Why Stalin Did Not Trust Churchill
1940 and the German invasion of the Soviet Union a year later, an interesting
correspondence took place between Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin. The
letters which the embattled British leader addressed to the Soviet head of
state have assumed an almost legendary quality, and are known to history as
‘Churchill’s Warning’. It is widely believed that in these letters Churchill
warned Stalin of the impending German attack on the
should be asking, why should Stalin have
trusted Churchill? After all, Churchill had been an implacable opponent of
communism since 1918, when he had proposed an alliance with
One must also
bear in mind the political background to World War II.
Stalin and Molotov won the diplomatic war of the 1930s. With the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Stalin gave the green light for World War II, of which he remained a ‘neutral’ observer, while training a million parachutists as a contingency against ‘any surprises’.
Both the German
General Staff and Hitler himself understood that a war on two fronts would be catastrophic
problem facing German strategy was to prevent war breaking out on a second
front. As long as the Germans were fighting on one front only, they won
brilliant victories. Speaking at a meeting with High Command staff of the
German armed forces on
that someone had told you in 1940 that Hitler intended to renounce that great
principle of strategy, and instead of concentration
was preparing to disperse his forces. Someone keeps on whispering in your ear
that Hitler quite intentionally wants to repeat the biggest mistake
If Soviet Military Intelligence had reported anything like this, I should have advised General Golikov, the head of the GRU, to give up his post, go back to his academy and make another study of the reasons for the German defeat in World War I. If some neutral person from outside had told me about this suicidal war, I should have replied that Hitler was not an idiot, but that you, dear friend, certainly are one if you think that Hitler will begin a war on two fronts of his own free will.
Churchill was more interested than anyone else in the world in Hitler having not one, but two fronts. In such a situation, Churchill had too great a vested interest for Stalin to believe what he said.
Apart from the purely strategic and political situations, account must also be taken of the environment in which Churchill wrote his messages and Stalin read them.
It was in this
environment that Churchill wrote to Stalin on 25 June. On 30 June, the German
armed forces captured
Churchill’s message the day after
Churchill’s interest lie, one may ask? Did he want to save the dictatorship in
several letters to Stalin. But unluckily they all reached Stalin at times when
Churchill was in great difficulties. The best-known letter in this series
reached Stalin on
Stalin might have suspected not only Churchill’s motives, but also his sources of information. Churchill wrote the letters in June 1940. Why did Churchill not send similar letters to the French government and to his own troops on the Continent in May of that year?
written to Stalin in April 1941, a month after the German armed forces executed
a brilliant operation to capture
Finally, there is a more serious reason why Stalin did not trust Churchill’s ‘warnings’: contrary to popular belief, Churchill was not warning Stalin about a German invasion.
has done much to build up the myth about Churchill’s ‘warnings’. Khrushchev
used to quote Churchill’s message of
have received reliable information from a trustworthy source that the Germans,
after deciding that
sources publish Churchill’s message in this form, insisting and assuring that
it was a ‘warning’. I personally see no warning here. Churchill is talking
about three tank divisions. This is many by Churchill’s standards. By Stalin’s,
it is not a great deal. Stalin himself at the time was secretly setting up 63
tank divisions, each one of which was stronger than a German division both in
number and quality of tanks. If we consider that a report about three tank
divisions amounted to a ‘warning’ that aggression was in preparation, we need
not in that case accuse Hitler of aggressive intentions. German intelligence
had already submitted reports to Hitler about dozens of Soviet tank divisions
which were grouping on the borders of
suggested that Stalin assess ‘the significance of these facts’. How could they
Had Stalin been
preparing himself for defence, and had he believed
Churchill’s ‘warning’, he should have heaved a sigh of relies and relaxed his
military preparations. In addition, Churchill gave the reason why the German
troops were staying in
When Stalin got
into a critical situation in the war, he too sent similar messages to Churchill
We are not
justified in regarding Churchill’s letters as a warning. Churchill wrote his
first long letter to Stalin on
Liddell-Hart, the prominent 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 refers, Hitler
repeatedly told his generals that
sufficient grounds for not trusting Churchill. But even Stalin must have
understood that had
from Stalin’s answer that he intended to live in peace while patiently waiting
But Stalin did not pass the original memorandum to Hitler, only a carefully edited copy in which a mass of unnecessary detail was retained, but key sentences were completely altered. When the diplomatic veneer is stripped away, this is what the document was telling Hitler:
‘Adolf, fight, and don’t worry about your rear. Advance and don’t look back, you have behind you your good friend Josef Stalin who only wants peace and who will never attack you under any circumstances.
been negotiations here in
Could the sweet
siren songs from the Kremlin be believed? Many historians do believe them. But
Hitler did not, and after thinking long and hard about the ‘copy’ of Stalin’s
conversation with Cripps, he issued the order on
irremediable mistake was made, not on
that war on two fronts would be suicide for Hitler. Stalin calculated that
Hitler would not commit suicide, and that he would not begin a war in the east
without having first ended the war in the west. Stalin was patiently waiting
for the German tank corps to land in
succeeded in convincing Hitler that the
Has anyone in
history ever been in such a favourable position to ‘liberate’
guessed Stalin’s design. That was why World War II ended catastrophically for
Stalin. He only got half of
One final question. If Churchill did not warn Stalin that an invasion was being prepared, why do the communists hold on so tenaciously to the legend that he did? To show to the Soviet people that Churchill was a good man? Or to prove that the Western leaders were to be trusted? It was not, of course, for either purpose.
The communists need the legend of Churchill’s warnings to justify their own preparations for war. The ‘warnings’ bolster the orthodox view that the ‘big plan’ for which such elaborate preparations had been made was simply intended to forestall German aggression. ‘We knew that Hitler was going to attack,’ they say. It was Churchill who warned us . . .’
Why Stalin Did Not Trust Richard Sorge
Stalin prepared himself very seriously for war. He showed particular concern for Soviet military intelligence which is known today as the GRU. It is sufficient to read through the list of all the GRU chiefs since the institution was set up prior to 1940 to appreciate Stalin’s touching concern for his valiant intelligence officers:
Aralov — arrested, spent several years under investigation, in which ‘measures of physical coercion’ were used
Stigga — liquidated
Nikonov — liquidated
Berzin — liquidated
Unshlikht — liquidated
Uritsky — liquidated
Yezhov — liquidated
Proskurov — liquidated
It goes without saying that when the military intelligence chiefs were liquidated, their first deputies, their deputies, advisers and directors of their services boards and departments were liquidated as well. And when the heads of departments were liquidated, a shadow invariably fell over the executive officers and agents whom they were directing. The liquidation of the heads of military intelligence, therefore, meant the liquidation of the entire military intelligence.
It is said that this regular blood-letting had disastrous consequences for the intelligence service. This was not the case. Before, during and after World War II, the GRU was, and remains, the most powerful and effective intelligence service in the world. The GRU produces less secret information than its great opponent and competitor, the Ch.K. or KGB (the Soviet secret police), but the quality of its information is considerably higher. The constant purging in no way weakened the power of Soviet military intelligence. On the contrary, as each generation succeeded its predecessor, it became more aggressive. This succession of generations is like the way in which a shark renews its teeth. The new teeth appear in complete rows, forcing out the old ones, while more and more rows of new teeth can already be seen behind them. The bigger the creature grows, the more teeth it has; the more often they are replaced, the longer and sharper they become.
Intelligence officers who were by Soviet standards innocent, frequently, indeed very frequently, perished in the rapid succession of generations. Strangely, however, the Soviet shark never ended up toothless because of it. Hitler exterminated a large number of ardent Nazis who belonged to the SA, one of the great mass Nazi organizations, without weakening his regime in any way.
The difference between Hitler and Stalin was that Stalin took his preparations for war very seriously. Stalin arranged nights of the long knives not just against his own communist storm-troopers, but against generals, marshals, designers and intelligence officers. Stalin believed that it was very important to accept briefcases crammed full of documents from his intelligence service. But he considered it even more important not to accept a briefcase from his intelligence service with a bomb in it. His thinking on this proceeded not only from considerations of his own personal safety, but from considerations of the state as well. The stability of the leadership in critical situations is one of the most vital factors in the preparations which any state makes for war.
Nobody ever pushed a bomb under Stalin’s desk at a critical moment, and it was not just chance that this never happened. Through his sustained, single-minded terror against the GRU, Stalin not only obtained secret intelligence of high quality, but also guaranteed the supreme leadership of the country against ‘unexpected events of all kinds’ at times of crisis.
was a spy from the row of teeth which Stalin, as a precaution, ordered to be
pulled out on
January 1940: I am grateful for your greetings and wishes about my leave. If I go on leave however it will immediately reduce the information.
May 1940: 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.
October 1940: May I count on coming home after the end of the war?
This is a very odd correspondence. Every intelligence officer knows that he will be allowed to return home after a war. Yet Sorge puts the question again and again, listing the numerous services he has rendered to the Soviet regime. Every transmission in unbroken code from his clandestine radio station put Sorge’s entire espionage organization at risk. Had his radio station – intended for agent-running and top-secret codes – really been created to enable Sorge to ask such questions?
A multitude of
books and articles have been written about Sorge in the
But the explanation
was quite simple. While all this was going on, Yan Berzin, the brilliant chief
of Soviet military intelligence who had recruited Richard Sorge, was liquidated
after suffering appalling torture. Solomon Uritsky, another GRU chief who had
personally given Sorge his instructions, was also liquidated. Gorev, the Soviet
illegal resident who had fixed Sorge’s passage from
received the order to come back on leave. Soviet sources do not conceal the
fact that ‘Sorge refused to travel to the
Not wishing to return to a certain death, Sorge continued to work for the communists, but now no longer in the role of a secret collaborator (seksot for short), but rather as an amateur informer, for his own satisfaction. Sorge had calculated carefully; I shan’t go now, but after the war they will understand that I spoke only the truth. They can pardon, and appreciate. That was why he was paying agents out of his own pocket, and why there were no couriers speeding towards him. The centre did not lose contact with him until the end. It accepted his telegrams, but apparently only to reply ‘Come home, come home, come home.’ To which Ramsay replied ‘Too busy, too busy, too busy . . .’
Stalin, therefore, did not trust Richard Sorge because he was a defector, with at least two capital sentences hanging over his head. One was due to his co-workers, who had denounced him in 1938 and put his name on the ‘general list’. The other was added later for malicious defection. Comrade Sorge himself did not greatly trust Comrade Stalin, which is why he would not go back. How could Comrade Stalin trust someone who did not trust him?
made up 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
that it had already become impossible to conceal his preparations to invade the
If Sorge’s telegram of 11 April (and other telegrams like it) were to be believed, there was no need to worry. The war in the west would continue, alternately dying down and flaring up with new force. But when the end of that war came, it would be obvious. It would then be possible to concentrate all the efforts of the German war machine on the east. In other words, said Sorge, Hitler intended to fight on one front only.
The GRU did not
need Sorge to tell them this. After making a profound study of all the
economic, political and military aspects of the situation, the GRU drew two
conclusions: firstly, that
Even before Sorge’s ‘warnings’, Lieutenant-General Filip Ivanovich Golikov, the new head of the GRU, submitted a detailed report to Stalin on 20 March 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 honourable peace for Germany has been concluded with her’.
But Stalin knew
this simple truth without Golikov having to tell him. That is why Stalin
replied to Churchill’s letter of
whom Stalin had driven into a strategic impasse with the Molotov–Ribbentrop
Pact, suddenly realized that he had nothing to lose and that inevitably
Later, on 15 June, Sorge correctly named the date of the German invasion as 22 June. But which Richard Sorge was to be believed? The one who said that Hitler would not fight on two fronts, or the one who said he would? Sorge’s two reports cancel each other out. That apart, Sorge’s reports were only reports. The GRU, quite rightly, does not believe any reports; what it requires is reports with proof.
Sorge was a
great intelligence officer, and fully deserved his posthumously-awarded title
of Hero of the
Sorge is widely
known to have told Stalin in autumn 1941 that
What is less
well known is the reason why Stalin believed Sorge on this occasion: he
believed him because Sorge gave him proof. Soviet historians prefer to pass
over this proof in silence, and that is understandable. If Sorge said that
As he followed
his GRU brief, Sorge did not just sorecast events. He directed them on a number
of occasions. In August 1951 the United States Congress was examining the Sorge
affair. In the course of the hearings it was proved beyond all shadow of doubt
that, through the person of ‘Ramsay’, its illegal resident in
Intelligence is the most thankless work in the world. It is the ones who fail who become famous, the ones who get hanged — like Sorge, for example. Stalin also had military intelligence officers whose achievements were truly outstanding; but, precisely because they were so successful, they remain entirely 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. Gretchko, ‘eleven days after Hitler accepted the final plan for the war against the Soviet Union (18 December 1940), this fact and the basic details of the decision taken by the German High Command became known to our intelligence organs’. (VIZH 1966, No. 6, p. 8)
We shall probably never learn the name of the great intelligence officer who performed this feat. It cannot be excluded that it was the same GRU resident who obtained the plan for Operation Citadel in 1943. But that is only my suggestion.
In December 1940,
Lieutenant-General F. I. Golikov, the GRU chief, reported to Stalin that he had
confirmed reports which indicated that Hitler had decided to fight on two
fronts, that is, to attack the
This highly important document was discussed in Stalin’s presence in early January in a very restricted circle in the Soviet High Command. Stalin did not believe it, saying that any document could be forged. Stalin demanded of Golikov that he organize Soviet military intelligence in such a way that it would know at any moment whether Hitler was really preparing for war or just blusfing. 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 could 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.
Politburo meeting held on
Some ten to
twelve hours after he had said this, Operation Barbarossa began. What did
Stalin do to Golikov? Do not fear, it was nothing bad.
On 8 July Stalin entrusted Golikov with a trip to
continued to rise in rank after Stalin died, and eventually became a Marshal of
Is one recalls what happened to all his predecessors, to whom nothing resembling a German invasion ever happened, and compares their fate with what happened to Golikov, then one’s bewilderment knows no bounds. The mystery of Golikov had been worrying me personally for a long time when I found the answer I was seeking in the Academy of the GRU. Later, when I was working in the central organization of the GRU, I found confirmation of this answer.
Golikov used to
report to Stalin that Hitler was not preparing for war against the
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
of these cloths were sent across the frontier, wrapped around various iron
implements, so as not to arouse suspicion. Should any complications have
arisen, the police would concentrate their attention on the inoffensive iron
object, but not on the dirty cloth in which it was wrapped. In addition,
considerably larger amounts than usual of kerosene lamps, gas stoves, primus
stoves, lamps and lighters were sent across the border by both legal and
illegal means. All this was analysed by hundreds of Soviet experts, and the
results reported immediately to Golikov. He immediately informed Stalin that
Hitler had not yet begun his preparations to invade the
good grounds for believing that very serious preparation was required for a war
calculated that, if the German Army was going to fight in the
The GRU had
many other ploys like these which would have served as warning signals. They
proved useless for the simple reason that Hitler set Operation Barbarossa in
motion without making any preparations at all. Why Hitler acted like this will
surely remain a mystery. The German Army was built for war in western Europe, but Hitler did nothing to prepare his army
for war in
Stalin therefore had no reason to punish Golikov, who had done everything humanly possible to discover German preparations for an invasion. He told Stalin that no preparations were taking place, and this was the simple truth. There had only been a great build-up of German troops. Golikov gave instructions that not all German divisions should be targets of attention, but only those which were ready to invade; those divisions, that is, which each had 15,000 sheepskin coats in its storage depots. There were simply no such divisions ready for war throughout the entire Wehrmacht. Golikov could hardly be blamed for not seeing any preparations for invasion when no serious preparations existed.
How Hitler Frustrated Stalin’s War
We have been “idly prepared for an aggressive war. It was not our fault that we were not the ones to carry out the aggression.
Major-General P. GRIGORENKO (Memoirs: ‘Dentinez’, New York 1981, p. 138)
Alfred Jodl, the main author of the German military plans, adopted the same
stance. The Soviet investigators did their best to force Keitel and Jodl out of
their postures, but did not succeed. Keitel and Jodi did not change their
testimony and, along with the principal war criminals, were sentenced to be
hanged by the international tribunal at
Twenty years went by and new evidence appeared. Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union N. G. Kuznetsov was, in 1941, an admiral, People’s Commissar for the Navy, member of the Central Committee of the Party, member of Stavka from the time it was set up. In the 196os, he shed some startling new light on the matter:
me there is one thing beyond all argument — J. V. Stalin not only did not
exclude the possibility of war with Hitler’s
The admiral is
telling us quite clearly and openly that Stalin considered war inevitable and
prepared himself seriously to enter it at a time of his own choosing. In other
words, Stalin was preparing to strike the first blow, that is to commit
Admiral Kuznetsov is a witness of the highest rank. In 1941, he was even more highly placed in the Soviet military-political hierarchy than Zhukov. Kuznetsov was a People’s Commissar; Zhukov was a deputy People’s Commissar. Kuznetsov was a member of the Central Committee; Zhukov was only a candidate member. Not one of those who have written their memoirs was as highly placed as Kuznetsov in 1941, and no one was closer to Stalin than he.
says after the war, incidentally, is in full accord with what he said before
the war, for instance at the 18th Party Congress in 1939. This was the Congress
which marked out a new path: to reduce the terror inside the country and to
transfer it to the
Everything which Kuznetsov said openly had been said many years before by Stalin in his secret speeches. Everything which Kuznetsov said has been borne out by what the Red Army and Fleet actually did. Finally, Admiral Kuznetsov has to be believed in this case, because his book has been read by all friends and enemies alike; it has been read by political and military leaders in the Soviet Union; it has been read by marshals, diplomats, historians, generals and admirals; it has been read by paid friends of the Soviet Union abroad, and nobody has ever tried to deny Kuznetsov’s words.
Let us compare
Keitel’s words with those of Kuznetsov. Field-Marshal Keitel said that
Soviet marshals and generals do not hide their intentions. General S. P. Ivanov, Chief of the General Staff Academy of the Armed Forces of the USSR, along with a group of leading Soviet historians, wrote a scientific paper entitled The Initial Period of War (Nachal’nyi Period Voiny, Moscow Voenizdat 1974), in which he not only admits that Hitler launched a preventive attack, but also puts a time to it: ‘the Nazi command succeeded in forestalling our troops literally in the last two weeks before the war began’. (p. 212)
declaration of Soviet intentions in 1941 can be found in the Military
Historical Journal (VIZH 1984,
No. 4) The journal is the official publication of the
Soviet Ministry of Defence, and cannot be published without the stamp of the
Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff. (At the time these
were, respectively, Marshals of the Soviet Union S. Sokolov and
Had the Red Army been preparing for defence or even a counter-attack, it would have been no simple matter to disrupt its plans. Quite the contrary, for a German invasion would have served as a signal to Soviet troops to act according to plans which had already been drawn up. Only if the Red Army had intended to attack could the German invasion have disrupted its plans. Soviet troops would then be compelled to defend themselves, that is to improvise, and act in a situation which had not been envisaged.
several decades later, can we evaluate the report on its merits. We now know
that a decoy command post had
been built in
important bodies were located nearby, not in
I found no mention
in pre-war German archives of
If German intelligence obtained a false report about Soviet government intentions, it meant that the Soviet government itself must have been trying to conceal something at the time. It is not difficult to guess what. If the Soviet leaders were spreading false information about their intention to move eastwards, it meant without any doubt that they were going to do the opposite.
The subtlety was that, in addition to the powerful Zhiguli command post, whose location was difficult though not impossible to establish, there was another government command post. It was a railway train. In the event of war, this command post, under cover of several armoured trains of the NKVD and accompanied by three trains belonging to the People’s Commissariat for Communications, could go at any time to any area where hostilities were in progress. This capability to move alongside an area where the main events of the war were taking place was reflected in the name of the train — the PGKP, or Main Forward Command Post. Several carefully hidden, camouflaged stations were built expressly for this command post. Government telegraph lines were led into these stations before the war, and all the trains had to do was to plug into them with their own communications equipment.
There is no need to explain that the mobile command post was intended for an offensive war; in a situation where the troops are rapidly pressing forward, the command, with its cumbersome paraphernalia of control and communications, must keep up with them. In a defensive war, on the other hand, it is simpler, more reliable and safer to exercise direction from an office in the Kremlin, from an underground station in the Moscow Metro, or even from the tunnels of Zhiguli.
Were we to
gather up all available snippets of information and put them together, we
should be able to conclude with a fair degree of certainty that a very
high-calibre command post had been established, or must have been established
nearer to Vilnius, on the Minsk—Vilnius main railway line. Several days after
the German leads received their ‘secret’ report about the Soviet government’s
transfer eastwards, the Soviet government began its secret move towards the
Soviet western frontier near
Every military man knows how a large headquarters is moved in exercises or in a combat situation. The operations branch selects the site for the future headquarters, the senior commander approves the site and then authorizes the move there. The forest where the headquarters will be located is cordoned off, in order to keep out unauthorized persons. Then sappers and signallers appear to build shelters and a communications system. Then the head of communications turns up and personally checks that the communications are sunctioning reliably. Finally, when that has been done, the headquarters itself arrives. All its officers have to do is to plug in their telephones and enciphering machines.
In 1941, the Red Army was functioning like a single well-oiled machine. Dozens of officers in charge of signals in rifle and mechanized corps appeared in the forests near the border. The secret deployment of the command posts of these corps followed in their wake. Immediately after this, the signals chiefs of the armies turned up in other forests. Their appearance was a sign that army headquarters would shortly arrive. Sure enough, the headquarters did indeed turn up. It was exactly on the day that the TASS report was published that the signals chiefs of the fronts appeared in secluded corners of these prohibited, well guarded woods. After the communications had been checked, the front headquarters secretly moved their columns to their new positions.
The moment then
arrived for the most important signals chief of all to appear, 150 kilometres
from the East Prussian frontier. I. T. Peresypkin, People’s Commissar for
Communications, secretly moved to
Commissar for Communications went to the East Prussian frontier in such a way
that no one could know about it. He travelled in an ordinary train running to
the regular timetable but with an additional special wagon, for Peresypkin and
his deputy, coupled on to it. The journey of the People’s Commissar for
Communications was a total secret. He even received encoded messages from
Peresypkin’s own account of his journey is revealing:
on the eve of war, J. V. Stalin sent me to the Baltic republics. I somehow
mentally linked this crucial mission with approaching military events. On the
On the morning
of 22 June, while he was at the Orsha railway station, Peresypkin received a
Peresypkin was travelling on a railway system which not only had been completely turned over to the military, but which had been ordered a few days before to place itself on a war footing and to be ready to work under conditions of war. (V. Anfilov, Bessmertnyi Podvig, 1971, p. 184) Having been ordered to take with him ‘only what is necessary for life and battle’, Peresypkin went to an area where troops were being secretly concentrated in vast numbers on the frontier, and where a government command post was being secretly set up. Travelling on Stalin’s personal orders, Peresypkin knew that his journey ‘was connected with approaching military events’.
But as soon as
Hitler attacked, Peresypkin abandoned his secret railway wagon and rushed back
It had been planned that leading figures in the People’s Commissariat for Defence, the NKVD, the People’s Commissariat for State Control, and other important Soviet governing bodies, should move into the western areas that same night, travelling along the same Moscow—Minsk railway line. The purpose of that journey was war. Among the leaders of the Stalinist empire who were getting ready that night to make the secret journey to the western borders were the People’s Commissar for the Interior, candidate member of the Politburo and Commissar General for State Security, L. P. Beria; member of the Central Committee, People’s Commissar for State Control, Grade I Army Commissar L. Z. Mekhlis; and candidate member of the Central Committee, People’s Commissar for Defence, Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Timoshenko. It cannot be excluded that even Stalin was also preparing himself to make that secret journey westwards.
Mixed groups were then formed consisting of the most senior executives from those People’s Commissariats which would be most important in wartime. Each of these groups was then allotted to a leader. By the morning of 21 June the formation of these operational groups was completed, and all their members knew that they were going to war.
Surprisingly, however, nobody, including the group leaders then sitting in the Kremlin, even suspected that a German invasion was then in preparation. Even more surprisingly, when reports that an invasion was under way came flooding in that evening, the top Soviet leaders refused to believe them. Then directives and shouts down the telephone poured out to the frontier from the Kremlin, from the People’s Commissariat for Defence, and from the General Staff: ‘Don’t give in to provocation!’
If the Soviet leaders did not believe that a German invasion was possible, for what war were they preparing themselves? There can be only one answer. They were preparing themselves for a war which would begin without the German invasion.
The groups who were to accompany the leaders spent many weary hours waiting before being told at in the morning of 22 June that their trains to the western frontier had been cancelled, since Hitler had started the war. Is it had been the intention of the Soviet leaders to travel to the western borders to man the secret command posts in order to contain a German invasion, they would have hurried westwards as soon as they had received a signal that such an invasion had begun. Instead, they cancelled their trains which were to have taken them to war. They were ready to turn up on the frontier and direct a war, but one which began as part of a Soviet scenario, and not a German one. Hitler deprived them of this satisfaction.
Sometimes they would ask me, ‘When did you leave for the war?’
‘Twenty first of June.’
it was like this . . . In the morning I was called into the People’s
Commissariat for Defence and told that a group of officials from the
Commissariat headed by Marshal S. K. Timoshenko was leaving for
Germans have started the war. Our trip to
where the legend has come from that on
Did Stalin Have a War Plan?
Since Stalin never explained or expounded his points of view or his plans, many people thought that he did not have any. This was a typical error made by talkative intellectuals.
ROBERT CONQUEST (The Great Terror)
‘Strategic defence was an involuntary form of combat operations, it had not been planned beforehand.’ That is what the Soviet military textbooks say. We do not need the text-books, though, to tell us that in the summer of 1941, the Red Army’s defensive operations were pure improvisation. Before the war, the Red Army had not been preparing itself for defence, nor had it ever held any exercises to practise defensive subjects. Soviet regulations contain not one word about defence on a strategic scale. Even in the purely theoretical field, problems of how to conduct defensive operations had never been worked out. What is more, neither the Soviet people nor its army had even been prepared psychologically for defence. People and army alike had been trained to do defensive things by using offensive methods: ‘It is precisely the interests of defence which demand that the USSR should conduct extensive offensive operations on enemy territory, and this in no way contradicts the nature of a defensive war.’ (Pravda, 19 August 1939)
In the first hours following the beginning of the German invasion, the Red Army kept on trying to go over to the offensive. Modern textbooks call what the Red Army was doing counter-strikes and counter-offensives. But it was pure improvisation. The problem of counter-strikes had never been worked through in any pre-war exercises, nor indeed had it ever been considered in theoretical terms: ‘the subject of counter-offensive . . . had never been raised before the Great Motherland War’. (IVOSS (the official history of the ‘Great Patriotic War’), Vol. 1, p. 441)
Before the war, therefore, Soviet military staffs did not work out any plans for defence, nor did they work out any for a counter-offensive either. Yet they were working very hard on war plans. According to Marshal of the Soviet Union A. M. Vasilevsky, in the year preceding the war, the officers and generals of the General Staff, the headquarters of the Military Districts and the naval fleets were working fifteen to seventeen hours a day, with no holidays or days off. Marshals Bagramyan and Sokolovsky, Generals Shtemenko, Kurasov, Malandin and many others say the same thing. General Anisov reportedly worked a 20-hour day, and the same was said of General Smorodinov.
General Zhukov became chief of the General Staff in February 1941. The General Staff in effect went on to a war footing from that moment. Zhukov himself worked assiduously and did not allow anyone else to slacken. In the summer of 1939, Zhukov, still holding his rank of komkor, had appeared in Khalkhin-Gol. He personally got to know the situation, quickly drew up plans, and began to carry them out with a vengeance. The slightest carelessness on the part ofany subordinate meant immediate death. In the course of a few days Zhukov put seventeen officers on trial, demanding that they be sentenced to death. The tribunal immediately passed death sentences on all of them. Of the seventeen, one was saved on the intervention osthe senior command, and the rest were shot. By February 1941, Zhukov had risen to great heights. His authority had increased several fold, and there was nobody who could save any poor unfortunate from his anger. General Staff veterans recall Zhukov’s rule as the most terrible period in history, even more terrible than that of the Great Purge. At that time the General Staff, and all other staffs, were working under inhuman pressure.
So how could it have happened that the Red Army went into the war without plans? There is something else which cannot be understood. If the Red Army went to war without any plans, then why did Stalin not shoot Zhukov, and all those who should have been helping to make the plans, as soon as he learnt about it? That did not happen. On the contrary, those involved in making the Soviet plans, such as Vasilevsky, Sokolovsky, Vatutin, Malandin, Bagramyan, Shtemenko and Kurasov, who had all begun the war as major-generals or even colonels, ended it, if not as marshals, then at least as four-star generals. They all showed themselves to be brilliant strategists in the course of the war. They were all conscientious and even pedantic staff officers, who could not conceive of life without a plan. So how could it come about that the Red Army was compelled to improvise in the first months of the war? And why did Stalin not even reproach Zhukov and his planners, let alone shoot them?
When asked the straight question as to whether the Soviet command had any war plans, Zhukov replied categorically that it did have such plans. Then another question arises: if there were plans, why did the Red Army operate in an uncontrolled mass, without any plans at all? Zhukov has never answered this question. But here the answer suggests itself. If Soviet staffs were working very hard to make war plans, and these were neither defensive plans or plans for counter-offensive, then what kind of plans were they? Purely offensive plans.
Stalin did not shoot Zhukov and the other war-planners for one very simple reason. They had never been given the job of working out plans for a defensive war. Of what then could they be accused? Stalin gave the task of making plans of some other kind to Zhukov, Vasilevsky, Sokolovsky and other outstanding strategists. These were very good plans, but the moment the desensive war began they became unnecessary, just like the motorway tanks and the airborne assault corps.
Murder will out. The Soviet High Command took measures to destroy everything related to Soviet pre-war war plans. But these plans were held by all the fronts, all fleets, dozens of armies, more than one hundred corps, all warships, hundreds of divisions, and thousands of regiments and battalions. Something must have survived.
Research carried out by the Academy of Sciences of the USSR has shown that before the war the operational mission of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet was to undertake ‘active hostilities against enemy ships and transport near the Bosphorus and in the approaches to enemy bases, and also to co-operate with land troops as they move along the Black Sea Coast’. (Flot v VOV, Moscow Nauka 1980, p. 117)
Admiral of the
Fleet of the Soviet Union Sergei Georgiyevich Gorshkov has said that, as well as
the Black Sea Fleet, the Baltic and Arctic Fleets had been given purely
defensive missions, but it was planned that these missions should be carried
out by purely offensive methods. This was standard Soviet thinking before the
war, and was expressed both at secret meetings in the Soviet command, and
openly in Pravda: ‘To wage a defensive war in no way means to stand on
the borders of one’s own country. The best form of defence is a swift advance
until the enemy has been completely destroyed on his own territory.’ (
the Soviet fleets in the first minutes, hours and days of the war show
sufsiciently clearly that they did have plans, but that these were not plans
for defence. On
Beginning on 22
June, the air arm of the Black Sea Fleet carried out active combat operations
in support of the Danube Naval Flotilla with the objective of opening a way
upstream for the flotilla. On 25–26 June, surface warships of the Black Sea
Fleet appeared off the Romanian
On 22 June, the garrison at the naval base at Hanko, on Finnish territory, instead of going over to a stonewall defence, initiated some sustained assault landing operations, and held nineteen Finnish islands for several days. On 25 June, in spite of the enormous losses which the Soviet Air Forces had sustained in the first hours of the war, 487 aircraft belonging to the Baltic and Arctic Fleets launched a surprise strike at Finnish airfields. Again in spite of these enormous losses, the Soviet air forces conducted themselves with exceptional valour and aggression. On 22 June the 1st Air Corps made a concentrated raid on military objectives in Königsberg.
None of this
was improvisation. At on 22
June the Soviet Air Force was given the mission of operating in accordance with
its plans, and for a few days it tried to do this. On 26 June, the 4th Air
Corps began bombing raids on the
operational mission had been spelt out to all Soviet commanders. Of course, the
commanders at tactical level were not entitled to know what their tasks would
be, but in the senior headquarters, these tasks had been exactly defined and
formulated, placed under seal in secret envelopes, and kept in the safe in
every headquarters, up to and including the level of battalion. For instance,
the Reconnaissance Battalion of the 27th Rifle Division, concentrated close to
the frontier near the town of
numbers of Soviet troops had been assembled near Augustow long before the war.
Right on the frontier and flowing parallel with it on Soviet territory is the
Is not this perhaps just the usual Russian stupidity? Not at all. German troops had also been assembled in great numbers right up against the frontier, from which they also had removed their barbed wire. Had the Red Army attacked the day before, the losses on the other side would have been no less. Deployment of troops right on the frontier is exceptionally dangerous in the event of the enemy launching a surprise attack, but a deployment of that nature is eminently suitable for launching such an attack. Both armies were doing the same thing.
never concealed that it was offensive tasks which they had been given. General
K. Galitsky, when speaking of the concentration of Soviet troops near Augustow,
insists that the Soviet High Command did not believe that a German offensive
was possible, while the Soviet troops were preparing to carry out an offensive
operation. And since the Soviet fronts facing
believe the Soviet publications or not, the Red Army operations in the first
days of the war are the best evidence of Soviet intentions. Zhukov, who
co-ordinated the operations of the Southern and South-West Fronts aimed at
It would be a
mistake to underestimate the enormous strength and vast resources of Stalin’s
war machine. Despite its grievous losses, it had enough strength to withdraw
and gather new strength to reach
The War Which Never Was
The Russian High Command knows its job better than the High Command of any other army.
General V. F. Von MELLENTIN (Panzer Battles, London 1977, p. 353)
considered that a Soviet invasion was inevitable, but he did not expect it to
happen in the very near future. German troops were diverted to activities of
secondary importance, and the beginning of Operation Barbarossa was postponed.
The operation finally began on
There are quite
a few indications that the date for the beginning of the Soviet Operation Groza
(‘Thunderstorm’) was fixed for
Stalin liked to deliver their surprise strikes on Sunday mornings, and
Let us suppose that Hitler had once again put back the date on which Barbarossa was to be launched by three to four weeks. Let us try to imagine what would have happened then. We do not need to exert our imagination. It is sufficient to look at the groupings of Soviet troops, at the unprecedented concentration of troops, at the airfields right up against the frontier, at the airborne assault corps and the motorway tanks, at the accumulation of submarines in frontier ports or at air assault gliders at forward airfields. It is sufficient for us to open Soviet pre-war military-regulation books, textbooks of Soviet military academies and schools, and the newspapers Red Star and Pravda.
troops are making intensive preparations for the invasion, which is fixed for .
Black columns of smoke rise above the airfields. These black columns act as beacons for Soviet aircraft, which come on in wave upon wave. Very few planes have been able to take off from the German airfields. German aircrews have been categorically forbidden to open fire on Soviet aircraft, but in spite of the ban imposed by the command, several pilots go into battle, shoot down Soviet aircraft, and when they have used up all their ammunition, they crash head-on into an enemy aircraft in a final suicidal attack. Losses in Soviet aircraft are enormous, but the advantages of surprise remain. Any army, whether the Soviet, the German, or the Japanese, would have felt no happier under a similar surprise attack.
The artillery preparation grows in power. On the frontier, the Soviet regiments and battalions who have been raised by the alert are given vodka. The thunderous ura, the battle-cry of the troops, rolls through the frontier forests. The order of Comrade Stalin, the supreme commander-in-chief, is being read to the troops: ‘The hour of reckoning has come! Soviet intelligence has exposed Hitler’s perfidy and the time has come to settle accounts with him for all his evil deeds and crimes! Glorious warriors, the world is looking to you and awaits liberation!’
Infringing all established standards and prohibitions, the soldiers are told the numbers of Soviet troops, tanks, artillery, aircraft, and submarines which will take part in the liberation campaign. The rolling ura again rumbles out across the wooded glades and forest cuttings. Endless columns of tanks darken the horizon with clouds of dust as they move along roads through field and forest on their way to the frontier. ‘Don’t spare your fire, you deaf-eared lot!’ the tank crews shout through clenched teeth at the deafened artillery troops.
The rumble of artillery fire grows, reaches a critical level, then suddenly stops. Then ringing silence oppresses the ears, and immediately the fields fill with masses of tanks and infantry, the clank of armour and the fierce hoarse roar of the Soviet troops. The powdery smoke and the poisonous fumes from the tank diesel engines mix with the delicate smell of field flowers, while overhead wave upon wave of Soviet aircraft fly westwards. The artillery, having fallen silent for a minute, restarts, as though unwillingly, its powerful conversation. The artillery goes over from preparation to accompanying support. The batteries have opened up again, concentrating their fire on distant targets. Slowly but inexorably, the firing is stepped up again, and more and more artillery regiments join the battle.
Avoiding becoming involved in protracted battles with scattered enemy groups, the Soviet troops drive forward. The frontier bridges in Brest-Litovsk have been captured by Colonel Starinov’s saboteurs. The Soviet saboteurs are astonished that the German bridges have not even been mined. How can one possibly explain such a scandalous degree of unreadiness for war?
The suddenness of the attack has a stunning effect, bringing a whole chain of catastrophes in its wake, each one of which, in its turn, brings on others. The destruction of the air force on the ground renders the troops vulnerable from the air, and since they have neither trenches nor ditches in the frontier area, they are compelled to withdraw. Withdrawal means that thousands of tons of ammunition and fuel are abandoned at the border. Withdrawal means that airfields are left behind, and the enemy immediately destroys the remaining aircraft there. Withdrawal without ammunition and fuel means inescapable destruction. Withdrawal means that the command has lost control. The command does not know what is happening with the troops and is therefore unable to take any expedient decisions, while the troops are given no orders at all, or they are given orders which are completely out of keeping with the situation which has come about.
At the same
time, Soviet saboteurs, who crossed the frontiers with time in hand, are active
everywhere on the lines of communication. They either cut the communication
lines, or plug into them and transmit salse signals and orders to the enemy
troops. The enemy’s operations become separate, uncoordinated battles. The
German commanders ask
The 3rd Soviet Army delivers a surprise strike at Suwalki. The 8th Army from the Baltic Military District goes to meet it. From the very beginning there are blood-letting engagements with great losses in Soviet troops. But they have one advantage: the Soviet troops have the latest KV tank, the armour of which the German anti-tank guns cannot penetrate. The Soviet Air Force rages overhead. The 5th Airborne Assault Corps has landed behind the German forces. The Soviet 8th, 11th, and 3rd Armies have become bogged down in long drawn-out bloody battles with the extra-high-power German forces in East Prussia, but behind this titanic battle, the extra-high-power Soviet loth Army, having broken through the almost non-existent defences, drives on to the Baltic Sea, thereby cutting off three German armies, two tank groups and Hitler’s command post from the rest of the German troops.
L’vov, the most powerful Soviet front launches an attack on
The main events
of the war are not taking place in either
The Soviet 10th
Army has not been able to break out to the
airborne assault corps are completely destroyed, but
their headquarters and rear sub-units remain on Soviet territory. These
immediately take in tens of thousands ofreservists to make up their losses,
and in addition to this, five new airborne assault corps are formed. Both
Soviet tank troops and air force suffer enormous losses in the initial battles,
but Soviet war industry is not destroyed by the enemy air force, nor does it
fall into enemy hands. The biggest tank-producing plants in the world, in
The German Army
still has tanks, but no fuel for them. The infantry still has armoured
personnel carriers, and the artillery still has tractors, but no petrol for
them. There are still aircraft, but no fuel for them.
The fuel is in
In August 1941,
the Second Stategic Echelon completes the Vistula–Oder operation by capturing
bridges and springboards on the
The troops meet endless columns of prisoners. Dust rises on the horizon. There they are, the oppressors of the people – shopkeepers, bourgeois doctors and architects, farmers and bank employees. The Chekists’ work will be hard. Prisoners are cursorily interrogated at every stopping place. Then the NKVD investigates each one in detail, and establishes the degree of his guilt before the working people. But by now it has become necessary to expose the most dangerous of the millions of prisoners: the former Social Democrats, pacifists, socialists and National Socialists, former officers, policemen and ministers of religion.
Millions of prisoners have to be sent far away to the east and the north, in order to give them the opportunity, through honest labour, to expiate their guilt before the people. But the railways are not conveying prisoners. The railways are working for victory. The railways are carrying thousands of military trains laden with ammunition, fuel and reinforcements.
Where are the
prisoners to go? The 4th Mechanized Corps has captured a concentration camp
More and more
columns move westwards. The commissars take a few men from each of the passing
columns, and take them to
The soldiers are then driven back to their battalions in political department cars, and they talk.
‘Well, what was
it like in
‘Nothing much, really.’ The worldly-wise soldier in his black jacket shrugs his shoulders. ‘Just like at home. Only their climate is better.’
The battalion drinks raw vodka before going into battle. The news is good. There’s permission to take trophies, there’s permission to pillage. The commissar is shouting. He has become hoarse. He’s quoting Ilya Erenburg – let’s break the pride of the arrogant German people!
The black jackets laugh. How shall we break their pride, with mass rape?
So none of this happened? Indeed it did happen – not in 1941, it is true, but in 1945. Then the Soviet soldier was permitted to plunder, though the term used for it was ‘collecting trophies’. And they were also ordered to ‘break German pride’. Millions of people fell into the clutches of the Soviet secret police. And they were driven off in endless columns to distant places. Not everyone returned.
There are few
who remember that the slogan about liberating
With spitting fire and gleaming steel now flashing Machines set forth, their fierce crusade alight, When Comrade Stalin sends us into battle, And our First Marshal leads us in the fight.
This is how a Soviet air general described the future war in Pravda:
joy and happiness will shine in the saces of those who will receive here in the
It is characteristic that, in the course of his lengthy article on the forthcoming war, the air general did not once call the war ‘defensive’, just as he did not once mention fighter aircraft which fight battles in the air. As far as the general was concerned, only bomber planes, low-flying assault aircraft and assault landing aircraft would be needed in the war of ‘liberation’.
Enough statements like this were published to fill many volumes. Wanda Vasilevskaya, the Polish communist who was given the rank of colonel-commissar in the Red Army, proclaimed in the pages of Pravda (9 November 1940) that not for long would the butchers go on drinking blood, not for long need the slaves go on rattling their chains — we’ll liberate them all!
communists declared their main objective quite openly — to liberate the whole world, and