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German Surprise Attack

The path to war between German and the Soviet Union in the Summer of 1941 is unknowable, much like the search for the historical Jesus. Both countries were absolute dictatorships under the control of frankly pathological personalities. Both Hitler and Stalin kept their cards close to the vest, and were known to lie even their closest colaborators as they played their hand. Both were known to have secret stashes of personal papers that did not survive their demise, defying the ambitions of archivists. Some elements of the path to war cannot be discerned with great confidence, lost in a historical limbo that will almost certainly resist further scholarly inquiry.

David C. Gompert, Hans Binnendijk, Bonny Lin wrote "Hitler’s plan to fool Stalin worked remarkably well, permitting near-total surprise. It consisted of four different deceptions: The real campaign was the invasion of Britain; troops were being sent to the east for defensive purposes; the buildup was targeted at the Balkans; and war with the Soviet Union would be preceded by an ultimatum. Though Barton Whaley lists eighty-four different warnings that should have alerted Moscow, Stalin refused to believe or act on any of them, in part because he did not want to take any action that might provoke Hitler."

Transformation in the Red Army was scheduled to take place in a few years - and to be completed by 1942. It did not work out this way. The war broke out. Much had to be done in the harsh wartime conditions. Hitler's reform of the German army took four years - 1935-1939. The Versailles Treaty prohibited the Wehrmacht, air force, navy, powerful armored forces, introduced universal conscription. And by 1939, Germany had a modern armed forces are ready to return the territories previously alienated from her Entente. Some said Stalin's military reform started with the beginning of the War.

On September 1, 1939 universal military service was introduced in the USSR. Much had been done since 1937 to prepare for the war that the Soviet leadership now considered inevitable. But it was not possible to complete the reform in the Soviet Union by 1941. These problems had to be addressed during the war with Nazi Germany. Most of the plans for the reorganization of the Soviet Armed Forces had been implemented by 1943. That is, Stalin required as much time as Hitler for these reforms - four years. From 1943, the Red Army became one of the most powerful in the world. And for the first time conducted an offensive in a summer time, finally seizing the initiative from the Wehrmacht. And in 1944, Europe in its territory saw the Soviet Army at the level of world standards. Such it remained until the collapse of the USSR.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin had hoped the non-aggression pact he had signed with Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in 1939 would hold. That pact divided Poland between Russia and Nazi Germany. While the Soviet political leadership would have preferred to delay major war with Germany until 1942 (or even 1943), by the end of December 1940 it is evident that Stalin was beginning to have serious second thoughts about what Hitler was preparing to do in 1941.

The Soviet Army would not be ready for large scale offensive operations in 1941. Stalin was falsely pinning his hopes on Germany delaying an attack for two or three years, despite the growing indicators that war would begin sooner. Stalin was warned continuously beginning in March 1941 of Hitler's attack intentions. His own ambassadors and military attaches abroad, Soviet agents, foreign governments already at war with Germany, and the neutral United States warned Stalin. The German Luftwaffe systematically overflew Russian territory. The Germans also penetrated the Soviet border zone with patrols dressed in Russian uniforms.

These reports were supplemented as early as April 1941 by reports from Richard Sorge, the Comintern spy in Tokyo who was privy to the dispatches of the German ambassador, that preparations for war were complete. Churchill warned that the Germans had deployed armor directly to southern Poland as early as 03 April 1941. By mid-June 1941, Stalin was warned of the exact date of the attack and was provided with the German objectives.

Yet in the face of it all he clung to his belief that every unwelcome interpretation of the facts was the fruit of Western ill-will and deception. Stalin also felt that if he fully mobilized the Red Army, it might have been seen as provocation. Since a two-front war was possible, with Japan's intentions always questionable, forces in the east could not immediately be moved to the west to constitute a portion of the reserve.

Almost as soon as Hitler had subdued Western Europe, he began planning the offensive against the Soviet Union. On 22 June 1941 the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa - the Wehrmacht attack on Russia.

This rehearsal of events and plans is sympathetic to Stalin. A rather less sympathetic view would note that by spring 1935 Deputy Minister of Defense Mikhail Tukhachevsky fully appreciated the fact that German rearmament and Hitler's calls for Lebensraum in the East would soon pose a serious military threat to the Soviet Union, a view he shared with Stalin and which was published in Pravda in March 1935. The whole Red Army development program was largely wrecked in the 1937-39 period when Stalin's paranoiac purge of Tukhachevsky and some 35,000 other high-ranking officers in the Red Army brought the whole military machine to the verge of chaos. Stalin's defeat in Finland in 1940 and his retreat from Hitler's forces in 1941 came from purging his own army.

Viktor Suvorov's book Ledokol' (Icebreaker) claimed that Stalin was planning on attacking Hitler but that the Nazi leader surprised him with a pre-emptive strike. Many now believe Hitler attacked the Soviet Union to prevent a Soviet offensive against Germany.

Gabriel Gorodetsky's The Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia was written, in part, to respond to Suvorov's claims. Gorodetsky's Stalin was a cautious and increasingly timid leader, trying to protect the Soviet Union's national security interests while desperately hoping to delay a war with Germany, until at least 1942 or preferably even 1943 when Stalin believed the Red Army would be truly capable of dealing with the Wehrmacht. While Stalin feared a German attack, he thought he could work out a traditional balance-of-power arrangement with Germany that established recognized spheres of influence. Stalin succumbed to this delusion, according to Gorodetsky, as he distrusted Britain more than he feared Hitler. He loathed the idea of becoming Britain's pawn, believing (not without reason, as it turned out) that a Soviet-British alliance would make cannon fodder of the poorly prepared Red Army.

In Operation Barbarossa: Strategy and Tactics on Eastern Front, 1941, Bryan I. Fugate disptues the view, long "taken as an article of faith" by bourgeois historians in the West, that the 1941 German attack on the Soviet Union caught the Soviets by surprise. As the upshot of study conference and war-gaming sessions held in Moscow during late December 1940 and early January 1941, General (later Marshal) Georgii K. Zhukov refuted the previously held conviction that the Red Army could stop the Wehrmacht on the Soviet frontier, implying that a German attack would have to be continually drained of energy by successive echelons of defense located deep within Russia.

Recognizing the correctness of this view, Stalin quickly made Zhukov Chief of the Soviet General Staff. Armed by late March 1941 with increasingly detailed and accurate intelligence on German preparations for the invasion of the Soviet Union, Zhukov and the Soviet High Command proceeded, according to Fugate to set in motion a "concrete and workable" plan for the defense in depth of the Soviet Union in three echelons.

In preparing the attack, Hitler and his counterintelligence were not so self-confident as to think that their measures would go unnoticed. On the contrary, they proceeded from the opposite. On February 15 and May 12, 1941, Field Marshal Keitel issued two special directives on misinforming the enemy. The first ordered to convince the enemy that an invasion was being prepared not in the USSR, but in England, Greece or North Africa. The second directive, at a time when concentration would no longer be possible to hide, was that concentration could be recognized, but portrayed as a maneuver to misinform England.

On 05 May 1941, in special message No. 1450/M, sent by the NKGB to Stalin, Molotov and Beria - on the basis of data received from the press officer of the German Ministry of Economy, G. Krol, it was noted, in particular, that “.. . the USSR will be demanded by Germany to act against England on the side of the Axis powers".

May 5, 1941, when there remained only a month and a half before Hitler's invasion, by one account Stalin informed students of the Red Army academies about changes in the organization and technical equipment of the troops, about the lag in military schools in this regard, about the need to "restructure their training of military personnel on the new technology and use the experience of modern war ". Focusing on the reasons for the recent defeat of France in the war with Germany, he at the same time transparently hinted at the proximity of the Soviet-German clash, refuted the myth that Hitler's “army is the most ideal, the best, the most invincible”, warning about the dangers of such complacency. Immediately, Stalin openly said: “Germany wants to destroy our socialist state, conquered under the leadership of the Communist Party of Lenin. Germany wants to destroy our great Motherland, Lenin's homeland, the conquests of October, to exterminate millions of Soviet people, and to turn the survivors into slaves. Only our war against Nazi Germany and the victory in this war can save our homeland. I propose to drink for the war, for the offensive in the war, for our victory in this war”.

On May 14, the NKGB leadership reported a special message No. 1612 / M. It contained information obtained on May 9 at the headquarters of German aviation. The report noted, among other things, that "in the headquarters of the German aviation, preparations for the operation against the USSR are being carried out at the most intense pace." This was valuable information. But later in the same message it was said: “In the same circles they declare that first Germany will present an ultimatum to the Soviet Union demanding wider exports to Germany and renunciation of communist propaganda. As a guarantee of the fulfillment of these requirements, German commissars should be sent to industrial and economic centers and enterprises of Ukraine, and some Ukrainian regions should be occupied by the German army. The presentation of the ultimatum will be preceded by a "war of nerves" aimed at demoralizing the Soviet Union." This is how fiction became reality.

Barton Whaley concluded [Codeword Barbarossa, 1973] that Stalin was fooled not by the “noise,” the drumfire of reports, nimors, intelligence leaks, interceptions, visual observations and warnings which came the Kremlin, but by what he calls the “ultimatum” assumption — his conviction that Hitler would deliver an ultimatum to Russia that would negotiable.

The version was especially presented that in the military plans of Germany the USSR is "at best" in second place after England, that the Germans would prefer to negotiate with the Soviet Union in order to get grain, oil from it, coal and the like. As explained, Germany's requests to increase the supply of raw materials and foodstuffs can be made both in the course of negotiations and in the form of an independent ultimatum. Hitler's ultimatum became, as it were, a pretext for war (if it was rejected), and therefore Soviet intelligence had to closely monitor the possibility of its appearance.

Although Zhukov did propose a pre-emptive strike on 15 May 1941, Stalin did not approve this plan. The next day Zhukov ordered a defensive deployment, which remained largely unchanged until 22 June. As the signs of the coming German attack were becoming impossible to ignore, Stalin refused to allow army units to assume combat positions, although he did permit some limited reinforcements. The intelligence services themselves had been devastated by the purges and no analyst was prepared to present an interpretation which differed from Stalin's views.

At 23.00 on June 21 the People's Commissar of Defense Marshal Timoshenko informed Kuznetsov about the possible attack of the Nazis that night. The fleets immediately announced operational readiness No. 1. And at midnight the naval forces were ready to repel aggression.

The definitive Soviet treatment of these problems was a volume titled Nachal'nyy period voyny (The Initial Period of War) signed to press in June 1974. The senior author associated with the volume is General of the Army Semen Pavlovich Ivanov. "Since carrying out of the missions designated by the plan was to be executed in the form of a retaliatory strike after the strategic deployment of the main forces of the Red Army, in the first stage of the initial strategic operations the covering armies deployed in the border zone should, by active defensive operations with the support of aviation and the tactical reserves, repel the enemy thrust and thereby provide for the concentration and deployment of all the forces designed for making the retaliatory strike. . . . "

The view of M.N.Tukhachevsky, V.K.Triandafillov, N.E.Varfolomeyev, G.S.Isserson and other prominent theoreticians of the mid-1920s was that it was best to annihilate enemy forces on enemy territory and, consequently, when war broke out to launch immediately an offensive on enemy territory.11 This annihilation school of military thought held sway in the Soviet Armed Forces. Stalin, Timoshenko and Zhukov lost the bulk of the Red Army during the initial period of the Great Patriotic War by massing forces forward in the vain hope of launching an immediate and decisive counter- offensive against invading Germany.

On 02 February 1941 Hitler received Field Marshal Fedor von Bock, the commanding general of Army Group Center, with whom he discussedthe plans for Operation BARBAROSSA. Bock expressed his belief that the Germans would be able to defeat the Russians, if the latter chose to give battle. He was wondering, however, how they could be forced to make peace. The Fuehrer replied that the German Army's seizure of the Ukraine and capture of Moscow and Leningrad would surely compel the Russians to come to terms. If, however, the Soviets refused to abandon the struggle even then, German motorized forces would have to advance as far as the Urals.

Early in 1941, when the Soviets learned about the major concentration of German forces in Poland, Stalin wrote a letter to Hitler, telling him that he knew about that, that ge were surprised and that he had the impression that Hitler intended to make war on the Soviet Union. In his personal message to Stalin, the Fuhrer wrote that the information was correct, that he did concentrate big army formations in Poland, but assured tha this concentration of German troops was not directed against the Soviet Union . Hitler said that his troops were in Poland for a different reason. The territory of western and central Germany was subjected to heavy bombing by the British who could sec it well from the air. Therefore, he had to transfer big contingents of troops to the East in order to be able secretly to re-arm and regroup them in Poland. Stalin believed Hitler.

Information about the impending German attack that came from Churchill and other sources was seen by Stalin as a logical wish of the British to pit us against the Germans and draw us into a war as soon as possible for which we, in his belief, were not ready. He also suspected provocations not only from the British, but also from some German generals who he thought favoured a preventive war and were ready to place Hitler before an accomplished fact.

The Soviet General Staff assumed that a war between the USSR and Germany would start in the same manner as World War I, that is, the main forces would enter battle several days after the border engagements. Such a view entailed an erroneous grouping of Soviet troops.

On the eve of the war, Soviet foreign intelligence received convincing information about large-scale military preparations being conducted by Germany to attack the USSR. The reports referred to different dates of the attack, but they all pointed to the first half of 1941. Immediately before the attack, intelligence also established its exact date - June 22, 1941.

On June 17, 1941, five days before the war, I.V. Stalin was informed of our source of "Sergeant", who worked at the headquarters of the German army, which said: "All military measures in Germany to prepare an armed attack against the USSR are completely finished, and a blow can be expected at any time."

External intelligence had enough information to use it to reveal the essence of the German plans for a "blitzkrieg" in the conditions of an unfinished war with England. But in the pre-war years, there was not yet an analytical unit in intelligence that could complete this work, understand the intricacies of German disinformation and make an indisputable conclusion about the specific timing of the outbreak of war. In those years, important reports were reported to the leadership of the country, as a rule, separately, and it itself made conclusions. Such were the order and style of work.

The Germans understood that a leak of information was inevitable. Considering this, they planned and carried out very accurately from the political, psychological and military points of view the verified misinformation, calculated precisely on the "gaps" in the strategic thinking of the top Soviet leadership. The calculation was justified. On the Soviet side there were no professionals who could open in the "information ocean" a well thought out and far-sighted deception, camouflage of the Wehrmacht's true intentions.

At the end of May 1941, US Deputy Secretary of State Sumner Wells reported at a reception to the USSR ambassador to the US K. Umansky about the impending German attack on Russia. On the same day, Umansky issued a statement to the press: "The information provided to the Soviet Union in London and Washington is aimed at provoking a conflict between Germany and the USSR."

On June 14, the newspapers published a TASS statement stating that Germany also strictly observes the terms of the Soviet-German nonaggression pact, just like the Soviet Union.

Stalin's scheme was simple. Receive an ultimatum. Only then can he hit Germany. Stalin hoped that Germany would always act according to the scheme. As before everywhere. Memel - an ultimatum to Lithuania. With Poland, even before attacking Poland, in April 1939, Hitler said, speaking in the Reichstag, that the treaty with Poland was now invalid. That is, in principle, all those obvious steps that were taken by the Germans indicated that there was a certain pattern, a pattern of Hitler's behavior as an aggressor. Making demands, but in 1941 Hitler broke the scheme. In the diary of Goebbels, he writes that Hitler told him on June 16, 1941, "this time we act differently, we do not polemize in the press, we lock ourselves in complete silence, and on day X we just strike." And this is indeed a new scheme, something that Stalin did not expect. Considering himself a far-sighted analyst, Stalin more than once presented to his entourage the arguments in favor of his confidence that he would outplay Hitler.

In "Memoirs on the activities of foreign intelligence", P. Fitin, who at that time headed foreign intelligence, wrote "On June 16, 1941, an urgent message came from our Berlin residence that Hitler had made the final decision to attack the USSR on June 22, 1941. These data were immediately reported to the appropriate authorities ... Call to I.V. Stalin did not take us by surprise ... We were invited to the office. Stalin greeted him with a nod of his head, but did not offer a seat, and he himself did not sit down for the whole time ... After the end of my report, there was a long pause. Stalin, going to his desk and turning to us, said: "Disinformation!" "

The German attack on 22 June 1941 was not a strategic surprise, because the Soviet government knew about Operation Barbarossa and the accumulation of German troops on the Soviet border. It knew that a war was imminent and worked frantically to prepare for it. However, the German transport system was superior to that of the Soviet Union. Germany could send 50%-100% more trains with troops and weapons from the West to the eastern border than the Soviet government could send from the eastern parts of its country.

The German invasion of June 1941 shook the Soviet nation to its very foundations, subjected the Red Army to six months of grave crisis, and subsequently led to over three years of grueling and costly war. The Red Army was utterly shattered during the first two months of war. Thereafter, it faced the arduous tasks of surviving, then reviving and maturing into an instrument that could compete with the Wehrmacht and achieve ultimate military victory.

Some claim that the report that Stalin withdrew from business and went to the country documented is not confirmed. The "Notebooks Entities adopted by Stalin", June 29 and 30 are missing. The story Khrushchev told, that members of the Politburo went to the dacha, to persuade Stalin to re-do things, is said by some to be invalid, if only because Khrushchev at that time was not in Moscow. After all, he was only the first secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine. By the way, on June 30 D. Pavlov met with Stalin, who removed him from his post as commander of the Western Front for the lost battle of the frontier.

Even the well-known dissident historian and anti-Stalinist Roy Medvedev eventually admitted that the version of Stalin's disappearance was Khrushchev's "pure invention". This is stated in his book, written in conjunction with his brother Zhores Medvedev, THE UNKNOWN STALIN. As for Khrushchev's unscrupulous statements that the Politburo went to Stalin to go to the dacha to persuade him to return to active work, it was a lie. Even in spite of the fact that they were "confirmed" by Mikoyan. Yes, they visited him at the dacha, but only because he himself summoned them to him, because on June 30, as Roy Medvedev points out, he summoned a meeting of members of the Politburo at his dacha, at which he acquainted them with the very decision to create the State Committee Defense.

The first day of the war found the General Secretary of the CPSU (B) and the President of the Council of People's Commissars of Stalin seriously ill with angina at the cottage. It was therefore decided to entrust the speech on the radio the first deputy of Stalin and the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs VM Molotov at 12.00 Moscow time. Molotov's speech immediately prepared and gave Stalin to view. Stalin only added at the end of the mobilization slogan that became a catch phrase in the Soviet Union: "Our cause is just. The enemy will be defeated. Victory will be ours".

Viacheslav Molotov, Vice-Chairman of the Council of Peoples' Commissar and Commissar for Foreign Affairs, broke the news of Hitler's aggression in a midday radio address to the Soviet people, on 22 June 1941. Stalin's trusted henchman alluded to the "patriotic war" of 1812, in which a previous invader - Napoleon - was defeated, and assured his listeners that the Red Army and the entire Soviet people would once again wage a "victorious patriotic war for Motherland, honor and liberty". That same day, Emelian Iaroslavsky, a party ideologue and ghostwriter for Stalin's History of the CPSU, penned a long analytical article titled "The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet People". It was thus the Party and not the people who gave the war its name.

On 23 June, Stalin actually led the High Command. On June 29, under the leadership of Stalin, was drawn directive SNK and the Central Committee of the CPSU (b), which defined a program of action of the Soviet people under the outbreak of the liberation war. June 30 the joint decision of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) and the People's Commissars of the USSR extraordinary wartime authority was established - the State Defense Committee (GKO), and its chairman was appointed Stalin. ICT has concentrated all power in the USSR. Its decisions were binding on all Party, state and public organizations.

During these days (29 and 30 June 1941), Stalin, Malenkov, Beria and Molotov went to the General Staff, to hear reports from Zhukov, and Vatutin Tymoshenko about the real situation on the fronts and work on regular and solutions perspective. Stalin began to prepare for the radio performance.

Stalin came to the conclusion about the apparent inability of the highest military command to organize a worthy rebuff to the aggressor. In such a situation, it was necessary to radically and immediately change the entire structure of state and military management in order to maximize the concentration of power in a single state body. Otherwise, it would be impossible to mobilize all the forces and resources to repel the enemy.

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