Why Hitler Invaded the Soviet Union?

Hitler’s meeting with Molotov in November 1940. After this Hitler finally decided to attack the Soviet Union

75 years have passed since on June 22 1941 German troops invaded the Soviet Union. No doubt this event changed the course of Second World War and affected the fate of the Latvian people. Not only Latvian, but many others who lived within Central and Eastern Europe. For decades it was thought that Hitlers invasion was realized to achieve German hegemony in Europe. Soviet Union was considered too weak to defend itself from Germany and was not prepared for any counteractions. However, since the fall of the Soviet Union Russian and Western historians have gathered enough sources and evidence to make new interpretations about World War II. New researches have broken the myth of Soviet desire for peace and German sole blame for  the war.  We can now with high probability of belief say that the Soviet Union was the blame for causing the World War II. Soviet Union was the revisionist state with no desire to keep the status quo and was guided by the idea of worldwide socialist revolution. And Soviet leaders thought that this revolution can only be started by causing a major war. This article uses newest information gathered from Russian, Western and Latvian historiography to show a new perspective on why Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. This is in no way intended to defend Nazi actions, it’s an attempt to bring people’s attention on the alternative view on history. And more and more people believe that this not the alternative, but the reality.

  The main question in this matter is if the German attack on the Soviet Union was preventive. Many historians disagree on this matter. Even if Soviet Union was actually preparing for an attack on Germany, German intentions were aggressive, because they were not entirely aware of Soviet attack plans. The Germans had expansionist plans for Soviet Union so as the Soviet had in Germany.

To discover why Hitler changed his plans from attacking England for invading Soviet Union we must look deep within German-Soviet relations from August 23, 1939 to June 22, 1941. In the first hours of invasion German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop gave a note of the declaration of war to Soviet ambassador V. Dekazanov. Later same document was given by German ambassador Shulenburg to Soviet Foreign Commissar Molotov. The note accused the Soviet Union on breaking the treaty of non-aggression between both states. Was it was really so or it was a false accusation we will see further.

 First set of German dissatisfaction was the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states. The Germans agreed to add Baltic States to Soviet sphere of interest. But, because of the British war blockade Baltic states became an important trade partner for Germany. Germans wanted to keep their economical influence in Baltic States while allowing Soviets to have political influence.  So when in 1940  Soviets occupied and annexed the Baltic States Germans were shocked, but decided to not make any counteractions. Germans were dissatisfied with the fact that the Soviets had annexed the region of Marijampole in Lithuania, that connected East Prussia to Lithuania. This small piece of land was considered the German sphere of interest and significant importance in case of a Soviet attack on Germany. Also by the removal of the Baltic States all German economical assets in these states were lost.

The next German shock was the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia and Northen Bukovina in 1940, when Germans were fighting in France. The Germans had acknowledged that they have no political interest in Southern Europe, but they want to keep their economic interests there. Soviets without warning Germans had annexed the possessions of Rumania- German main oil supplier.  The Germans did everything to prevent Rumanian – Soviet conflict and Rumania was forced to give away their lands. Germans saw this the prime dissatisfaction. The Germans were in fears of possible Soviet invasion in Rumania, the loss of Rumanian oil supplies would mean the economical collapse for Germany. Because of this Germans sent a contingent of 22, 430 troops to Rumania and Rumania joined the Axis.

The next source of disagreement was Finland. Hitler ordered to make plan Rennteir (Reindeer) that would send two German divisions to Finland to capture valuable nickel mines in case of the Soviet invasion. Also Germany sent weapons for Finnish army.

  After the capture of France, Germany had gotten itself in a dead end situation. Hitler had to choose between invasion in Great Britain or risky attack on the Soviet Union. Despite capturing so many countries, Germany could not defeat Great Britain. German submarines could not break trough British sea blockade and German warplanes was unable to conquer the British skies.  Meanwhile Soviet Union had annexed the Baltic States, Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Karelia. Germany was in desperate need for resources.

To solve this problem Hitler invited Soviet Foreign Commissar V. Molotov to three day visit in Berlin. The reason was to offer the Soviet Union to join the Axis powers. The visit took place between November 12.-13, and now Germans wanted to divide the whole world with the Soviet Union. Hitler offered Soviets free hand for Middle East, Iran and India.  Germans clearly wanted to get Soviet hands out of Europe. However, Molotov pointed out that first things must be set out in Europe. Molotov asked the Germans to remove troops from Finland and Rumania and add Rumania and Turkey to the Soviet sphere of interests. Soviets also wanted Swedish isles of Spitsbergen and whole Sweden itself. Not only that, also Soviets wanted Bulgaria and naval base in the Dardanelles.

By meeting such demands Germany would become economically dependent to the Soviet Union. If the Soviets would acquire all these resources Germany would be unable to fight the war. This was Stalin’s attempt to get prime sets for his “attack of liberation”. Even if Germans would submit to Stalin’s will, the Soviet Union would eventually invade Germany. Instead Hitler realized that because of such demands the peace with the Soviet Union would not last long.

The talks with Molotov went nowhere and he returned to Moscow. New disagreements over the Balkans between both sides continued. Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria joined the axis. The question was which side will Yugoslavia will chose. On April 5 1941 Yugoslavia signed non aggression pact with the Soviet Union. It has been just few days after a coup in Yugoslavia when the new military government together with Greeks prepared to attack Germans and Italians. The Soviet – Yugoslavian agreement stated that the Soviet Union has rights to assist Yugoslavia in case of invasion by the third country. That meant that the Soviet Union had right to declare war on Germany.

  Germany invaded Yugoslavia, but Soviet Union did not react. Why? One of the explanations is that Stalin was aware of the possibility of German attack and wanted to keep the Germans in Balkans as long as possible to force out the preparations for his attack against Germany.  German forces would be kept below river Danube and the Red Army would have a clear line of attack.

This showed that the Soviet Union has broken its agreement with Germany. It also showed the German weakness, because the every new Soviet maneuver made Germany more vulnerable.  So Hitler was forced issue the preparations for the operation “Barbarossa”.

What Germans knew about Soviet attack plans and war preparations? German diplomats spotted Soviet army movements on German border already in 1940. The occupation of the Baltic States was alarming for Germans since it opened new bridgehead for invasion in Germany. Germans discovered that Soviets plan to place 50 – 100 divisions  within Baltic States, because of such alarming rumors Soviet news agency issued a statement that Soviets only have 10 – 20 divisions there.  While the core of the German army was fighting in France and only a few divisions in occupied Poland, the Germans certainly had to be worried.

 In summer of 1940, the Germans discovered a force of 700, 000 men in Ukraine and demanded explanation. Soviets said that they were  for defensive actions, but the Germans did not believe them. Soon after that Bessarabia was annexed. As Germans gathered intelligence for the attack they discovered a large troop concentration in the Soviet Union. The Germans discovered the existence of 160 Soviet divisions while in reality they’re more than 300 Soviet divisions.  But, even 160 divisions were alarming for Germans. Yet, the Germans did not consider that these divisions were capable of attacking Germany. German General Staff was optimistic about their forces and disregarded the potential of Soviet forces. Hitler himself thought that the Soviet Union is “colossus without a head” and sudden attack would bring him down.

  However after the invasion, German army found many evidences for Soviet planned attack. Topographic maps of German cities, bombing spots and leaflets within Lithuania. Also they discovered special dictionaries for Soviet soldiers. Russian to Latvian, Russian to Estonian were issued before the occupation of the Baltic states. Also there was dictionaries like Russian to Rumanian and Polish. The selected phrases and words were useful for combat actions and why would Soviet soldier would need a Russian – Czech dictionary if he is required to defend his homeland.

The Directive 21, the plan for Operation Barbarossa was issued on January 31 1941. Hitler ordered to deploy German forces against Soviet Union only in case of need. If the Soviet Union will not stop its hostile acts against Germany the Germany must take cautions steps to make preparations for attack. No particular date of the attack was not set out in the directive. The decision to deploy forces against the Soviet Union was only taken on April 30 1941.

German reason for the attack was preventive only in strategical means. Germany had to clear out the danger in East to end war with Great Britain. The Germans knew that every delay with the Soviet Union would endanger their position in Europe. So Germans wanted to defeat the Soviet Union as quickly as possible. Even if Hitler did not saw the Soviet attack as a close possibility he felt the need to prevent such possibility. If Hitler would continue his operations against Great Britain or delay his attack even further the situation could now turn on him, and today historians would try to explain his mistakes, not Stalin”s mistakes.

The Soviet Union and Germany were two violent countries who simultaneously planed to attack on each other. Even if Germany managed to outscore Soviet Union it did not bring them victory in world war. Allied forces still won the war. The fact that Germany was forced to attack the Soviet Union showed how weak was the German chances to achieve victory in the Second World war.

Selected Sources:

Raack, R. (1995) Stalin’s drive to the west 1938-1945. The origins of the cold war. – Stanford.

Davies, Norman. (2006)  Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. – Oxford, 2006

Post, W. (1996) Unternehmen Barbarossa. Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn

Hoffmann, Joachim (2006) Stalin’s War of Extermination 1941-1945: Planning, Realization and Documentation, – Capshaw, AL.

Feldmanis, I. Kā sākās padomju – vācu karš? // Latvijas Vēsture. Jaunie un jaunākie laiki, 2011, Nr. 2 (82),

Viktor Suvorov Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II

The Ribbentrop Memoirs

Мельтюхов, М. Упущений Шанс Сталина. Советский Союз и борба за Европу: 1939-1941 (Документы, факты, суздения). – Москва, 2000

Солонин, М. 23 июня «день М». – Москва, 2009

Гогун, А. Главная ошибка Сталина // Новая правда Виктора Суворова. – Москва, 2009


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