On 1938 whole Europe was worried about possible second full scale war. Hitlers troops had already marched into Austria and later Czechoslovakia. Meanwhile in Soviet Union the saw again the possibility to trigger new Worldwide Socialist revolution. According to Stalin’s understanding there were two ways of how do it – first drag the capitalist countries against each other in a full scale war, but don’t take part in it until the most favorable moment. Other way was to provoke the enemy to attack USSR and then defeat the enemy in their own territory. And that is how it was shown movie made in 1938 called If the War Comes Tomorrow (Если завтра война). The movie quickly became long forgotten after Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and later after the war. However, the movie has been fully preserved and available to us all in here
The movie was directed by Efim Dzigan. He made Stalinist style propaganda movies like We from Kronstatd (1936) and the First Cavalry (1941). However, If the War Comes tomorrow was his most famous work of propaganda art. One of the main features of this movie was the main theme song of the same name composed by Vasily Lebedev-Kumach. Later he wrote the legendary song “The Holy War”.
It the War comes tomorrow lacked same artistic and dramatic depth as Sergei Eisenstein movie “Alexander Nevsky” that also had very similar message- he who comes to Russia with spear dies from spear. Dzigan movie characters were shown as simple and brave soviet citizens fully loyal to the Soviet power and the leader Stalin. In fact the movie had no in depth characters in whole. Dramatic dialogs were only needed to illustrate the massive battle scenes that took great part in this movie.
The movie plot starts in the New Year anniversary in Moscow. Since the Christmas was officially removed from the holiday list, the New Yer celebrations became widely popular. A dialog between two retired males about their children in the Red Army is shown. One brags about his four sons who are in the Red Army tank force and forms a family tank crew, other talks about his daughter in the army, who is also a wife of the border guards commander. Occasionally the propaganda voice talks about the great Soviet achievements and large tall structure that proves the Soviet greatness. It could be that this large structure was the intended Palace of Soviets a gigantic 415 m structure that would became the tallest building in the world. The construction was begun on 1937, but the war canceled this grandiose plans. Right now its foundations have been turned in to worlds largest swimming pool. But, then the propaganda voice alarms everyone about the uneasy situation in the border areas caused by foreign powers and the growing fascist threat”.
Movie then switches to USSR border areas in the night before the dawn. A enemy troops speaking in German gathers up the forces for the attack. Their symbol is swastika however its displayed different than official Nazi Germany symbol. One of their officers have a mustache just like Adolf Hitler, although the toothbrush mustache was quite popular among many before the WWII the occasional movie viewer would understand what the movie is trying to show. However, the “Fascist’ soldiers whose country and nationality is not shown, but speaks in German looks more like WWI British or French soldiers. A another message – the Soviet enemy is not just “Fascists” but also capitalists. Enemy uses an outdated TS-18 (MC-1) tank that was also the very first Soviet built tank.
On 1938 the Soviet Union had no border with Germany or any other “Fascist” country. So according to this movie at least Poland was no longer existent in this war. For many Soviet citizens who were unaware of the European geography or political situation this might be a missed spot. But, from our perspective this detail is pretty important. The fate of Poland was long decided in the Kremlin.
The enemy is striving for a surprise attack however, Soviets aware of the alarming situation have sent reinforcements. And so the first attempt of the border crossing fails – the Fascist infantry lead by Hitler like captain is forced to retreat. The enemy attempt on crossing the border is shown in pretty vague WWI tactic style in heavy contrast to later massive Soviet attack shown in the movie. When the land attack fails, Fascists sends bombers to Minsk and Kiev. According to research made by historian Mark Solonin Stalin had planned to make fake bombing raids on his own cities, to justify his attack on Germany. To fight the enemy aircraft, Soviets sends their fighters. After the enemy bombers are destroyed, S0viet Pe-8 bombers takes flight to bomb the enemy airfields. Pe-8 was one of the heaviest long range bombers of those times. It could reach Berlin and even London. Interesting that the leading pilot of the bomber squad is called “Gromov” Interesting that the Soviet plan for aggression against Germany made in May 15 1941 is also called “Grom” (Thunder). Actually this name went well with the people of those times, since the idea of fast and decisive strike was very popular both in Germany and USSR. The Soviet concept of the “deep operations” was published in book by N Shpanov “First Strike”.
Soviets issue a full mobilization. A grandiose parade is gathered in the Red Square. This parade actually took place on May 1 1938 with the presence of Stalin and the chief commander Voroshilov Millions are rushing to join the Red Army including 12 old boy and the old man seen in the movie opening. He wants to support his four sons who are already in the army. Many woman joins too. Then movie switches to Uzbekistan, Georgia, Ukraine and other Soviet republics that also joins the fight. And then the most interesting thing happens: a large movie comment appears declaring that “From the Black Sea, to the Arctic from the Baltics to the Pacific Ocean millions of sons joins the fight”. The Baltic States were still independent from USSR on 1938. So we suppose that the fate of the Baltic States was also decided in this movie.
Movie then goes back to battlefield showing grandiose scenes of the Fascist attack and the Soviet counter attack. The enemy uses a French Renault FT-1 tanks. They get easily beaten. In return Soviets sends a horde of the BT-7 tanks. BT-7 was one of the fastest tanks of those times. According to some authors, this tanks were only good for the Western roads and therefore were only used for aggressive purposes. After the German invasion on 1941 large part of these tanks were made useless, destroyed and abandoned. Here the tanks are shown in their best – in fast speed they escape the enemy cannon fire and break their lines. In one of those tanks all four brothers mentioned earlier attacks. Its quite true that until 1941 the German tanks were quite lighter than the Soviet tanks. After meeting heavier Soviet counterparts Germans switched to more heavier models.
The desperate enemy uses chemical weapons to stop the Soviets. Chemical weapons were never used by the Nazi Germany at least in the battlefields. This movie still was in the spirit of the WWI when chemical weapons were occasionally used. However, Soviets have gas masks and all the necessary equipment to survive a gas attack. Under the white smoke they gather up their attack fore.
Fascists sends reinforcements and that is where the Soviet paratroopers comes in. With the help of the Pe-8 bombers they land behind the enemy lines and ambushes the fascist reinforcements. The enemy staff is alarmed that the paratroopers are near their positions. The Soviet paratroopers were not just an empty brag. Actually the Soviet Union had a force of 1 million of them. Since the paratroopers were almost impossible to use in the defensive actions it was obvious that their sole purpose was to penetrate the enemy from behind. In the movie showed how it should be done.
Soviets accompanied by tanks, aircraft and even cavalry starts a massive attack. Enemy is routing in panic. Cavalry lead by Marshal Budyonni chases them, Fascists sends they own cavalry resulting a bloody battle. Already after the Polish campaign it was clear that the cavalry is useless in this new kind of warfare.
Then something that the Soviets had long desired happens in the main Fascist capital. The “proletariat” the workers starts marching under the red banner. Police and army (interesting that soldiers shown there have a Nazi style helmets while soldiers shown in the front line have a British style helmets) fires at the crowd a desperate battle for red flag erupts. In the end the crowds march in the streets with the Soviet flag. That was according to long time Soviet belief made by Lenin, that the world war will cause a socialist uprising in the capitalist centers before the Soviet tanks reach them.
And the Soviet tanks are marching in masses accompanied by grandiose hordes of bombers. Captured Fascist generals are watching this with the fear and disbelief. In the end the massive hordes of the Red Army is shown. The slogan reads “The First attack of the enemy has been beaten. In such way the war might start that would lead to the destruction of the capitalist world” And the song plays warning that there is no such force to destroy the Soviet Union.
The movie failed to prove its point. Despite the enormous resources gathered by the Red Army, on 1941 Germans managed to advance all the way to Moscow. Red Army needed not two days to beat of the enemy aggression, but four years. But in therms of destruction of Poland and the Baltic States the movie was right. Poland and the Baltic states were in between Germany and USSR. Only way to attack Soviet Union or Soviet Union to attack Germany was to remove these buffer states. And that was done by signing the Molotov – Ribbentrop pact on August 23 1939. But, the main movie slogan the destruction of the capitalist order left unfulfilled.