Why Stalin Did Not Trust Churchill



Between June 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 Soviet Union. Much energy has been expended in speculating why Stalin failed to heed this friendly and obviously well-informed advice.


Perhaps we 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 Germany against the newly-formed Soviet state. Lenin himself had described Churchill as ‘the worst hater of Soviet Russia’. (PSS, Moscow, Vol. 14, p. 350) Under the circumstances, it is hardly surprising if Stalin treated any message from Churchill with a considerable degree of scepticism.


One must also bear in mind the political background to World War II. Germany was most disadvantageously placed in the diplomatic war of the 1930s. Situated in the heart of Europe, it was at the centre of all conflicts. Whatever war might begin in Europe, Germany would almost inevitably be involved in it. Therefore the diplomatic strategy of many countries in the 19305 boiled down to this attitude – you go to war with Germany, and I shall try to stay out of it. The Munich agreement of 1938 was a striking model of this philosophy.


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’.


Britain and France lost the diplomatic war and were then compelled to fight a real war, from which France made a rapid exit. Where did Britain’s political interest lie? Looking at the situation through the eyes of the Kremlin, Churchill could have only one political aspiration – to find a lightning-conductor for the German Blitzkrieg and deflect the German attack to anywhere else other than Britain. In the second half of 1940, only the Soviet Union could be such a lightning-conductor.


Put more simply, Britain (in Stalin’s opinion, which he openly expressed on to March 1939) wanted a clash between the Soviet Union and Germany, while it stood aside from the fight. I do not know whether that was Churchill’s intention or not, but that is exactly how Stalin would have seen every move made by the British government and its diplomats. As Admiral of the Fleet 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.’ (Nakanune, 1966, p. 321)


The strategic situation in Europe also influenced Stalin’s response. The concentration of power against weakness is 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 esforts 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 favour of the only other alternative, a strategy of attrition. But Germany’s resources were limited, while the resources of its enemies were unlimited. A war of attrition for Germany therefore could only end in catastrophe.


Both the German General Staff and Hitler himself understood that a war on two fronts would be catastrophic for Germany. In 1939-40, Germany always had in effect only one front. The German General Staff therefore was able to apply the concentration principle, and it did so brilliantly, concentrating the enormous German military power first against one enemy, then against the other.


The main 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 23 November 1939, Hitler said that a war against the Soviet Union could begin only after the war in the West had ended.


Now supposing 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 Germany made in World War I. Every schoolboy knows that war on two fronts is suicide for Germany. World War II was to prove this rule once again, and also that, for Hitler personally, war on two fronts would be suicide in the purest sense of the word.


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.


France fell on 21 June 1940. The piracy of German U-boats increased sharply on the sea-routes. There hung over Britain, an island nation with close trade links with the rest of the world, 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 to many, was making intensive preparations to land on the British Isles.


It was in this environment that Churchill wrote to Stalin on 25 June. On 30 June, the German armed forces captured Guernsey in the Channel Islands. In a thousand years of British history, there have been few occasions when an enemy has landed on the British Isles. What was to follow? A landing on mainland Britain? Guernsey was taken without resistance. For how long would Britain resist?


Stalin received Churchill’s message the day after Germany had seized Guernsey.


Where did Churchill’s interest lie, one may ask? Did he want to save the dictatorship in the Soviet Union, or save the British Empire? I believe that it was the interests of Britain which made Churchill write his letter. If we can understand this, surely Stalin must have understood it as well? For Stalin, Churchill was not an unbiased observer who out of friendly sentiments was giving warning of danger, but a man in serious difficulties, needing help and allies in a conflict against a fearful enemy. Stalin therefore was very cautious towards Churchill’s letters.


Churchill wrote 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 19 April 1941. It has attracted considerable interest from historians, all of whom agree that it was a serious warning to Stalin. But let us consider Churchill’s position rather than the text of the letter. The German Army took Belgrade on 12 April. Rommel reached the Egyptian frontier on 13 April. Yugoslavia surrendered to Germany on 14 April, and St Paul’s Cathedral in London was damaged in an air raid on 16 April. Greece was on the point of surrender and British troops there were in a catastrophic situation; it had become a question of whether or not they could be evacuated.


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?


Churchill had written to Stalin in April 1941, a month after the German armed forces executed a brilliant operation to capture Crete. Why was British intelligence, Stalin might have thought, working so well in the interests of the Soviet Union, while it was doing nothing in British interests?


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.


Communist propaganda has done much to build up the myth about Churchill’s ‘warnings’. Khrushchev used to quote Churchill’s message of 18 April 1941 to Stalin in order to do this. V. Anfilov, that prominent Soviet military historian and highly refined falsifier of history, quotes the message in all his books. Zhukov gives the message in full, and General S. P. Ivanov does the same. The official History of the Great Motherland War constantly hammers Churchill’s warnings into our heads and quotes his 18 April message in full. The text of Churchill’s message can be found in hundreds of Soviet books and articles:


I have received reliable information from a trustworthy source that the Germans, after deciding that Yugoslavia had fallen into their clutches, that is 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 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 Germany and Romania.


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 have passed from 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 Dnieper.


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 Romania instead of being transferred to Poland: the Germans had problems in Yugoslavia, particularly in Serbia.


Britain at that time was waging very intensive diplomatic and military activity throughout the entire Mediterranean basin, particularly in Greece and Yugoslavia. Churchill’s tele­gram was of enormous importance, but it could in no way be regarded as a warning. It was to a much greater degree an invitation to Stalin. The Germans wanted to transfer divisions to Poland, but have been forced to divert them elsewhere. You have nothing to fear, more so since these divisions in Romania have their backs turned to you. Assess these facts and act!


When Stalin got into a critical situation in the war, he too sent similar messages to Churchill and Roosevelt: Germany is concentrating its main forces against me, with its back turned to you. This is the best time for you – open the second front quickly! Then again came the turn of the western allies. When they got into serious difficulties after opening the second front, the western leaders sent the same message to Stalin in January 1945: can’t you hit harder?


We are not justified in regarding Churchill’s letters as a warning. Churchill wrote his first long letter to Stalin on 25 June 1940 before the Barbarossa plan even existed. Chur­chill’s letters are founded on sober calculation rather than on knowledge of German plans. He was simply drawing Stalin’s attention to the situation in Europe: Britain has problems with Hitler today, and the Soviet Union will surely have them tomorrow. Churchill was calling on Stalin to come into the war on the side of Britain.


Sir Basil 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 Britain’s only hope was a Soviet invasion of Europe. (B. H. Liddell-Hart, History of the Second World War, Pan, London 1978, p. 151) Churchill himself wrote on 22 April 1941 that ‘the Soviet government knows full well . . . that we stand in need ofits help’. (L. Woodward, British Foreign Policy in the Second World War, p. 611) What help was Churchill expect­ing from Stalin, and how could Stalin give it, except by striking at Germany?


Stalin had sufficient grounds for not trusting Churchill. But even Stalin must have understood that had Britain fallen, he would have been left to face Germany alone. In his reply to Churchill’s 25 June message, he says that ‘the policy of the Soviet Union is to avoid war with Germany. But Germany might attack the Soviet Union in spring of 1941, if Britain has lost the war by then.’ (R. Goralski, World War II Almanac: 1931-1945, Hamish Hamilton, London, p. 24)


It transpires from Stalin’s answer that he intended to live in peace while patiently waiting for Britain to fall, and if he had been left alone face to face with Hitler, to wait for Germany to invade. Ah, how stupid Stalin was, some historians say indignantly. But let us not share their indignation. That message was addressed not to Churchill, but to Hitler! On 13 July 1940, Molotov was ordered by Stalin to hand over to Count von der Schulenburg, the German ambassador, the written record of Stalin’s conversation with Sir Stafford Cripps, the British Ambassador. Was it not a strange thing to do, to have negotiations with Churchill through Sir Stafford Cripps, and then secretly pass the minutes of these negotiations to Hitler through his ambassador von der Schulenburg?


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.


‘There have been negotiations here in Moscow with the British Ambassador. Don’t worry, these negotiations are not directed against you. You see, I’m even sending you the secret minutes of my talks with Cripps. And I’ve sent Churchill to hell!’ (In fact he had not).


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 21 July 1940 that a start should be made on the plan for Operation Barbarossa. In other words, Hitler decided to fight on two fronts. This decision seems inexplicable to many people. Many German generals and field-marshals did not understand it either, and they declined to approve such a truly suicidal decision. But Hitler had no choice. He had gone increasingly further west, north and south, while Stalin stood back with his axe singing sweet songs of peace.


Hitler’s one irremediable mistake was made, not on 21 July 1940, but on 19 August 1939. Once he had agreed to the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Hitler was faced with an inevitable war against the West, while the ‘neutral’ Stalin stood behind him. From that moment onwards, Hitler had two fronts. His decision to set up Operation Barbarossa in the east without waiting for victory in the west was not a fatal error, but only an attempt to put right the fatal error he had already made. But by then it was too late. The war already had two fronts, and it was already impossible to win it. Even the capture of Moscow would not have solved Hitler’s problem; beyond Moscow there still lay another 10,000 kilometres of boundless teritory, vast centres of industrial power, 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 is limited, there are many good roads, and the winters are mild. Was Hitler ready to fight in Siberia in the unrestricted limitless expanse, where there were no roads and where the brutality of the frost is close to the brutality of Stalin’s regime?


Stalin knew 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 Britain. He was not alone in looking upon the brilliant airborne assault on Crete as a final rehearsal for landing in Britain. At the same time Stalin did everything possible to convince Hitler of his peaceableness. That was why Soviet anti-aircraft guns were not firing on German aircraft, while Soviet newspapers and TASS proclaimed that there would be no war between the Soviet Union and Germany.


Had Stalin succeeded in convincing Hitler that the Soviet Union was a neutral country, then the German tank corps without any doubt would have landed on the British Isles. And then a truly unprecedented situation would have arisen. 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. All that remained on the European continent was the regiment of Hitler’s personal guards, the guards of the Nazi concentration camps, German rear units, military schools and . . . five Soviet airborne assault corps, tens of thousands of fast tanks built specially for moving along motorways; tens of thousands of aircraft; pilots who had not been trained for fighting in the air, but who had been taught how to make air strikes on ground targets; divisions and whole armies of the NKVD; armies made up of prisoners from the Soviet labour camps; extra-high-power formations of the Glider Air Force to make rapid landings on enemy territory; mountain divisions trained to make swift thrusts into the mountain passes over which flowed oil, the life-blood of war.


Has anyone in history ever been in such a favourable position to ‘liberate’ Europe? And this situation did not come about by itself. Stalin, working long, persistently and in sustained fashion, had made a subtle mosaic from the smallest of fragments. It was Stalin who helped to bring Hitler to power, and made Hitler, in Stalin’s phrase, a real icebreaker for the revolution. It was Stalin who encouraged the icebreaker to move into Europe. It was Stalin who demanded of the French and other communists that they should not prevent the icebreak­er from breaking up Europe. It was Stalin who supplied the icebreaker with everything it needed for its victorious advance. It was Stalin who closed his eyes to all the crimes being committed by the Nazis and rejoiced in the pages of Pravda ‘when the world was shaken to its foundations, when powers perished and greatness fell’.


But Hitler guessed Stalin’s design. That was why World War II ended catastrophically for Stalin. He only got half of Europe, and some places here and there in Asia.


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.


Richard Sorge was a spy from the row of teeth which Stalin, as a precaution, ordered to be pulled out on 29 July 1938. He was stationed in Tokyo, where he worked as a journalist under the alias ‘Ramsay’. Soviet military intelligence was not so stupid as to publish Sorge’s most interesting reports. But even the few which have been published lead us into an impasse:


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 Soviet Union. Some of them ring with strange praise of him. He was such a great intelligence officer, such a true communist that he even spent his own money, which he had earned in his difficult work as a journalist, on his illegal work. What nonsense! Were the labour-camp prisoners in Kolyma no longer digging up gold? Had the GRU become so impoverished that Sorge had to dip into his own pocket? The weekly magazine Ogonek (No. 17, 1965), published an interest­ing report that Sorge was holding very important documents, but was unable to send them to the centre, because the centre had not sent a courier. Ogonek did not say why the centre had not sent a courier, adding another puzzling question to the case.


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 Germany, was in jail. (Komsomol’skaya Pravda, 8 October 1964) Aina Kuusinen, a secret collaborator of Sorge’s who was married to a deputy head of the GRU who was both the President of the Finnish Democratic Republic and 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 having links with enemies, and was liquidated. Karl Ramm, the illegal GRU resident in Shanghai and former deputy of Sorge’s, was summoned back to Moscow ‘on leave’ and liquidated.


Then Sorge received the order to come back on leave. Soviet sources do not conceal the fact that ‘Sorge refused to travel to the Soviet Union.’ A good deal of material on this subject was published during the Khrushchev era, including the frank admis­sion that ‘Undoubtedly Sorge guessed what was awaiting him in Moscow.’


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?


Someone has 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 Moscow nothing of significance about the German invasion. What is more, he fell victim to disinformation and fed the GRU with false reports. On 11 April 1941, he telegraphed Moscow that: ‘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 knew that it had already become impossible to conceal his preparations to invade the Soviet Union. He therefore said in secret, in a way that all should hear, ‘Yes, I want to attack Stalin . . . after I have finished the war in the west.’ We already know that exactly one month later, Stalin would do the same thing in his ‘secret’ speech when he said, ‘Yes, I want to attack Hitler . . . in 1942.’


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 Germany could not win a war on two fronts; and secondly, that Hitler would not begin a war in the east without first finishing the war in the west. The first conclusion proved correct. The second did not. Sometimes a war is started without any prospects of winning it.


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 25 June 1940 that Hitler might begin a war against the Soviet Union in 1941, on condition that Britain had ceased to resist by that time.


But Hitler, whom Stalin had driven into a strategic impasse with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, suddenly realized that he had nothing to lose and that inevitably Germany had two fronts. He began to fight on two fronts. Neither Stalin nor Golikov expected 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, the head of the GRU, had not contem­plated this either. Sorge simply confirmed this view with the false information in his telegrams.


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 Soviet Union. Sorge’s greatness, however, was brought to bear not on Germany, but on Japan. S. Uritsky, when still head of the GRU, personally gave Sorge his mission: ‘the point of your work in Tokyo is to deflect the possibility of a war between Japan and the USSR. Your main target is the Germany embassy.’ (Ogonek, 1965, No. 14, p. 23) The German embassy was only a cover, to be used by Sorge to fulfil his main mission. His brief was not to warn about preparations for German invasion, but to deflect Japanese aggression onto another course.


Sorge is widely known to have told Stalin in autumn 1941 that Japan would not come into the war against the Soviet Union. Stalin used this extremely important information to withdraw dozens of Soviet divisions from the Far Eastern frontiers and to throw them into the fighting near Moscow, thereby changing the strategic situation in his favour.


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 Japan would not move against the Soviet Union, he could only prove it by indicating another enemy, against whom Japan was in fact preparing a surprise attack.


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 Tokyo, Soviet Military Intelligence did a vast amount to ensure that Japan began an aggressive war in the Pacific, and that this aggression was directed against the United States. (Hearings on American Aspects of the Richard Sorge Spy Case, House of Representatives 82nd Congress, First Session, 19, 22 and 23 August, Washington 1951)


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 Soviet Union without waiting for the war in the west to end.


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.


At the Politburo meeting held on 21 June 1941, Golikov reported on a massive concentration of German troops on the Soviet border, on enormous reserves of ammunition, on the regrouping of the German Air Force, on German deserters, and about other matters. Golikov knew the numbers of nearly all the German divisions, the names of their commanders, and where they were stationed. He knew many important secrets, including the name of Operation Barbarossa and the time of its inception. After giving his report, however, Golikov said that preparations for invasion had not yet begun, and without these preparations it was not possible for Germany to begin the war. In the course of the meeting Golikov was asked whether he could guarantee what he was saying. Golikov replied that he would answer for his information with his head, and if he were mistaken, then the Politburo would have the right to do to him what had been done to all his predecessors.


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 Britain and the United States, and briefed him personally. The visits were a success, and Golikov was then put in command of armies and fronts. In 1943 Stalin appointed him to the vitally important post of deputy to the People’s Commissar for Defence, that is 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. Beria, for instance, was never allowed to do this.


Golikov continued to rise in rank after Stalin died, and eventually became a Marshal of the Soviet Union. It is understandable that he should not say one word in his memoirs about how he covered German preparations for war, how he remained alive, or why he had such swift advancement after Operation Barbarossa.


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 Union. It turned out that Golikov was reporting the truth to Stalin, for in reality Hitler was not making such preparations. Golikov knew that Stalin did not trust documents. Golikov did not trust them himself. He therefore looked for some other indicators which would unerringly signal the moment when Hitler began his preparations for war with the Soviet Union. All the GRU residents in Europe were ordered to infiltrate organizations directly or indirectly connected with sheep farming. Over a period of months, intelligence was gathered and carefully processed on the numbers of sheep in Europe, on the main sheep-breeding centres and slaughter-houses. 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 are 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.


Large amounts 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 Soviet Union, so there was no need to pay heed to every build-up of German troops or German General Staff docu­ments.


Golikov had good grounds for believing that very serious preparation was required for a war against the Soviet Union. One of the vital things which Germany would need if it were to be ready to fight such a war was sheepskin coats; no less than six million of them. As soon as Hitler decided to attack the Soviet Union, the 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 sall because of the simultaneous slaughter of millions of animals, while sheepskin prices rise sharply.


Golikov also calculated that, if the German Army was going to fight in the Soviet Union, it would have to use a new type of lubricating oil for its weaponry. The German oil usually used on weapons 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. Soviet expertise in dirty cloths showed that the German Army was still using its usual oil, and there were no signs of a change over to a new type. Soviet experts also watched motor fuel. In heavy frost the normal German fuel broke down into incombustible particles. 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. It was samples of German liquid fuel which Soviet intelligence was sending over the border in lighters and lamps.


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 Russia.


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)



On 17 June 1945, a group of Soviet military investigators were interrogating some senior Nazi military leaders. In the course of his interrogation, Field-Marshal Keitel maintained that all the preparatory measures we took before spring 1941 were defensive measures against the contingency of a possible attack by the Red Army. Thus the entire war in the East, to a known degree, may be termed a preventive war . . . We decided . . . to forestall an attack by Soviet Russia and to destroy its armed forces with a surprise attack. By spring 1941, I had formed the definite opinion that the heavy build-up of Russian troops, and their attack on Germany which would follow, would place us, in both economic and strategic terms, in an exceptionally critical situation . . . Our attack was the immediate consequence of this threat.


Colonel-General 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 Nuremberg. One of the main accusations against them was ‘the unleashing of an unprovoked aggressive war’ against the Soviet Union.


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:


For me there is one thing beyond all argument — J. V. Stalin not only did not exclude the possibility of war with Hitler’s Germany, on the contrary, he considered such a war . . . inevitable . . . J. V. Stalin made preparations for war . . . wide and varied preparations — beginning on dates . . . which he himself had selected. Hitler upset his calculations. (Naku­nune, Moscow Voenizdat 1966, p. 321)


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 aggression against Germany; but Hitler dealt a preventive blow first and thereby frustrated all Stalin’s plans.


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.


What Kuznetsov 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 Soviet Union’s neighbours. At this Congress, Kuznetsov’s speech was perhaps the most aggressive. It was for this speech that Kuznetsov was made a member of the Central Committee at the end of the Congress, passing over the candidate-member level, and given the post of People’s Com­missar.


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 Germany was not preparing an aggression against the Soviet Union; it was the Soviet Union which was preparing the aggression. Germany was simply using a preventive attack to desend itself from an unavoidable aggres­sion. Kuznetsov says the same thing – yes, the Soviet Union was preparing for war and would inevitably have entered into it, but Hitler disrupted these plans with his attack. What I cannot understand is why Keitel was hanged, and Kuznetsov was not.


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)


Another open 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 S. Akhromeev). The Military Historical Jour­nal explained why such great stockpiled reserves of ammunition, liquid fuel and provisions were built up so close to the frontier. The explanation was simple: they were for offensive operations. (p. 34) It is stated quite openly on the same page that the German attack disrupted the Soviet plans.


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.


On 6 June 1941, German intelligence received information that the Soviets intended to transfer their seat of government to Sverdlovsk. Only Hitler and those closest to him were informed about it. Dr Goebbels noted in his diary that he had received such a report, and spoke very unflatteringly about the Soviet government’s intention to run away further to the east.


Only now, several decades later, can we evaluate the report on its merits. We now know that a decoy command post had been built in Sverdlovsk. It was only during the war that it turned out that it was not Sverdlovsk which was to be the emergency capital, but Kuibyshev. Even Kuibyshev, however, was not the whole truth, but only half of it. The institutions which were set up in Kuibyshev were those whose loss did not asfect the stability of the country’s top military and political leadership, such as the Supreme Soviet with ‘President’ Kalinin, unimportant people’s commissariats, and embassies.


All the important bodies were located nearby, not in Kuiby­shev itself, but in great underground tunnels hewn out of the Zhiguli rocks. Before the war the construction of this giant had been disguised by the building of the Kuibyshev hydro-electric power station. Thousands of labour-camp prisoners, thousands of tons of construction materials and building machinery were sent there and everybody knew why. It was to build the hydro-electric power station. After the war the entire gigantic edifice was moved higher upriver on the Volga, and the hydro-electric station arose on a new site. The original site had been selected in a place where a power station should not have been built but which was an eminently suitable place for an underground command post.


I found no mention in pre-war German archives of Kuibyshev as the emergency capital, or of the underground command post in Zhiguli. German intelligence only had information about the transfer of the Soviet government to a command post in Sverdlovsk. But a government cannot move to a command post which does not exist. Who was spreading these reports about the transfer to a fictitious command post? This could only have been done by the person who invented the bogus command post in the first place, that is the Soviet government, or more exactly, the head of that government, Stalin. That bogus command post was created so that the enemy should find out about it one day. That day came, and German intelligence acquired the secret which had been specially manufactured for it.


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 Minsk and Vilnius.


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 Vilnius. Can we guess for whom Peresypkin was going to check communications there? People’s Commissar Peresypkin has only one direct superior, and that is the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Comrade J. V. Stalin himself.


The People’s 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 Moscow signed in his own name, so that the cipher clerks should believe that Peresypkin was still in Moscow.


Peresypkin’s own account of his journey is revealing:


Literally 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 evening of 21 June 1941, I travelled to Vilnius along with a group of executives from the People’s Commissariat for Communications. The war broke out while we were on the way . . . (Svyazisty v Gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi, Moscow Svyaz’ 1972, p. 17)


On the morning of 22 June, while he was at the Orsha railway station, Peresypkin received a telegram from Moscow: IN CONNECTION WITH CHANGE IN SITUATION DO YOU NOT THINK IT NECESSARY TO RETURN [TO] MOSCOW? PERESYPKIN. (Ibid, pp. 32–33)


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 to Moscow on a lorry which happened to come to hand. Had Hitler not attacked, then Comrade Peresypkin, People’s Commissar for Communications, would have gone to the secret command post near Vilnius to co-ordinate the military, governmental and state communi­cations systems during the war. The German attack constituted such a serious change in the situation that it caused the Soviet government to abandon many of its most important measures and compelled it to improvise, even to the extent of a People’s Commissar having to return to Moscow on the back of the first lorry he could lay his hands on.


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 6 o’clock 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.


On 21 June 1941, Dmitri Ortenberg was head of the organizational instructors department of the People’s Commissariat for State Control. He himself described his job as ‘dealing with military ideas – a sort of chief of staff’. His account vividly evokes the events of that night:


Sometimes they would ask me, ‘When did you leave for the war?’


‘Twenty first of June.’




Yes, 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 Minsk. I was notified that I was to go with it. They suggested that I should go back home, put on military uniform and report back to the Commissariat . . . The waiting-room of the People’s Commissar for Defence was choc-a-bloc full of military people, carrying files and maps, and obviously excited. They spoke in whispers. Timoshenko had gone to the Kremlin . . . The Commissar got back from the Kremlin about five o’clock in the morning of 22 June. He called me:


‘The Germans have started the war. Our trip to Minsk has been cancelled.’ (Ortenberg, lyun’ Dekabr’ Sorok Pervogo, Sovetsky Pisatel’ 1984, pp. 5–6)


Nobody knows where the legend has come from that on 22 June 1941 Hitler began the war in the east, almost having to drag the Soviet Union into it by force. If we listen to those officers – from Kuznetzov to Ortenberg – who were right alongside the most important Soviet leaders in those minutes, hours and days, everything appears quite differently. On 22 June 1941 Hitler spoilt the war by carrying it on to the territory where it had been planned on 19 August 1939. Hitler did not allow the Soviet leaders to wage the war as they had intended. He forced them to improvise and do something for which they were unprepared: to defend their own territory.





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.’ (14 August 1939)


Operations of 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 22 June 1941, Soviet submarines of the Black Sea Fleet immediately put to sea and headed for the coasts of Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey. The same day submarines of the Baltic Fleet set sail for the coasts of Germany, with a mission to ‘sink all enemy ships and vessels, in accordance with the rights of unrestricted submarine warfare’. (Order of Officer Commanding Baltic Fleet, 22 June 1941, Flot v Velikoi Otechestvennoi Voine, Moscow Nauka 1980, p. 279) The order did not even make an exception for hospital ships flying the Red Cross flag.


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 port of Constanza and began an intensive artillery bombardment with the obvious intention of making a naval assault landing. At the same time the Danube Naval Flotilla began to carry out assault landing operations in the Danube Delta.


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 6.44 am 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 Ploesti oilfields in Romania. During the few days’ duration of these raids, oil output in Romania fell almost by half. Even in conditions where practically the whole of the Soviet Air Force had been destroyed on the ground, it still found sufficient strength to wreak great damage on the Romanian oilfields. In any other situation the Soviet Air Force would have been even more dangerous, and could have paralysed completely Germany’s military, industrial and transport power with its operations against these oil-producing areas. Hitler understood this threat only too well, and considered that his only defence was to invade the Soviet Union.


On 22 June 1941, the 41st Rifle Division of the 6th Army’s 6th Rifle Corps, without waiting for orders from above, crossed the state frontier near Raval-Russkaya. That same morning, and without waiting for orders from Moscow, Colonel-General F. I. Kuznetsov, officer commanding the North-West Front, ordered his troops to launch an attack towards Tilsit in East Pussia. This decision came as no surprise either to the headquarters staff of the North-West Front or to the officers commanding the armies and their staffs, for a version of the attack on Tilsit had been played out in headquarters exercises held a few days previously, ‘and it was very familiar to the commanders of the formations and their headquarters’. (Bor’ba za Sovetskuyu Pribaltiku, Eesti Raamat, Tallinn 1980, Vol. 1, p. 67) Colonel-General Kuznetsov simply put the pre-war plan into action. On the evening of the same day, the Soviet High Command, still unaware of General Kuznetsov’s operations, ordered him to do precisely what he was doing already, that is, to attack Tilsit. The High Command gave the adjacent Western Front the task of launching an extra-high-power attack in the direction of the Polish town of Suwalki. And that came as no surprise either to General D. G. Pavlov, the officer command­ing the Western Front. He himself knew what his front had to do, and had already given the order to advance on Suwalki long before the directive to do so arrived from Moscow. To advance was hardly the best thing to do, however, when the German Air Force had not been destroyed on the ground as planned, and the Soviet Western Front had itself lost 738 aircraft in the first hours of the war.


This 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 Augustow, was preparing to carry out combat reconnaissance in the direction of Suwalki. (Arkhiv MO SSSR, Archive 181, list 1631, item 1, p. 128) The task of the Reconnaissance Battalion was to ensure the swift advance of the entire 27th Division from near Augustow to Suwalki. We know even more about this from overt sources than we do from pre-war archives. Enorm­ous Soviet forces were concentrated near Augustow. That was the place where the Soviet frontier guards had been cutting the barbed wire on their frontier. That was the place where Lieutenant-General V. I. Kuznetsov, officer commanding the 3rd Army, and High Command Representative Lieutenant-General of Engineering Troops, D. Karbyshev, had spent long hours surveying German territory from frontier posts. That was the very place where General Karbyshev had been training assault groups to cut off and neutralize the enemy’s reinforced-concrete defensive installations.


Enormous 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 Augustow Canal. If defence had been in preparation, the troops would have deployed behind the canal, using it as an impassable anti-tank ditch. But the Soviet troops crossed over to the western bank of the canal and deployed on the narrow stretch of terrain between the canal and the frontier, from which all barbed wire had been removed. At dawn on 22 June, thousands of Soviet soldiers were wiped out by sudden destructive fire. The troops, with the canal behind them, had nowhere to go to retreat.


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.


Soviet generals 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 East Prussia and Poland were preparing only for an osfensive, it follows that the fronts concentrated against Roma­nia, Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia must also have long been preparing themselves only for an offensive as well. Major-General A. I. Mikhalev frankly admits that the Soviet High Command did not plan to use either the Southern or South-West Fronts for defensive or counter-offensive operations: ‘it was intended that the strategic aims should be to have the troops of the fronts go over to decisive offensive’. (VIZH 1986, No. 5, p. 49)


Whether we 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 Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, went on insisting on offensives until 30 June 1941, and demanded nothing but offensives from the officers commanding the fronts. It was only in July that he and his colleagues came to the conclusion that the Red Army would no longer find it all that easy to advance.


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 Berlin. How far would it have gone had it not sustained that massive blow on 22 June, is hundreds of aircraft and thousands of tanks had not been lost, had it been the Red Army and not the Wehrmacht which struck the first blow? Did the German Army have the territorial expanse behind it for withdrawal? Did it have the inexhaustible human resources, and the time, to restore its army after the first Soviet surprise attack? Did the German generals have any defensive plans?





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)



Hitler 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 22 June 1941. Hitler himself clearly did not realize what a tremendous stroke of luck he had had. If Operation Barbarossa had been put off again, say from 22 June to 22 July, Hitler would have had to do away with himself considerably earlier than in 1945.


There are quite a few indications that the date for the beginning of the Soviet Operation Groza (‘Thunderstorm’) was fixed for 6 July 1941. Memoirs of Soviet marshals, generals and admirals, archival documents, the mathematical analysis of information or the movements of thousands of Soviet military railway trains all point to 10 July as the date on which the full concentration of the Second Strategic Echelon of the Red Army would be achieved on the Soviet western borders. Soviet military theory, however, lays down that the move over to a decisive offensive should not follow but precede the full concent­ration of troops. In that event, a number of those military trains belonging to the Second Strategic Echelon could have been off-loaded directly on enemy territory, for its troops to go directly into battle.


Zhukov and Stalin liked to deliver their surprise strikes on Sunday mornings, and 6 July 1941 was the last Sunday before the concentration of Soviet troops was complete. General Ivanov’s statement directly points to this date: ‘The German troops succeeded in forestalling us literally by two weeks.’


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.


The German troops are making intensive preparations for the invasion, which is fixed for . . . 22 July 1941. The concentration of troops is proceeding: military trains are off-loading at stations and halts; the forests near the borders are full of troops; at night groups of aircraft from distant airfields fly over the field aerodromes located right on the frontier; and there is feverish building of new roads and bridges. In a word, everything is just as it is in the Red Army. On the other side, the Red Army does not seem to be reacting at all to the German preparations.


At 3.30 am Moscow time on 6 July 1941, tens of thousands of Soviet guns shatter the silence, announcing to the world that the great ‘liberation’ campaign of the Red Army has begun. The Red Army’s artillery is superior both in quality and quantity to any in the world. There are vast reserves of ammunition stockpiled on the Soviet frontiers. The rate of Soviet artillery fire swiftly increases until it becomes an infernal thunder roaring along the thousands of kilometres of front stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea. The first artillery salvo coincides to the minute with the arrival of a thousand Soviet aircraft flying across the state frontier. The German airfields have been extremely badly sited right on the border, and the German pilots do not have the time to get their aircraft airborne. There is a great number of aircraft assembled on the German airfields. They are standing wing-tip to wing-tip, and when one burns the fire spreads to the others like a fire in a matchbox.


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 Berlin what they should do. It is a serious question, because the Wehrmacht has not prepared itself for defence. What do we do? Advance? Operate in accordance with the pre-war Barbarossa plan? Without an air force? Without air supremacy?


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.


From near L’vov, the most powerful Soviet front launches an attack on Cracow and a secondary attack on Lublin. The right flank of the extra-high-power Soviet grouping is covered by hills. On the left flank, a great battle flares up in which the Red Army loses thousands of tanks, aircraft and guns, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers. Under cover of this battle, two Soviet mountain armies, the 12th and the 18th, launch attacks along the mountain ridges, thereby cutting off Germany from its sources of oil. Soviet airborne assault corps have landed in the hills. They capture and hold the passes, and prevent reserves being transferred to Romania.


The main events of the war are not taking place in either Poland or Germany. In the first hour of war, operating along with the air arm of the 9th Army and the Black Sea Fleet, the 4th Soviet Air Corps delivers a heavy shock strike at the Ploesti oil-fields, turning them into a sea of fire. Bombing raids on Ploesti continue round the clock. The glow from the oil fires is visible at night for many kilometres, while by day columns of black smoke hide the horizon. The 3rd Airborne Assault Corps has landed in the hills to the north of Ploesti. Operating in small elusive groups, it is destroying everything connected with the production, transportation and the refining of oil. Lieutenant-General Batov’s 9th Special Rifle Corps has landed in the port of Constanza and to the south of it. Its objectives are the same: pipelines, oil storage tanks, and refineries. The most powerful of all Soviet armies, the 9th, has burst out onto the Romanian plains.


The Soviet 10th Army has not been able to break out to the Baltic Sea. It has suffered fearful losses. The Soviet 3rd and 8th Armies have been completely wiped out and their heavy KV tanks destroyed by German anti-aircraft guns. The Soviet 5th, 6th and 26th Armies have lost hundreds of thousands of soldiers, having been stopped on the approaches to Cracow and Lublin. At this moment, the Soviet High Command throws the Second Strategic Echelon into the battle. The difference is that the Wehrmacht has only one echelon and insignificant reserves, while the Red Army had two strategic echelons and three NKVD armies behind them. In addition, mobilization was declared in the Soviet Union as soon as the war began. This had given the Soviet High Command five million reservists in the first week of the war. These will replace Soviet losses, and over the months which follow will be formed into more than three hundred new divisions who will enable the war to continue.


Five Soviet 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 Khar’kov, Stalingrad, and Leningrad do not stop their production of tanks, but considerably increase it. But even that is not the most important thing.


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. Germany has a powerful naval fleet, but it is not in the Baltic. Even is it were to appear there, there would be no fuel for active operations. The German Army has thousands of wounded who have to be evacuated to the rear. There are ambulances, but no fuel for them. The German Army has a great number of motor vehicles and motorcycles for moving troops about, to keep them supplied, and for reconnaissance, but there is no fuel for them either.


The fuel is in Romania, which has proved impossible to defend by the usual methods. Stalin knew this, and so did Zhukov. Hitler also knew this all too well.


In August 1941, the Second Stategic Echelon completes the Vistula–Oder operation by capturing bridges and springboards on the Oder. A new operation in great depth is begun from here. The troops cross the Oder in a continuous stream of artillery, tanks and infantry. There are heaps of caterpillar tracks, covered by a light film of rust, lying at the roadsides; as soon as they join German roads, the high-speed tanks discard their tracks and forge swiftly ahead.


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 near Auschwitz. It was reported to higher authority, and permission was awaited to use it for its intended purpose. Permission was refused; it was ordered that a museum be made of Auschwitz. New concentration camps must be built nearby.


More and more columns move westwards. The commissars take a few men from each of the passing columns, and take them to Auschwitz and show them around saying, ‘Take a good look, and then go back and tell your comrades.’


The soldiers are then driven back to their battalions in political department cars, and they talk.


‘Well, what was it like in Auschwitz, pal?’


‘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 Europe and the whole world first rang out, not in 1945, but at the end of 1938. As he was completing the Great Purge in the Soviet Union, Stalin rewrote the entire history of communism and set it new goals in his book History of the CPSU(b): A Short Course. This became the principal handbook for all Soviet communists and all communists throughout the world. It concludes with a chapter on how the Soviet Union is encircled by capitalism. Stalin set the great goal, which was to replace capitalist encirclement with socialist encirclement. The fight against capitalist encirclement had to go on until the last country in the world had become a ‘republic’ forming part of the Soviet Union.


‘The USSR in capitalist encirclement’ became the main subject of political studies in the Red Army. Propagandists, commissars, political workers, and commanders all united to lead every soldier in the Red Army to Stalin’s simple and logical answers to problems. And over the iron battalions of the Red Army there thundered forth the song about the war of liberation which would begin on the order from Stalin:


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:


What joy and happiness will shine in the saces of those who will receive here in the Great Kremlin Palace the last republic into the brotherhood of nations of the whole world! I envisage clearly the bomber planes destroying the enemy’s factories, railway junctions, bridges, depots and positions; low-flying assault aircraft attacking columns of troops and artillery positions with a hail of gunfire; and assault landing ships putting their divisions ashore in the heart of the enemy’s dispositions. The powerful and formidable air force of the Land of the Soviets, along with the infantry and tank and artillery troops will do their sacred duty and will help the enslaved peoples to escape from their executioners. (Pravda, Georgi Baidukov, 18 August 1940)


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!


The Soviet communists declared their main objective quite openly — to liberate the whole world, and Europe first of all. This plan was actively pursued; in the course of 1940 alone, while Germany was fighting in the west, five new ‘republics’ were annexed into the Soviet Union. After this, it was openly declared that ‘liberation’ campaigns would continue, and enorm­ous forces were created for this purpose. The next victim of ‘liberation’ could only have been Germany, or Romania; for Germany this would have meant immediate defeat.