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In Mein Kampf and in numerous speeches Adolf Hitler claimed that the German population needed more living space. Hitler's Lebensraum policy was mainly directed at the Soviet Union. He was especially interested in the Ukraine where he planned to develop a German colony. The system would be based on the British occupation of India: "What India was for England the territories of Russia will be for us... The German colonists ought to live on handsome, spacious farms. The German services will be lodged in marvellous buildings, the governors in palaces... The Germans - this is essential - will have to constitute amongst themselves a closed society, like a fortress. The least of our stable-lads will be superior to any native."
Hitler intended to force Norwegians, Swedes and Danes to move to these territories in the East. Hitler believed that the Blitzkrieg tactics employed against the other European countries could not be used as successfully against the Soviet Union. He conceded that due to its enormous size, the Soviet Union would take longer than other countries to occupy. However he was confident it could still be achieved during the summer months of 1941.
Joseph Stalin believed that Germany would not invade the Soviet Union until Britain and France had been conquered. From Stalin's own calculations, this would not be until the summer of 1942. Some of his closest advisers began to argue that 1941 would be a much more likely date. The surrender of France in June, 1940, cast doubts on Stalin's calculations.
Stalin's response to France's defeat was to send Vyacheslav Molotov to Berlin for more discussions. Molotov was instructed to draw out these talks for as long as possible. Stalin knew that if Adolf Hitler did not attack the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941 he would have to wait until 1942. No one, not even someone as rash as Hitler, would invade the Soviet Union in the winter, he argued.
Germany was now in a strong negotiating position and found it impossible to agree to Hitler's demands. As soon as talks broke-up, Hitler ordered his military leaders to prepare for Operation Barbarossa. The plan was for the invasion of the Soviet Union to start on the 15th May, 1941. Hitler believed that this would give the German Army enough time to take control of the country before the harsh Soviet winter set in.
General Friedrich Paulus was asked to carry out a strategic survey on the Soviet Union for the proposed invasion. The main advice given by Paulus to Adolf Hitler was to make sure that after the invasion the Red Army did not retreat into the interior. For the campaign to be successful he argued for battles of encirclement. He also suggested that the main thrust should be made north of the Pripyat Marshes in order to capture Moscow.
Information on the proposed invasion came to Stalin from various sources. Richard Sorge, an agent working for the Red Orchestra in Japan, obtain information about the proposed invasion as early as December, 1940. Winston Churchill sent a personal message to Stalin in April, 1941, explaining how German troop movements suggested that they were about to attack the Soviet Union. However, Stalin was still suspicious of the British and thought that Churchill was trying to trick him into declaring war on Germany.
When the Red Orchestra prediction that Germany would invade in May, 1941, did not take place, Stalin became even more convinced that Germany had invaded Yugoslavia in April. Adolf Hitler had expected the Yugoslavs to surrender immediately but because of stubborn resistance, Hitler had to postpone Operation Barbarossa for a few weeks.
On 21st June, 1941, a German sergeant deserted to the Soviet forces. He informed them that the German Army would attack at dawn the following morning. Stalin was reluctant to believe the soldier's story and it was not until the German attack took place that he finally accepted that his attempts to avoid war with Germany until 1942 had failed.
The German forces, made up of three million men and 3,400 tanks, advanced in three groups. The north group headed for Leningrad, the centre group for Moscow and the southern forces into the Ukraine. Andrey Yeryomenko, who was in Minsk, later wrote: "Having covered every inch of ground with corpses the Nazis broke through to Smolensk. Stubborn fighting for the town proper raged for almost a whole month. The city repeatedly passed from hand to hand. More than one German division found its last resting place in the approaches to Smolensk and in the town itself. Every street and every house was contested by severe fighting and the Nazis paid very heavily for every yard of their advance. Hundreds of German soldiers and officers perished in the waters of the Dnieper River." General Demitry Pavlov was forced to retreat and the within six days, the German Army had captured the city. When he heard the news Stalin told Lavrenty Beria: "This is a monstrous crime. Those responsible must lose their heads."
Pavlov and his chief of staff, Major-General Vladimir Efimovich Klimovskikh, were now recalled to Moscow. After a meeting with Kliment Voroshilov they were charged on 4th July with being involved in an "anti-Soviet military conspiracy" that had "betrayed the interests of the Motherland, violated the oath of office and damaged the combat power of the Red Army that are crimes under Articles 58-1b, 58-11 RSFSR Criminal Code." It was reported that: "A preliminary judicial investigation and determined that the defendants Pavlov and Klimovskikh being: the first - the commander of the Western Front, and the second - the chief of staff of the same front, during the outbreak of hostilities with the German forces against the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, showed cowardice, failure of power, mismanagement, allowed the collapse of command and control, surrender of weapons to the enemy without fighting, willful abandonment of military positions by the Red Army, the most disorganized defense of the country and enabled the enemy to break through the front of the Red Army."
When Joseph Stalin was told that Pavlov and Klimovskikh had been charged he told Major-General Alexander Poskrebyshev: "I approve the sentence but tell Ulrikh to get rid of all that rubbish about conspiratorial activity. The case shouldn't drag out. No appeal. And then inform the fronts so that they know that defeatists will be punished without mercy." Anastas Mikoyan later wrote: "It was a pity to lose him but it was justified."
With the execution of Demitry Pavlov and three other generals, Joseph Stalin made it clear that he would punish severely any commander whom he believed had let down the Soviet Union. In future, Soviet commanders thought twice about surrendering or retreating. Another factor in this was the way that the German Army massacred the people of Minsk. Terrified of both Stalin and Hitler, the Soviet people had no option but to fight until they were killed.
The first few months of the war was disastrous for the Soviet Union. The German northern forces surrounded Leningrad while the centre group made steady progress towards Moscow. German forces had also made deep inroads into the Ukraine. Kiev was under siege and Stalin's Chief of Staff, Georgi Zhukov, suggested that the troops defending the capital of the Ukraine should be withdrawn, thus enabling them to take up strong defensive positions further east. Stalin insisted that the troops stayed and by the time Kiev was taken, the casualties were extremely high. It was the most comprehensive defeat experienced by the red army in its history. However, the determined resistance put up at Kiev, had considerably delayed the attack on Moscow.
It was now September and winter was fast approaching. As German troops moved deeper into the Soviet Union, supply lines became longer. Joseph Stalin gave instructions that when forced to withdraw, the Red Army should destroy anything that could be of use to the enemy. The scorched earth policy and the formation of guerrilla units behind the German front lines, created severe problems for the German war machine which was trying to keep her three million soldiers supplied with the necessary food and ammunition.
By October, 1941, German troops were only fifteen miles outside Moscow. Orders were given for a mass evacuation of the city. In two weeks, two million people left Moscow and headed east. Stalin rallied morale by staying in Moscow. In a bomb-proof air raid shelter positioned under the Kremlin, Stalin, as Supreme Commander-in-Chief, directed the Soviet war effort. All major decisions made by his front-line commanders had to be cleared with Stalin first.
In November, 1941, the German Army launched a new offensive on Moscow. The Soviet army held out and the Germans were brought to a halt. Stalin called for a counter-attack. His commanders had doubts about this policy but Stalin insisted and on 4th December the Red Army attacked. The German army, demoralized by its recent lack of success, was taken by surprise and started to retreat. By January, the Germans had been pushed back 200 miles.
Stalin's military strategy was basically fairly simple. He believed it was vitally important to attack the enemy as often as possible. He was particularly keen to use new, fresh troops for these offensives. Stalin argued that countries in western Europe had been beaten by their own fear of German superiority. His main objective in using new troops in this way was to convince them that the German forces were not invincible. By pushing the German Army back at Moscow, Stalin proved to the Soviet troops that Blizkrieg could be counteracted; it also provided an important example to all troops throughout the world fighting the German war-machine.
In December, 1941, Adolf Hitler agreed to the suggestion made by Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau that General Freidrich Paulus should be given command of the 6th Army. Promoted to general, Paulus took up his appointment on 1st January 1942 and fought his first battle at Dnepropetrovsk in the Soviet Union. The advance of the 6th Army was halted by the Red Army and the following month Paulus was forced to order his men to move back in search of better defensive positions.
On 9th May 1942, General Semen Timoshenko, with 640,000 men, attacked the 6th Army at Volchansk. Paulus, seriously outnumbered, decided to move his troops back toward Kharkov. The 6th Army was rescued by General Paul von Kleist and his 1st Panzer Army when they struck Timoshenko's exposed southern flank on 17th May. Paulus was now able to launch a counter-attack on 20th May and by the end of the month all Soviet resistance had come to an end. A total of 240,000 Soviet soldiers were killed or captured and Paulus was awarded the Knights' Cross.
General Timoshenko was now placed in overall command of the Stalingrad. In the summer of 1942 General Freidrich Paulus advanced toward the city with 250,000 men, 500 tanks, 7,000 guns and mortars, and 25,000 horses. Progress was slow because fuel was rationed and Army Group A were given priority. At the end of July 1942, a lack of fuel brought Paulus to a halt at Kalach. It was not until 7th August that he had received the supplies needed to continue with his advance. Over the next few weeks his troops killed or captured 50,000 Soviet troops but on 18th August, Paulus, now only thirty-five miles from Stalingrad, ran out of fuel again.
When fresh supplies reached him, Paulus decided to preserve fuel by move forward with only his XIV Panzer corps. The Red Army now attacked the advance party and they were brought to a halt just short of Stalingrad. The rest of his forces were brought up and Paulus now circled the city. As his northern flank came under attack Paulus decided to delay the attack on the city until 7th September. While he was waiting the Luftwaffe bombed the city killing thousands of civilians.
As the German Army advanced into Stalingrad the Soviets fought for every building. The deeper the troops got into the city, the more difficult the street fighting became and casualties increased dramatically. The German tanks were less effective in a fortified urban area as it involved house-to-house fighting with rifles, pistols, machine-guns and hand grenades. The Germans had particularly problems with cleverly camouflaged artillery positions and machine-gun nests. The Soviets also made good use of sniper detachments deployed in the bombed out buildings in the city. On the 26th September the 6th Army was able to raise the swastika flag over the government buildings in Red Square but the street fighting continued.
Adolf Hitler now ordered Paulus to take Stalingrad whatever the cost to German forces. On the radio Hitler told the German people: "You may rest assured that nobody will ever drive us out of Stalingrad." When General Gustav von Wietersheim, commander of the XIV Panzer Corps, complained about the high casualty rates, Paulus replaced him with General Hans Hube. However, Paulus, who had lost 40,000 soldiers since entering the city, was running out of fighting men and on 4th October he made a desperate plea to Hitler for reinforcements.
A few days later five engineer battalions and a panzer division arrived in Stalingrad. Fighting a war of attrition, Joseph Stalin responded by ordering three more armies to the city. Soviet losses were much higher than those of the Germans, but Stalin had more men at his disposal than Paulus.
David Low, Someone is taking someone for a walk (2nd November, 1939)
The heavy rains of October turned the roads into seas of mud and the 6th Army's supply conveys began to get bogged down. On 19th October the rain turned to snow. Paulus continued to make progress and by the beginning of November he controlled 90 per cent of the city. However, his men were now running short of ammunition and food. Despite these problems Paulus decided to order another major offensive on 10th November. The German Army took heavy casualties for the next two days and then the Red Army launched a counterattack Paulus was forced to retreat southward but when he reached Gumrak Airfield, Adolf Hitler ordered him to stop and stand fast despite the danger of encirclement. Hitler told him that Hermann Goering had promised that the Luftwaffe would provide the necessary supplies by air.
Senior officers under Paulus argued that they doubted if the scale of the airlift required could be achieved during a Russian winter. All of the corps commanders argued for a breakout before the Red Army were able to consolidate its positions. General Hans Hube told Paulus: "A breakout is our only chance." Paulus responded by saying that he had to obey Hitler's orders.
Throughout December the Luftwaffe dropped an average of 70 tons of supplies a day. The encircled German Army needed a minimum of 300 tons a day. The soldiers were put on one-third rations and began to kill and eat their horses. By 7th December the 6th Army were living on one loaf of bread for every five men.
Now aware that the 6th Army was in danger of being starved into surrender, Adolf Hitler ordered Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and the 4th Panzer Army to launch a rescue attempt. Manstein managed to get within thirty miles of Stalingrad but was then brought to a halt by the Red Army. On 27th December, 1942, Manstein decided to withdraw as he was also in danger of being encircled by Soviet troops.
In Stalingrad over 28,000 German soldiers had died in just over a month. With little food left Paulus gave the order that the 12,000 wounded men could no longer be fed. Only those who could fight would be given their rations. Erich von Manstein now gave the order for Paulus to make a mass breakout. Paulus rejected the order arguing that his men were too weak to make such a move.
On 30th January, 1943, Adolf Hitler promoted Paulus to field marshal and sent him a message reminding him that no German field marshal had ever been captured. Hitler was clearly suggesting to Paulus to commit suicide but he declined and the following day surrendered to the Red Army. The last of the Germans surrendered on 2nd February.
The battle for Stalingrad was over. Over 91,000 men were captured and a further 150,000 had died during the siege. The German prisoners were forced marched to Siberia. About 45,000 died during the march to the prisoner of war camps and only about 7,000 survived the war..
(1) Leopold Trepper, the head of the Red Orchestra, kept Joseph Stalin and the Red Army informed of the planned German invasion of the Soviet Union. He wrote about this in his autobiography, The Great Game (1977)
On December 18, 1940, Hitler signed Directive Number 21, better known as Operation Barbarossa. The first sentence of the plan was explicit: "The German armed forces must be ready before the end of the war against Great Britain to defeat the Soviet Union by means of Blitzkrieg."
Richard Sorge warned the Centre immediately; he forwarded them a copy of the directive. Week after week, the heads of Red Army Intelligence received updates on the Wehrmacht's preparations. At the beginning of 1941, Schulze-Boysen sent the Centre precise information on the operation being planned; massive bombardments of Leningrad, Kiev, and Vyborg; the number of divisions involved.
In February, I sent a detailed dispatch giving the exact number of divisions withdrawn from France and Belgium, and sent to the east. In May, through the Soviet military attaché in Vichy, General Susloparov, I sent the proposed plan of attack, and indicated the original date, May 15, then the revised date, and the final date. On May 12, Sorge warned Moscow that 150 German divisions were massed along the frontier.
The Soviet intelligence services were not the only ones in possession of this information. On March 11, 1941, Roosevelt gave the Russian ambassador the plans gathered by American agents for Operation Barbarossa. On the 10th June the English released similar information. Soviet agents working in the frontier zone in Poland and Rumania gave detailed reports on the concentration of troops.
He who closes his eyes sees nothing, even in the full light of day. This was the case with Stalin and his entourage. The generalissimo preferred to trust his political instinct rather than the secret reports piled up on his desk. Convinced that he had signed an eternal pact of friendship with Germany, he sucked on the pipe of peace. He had buried his tomahawk and he was not ready to dig it up.
(2) Joachim von Ribbentrop, letter to Staatssekretaer Weizsaecker (29th April, 1941)
I can summarize my opinion on a German-Russian conflict in one sentence: if every burned out Russian city was worth as much to us as a sunk English battleship, then I would be in favour of a German-Russian war in this summer; I think though that we can win over Russia only militarily but that we should lose economically. One can find it enticing to give the Communist system its death blow and perhaps say too that it lies in the logic of things to let the European-Asiatic continent now march forth against Anglo-Saxondom and its allies. But only one thing is decisive: whether this undertaking would hasten the fall of England.
That we will advance militarily up to Moscow and beyond victoriously, I believe is unquestionable. But I thoroughly doubt that we could make use of what was won against the well known passive resistance of the Slavs.
A German attack on Russia would only give a lift to English morale. It would be evaluated there as German doubt of the success of our war against England. We would in this fashion not only admit that the war would still last a long time, but we could in this way actually lengthen instead of shorten it.
(3) Joseph Stalin, radio speech (June, 1941)
The Red Army, the Red Navy, and all citizens of the Soviet Union must defend every inch of Soviet soil, must fight to the last drop of blood for our towns and villages, must display the daring, initiative and mental alertness characteristic of our people.
In case of forced retreat of Red Army units, all rolling stock must be evacuated, the enemy must not be left a single engine, a single railway truck, not a single pound of grain or gallon of fuel. Collective farmers must drive off all their cattle and turn over their grain to the safe keeping of the state authorities, for transportation to the rear. lf valuable property that cannot be withdrawn, must be destroyed without fail.
In areas occupied by the enemy, partisan units, mounted and on foot, must be formed; sabotage groups must be organized to combat enemy units, to foment partisan warfare everywhere, blow up bridges and roads, damage telephone and telegraph lines, set fire to forests, stores and transport. In occupied regions conditions must be made unbearable for the enemy and all his accomplices. They must be hounded and annihilated at every step, and all their measures frustrated.
(4) Marshal Alexander Vasilevsky, Memoirs (1974)
Stalin was unjustifiably self-confident, headstrong, unwilling to listen to others; he overestimated his own knowledge and ability to guide the conduct of the war directly. He relied very little on the General Staff and made no adequate use of the skills and experience of its personnel. Often for no reason at all, he would make hasty changes in the top military leadership. Stalin quite rightly insisted that the military must abandon outdated strategic concepts, but he was unfortunately rather slow to do this himself. He tended to favour head-on confrontations.
(5) Operation Barbarossa directive issued by Adolf Hitler on 18th December, 1940.
In the zone of operations, divided by the Pripet marshes into a southern and a northern sector, the main effort will be made north of this area. Two army groups will be provided here.
The more southerly of these two army groups - the Centre one of the front as a whole - will be given the task of annihilating the enemy's forces in White Russia by advancing from the area around and north of Warsaw with specially strong armoured and motorized forces. This will make it possible to switch strong mobile formations northward to co-operate with Army Group North in annihilating the enemy's forces fighting in the Baltic States - Army Group North operating from East Prussia in the general direction of Leningrad. Only after having accomplished this most important task, which must be followed by the occupation of Leningrad and Kronstadt, is there to be a continuation of the offensive operations which aim at the capture of Moscow - as a focal centre of communications and armament industry.
Only a surprisingly quick collapse of Russian resistance could justify aiming at both objectives simultaneously.
The Army Group employed south of the Pripet marshes is to make its main effort from the Lublin area in the general direction of Kiev, in order to penetrate deeply into the flank and rear of the Russian forces and then to roll them up along the Dnieper River.
(6) In his diary Joseph Goebbels recorded how he expected a quick victory in the Soviet Union (July 1941)
The Führer thinks that the action will take only 4 months; I think - even less. Bolshevism will collapse as a house of cards. We are facing an unprecedented victorious campaign.
Cooperation with Russia was in fact a stain on our reputation. Now it is going to be washed out. The very thing we were struggling against for our whole lives, will now be destroyed. I tell this to the Führer and he agrees with me completely.
(7) Elena Skriyabina was living in Leningrad when Vyacheslav Molotov announced the German attack on the Soviet Union.
Molotov's speech sounded hesitatingly and hastily, as if he was out of breath. His encouraging appeal seemed quite inappropriate. Immediately I had the feeling as if a monster was approaching slowly, threateningly, frightening everybody to death. After the news I ran out to the street. Panic was spreading around the city. People hastily exchanged a couple of words, then rushed to the shops, buying anything they saw. They were running in the streets like mad. Many went to the savings banks to take out their deposits. This wave absorbed me too. I also tried to receive cash from my savings book. But I came too late. The bank was empty, payments had been stopped. The crowd around was shouting and complaining. The June day blazed, the heat was unbearable. Somebody fainted, others were cursing. The day passed in a tense and uneasy mood. Only in the evening everything became strangely quiet. It seemed that everybody has hidden somewhere, possessed by terror.
(8) Macha Rolnikas, diary entry (June, 1941)
The Nazis have occupied the town. People are crying and talking about the Nazis' hatred of Jews and Communists. And we, we are both. And on top of it all, Papa has been working very actively for the Soviets.
New decrees have been posted in the town: all the Jews - adults and children - must wear insignias, a white piece of cloth, ten square centimeters, and in the middle the yellow letter "J". Is it possible that the invaders no longer regard us as human beings and brand us just like cattle? One can not accept such meanness. But who dares oppose them?
(9) Colonel-General Andrey Yeryomenko of the Red Army, wrote about the German Army at Smolensk in the book, Strategy and Tactics of the Soviet-German War (1943)
Having covered every inch of ground with corpses the Nazis broke through to Smolensk. Stubborn fighting for the town proper raged for almost a whole month. The city repeatedly passed from hand to hand. More than one German division found its last resting place in the approaches to Smolensk and in the town itself. Every street and every house was contested by severe fighting and the Nazis paid very heavily for every yard of their advance. Hundreds of German soldiers and officers perished in the waters of the Dnieper River.
(10) General Guenther Blumentritt argued that Heinrich von Brauchitsch, Franz Halder and Gerd von Rundstedt were all against the plan to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941.
All three realized the difficulties presented by the nature of the country from their experiences in the 1914-18 war - above all, the difficulties of movement, reinforcement, and supply. Field-Marshal von Rundstedt asked Hitler bluntly: "Have you weighed up what you are undertaking in an attack on Russia?"
(11) General Paul von Kliest was interviewed by Basil Liddell Hart about Operation Barbarossa in his book The Other Side of the Hill (1948)
It was the same with the other high commanders. We were told the Russian armies were about to take the offensive, and it was essential for Germany to remove the menace. It was explained to us that the Führer could not proceed with other plans while this threat loomed dose, as too large a part of the German forces would be pinned down in the east keeping guard. It was argued that attack was the only way for us to remove the risks of a Russian attack.
We did not underrate the Red Army, as is commonly imagined. The last German military attaché in Moscow, General Kostring - a very able man-had kept us well informed about the state of the Russian Army. But Hitler refused to credit his information.
Hopes of victory were largely built on the prospect that the invasion would produce a political upheaval in
Russia. Most of us generals realized beforehand that if the Russians chose to fall back there was very little chance of achieving a final victory without the help of such an upheaval. Too high hopes were built on the belief that Stalin would be overthrown by his own people if he suffered heavy defeats. The belief was fostered by the Führer's political advisers, and we, as soldiers, didn't know enough about the political side to dispute it. There were no preparations for a prolonged struggle. Everything was based on the idea of a decisive result before the autumn.
(12) General Walter Warlimont, order issued to the German Army about the occupation of the Soviet Union (12th May, 1941)
1. Political officials and leaders are to be liquidated.
2. Insofar as they are captured by the troops, an officer with authority to impose disciplinary punishment decides whether the given individual must be liquidated. For such a decision the fact suffices that he is a political official.
3. Political leaders in the troops (Red Army) are not recognized as prisoners of war and are to be liquidated at the latest in the prisoner-of-war transit camps.
(13) Alfred Jodl, order issued to the German Army (23rd July, 1941)
In view of the vast size of the occupied areas in the East the forces available for establishing security in these areas will be sufficient only if al resistance is punished not by legal prosecution of the guilty but by the spreading of such terror by the occupying power as is appropriate to eradicate every inclination to resist among the population. The competent commanders must find the means of keeping order not by demanding more security forces but by applying suitable Draconian methods.
(14) Order issued by Hans Hingst, regional commander of Vilno (2nd August 1941)
1. All the Jews of both sexes from the city of Vilno must wear a yellow Zion star for identification on the left side of the chest and on the back.
2. The Jewish population is forbidden to use sidewalks. They must walk along the right side of the road and walk one after another.
3. The Jewish population is forbidden to stay in the boulevards and all public parks. The Jewish population is also forbidden to use street benches for rest.
4. The Jewish population is forbidden to use any kind of public transport, such as taxis, cabs, buses, steamboats etc. The owners or holders of all means of transport facilities should put a poster saying "Jews not allowed" on their vehicles so that they are clearly visible.
5. Anyone violating this order should be punished in the strictest way.
(15) Order from the German Army Supreme Command (16th June 1941)
General provisions on the treatment of Soviet POWs. Bolshevism is a deadly enemy of National Socialist Germany. For the first time the German soldier is facing an enemy, who has not just received military training, but is indoctrinated in the spirit of Bolshevism. Struggle against National Socialism is in his flesh and blood. He wages this struggle using all means: sabotage, subversive propaganda, arson, murder. Therefore the Bolshevik soldier has lost the privilege to be treated as a genuine soldier according to the Geneva Convention.
(1) The faintest manifestations of protest or disobedience should be met with ruthless reprisals.
(2) Weapons should be used ruthlessly to suppress resistance.
(3) The escaping POWs should be shot at without warning and with the determination to hit the target.
(16) Major Shabalin, a member of the Red Army, kept a diary of the fighting with the German Army in 1941. He was killed on 20th October and his diary was translated by the Germans for military analysis.
9th September, 1941: The situation with the personnel is very bad, practically the whole army consists of men, whose homes have been captured by the Germans. They want to go home. The passivity at the front, immobility in the trenches demoralise the soldiers. There are some cases of drinking among the officers and political Commissars. Sometimes people do not come back from reconnaissance missions.
14th October, 1941: The enemy has encircled us. Incessant gunfire. Cannon, mortar and submachine gun exchanges. Danger and fear all day long. And this is not to mention the swamp, the forest, and the problem of passing the night. I have not slept since the
15th October, 1941: Terrifying! I wander around, dead bodies, was horrors and permanent bombardment everywhere. I am hungry and had no sleep again. Took a bottle of alcohol. Went to the forest for reconnaissance. Our total destruction is obvious. The army is beaten, its supply train is destroyed, am writing sitting in a forest by a bonfire. In the morning lost all my Cheka (KGB) officers, and now I am alone among strangers. The army has disintegrated.
16th October, 1941: I spent the night in the forest, had no bread for three days. There are a lot of soldiers in the forest, but no officers. Throughout the night and the morning the Germans were firing at the forest from all kind of weapons. At about 7 a.m. we got up and marched north. The gunfire continues. During a halt I managed to wash my face and hands.
19th October, 1941: All night long we were marching through the rain across marshlands. Pitch dark. I was wet to the bone, my right foot has swollen; very difficult to walk.
(17) Simon Sebag Montefiore, Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2003)
At dawn on 4 July, Mekhlis arrested Pavlov for treason: "We ask you to confirm arrest and prosecution," Mekhlis reported. Stalin welcomed it "as one of the true ways to improve the health of the Front". Under torture, Pavlov implicated General Meretskov who was immediately arrested too...
On 22nd July, the four commanding officers of the Western Front were shot. So many telegrams flooded in asking permission to shoot traitors, they blocked up the wires in Mekhlis's office. That day, he told them to sentence and shoot their own traitors.
(18) After the war Wilhelm von Thoma, commander of 2nd Panzer Division, was highly critical of the military tactics of Adolf Hitler during Operation Barbarossa.
Hitler had not interfered in the Polish campaign, but the immense public acclaim of 'his' strategy there, and still more after the French campaign, had given him a swelled head. He had a taste for strategy and tactics, but he did not understand the executive details. He often had good ideas, but he was stubborn as a rock - so that he spoilt the fulfillment of his own conceptions.
What we had was good enough to beat Poland and France, but not good enough to conquer Russia. The space there was so vast, and the going so difficult. We ought to have had twice as many tanks in our armoured divisions, and their motor-infantry regiments were not mobile enough.
The original pattern of our armoured division was ideal - with two tank regiments and one motor-infantry regiment. But the latter should be carried in armoured tracked vehicles, even though it entails more petrol. In the earlier part of the Russian campaign it was possible to bring them up in their lorries close to the scene of action before they dismounted. They were often brought up as close as a quarter of a mile from the fighting line. But that ceased to be possible when the Russians had more aircraft.
The lorry-columns were too vulnerable, and the infantry had to get out too far back. Only armoured infantry can come into action quickly enough for the needs of a mobile battle. Worse still, these clumsy lorries easily became bogged. France had been ideal country for armoured forces, but Russia was the worst-because of its immense tracts of country that were either swamp or sand. In parts the sand was two or three feet deep. When the rain came down the sand turned into swamp.
(19) Vladimir Stavsky was a Soviet journalist who witnessed the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
We pass through village after village, most of them mere hamlets. Standing at the gates are collective-farm peasants who greet us enthusiastically. In the still evening these shouts of greetings are mingled with the sound of women and children weeping as they contemplate the charred ruins where their homes once stood. Behind us are a series of low hills and before us - in the valley lies the town of Yelnia.
Yelnia is burnt to the ground and its destitute inhabitants pass through the streets covered with ashes and chaired ruins. The Nazis here were helped by one Rozalinsky, whom they appointed commandant of the town of Yelnia. Rozalinsky proved to be a Nazi agent who had for many years lived in Smolensk and paraded as a modest book-keeper. The Germans were also helped by Dombrovsky and his wife, former local landowners. In the villages the Nazis appointed rural elders, who helped them to loot and oppress the population.
(20) Ina Konstantinova was one of the many Russian women who went to help the Red Army. She wrote about her experiences in her diary.
I haven't written for a long time. So much has happened! was not mistaken: this copy-book will see a great deal. Particularly remember the events of 19 June. At night a large punitive detachment approached our village very, very close. The exchange of fire continued throughout the night. In the morning, when we woke up, villages burned all around us. Soon the first casualty was brought to me. My hands were covered with blood, then took this seriously wounded man to a doctor, 6 kms away. When I returned, we had to execute a certain village elder, a collaborator. We went to get him; we read him the sentence and led him to the pace of execution. I felt awful.
In the evening, about eleven, just as was getting ready to go to bed, another wounded man was brought in. Again dressed his wounds, and again had to deliver him to a doctor. And the weather was terrible; it was cold, dark, raining, and windy. I dressed warm and we went. My sick man instantly froze; I had to give him at first my rain cape and then my jacket. I had only a blouse on, and was terribly chilled. On the way, the cart broke down and I fixed it, and then we got lost. In short, it took us four hours to get to our destination, barely had time to warm up a bit when had to start back. I returned in the morning; I had quite a night!
(21) William Joyce, Germany Calling (31st December, 1942)
We are approaching the end of a year signalised by the magnificent triumphs of Germany and her allies which have laid the sure basis of their victory, a year in which the Führer and the forces under this command have made a great advance towards final victory... as the year draws to a close we are witnessing the dramatic spectacle of the Soviet Union dissipating its forces, squandering its reserves and smashing its war potential to pieces on the adamant rock of German resistance. Next year, when the German offensive is resumed, we shall see the real significance of the desperate and prodigious sacrifices which Stalin is now making. Even before that time comes, the world may well be able to perceive the tremors which will precede the earthquake of economic collapse in the Soviet Union, and before the German and allied forces move forward in their next great attack, there will probably be much strife and discord between the Soviets and the Allies, for even if shipping space were available in plenty to Britain and the USA, as it certainly is not, the war production of the two countries combined would not yield a sufficient quantity of arms and munitions to replace the losses the Bolsheviks have suffered during the last month.
(22) Joseph Stalin to Anthony Eden (16th December, 1941)
The war policy of the Soviet Union has so far been that of a fighting retreat. We have defended every district and every point so as to wear down gradually the German forces. The moment has now arrived when the wearing-down process has reached the point where the Germans feel the pinch. The German soldiers are tired. Their Commanders hoped to finish the war before the winter and they made no preparations for a winter campaign.
This December the German army has shown itself tired and ill-clad and just at this time new Soviet armies and formations reached the front. These reinforcements created the possibility for the change over at the front which you have noticed during the last two weeks. The Germans attempted to dig themselves in, but were not inclined to make very strong fortifications. Our troops were able to break through and now we have the possibility of attacking; counter-attacks have gradually developed into counter-offensives. We shall try and carry this on all through the winter.
We have now the air superiority, but not a very great one. The Germans still have a great superiority in tanks, and tanks are vitally necessary for us, especially Valentines, which we have found to be much better for use in the winter. The Matilda will be all right in the summer weather, but the engine is too weak for winter conditions. We shall go ahead on all fronts. In the south the position is quite satisfactory. The bringing in of fresh reinforcements was the cause of the recent successes. The German army is not so strong after all. It is only because it has an enormous reputation.
(23) After the war Gerd von Rundstedt explained why the German Army failed to conquer the Soviet Union in 1941.
Long before winter came the chances had been diminished owing to the repeated delays in the advance that were caused by bad roads, and mud. The 'black earth' of the Ukraine could be turned into mud by ten minutes rain - stopping all movement until it dried. That was a heavy handicap in a race with time. If was, increased by a lack of railways in Russia - for bringing up supplies to our advancing troops. Another adverse factor was the way the Russians received continual reinforcements from their back areas, as they fell back. It seemed to us that as soon as one force was wiped out, the path was blocked by the arrival of a fresh force.
(24) William Joyce, Germany Calling (16th January, 1943)
The extent of the enemy's sacrifices has been colossal and cannot be maintained. In the Stalingrad Sector, above all, the Soviets have been employing heavy forces and their losses have been proportionately high. Day after day, more Soviet tank losses have been reported and at the same time, the ratio between the German and Soviet air losses is incomparably in favour of the Luftwaffe. For example, it was reported yesterday that sixty-seven Soviet aircraft had been shot down as against four German losses; on Tuesday, the ratio was fifty-two to one in our favour. As might be expected, the Luftwaffe's superiority has dealt a hard blow at the enemy and it is now reported that the Soviets are being compelled to use untrained personnel in their larger bombers.
(25) In 1948 General Guenther Blumentritt told Basil Liddell Hart about the problems that the German Army had during the invasion of the Soviet Union.
It was appallingly difficult country for tank movement - great virgin forests, widespread swamps, terrible roads, and bridges not strong enough to bear the weight of tanks. The resistance also became stiffer, and the Russians began to cover their front with minefields. It was easier for them to block the way because there were so few roads.
The great motor highway leading from the frontier to Moscow was unfinished - the one road a Westerner would call a 'road'. We were not prepared for what we found because our maps in no way corresponded to reality. On those maps all supposed main roads were marked in red, and there seemed to be many, but they often proved to be merely sandy tracks. The German intelligence service was fairly accurate about conditions in Russian-occupied Poland, but badly at fault about those beyond the original Russian frontier.
Such country was bad enough for the tanks, but worse still for the transport accompanying them - carrying their fuel, their supplies, and all the auxiliary troops they needed. Nearly all this transport consisted of wheeled vehicles, which could not move off the roads, nor move on if the sand turned into mud. An hour or two of rain reduced the panzer forces to stagnation. It was an extraordinary sight, with groups of them strung out over a hundred miles stretch, all stuck - until the sun came out and the ground dried. Hoth, who was advancing from the Orsha-Nevel sector, was delayed by swamps as well as bursts of rain. Guderian made a rapid advance to Smolensk, but then met similar trouble.
A number of the generals declared that a resumption of the offensive in 1942 was impossible, and that it was wiser to make sure of holding what had been gained. Halder was very dubious about the continuance of the offensive. Von Rundstedt was still more emphatic and even urged that me German Army should withdraw to their original front in Poland. Von Leeb agreed with him. While other generals did not go so far as this, most of them were very worried as to where the campaign would lead. With the departure of von Rundstedt as well as von Brauchitsch, the resistance to Hitler's pressure was weakening and that pressure was all for resuming the offensive.
There was a "battle of opinion" between Halder and him. The Intelligence had information that 600 to 700 tanks a month were coming out of the Russian factories, in the Ural Mountains and elsewhere. When Halder told him of this. Hitler slammed the table and said it was impossible. He would not believe what he did not want to believe.
Secondly, he did not know what else to do-as he would not listen to any idea of a withdrawal. He felt that he must do something and that something could only be offensive.
Thirdly, there was much pressure from economic authorities in Germany. They urged that it was essential to continue the advance, telling Hitler that they could not continue the war without oil from the Caucasus and wheat from the Ukraine.
(26) George Orwell, BBC radio broadcast (18th July 1942)
The German offensive against our Russian allies is now at its height, and it would be stupid to disguise the fact that the situation is very serious. The main German drive, as we foretold in earlier newsletters, is south-east towards the region of the Caucasus. The Germans have now crossed the upper reaches of the River Don, and fighting is now going on around and inside the important town of Voronezh. They are also making fierce attacks further south in the direction of Rostov, the important city near the south of the Don and the Donets which the Russians recaptured from the Germans last year, and in the direction of Stalingrad on the Volga. Both Rostov and Stalingrad are in danger.
In these attacks the Germans' aim is evidently twofold. The final aim is, of course, to capture the oilfields of the Caucasus and the Middle East, but the more immediate aim is to cut communications between this area and the more northerly parts of Russia. By crossing the Don near Voronezh, they have already cut one important route northward, since this move has put them across the railway between Voronezh and Rostov. A further advance might leave only one railway line from this area open to the Russians, while if the Germans could get as far as Stalingrad all direct railway communication between the Caucasus region and the northern fronts of Moscow and Leningrad would be cut. This does not, of course, mean that the Russian oil would not any longer be transported, but it would mean that it would have to be transported by roundabout routes and largely by river, putting an enormous extra strain on the Russian transport system.
This phase of the war is essentially a struggle for oil. The Germans are trying to win for themselves the fresh supplies of oil that would allow them to continue their campaign of aggression, and at the same time trying to strangle the Russian people by cutting their supplies of oil and thus starving both their war industries and their agriculture. Taking the long view, we may say that either the Germans must reach the Caspian Sea this year or they have lost the war, though they might be able to go on fighting for a considerable time.
(27) General Guenther Blumentritt was convinced that the German Army could have taken Leningrad in 1941.
Leningrad could have been taken, probably with little difficulty. But after his experience at Warsaw in 1939 Hitler was always nervous about taking big cities, because of the losses he had suffered there. The tanks had already started on the last lap of the advance when Hitler ordered them to stop - as he had done at Dunkirk in 1940. So no genuine attack on Leningrad was attempted in 1941, contrary to appearances - although all preparations had been completed, including the mounting of long-range artillery that had been brought from France.
(28) General Walter Warlimont was also critical of Adolf Hitler's decision not to attack Leningrad in 1941.
Hitler gave another fateful halt order just when the armoured vanguards of Army Group North had reached the outskirts of Leningrad. Apparently he thereby wanted to avoid the losses of human life and material to be expected from fighting in the streets and squares of this Soviet metropolis against an outraged population, and hoped to gain the same ends by cutting off the city from all lines of supply.
(29) Report published by the German Secret Service (4th February, 1943)
Reports about the termination of the Battle of Stalingrad have shaken the entire people once again to its depth. The speeches of January 30 and the proclamation of the Fuhrer have taken a backseat in view of this event, and play a lesser role in serious conversations on the part of our fellow Germans, than do a number of questions connected with the events at Stalingrad. First of all it is the number of casualties which the population wants to know. Conjunctures fluctuate between 60,000 and 300,000 men. It is being assumed that the great majority of those who fought at Stalingrad have perished. Regarding those troops who have become prisoners of the Russians there are two popular conceptions. On the one hand there are those who say that imprisonment is worse than death because they are bound to treat those soldiers who have fallen into their hands alive in an inhumane manner. Others believe in turn how fortunate it is that not all of them have perished; this way there remains the hope that some of them might eventually return to the homeland. Especially the relatives of those who fought at Stalingrad suffer much under this ambiguous situation and the uncertainty that results from it.
Furthermore, large segments of the population are debating whether the developments at Stalingrad were inevitable and whether the immense sacrifices were necessary. Our fellow Germans are specifically concerned with the question whether the retreat to Stalingrad was at the time promptly recognised. Air reconnaissance should have spotted the concentration of Russian armies that were then moving against Stalingrad.
Furthermore, the question is being discussed why the city was not evacuated when there was still time. The third issue around which the conversations of our fellow Germans resolve right now is the importance of the Battle of Stalingrad seen in the context of the war as a whole.
(30) Studs Terkel interviewed Oleg Tsakumov about his experiences in Leningrad during the Second World War for his book, The Good War (1985)
The most difficult days were when my mother could not get up from bed to go to work. She was too weak from hunger. I went to the kindergarten by myself. With my steps as a man, it is not a far distance. To a man, they are snow heaps. To me, this little boy, they were snow mountains.
In this silent city, there came these sudden bursts of sound. The explosions. I was very frightened, and it was such a long distance to school.
We ate what you give to horses. Oats. In the summer, we picked up grass, boiled it, and ate it. It was food on our minds all the time. Morning was the best time of the day, when you get up. You think something might turn up, you might get something to eat. All the days became one long day and night. Imagine nine hundred such days. It seemed forever.
Victory day? On the ninth of May, 1945, we went to a small opera theater. It was lolanthe. Suddenly the performance stopped and the director came out and said that the Germans surrendered. Everybody in the theater went to the square. I saw hundreds of thousands of people dancing, embracing each other. Tossing the soldiers in the air. They were crying and kissing each other. I was nine years old.
(31) William Joyce, Germany Calling (3rd February, 1943)
It would be a profound, a cardinal error to suppose that the German nation does not know how to take one defeat after so many victories. Nor, if the truth must be told, am I convinced that Stalingrad was, in the worst sense of the word, in the most essential, in the psychological sense, a defeat. Let us look at the facts. I think it was Napoleon who said, 'In warfare the moral is to the physical as three to one'. So far as divisions, brigades and battalions are concerned, Stalingrad was a German defeat. But when a Great Power like the National Socialist Reich is waging a total war, divisions and battalions can be replaced. If we review the position in sober and cold calculations, all sentiment apart, we must realise that the fall of Stalingrad cannot impair the German defensive system as a whole. Whatever individuals have lost, whatever they may have sacrificed, there is nothing in the position as a whole to controvert the view that the main objectives of the enemy offensives have been frustrated. Stalingrad was a part of the price which had to be paid for the salvation of Europe from the, Bolshevik hordes.
(32) Joseph E. Persico, Roosevelt's Secret War (2001)
In early January 1941 the State Department Informed the President that it had received a startling report from its Berlin embassy. The disbelieving secretary of state, Cordell Hull, had already asked J. Edgar Hoover to evaluate the information provided by Sam Woods. FBI agents checked the names Woods had mentioned in various German ministries and on the General Staff. They were, the bureau reported back, men in a position to know what was going on, and some were believed to be anti-Nazi. Woods's intelligence appeared authentic.
Roosevelt's quandary now was how best to handle this information vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. FDR chose to be direct. He would simply have the American ambassador in Moscow, Laurence Steinhardt, inform Stalin. However, Steinhardt advised against this course. He was well aware that Stalin distrusted Churchill and Roosevelt. Britain and the United States had both sent troops to Russia in 1918-19, after the revolution, to try to strangle the Bolshevik regime in its cradle. The Soviet dictator was convinced that the capitalists would spread any canard to drive a wedge between him and his new ally, Germany. This partnership, he believed would keep his country safe from attack while Hitler went about swallowing up the rest of Europe.
Finally, on March 1, nearly two months after FDR had first seen Woods's report, Sumner Welles was dispatched to sound the alarm to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Konstantin Oumansky. An encounter with Oumansky was not something looked forward to with pleasure. The Russian's background was in Soviet police work and capitalist-baiting journalism. His manner was universally characterized as boorish. Still, Welles did his duty and reported the impending danger to the Soviet Union. In describing the meeting he recalled, "Mr. Oumansky turned very white. He was silent for a moment and then merely said: 'My government will be grateful for your confidence and I will inform it immediately of our conversation.' " What Oumansky actually did was to follow the Stalin line. He called Hans Thomsen, the charge d'affaires at the Germany embassy, and told him that the Americans were spreading vicious rumors to undermine the friendship between their two countries.
Reports of a German invasion, however, began to reach Moscow in a crescendo. Even before Welles's warning, on February 18, Sir Stafford Cripps, Britain's ambassador to Moscow, had held a press conference and declared that Germany would attack Russia before the end of June. On April 3, Churchill asked Cripps to deliver his personal note to Stalin warning of a German troop buildup in the East, information based on intercepted codes, the source, however, not revealed to Stalin. From Tokyo, the Soviets' legendary spy, the German Richard Sorge, pinpointed the invasion date. The hard-drinking, womanizing Sorge, working undercover as a journalist, had the run of the German embassy, where he was treated like a fellow staff member and made privy to the choicest secrets. On May 15, Sorge cabled his Moscow controllers that the invasion would begin on June 22. The Soviets' best source in Switzerland, a well-connected publisher, Rudolf Roessler, code-named Lucy, confirmed that date and, in addition, provided the Wehrmacht's order of battle.
The Soviet Union was the beating heart of world communism, as feared by most Americans as it was loathed by Churchill. Yet, the Prime Minister knew where Britain's advantage lay. As the rumored invasion date approached, he told his dinner guests at Chequers Anthony Eden, John Colville, his private secretary, and John Winant, the American ambassador who had replaced Joe Kennedy what he intended. "Hitler was counting on enlisting capitalist and Right Wing sympathizers in this country and the U.S.A.." Churchill said. But Hitler was wrong. If the anticipated attack did occur, "We should go all out to help Russia." Winant now felt free to reveal earlier guidance he had received from FDR: Roosevelt would support "any statement Churchill might make welcoming Soviet Russia as an ally." After dinner, with the other guests gone, Colville tweaked Churchill about the arch anti-Communist making favorable noises about the Soviet Union. It was on this occasion that Churchill made his memorable response: "Not at all. I have only one purpose, the destruction of Hitler, and my life is much simplified thereby. If Hitler invaded Hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."
Over a hundred warnings of the pending invasion are estimated to have reached the Kremlin. Operation Barbarossa had become the worst-kept secret of the war. Why, when it appeared that every Moscow factory worker had heard of the threat, was it disregarded by Stalin? Whatever else he may have been, the Soviet leader was not naive. As late as May 1941, Stalin addressed graduates of the Soviet military academies in the Kremlin. Almost certainly, he told them, there would be war with Germany by 1942, even possibly with the Soviet Union taking the initiative, since "Nazi Germany as the dominant power in Europe is not normal," he warned. But the Red Army currently was not strong enough either to repel or launch an attack. Therefore, Russia had to try by diplomacy to stall German aggression. Besides, Stalin did not believe that Hitler was mad enough to start fighting Russia before he had defeated England and thus saddle himself with a two-front war. He did not deny that German armies were massing on his border. But that was only Hitler's way of pressuring him to give in to Germany's economic demands. All these reports that Hitler planned to invade, loot his country, enslave his people, and crush communism were capitalist provocations designed to goad him into a conflict against Germany while Russia was still unprepared. Then the British would make peace with Germany, and he would be left to fight the Nazis alone.
On the night of June 21, a German soldier deserted to the Russian army and told his interrogators that an attack would take place at 3 A.M. the next morning. Within three hours Stalin had the report, but rejected it and supposedly ordered the bearer of the news shot. The invasion that FDR had known about for over five months began when the deserter said it would. Like the husband who is the last to know that his wife is faithless, Stalin was stunned by the invasion. As the depth of Hitler's deceit and his country's debacle sank in, Stalin went into a depression approaching a nervous breakdown. For several days, at the moment of its greatest peril, Russia was leaderless.
© John Simkin, March 2013