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Old 9th April 2007, 15:59
Dénes Bernád Dénes Bernád is offline
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Historical Text on the Origins of WW2 on the Eastern Front - Peer Review Requested

Below is a text I intend to include in my upcoming book on the air war on the Southern flank of the Eastern Front (June-October 1941).

I would appreciate any comments.
Thank you.

Dénes

* * *

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 up-surging and bellicose Germany against a militarily unprepared Soviet Union, which was first surprised, then overwhelmed by the unexpected onslaught of the Wehrmacht. However, in view of new information that surfaced in the past couple of decades, from previously inaccessible sources, it appears that this outdated view of the origins of the giant armed clash on the Eastern Front cannot be realistically sustained any more in a scholarly and apolitical contemporary study.

It now appears that the opening act of the Eastern Front was neither an unprovoked aggression by pugnacious ‘Nazi’ Germany, nor a legitimate, pre-emptive strike of a ‘clever’ Hitler. It was rather 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 pact – proposed by the signing parties to be valid for ten years – signed by the foreign ministers of the USSR and the IIIrd Reich – Vyacheslav M. Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, respectively – on 23 August 1939, pact that surprised many, as well as divergent diplomatic moves, both sides actually prepared fervently to attack the other.

On 18 September 1940, the Soviet Chief of the Stavka (short for Shtab verkhovnogo komandovanya, or General Headquarters), Army General Kirill A. Meretskov, and the People’s Commissar for Defence, Marshal Semyon K. Timoshenko, prepared a war plan that envisaged attacking the IIIrd Reich, in form of a giant pincer, starting from Byelorussia and Bessarabia, respectively. 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 National-Socialist Party (NSDAP), by 1940 there was not clear cut, detailed German military plan to attack the USSR.
In mid-1940 – approximately at the same time with the similar Soviet war plans – Hitler assigned the OKW (short for 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 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 to be commenced immediately, and be concluded by 15 May 1941.

On the opposing side, Stalin did not make up firmly his mind as of yet, 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 will 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 Stalin already in 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 as, at that time, his army needed at least a year 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 could be crossed out 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 the anti-Soviet war plans in early February 1941, with hostilities to actually start by late spring. The war was predicted to be over in less than half a year, counting 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 by his intelligence services, as were most Western governments in regards to the USSR. In mid-1939, the 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 out of USSR thought that, after Stalin's purges, the Red Army would disintegrate when faced with a powerful invasion of the country. When Hitler met Antonescu on 12 June 1941 (i.e., ten days before ‘Barbarossa’), the self-styled Rumanian Conducător told him that the Red Army would collapse very quickly, as the population wanting to be liberated…
The Germans overestimated their own capabilities, as well as they underestimated the Soviet combat force and its capacity to resist an overall 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 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. Stalin himself held a far-reaching speech at the Kreml, on 5 May, declaring, among others: “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 IIIrd Reich, only the occupied Poland, Eastern Prussia and most of Rumania, while Hitler intended to occupy the whole European area of the USSR.

In the meantime, Soviet war production also had geared up to full steam, simultaneously with the mobilization of manpower. Germany, too, built up its forces on the Eastern areas that were under Berlin’s military or political control. 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. Both Moscow and Berlin relied on the effect of a surprise attack, followed by an envisaged quick victory.

In mid-June, the Red Army had overall superiority over the Wehrmacht and the small Axis allies in almost all military aspects. The ratio was approximately 1.1:1 in manpower, 3.6:1 in armour, 2.5:1 in aircraft, and 8:1 in artillery to the Soviets’ advantage (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, the majority of the German soldiers and aircrew had built up combat experience in the previous 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 still active in VVS). Nevertheless of its numerical superiority, 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 Sunday at dawn, at 3:15.


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 the country some 21 years earlier, a move Moscow never acknowledged – within twenty-four hours. This demand came at a hard time for Rumania, who was isolated internationally. France – Rumania’s traditional ally – had been defeated, while Great Britain, another supporter of Rumania, was under siege. Hitler declined to intervene in the dispute, as under terms of the German-Soviet pact, Bessarabia was within Moscow’s sphere of influence. Therefore, abiding to the ultimatum it 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 River Pruth became regular, on ground and in air, too, as detailed later on.

On the political front, during the same time period, tensions in Bucharest increased to a boiling point. In the wake of massive anti-government protests in opposition to the territorial losses, 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., 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 has been 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 on. 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, they would become the spearhead of the sizeable German armed force that would strike the USSR next 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 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 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, in order to have free hands to prepare his Army for the imminent war. Rumania became the only ally of Germany, which took 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 big Eastern neighbour. The differences between Budapest and Moscow were rather ideological. Hungary’s Regent, Vice-Admiral Miklós Horthy – a highly decorated, experienced veteran officer and battleship commander of the Austro-Hungarian Navy of W. W. 1 – 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 at the country’s North-Eastern borders, dully observed by the Soviets, were more of a precautionary role than other. It was an unexpected incident, the bombing of city of Kassa (now Košice, Slovakia) on 26 June, 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 on 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 the big neighbour, inhabited by fellow Slavs. 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 already in March 1941. There was a massive propaganda campaign to persuade the population that the war against bolshevism is vital, and that only the victory of the IIIrd Reich will 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 already on 23 June, the second day of the war.

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

Finally, Bulgaria – another Slavic nation with close historical and cultural ties to Russia, and thus the Soviet Union – although 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 pursuit occasionally Soviet aircraft swaying into Bulgarian airspace.
(...)
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Old 9th April 2007, 20:56
Franek Grabowski Franek Grabowski is offline
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Re: Historical Text on the Origins of WW2 on the Eastern Front - Peer Review Requested

Hello Denes
I think the text is oversimplified in some aspects. I think there should be some more sentences about mutual cooperation until Barbarossa, those including informations about war in Poland, cooperation of Gestapo and NKVD, sabotage of Allied production by communistic trade unions, Allied plans to directly or indirectly attack SU, etc.
Also, it must be noted existence of Hungarian Soviet Republic of Bela Kun, lack of which makes views of Horthy unclear. Bulgaria was never Slavic nation, and Antonescu views were not that unfounded. A number of Soviet soldiers deserted in 1939 to Polish side and fought against Red Army, so it was rather German racial policy and shortseeing that eliminated the possibility.

Any news on Mik Kovacs?
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Old 9th April 2007, 21:39
Dénes Bernád Dénes Bernád is offline
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Re: Historical Text on the Origins of WW2 on the Eastern Front - Peer Review Requested

Thanks, Franek, for you input.
Unfortunately, I am very limited with the printing space; therefore, I cannot dig any deeper than this. Even so, I had some of the text cut out due to the limited page count. After all, the book will actually be about the air war on the Eastern Front...

P.S. Not much about Mike Kovacs. In 1949, a Po-2 was hijacked to the West, this being one of the earliest such known post-war incidents. No info on the pilot(s), however.
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Old 9th April 2007, 21:55
Franek Grabowski Franek Grabowski is offline
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Re: Historical Text on the Origins of WW2 on the Eastern Front - Peer Review Requested

Well, would say the text is simply incomplete. It is not the problem of writing a thesis on the subject, but rereading it and introducing changes.
Say eg. your sentence.

Despite the non-aggression pact – proposed by the signing parties to be valid for ten years – signed by the foreign ministers of the USSR and the IIIrd Reich – Vyacheslav M. Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, respectively – on 23 August 1939, pact that surprised many, as well as divergent diplomatic moves, both sides actually prepared fervently to attack the other.

Could be replaced with a better effect (IMHO) ina following or similar manner.

Despite signing a pact of mutual assistance and non-aggression, that resulted in strict military, intelligence and economical cooperation and partition of Eastern Europe, both Germany and Soviet Union found themselves conspiring against each other.
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Old 9th April 2007, 23:46
Bruce Dennis Bruce Dennis is offline
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Re: Historical Text on the Origins of WW2 on the Eastern Front - Peer Review Requested

I seldom contribute to the forum, but I found your writing of interest as it runs parallel to some research of my own.

I would question a couple of points:

‘But, in contrast to Stalin, he was ill served by his intelligence services, …

It seems worth pointing out that all intelligence submitted to Hitler at this time went through Ribbentrop who was passing only about 5% of what came to him from Germany’s intelligence agencies. It was Ribbentrop’s actions which lead to Hitler having incomplete assessments, not the information gathering services. These agencies did have limitations but they were mostly of Hitler’s making.

Concerning Bulgaria, you say…‘Bulgaria – another Slavic nation with close historical and cultural ties to Russia, and thus the Soviet Union –…’

As Franek says, Bulgaria was not Slavic. There was a strong tactical bond between Bulgaria and Germany during most of WW1, plus Bulgaria was a good customer of Krupps.

As you are describing a sequence of events that includes the lesser Axis partners, it is also worth pointing out that the coup in Yugoslavia in 1941, which caught the German intelligence services by surprise, had a significant consequence: Hitler decided to intervene and occupy Yugoslavia and this meant the delay of Barbarossa by a month. Considering the position of the opposing Red and German forces when the winter set in, that was a very important month.

I hope this is of help.

Bruce Dennis
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Old 10th April 2007, 02:33
Franek Grabowski Franek Grabowski is offline
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Re: Historical Text on the Origins of WW2 on the Eastern Front - Peer Review Requested

Indeed, Bruce. Well, my point is that the introduction must cover the subject understandably for an uneducated reader. I suppose most of youngsters would not know when the war started, not to mention German-Soviet alliance. Perhaps a map showing partition of Europe, ie. annexations and campaigns between 1939 and 1941 would be a better solution?
Denes, you have asked for the opinion, you got it, do what you find the best way for you.
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Old 10th April 2007, 22:22
Mirek Wawrzynski Mirek Wawrzynski is offline
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Re: Historical Text on the Origins of WW2 on the Eastern Front - Peer Review Requested

Hi Denes

Quote:
In mid-June, the Red Army had overall superiority over the Wehrmacht and the small Axis allies in almost all military aspects. The ratio was approximately 1.1:1 in manpower, 3.6:1 in armour, 2.5:1 in aircraft, and 8:1 in artillery to the Soviets’ advantage (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.
In my opinion the superiority of the Soviet was much more higher then your figures. There were about 10.700 combat planes (excluding U-2/Po-2 + several hundred civil planes of "GVF/AEROFLOT" and a few tens of planes of NKVD aviation in 2 border squadrons + several independent flights. NKVD squadrons had for example SB bombers on the strength and made in the first day of war several bomber missions against Germans. The Axis air force power was about 3.500-3800 combats planes. According Soviet sources they had about 4.000 planes.

Second Germany had panzer force which had PzkpfwI., II, III, IV, and for several hundreds examples of Pz.I, and Pz. II, which were total outmoded even with Soviet, these several 1000s "old" T-26 or BT-5, BT-7. Such Soviet tanks like: T-34s, KV-1s, KV-2s had not any German tank opposition. Soviet had these top modern tanks about 1.500 on the Western borders. German several hundreds Pz.IVs were no match with these “obsolete” Soviet’s tanks, produced in 1940/41.

I still do not understand the "fear" spread among many Western historians (see: Bergstrom book vol. I: Black Something + Something Red) about obsolete Soviet air power. And I can not sill understand the superiority of German bomber force, which had such top "modern" planes like: Ju 87, Hs 123 and reccon Hs 126 planes over Soviet I-16 typ 18 and over type 24, 29 and I-153. There were also many cases, that bombers He 111s and Ju 88s were cached by I-16 typ 24 or I-153. These not modern fighters were produced in 1939-1941. I do not mentioned yet about 1.000 very modern MiG-1, -3 fighters, which Soviet had more then Luftwaffe had on the East all Me 109 E and F.

So your opinion about these still obsolete Soviet aircraft and armour is very for me strange. Maybe you believe, that Romanian P.11, P.24, Slovak biplane Avia B.534 or S.328 or Finnish D.XXI and Brewster B.239 were better, much modern planes then I-16 typ 24, 27, 29 or I-153 or MiG-3 (?). This is a joke? I-16 type ten or typ 5 were in this period already replaced by modern planes.

In my opinion you had not mentioned about Soviet BUS- bolshyje ucziebnyje sbory. This was a military code official introduced by Soviet in 1939. Exactly mean Soviet army mobilization. Soviet had twice had ordered this army mobilization before summer 1941. RKKA had about 5.000.000 soldiers in the army.

Next gen. Zukov had got the nomination to take miliatry power of Kiev Special Military District (south_western forn since 21 VI 1941 - one day before German premtive attak with the order to immediately travel to the command post in Tarnopol not so far from the border with Germany.

Quote:
Lieutenant-General Ivan I. Proskurov, explained Stalin already in August 1940 that Germany could not successfully invade Great Britain, he dismissed him (he was executed in October 1941).


Proskurov (1xHSU) was dimissed by Stalin in May 1941, but he was arrested by NKVD on 27 VI 1941! 5 ays after 22 VI 1941.

Strange, that you have ommited to mentioned that on 28 October 1941 were executed by NKVD with Stalin acceptance the last 3 main chief of VVS RKKA, before gen Zygariev. There were killed: Loktionov, Smuszkiewits (2xHSU) and Rychagov (1xHSU) with his wife major Niestierenko. This was a pruge done by Stalin among high Red air staff in 1941. The air commanders were arrested by NKVD since March 1941. Rychagov was arrested for example on 24 VI 1941 - 2 days after 22 VI).

I do not underline more thing about your text. I had written about this events and much more concerning air operation in my 3 texts, printed in Poland see (text only in Polish!):

1)The Day of Armagedon. Dzień Armagedonu - uprzedzenie „Czerwonego Blizkriegu”. 22 czerwca 1941 r. rozbicie wojsk lotniczych Stalina, vol. II, p. 14˝, [in:] Militaria i Fakty 1 (26) /2005.
2) The Day of Armagedon. Dzień Armagedonu - uprzedzenie „Czerwonego Blizkriegu”. 22 czerwca 1941 r. rozbicie wojsk lotniczych Stalina, vol. 1, p. 10˝, [in:] Militaria i Fakty 4(25)/2004.
3) Red Blitzkrieg. Stalin invasion on Germany in July 1941. Czerwony Blitzkrieg. Inwazja Stalina na Niemcy w lipcu 1941 r., p. 17, [w:] Militaria i Fakty 2(24)/2004.

Regards
Mirek Wawrzyński
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Old 3rd May 2007, 21:44
Dénes Bernád Dénes Bernád is offline
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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,

Dénes

* * *

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 http://osteuropa.bsb-muenchen.de/dig...efault;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
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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.
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