This site, has discussed the Soviet foreign policy from 1939 to June 22 1941 in past. One of the reasons for this is to question and to break the one-sided explanation of Germany as the main perpetrator of the World War II and Soviet Union country striving to preserve peace. After the fall of the Soviet Union the dark shade over the Soviet history was lifted uncovering many facts that showed the Soviet Union as no better than Nazi Germany. In terms of repressions, genocidal policy towards its own people and nations in Baltic states and Eastern Europe. What was almost impossible some 15 years before now is possible in western historiography to compare Stalinism to Hitlerism and adequately judge the Soviet history of the WW2, without the “victorious side” guise. What also begun 20 years ago and slowly starting to gain acceptance in the western and eastern historian cycles is the new understanding of the Soviet foreign policy. The Soviet propaganda showing the Soviet Union as nation struggling to preserve peace, Stalin afraid of Hitler with a weak army is not working anymore. The Soviet foreign policy was aggressive not defensive, despite the slogan “Socialism within one state”. Stalin had not abandoned the Lenin’s quest for Worldwide Socialist Revolution and dragging Europe into a new global war was his personally defined quest. With so Stalin shares great responsibility of helping Hitler to stir up war in Europe and later holds even greater responsibility to his own people of dragging the Soviet Union in disastrous war with Germany. This article is a small summary based on the works of the Russian historians mainly Mark Solonin who created the theory of the Three Stalin’s War Plans. This topic is important for Latvian history as the Stalin’s aggressive policy affected Latvia directly.
The German attack on Soviet Union on June 22 1941 was completely unexpected turn of events for Stalin. It took some hours for Stalin to react and issue the first orders. There were many foreign intelligence reports that were ignored by Stalin. The British diplomats in Moscow could not make contact with Soviet foreign commissar Vyacheslav Molotov for many hours. Why the Soviet leadership was so sure that Germany will not attack was a puzzle for many historians. Another puzzle for many is the fact that in May and June 1941 the Red Army was making a major strategical deployment – mobilization of reserves, strategical regroup and operative relocation of the army units. All this happened in depth secrecy.
The Soviet troops deployed near border only moved during the night-time, at daylight they took cover in the woods. The command staffs were moved to close border areas, in sealed trains and the even the commanders did not know where they will be taken and why. The reserves were gathered in covert ways, without no major announcements. Most were called personally for “practice muster”. Soviets gave no official complaints to Germany despite the quite uneasy mutual relations during the last months and military suspicion. Soviet Union on June 1941 was preparing for a major war, but tried to it secretly as possible. This all lead to one question – if Stalin was not expecting the German invasion, why he needed to deploy massive echelons of troops and establish field front command posts nearby already at June 19?
This question was first answered by KGB defector Victor Suvorov. In his book the Icebreaker that is more a publicist work then an academic research, he explained that Stalin was preparing for war from the very first day. The massive centralization of economy, industrialization and collectivization that destroyed the successful Lenin’s NEP semi-capitalist economy was needed to create a large war machine. The Great Purge was not just Stalin’s paranoia, but a needed action to gather his party and army for the coming war. A nation unified by brutal force under the order of one man was set to face the whole capitalist world in final war that would realize the dream of the Socialist world order. On August 1939 Stalin made final decision to support Hitler in same matter as the table supports the hanged man. By dragging UK and France into destructive war with Germany, he then would pick an advantageous moment to strike from behind and finish the war as the victorious liberator. However, nor Stalin, nor UK and France did not expect such a swift German military success, that made him to fasten up the preparations for war. However, the German invasion was a heavy blow to his megalomania.
The Suvorov theory survived and was improved by historians such as V Kisilev, T Busheva, M Meltjukov, V Nevezhin and M Solonin and many others. For the theory was based on hundreds of facts and documents. Suvorov himself has given up on writing new books on his theory since other historians have done more work than him. No other alternative explanation was given, except the Rudolf Hess flight to UK conspiracy theories. Mostly its the traditional soviet explanation that is put against the so-called revisionist side with lesser success every time. Also an old arguments that revisionists have no documented evidence are no more relevant, for instance the latest Mark Solonin book “June 1941. The Final Diagnosis” is almost completely based on hundreds of documents from Soviet war archives. At the end the traditionalist side in Russia is showing signs of argumentative defeat by simply trying to punish historians, writers and even TV channels for falsely displaying the history of the Great Patriotic war and “insulting veterans”.
There is a little argument now that Stalin’s policy was aggressive. The date of possible attack remains a question. For, the Stalin’s aggressive plan was not constant and changed three whole plans. Because the theory never works in practice in strategical political affairs. Neither Hitler was ever able to fulfill his foreign policy according to his Mein Kamph and his Second Book, because of real strategical situation and neither Stalin who also published many books and speeches about the coming war.
First Stalin’s war plan was quite simple based on his understanding of the Socialist Worldwide Revolution doctrine. It was nothing new as Lenin also predicted the next capitalist global conflict that would cause Socialist ultimate victory. According to Stalin’s speech on August 19 1939 that has now been recognized as true fact by historians such as Simon Sebag Montefiore a Stalins biographer who included this speech in his collection of the most important speeches of the XX century (his interpretation of this speech however serves the traditional soviet explanation), the pact with Germany would cause war within the capitalist states that would be long and destructive. And then Soviet Union would regain the lost territories of the Russian empire and play the decisive role in the end of the war. Stalin had real chance to sign a deal with UK and France to make a united front against Germany. It would possibly prevent Hitler from attacking Poland and place him into isolation. The Baltic States would possibly still lose their independence or at least sovereignty. But Stalin had clearly stated that such outcome would be disadvantageous for the interests of the Soviet Union.
The plan brought its “fruits” – Eastern Poland was occupied, Baltic States and Bessarabia was taken without a force. The war in Finland although disastrous for the Red Army, allowed to gain many important industrial regions from Finland that she had to give up. Some documents like the note by executive of the Special Chamber of the NKVD Main Administration major Osterov in March 5 1940 claims that global conflict in the summer of 1940 will fought between USSR allied with Japan and Germany against the UK and France. The war will take a long time. However another document states when the British were considering sending a military support to Finland, the Soviet navy received directly that their main enemies are not British but Germany and Italy. Its shows a nature of double speak and deception within the official soviet communications.
Weather fighting the capitalists or the Nazis, Soviets made active preparations for the war right from 1939. The large strategical PE-8 (TB-7) bombers with bomb storage of 1 tons and maximal flight distance 3300 km (German HE-111 could reach 2700 km at that time), and that was not enough – a bomber with 5000 km was issued by Stalin. Such flight distance was not needed for defending Soviet Union, or even bombing Germany. Reaching London or Paris with them was more appropriate. Also a large paratrooper force was organized and PE-8 bombers were also meant as air landing party planes. A diving four motor heavy PB-4 bomber was in the works. Soviet war fleet was in the making. Soviets had 267 submarines, while Germany 57, Italy -68 and Japan 63. A such a large submarine force for country with less war ports on June 1941 showed a sign of weapons mania. On 1940-1941 the Soviet Air Force main Naval headquarters marked the Mediterranean ports as the main bombing targets. That were controlled by UK and France.
However, for many including Stalin, Nevil Chamberlain and French leaders was an unbelievable sight when weakened by the Versailles treaty and arms restrictions the German Wehrmacht managed to enter Paris no less than two weeks. Stalin had complained on April 17 1940 a month before the invasion in France that imperialist forces are not really fighting, but rather are playing cards. The German army on 1940 in technical sense was less advanced than France and UK. However, the France and UK soldiers and commanders had very less will to fight, while Germans had great discipline and high attack morale. In following months Germany had seized the control over the Eastern Europe and showed dissatisfaction with Soviets occupying and annexing the Baltic States and Romanian province of Bessarabia. The first Stalin’s plan had failed.
The Second War plan is more concrete and known to historians. The plan is preserved in documents and published. The two-volume “Russia XX Century.Documents of the 1941” published on 1998 in Russian, holds important documents about Soviet strategical deployment and plan to fight against Germany on May 15 1940. The documents show that the plan for the major war existed and all of this plans were based only on major attack outside the Soviet borders. As on August 23 1939 Stalin had said to Ribbentrop that is important that Soviet Union establishes a common border with Germany – and on 1941 this was realized – the only two countries that would face such attack was Germany, Romania and Finland. The documents indicate targets like Lublin, Krakov, Vistula river and Warsaw all within German control. Two possible attack routes were made- the Northern path trough East Prussia and Northern Poland and the South path trough Lviv. At the end of the Lviv path was chosen. A war games was played out on both variants and contrary to self praising deceitful Zhukov memoirs no defensive games took place. It was Zhukov himself who was playing German side in the war games and lost to general Pavlov who was later shot after German invasion. One can say that this has no real significance – all major military powers conduct an attack plans just in case. However, Soviets were really trying to fulfill this plan and started to gather troops for the battle in masses. And that lead to disastrous events in June-July 1941 when millions of Soviet soldiers were killed and captured without a fight and massive stockpiles of tanks, airplanes and guns abandoned. The army was prepared for massive attack, of which the common soldiers and officers knew very less and were caught in disastrous rout after they were unexpectedly attacked.
At first soviet planners were still optimistic about the attack date. One document on March 11 1941 in bold text notes to “attack on 12.6.” Was this June 12 1941, or more likely June 1942. As some of the Red Army units mentioned in the document were still far from being fully deployed. The full tank deployment of KV and T-34 were still underway and could only happen on 1942 or later. Soviets had already a fast mobile tanks like BT-7 and T-26 and many heavy KV tanks. If used correctly in fast attack tactics even the small T-26 and heavy T-35 was a destructive force. There is some truth in Soviet propaganda saying that Stalin expected attack on 1942, because he was still doubtful about the German military capabilities and wanted to improve his already enormous army.
However, because of rapidly changing situation Stalin came to conclusion that there is no time, and the attack must take place on Summer 1941. Was the worsening relations with Germany or the intelligence reports that made him think so remains a question. Or it was growing impatience to realize his grand plan. The Third War plan had begun. The pro allied coup on March 26-27 1941 in Yugoslavia and mutual assistance pact with Belgrade and Moscow on April 6 protested by Germany was a major trigger for it. In just few hours Germany invaded Yugoslavia. Soviet Union was supposed to help its new allies. Instead the Moltov told the German ambassador Shulenburg that he is sad that it all turned out this way.
Was the coup in Belgrade supported by Soviet or UK secret service. If by the first, the Stalin was surprised by this and could not react adequately, if the second – Soviets had managed to stir up Hitler against them even more. On April 13 1941 Soviets signed non aggression pact with Japan. The Eastern front was now secured, and Japan had fulfilled this pact right t0 very end of 1945, when Soviets broke it. Soviet and German relations had reached the lowest point. Both sides understood that and started to prepare for war. The German Plan Barbarossa was issued January 31 1941, but as noted to be realized only in the case of need. On April 30 Hitler realized that there is such need and made final decision.
On May 15 1941 Soviet command made final instructions on deployment of the Red Army forces. It was noted in the text that Germany is capable of strike the Soviets first and made a surprise attack. The attack must took place when German army is having strategical deployment to gain first strike initiative. On May 24 1941 Stalin gathered all the main commanders, and Molotov and Beria a head of NKVD. There is no transcript or concrete info of what was said in the war conference. Possibly Stalin had possibly ordered to finish the deployment and start the war no earlier than middle June or late August 1941. If Stalin still wanted to attack on 1942, then holding a top secret meeting with all main officers in May 1941 would be irresponsible. It would be early and may result a leak of information. If during this meeting the general attack plan was laid out as indicated by the supreme secrecy the attack was meant to be on Summer of 1941. On the same time Germans wanted to attack too.
A large but secretive troop deployment took place. The troops were expected to be moved to border areas at least to July 10. If so then the real attack must took place on 15-20 July when troops were deployed and ready. And that was too late for defensive actions. Hitler missed the chance to attack on May 15 because of the Balkan front. Hitler could only attack on no later than late July because of the climate conditions.
Both Stalin and Hitler were gambling on massive operation. German army despite well-trained and equipped was not greater in size and weapons power than Red Army and was tasked to reach Moscow in three-month time. Red Army had poor discipline and morale, but large in numbers and heavy machinery. It was supposed to break trough Poland, then to Czechoslovakia, Balkans and to Berlin at the end. Both were short on time. If the Soviet attack was expected at the end of June or July, no later than September – then they also needed to face the winters of the Eastern Europe more harsher then now.
Was the attack intended on July or no less than August, or maybe even on June 23 as some claim, it was too late. Stalin had lost his Great game of 1939-1941. The outcome was horrific not fully deployed masses of the Red Army was running away, surrendering and leaving the whole airfields and tanks to enemy hands. It was not just the effectiveness of the German Blitzkrieg that made Germans reach Moscow in four months. It was again the inability to resist enemy invasion by the soviet troops who pushed the enemy more inwards in their land. Red Army lost 900-1000 thousand man in summer while Germans 25-30 thousand men. 1 German to 35 Soviet soldiers. 3 million were captured. Large size of soldiers count in as Missing in Action. A great numbers of Soviet civilians perished. Stalin had sacrificed millions of his country men for the sake of megalomaniac insane dream of the Worldwide Socialist Revolution. Also blame of starting World War II lays on Stalin’s just as Hitlers hands for the both dictators were genocidal megalomaniacs who turned the whole Europe into bloodland. The lesson from this is to not allow the return of such people who holds control of such destructive forces in their hands.
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Марк Солонин. (2013) Июнь 41-го. Окончательный диагноз. – М.: Яуза, Эксмо
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Raack, R. (1995) Stalin’s drive to the west 1938-1945. The origins of the cold war. – Stanford.