonstration of might? Of course not — a demonstration has to be visible to the enemy. The Red Army, on the contrary, tried to hide its preparations. The TASS announcement was not written to scare Germany, but to allay its fears.
Words and Deeds
When trying to put together a clear picture of Hitler’s National Socialism and Stalin’s international socialism, we find surprising similarities not only in slogans, songs, and ideologies, but also in events. In the history of German National Socialism there was a moment very similar in spirit and meaning to the TASS Announcement of June 13, 1941. A year before, on May 8, 1940, German radio announced that the talk of two German armies being transferred to the border with Holland was a “ridiculous rumor,” being circulated by “British inciters of war.” After this, the German armies crushed and occupied Belgium, Holland, Luxemburg, and the greater part of France. The German radio announcement of May 8, 1940, and the TASS announcement of June 13, 1941, match almost word for word. Hitler did not believe Stalin’s TASS announcement because he had himself disguised the preparations for a sudden attack using the same exact tricks.
The TASS announcement of June 13, 1941, was meant to stop rumors of imminent war between the USSR and Germany. Stalin decisively fought these rumors. The same problem stood before Hitler at the same time. Preparations for war are difficult to hide. People see them and express all sorts of hypotheses. On April 24, the German naval attaché in Moscow sent a warning report to Berlin, stating that he was combating “obviously ridiculous rumors of an impending German-Soviet war.”1 On May 2, Ambassador Schulenburg reported that he was also fighting rumors, but “everybody who comes to Moscow from Germany brings not just these rumors, but can even support them with evidence.”2 On May 24, the head of the foreign press department of the Ministry of Propaganda in Germany, Karl Bemer, in a drunken state said something undesirable about relations with the Soviet Union. He was arrested immediately. Hitler personally took care of this case and, according to Goebbels, gave this event “too much consideration.” On June 13, 1941, on the day of the TASS announcement stating that there would be no war, Karl Bemer stood trial before the People’s Court and said that his speech had been a drunken mistake: of course, there would be no war between Germany and the Soviet Union!
Just to make sure no doubts about this remained at home or abroad, on June 15, 1941, Ribbentrop, the German minister of foreign affairs, sent top secret telegrams to his ambassadors: “ There are plans [for] important talks with Moscow. [ The] Fuehrer is going to sort out relations and raise new demands. Ambassadors must, in complete secrecy, relay this to the governments of the nations in which they are stationed. For example, the German ambassador in Budapest had to relay this piece of information, as a special secret, to the Hungarian president.3 The German leaders undertook a preplanned program of disinformation toward their own troops, their diplomats, and their military allies. The Soviet high command was doing the exact same thing.
Many people saw the transfer of Soviet troops to the borders. However, every person saw only a part of what was happening. Very few individuals conceived of its true scope. German military intelligence knew that a development of the might of the Red Army was occurring, but it only saw the first strategic echelon, without having any idea that there was a second one. Many Soviet marshals and generals, excluding those who were directly involved in the planning and commanding of the troop movement, also could not conceive of its true scope and, consequently, its meaning. Precisely for this reason, later on many of them freely talked about this transfer of troops. Their lack of knowledge of the whole situation and the true scale of concentration of Soviet troops is not at all coincidental; Stalin undertook draconian measures to keep all this secret. Stalin’s TASS announcement was one of those measures. The fact of the transfer itself was impossible to hide, but the most important information — its size and its purpose — Stalin successfully hid from the entire nation, and even from future generations.
Colonel General of the Air Force A. S. Yakovlev (at the time personal advisor to Stalin) testifies that “at the end of May or beginning of June” a conference was held in the Kremlin regarding questions of concealment.4 Troops were told that they were going to training camps, although the higher command understood that they were not talking of training. In a defensive war or before its start there is no need to fool the troops — officers and soldiers are given a clear and precise objective: here is your line, do not take a single step back! Die here, but do not let the enemy through! If a defensive operation was being prepared, why not tell the troops: yes, comrades, the situation is tense, anything can happen, dig foxholes and sit in them. If troops were indeed being sent to dig foxholes, it would have made no difference whether the objective of their move was told after arrival or upon departure. But Soviet officers were not told so upon arrival or departure. A different task was set before them, which was concealed then and is still concealed now.
In order to understand the level of secrecy of the troop transfers, I will give one example: a district commander and his chief of staff; did not know that some other troops were gathering on their territory. Marshal of the Soviet Union M.V. Zakharov tells us:
The commander of the Odessa district, Colonel General I. T. Cherevichenko also knew nothing of the Annushkas.
Some Soviet marshals, including Zhukov, said that twenty-eight rifle divisions were moving out from the deeper inland territories of the country. This is true, but it is not the entire truth. Marshal A. M. Vassilevsky stressed that twenty-eight divisions only “laid the foundation for the execution of the troop gathering plan.”7 Twenty-eight divisions were only the beginning. We know that there was a continuation, which surpassed the beginning, but Marshal Vassilevsky, after having spoken a little, grew silent and did not name concrete figures. If we compile all the data contained in all present-day military history works, we will find out that in May and June of 1941 seven armies were moved from the interior military districts to the western borders.8 Besides that, several independent corps were on their way west, including the 9th Special Rifle Corps, the 31st Rifle Corps, and the 27th Mechanized Corps. The total number of transferred divisions was seventy-seven, plus there was a huge number of independent combat and auxiliary formations.
On June 13, 1941, Molotov summoned the German ambassador and related to him the text of the TASS announcement.9 The announcement stated that Germany did not want to attack the USSR, and the USSR did not want to attack Germany, but “enemies of Germany and the USSR interested in unleashing and broadening war” were trying to make them quarrel and were spreading provocations and rumors of imminent war. In the announcement, these “enemy forces” are listed by name: “the British ambassador in Moscow, Mr. Kripps,” “London,” and “the English press.” Our exploration of the day would not be complete if we do not turn to London on June 13, 1941.
It is reasonable to suppose that on June 13 there was a meeting in London between the Soviet ambassador I. M. Maysky and the British foreign minister Anthony Eden. Indeed, the meeting was held, and, surprisingly, in a friendly atmosphere. Discussion revolved around a serious issue: measures Britain would take to aid the Red Army “if in the near future a war between the USSR and Germany begins.” Among other specific measures were military operations by the British air force, the transfer of military supplies, and the coordination of command between the two countries.10
On June 13, 1941, Stalin’s diplomats were laying the foundation of what would soon be called the “Anti-Hitler Coalition.” From the British point of view, there was nothing wrong with this picture: at that moment, Britain was involved in a war against Hitler, and had full rights to talk with anyone about joint efforts against him. But the Soviet Union had signed a pact of non-aggression with Germany, and immediately after that an agreement of friendship. If Soviet leadership thought that these documents no longer suited the situation at hand, they should have had them annulled. But Stalin did not do this; he assured Hitler of friendship and in the TASS announcement denounced the British ambassador and press for “wanting to broaden the war.” At the same time, talks in London were under way concerning a military alliance with Germany’s enemy, and about specific military measures against Germany.
It is surprising that at the talks in London both sides used the phrase “if war begins” instead of “if Germany attacks.” In other words, those talking did not exclude the possibility that the war would start not with German aggression, but in some other way. It is interesting that at the talks in London, the USSR was listed first: “if a war between the USSR and Germany occurs.” The same words were used in the TASS announcement: “rumors of imminent war between the USSR and Germany.” Why not say the opposite, between Germany and the USSR, if one supposes that Germany will be the aggressor?
Red Army, Black Gulag Uniforms
Immediately after the partition of Poland in the fall of 1939, a large number of Soviet troops were transferred from their permanent stations to the new borders. But the new territories were not adapted to the permanent deployment of large quantities of troops, especially troops with a lot of military equipment.
TheHistory of the Second World War tells us: “ The troops in [the] western border districts experienced many difficulties. Everything had to be built and equipped anew: bases and supply points, airfields, systems of roads, lines of communication.”1 The official history of the Byelorussian military district says: “Movement of units from the district to western parts of Byelorussia caused considerable difficulties. . . . The personnel of the 3rd, 10th and 4th armies . . . were busy with repair work and building barracks, storages, [and] camps, [and] furnishing training sites, shooting ranges, and tank depots. The troops were under considerable strain.”2 Colonel General L. M. Sandalov: “ The movement of district troops here encountered huge difficulties. The barracks were miserably few. . . . For troops not provided with barracks, dugouts were being built.”3
But troops kept arriving. General Sandalov says that in order to house all the troops in 1939–40, storages, barracks, and any kind of space was being used. “A large amount of troops concentrated in Brest. . . . Fourtiered bunks were set up on the lower floors of the barracks.”4 Lieutenant General V. N. Kurdumov, the head of the Battle Training Directorate of the Red Army, had said in December 1940 at a meeting of the command staff; that, in the new regions, troops often were forced to spend their time doing housework instead of military training.5 At the same meeting Lieutenant General I. N. Fedorenko, the head of the Automobile-Tank Directorate, said that almost all tank units in 1939–40 changed their positions, sometimes up to three or four times. As a result, “more than half of the units that moved to new places had no training ranges.”6 At the cost of tremendous effort, in 1939 and 1940 the troops of the First Strategic Echelon were set up and quartered. But from February 1941, at first slowly, then faster and faster, the seven armies of the Second Strategic Echelon began pouring into the same areas. At that moment, a change occurred that has not been noticed by historians: Soviet troops stopped caring about how they would spend the coming winter. The troops of the First Strategic Echelon abandoned their dugouts and unfinished barracks and entered the border zone. We are talking of all the troops.7
Troops of the Second Strategic Echelon, moving from within the country, did not use the unfinished barracks and camps abandoned by the First Strategic Echelon. The arriving troops were not planning to spend the winter in these locations, and made no preparations for winter. They were not making dugouts or building training facilities and shooting ranges; they were not even digging foxholes.>
Many official documents and memoirs of Soviet generals and marshals attest to the fact that now the armies were lodged in tents. In March 1941, the 118th Division of the 16th Rifle Corps of the 11th Army was formed in the Baltic region. In May, reserves arrived. The division put up a temporary summer camp made of tents in the Kozlovo Ruda region (45 to 50 km from the state border). Safe under the cover of the TASS announcement, the division abandoned this camp and headed for the border. Any attempt to find even a hint of preparations for winter is doomed to fail — the division was not preparing to spend the winter here. Right next to it moved the 28th Tank Division, and the picture was the same. In all tank divisions, all newly formed rifle divisions, the attitude toward winter changed — nobody feared winter any longer. Marshal of the Soviet Union K. S. Moskalenko (at the time Major General, commander of the 1st Motorized Artillery Anti-Tank Brigade of the Main Command Reserve) received an assignment from the commander of the 5th Army, Major General M. I. Potapov: “Your brigade began to form here. You will occupy that area of forest [and] set up a camp.” A powerful brigade of over six thousand men, with over a hundred heavy guns up to 85 mm in caliber, set up camp in three days. After this, intense battle training began: eight to ten hours a day, not counting night training, homework, maintenance of weapons, and weapon training.8
Where were they planning to spend the winter? Staying in tents in the Russian winter? Wasn’t Central and Western Europe more comfortable?
Major General A. Zaporozhchenko gives the following description: “ The final phase of the strategic deployment was the secret movement of attack groups to staging grounds for invasion. It was carried out during the course of several nights before the attack. The cover of the movement was organized by reinforced battalions that had previously been moved to the border and, before the arrival of the main forces, controlled the areas of the front pre-assigned for the divisions. Transfer of aviation began in the last days of May and ended by June 18. Fighter and ground-attack planes concentrated at air bases up to 40 km from the border, and the bombers were no further than 180 km.”9
In this description, we can be surprised only by the date of June 18. Soviet aviation did not complete its relocation then; it only started
it on June 13 under the cover of the TASS announcement. Why is the general mentioning June 18? The thing is, he is talking not of the Red
Army, but of the German Wehrmacht, where the same exact thing was occurring — troops were also moving toward the borders at night.
Reinforced battalions were sent ahead. Arriving divisions took predesignated areas for attack, or simply put, hid in the forests. The actions of the two armies are
mirror images of each other. The only difference is the dates. At first, the Soviet troops were ahead, but then Hitler got two weeks
ahead of them — he had fewer troops, and they had less distance to cover. It is interesting that in the beginning of June the German
army was in a very unfavorable position: it had troops in railroad trains. Guns were in one train, shells in another. Battalions were unloaded where there
were no staffs, staffs where there were no troops. There were no communication lines, since for safety reasons usage of many
radio frequencies was banned. German troops also did not prepare dugouts and build training ranges.
What was supposed to happen after the gathering of the Second Strategic Echelon of Soviet troops in the western districts of the country? The answer to this question was given long before the beginning of World War II. General V. Sikorsky: “Strategic waiting cannot last after all forces have been mobilized and concentration of troops achieved.”10 This was said by the Chief of the General Staff of the Polish army, in the 1936 book The Future War. However, according to a decision of the Soviet General Staff, the book was published in Moscow for Soviet commanders. The book was published because Soviet military science had earlier reached the same conclusion: “In modern conditions the worst idea in the beginning stages of the war is to attempt to use a tactic of waiting.”11
The advancement of the Second Strategic Echelon was not a reaction to Hitler’s actions. The creation of the Second Strategic Echelon began before the massive movements of German troops to the Soviet borders. The movement of the Second Strategic Echelon was a railroad operation that required lengthy preparations and extensive planning. Marshal S. K. Kurkotkin said that the General Staff transferred all necessary documents concerning the troop movements to the People’s Commissariat of Transportation on February 21, 1941.12 But the General Staff also needed time to meticulously prepare those documents; they needed to issue to the railroads precise orders about when, where, and what transport should be supplied, how to conceal loading and transfer, what routes to use, where to prepare areas for unloading the troops. In order to prepare all this, the General Staff had to determine exactly what troops had to appear, and where and at what time. This means that the decision to create the Second Strategic Echelon and the beginning of planning its movement and use for battle must have come sometime earlier.
The process of creating troop formations in inner districts and moving them to western border districts began on August 19, 1939. It originated with a decision by the Politburo; it was never stopped, and slowly gained momentum. Here is just one example: the Ural military district. At the end of August 1939 the 85th Division was formed; in September 1939, the 159th Division was formed. We see the 85th Division on June 21, 1941, right at the German borders in the region of Augustow, where the NKVD is cutting through barbwire. The 159th Division we find right on the border as well, in the Rava-Russkaya region, in the 6th Army. In the same month of September 1939, in the same Ural district, the 125th and 128th Rifle Divisions were created, and each of them we can later find on the German borders. Moreover, according to Soviet sources, the 125th was “on the immediate borders” of East Prussia. The Ural district formed many other regiments and divisions, and all of them quietly crawled closer to the borders.
After the German invasion, the Second Strategic Echelon (as well as the first) was used for defense. But that does not at all mean that it was created for that purpose. General M. I. Kazakov says of the second echelon: “After the beginning of the war, radical changes to the plans for its use had to be made.”13 Major General V. Zemskov speaks more precisely: “We were forced to use these reserves not for attack, as planned, but for defense.”14 General S. P. Ivanov: “If the troops of the First Strategic Echelon had been successful in . . . transferring the battle action to the enemy’s territory before the deployment of the main forces, the Second Strategic Echelon had to fortify the efforts of the first echelon and develop a counterstrike according to the overall strategic plan.”15 The term “counterstrike” should not add confusion. The Red Army always delivered a “counterstrike.”
Lieutenant General S. A. Kalinin talks about the mood in the Second Strategic Echelon. Before the beginning of the secret movement west, he prepared the troops of the Siberian military district (later transformed into the 24th Army) for action. During the course of training, the general heard opinions from junior officers: “We probably won’t need fortifications either. After all, we are getting ready not for defense, but for invasion, we will hit the enemy on his territory.”16 All armies were prepared to fight “on enemy territory.” The commander of the 16th Army of the Second Strategic Echelon, Lieutenant General M. F. Lukin, does not say exactly on what territory he planned to use the 16th Army that was under his command in 1941. But in any case, it was not Soviet territory: “We planned to fight on enemy territory.”17 On the same page of the Soviet military journal where Lukin was quoted, Marshal A. M. Vassilevsky stresses that we should believe Lukin: “[T]here is much harsh truth in his words.” Vassilevsky himself was a master at fighting “on enemy territory.” It was he who carried out a surprise attack on Japanese troops in Manchuria in 1945, demonstrating the best example of how one has to deliver a sudden treacherous blow to the enemy’s rear while he is occupied by war on other fronts.
From experience, as well as from theory, the Soviet High Command knew that not even one division could be left for a winter in the woods, unprepared. A soldier can spend the winter under any conditions — that was not the problem. The problem was that near the western borders there were no shooting ranges, no training camps, no tank depots, and no conditions for battle training. Troops must either immediately enter combat, or inevitable degradation of the level of battle readiness would ensue. The Soviet High Command knew that the culprits would be found, and they knew what the fate of the culprits would be — yet they took practically the entire Red Army into places where there were no conditions for battle training. The Soviet High Command did not fear Stalin’s ire, because the move forward did not endanger the troops’ combat readiness. Stationing them under such poor conditions was planned for a very short time only, after which the Red Army would attack westward.
Stalin had no choice. He could not turn his armies around. Many armies and corps created in the first half of 1941 had nowhere to turn back to. Another troop transfer would have required many more months, would have paralyzed the entire railroad system, and would have meant economic catastrophe. Moreover, what sense does it make first to spend half a year gathering troops, and then half a year dispersing them? Even if, after a full concentration, an immediate dispersion had begun, even then the process could not have been finished before the arrival of winter. Besides, Stalin kept the process of creation and transfer to the west of the entire Second Strategic Echelon strictly secret. Could he have counted on full secrecy, if he left these armies for several weeks in the border forests?
If the Red Army could not turn back and could not stay in the border regions for long, what was left for it to do? In order to answer this question one needs to bring up the opinion of Stalin: “In the condition when we are surrounded by enemies, a sudden attack from our side, an unanticipated maneuver, quickness, decides everything.”18 In every grandiose process, there is a critical moment, after which events cannot be turned back. For the Soviet Union, this moment came on June 13, 1941. After this day, war for the Soviet Union became inevitable, and it was to be in the summer of 1941, regardless of Hitler’s actions.
In the Second Strategic Echelon, which Stalin was secretly transferring to the borders, there were entire divisions, sometimes even corps, of soldiers dressed in old black uniforms. There were enough of these soldiers for the German military intelligence to notice and unofficially dub these divisions and corps “black.” One example was the 69th Rifle Corps of the 20th Army. This corps was not the only one. The 63rd Corps of the 21st Army also figures in German documents as the “black corps.” The commander of the 63rd Rifle Corps was Komkor (Corps Commander) L.G. Petrovsky. During the war Komkor Petrovsky fought with dignity and courage, proving his ability as a great strategist in battle. On July 31, 1941, he received the rank of lieutenant general and was promoted to command the 21st Army while the 63rd Rifle Corps, after heavy fighting, was encircled by the enemy. Stalin ordered him to leave the 63rd Corps encircled and to take command of the 21st Army. Petrovsky asked to delay the order of entering his post as army commander for a couple days, and the plane sent for him returned with critically wounded soldiers on board. Petrovsky brought his “black corps” out of encirclement and once again returned to the rear of the enemy, in order to bring another division out of encirclement, the 154th Rifle Division (under the command of Major General. S.Fokanov). During the breakout from encirclement, Petrovsky was fatally wounded. German troops, upon finding and recognizing Petrovsky’s body on the battlefield, gave the Soviet general a funeral with all military honors. A huge cross was placed on his tomb, with an inscription in German that read: “Lieutenant General Petrovsky, commander of the ‘black corps.’”
The unusual black uniform was noted by the German intelligence in other units of the Second Strategic Echelon as well. When this uniform dominated over the usual green one, then regiments, divisions, and sometimes entire corps received the name “black.” The 24th Army of the Second Strategic Echelon, secretly advancing out of Siberia, was no exception. During the fighting, several of its corps and divisions got called “black” by the Germans. By the end of June, the trains of this army stretched across thousands of kilometers. At that time Lieutenant General S. A. Kalinin, the commander of the army, was already in Moscow, working on the problem of how to feed the 24th Army. After the first few battles, the 24th Army found itself in the right hands: Major General of the NKVD Constantin Rakutin took the command. Lieutenant General S. A. Kalinin returned to Siberia. Kalinin, on Stalin’s orders, formed ten new divisions. He said: “Units were formed in locations that previously had no military units at all. I began my work by visiting these locations. My first flight was to one of the towns in Siberia. Some years before the war, in the dense forests there, a village of barracks was built for lumberjacks. We used it for housing the units of the forming armies. The village was surrounded almost from all sides by impenetrable taiga.”19 Everything about “barrack villages for lumberjacks” can be found in the three volumes of Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s book The Gulag Archipelago. The result was that ten new divisions (over 130,000 men) assembled in the Siberian military district not in locations previously established for military units, but in “barrack villages.” These people were the Soviet prisoners. That is why the regiments and divisions of this army and other armies of the Second Strategic Echelon were clothed in black: lumberjacks” were frequently not even issued military uniforms. That was why Stalin had replaced the commander of the 24th Army with the “chekist” Rakutin.20
The armies of the Second Strategic Echelon, which included the “black” divisions and corps, began forming in June 1941. These divisions and corps began their movement west on June 13, 1941. German troops encountered the “black” divisions and corps in early July 1941 Every army of the Second Strategic Echelon was created specifically for the purpose of a surprise arrival at the western borders. Each army was located on a major railroad route. Each was formed in the vicinity of concentration camps: men there were used to order, didn’t ask for much, and it was easier to take them out of the camps than out of the villages — all were already gathered in one place, organized into brigades, and, most importantly, it was impossible to take men out of the villages without stirring rumors about mobilization and war. Stalin needed everything to proceed quietly, without rumors. at was why he wrote the TASS announcement. at was why men were in due time taken to concentration camps, trained and disciplined, and then sent to the front without fuss. If in early July the German army met divisions and corps filled with inmates, in the armies coming from the faraway Urals and from the Siberian and Trans-Baikal provinces, it means that Stalin handed weapons to the inmates before June 22, 1941. The main question that German command had to answer was: If we do not attack, what will Stalin do? Take away the weapons from the inmates, return them to the GULAG, or send them home? Or perhaps Stalin had some other options for using the armed inmates that were secretly gathering at the German borders?
Hitler, herded into a corner and full of fear, in June 1941 decided to turn east, and attack the Soviet Union.
In September 1939, as a result of the Red Army’s “war of liberation” in Poland, the new western border of the Soviet Union advanced in such a way that the so-called Belostok bulge formed in Byelorussia — a powerful wedge that, like a ship’s bow, broke into the territory occupied by Germany. The same thing happened in the Lvov region — there, another powerful wedge of Soviet territory formed. The Belostok and Lvov bulges were like two Soviet peninsulas in the German sea. Basic military logic dictated: if the Red Army intended to defend itself, it could not keep troops in the Belostok and Lvov bulges. Already, in peacetime, enemy troops surrounded the Soviet army on three sides in the bulges. The Soviet flanks were open and vulnerable. A sudden and decisive German attack on the flanks in these bulges would have cut off the best sections of the Red Army from the main forces and supply bases. In the event of an enemy invasion, such an alignment of Soviet troops inevitably and immediately would have led to catastrophe.
That is exactly what happened in 1941. Before the German invasion into the territory of the Kiev military district, the most powerful Soviet front was deployed: the Southwestern Front. The three most powerful armies of that front were in the Lvov bulge. In peacetime, these three armies were already almost surrounded. Hitler only had to shut the trap on them. On June 22, the very weak 1st German Tank Group hit Lutsk, Rovno, and Berdichev, quickly cutting off all three Soviet armies in the Lvov bulge — the 12th (mountain), 6th, and 26th. The 1st Tank Group, faced with open, unprotected operational space, immediately went through the Soviet rear, crushing air bases, staffs, and hospitals. Here, in the rear, they found tremendous quantities of Soviet weapons, fuel, ammunition, foodstuffs, and medical supplies. The Germans seized truly remarkable trophies. The three Soviet armies in the Lvov bulge were left with a problem that had two solutions, both of which were catastrophic: either remain in the trap and wait for the 1st Tank Group to completely lock the encirclement, or run to the east, abandoning everything that cannot be carried. They ran. Soon, they were left without fuel and ammunition. The entire Soviet Southwestern Front crumbled from one rather weak blow. But that was not all: this same blow threatened the entire Southern Front.
Having broken through to open space, the 1st German Tank Group could have freely chosen any direction: all roads were open. It could have struck the rear of the Southern Front. It could have headed to Kiev. If Kiev was being defended it could, instead of engaging in battle, have hit the metal-producing sites of the Ukraine: Dnepropetrovsk, Dneprodzerzhinsk, Zaporozhye. Once there, it could have reached the Crimea. It could have gone to the bases of the Black Sea fleet and taken them. Or it could have taken the largest hydroelectric plant in Europe, DneproGES. It could have crossed the Dnepr and taken Donbass — the largest coal region of the Soviet Union. It was also possible to continue to the North Caucasus toward the main petroleum sources of the Soviet Union. But Hitler was preparing for war in a very strange manner: so many open directions, and he only had one tank group against all of Ukraine, Moldavia, Crimea, Donbass, Don, North Caucasus, and Trans-Caucasus — with only 799 obsolete and worn-out tanks. The First Tank Group fought fierce battles on the western bank of the Dniepr River, then crossed the Dniepr and joined the Second Tank Group. This was how four armies of the Soviets were encircled; 664,000 prisoners were taken, and with them huge quantities of arms and supplies. But the Germans paid for this grandiose bounty by losing the tempo of their attack: it happened in September, so they could not start moving toward Moscow before October, which meant rain, dirt, and mud. No blitzkrieg was possible in the remaining months of 1941.
In Byelorussia, the Red Army had an even worse time. The Western Front had four armies. The main forces of the front were concentrated in the Byelostok bulge. Two German tank groups struck the undefended flanks and linked east of Minsk. The 3rd, 10th, and parts of the 4th and 13th armies, all together almost thirty divisions, found themselves in a pocket. The Western Front collapsed even quicker than the Southwestern and the Southern Fronts. Could it be that before the war General Zhukov did not understand that one cannot herd huge numbers of troops into bulges that become traps?
The answer to this question was given by one of the most brilliant Soviet troop commanders, the deputy commander of the Volkhov front Lieutenant General Andrey Vlassov. On June 22, 1941, he was a major general in command of the 4th Mechanized Corps in the Lvov bulge. In 1942 he was ordered to command the 2nd Shock Army, which found itself in a hopeless position. Vlassov was ordered to complete an operation that he had not prepared, had not started, and that had already failed. The 2nd Shock Army could not be saved. It perished, and Vlassov was taken prisoner. In a protocol from questioning on August 8, 1942, it was recorded: “Regarding the question of whether Stalin had intentions to attack Germany, Vlassov declared that such intentions, undoubtedly, existed. The concentration of troops in the Lvov region points to the fact that a strike against Romania was being planned in the direction of the petroleum sources. . . . The Red Army was not prepared for the German invasion. Despite all the rumors about the operations conducted by Germany, in the Soviet Union nobody believed in such a possibility. During preparations, the Russians meant only their own offensive.”1 There is no other explanation for the concentration of Soviet troops in the Lvov and Byelostok bulges.
Forty-nine years later the same explanation was given by the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Military Forces, General Makhmut Gareev: “A main blow to the flank in the main alignment of the enemy’s troops, delivered in the direction of Krakow, would have allowed us to cut Germany off from the Balkans in the very beginning of the war, to deprive her of the Romanian oil, and to separate the allies. On the other hand, carrying out the main blow on the joint flanks of the western and northwestern fronts led to a frontal attack in difficult conditions against heavily fortified defense positions in East Prussia, where the German army could offer fiercer resistance. And totally different conditions, and consequently different objections, could have arisen if the strategic plans were to lead defensive operations to deflect aggression early in the war. In this case, no doubt, it was more advantageous to have main forces in the strip of the western front. But such a course of strategic actions was not planned.”2
Let’s compare the opinions of the two generals. They are saying the same thing: there was no preparation for defense, only o&ffense, moreover, an offensive in the southwestern direction (that is, from the Lvov bulge) with the objective of cutting Germany off from her oil suppliers and main allies. If someone places on the map the Soviet Shock armies, mechanized and airborne corps, air bases, staffs, and Zhukov’s generals, he will be forced to acknowledge, even without Vlassov and Gareev’s testimonies, that such positioning of troops in the bulges directed toward the enemy could only lead to catastrophe in the event of an invasion by the enemy, while it would lead to a brilliant victory in the event that the Red Army was first to deliver its sudden crushing blow.
Between the Baltic and Black Seas lie the impassible swamps of Polesye. This is the largest area of swamps in Europe. These swamps divided the entire theater of military operations into two regions, two strategic directions. An enemy advancing toward Russia from the west must choose the direction of his main blow: he can go to the north of Polesye, or to the south. Traditionally, conquerors advancing from the west went north of Polesye: Warsaw-Brest-Litovsk-Minsk-Smolensk — this is a direct route to Moscow. The question before Hitler’s strategists was: where to plan the primary blow, north of Polesye or south? Hitler’s strategists decided that the primary blow was to come to the north, the secondary to the south. In 1941 Hitler had four tank groups. Three of them were designated for action north of Polesye, and one to the south.
Soviet military intelligence knew of the concentration of German troops and knew that three tank groups would act against the Baltic and Byelorussian areas, while only one would go against the Ukraine. What should the Soviet command have done? Since the Germans prepared the primary blow to the north of the swamps, the main forces of the RedArmy should also have been placed there — in the western direction. Even if Soviet intelligence had not known anything about Hitler’s plans, the main forces should have been kept in the western direction. It is obvious even to the lowest ranking officer that the direct route to Moscow runs through Byelorussia and Smolensk.
Troop alignment is, figuratively speaking, equal to positioning chess figures on the board. The General Staff is the brain of the army. The Chief of the General Staff is the most capable and smartest general in the entire army. Starting in February 1941, Zhukov was chief of the General Staff. Here is the situation we are examining: on June 22, the Germans delivered the primary blow north of Polesye and crushed Soviet armies in the Belostok bulge, from where the German tank groups could head toward Smolensk and Moscow. Meanwhile, Zhukov’s main forces were not there, but south of Polesye. The direction facing the greatest threat was north of the swamps. Conquerors from the west have always advanced to the north, but Zhukov deployed his main alignment to the south.
The consequences of Zhukov’s positioning were catastrophic. In order to divert the attack on Moscow, the Red Army had to send, urgently and under heavy enemy bombers’ raids, railway trains with divisions, corps, and armies from the Southwestern Front to the Western Front. There, again under heavy bombing, the trains were unloaded and the troops went straight into battle. What happened was that the 16th Army was advanced from the Trans-Baikal region to Ukraine, meaning south of Polesye. The army had just begun to unload when the German invasion happened. They were forced to urgently load the 16th Army back into trains and herd it several hundred kilometers to the north. The staff of the 16th Army arrived at Smolensk from Ukraine and began to unload, but the communications battalion could not be found. Without communications, it is impossible to command troops. An entire army found itself without command. This is what must be called a “headless army.” The culprit here is not Stalin, but Zhukov, who in May and early June moved a large part of the armies of the second strategic echelon to the south of Polesye, instead of to the north.
This is just one example, there are plenty more. The 19th Army was secretly moved from the North Caucasus to Ukraine, in other words, south of Polesye. This army also began to unload. It was ordered to get back on the trains and sent to Smolensk. The same thing happened: the artillery was unloaded in one place, while the trains with shells had not yet arrived. Tanks were there, but the repair crews had not arrived. The division staffs were there, but the troops were still far behind. What was General Zhukov thinking about before the German invasion? Why was the strongest Soviet military district before the war not the Western district, which was in the most threatened area, but the Kiev district? If Zhukov had been thinking of defense, he of course would have deployed the most powerful Soviet groupings in the most threatened areas—north of Polesye.
But Zhukov was not thinking of defense, and was not planning for it. There is plenty of testimony that right before the invasion Zhukov, Vatutin, Vasilevsky, and all the generals and officers of the General Staff worked sixteen and seventeen hours a day without weekends or holidays. “ The areas for the concentration of primary efforts were not chosen by the Soviet commanders in the interests of strategic defense operations (such an operation was simply not foreseen and not planned), but for entirely different means of action,” wrote Gareev.3
If we prepare to deliver a sudden all-crushing blow to Germany and her allies, we must also choose the direction of the primary attack: north of Polesye, or south. If we attack to the north, we find ourselves in East Prussia, which is heavily fortified and populated with Germans who will offer resistance. In this area we can only advance from east to west along the shores of the Baltic Sea, so all the rivers and streams would have to be crossed in their lower currents, almost at their mouths. Among those rivers, there are two powerful water barriers: the Vistula and the Oder. In their middle, and especially in their lower currents, they are extremely difficult to cross. However, if we strike south of Polesye the picture changes. In this case, the Red Army would end up in the Krakow region. It is inhabited by Poles who, after two years of German occupation, would have met any other army with flowers and offers of help. Here, on the Polish plains, there are no formidable modern fortifications. Here one does not need to expend efforts to cross rivers. In their upper currents they do not pose serious barriers. If one carries out the attack south of Polesye, then during the advancement his left flank will be defended by the mountains of Slovakia, primarily by the Tatra Mountains which are up to 2,500 meters tall. Advancing troops would only need to worry about securing one flank; the other would be covered.
An attack on Krakow out of Lvov would have divided Hitler’s coalition, cutting Germany off from all her eastern allies: Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. An attack south of Polesye — and this is the most important point — would have cut Germany off from her primary source of petroleum: Romania. The delivery of just this one strike would have immediately secured the Soviet Union’s victory in World War II. Further on from the Krakow region, it was best to turn north. In this case, the Red Army troops could freely advance to the Baltic Sea, cutting the German army off from Berlin and the inner regions of Germany. This would have formed a corridor, in which the Red Army had no threats: to the left, advancing Soviet divisions, corps, and armies would have been covered by the Oder River right up to the sea, and to the right — by the Vistula River. German counterattacks here would have been impossible. This is exactly what Stalin was preparing in the first half of 1941. The plan of such an operation is a picture of diabolical strategic beauty.
Churchill’s Warning and Stalin’s Reaction
Can Churchill be trusted in this matter?
For more than half a century, historians have been saying that Churchill warned Stalin about the impending German invasion, but Stalin ignored his warnings. Perhaps we should ask a different question: Why should Stalin have believed Churchill?
Churchill was one of the most powerful political leaders who had understood the great threat posed by Communism back in 1918. He invested considerable effort in helping the Russian people get rid of that regime. His efforts turned out to be insufficient but still, Churchill did more for the destruction of Communism than all other world leaders. Churchill was an open enemy of the Communists, and never tried to hide that fact. But all of a sudden in 1941, Churchill rushed to warn Stalin, the most powerful Communist in the world, that Hitler posed a danger to the Soviet Union.
From the Soviet point of view, Churchill could have had only one political motive: to deflect the German attack to anywhere other than Britain. Even before World War II began, on March 10, 1939, at the Eighteenth Congress of the Communist Party, it had been openly declared that Great Britain wanted to trigger a war between the Soviet Union and Germany, while it remained on the sidelines of this fight. We do not know whether that was indeed Churchill’s intention, but it was exactly how Stalin interpreted every action of British leadership and diplomacy. As Admiral N. G. Kuznetsov put it, “Stalin, of course, had more than enough grounds for thinking that England and America were seeking to have us collide head-on with Germany.”1 Upon receiving any letter from Churchill, Stalin, without reading it, could guess its contents.
To understand Stalin’s suspicion of Churchill’s letters, we must also examine the strategic situation in Europe. The concentration of power against weakness was the main principle of strategy. Germany was unable to apply this principle in World War I, because it was fighting on two fronts. Attempts to concentrate great efforts on one front automatically led to the weakening of the other front, and the enemy immediately exploited it. As a result, Germany had to renounce a strategy of destruction in favor of the only other alternative, a strategy of attrition. But Germany’s resources were limited, in contrast to the resources of its enemies. A war of attrition could only end in catastrophe for Germany.
Both the German General Staff and Hitler himself understood that a war on two fronts would be catastrophic for Germany. Speaking at a meeting with the High Command of the German armed forces on November 23, 1939, Hitler said that a war against the Soviet Union could only begin after the war in the west had ended. In 1939 and 1940, Germany always fought on only one front. The German General Staff was able to apply the concentration principle brilliantly, thrusting the enormous German military power first against one enemy, then against another. The main problem facing German strategy was to prevent war from breaking out on a second front. As long as the Germans were fighting on one front only, they won brilliant victories. Two fronts meant abandoning all strategic principles, regressing from the strategy of crushing to the strategy of attrition. It would spell the end of the blitzkrieg, and would mean catastrophe
In 1940, in terms of strategy, Churchill could only have dreamt that the war Germany was fighting would transform from a one-front war into a two-front war. It was the only way to save Great Britain. In May 1940, the British army suffered a crushing defeat unprecedented in history. The German tank divisions broke through to La Manche, and trapped forty British, French, and Belgian divisions against the coastline in the region around Dunkirk. The British troops managed to evacuate to Britain from France in early June 1940, but the losses were horrendous. They had left all their military equipment on the French coast, all their tanks, artillery tows, 63,000 automobiles, and more than half a million tons of ammunition and supplies. The human casualties of the British army totaled more than 68,000. After leaving the continent, the British army was left practically without heavy weapons. Fewer than one hundred obsolete tanks were left on the British Isles.2
Belgium capitulated on May 28. France fell on June 22, 1940. Hitler’s troops reached the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and took over naval bases of tremendous strategic value. From this time, the piracy of German U-boats increased sharply on the sea routes. Britain, an island nation, faced the threat of a naval blockade and the most acute crisis in trade, industry, and finance. Worse still, the German military machine, which at that point seemed invincible, was making intensive preparations to land on the British Isles. It was in this environment that Churchill wrote to Stalin on June 25, 1940. On June 30, the German armed forces captured Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. In almost a thousand years of British history, this was the first time since 1066, meaning after the Norman conquest of Britain, that an enemy had captured a part of the British Isles. What would follow — a German occupation of mainland Britain? Guernsey was taken without resistance. For how long could Britain resist?
Stalin received Churchill’s message the day after Germany had seized Guernsey. What were Churchill’s interests? Did he want to save the British Empire or the dictatorship in the Soviet Union? For Stalin, Churchill was not an unbiased observer who, out of friendly sentiments, was warning of danger, but a man who desperately needed help and allies in a conflict against a fearful enemy. Stalin therefore was very suspicious of Churchill’s letters.
Churchill wrote several letters to Stalin. But unfortunately they all reached Stalin at times when Churchill was in dire straits. The best-known letter in this series reached Stalin on April 19, 1941. Churchill wrote this letter on April 3 and requested the British ambassador in Moscow, Sir Stafford Cripps, to immediately hand it to Stalin in person. But neither Stalin nor Molotov would receive the ambassador. Finally, on April 19, Cripps did not hand but transmitted the message, and not to Stalin, but only to Andrei Vyshinsky, Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs. On April 22, Vyshinsky informed the ambassador that Churchill’s message had been handed to Stalin.
By the time Stalin received the letter, the British situation had exacerbated, compared with the time when the letter was written. The German army seized Belgrade on April 13 and headed south, posing threats to British troops in the Balkans. Rommel’s tank divisions reached the Egyptian border in the area of Bardia and Es-Sallum on April 12. If they broke through to the Suez Canal, the main artery connecting the British Empire would be cut. Yugoslavia surrendered to Germany on April 17. The road to Greece was open. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London was damaged in an air raid on April 16. In April, Greece was on the verge of surrender. On April 18, Korizis, the Greek prime minister, committed suicide. After that, the capitulation talks commenced. On April 23, the Greek armed forces surrendered. British troops there were in a catastrophic position, and the question was whether or not they could be evacuated. In this context, Stalin received the most important of Churchill’s letters.
On May 20, 1941, the German armed forces started the most massive airborne operation in German military history to capture Crete. There were 32,000 British and 14,000 Greek troops on the island. Several days later, without having superiority in numbers, German paratroops took control of the island and annihilated the more numerous British and Greek forces. Military experts unanimously concluded that the taking of Crete was an ingenious rehearsal by Hitler’s paratroops before landing on the British Isles. On May 24, 1941, the largest ship of the British fleet in the Atlantic, the battle cruiser Hood, clashed with the Bismarck, Germany’s largest battle ship. The battle lasted eight minutes. One direct hit to the British ship caused it to explode and sink in a matter of minutes. Out of the 1,421 crew members, only three survived. In June 1941, German U-boats sank sixty-one British merchant ships, totaling 431,000 tons.3
Churchill wrote his first long letter to Stalin on June 25, 1940, when neither Hitler nor the German generals had any intention of invading the Soviet Union. The plan for Operation Barbarossa or any other plan for war against the Soviet Union simply did not exist. Churchill’s letters were not based on knowledge of German plans, but on sound calculations. He simply directed Stalin’s attention to the situation in Europe: today Britain had problems with Hitler; tomorrow it would inevitably be the Soviet Union’s turn. Churchill urged Stalin to unite with him against Hitler, and to lead the Soviet Union into the war on the side of Great Britain and all of vanquished Europe.
The text of Churchill’s message received in Moscow on April 19, 1941, can be found in hundreds of Soviet books and articles. Here it is: “I have received reliable information from a trustworthy source that the Germans, after deciding that Yugoslavia had fallen into their clutches on 20 March, began to transfer three armoured divisions, of the five stationed in Romania, into the southern part of Poland. As soon as they learnt of the Serbian revolution, this transfer was cancelled. Your Excellency will easily appreciate the significance of these facts.” All Soviet sources publish Churchill’s message in this form, insisting and assuring that it was a “warning.”
I see no warning here. Churchill was talking about three tank divisions — many by Churchill’s standards, but by Stalin’s, it was not a great deal. Stalin himself at the time was secretly setting up sixty-three tank divisions, each of which was stronger than a German division both in number and in quality of tanks. Mass production of tanks was already set up in the Soviet Union at that time, and they remained the best in the world throughout the war. Nobody in the world, all through the war, created anything even close to the tanks that Stalin had before the war even began. Having received a report about three German divisions, why should Stalin have guessed that there would be an invasion? If the report about the three tank divisions was sufficient “warning” about preparations of aggression, we should not accuse Hitler of being the aggressor: German intelligence gave Hitler reports about tens of Soviet tank divisions grouping along the German and Romanian borders.
Churchill suggested that Stalin assess “the significance of these facts.” How could they be assessed? Poland, historically, has always been the gate through which all aggressors passed from Central Europe to Russia. Hitler wanted to transfer tanks to Poland, but he changed his mind. Compared to Poland, Romania was a very bad springboard for aggression. German troops would be harder to supply there than in Poland. In an attack from Romania, the road to the vital heartland of Russia would be longer and harder for an aggressor, who would have to overcome a multitude of barriers, including the lower reaches of the river Dnepr. Had Stalin been preparing himself for defense, and had he believed Churchill’s “warning,” he should have breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed his military preparations. In addition, Churchill explained why the German troops were staying in Romania instead of being transferred to Poland: the Germans had problems in Yugoslavia, particularly in Serbia. In other words, Churchill said that the German tank divisions were left in Romania not for aggression eastward against the Soviet Union, but on the contrary, from Romania they were pointed southwest toward Serbia, with their backs to Stalin.
Churchill’s letter had tremendous significance, but it absolutely couldn’t be regarded as a warning. It was more of an invitation to Stalin: the Germans wanted to transfer their divisions to Poland, but changed their minds; therefore, the Soviet Union had nothing to fear, especially since the German tank divisions in Romania had their backs turned to Stalin. Churchill wanted Stalin to evaluate these facts and act on them.4 Sir Basil Liddell Hart, the British military historian, made a brilliant analysis of the strategic situation of that time as seen from Hitler’s standpoint. According to General Jodl, to whom Liddell Hart referred, Hitler repeatedly told his generals that Britain’s only hope was a Soviet invasion of Europe.5 Churchill himself wrote on April 22, 1941, that “the Soviet government knows full well . . . that we stand in need of its help.”6 The only way Stalin could help Britain was by attacking Germany.
Hitler made one irremediable mistake, but not on July 21, 1940, when he ordered preparations for war against the Soviet Union. The mistake came on August 19, 1939, when he agreed to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Having agreed to the division of Poland, Hitler had to confront an unavoidable war against the West, having behind him the “neutral” Stalin. Precisely from this moment, Hitler had two fronts. The decision to begin Operation Barbarossa in the east without waiting for victory in the west was not a fatal error, but only an attempt to right the fatal error he had already made. But by then it was too late. Even the capture of Moscow would not have solved Hitler’s problem, because beyond Moscow still lay several million square kilometers of unending territory, vast centers of industrial power, and inexhaustible natural and human resources. It is always easy to begin a war with Russia, but not so easy to finish it. It was certainly easy for Hitler to fight in the European part of the Soviet Union: the territory was limited, there were many relatively good roads, and the winters were mild. Was Hitler ready to fight in Siberia, in that limitless expanse, where there were no roads and where the brutality of the cold was only matched by the brutality of Stalin’s regime?
Stalin knew that war on two fronts spelled suicide for Hitler. He calculated that Hitler would not commit suicide by starting a war in the east without first finishing the war in the west. Stalin was patiently waiting for the German tank corps to land in Britain. Meanwhile, he did everything possible to convince Hitler of his desire for peace. That was why Soviet anti-aircraft guns were not firing on German aircraft crossing the Soviet borders, and Soviet newspapers and TASS proclaimed that there would be no war between the Soviet Union and Germany. If Stalin had succeeded in convincing Hitler that the Soviet Union was neutral, then the bulk of German forces would have been engaged in fierce battles trying to land on the British Isles and leaving practically all Europe defenseless and ripe to be “liberated” by the Red Army. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Yugoslavia, France, Greece, and Albania no longer had armies, governments, parliaments, or political parties. Millions of people had been driven into Nazi concentration camps and the whole of Europe was awaiting its liberation.
Stalin had helped Hitler come to power and transformed him, in Stalin’s words, into a real “Icebreaker” that would trigger the world revolution in Europe. Stalin pushed along that Icebreaker of the revolution. Stalin demanded from the French and from other Communists that they let the Icebreaker crush Europe. Stalin supplied the Icebreaker with everything needed for a victorious advance. Stalin closed his eyes to all the crimes committed by the Nazis. But Hitler guessed Stalin’s design. That was why World War II ended catastrophically for Stalin: he only got half of Europe.
A Blitzkrieg against Russia?
The first endless columns of Russian prisoners began to file into Germany. From that moment, the flow did not stop. Endless transports
of Russian prisoners moved through roads and railroads all the time. But it was of little use. In the place of each vanquished army, the
Russians raised another one. The endless lands of the tsars seemed to have unending human resources. How much longer could Germany stand
against such competition? Will there not be a day, when Germany, regardless of the fact that it just achieved yet another victory,
will be left without new troops, while the Russian command will again and again move new armies to the front? What will happen then?
We are so accustomed to thinking of Hitler and his armies as remarkably superior that we accept without question that Stalin was afraid of Germany. However, why should Stalin have feared Hitler? Everyone, including Hitler himself and his generals, knew that Germany lacked the resources to fight a prolonged war. Hitler’s only chance was a lightning war, a blitzkrieg. But a blitzkrieg against the Soviet Union was impossible, because it stretched more than ten thousand kilometers from west to east. If Hitler could seize even one thousand kilometers per month, which was impossible, even then he would have to count on a year of war. In addition, a regular European army could carry out a successful offensive on Soviet territory only four out of the twelve months of the year, from May 15 to September 15 (if there was no rain). Even if it was possible to take over the entire country during these four months, then what would an aggressor do with this territory when fall and winter came? It was easy to enter Russia, but hard to exit. Also, in June 1941 the peacetime Red Army counted 5.5 million soldiers and commanders. If every month Hitler killed and imprisoned one million Soviet soldiers, even then the war would last at least half a year, and the last phase would occur in December. He would have to overcome frost, snow, and blizzards. He would have to prepare for winter.
The challenges for the Germans wouldn’t end there. Even in the supercritical conditions of the summer of 1941, the Soviet system of mobilization worked perfectly, and an additional 5.3 million people joined the ranks of the Red Army within one week of the war, before July 1, 1941.1 After one week of the war, the Red Army consisted of over 10 million people. Even if Hitler continued to destroy a million per month, the war would still last a year. But the Soviet mobilization continued in July, August, September . . . “Our forces are innumerable,” Stalin once said. The mobilization resources of the Soviet Union were almost 20 percent of the population, meaning 34.5 million people. This resource was fully used during the war. It was even surpassed. How long would it take to destroy such an army?
Germany was not ready for a war against Russia, and Stalin knew it. In 1940, British aviation already regularly bombed German cities, ports, railroad stations, and factories. Hitler couldn’t secure even Berlin’s safety from the British bombers. Did he have nothing better to do in these conditions than go conquer new lands in the east? Was Hitler ready to fight on two fronts?
We find some answers in the diary of the Chief of General Staff; of Germany’s land army, Colonel General F. Halder.
Even though the German command knew that “an air war on two fronts was impossible,” they still decided to start a two-front air war. Not only Halder but Hitler himself understood that taking Moscow did not mean the end of the war. And yet, Hitler’s entire plan boiled down to taking Moscow in the belief that the rest of Russia would crumble. Hitler’s generals planned to destroy Russia in three months, but they had only enough fuel for two.
Operation Barbarossa. The goal of the campaign is unclear. It does not at all affect England. Our economic base does not improve from this. If we are tied down in Russia, the situation will become even more difficult. . . . Operation Barbarossa is extremely risky,” Halder wrote.3 Stalin had iron logic, and when he was warned of a possible German invasion, he asked: “But what for?” Hitler’s chief of staﬀ, who planned the war, was wondering exactly the same.
A blitzkrieg is a tank war. On September 1, 1939, Germany only had 2,977 tanks.4 How did it happen that out of this number almost half (1,445 Pz-I tanks) had no cannon? How come the other half (1,223 Pz-II tanks) had only pathetic 20-mm cannons? How come they only had 98 Pz-III tanks with their useless 37-mm cannon, and only 211 Pz-IVs, which had 75-mm short-barreled cannon, not designed and not useful for war against other tanks?
By June 1941, Hitler had in his invading army 3,332 tanks,5 all of them light and all of them obsolete — not one single heavy tank. There were medium ones, which were simply light tanks covered with an extra layer of armor plates. Their defenses increased from this, but their mobility decreased: their speed, maneuverability, and ability to pass through rough terrain — all of which were necessary for maneuvers in large open spaces. Hitler didn’t have a single amphibious tank, or one with anti-projectile armor, nor one with powerful cannon. Stalin, on the other hand, had 23,925 tanks, including the best models in the world that had the best tank-building innovations of the time: powerful long-barrel cannons, wide caterpillar tracks, anti-tank defenses, diesel motors, and so on. Moreover, Stalin possessed almost endless means for producing these tanks. Stalin had more amphibious tanks than Hitler had tanks in total.
In addition to tanks, an army needed powerful tank formations. In Germany, tank divisions were created. But these divisions, to put it mildly, were inferior. In 1939, Hitler had six tank divisions. Germany entered World War II with six tank divisions! What sort of blitzkrieg could one dream about having only six tank divisions?! And even today some continue to claim that German generals understood the nature of blitzkrieg! In 1940, the number of tank divisions rose to ten, and in 1941 to twenty-one. The increase in the number of tank divisions was attained not by producing tanks, but by reassignment. In practice, the same number of tanks was divided first into six divisions, then ten, then twenty-one.
Liddell Hart commented:
Liddell Hart put the term German “tank division” in quotation marks. He explains his point of view: “Tanks could continue an offensive, but they, just like all other track vehicles, made up only a small part of each so-called “tank division.”7
Tanks alone do not ensure strength. A lone tank that ventures far ahead is vulnerable. A tank must be supported by infantry. “In 1941, the German army still consisted mostly of plain infantry divisions, which moved on foot, and used animal transport,” said German General Guenther Blumentritt.8 On June 22, Hitler had on the eastern front 750,000 horses.9 A convoy of 220 horses with carts followed each German tank. Was it on carts that they planned to carry out the blitzkrieg? Out of 153 divisions launched by Hitler against the Soviet Union, only seventeen were tank divisions.10 There was not a single tank in the thirteen German motorized divisions at the beginning of World War II, while each Soviet rifle division had its own tank battalion of T-26 tanks. We have been taught to laugh at this tank. But the German infantry did not have tanks at all!
The entire German tank force was divided between the four tank groups. The rest of the German army fighting against the Soviet Union didn’t have a single tank. It consisted entirely of infantry and 750,000 horses with carts. Colonel General Lotar Rendulic described his 20th Mountain Army: “With the exception of rear transport units, the army consisted entirely of infantry troops — 200,000 soldiers and 70,000 horses.”11 The German magazine Der Spiegel once published a giant photograph of laughing German soldiers.12 That one photograph told more truth about the war than the whole article, and many articles like it, and even libraries of books. The photograph showed German soldiers walking on Soviet land in 1941 during the blitzkrieg. All are on foot. They do not have a single submachine gun. Their weapons consist of rifles with bayonets, the 1898 model, and two machine guns. In the background, there are hundreds of carts.
The German army relied heavily on cars and motorized transportation. The plethora of such machinery — more than 500,000 cars in the invading army — played a cruel trick on the Germans. While on the European front, which was heavily road-linked, such an abundance of motorized transportation was more than sufficient, but the German cars on the Russian front (along its so-called roads) often turned into a setback. First, the Germans needed specialized, road-tolerant cars, wheel-track and track-based transport vehicles and tractors. Second, the chronic lack of fuel led to frequent halts in the general mass of automobiles.
Field artillery was the main tool of the Red Army for breaking through enemy defense lines. First were the howitzers. A howitzer, compared to cannon of the same weight, had a slower initial shell speed and a smaller range. But its shells were more powerful and its fire trajectory was curved, which was useful for firing upon an enemy dug into the ground. Marshal Kulik commanded the Red Army artillery for many years. During his leadership, the best artillery systems in the world were created, primarily the howitzers. By June 22, 1941, the Red Army had 15,464 howitzers of all types.13 The most powerful ammunition factories were created for supplying them. The German army had 10,810 howitzers by June 1, 1941.14 However, those howitzers had to be divided among several fronts, including the African one. Furthermore, Germany had too few non-ferrous metals to manufacture artillery shells in such quantities as were being produced in the Soviet Union. Finally, the German howitzers were obsolete, developed during World War I or even before it.
Stalin had long-range bombing aviation, which Hitler did not have. In 1940 and 1941, Germany was already being bombed by British strategic aviation. Stalin was ready to add his forces to this effort. Hitler, meanwhile, planned to “bomb Britain out of the war,” but that plan failed, because he had no strategic aviation at his disposal. Later on, Hitler decided to take over the European part of the USSR up to the Arkhangelsk-Astrakhan line, and everything east of that line he was going to leave to the bombers. The problem with this plan was that Hitler had almost no long-range bombers.
When he received reports that the German army was preparing to invade, Stalin simply did not believe them. Molotov said before the invasion: “One must be an idiot to attack us.” According to Stalin’s calculations, an attack on the USSR would have meant suicide for Hitler and his empire. This calculation was entirely confirmed by the results of the war. The question is not whether Stalin was afraid of Hitler or not. Stalin had no reason to be afraid. Stalin considered Hitler and his generals to be reasonable people, and reasonable people would not embark on such an adventure, with Britain on their back. Reasonable people could not plan to crush the Ural and Siberian industrial complexes using long-range bombers, especially when they had no such bombers. Here we must ask a different question: why did Hitler attack the USSR?
Hitler signed Open Directive No.21 ordering Operation Barbarossa — the attack on the Soviet Union — on December 18, 1940: “ The end goal of the operation is the creation of a protective barrier against Asian Russia along the line Volga-Astrakhansk. In this manner, in case of need the last industrial region the Russians have left in the Urals could be paralyzed using aviation.” Since Germany invaded the USSR on June 22, it was impossible to reach the Volga line before the autumn rains. German tanks had a short motor operating time, and therefore on the way to Moscow the entire German army inevitably had to stop for two to three weeks for the overall repairs of tanks (replacement of engines, transmissions, pistons, and so forth). If Moscow had been taken in August, they would have had to continue toward the Volga line, and for this another stop would have been needed for the overall repair of tanks and the recovery of the troops’ fighting capacity. It would have been impossible to reach the Volga even by September. In October, there would be rain and mud. Even if they could have successfully reached the Volga line in September, it was impossible to bomb the Urals from this position: there were few air bases on the right bank of the Volga. First, they would have to be built, which was hard to do: in October, the area was a bare wet steppe, in November, a bare frozen steppe.
If Hitler had been able to build air bases on the right bank of the Volga River, he still would not have been able to bomb the industry centers of the Urals. The German Do-17, Ju-88, and He-111 bombers were created for completely different tasks. Their missions had been the destruction of small-scale, mostly mobile targets in the area of battle and in the enemy’s near rear. These bombers were created for short-range flights, had a small bomb-carrying capacity, and could act only at low and medium altitudes. To reach the Urals and return, the bombers Hitler had in 1941 had to take with them plenty of fuel and no bombs at all. If Hitler’s bombers had a sufficient radius of action, even then they could not have bombed the Urals. Germany was running out of fuel. In August 1941, it already had so little fuel that it had to halt large-scale operations.
If there had been enough fuel in October, November, and later on it could not have been delivered to the Volga-area airbases, which were not yet built anyway. Delivery of even one hundred tons of fuel, where there were no roads, across a distance of one thousand kilometers, demanded huge expenditure of fuel and of lubricant materials. Fuel transport had to run on something too. The tractors had to cross the steppes. Even if fuel had been supplied to the non-existing airbases, bombs had to be supplied as well. Thousands of tons of bombs were not enough for such an operation. But the delivery of even 100,000 tons of bombs to the non-existent air bases on the Volga would have required a tremendous amount of fuel.
In December 1940, when Hitler signed the directive for the attack on the Soviet Union, it was perfectly clear that the light single- and dual-engine bombers had too small a radius and too pathetic a bomb load, and were not fit for destroying industrial targets. At the same time, German bombers were flying from the excellent air bases in northern France, across the Channel, and bombing the industrial and military targets of London, Bristol, Coventry, Plymouth, and Southampton. Supplying fuel and ammunition from Germany to the airports of northern France was no problem. The targets were nearby, just across the Channel, and the planes could take less fuel and more bombs. Nonetheless, even in these most favorable circumstances, in nine months of intense bombing raids, from August 12, 1940, to May 12, 1941, all of Germany’s aviation was still unable to “bomb British industry out of the war.” If the entire German aviation could not in nine months destroy the industry of nearby Britain, how many months did Hitler plan to spend trying to destroy the industry centers of the remote Urals?
To destroy industrial regions situated in the deep rear of the enemy, an aggressor needs long-range bombers with a radius of action of several thousand kilometers and a bomb-carrying capacity of over five tons. The long-range bomber must also be a high-altitude bomber, otherwise it would be vulnerable to the enemy’s anti-aircraft artillery. Also, is necessary a minimum of one thousand such bombers. Hitler had none. Even if Hitler had had long-range bombers, it would still have been impossible to use them. A four-engine bomber, carrying five tons of bombs at a multi-kilometer altitude for several thousands of kilometers, was extremely fuel-thirsty. Where would the fuel come from, if there was not enough even for fighters and light bombers?
Intelligence Reports and Stalin’s Reaction
Stalin had three separate independent espionage services: the First Directorate of the NKGB; the Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (in 1942 it became Chief Directorate); and Stalin’s personal intelligence service, concealed under the name Special Section of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.”
The total power of these agencies was colossal. Sufficient information is available about the penetration into leading German military and political organs by Stalin’s espionage services. A group under the code name “Viking” worked in the staff of the OKW (Supreme Command of the Armed Forces); seven high-ranking German officers and generals supplied information straight from Hitler’s cabinet to Stalin’s agents. In Germany, the Soviet military intelligence managed to gain access to the most secret information from the highest levels of power.1
Several networks of agents simultaneously worked for Stalin, completely independent of each other. The lies of one were immediately exposed by information provided by the others. A group under the code name “Alta” worked in the German embassy in Moscow. Its members included Gerhard Kegel and Else Stoebe. The entire embassy was wrapped up in the web of Stalin’s espionage. This group of agents “was supplemented by a man who had, in essence, unrestricted access to all [the] state secrets of Germany.”2 The German embassy in Moscow had ties to Goering’s staff, to the science and technology organs of the Third Reich, and of course to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
After World War I, Czechoslovakia was among the ten wealthiest and most developed nations in the world. The Skoda factories produced weapons of the highest world standards, primarily artillery. The daughter of the factory director, Blanca Karlikova, managed to sneak out blueprints of the 210-mm cannon and transfer them to the right person. She worked for the same group of agents that was working against the Bulgarian tsar.5
Testimonies about the might of Stalin’s espionage abound. For example, Air Force Major General P. M. Stefanovsky recounted, as if it were something utterly insignificant, that in July 1941 he was summoned by Stalin and told: “In three days, the Germans will bomb Moscow.”6 Stefanovsky described the measures that were taken, and in three days the first massive air raid on Moscow was deflected. But we can pause on this seemingly insignificant episode. How could Stalin have known that in precisely three days the Germans would bomb Moscow? The pilots at the air bases did not know what they would be doing the following day. It was always a secret. The success of the upcoming operation, the lives and safety of the pilots, depended on that secret. A very small group of people knew the plans for air war. Commanders of formations and pilots found out the targets they had to bomb only at the last moment. Yet Stalin knew not only what the German pilots would be doing the following day, but also what they would be doing in three days.
Anastas Mikoyan, member of the Politburo, also recounted an instance that demonstrated the extraordinary capabilities of Stalin’s intelligence services. On March 27, 1943, at around two o’clock in the morning, Mikoyan was summoned to Stalin’s dacha in Volynskoe. Stalin told him what the German command was planning for the summer of 1943.7 The Battle of Stalingrad had just ended. The Red Army made a thrust forward, but was stopped in the regions around Kharkov, Orel, and Belgorod. A balance of powers set in. Neither one of the sides could advance. Both sides switched to defense, and began intensive preparations for the summer battle that would unfold in these regions in another four months. The Battle of Kursk would be one of the bloodiest battles in human history. It began on July 5, 1943. But German generals began roughly planning the operation on March 13, 1943; on March 27, Stalin announced this fact to Mikoyan and ordered the secret preparation of the strategic reserve of the Steppe military district, consisting of eight armies, including one air and one tank guards army, for a defensive battle and for the following offensive operations. The Steppe military district was deployed behind the main alignment of Soviet troops, and at the critical moment of the battle it was transformed into the Steppe front.
Stalin was constantly peeking at Hitler’s cards. During the development of German operations in the Kursk region, all details and all changes in the plan were immediately reported to Stalin. Before the beginning of the operation, German generals, who were the immediate executors of the plans, received the appropriate directives and the final draft of the operation. Stalin had received this draft six days earlier.
Oddly enough, in 1941 Soviet spies reported to Stalin that Hitler was planning to attack, but Stalin did not believe them. Richard Sorge (agency covername — Ramzai) was a spy whom Stalin ordered to return to the USSR “for vacation” on July 29, 1938. He refused to return. In January 1940, he wrote to his Moscow contact: “I am grateful for your greetings and [good] wishes [for] my vacation. However, if I go on vacation, it will immediately reduce the information.” In May, he refused for the second time: “It goes without saying that we are postponing the date of our return home because of the present military situation. May we assure you once again that this is not the time to raise this question?” In October, he asked: “May I count on coming home after the end of the war?” It is a strange question. Every secret agent knows that after the war he will be allowed to return home. Moreover, they propose right now that he arrive for vacation. But Sorge refuses. What is going on?
A multitude of books and articles have been written about Sorge in the Soviet Union. Some of them overflow with praise: he was such a great intelligence officer, such a true Communist that he even spent his own money, earned in his difficult work as a journalist, on his illegal work. One of the Soviet weekly magazines 8 published a report that Sorge had very important documents, but was unable to send them to the center, because the center had not sent a courier.
Meanwhile, Yan Berzin, the brilliant chief of Soviet military intelligence who had recruited Sorge, was executed after being horrendously tortured. Solomon Uritsky, another GRU chief who had personally given Sorge his instructions, was also executed. Lev Borovich (agency covername — Rozental), deputy head of the 2nd department of the intelligence head-quarters, direct supervisor to Sorge, was shot. Gorev, the Soviet illegal resident who had fixed Sorge’s passage from Germany, was in jail.9 Aino Kuusinen, Sorge’s secret collaborator who was the wife of the “president of the Finnish Democratic Republic” and of a future member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the CPSU, was also in jail. Ekaterina Maksimova, Sorge’s wife, had been arrested, admitted to having links with enemies, and died in confinement in 1943. Karl Ramm, the illegal GRU resident in Shanghai and former deputy of Sorge, was summoned back to Moscow “for a vacation” and executed. Sorge received the order to come back for a vacation and refused to travel to the Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, Sorge guessed what was awaiting him in Moscow.
These discrepancies are explained easily: Sorge became a defector. At that time, a more precise term was invented — a malevolent defector. That was why he was paying agents out of his own pocket — the center stopped funding him! Not wishing to return to a hasty trial and certain death, Sorge continued to work for the Communists, but now no longer in the role of a secret agent, but rather as an amateur informer, not for money but for his own satisfaction. Sorge calculated that after the war his superiors would understand that he only told them the truth, and they would pardon him and appreciate his work. The center did not lose contact with him until the end. It accepted his telegrams, but apparently only to urge him: “come home, come home, come home,” to which Ramzai replied “too busy, too busy, too busy.”
Stalin did not trust Richard Sorge, because he was a defector with a capital sentence hanging over his head. Someone had invented the legend that Richard Sorge supposedly submitted highly important information about the German invasion to the GRU, but nobody believed him. Sorge was a very able intelligence officer, but he told Moscow nothing of significance about the German invasion. What was more, he fell victim to disinformation and fed the GRU false reports. On April 11, 1941, he sent Moscow a telegram: “ The representative of the [German] General Staff in Tokyo has stated that war against the Soviet Union will begin immediately after the war in Europe ends.”
Hitler prepared the invasion, spreading lies that looked very much like the truth. Hitler knew that it had already become impossible to conceal his preparations to invade the Soviet Union. Therefore, he said in secret, in a way that Stalin could hear, “Yes, I want to attack Stalin . . . after I have finished the war in the west.” If Sorge’s telegram from April 11 (and other similar telegrams) were to be believed, there was no need to worry: the war against Great Britain was going on with no end in sight.
The GRU did not need Sorge. Based on extensive studies of all the economic, political, and military aspects of the situation, the GRU concluded that Germany could not win a war on two fronts; Hitler would not begin a war in the east without first finishing the war in the west.10 The first conclusion proved correct; the second did not.
Even before Sorge’s “warning,” the new head of the GRU Lieutenant General F. I. Golikov submitted a detailed report to Stalin on March 20, 1941, which concluded that “the earliest possible date on which operations against the USSR may begin is the moment following victory over England or after an honorable peace for Germany has been achieved.” But Stalin knew this simple truth without Golikov having to tell him. Stalin replied to Churchill’s letter from June 25, 1940, that Hitler might begin a war against the Soviet Union in 1941 if Britain had ceased to resist by that time.
But Hitler, whom Stalin had driven into a strategic impasse by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, suddenly realized that he had nothing to lose and that inevitably Germany had two fronts: if he did not attack Stalin, Stalin would stab him in the back. Therefore, Hitler attacked first. Neither Golikov nor Stalin anticipated this. It was a suicidal decision, but Hitler had no choice. Stalin simply could not understand that having found himself in a strategic impasse, Hitler would take such a suicidal step. General Golikov, head of the GRU, had not contemplated that either. Sorge (and several others) simply confirmed this view with the false information in their telegrams.
Some argue that later, on June 15, 1941, Sorge correctly named the date of the German invasion as June 22. But was Richard Sorge to be believed? First, he had said that Hitler would not fight against Stalin without finishing the war against Great Britain, and then, soon after, reported a date for the invasion, June 22, thereby saying that Hitler would invade the Soviet Union after all without ending the war against Britain. Sorge’s reports canceled each other out.
Intelligence is the most thankless work in the world. Those who fail and get hanged — like Sorge, for example — become famous. Stalin also had military intelligence officers whose achievements were truly outstanding, but precisely because they were so successful, they remain unknown to us. One Soviet intelligence officer had access to some of Hitler’s real secrets. According to Marshal of the Soviet Union A. A. Grechko, “eleven days after Hitler approved the final plan for the war against the Soviet Union (December 18, 1940), this fact and the basic details of the decision taken by the German High Command became known to our intelligence organs.”11
In December 1940, Lieutenant General F. I. Golikov, chief of the GRU, reported to Stalin that, according to confirmed reports, Hitler had decided to attack the Soviet Union without waiting for the war in the west to end. This highly important document was discussed in early January in a very close circle in the Soviet High Command in Stalin’s presence. Stalin did not believe the document, and said that any document could be forged. Stalin demanded of Golikov that he organize Soviet military intelligence so that it would know at any moment whether Hitler was really preparing for war or just bluffing. Golikov reported that he had already done this. The GRU was attentively following a whole range of aspects of German military preparations, and from these the GRU would accurately identify the moment when preparations for invasion would begin. Stalin asked Golikov to explain how he would know this. Golikov answered that he could only tell Stalin personally and not anyone else.
Subsequently, Golikov regularly reported to Stalin personally, and each time he told him that the preparations for invasion had not yet begun. Golikov knew about the massive concentration of German troops on Soviet borders, about the huge ammunition supplies, about the movements of the German air force, about German defectors, and about many other things. He was informed about the numbers of nearly all German divisions, the names of their commanders, and their locations. He knew many important secrets, including the name of Operation Barbarossa and the time of its inception. Even on the eve of the invasion, however, Golikov reported that preparations for invasion had not yet begun, and without these preparations it was not possible for Germany to begin the war.
When the war broke out, Stalin sent Golikov on a trip to Britain and the United States and briefed him personally. Golikov was then put in command of armies and fronts. In 1943, Stalin appointed him to the crucial post of Deputy People’s Commissar for Defense, which was deputy to Stalin himself, to deal with cadre matters. Stalin allowed only his most trusted men to handle the delicate task of selecting and placing cadres. Golikov continued to rise in rank after Stalin’s death, and eventually became a Marshal of the Soviet Union.
Golikov’s impunity for obviously wrong intelligence had been worrying me personally for a long time, until I attended a lecture in the Academy of the GRU. Later, when I was working in the central apparatus of the GRU, I found confirmation to this answer.
Golikov used to report to Stalin that Hitler was not preparing for war against the Soviet Union. It turned out that Golikov was reporting the truth to Stalin, since Hitler was not making such preparations. Golikov knew that Stalin did not trust documents. Golikov did not trust them either. He therefore looked for other indicators which would unerringly signal the moment when Hitler began his preparations for war with the Soviet Union.
All GRU agents in Europe were ordered to infiltrate organizations directly or indirectly connected with sheep farming. Over a few months, intelligence was gathered and carefully processed on the number of sheep in Europe, on the main sheep-breeding centers and slaughterhouses. Golikov was informed twice a day about mutton prices in Europe. In addition, Soviet intelligence began to hunt for dirty cloths and oil-stained pieces of paper left behind by soldiers cleaning their weapons. There were many German troops in Europe. The troops were stationed in field conditions. Each soldier cleaned his weapon at least once a day. Cloths and paper which have been used for weapon cleaning were usually either burned or buried, but of course this rule was not always obeyed. The GRU had ample opportunity to collect an enormous quantity of dirty cloths. A large number of these dirty cloths were sent across the frontier wrapped around various iron implements, so as not to arouse suspicion. Larger-than-usual quantities of kerosene lamps, primus stoves, and lighters were sent across the border, by both legal and illegal means.
Every piece of information was analyzed by hundreds of Soviet experts, and the results reported immediately to Golikov. He immediately informed Stalin that Hitler had not yet begun preparations to invade the Soviet Union, so there was no need to pay attention to every buildup of German troops or German General Staff documents.
Golikov believed, with good reason, that a country needed serious preparation to fight the Soviet Union. One of the vital things Germany would need, if it were to be ready to fight such a war, was sheepskin coats — no fewer than six million of them. As soon as Hitler decided to attack the Soviet Union, his General Staff would have to order industry to begin producing millions of sheepskin coats. This would be reflected immediately on the European markets. In spite of the war, mutton prices would fall because of the simultaneous slaughter of millions of animals, while sheepskin prices would rise sharply.
Golikov also calculated that the German army would have to use a new type of lubricating oil for its weaponry. The usual oil used by Germany would congeal in the frost, component parts would freeze together, and the weapons would not work. Golikov waited for the German army to change the type of oil it used in weapon-cleaning. The Soviet experts’ examination of dirty cloths showed that the German army was still using its usual oil, and there were no signs of a change to a new type.
Soviet experts also watched motor fuel. In heavy frost, the normal German fuel broke down into incombustible components. Golikov knew that if Hitler decided to open a second front, he would have to order the mass production of a fuel which would not disintegrate in heavy frost. Soviet intelligence was sending samples of German liquid fuelacross the border in lighters and lamps. There were many other indicators, which the GRU followed closely for warning signals.
But Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa without making any preparations. Stalin, therefore, had no reason to punish Golikov. Golikov had done all that was humanly possible to discover German preparations for war. He told Stalin that no preparations were taking place, and this was the truth. There had only been a great buildup of German troops. Golikov gave instructions that not all German divisions had to be targets of attention, but only those that were ready to invade; those were divisions that had 15,000 sheepskin coats in their depots. There were simply no such divisions ready for war in the entire Wehrmacht
The GRU chiefs knew where, what quantities, and what kinds of liquid fuel and lubricating oils were produced in Germany and the occupied territories. The quantities of liquid fuel possessed by Hitler were not at all sufficient to conduct deep offensive operations. But the most attention was paid to the type of fuel they produced. Analysis showed that Germany was not conducting intensive research in the field of creating frost-resistant fuels and oils; German industry was not producing them in any significant quantity; the rear units of the Wehrmacht Heer and the Luftwaffe were not storing such fuel and oil for a grand-scale war.
The temperature at which pure benzene crystallizes is 5.4 Celsius. In Germany, fuel was obtained by the hydrogenation of low-quality coal. Into this fuel, large quantities of benzol had to be added to raise the levels of octane. Benzol has high anti-detonation qualities. However, it drastically reduces low-temperature qualities. The temperature of crystallization for the main kinds of German fuels ranged between –9.6 and –14.5 Celsius. Only a madman could begin a war with such fuel against a country where in the winter a temperature of –20 Celsius was the norm. Soviet intelligence did not consider the German generals to be madmen, and it concluded that Germany was not preparing for war.
Hitler’s soldiers also needed boots, warm underwear, sweaters, special tents, hats, heaters, skis, ski wax, masking robes, oil and lubricants that would not freeze, devices for heating water, frost-resistant car batteries, and winter fuel for tanks, cars, and airplanes. They needed tanks with broad caterpillar tracks, thousands of cars that could drive in poor road conditions, and so on. They had none of these. Their lack of preparedness was total, shameful, and scandalous. The argument was that Hitler did not need coats, because he planned to end the war in three months. However, he still needed to prepare for winter. . . . Hitler’s Colonel General H. Hoth, commander of the 3rd Tank Group, wrote: “ The objective of destroying the centers of the war industry located farther east was delegated to the air force. These were utopian plans. The radius of action of German bombers then was one thousand kilometers. Even if it had been possible to reach the projected Volga-Arkhangelsk line (which was planned for one campaign, i.e., three to four months), the radius of [the] bombers was not sufficient to disrupt the functioning of industry in the Ural and the Sverdlovsk regions. And even Sverdlovsk is not the end of the world.”12
Colonel General H. Guderian, commander of the 2nd Tank Group, recounted: “When they unfolded a map of Russia before me, I could not believe my eyes. Everything that I considered impossible I was supposed to make into reality?”13 Guderian knew that Germany couldn’t defeat the Soviet Union. Defeat was impossible not only in three months, but in general.
Just look at these vast territories,” said General Field Marshal Karl von Rundstedt, Commander of Army Group South. “We cannot crush the enemy and occupy all of western Russia from the Baltic to the Black Sea in just a few months.”14
Stalin and Golikov reasoned in a similar manner. They all expected Hitler andhis field marshals to behave reasonably — in other words, to prepare for a prolonged war, including a war in winter. But reasonable actions were not being taken.
The War Has Begun
Only now did we realize how well the Russians had been prepared for war.
During April, May, and the first half of June 1941, German reconnaissance planes flew “by mistake” over the western regions of the Soviet Union. Stalin ordered not to shoot them down. At the same time, Soviet planes, also “by mistake,” flew over territory occupied by German troops.
Both regular pilots and commanders were flying “by mistake” over German territory. Commander of the 43rd Air Force Fighter Division of the Western special military district, Major General G. N. Zakharov, remembered flying in the sky and looking at German troops: “An impression formed that some sort of movement was originating deep within the territories, which was halted only at the edges of the border, and was held by it, as if by an invisible barrier, ready to flow over the edge at any moment.”1 The German pilots flying then over Soviet territory viewed the same picture.
The predicament of General M. F. Lukin demonstrates the full tragedy of the situation. As an army commander, he had already fought in Ukraine in the vicinity of Shepetovka, while the staff of his army still remained in the Trans-Baikal. The trains carrying his army stretched across thousands of kilometers. The worst situation was when a train had to stop in the middle of the fields instead of at a station. A tank battalion is a formidable force, but in a train it is completely defenseless. If the war found a train carrying heavy armor in a place where there were no facilities for unloading, the train either had to be destroyed or abandoned. Those divisions that didn’t advance to the border in trains weren’t in a better position. A division marching in columns was a great target for air force raids. The entire Red Army presented one great target.
In his memoirs, the German pilot Hans-Ulrich Rudel described the beginning of the war against the Soviet Union. He flew a Ju-87 and completed 2,430 battle missions.
In the German pilot’s description, there is one phrase about the construction of defense structures that might create some confusion. Perhaps the Red Army was preparing defenses? No, it was not. If it had been preparing for defense, the arriving troops would not have been kept in columns along the roads, they would have been sent immediately to the trenches. Rudel also mentioned the “Martin” bombers. Indeed, military supplies from the United States and Great Britain began to arrive in the Soviet Union long before June 22, 1941.
“ Strategic defense was born out of necessity during combat, it was not planned ahead of time,” says official Soviet military-historical research.3 The defensive operations of the Red Army in the summer of 1941 were pure improvisation. Before the war, the Red Army neither prepared for defense nor conducted any training in defensive operations. Soviet field manuals don’t contain a word about defense on a strategic scale. Not only did the Red Army not have any defense plans, but even in a purely theoretical sense the issues involved in conducting defense operations were never worked out or discussed.
Moreover, the Soviet people and army were not ready for defense, even psychologically. “It is precisely the interests of defending the USSR that will demand the conduct of broad offensive operations on enemy territory, and this does not in any way contradict the character of defensive war,” wrote Pravda on August 19, 1939. From the first moments of the German invasion, the Red Army tried to go on the offensive, or carry out counterattacks and counteroffensives. But this was also improvisation. Counteroffensives were not worked on at any of the prewar training exercises; they were not even discussed in theory: “ The question of counteroffensive . . . was not posed before the Great Patriotic War.”4
Before the war, the Soviet command prepared neither for defense nor for counterattacks. The Soviet Union planned a different kind of war. Marshal A. M. Vasilevsky reported that during the last year before the war the officers and generals of the General Staff and the staffs of the military districts and fleets worked fifteen to seventeen hours a day without holidays or vacations. Marshals Bagramian and Sokolovsky; Generals Shtemenko, Kurassov, and Malandin; and many others have confirmed that information. General Anissov and General Smorodinov reportedly worked twenty hours a day.
In February 1941, General G. K. Zhukov became the Chief of General Staff of the Red Army. From that time, the General Staff in essence began to operate on a wartime regime. Zhukov himself worked very hard, and did not allow anyone else to relax. The veterans of the General Staff remembered Zhukov’s reign as the most frightening period in history, more frightening than the Great Purges. At that time, the General Staff and the other staffs were working with inhuman intensity. Then the Germans invaded. Every commander, starting with regiment level and higher, had in his safe a so-called “Red Packet,” which contained the plans for war. The commanders opened their “Red Packets,” but they did not find in them anything useful for defense. “Of course we had detailed plans and orders about what was to be done on day “M”. . . everything was written to the minute and in great detail. . . . All these plans existed. But, unfortunately, they did not say anything about what was to be done if the enemy suddenly went into attack.”5
Something else is unclear. If the Red Army entered the war without any plans, then Stalin, upon finding out about this, should have shot the chief of general staff and all those who participated in developing the plans. This did not happen. On the contrary, those who participated in developing Soviet plans — Vassilevsky, Sokolovsky, Vatutin, Malandin, Bagramian, Shtemenko, and Kurassov — began the war as major generals or even lieutenant colonels, and ended it as marshals or at least with the four stars of army generals. During the war, they all proved to be truly great strategists. They were all devoted, even pedantic, staff officers, who could not imagine life without a plan. If Soviet staffs worked very hard and developed war plans before the war, but those were not defense or counteroffensive plans, what kinds of plans could they be?
The Soviet Black Sea fleet had the following military objective before the war: “active military actions against enemy ships and transports near the Bosporus and on the passageways to the enemy’s bases, as well as cooperation with land troops during their movement along the Black Sea coast.”6 Admiral S. Gorshkov remembered that the Baltic and Northern fleets, as well as the Black Sea fleet, had purely defensive objectives, but they were to be achieved through aggressive methods. The actions of the Soviet fleet during the first minutes, hours, and days of the war showed with sufficient clarity that they had plans, but these were not plans for defense. On June 22, 1941, Soviet submarines from the Black Sea fleet immediately sailed into the sea toward the shores of Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. On that same day, the submarines of the Baltic fleet sailed toward the shores of Germany with the objective of “sinking all enemy ships and vessels according to the rules of unrestricted submarine warfare.” 7 The order made no exceptions, not even for medical vessels sailing under the Red Cross flag.
Starting on June 22, the Black Sea naval air force conducted open military actions in the interests of the Danube military flotilla with the objectives of opening the way for it to advance upward along the river. On June 25 and 26, the Black Sea fleet’s cruisers appeared in the vicinity of the Romanian port of Constanta and carried out an intensive artillery raid with the goal of landing assault troops on the shores. At the same time, the Danube military flotilla began assault operations in the Danube river delta.
The garrison of the Soviet naval base Hanko, located on Finnish territory, did not switch to a defensive regime after the start of hostilities, but instead began intensive assault operations, taking over nineteen Finnish islands in the course of several days.8
On June 25, despite losses suffered by Soviet air forces during the first days of the war, airplanes of the Northern Front carried out a surprise bombing raid. The staff of the Northern Front reported on that morning: “ The air force of the front and of the armies started on 6:20 to carry out, by bomber formations, the task of exterminating the enemy’s air force on his airfields.”9 The enemy’s name is spelled out in the report which the staff issued later that same day: “Bombed were all known airfields of the southern part of Finland.” 10 The Germans, who happened to have invaded the USSR three days before, are not mentioned in the reports. is means that the USSR, without declaring war and in violation of the peace treaty it signed with Finland just a year earlier, committed an unprovoked act of aggression against its neighbor. Would somebody explain why this crime against peace was not a part of the Nurnberg indictments?
On June 23, the 1st Long-range Bomber Aviation Corps carried out a massive attack against military targets in Koenigsberg and Danzig. This was no improvisation. On the morning of June 22, at 6:44 , the Soviet long-range bomber air force received orders to act according to the plans.11 For several days, it tried to carry out these orders. On June 26, 1941, the 4th Long-Range Bomber Aviation Corps began to bomb the Ploieẟti oil fields in Romania. After just a few days of raids, the amount of oil obtained in Romania was reduced almost in half. Even when the Soviet air force sustained unimaginable losses at its bases, it had managed to wreak huge damage on the Romanian oil industry. Under any other circumstances, the Soviet air force would have been much more dangerous and could have fully paralyzed the entire German military, industrial, and transportation capacities through its actions against the oil-producing regions. Hitler understood the threat all too well, and saw an invasion of the USSR as his only possible defense. Of course, even that did not save him.
On June 22, 1941, the 41st Rifle Division of the 6th Rifle Corps of the 6th Army, without waiting to hear orders from higher commanders, acted according to prewar plans and crossed the state border in the Rava-Russkaya region. The 102nd Rifle Regiment of this division crossed the border on a front line of eight kilometers and penetrated four to six kilometers into enemy territory. In the morning of June 22, 1941, the commander of the Northwestern Front, Colonel General F. I. Kuznetsov, without awaiting orders from Moscow, issued an order to his troops to attack Tilzit in Eastern Prussia. For the Northwestern Front’s staff, for the commanders of the armies and their staffs, this decision was not at all surprising: an attack on Tilzit had been worked out in training exercises just days earlier and “was very familiar to the formations commanders and their staffs.”12 Colonel General Kuznetsov simply put the prewar plans into action. On the evening of that same day, the Soviet high command, not yet knowing about General Kuznetsov’s actions, ordered him to do exactly what he had already begun doing: to attack Tilzit in Eastern Prussia.
The High Command also ordered the neighboring Western Front to carry out a powerful attack on the Polish city of Suvalki. This was no surprise to the Western Front commander General D. G. Pavlov. He knew the objectives of his front long before the directives from Moscow arrived, and had already issued the orders to advance on Suvalki. However, because the German air force had not been destroyed in a surprise raid but, on the contrary, the entire Soviet Western Front had lost 738 planes during the first hours of the war, advancing was not at all the best option. The Western Front, its command, staff, the army commanders and the chiefs of their staffs knew long before the war that their primary objective was the encirclement of the German formations in the vicinity of Suvalki. A Soviet attack on Suvalki had been prepared long before the war. The objective had been identified by all Soviet commanders. Of course, the lower-ranking commanders had no right to know the tactical levels of these objectives, but in the higher staffs they were clearly formulated, sealed in secret envelopes and kept in safes in all headquarters, even those of the battalions. For example, the reconnaissance battalion of the 27th Rifle Division, concentrated along the border near the city of Augustow, was getting ready to deploy reconnaissance forces around Suvalki.13 Its objective was to secure a rapid advance of the entire 27th Rifle Division from Augustow on Suvalki.
Long before the war, huge masses of Soviet troops were gathered in the regions around Augustow. Here, on Soviet territory, the Augustow canal stretched parallel to and right along the border. If the plans had been made for defense, the troops should have been positioned behind the canal, so they could use it as an obstacle, an anti-tank trench. But the Soviet troops were shipped across the canal to its western shores and positioned on a thin strip of land between the canal and the border from which barbwire had already been removed. At dawn on June 22, thousands of Soviet soldiers were killed here by sudden and lethal enemy fire. With the canal behind them, the troops had nowhere to retreat.
The German troops on the other side of the border were also gathered in huge masses right along the border, and had also taken down the barbwire. If the Red Army had attacked a day earlier, the losses on the other side would have been just as great. The positioning of troops right along the border was extremely dangerous if the enemy attacked suddenly. But such a positioning was extremely convenient for carrying out a sudden attack.
Soviet generals never concealed the fact that strictly offensive objectives were set before them. General K. Galitsky, when talking about the concentration of Soviet troops in the Augustow region, stressed that the Soviet command did not believe in the possibility of a German attack, while the Soviet troops were being prepared to conduct an offensive operation.
The Soviet fronts directed against Eastern Prussia and Poland, as well as the fronts positioned against Romania and Hungary, were preparing strictly for an offensive. Major General A. I. Mikhalev acknowledged that the Soviet command did not plan to use the Southern and Southwestern fronts for defensive or counteroffensive actions. “ The strategic goals were planned to be attained through the troops’ switching to a decisively offensive course of action.”14
The actions of the Red Army during the first days of the war speak best about Soviet intentions. General Zhukov coordinated the actions of the Southern and Southwestern fronts during the first days of the war, which were aimed at Romania and Hungary. Up until June 30, 1941, Zhukov insisted on advance and demanded that the commanders of the fronts exclusively attack. It was only in July that he and his colleagues concluded that the armies could no longer attack.
It is interesting to look at the Red Army’s preparations for war through the eyes of those who were posted right on the border, especially on the Romanian border, because the most significant assault was supposed to take place there. Many books have been written about that time period. In June 1941, Hero of the Soviet Union Major General A. A. Sviridov commanded the 144th Separate Reconnaissance Battalion of the 164th Rifle Division of the 17th Rifle Corps of the 12th Army posted in the Lvov-Chernovits bulge, on the Romanian border. The 17th Corps was in essence a mountain rifle corps. And the entire 12th Army was, in fact, a mountain army. Sviridov wrote of June 19, 1941: “Our division replaced border guards at the river Prut. Leaving the state border, they handed a fortified shoreline to us.” From the Romanian side “we heard the cries from Romanian villages: the peasants were being relocated further away from the borders.” “All of us, Soviet warriors were preparing to fight the enemy only on his lands.”
Meanwhile, from June 13 to 20, the NKVD troops were relocating by force the population of the border regions from the White Sea to the Black Sea. The Germans relocated people from a strip of land twenty kilometers in width, while the Soviets removed people from land one hundred kilometers wide. The Germans relocated the population. The Soviets relocated some people and sent others to the GULAG. On June 19, the day described by Sviridov, the NKVD operation to clear the front strip entered its bloodiest stage.
After the forced deportation of the population, the border guards dismantled all mines and barbwire obstacles on the Soviet border, and left the borders themselves. On strips tens of kilometers long, in the places where the Soviet assaults were being prepared, the border was opened, and the border guards had left, having handed the borders over to the Red Army. The reconnaissance battalions of the Soviet divisions came out right up to the borders.
Many years before the war in 1941, Shaposhnikov said that the “transfer of armies to wartime positions creates an obvious elevation in their military valiance and their morale.” Shaposhnikov warned, however, that an army put on wartime regime and moved to the borders experienced nervous tension that couldn’t be contained. Shaposhnikov also cautioned that the army couldn’t be kept at the borders for long: it had to be brought into action. Stalin read Shaposhnikov’s book with great care, knew it well, and often quoted it. In May 1940, Shaposhnikov was promoted to the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union. Officially, he was a deputy of the People’s Commissar for Defense, but in practice he was Stalin’s number one military advisor. By the middle of June 1941, Soviet armies were moved to the borders. The Soviet High Command knew that the commanders and soldiers were eager to enter combat, and that their assault drive couldn’t be contained.
The Red Army was not separated from the enemy even by a thin line of NKVD border guards. Neither Zhukov, nor Timoshenko, nor Shaposhnikov had the power to order the guards to leave the borders. The guards were not under their jurisdiction. The guards were subordinate to Beria, the NKVD commissar. But Beria did not have the power to order the army units to replace his people on the borders. Only one man, Stalin, could have ordered the NKVD commissar to remove the border guards and the Defense commissar to move the army divisions to the borders.
Then, the unexpected happened. The German army attacked. Let’s examine the consequences of the attack using the example of the 164th Division in which Sviridov served as battalion commander. There are two rivers in this region: the border river Prut, and the river Dniester that runs parallel to it on Soviet territory. If the division had been preparing for defense, there was no reason to move to the land between the two rivers; it would have been logical to dig trenches on the Dniester’s eastern shores, using both rivers as water obstacles. Bridges should have been prepared for detonation. There should have been no supplies, hospitals, large army units, and headquarters stationed in the land between the two rivers, only small groups of demolition experts and sappers. But the 164th Division (like all the others) was preparing for an invasion, so it crossed the Dniester, carrying with it hundreds of tons of ammunition, fuel, and supplies, as well as its headquarters, hospitals, and communication units, and stopped at the last border—the river Prut. There were 15,000 soldiers in the division, many cannon, many shells, and many cars. There were other divisions nearby, and all of them were between the two rivers — the Dniester was behind them, and the border river Prut ahead.
The Germans attacked, took over the bridge across the border river — the bridge was not mined — and began to send their units across. They bombed the bridges behind the Soviet divisions. To the north of this strip, the German 1st Tank Group broke through and encircled the Soviet front, cutting the Soviet troops off from their rears. The Soviet divisions were trapped. Masses of people and weapons (the 96th Mountain Rifle Division, 13,000 men strong, was also there) were in this trap. Nobody had prepared defenses, dug trenches or foxholes. Retreat was impossible — the Dniester was behind them, with no remaining bridges. A massacre followed.
Sviridov looked across the river Prut to the border bridge, and saw unending streams of German troops move across it. He remembered: “ The bridge! We kept it in order to advance, and now we can’t blow it up. . . . All my military training was mostly done under the motto: only advance! Retreat was considered shameful, and we were not taught how to retreat. Now, when we were forced to retreat, we had no experience. We had to learn this art under terrible enemy fire.”
During the war, especially in the beginning, the Red Army suffered many defeats. In August and September of 1941, a military catastrophe of historical proportions occurred in the region around Kiev: 665,000 Soviet troops were encircled and captured by the German army. Near Smolensk, 310,000 Soviet soldiers and officers were surrounded. In 1942 on the Crimean front: Soviet troops were encircled near Khar’kov; the 2nd Shock Army, headed by General Vlasov, was surrounded and exterminated.
This kind of information was considered classified. Soviet historians and generals never wrote about these events. But there was an exception to the rule: June 22, 1941. The Soviet propaganda described without mercy everything related to that day, and denounced the Red Army before the entire world. Why was it allowed to talk about the lack of readiness for war?
In the library of the Military-Diplomatic Academy of the Soviet Army, I stumbled across a very small book. It was titled A Brief Russian-German Military Phrase Book for Soldiers and Junior Commanders. The booklet was published in Moscow on May 29, 1941, and additionally on June 5 the same booklet was published in Leningrad, Minsk, and Kiev. In total, five million copies were printed. In all Soviet books, including military textbooks, the price was on the last page. The price was not printed only on those books and instructions that related to the conduct of battle. These publications were treated like ammunition, and were handed out to the troops during training exercises, and, when necessary, before and during battle. No price was stamped on the little book I found. It was a battle document; it proved that the USSR was preparing for the war with Germany.
The phrase book was composed very simply and intelligently: a question in Russian, followed by the same question in German written in Russian letters, then in German in Latin letters. The answers were also printed in Russian and German with Latin and Cyrillic letters. It is quite simple to speak according to the booklet — if you do not know how to pronounce the needed German phrase, simply point to the corresponding lines in the book and the Germans can read them themselves. The phrases are very interesting. For example: “Where is the water? Is it drinkable? Drink it first yourself.” Imagine the situation: the Soviet soldiers are fighting, defending their motherland, enter a Russian village, take out the phrase book from their packs and read syllable by syllable: “ Trinken Sie zuerst man selbst! ” But they would be taken for Germans in Russia! Here is another example: “What is this station called? Stop the broadcast, or I will shoot you! Bring the conductor! Where is the fuel? Where is the garage? Gather and bring here [so many] horses [farm animals], we will pay!” To communicate with the local populations, it is not a bad idea to know phrases such as: “Where are the German soldiers hiding? Where is the burghermeister? Is there an observation point on the steeple?” But, there was not one burghermeister or steeple in the Soviet Union. Another very important question: “Where are the stores?” The most important phrases are the following: “You do not need to be afraid! The Red Army will come soon!”
A former Soviet diplomat, Nikolai Berezhkov, who accompanied Molotov to Berlin in 1940, wrote in his memoirs With a Diplomatic Mission in Berlin that a German printing press worker once brought to the Soviet embassy a German-Russian phrase book of the same kind. For the Soviet embassy, the book was solid proof that the German army was preparing to invade the USSR. But in the USSR they were printing the same exact phrase books.
Soviet soldiers and officers were preparing for a victorious march on Berlin, but the war against Germany in 1941 didn’t run according to plan. As a result, when Soviet commanders were captured, the Germans found quite interesting maps and curious orders in their bags. Thousands of soldiers had Russian-German and Russian-Romanian phrase books. Many simply did not think of the necessity to get rid of this compromising evidence.
The commander of the 5th Battery of the 14th Howitzer Regiment of the 14th Tank Division of the 7th Mechanized Corps, Yakov Iosifovich Dzhugashvili, son of Stalin, was no exception. He was taken prisoner, but at first he was not recognized. The senior lieutenant was betrayed by his subordinates. Stalin’s son was searched and questioned. A letter was found in his pockets, from a certain junior lieutenant in the reserves named Victor: “I am at the training camps, I would like to be home by fall, but the planned walk to Berlin might hinder this.” The letter is dated June 11, 1941. The contents of this letter were reported to Hitler personally; he mentioned it on May 18, 1942.15 In June 1941, German intelligence officers showed the letter to Yakov Dzhugashvili and asked him to clarify the statement about the “planned walk to Berlin.” The questioning protocol recorded Stalin’s son’s reaction. He read the letter and quietly muttered: “Damn it!”
During questioning, Stalin’s son was asked why the Soviet artillery, which had the best cannon and howitzers in the world, and in incredible numbers, fired so poorly. Stalin’s son answered: “ The maps let the Red Army down, because the war, contrary to expectations, unfolded to the east of the state border.”16 Stalin’s son told the truth. In 1941, the Red Army fought without maps. There simply weren’t any. But the artillery couldn’t fire without maps. Direct aiming and firing was just a small fraction of the work done by artillery in war. Most of the time artillery fired beyond the horizon.
It turned out that in Soviet Russia a map-making industry was created that surpassed everything that had ever been done before in its size, organization, volume, and quality of work,” concluded the Germans about the Soviet topographic services.17 How do we reconcile the best map-making industry in the world with the complete absence of maps? Lieutenant General A. I. Lossev explained: “Storages of topographic maps, located unreasonably close to the border, were either seized by the enemy, or destroyed by the enemy during the first bomb raids. As a result, the troops lost 100 million maps.”18
This is a modern-day evaluation, and the numbers are lowered. Lieutenant General M. K. Kudryavtsev, who under Stalin was director of the topographic services of the Red Army, said that during the first days of the war, and only in the Baltic, Western, and Kiev military districts, the Soviet troops destroyed during retreat over two hundred railcars of their own topographic maps.19 The smallest cargo railcar in the Soviet Union in 1941 could carry twenty tons. Even if we supposed that the smallest cars were used to store the maps, four thousand tons of maps were destroyed in the three districts. Kudryavtsev said that, on average, every railcar contained 1,033,000 maps. Two hundred cars equaled 200 million maps. Which of the two generals is right? They both are. One talked about what the German troops destroyed, 100 million, and the other added that the Soviets themselves destroyed 200 million maps, so they would not go to the enemy.
If the Soviet army planned to defend Moscow, Kursk, and Stalingrad, it needed maps of those regions. There was no reason to transport these maps to the state border. At the border, the army needed maps of border regions. And, if there was a plan to advance, the army needed maps of the territories that lay ahead. If the Soviet Union planned to take over large territories, it needed the corresponding number of maps to supply a multimillion-strong army. The Red Army did not save its maps in the border regions, because they were useless for defending the country. In 1941, the plans for the “liberation” of Europe crumbled, and the value of the maps that were kept in railcars on the border became zero. Millions of Russian-German and Russian-Romanian phrase books were burned along with the maps.
The Soviet population was expecting a war, but it didn’t anticipate a German invasion. Therefore, once the Germans attacked, everyone was shocked. Major General of the KGB O. D. Gotsiridze remembered: “Before July 3, when Stalin made a public appearance, it was completely unclear as to what we were to do. Everyone had thought that the war would be quick and on foreign soil.”20
The complete demoralization among our troops occurred because . . . the people had planned to fight on the enemy’s territory, and our military commanders were dreaming of a blitzkrieg no less than the Germans were. But everything turned out not quite so happily. . . . The sudden need for defense turned into a total retreat on all fronts for the troops and the people.”21
It is very fortunate for Russia in her agony to have this great rugged war chief at her head.
After Stalin’s death, Nikita Khrushchev recounted that in 1941, having found out about the German invasion, Stalin panicked, retreated to his dacha-fortress outside Moscow, completely kept out of all affairs, did not receive anybody, did not ask about developments on the front, and did not answer telephone calls. Stalin was totally apathetic. He isolated himself from all state and party obligations. Stalin was extremely depressed for over a week, and only on July 1 did the members of the Politburo manage to force him to return to the reins of power. This story was accepted and repeated in thousands of books and essays. It served as the main proof of Stalin’s lack of readiness for war.
After 1991, the Soviet archives became more accessible, and researchers saw logbooks documenting visitors to Stalin’s office from 1927 to 1953. It turned out that Stalin worked extremely hard in the first days of the war. The entry from June 21, 1941, read: “ The last [visitors] left at 11 PM.” This did not at all mean that Stalin’s workday ended. After the last visitors left, he could have worked on the documents himself, talked on the telephone, worked outside of the office, in his Kremlin apartment or at his dacha. Stalin began receiving visitors on June 22, 1941, at 5:45 AM . He worked for eleven hours without breaks. His visitors included Molotov, Beria, Timoshenko, Mekhlis, Zhukov, Malenkov, Mikoyan, Kaganovich, Voroshilov, Vyshin-skyi, Kuznetsov, Dimitrov, Manuilsky, Shaposhnikov, Vatutin, Kulik, and others.
The following week was one continuous workday for Stalin, with only brief breaks. Reception of visitors began at 3:20 AM (June 23), or at 1 AM(June 25), and ended the following morning. The meetings lasted five, six, twelve hours. Sometimes Stalin’s workday lasted twenty-four hours, with short breaks. After this initial week of the war, the logbooks have nothing recorded for two consecutive days, June 29 and 30.
Khrushchev claimed that when the Germans attacked, Stalin got scared and isolated himself. Today, we know that right after the German invasion Stalin worked seven days in a row, as much as humanly possible. During the first moments, Stalin simply did not believe that Hitler had invaded. Stalin had calculated all possible moves, and none of them included an attack by Hitler. During the first week of the war, Stalin herded his troops into an attack. He should have been giving orders for defense, but he resisted. Finally, on June 28, he found out that the Western Front was surrounded, the 4th Army was destroyed, and the 3rd, 10th, and 13th armies were encircled. Only then did Stalin finally understand that his plans for the “liberation” of Europe were over. When he arrived at the People’s Commissariat of Defense on June 29, Stalin learned the true dimensions of the utter failure of the Western Front. There, Stalin exploded in anger at Timoshenko and Zhukov, bringing the latter to tears. Anastas Mikoyan recollected: “Stalin was despondent. After leaving the Commissariat, he said: ‘Lenin left us a grand legacy, and we, his followers, flushed that legacy down the toilet.’ We were shocked by that statement. Was everything lost for good? In the end, we ascribed those words to Stalin’s emotionally affected state.”1
Stalin realized that he could not fix anything. The socialist country was capable of crushing others, but it couldn’t compete with other countries in peacetime. From June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union was destined for demise. Sooner or later, it was bound to collapse. It could survive only by consuming everything around it. Otherwise, it was doomed. The Soviet Union could exist only if the Soviet people would have no opportunities to compare their lives with the lives of people in surrounding countries. Therefore, Stalin’s main idea was to destroy the capitalism surrounding the Soviet Union. All of Stalin’s plans were simple, logical, and understandable: complete victory was only possible on a global scale.
Hitler understood this as well: “ The Bolshevized world will be able to hold only if it encompasses everything.”2 On June 22, 1941, Hitler delivered a suicidal but lethal attack on Communism. No matter how events unfolded afterward, Stalin could no longer conquer the whole world, which was the equivalent of his demise. On June 30, 1941, Molotov, Beria, Malenkov, and others entered Stalin’s room in his dacha. Anastas Mikoyan, a member of Stalin’s Politburo, left a wonderful description of this episode:
The members of the Politburo hadn’t come to arrest Stalin. They needed Stalin as a symbol, a flag around which the remnants of a crushed division would rally in battle. They talked of saving the country, but Stalin did not listen to them. Without taking Europe, without expanding the Soviet Union’s borders, the USSR would sooner or later crumble. Stalin had lost the country founded by Lenin. In 1941, only Stalin could appreciate the full weight of the German invasion. In 1941, the members of the Politburo could not fully understand that Hitler’s invasion meant death for the Soviet Union. The Politburo forced Stalin to resume power, and Stalin, with a careless wave of the hand, returned, fully aware that the cause he had worked for his whole life was dead.
If It Weren’t for Winter!
Future historians will come to the conclusion that, if one considers the military situation,
During the war with the Soviet Union, Goebbels’s “Reich Ministry for People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda” quickly filled newspaper and magazine pages with thousands of photographs: German automobiles stuck in Russian mud, a horse being flogged because it couldn’t pull a cart out of the terrible slush, blizzards covering tanks with a thick layer of snow, and gusts of wind ripping the summer hat off a poor German soldier’s head.
The core principle of propaganda is visual appeal. Goebbels showed the shocked Germans back home tons of chronicles: mud, mud, mud, impassable mud, endless fields, plains, snow, and hurricane-strength wind knocking the soldiers off their feet.( The photos were taken on an air-field, where a three-engine J-52’s propellers helped the storm, adding wind — and drama — to the situation.) If it were not for winter . . . from German staffs and memoirs of generals were added to Goebbels’s propaganda, and featured descriptions of the horrors of the Russian winter, the impassable mud, and the unimaginable lack of roads.
It would seem that Marxist historians should have refuted these claims, so that nobody repeated the conclusions of Hitler’s defenders. However, Marxist historians not only did not refute those claims, but they joined the chorus of Nazi voices. Marxist propagandists declared that the Russians were completely unprepared for war, and it wasn’t them that defeated Hitler: all the credit should go to the endless Russian plains, the mud, and the fierce winter.
Why did the Communists need to repeat the Nazi lies? The answer was simple: they needed to prove that the Soviet Union could not have invaded Europe. They had to demonstrate weakness. Here is an example: “Artillery, motorcycles, trucks, and even tanks got stuck in the impenetrable mud; airplane wheels got stuck in the ground on air bases. The supply of ammunition, fuel, and produce to the front was drastically reduced. [An] early winter suddenly replaced an unusually rainy autumn. When the ground froze in November, many cannon and vehicles were left right there on the spot, where they had gotten stuck in the mud several weeks earlier.”1
The combined power of Nazi and Communist propaganda turned out to be so strong that the Hitler legend about the frost and winter, the lack of roads, and the vast open spaces was repeated by people who were wise and far removed from Goebbels’s propaganda. It is no surprise that to the question about the reasons for Hitler’s defeat, today’s German schoolchildren answer in unison: winter, frost, and open spaces.
I will pretend to agree that if it weren’t for winter, frost, and vast open spaces, Hitler would have crushed the Red Army and taken the Soviet Union. But if Britain was not an island, and protected by the English Channel from Hitler’s tanks, Hitler would have strangled England as well. And if the African desert wasn’t hot and full of sand, if there was a tunnel under the Mediterranean Sea to supply German troops with fuel and ammunition, Hitler would have kicked the British out of Libya and Egypt, and taken Africa. And if America was not across the ocean but in Europe, right under Hitler’s nose, and if America was a small country, the size of Belgium, Hitler could have crushed America, too. And if the Antarctic had a climate like France, Hitler could have turned it into resorts for his generals, with palm trees and beaches.
When we are told of tanks getting stuck in the mud, we should remember their specific power and their specific pressure on the ground. The best German tank of 1941, the T-IIIA, had a specific pressure of 0.94 kilograms per square centimeter of support surface. Of course it sank in the mud! Its specific power was only 13.9 horsepower per ton of weight. The rest of the German models were even weaker. These tanks were designed by people who simply did not understand the nature of war. These tanks could not compete with the Soviet tanks, and yet we are told that the mud was to blame.
In February 1940, the Red Army broke through the impenetrable Mannerheim Line. At the same time, the German army was simply refusing to fight in France. German generals, by blaming the weather in France, sabotaged orders to invade issued by the High Command. “Here, luckily, nature intervened and forced the postponement of the set date, which between the fall of 1939 and the end of January 1940 changed fifteen times.”2 The order to start the invasion was postponed many times even after January 1940. German generals were unprepared to fight in France even in April.
In 1941, Hitler fought near Moscow. Here there was no Arctic frost like in Finland, no deep snow, no swamps. The topography around Moscow was an invader’s dream: there were no rocky rivers and no steep shores. Soviet defenses near Moscow did not compare to the Mannerheim Line. But Hitler got stuck. We are told: the Red Army could not fight, and that is why breaking through the Mannerheim Line took so much time. Nobody remembers the frost, snow, and impassable terrain in Finland. But the German army got stuck at Moscow’s gate only because the winter had prevented it.
On August 10, 1941, Colonel General Halder wrote in his journal: “ The exhausted German infantry will be unable to oppose with decisive attack measures the enemy’s efforts. . . . At the current moment, our troops are heavily exhausted and experience heavy losses.”3 On the following day, Halder wrote: “ The troops are exhausted. What we are now undertaking is the last and questionable attempt to avert a transition to a war of attrition. The command has only very limited resources. . . . We have thrown our last forces into battle.”4 The blitzkrieg was already choking in August. The Germans were running out of strength, and the advance stopped. Hitler’s army was so weak and unprepared for war that two months after the start of the war offense was out of the question. On August 22, 1941, Halder wrote: “ The Fuehrer’s note is full of contradictions. . . . The OKH’s position became insufferable due to the Fuehrer’s meddling and attacks. No one else but himself can bear the responsibility for the contradictory orders. . . . In the afternoon, our arguments and discussions were interrupted by a telephone conversation with Field Marshal von Bock, who once again stressed that his troops will be unable to defend themselves for long in the positions they took when they counted that an offensive on Moscow was coming.”5 September 5, 1941: “Our units surrendered to the enemy [at] the bend of the frontline near Elnya.”6 In the most strategically significant region of the theater of operations, the Army Group Center was unable to resist the pressure of the Soviet 24th Army and surrendered the staging ground they needed for an attack on Moscow.
Marshal K. K. Rokossovskii remembered: “Upon a realistic evaluation of the situation and a consideration of the coming winter, the enemy was only left with one choice — immediate retreat covering great distance.”7
Why didn’t the Germans retreat? On September 13, 1941, Halder wrote: “At the current moment, we cannot forecast the number of troops that can be freed from the Eastern Front upon arrival of winter, and the number of troops that will be needed for conducting operations in the following year.”8 This entry shows that the blitzkrieg was already over before the snow, before the mud. The war had already turned into a war of attrition — a prolonged war lethal for Germany.
On May 29, 1942, Hitler watched the famous Soviet film German Defeat near Moscow. In Henry Piker’s Hitler’s Table Conversations, Hitler’s comments are recorded in the entry for that day: “ This winter we experienced especially harsh trials, because our soldiers’ clothing [and] the level of their motorization and supply did not in any way correspond to the conditions of that winter, when the temperature dropped below 50 [degrees] Celsius.”9 “ Then the first German prisoners come, who form hordes without coats, gloves, without winter clothing. They dance from the cold, their hands thrust deep into their pockets, which they take out from time to time to rub their ears and noses! . . . Finally, the frozen German tanks, trucks, and cannon stretch in an endless file; all are abandoned, because the General Staff of land forces did not prepare in time sufficient amounts of frost-resistant fuel and winter clothing.”10
The following year brought Stalingrad. Moscow in 1941 didn’t teach Hitler anything. In Stalingrad, German troops once again were left without warm underwear. The main question is: what conclusions did Hitler and his generals draw from their catastrophic performance in the Russian winter? In 1941, they took no measures to supply their military operations during the winter. What was done to prepare for the following winter? On April 5, 1942, Hitler said: “In the central zone, we must immediately plant all the marshlands and swamps with cane, so that with the coming of the next winter we can stand the horrible Russian frost.”11
A Model War
The victory of socialism in one country does not at one stroke eliminate all wars in general. On the contrary, it presupposes wars.
A Soviet historian’s account of Japanese-German relations in World War II went as follows: “ The German leaders had especially strong expectations from their Japanese allies. They really wanted Japan to be the first to start military action against the USSR. . . . But the Japanese leaders evaded talks with Germany. Only in March 1941 did the Japanese minister of foreign affairs, Iosuke Matsuoka, arrive in Berlin. . . . Matsuoka refused to determine the deadline for Japanese action against the USSR, which led to a strong clash between him and Hitler.”1
The shortest route between Berlin and Tokyo lay straight through Moscow, and on his return trip from Berlin, the Japanese minister of foreign affairs, Matsuoka, stopped briefly in Moscow. Here, on April 13, 1941, he signed a pact of neutrality between the Soviet Union and Japan. Both countries pledged to “maintain peaceful and friendly relations and mutually respect each other’s territorial integrity and independence. . . . In the event that one of the sides becomes the victim of military actions from one or several other nations, the other side of the pact will observe neutrality for the duration of the entire conflict.”2
The neutrality pact between the USSR and Japan was a remarkable achievement for Stalin’s diplomats and a crushing blow to Hitler’s plans. Japan was Germany’s ally, but it refused to fight against the Soviet Union. Moreover, Japan signed a pact with the Soviet Union instead. “When Matsuoka informed Ribbentrop about the high probability of a Soviet-Japanese pact, the head of German diplomacy stated that one would be wise not to involve oneself too intimately with the Soviet Union, but watch the events in the region.”3 The Japanese government, however, had its own opinion on the matter. On April 14, the day after the signing of the Soviet-Japanese pact, Goebbels wrote in his diary that the agreement caused a great sensation. For Germany, this was quite an unpleasant sensation.4 “ The signing of the Soviet-Japanese neutrality agreement was a great surprise for Germany. Ribbentrop ordered the German ambassador in Tokyo to demand an explanation from the Japanese government.”5 An explanation was provided. Matsuoka told the German ambassador in Tokyo that “if Germany and the Soviet Union were to start fighting, not a single Japanese premier or minister of foreign affairs could keep the nation neutral. Japan will ally with Germany in attacking Russia, whatever the situation. Pacts of neutrality do not matter in this affair.”6 But this intent never materialized. Japan didn’t attack the Soviet Union.
On April 13, 1941, right after the signing of the agreement between Japan and the USSR, Matsuoka headed for the train station in Moscow, on his way to Tokyo. According to protocol, many officials accompanied him. Suddenly, the rules of protocol were broken. At the last minute before the train left, Stalin appeared on the platform. He usually never met anyone or saw anyone off. On that day, Stalin was in a remarkably good mood. Obviously, the train departure was delayed. Stalin laughed and joked. He walked with the Japanese minister right to the steps of the railcar, and here he did something entirely uncharacteristic for him — he embraced the Japanese minister and proclaimed that the Soviet Union and Japan would remain friends forever. Among those seeing off the Japanese minister was the German military attaché — Stalin noticed and also embraced him, declaring that Germany and the Soviet Union would also remain friends. Stalin’s behavior was very uncommon. He was usually very discreet. He never embraced anyone in the presence of outsiders. Many historians explained this unusual behavior as Stalin’s commitment to peace, as proof that he attempted to avoid war with Japan and Germany at any cost.
Exactly ten weeks later, on June 22, 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Soon, Stalin found himself on the brink of defeat. At this critical moment, the Japanese government kept its word to the Soviets and remained neutral. In that same year, 1941, Japan attacked the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor, triggering the war between the United States and Japan. This was advantageous for Stalin, and despite the signed pact, he started secret preparations to attack Japan. “ They did not know Stalin well in Tokyo,” wrote one observer. “If the Japanese had at least superficially acquainted themselves with the lifestyle and career path of the great follower of Lenin’s legacy, they would have noticed that his methods always remained the same: make an alliance with somebody against somebody else, and follow it with a stab in the back to the ally once he becomes useless.”7
Stalin kept his intentions secret until the right time, but in the beginning of 1943 he told the American president about his decision to attack Japan. Stalin had planned his sudden attack on Japan not for 1943, when America was engaged in a difficult war and needed help, but at the very last moments of the war, when Japan would be already on the verge of defeat. Stalin could have helped the United States much earlier. He had the capacity to drastically quicken Japan’s defeat. The United States had a very powerful strategic air force, but they had to fly to Japan across the largest ocean in the world, and then fly back without refueling. Raids on Japan could also be carried out from islands in the Pacific Ocean, but these islands had to be taken first, and therefore it was first necessary to achieve naval domination. And even after taking the islands, the Americans still had to fly several thousand kilometers to their targets and back. Each plane had to carry a large amount of fuel and an insignificant number of bombs. The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was right next to Japan.
“Cordell Hill, the American Secretary of State, tried to obtain from Moscow permission for the American air force to use Soviet military airbases in the Far East.” 8 Stalin firmly refused. President Roosevelt sent messages to Stalin on December 30, 1942, and January 8, 1943, urging the Russian leader to allow American air force units to be stationed on bases in the Soviet Far East. Stalin answered the messages with an uncompromising “no.”9
If Stalin had given the Americans the opportunity to use Soviet air bases, instead of making long flights to Japan from the faraway islands, every plane could have completed several short flights with a large load of bombs. In that case, the American raids on Japanese targets would have been considerably more effective. But it was in Stalin’s interest that the war between Japan and the United States be stretched as long as possible.
By the way, Stalin allowed America to use several Soviet air bases in the Poltava region for bombing Germany. American B-17 strategic bombers took off from the airfields at Poltava and flew to bomb Germany. Their takeoffs were covered by Soviet fighters, which accompanied them to the length of their radius of action. At the same time, other waves of American bombers flew out of Britain. Having dropped bombs on German cities and factories, these bombers landed on the airfields at Poltava. They were met by Soviet fighters, which covered them during landing. But Stalin did not give permission to use the air bases in Nakhodka and Petropavlovsk for bombing Japan. Stalin waited for a complete depletion of Japanese forces in a prolonged war, and prepared his own attack. As Japan weakened, Stalin strengthened the preparation for a war against it. Stalin called Japan an aggressor for the first time on November 6, 1944.10 On April 5, 1945, the USSR leadership cancelled the Soviet-Japanese neutrality pact.
In the summer of 1944, Stalin told Marshal A. M. Vasilevsky that he would be the chief commander of Soviet troops in a war against Japan.1 The initial figures of the concentration of our troops in the Amur, Pacific Coast, and Trans-Baikal regions were sketched out in the fall of 1944. At the same time, rough calculations of the resources needed for a war in the Far East were made.12
Vasilevsky was one of the most talented commanders in the history of the Soviet Union. His talent became apparent during the war. In 1940, he was given the rank of major general. “[As] deputy chief of the Operations branch of the General Staff, he worked on the operational section of planning the strategic deployment of Soviet armed forces on the Northern, Northwestern, and Western Fronts.”13
A month after the beginning of the German invasion, Stalin appointed Vasilevsky as chief of the General Staff’s Operations Directorate. Vasilevsky was responsible now not just for a separate (although the most important) sector of the front, but for all the plans of the war on all fronts. Two months later, Stalin promoted Vasilevsky to lieutenant general. Half a year later, Vasilevsky became colonel general. One month later, Vasilevsky received yet another promotion: Stalin named him chief of the General Staff, the central brain of the Red Army, and entrusted to him the preparations for offensive operations in the Stalingrad region. In October 1942, Colonel General Vasilevsky became Stalin’s deputy. According to Vasilevsky’s plans, all command and communications posts in the Stalingrad region were moved to the very front lines. He also moved there all air bases, hospitals, huge supplies of shells, cartridges, fuel, and lubricants. Until the very last moment, Soviet troops did not know anything about what they were going to do. By keeping his offensive preparations secret from his own troops, Vasilevsky managed to keep them secret from the enemy as well. And then, a sudden, crushing attack followed. All the so-called “mistakes of 1941,” Vasilevsky repeated at Stalingrad, because they were not mistakes at all, but a preparation for sudden attack.
Vasilevsky received the rank of General of the Army for the defeat of the surrounded German formations near Stalingrad. He only carried this title for twenty-nine days; after the Stalingrad operation, Stalin made him a Marshal of the Soviet Union. In the summer of 1944, during the peak of the war with Germany, Stalin not only gave Marshal Vasilevsky the task of planning a sudden attack on Japan, but appointed him to head all Soviet troops in a war against Japan. But Stalin had no intention of landing his troops on the Japanese islands. He had more attractive targets. Korea, Manchuria, the greater part of China, and French Indochina (Vietnam) were all occupied by Japan. Stalin planned to “liberate” them and take them under his control.
Starting in the summer of 1944, Soviet military might in the Far East began to grow, but it could not be observed from outside. There was rearmament and strengthening of divisions, corps, and armies, as well as a storing of the supplies necessary for a sudden and crushing attack. Roads, air bases, bridges, and command and communications posts were being built near the borders with great intensity. Soviet commanders, on orders from Moscow, moved ammunition and fuel storages and hospitals to the borders.
A movement of regiments, brigades, and divisions from the German front to the Far East began in the early spring of 1945. “ The most important aspect of the preparations for the operation was the fact that they all had to be done before an official declaration of war on Japan.”14 Exceptional measures of concealment were taken. All sergeants and staff sergeants in the troops transferred to the Far East wore the insignia of privates. Junior officers had sergeant epaulets, and the senior officers wore the insignia of lieutenants and captains. Generals had fewer stars on their epaulets than they had earned. A major general could wear the epaulets of a lieutenant colonel or a major. Marshal Vasilevsky himself arrived in the Far East with the papers for a “Colonel General Vasilyev” and in the appropriate uniform.15
In May 1945, the troop transfer took on truly gigantic dimensions. “ The mass regrouping of troops began with a transport by railroad from Eastern Prussia of the 5th Army, which had gained rich experience in breaking through fortified regions and operating in forested territories.”16 The 39th Army, also from Eastern Prussia, and the 53rd from Czechoslovakia were simultaneously moved. The 6th Tank Guards Army was to play the decisive role in the defeat of Japanese armies. It was moved from the Prague region. To conceal the movement of the tank army, the tankers not only changed their epaulets, but the insignia on them as well — they temporarily became medics, repairmen, and construction workers. Most importantly, the tanks and the rest of the heavy equipment of the 6th Tank Guards Army were left behind in Czechoslovakia. In Mongolia, near the state border where the tank army was to be relocated, new tanks had been arriving straight from factories in the Urals. They were prepared and carefully concealed well ahead of time.17 The same exact procedure was performed in the transfer of most artillery, air force, and other formations and regiments. For example, in June and July of 1945, 1,155 war planes of the newest models were sent straight from the factories to the air bases in the Far East.18 During this time, the pilots and engineer personnel of certain air force regiments, divisions, and corps were transported by railroad, without their equipment. New planes already awaited them in the Far East. On top of all this, the 6th and 7th Bomber Corps and two military-transport air force divisions were moved from air bases in Germany and Poland.19
The strategic regrouping of Soviet troops was carried out at a distance of nine thousand to twelve thousand kilometers. A regrouping of troops on such a scale was being performed for only the second time in human history. The first time was in May and June 1941, from the east toward the German borders. In 1945, it was done in the opposite direction. The commands of two fronts, three field armies and one tank army, fifteen rifle, artillery, mechanized, and tank corps — all those were moved to the Far East. The smaller units moved there together with their commands: thirty-six rifle, artillery, and air-defense artillery divisions, fifty-three brigades, and over a hundred separate regiments and battalions were moved there too.20 In just three months, over 500,000 soldiers and officers were transported from Central Europe to the Far East. To minimize the volume of transports, a large part of the brigades, divisions, corps, and even an entire tank army were transported without their equipment. But some formations still had to be moved with their weapons and military equipment, and the number of arms transported with the troops was enormous: 3,340 tanks and self-propelled guns, 7,500 cannons and howitzers, 3,600 mortars, 1,100 rocket-launching field installations (“Katyusha”), and 1,400 warplanes.21 It took 135,756 railcars to transport this mass of troops and weapons.22
During a surprise offensive operation, it would be necessary to supply a tremendous number of troops, which would be continuously moving forward. The troops immediately would need to receive hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition, fuel, lubricants, food, and everything else that was indispensable for advancing. The transport of such quantities of cargo over distances of hundreds of kilometers could only be done by railroad. However, the Soviet Union’s railroads had a broad gauge, while Manchuria’s and China’s railroads had a narrow gauge. It was decided to reweld the railroad gauge there to the Soviet standard. Special brigades of railroad troops with the necessary equipment were prepared for this.
The arriving cargo was unloaded directly onto the ground in each border station’s vicinity. Part of the cargo was not unloaded at all. It remained in the railcars, ready to follow the advancing troops across the border. “By the beginning of the operation, there were over 1,500 cisterns with fuel on the railroads of the Far East. . . . This imposed a great strain on the functioning of the railroads.”23>
After the strategic regrouping of the troops was complete, the three Soviet fronts contained eleven field armies, three air defense armies, three air force armies, one tank army, and four separate air force corps.24 In addition, the Pacific fleet, the Amur flotilla, NKVD troops, and the armed forces of Mongolia were all under the command of the Soviet commander-in-chief in the Far East. The formation of Soviet troops included 1,747,465 men, 29,835 guns and mortars, 5,250 tanks, and 5,171 airplanes.25 The Pacific fleet had 417 warships, including 78 submarines, and 1,618 airplanes, including 1,312 combat aircraft. The Amur navy flotilla had 126 warships and 68 combat aircraft.26 Colonel Generals Vasiliev, Morozov, Maksimov, and Zolotov (in reality, Marshals of the Soviet Union A. M. Vasilevsky, R. Y. Malinovsky, K. A. Meretskov, and General of the Army M. V. Zakharov) arrived at the secret command posts ahead of the troops. To maintain secrecy, the “colonel generals” wore plain black jumpsuits over their uniforms, without any insignia, and during their trips to the vicinity of the state border they wore the uniforms of regular NKVD border troops.
A stream of cargo flowed in from the United States at the same time Soviet forces were being transferred out of Central and Eastern Europe. Stalin was the most cunning diplomat of the twentieth century. He demanded that the president of the United States supply food and fuel for all Soviet troop formations. “An agreement was reached with the United States about the concentration of three months’ supplies and fuels for our troops in this theater of military operations.”27 The United States also supplied airplanes, armored cars, automobiles, radios, telephone cables, medicines, optical devices, and much more.
Stalin gave instructions to the commander-in-chief in the Far East, Marshal Vasilevsky, and to the other front commanders back in Moscow. There were very few documents about the preparations for a surprise attack on Japan: one notebook with calculations and one map. These documents remained in the Kremlin. Marshals and generals had to remember their objectives without using any papers. Upon arrival in the Far East, the front commanders began detailed planning and calculations. “A strictly limited number of people were allowed to see the drafting of plans for the fronts. Only the commander, the member of the military council, the chief of staff, and the chief of the operations directorate of the front knew the plans in full.”28
The Trans-Baikal Front was deployed in a territory stretching 2,300 kilometers, and it was supposed to carry out a surprise attack eight hundred kilometers deep into enemy territory. There were 648,000 troops, 2,359 tanks and self-propelled guns, 1,324 warplanes, 9,668 guns and mortars, and 369 salvo-fire field installations (“Katyusha”).29 Four men, without secretaries, draftsmen, or other personnel, did all the planning of military operations for this mass of troops.
The 1st Far Eastern Front had 589,000 troops, 11,430 guns and mortars, 274 salvo-fire field installations, 1,974 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 1,137 combat planes. All the planning on this front was also done by just four men.30
The Trans-Baikal and the 1st Far Eastern Fronts were to attack in converging directions. Between these two attack formations there was the relatively weaker 2nd Far Eastern Front, which had 333,000 troops, 5,988 guns and mortars, 72 salvo-fire field installations, 917 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 1,260 combat planes.31 A classic encirclement operation was being prepared, with a relatively weak middle and two extremely powerful flank formations. The newness lay in the size of the operation. All three fronts were meant to advance simultaneously along the front line of 5,130 kilometers. Such an operation was unprecedented. (Let’s hope that it will never again be repeated.)
Stalin issued a special directive, which required the front commanders to define the objectives to the armies verbally, without producing any written documents.32 After receiving an objective, the army commanders were to commence the planning of the operation. General M. Gareev was at that time a major in the operational staff sector of the 5th Army of the 1st Far Eastern Front: “Near the station Muchnaya, we were shut in a separate, heavily guarded house, [from] which no one was allowed outside. Guards brought in food. We had to work almost around the clock. 33 Exchanging letters with questions regarding the operation preparations was forbidden, even in code. The army commanders described the objectives to the division commanders verbally, using only a map. Radios only received signals. In the artillery units, communication by radio was permitted only after the beginning of artillery softening-up, and in the other units after the beginning of the attack.34
The unloading of arriving troops and all troop movements took place during the night. The arriving troops were immediately sent to special areas, where hiding places had been prepared in advance. Before beginning the offensive, the main forces were to be kept back, and part of the artillery was to move closer to the border and be ready to open fire.35 Special squads of the fortified regions worked in the fields harvesting hay in all the areas visible to the enemy. The officers went to the local resorts and sanatoriums during their leave. The enemy was also confused by the fact that the local population from the border territories was not relocated, and their daily life was not affected by any changes. Training exercises were conducted at the same time as the troop movements, so the local population took everything they saw for regular military drills.36
The core principle of strategy is the concentration of force against weakness. The most powerful Soviet formation, the Trans-Baikal Front, was deployed against the weakest area of the Japanese defenses. But even here the forces were not spread out evenly along the entire border. Instead, extremely powerful assault groups gathered. Between these groups remained significant gaps, which were not covered by any troops. For example, on the Trans-Baikal Front, there was a gap of two hundred kilometers between the 17th Army and the 6th Tank Guards Army.37 Long before World War II, there was a chain of fortified regions erected along the border in the Far East. These regions housed a significant number of troops that were specially trained for conducting long defense operations. But in the summer of 1945, Japan found itself on the verge of defeat. Therefore, the Soviet troops stationed in the fortified regions were issued orders to leave their armored concrete fortifications and reinforce the assault formations.38
On August 6, 1945, the American air force dropped an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, and on August 9, over Nagasaki. Japan was on its deathbed. And at this moment, on August 9, 1945, the Red Army carried out its sudden and crushing attack against Japanese troops in Manchuria and China. The operations of all the armies were planned according to the principle of surprise attack and overpowering the enemy with the immediate use of gigantic force. Even in secondary locations, the actions immediately took on an active and maneuvering character.39 On August 8, the Soviet government declared: “ This kind of action is the only measure capable of speeding up the coming of peace, to save people from further suffering and misery, and give the Japanese people the opportunity to rid themselves of danger and destruction.”40
In the evening of August 8, 1945, the Japanese ambassador in Moscow was notified of a Soviet statement, which read: “Starting the next day, August 9, the Soviet Union will consider itself in a state of war with Japan.”41 On August 9, the Soviet armies carried out their surprise attack. One could ask: How was it possible to declare the war on August 8 and to deliver a sudden strike on August 9? The answer is that in Vladivostok the day begins seven hours earlier than in Moscow. Military actions began on August 9 at 0:10 AM Vladivostok time.42 At that moment in Moscow, it was still 5:10 PM on August 8. No one had yet warned the Japanese ambassador. Then, when night fell in Moscow, the Japanese ambassador was summoned to the People’s Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and at 11:50 PM Moscow time, it was announced that a war would begin on the following day. In Moscow, there were still 10 minutes left until the next day, but in the Far East the new day had long since begun. At the time of the announcement, it was already 6:50 AM. War had been going on for over six hours. The most important events had already happened: a sudden Soviet air raid destroyed the Japanese air bases, the border defenses were liquidated, and powerful tank formations entered Manchuria and China, continuing an unstoppable thrust forward.
The Japanese ambassador in Moscow was told about the beginning of the war, but he still had to reach the embassy and communicate with his government. All the telephone and telegraph lines were not working. Even in normal circumstances, radio connection with Japan, which was almost halfway around the world, was difficult. But here the circumstances were not normal: someone had tampered with the radio stations. In other words, the Japanese government found out that war was declared after a huge delay and through entirely different channels. In military language, this could be called “preparation and carrying out of a sudden initial attack with the opening of a new strategic front.”43 In the language of politics, this was called a “just and humane action by the USSR.”44
After the first crushing attack, Marshal R. Y. Malinovsky told his troops on August 10, 1945: “ The Soviet people cannot live and work in peace while the Japanese imperialists brandish arms at our far-eastern borders and await a convenient moment to attack our motherland.”45 Malinovsky spoke four days after an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and one day after an atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki. Those two Japanese cities lay in ruins unseen in human history, and Malinovsky was fully aware of the fact. Did the “Japanese imperialists,” after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, really have nothing else to do but “await a convenient moment”?
In March 1939, Stalin had accused Great Britain and France of wanting to draw Europe into war while they remained on the sidelines: “In the politics of non-intervention, there is a desire not to hinder the aggressors while they do their dirty deeds, not to interfere, for example, with Japan involving itself in a war against China . . . the goal is to let all the participants of the conflict become engulfed by the quicksand of war, and let them weaken and exhaust each other. Then, when they are sufficiently weakened, one can enter the scene with fresh forces, act, of course, ‘in the interests of peace,’ and dictate to the weakened war participants all the terms of peace.”46 Stalin always ascribed his own intentions to his enemies. Stalin did everything that he accused Great Britain and France of doing. Now, Japan was exhausted by the war, and it was time to intervene “in the interests of peace”: “ The Soviet government, striving for the quickest possible restoration of peace, issued a declaration of war.”47
The offensive operation by Soviet armies in August 1945 was truly a lightning war. “ The forward battalions, accompanied by border guards, silently crossed the border without opening fire, and before the Japanese defenders had time to occupy them, took control of long-term enemy defense structures in a series of locations.” 48 In just the first day, the 6th Tank Guards Army completed a thrust of 150 kilometers. The advance took place in extremely difficult conditions. Manchurian summers were extremely rainy, especially in August. Rivers overflowed, and fields and roads turned into impassable swamps. The troops of the 1st and 2nd Far Eastern Fronts had to cross the Amur River, one of the largest rivers on the planet. It stretched 2,850 kilometers in length. In August 1945, the Amur’s water levels were four meters higher than usual and flooded thousands of square kilometers. The rivers that flowed into the Amur, among them the Ussuri and the Sungari, also overflowed.
The Trans-Baikal Front faced an entirely different situation — the tank columns advanced through waterless steppes in thick clouds of dust. The temperature was 30 degrees Celsius, sometimes even higher. Ahead, the troops had to overcome the Great Khingan Range, behind which unfolded a territory of rice fields completely unfamiliar to the Soviet soldiers.
It is claimed that the Japanese troops put up weak or no resistance. That is not true. The Japanese soldiers were the most tenacious in the world. They did not yet know about the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; the Japanese government was in no hurry to tell the troops about the catastrophe. The Japanese resistance stopped only after the troops received orders to capitulate. Before these orders came in, the Japanese fought to the death. But their tenacity was met with maneuvers. The territories fought over were huge, and Soviet troops simply bypassed the points of resistance, without engaging in prolonged combat.
Soviet troops did the impossible. The 6th Tank Guards Army overcame the Great Khingan Range, reached the open areas, and completed an incredible advance toward the Yellow Sea. In eleven days, with battles, its troops covered 810 kilometers. Assault units and paratroops operated ahead of them, taking air bases, bridges, and ferries. Here is a list of just some of the cities around which paratroops were landed successfully: Kharbin, Chongjin, Port-Artur, Mukden, Pyongyang, and Khynnam. e masters of blitzkrieg, German generals, gave high marks to the actions of the 6th Tank Guards Army and other Soviet troops. Major General F. W. von Mellentin recounted: “To illustrate the growing flexibility of the Red Army’s military actions and its capacity to successfully conduct broad and decisive tank operations, I want to point to Marshal Malinovsky’s sensational advance into Manchuria in August 1945.”49
Von Mellentin continued to say:
Supplying one and a half million advancing troops was quite a formidable task. “ The restoring of railroads, with the changing of the gauge to the Soviet standard, was done on the 1st Far Eastern Front at an average rate of seventy-one kilometers per day. This was achieved through the innovativeness of the railroad workers. They were included in the air assault troops and frontline units, so they were able to take over railroad connections and immediately organize the local population to repair the tracks and change the gauges.”51
Officially, the Soviet military campaign in the Far East lasted twenty-four days, but battles only took place for twelve days. Not even two weeks had passed before a massive surrender of the Japanese troops began. Japanese losses numbered 84,000 killed and 594,000 taken prisoner. Among the prisoners were 148 Japanese generals. Unbelievable trophies were captured.
The results of the operation were enviable. The United States had fought against Japan for almost four years, and what did it receive? The Soviet Union fought against Japan for twelve days, and all of China, North Korea, and North Vietnam fell under the Soviet Union’s control. Vasilevsky happily reported:
We will bury you!
The Soviet Union entered World War II as an aggressor. Poland, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania — all the western neighbors of the Soviet Union — fell victim to the Red Army. During talks in Berlin, Stalin’s envoy Molotov demanded strongholds in Yugoslavia, in the Adriatic Sea, in Greece, in the Bosporus and Dardanelles, in the Persian Gulf; he demanded that countries south of the Baku-Batumi line, in the direction of the Persian Gulf, be given over to Soviet control, including eastern Turkey, northern Iran, and Iraq. He also declared the Soviet Union’s interest in southern Bukovina.1 Molotov constantly asked Hitler and Ribbentrop whether Germany had reconsidered its position on the fate of Finland, seeing that the Soviet Union was not going to let that country be independent. Finally, Stalin’s major demand at the Berlin talks in November 1940 was for Germany to acquiesce to a Soviet military presence in Bulgaria. Molotov added, in a conversation with Hitler, that “the USSR was ready to support Bulgaria in its desire for an outlet to the Aegean Sea, and considered said desire to be just.”2 Stalin never specified which countries his puppet Bulgaria would have to invade to reach this outlet — Greece, Turkey, or both. In reality, the Germans took Greece and gave the go-ahead for Bulgaria to annex a part of the Greek territory — western Thrace and eastern Macedonia, thus reaching the Aegean Sea. But it was Stalin who wanted to give this go-ahead.
The Soviet Union finished World War II as an aggressor as well. It was the only country that expanded its borders as a result of World War II. Stalin annexed Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, northern Bukovina, western Ukraine, and western Byelorussia, as well as parts of eastern Prussia with Koenigsberg, Trans-Carpathian Ukraine, the Kuril Islands, South Sakhalin, and Bessarabia.3 Under the banner of the “great patriotic war,” Stalin punished entire peoples and nations. On Stalin’s orders, all the Chechens, Ingushes, Crimean Tatars, Volga Germans, and other peoples were transported to empty frozen fields or waterless, lifeless steppes, and abandoned there to die. It is interesting to note that the Kalmyks, who already lived on the steppes, were not relocated further into their depths but into the Siberian taiga. Stalin controlled the fates of entire peoples, not only on the territory of the Soviet Union but also in nearby countries. Stalin relocated millions of Germans from Prussia, Silesia, and Sudet.
When the Nazi leaders went on trial in Nuremberg, Hitler’s concentration camps in Buchenwald, Saksenhausen, Mulberg, Furstenwalde, Liebe-Roze, Bautzen, and others were not shut down. These concentration camps were simply taken out of the SS system and incorporated into the system of the GULAG. Thus, for example, the Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald was transformed into “Special camp #2,” which remained operational until 1950. Of the 28,000 people imprisoned there in those five years, seven thousand (25 percent) died. In comparison, from 1937 to 1945, 250,000 people went through the Nazi Buchenwald. Of that number, 50,000 (20 percent) died. The Communist Buchenwald had a higher death rate.
The Red Army came to Central Europe with the supposedly noble goal of liberating it from the Nazis, but it left only after establishing puppet governments in most of those countries. Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, part of Austria, and Albania were forced under Stalin’s control, as well as China, North Korea, and Vietnam in Asia. On July 22, 1945, the Soviet delegation suggested that the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain separately or jointly oversee the former Italian colonies in Africa and the Mediterranean.4 On July 23, Stalin demanded the right to create Soviet military naval bases in the Black Sea region, in the straits of Bosporus and Dardanelles.5 He also wanted parts of Turkey — the Kars and Ardagan regions — to belong to the Soviet Union.6 Stalin tried to take control of West Berlin by strangling it through a blockade. Soviet agents appeared in France, Italy, and Greece. The NATO military alliance was formed with the clear goal of preventing Stalin’s troops from occupying Greece and Turkey. Stalin declared northern Iran to be a part of Azerbaijan, and right until the end of his life never gave up trying to take control of this province. Stalin set up the People’s Democratic Republic of Southern Azerbaijan, and the Kurdish People’s Democratic Republic, respectively in northern and western Iran.
In 1945, tens of millions of square kilometers of territory, occupied by millions of people, lay at Stalin’s feet. But Stalin at that time did not have the resources to control all his conquests. On June 22, 1941, Hitler dealt a lethal blow to the Soviet Union. The best part of the male population of the Soviet Union perished in the war against Germany. After the war, the USSR was supposed to have conducted a population census and calculated its war losses. But Stalin did not conduct a census. It was only conducted fourteen years after the war, when Stalin was dead. “ The decision not to count all the citizens until 1959 was founded on a desire not to draw attention to the huge unjustified human losses during the war period.”7
During the last year of the war, the Red Army had to recruit underage boys, without saying how many years they would have to serve. They were kept in the army for seven to eight years. Otherwise, there would have been nobody left to serve in the gigantic army, which controlled almost half the globe. Those seven to eight years lasted until Stalin’s death. If he had lived longer, these soldiers would have been kept in the army for fifteen years, or even more.
World War II opened unlimited opportunities for Stalin to spread Communism throughout the world, but there was nobody left in the Soviet Union to reap the crops in the fields. Famine broke out in the country in 1946 and 1947. One soldier was quoted as saying: “In this awful regiment, we were awfully hungry. Our rations were very small, plus they somehow managed to rob us.”8 The army, which the government was supposed to feed, starved. The people, whom the government was under no obligation to feed, starved as well. The famine of 1946 and 1947 claimed the lives of about a million people. Stalin had sentenced Europe to death, but he could not carry out the execution.
Hitler, according to Stalin’s plans, was supposed to crush Europe, and then Stalin, with a surprise attack, would “liberate” it from Hitler. In the name of that goal, German tankers and pilots were trained in the Soviet Union, and Stalin brought Hitler to power. But Hitler ruined Stalin’s plan.
Some people did not even notice that the Soviet Union lost World War II. Where was Stalin’s great victorious country? The Soviet Union was created for war and conquest. It was not adapted for peacetime. It could either spread over the entire planet and kill off all normal life, or die. Stalin did not succeed in taking over the world, and this meant another war or the end of the Soviet Union in the near future. The Soviet Union was preparing itself for a new war, World War III. It concentrated all its strength and resources in preparing for a new war, and it was crushed in 1991 by the burden of its military expenditures.
Stalin Was a War Criminal
Stalin was a war criminal who should have been tried at Nuremberg in 1946 along with the German deputy Fuehrer, Rudolf Hess — so argued Hess’s defense lawyer, Dr. Alfred Seidl, who opened the defense for Hess on March 22, 1946. Through a secret protocol, Hitler and Stalin had conspired to divide up between them countries conquered by their armies. Hitler was dead, but Stalin, according to the mandate of the Allied Military Tribunal, should have been indicted. The charges against him should have been similar to those against Hess, said Hess’s lawyer.
Hess was charged with:
Since Hess had flown to England in May of 1941, and had been taken prisoner by the British a month before Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, Dr. Seidl was confident he could gain an acquittal on the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Since Hess was in captivity in England he could have had no part in the atrocities against the Jews. The first two charges would be more diffcult to refute since Hess, as Hitler’s deputy, had discussed with the Fuehrer the events that led to war, and until May 1941 Hess had agreed with all of Hitler’s decisions.
In Hess: The Man and His Mission (London: David Bruce and Watson, 1970), the Czech-born journalist, diplomat, and writer J. Bernard Hutton described how Dr. Seidl learned of the secret protocol to the Hitler-Stalin pact signed by Soviet foreign minister Vacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, which implicated Stalin in war crimes. After a long and frustrating interview with Hess, who insisted he did not want to defend himself with a lawyer, Dr. Seidl was preparing to leave the prison. In the prison yard he overheard Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering and Von Ribbentrop talking. Von Ribbentrop offered an astonishing piece of information to Goering. He said that when he visited Moscow in August 1939 to arrange the German-Soviet treaty with Molotov, he had also signed a secret treaty which was not made public. Von Ribbentrop told Goering: “ This secret agreement defined spheres of interest in the event of any war.”
The two foreign ministers had drawn a line upon a map along the Vistula and the Bug, the two rivers that divide Poland. They had agreed that, should war come, the territory to the west of the two rivers should become a German sphere of interest, and the territory to the east would be under Soviet control. The Soviet sphere included Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the eastern part of Poland, and certain areas of Romania. Von Ribbentrop also told Goering that the Russians had assured him, since his arrest, that it would be made easier for him if he did not talk about this secret agreement in court. Stalin clearly wanted to keep his secret pact with Hitler — to carve up and share Poland and the Baltic states — from being made public at a time when the Russians were part of an international military court passing sentence on war crimes that included conspiracy to wage aggressive war and crimes against peace.
Dr. Seidl realized at once the significance of this secret pact to his client. After the military action of Germany and the Soviet Union against Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia in June 1940, both Germany and the Soviet Union had denied that any political agreement existed, apart from the German-Soviet treaty concerning boundaries, which was concluded on August 23, 1939. It followed that if Dr. Seidl could prove such a secret plan did exist then Stalin and the Soviet Union were as guilty of waging aggressive war as any of the Nazis in the dock. Dr. Seidl would be able to argue that his client should be found not guilty or else Stalin and other Kremlin men should join him in the dock,