View Single Post
Old 3rd May 2007, 20:44
Dénes Bernád Dénes Bernád is offline
Alter Hase
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Hungary
Posts: 1,842
Dénes Bernád is on a distinguished road
Re: Historical Text on the Origins of WW2 on the Eastern Front - Peer Review Requested

I enclose the final version of my study, sent to the Publisher yesterday.

I took some of the advices of the forum members. Many thanks for them.

Best wishes,


* * *

The Road to the German-Soviet War
- By Dénes Bernád, 2007

Most historical studies – published both in the East and West – still regard the German-Soviet confrontation during World War Two – the largest armed conflict in the history of mankind – as an aggression committed by the belligerent Germany against a militarily unprepared Soviet Union, which was first surprised, then overwhelmed by the unexpected and unwarranted onslaught of the German Army. However, in view of new information that has surfaced in the past two decades, from previously inaccessible sources, for example, the uncensored version of the Zhukov Plan of 15 May 1941 (1) addressed to Stalin, and mentioned below, or in published works, such as M. I. Meltyukhov, Stalin’s Missed Chance &#8211 (2); it appears that this outdated view of the origins of the giant armed clash on the Eastern Front cannot be sustained realistically any longer in a scholarly and apolitical contemporary study.

It now appears that the opening act of the Eastern Front was neither clear aggression by the pugnacious Nazi Germany against the undoubtedly defensive USSR– the common view currently hold by most historians – nor a pre-emptive strike of a ‘clever’ Hitler in order to beat Stalin’s plans – as alleged, for example, by Russian author V. Suvorov in his controversial book, Icebreaker (3). Rather, it was the outcome of a parallel gear-up for a total war by two totalitarian regimes led by similarly thinking and planning dictators, who acted quasi-independently of the other, with the final scope of annihilating the other side by force.

Despite the non-aggression and mutual assistance pact, which was proposed by the signing parties to be valid for ten years, and signed on 23 August 1939 (4) – a pact that surprised many – as well as producing divergent diplomatic moves, both sides actually prepared fervently to attack the other.

The Generalniy Shtab (General Staff) (5) of the Red Army had already begun developing a sketchy plan for an assault on Germany in October 1939 – almost simultaneously with the defeat of Poland conducted in co-operation of the Wehrmacht (which attacked first, from the West) and the Red Army (which followed suit, from the East, 17 days later).
1, Source: TsAMO RF, f. 16, op. 2951, d. 237, l. 1-15. Original (as in;pt=502)
2, Mel'tiukhov, M. I., Upushchennyi shans Stalina: Sovetskii Soyuz i bor'ba za Evropu: 1930-1941. Dokumenty, fakty, suzhdeniia. Vеchе, 2000 (ISBN 5783811963)
3, Suvorov, Viktor. Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? (Viking Press/Hamish Hamilton; 1990) ISBN 0-241-12622-3
4, By the foreign ministers of the USSR and the Third Reich Vyacheslav M. Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, respectively
5, Forerunner of Stavka (short for Shtab verkhovnogo komandovanya, or General Headquarters), which was former soon after the Axis attack

The planning process intensified in March 1940, and at least four different versions of the plan were developed throughout 1940 and 1941. On 18 September 1940, the Soviet Chief of the Generalniy Shtab, Army General Kirill A. Meretskov, and the People’s Commissar for Defence, Marshal Semyon K. Timoshenko, prepared a detailed war plan that envisaged attacking the Third Reich and implicitly Rumania, by means of a giant pincer, starting from Byelorussia (to the north) and Bessarabia (to the south). Hitler and his generals did not sit idle either. Despite the vague directions given much earlier by Hitler in his ominous Mein Kampf and other political pamphlets of the German National Socialist Workers Party (NSDAP), by 1940 there was no clear-cut, detailed German military plan to attack the USSR.

In mid-1940 – at approximately at the same time as the similar Soviet detailed war plans – Hitler assigned the OKW (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or the Armed Forces High Command) the task to prepare detailed plans for the eventuality of an anti-Soviet war. Simultaneously, both sides initiated the relocation of troops closer to the other state’s current borders. The Soviets amassed men and matériel to Byelorussia, Western Ukraine, and the newly acquired territory of Bessarabia, while the Germans transferred troops to the conquered Poland, and also moved ‘instructional troops’ to the allied Rumania. Parallel to these military movements, both sides also acted on the diplomatic front as well, in an attempt to deceive and outmanoeuvre the other. This travesty had little success, however.

Hitler decided to actually go to war against his Reich’s giant Eastern neighbour following the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov’s visit to Berlin in mid-November 1940. He signed ‘Directive 21’ – code named personally by him as ‘Operation Barbarossa’ probably to stress the idea of a ‘…crusade against Bolshevism’ – on 18 December 1940. It was ordered that all war preparations were to be commenced immediately, and be concluded by 15 May 1941. However, the unexpected Yugoslav about-face and the subsequent quick German attack on the country on 6 April, as well as the swift parallel Greek campaign, upset and delayed Hitler’s plan for a major spring offensive against the USSR by a critical five weeks.

On the opposing side, Stalin had not yet decided decisively, and instructed his general staff to work on further stratagems. However, his actual attack timeline was apparently way behind Hitler’s. Stalin actually hoped that Hitler would loose many months in fighting the Western Powers, allowing the Soviets to catch up in building the Red Army and preparing it for war. Stalin regarded the period of enforced peace after the Hitler-Stalin pact as an opportunity to build up and reorganize the Soviet military while Germany was busy in the west. The occupied areas of Finland, the Baltic states, Eastern Poland, Belarus, Bessarabia, no less than the forward-deployed troops, were seen as a barrier behind which this military preparation could be accomplished. Moreover, Stalin was absolutely convinced that Hitler would attempt nothing until he had resolved his conflict with Great Britain. He was encouraged in this preconception by a well-orchestrated German deception operation. When the head of Soviet military intelligence, Lieutenant-General Ivan I. Proskurov, explained to Stalin as early as August 1940 that Germany could not successfully invade Great Britain, he dismissed him (he was executed in October 1941). Stalin did not want to see the true situation since, at that time, his army still needed time to be ready to attack his de jure ally. Thus it was that Stalin was able to ignore the massive military build-up on his borders, and to dismiss every warning of a German attack as disinformation or provocation, right up until the early morning of 22 June 1941.

By early 1941, both sides feared their war plans would be compromised by the other; therefore, they sped up the build-up of forces, while keeping an apparently diplomatic façade towards each other. The German High Command finished detailing its anti-Soviet war plans in early February 1941, with hostilities planned to commence by late spring. The war was predicted to be over in less than six months, relying on the military and morale collapse of the USSR. Hitler, like Stalin, was a victim of his own preconceptions. But, in contrast to Stalin, he was ill-served with intelligence. All intelligence submitted to the Führer at this time went through Ribbentrop, who was passing only a fraction of what came to him from Germany’s intelligence agencies. It was thus Ribbentrop’s actions, which lead to Hitler having incomplete assessments, not the information gathering services. Similarly, most Western governments were misinformed in regards to the USSR. For example, in mid-1939, British and French military intelligence specialists did not believe that the Red Army could crush the Wehrmacht. The only confidence was in the Polish Army, which was the ‘sole, real opponent to the German Army.’ In fact, almost everybody outside the USSR thought that, after Stalin’s purges, the Red Army would disintegrate when faced with a powerful invasion of its Motherland. When Hitler met General Antonescu – the de facto iron-handed leader of Germany’s most important East European ally, Rumania – on 12 June 1941 (i.e., ten days before ‘Barbarossa’), the self-styled Rumanian Conducător (Leader) also told him that the Red Army would collapse very quickly, as the Russian population wanted to be liberated from the Bolshevik yoke. However, the Germans overestimated their own capabilities, and also underestimated the Soviet combat force and its capacity to resist a significant attack. The first paragraph of ‘Directive 21’ stated that: “… Soviet Russia is to be crushed in a quick campaign, before the end of war with England.”

Stalin and his marshals lagged behind with their war preparation. In January 1941, a major command war game took place with the participation of a handful of important Soviet military leaders. The details of this command-level drill were further refined in May 1941 by the new Chief of General Staff, Army General Georgi K. Zhukov and Marshal Semyon K. Timoshenko to a comprehensive war plan. The Zhukov Plan of 15 May 1941 – discovered in the Archives of the President of the Russian Federation several years ago – outlines the Soviet Command’s proposal of the time to Stalin. For ultimate security, the original twelve-page text had been handwritten by then Major General, later Marshal, A. M. Vasilevski, and addressed to the chairman of the USSR Council of Peoples Commissars, Josef Stalin. The document, marked ‘Top Secret! Of Great Importance! Stalin's Eyes Only! One Copy Only!’ was authorized and approved by Timoshenko and Zhukov. A key passage in this plan, not previously cited, reads: ‘In order to avoid this [a surprise German attack], and to destroy the German Army, I consider it imperative that under no circumstances the initiative for freedom of action be given to the German High Command and/or warn the enemy. [I consider it essential] to attack the German Army when it is still in the stage of deployment and has not yet had time to organize his front(line) and the mutual support of between his different services.’
Thus Zhukov had proposed to Stalin precisely what the German Army would do only five weeks later.
Stalin himself made a far-reaching speech at the Kremlin, on 5 May, declaring, amongst other things: “The Red Army is a modern army, and a modern army is an offensive army…” which clearly was at odds with the USSR’s official defensive policy. It has to be said, however, that the Soviets’ war preparations appear to be somewhat lesser in scope than the Germans’, not envisaging to conquering the entire Third Reich, but only occupied Poland, Eastern Prussia and most of Rumania, while Hitler intended to occupy the whole European area of the USSR.

In the meantime, simultaneous to the mobilization of manpower, Soviet war production also had geared up to full steam. Germany, too, built up its forces in the Eastern areas that were under Berlin’s military or political control, along with intensifying war production. Both sides tried to conceal their real goals, by attempting to outmanoeuvre the other side on the diplomatic arena, and to hide the strategic movements of their troops towards the common borders. Neither side truly believed the other one would actually attack beforehand, however. Both Moscow and Berlin relied on the effect of a surprise attack, followed by an envisaged quick victory. It happened that Berlin was the first one to act. The ultimate proof for Stalin’s real intentions – the attack itself – of course never actually happened, Hitler being the first one to strike. Therefore, any indirect proof is dismissed by traditionalist historians as being ‘only’ plans on paper, vague intentions, and war games. Nevertheless, the circumstantial evidence to the contrary starts to emerge…

In mid-June, along the would-be front zone, the Red Army had overall superiority over the Wehrmacht and the small Axis allies in almost all military matériel aspects, except for manpower, where the Axis enjoyed slight advantage(6). However, very large Red Army forces were fed into the battle in the course of the early summer, partly from reserves in the interior, but mostly as a result of overall mobilisation. Hence, the Red Army’s short-term human potential had certainly well exceeded that of the Axis. It has to be noted, however, that the dry figures are somewhat misleading, as the majority of Soviet aircraft and armour was obsolete to the day’s military standards. A much lesser percentage of the Germans’, and somewhat more of the Axis allies’ war matériel could be considered obsolete. Also, German troops and aircrews had built up combat experience in the early war years, which cannot be said of most of the Soviet soldiers and flyers – except of those who fought in Spain, Finland, Mongolia and Manchuria, and were not purged and executed. The Red Army was still in full build-up on 22 June 1941, and thus was caught by surprise, when the Wehrmacht and its Rumanian ally struck on Sunday at dawn, at 0315 hrs.
6, Except for the South-Western and Southern Fronts – discussed in this book – where the Red Army held approx. 1.2 to 1 advantage over the Axis

The Reich’s small Axis allies join in

On 26 June 1940, the Soviet Foreign Minister, V. M. Molotov, demanded Rumania to cede Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina – incorporated into that country some 21 years earlier, a move Moscow never acknowledged officially – within twenty-four hours. This demand came at a hard time for Rumania, which was isolated internationally. France – Rumania’s traditional ally and advocate – had been defeated, while Great Britain, another supporter, was under aerial assault. Hitler declined to intervene in the dispute, since under terms of the German-Soviet pact, Bessarabia was within Moscow’s sphere of influence. Therefore, abiding to the ultimatum she could not refuse, two days later Rumania ceded these territories to the USSR. This significant territorial loss further increased tensions between the two countries. Armed clashes on the new frontier along the River Pruth became regular, on ground and in the air, too, as will be detailed later on.

On the political front, during the same time period, tensions in Bucharest increased to boiling point. In the wake of massive anti-government protests in opposition to the territorial losses to the USSR, Hungary and Bulgaria – i.e. Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to the USSR, Northern Transylvania to Hungary and Southern Dobruja to Bulgaria, King Carol II abdicated in favour of his son, Michael I, on 6 September 1940. On the same day, the young new king asked General Ion Antonescu to lead the country, assigning him unlimited powers. The general – who declared himself Conducător, i.e. Supreme Leader – decided to form a new, one-party government with the far-right Iron Guard (a.k.a. ‘The Legion of the Archangel Michael’), and declared the Kingdom a ‘Legionary State’. All other political activity was banned. On 23 November 1940, Antonescu signed in Berlin the ‘Tripartite Pact’, following the arrival of the German Military Mission to Rumania from 12 October. These Wehrmacht troops were sent to train the Rumanian army and air force, as well as to protect the vital Ploieşti oilfields and refineries. Later on, these German ‘instructional’ units would become the spearhead of the sizeable German armed force that would strike the USSR the following June. By March 1941, a total of 680,000 German troops were stationed in Rumania.

On 14 January 1941, in Berlin, Hitler revealed to Antonescu his general plan to attack the Soviet Union. The Führer asked for the full co-operation of the Rumanian armed forces. Antonescu enthusiastically agreed, fuelled in part by the wish the recover the territories lost a year earlier and in part by his anti-Communist convictions. Both sentiments were largely shared by most of the Rumanian officer corps and the political élite. The Rumanian armed forces were thus unhesitatingly committed by the Rumanian dictator to the ‘Anti-Bolshevik Crusade’. In exchange for his unequivocal support, the Conducător asked for Hitler’s help to destroy the Iron Guard, which had grown to a threat to his power and obstacle to his ambitions, in order to have free hands to prepare his Army for the imminent war. Rumania became the only ally of Germany, which took an active part in the anti-Soviet campaign from the very first day of war. Rumania also committed, by far, the largest military resources to the anti-Soviet campaign among all of Germany’s allies.

In contrast to Rumania, Hungary did not have any territorial claims against its giant Eastern neighbour. The differences between Budapest and Moscow were ideological. Hungary’s Regent, Vice-Admiral Miklós Horthy – a highly decorated, experienced officer veteran and battleship commander of the Austro-Hungarian Navy of the First World War – was a fervent anti-Communist, as was most of the Hungarian officer staff. Hungary was the first power to adhere to the ‘Tripartite Pact’ on 20 November 1940. However, this was not enough to persuade Budapest to join Berlin in attacking the Soviet Union. Initially, Hitler did not count on Hungary’s participation in the upcoming war either. Hungarian troop build-up on the country’s North-Eastern borders, dully observed by the Soviets, was more of a precautionary move than anything else. It was an unexpected incident, the bombing of the city of Kassa (now Košice, Slovakia) on 26 June by three warplanes, identified at that time as Soviet, which triggered Hungary’s entrance in the anti-Soviet war. Next day, war with the USSR was officially declared. With it, Hungary became the last of the small Axis powers to join in the ‘Anti-Bolshevik Crusade’.

Tiny Slovakia, a newly created state built upon the ruins of Czechoslovakia following the German occupation of the Czech Lands in March 1939, signed the ‘Tripartite Pact’ on 24 November 1940. However, President Monsegnior Dr. Jozef Tiso committed his country only reluctantly to Hitler’s aggression against its ‘big neighbour’, which was inhabited by fellow Slavs. The two countries did not have territorial claims against each other, and did not even share a common border. It was mostly done as a ‘thank-you’ to Hitler for helping create the Slovak state.

The Slovak Government began its preparation for war with the Soviet Union as early as March 1941. There was a massive propaganda campaign to persuade the population that the war against Bolshevism was vital, and that only victory by the Third Reich would assure the perpetuation of the Slovak State. The Slovak Army also planned ahead, so the decision to join the Wehrmacht in attacking the USSR came promptly. Accordingly, Slovakia declared war on the Soviet Union and sent its troops to combat.

Although Mussolini’s Italy had declared war on the Soviet Union on 22 June, alongside Germany and Rumania, it did not commit troops to the new front from the onset. Later that summer, a few Italian volunteer pilots did fly several combat missions over the southern front, which will be briefly noted in the following text.

Finally, Bulgaria – a nation with close historical and cultural ties to Russia, and thus to the Soviet Union – although having signed the ‘Tripartite Pact’ on 1 March 1941, managed to remain neutral in the Soviet-Axis confrontation, until Soviet troops reached its frontiers in early September 1944. Nevertheless, Bulgarian warplanes on coastal patrol service did occasionally pursue Soviet aircraft swaying into Bulgarian airspace.
Reply With Quote