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The day of the German attack

To attack the tremendous prestige of Stalin, undoubtedly the greatest military leader of the anti-fascist war, his enemies like to refer to the `incredible mistake' that he made by not predicting the exact date of the aggression.

Khrushchev,  in his Secret Report, stated:

`Documents ... show that by April 3, 1941 Churchill  ...\ personally warned Stalin that the Germans had begun regrouping their armed units with the intent of attacking the Soviet Union ....

`However, Stalin took no heed of these warnings.'

.

Khrushchev,  Secret Report, op. cit. , pp. S36--S37.

Khrushchev  continued by stating that Soviet military attachés in Berlin had reported rumors according to which the attack against the Soviet Union would take place on May 14 or June 15.

`Despite these particularly grave warnings, the necessary steps were not taken to prepare the country properly for defense ....

`When the fascist armies had actually invaded Soviet territory and military operations began, Moscow issued the order that the German fire was not to be returned ....

`(A) certain German citizen crossed our border and stated that the German armies had received orders to start the offensive against the Soviet Union on the night of June 22 at 3 o'clock. Stalin was informed about this immediately, but even this warning was ignored.'

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Ibid. , pp. 37--39.

This version is found throughout bourgeois and revisionist litterature. Elleinstein,  for example, wrote that under `the dictatorial and personal system that Stalin had set up ... no-one dared to say that he had erred.'

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Jean Elleinstein,  Staline (Paris: Fayard, 1984), p. 262.

What can be said about the first day of the war?

Stalin knew perfectly well that the war would be of extreme cruelty, that the fascists would exterminate without mercy the Soviet Communists, and would, using unprecedented terror, reduce the Soviet peoples to slavery.

Hitlerian  Germany was reinforced by Europe's economic potential. Each month, each week of peace meant a significant reinforcement of the Soviet Union's defence. Marshal Vasilevsky  wrote:

`The political and state leaders in the country saw war coming and exerted maximum efforts to delay the Soviet Union's entry into it. This was a sensible and realistic policy. Its implementation required above all a skillful conduct of diplomatic relations with the capitalist countries, especially with the aggressors.' The army had received strict orders to avoid `any action that the Nazi leaders could use to exarcerbate the situation or to make a military provocation.'

.

Vasilevsky,  op. cit. , p. 84.

The situation on the borders had been very tense since May 1941. It was important to keep one's cool and to not get entangled in German provocations. Vasilevsky  wrote about this subject:

`The state of alert in a border area is in itself an extreme development ....

`(T)he premature alert of the troops may be just as dangerous as the delay in giving it. Quite often there is still a long distance from hostile policies of a neighbour-country to a real war.'

.

Ibid. , p. 83.

Hitler  had not succeeded in invading Britain, not in shaking it. But the British Empire was still the world's leading power. Stalin knew that Hitler  would do anything to avoid a war on two fronts. There were good reasons to believe that Hitler  would do everything it could to beat Britain before engaging the Soviet Union.

For several months, Stalin had been receiving information from Soviet intelligence services announcing that the German aggression would begin in one or two weeks. Much of this information was rumor spread by Britain or the U.S., who wanted to turn the fascist wolves against the socialist country. Each defence measure of the Soviet borders was manipulated by the Right in the U.S. to announce an imminent attack by the Soviet Union against Germany.

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Déborine,  op. cit. , pp. 73--74.

Zhukov  wrote:

`The spring of 1941 was marked by a new wave of false rumours in the Western countries about large-scale Soviet war preparations against Germany.

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Zhukov,  op. cit. , p. 224.

The Anglo-American Right was pushing the fascists to fight the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, Stalin had no guarantees as to the British or U.S. reaction to a Nazi aggression against the Soviet Union. In May 1941, Rudolf Hess,  number two in the Nazi Party, had landed in Scotland. Sefton Demler,  who ran a British radio station specialized in propaganda broadcasts destined for Germany, noted in his book:

`Hess  ... stated that the object of his flight to Scotland had been to make peace with Britain ``on any terms'', providing that Britain would then join Germany in attacking Russia.

` ``A victory for England as the ally of the Russians,'' said Hess,  ``will be a victory for the Bolsheviks. And a Bolshevik victory will sooner or later mean Russian occupation of Germany and the rest of Europe.'' '

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Sefton Demler,  Black Boomerang (London: Secker & Warburg, 1962), pp. 59--60.

In Britain, the current to make a deal with the USSR had deep roots. A recent event shows this once again. In early 1993, a controversy took place in Britain with John Charmley's  bibliography of Churchill,  The End of Glory. Alan Clarc,  former Minister of Defense under Thatcher,  intervened to state that it would have been better if Churchill  had made peace with Germany in Spring 1941. Nazi Germany and Bolshevik Russia would have mutually destroyed each other and Britain would have maintained its Empire!

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De Morgen, 23 January 1993, p. 21.

Let us return to early 1941. Stalin was receiving at the time varied information, from all over the world, announcing an imminent German attack against Britain. When Stalin saw simultaneous reports coming from Britain, announcing an imminent Nazi attack against the Soviet Union, he had to ask himself: to what extent are these British lies, whose aim is to prevent a Hitlerian  attack against Britain?

After the war, it was learned that German Marshall Keitel,  applying instructions from Hitler  given on February 3, 1941, had followed a `Directive for Misinforming the Enemy'. Zhukov  wrote:

`Maps of England were printed in vast quantities, English interpreters were attached to units, preparations were made for ``sealing off'' some areas along the coast of the English Channel, the Strait of Dover and Norway. Information was spread about an imaginary ``airborne corps'', make-believe ``rocket batteries'' were installed along the shore ... the flood of propaganda was turned against England and the usual diatribes against the Soviet union stopped'.

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Zhukov,  op. cit. , p. 223.

All this explains Stalin's extreme caution. He was hardly the blind dictator that Elleinstein  depicts, but well a very lucid Communist leader who weighed all possibilities. Zhukov  testified:

`(Stalin) did say to me one day:

` ``A man is sending me very important information about the intentions of the Hitler  Government but we have some doubts.''

`Perhaps he was speaking of Richard Sorge  (famous Soviet spy)'.

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Ibid. , p. 228.

According to Zhukov,  the Soviet intelligence services bear their responsability in the erroneous prediction of the attack date. On March 20, 1941, their leader, General Golikov,  submitted to Stalin a report containing information of vital importance: the attack would take place between May 15 and June 15. But in his conclusions, Golikov  noted that this was probably `misinformation coming from the English or perhaps even the German intelligence service.' Golikov  estimated that the attack would probably take place `after (German) victory over England'.

.

Ibid. , pp. 228--229.

On June 13, Marshal Timoshenko  phoned Stalin to place the troops on alert. `We will think it over,' Stalin replied. The next day, Timoshenko  and Zhukov  came back. Stalin told them.

`You propose carrying out mobilization, alerting the troops and moving them to the Western borders? That means war! Do you two understand that or not?!'

Zhukov  replied that, according to their intelligence services, the mobilization of the German divisions was complete. Stalin replied:

`You can't believe everything in intelligence reports.'

At that very moment, Stalin received a phone call from Khrushchev.  Zhukov  relates:

`From his replies we gathered that they talked about agriculture.

` ``That's good,'' Stalin said after listening for a while.

`N. S. Khrushchev  must have painted the prospects for a good harvest in rosy colours.'

.

Ibid. , p. 230.

From Zhukov,  this remark is incredible! We know that Khrushchev  attacked Stalin's `lack of vigilance' and `irresponsibility'. But at the time that Zhukov,  Timoshenko  and Stalin were evaluating the chances of an imminent aggression, the vigilant Khrushchev  was discussing grain and vegetables.

The evening of June 21, a German deserter reported that the attack would take place the next night. Timoshenko,  Zhukov  and Vatutin  were called to Stalin's place:

`But perhaps the German generals sent this deserter to provoke a conflict?', Stalin asked.

Timoshenko:  `We think the deserter is telling the truth'.

Stalin: `What are we to do?'

Timoshenko:  `A directive must immediately be given to alert all the troops of border Districts'.

After a brief discussion, the military men drew up a text, which was slightly modified by Stalin. Here is the essence:

`I order:

`a) During the night of 21.6.41 the firing posts in the fortified areas on the state border are to be secretly occupied;

`b) Before dawn on 22.6.41 all aircraft including army aviation are to be dispersed among the field aerodromes, and carefully camouflaged;

`c) All units are to be alerted. Forces are to be kept dispersed and camouflaged;'

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Ibid. , pp. 232--233.

Signed Timoshenko  and Zhukov.  The transmission to the various regions was finished soon after midnight. It was already June 22, 1941.

Khrushchev  wrote about the first months of the war:

`(A)fter the first severe disaster and defeat at the front, Stalin thought that this was the end ....

`Stalin for a long time actually did not direct the military operations and ceased to do anything whatever. He returned to active leadership only when some members of the Political Bureau visited him'.

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Khrushchev,  Secret Report, op. cit. , p. S40.

`(T)here was an attempt to call a Central Committee plenum in October 1941, when Central Committee members from the whole country were called to Moscow .... Stalin did not even want to meet and talk to the Central Committee members. This fact shows how demoralized Stalin was in the first months of the war'.

.

Ibid. , pp. S19--S20.

Elleinstein  adds to this:

`Drinking strong vodka, he remained drunk for almost eleven days.'

.

Elleinstein,  op. cit. , p. 269.

Let us return to Stalin, dead drunk for the last eleven days and demoralized for another four months.

When Zhukov  announced to Stalin on June 22, 1941, at 3:40 in the morning, that German planes had bombed border cities, Stalin told him to convoke the Politburo. Its members met at 4:30. Vatutin  told them that the German land forces had begun their offensive. Soon after came the German declaration of war.

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Zhukov,  op. cit. , pp 235--236.

Stalin understood better than anyone the savagery that the country would have to endure. He kept a long silence. Zhukov  recalled this dramatic moment.

`Stalin himself was strong-willed and no coward. It was only once I saw him somewhat depressed. That was at the dawn of June 22, 1941, when his belief that the war could be avoided, was shattered.'

.

Ibid. , p. 268.

Zhukov  proposed that the enemy units should be attacked immediately. Stalin told him to write up the directive, which was sent at 7:15. But `considering the balance of forces and the situation obtaining it proved plainly unrealistic --- and was therefore never carried out.'

.

Ibid. , p. 236.

Khrushchev's  affirmation that Stalin had `issued the order that the German fire was not to be returned' is clearly false.

.

Khrushchev,  Secret Report, op. cit. , p. S39.

If Stalin was affected when he heard that the war broke out, `After June 22, 1941, and throughout the war Stalin firmly governed the country, led the armed struggle and international affairs together with the Central Committee and the Soviet Government.'

.

Ibid. , p. 268.

Already, on June 22, Stalin took decisions of vital importance. Zhukov  testified that at 13:00 on that day, Stalin telephoned him to say:

`Our front commanders lack combat experience and they have evidently become somewhat confused. The Politbureau has decided to send you to the South-Western Front as representative of the General Headquarters of the High Command. We are also sending Marshal Shaposhnikov  and Marshal Kulik  to the Western Front.'

.

Ibid. , p. 238.

The High Command was the college of military and political leaders around the supreme leader, Stalin.

At the end of the day, Zhukov  was already in Kiev. He learned upon arrival that Stalin had given a directive to begin counter-offensive operations. Zhukov  thought the directive premature, given that the Chiefs of Staff did not have sufficient information about what was happening on the front. Nevertheless, on June 24, Zhukov  sent the 8th and 15th mechanized corps on the offensive. They `successfully dealt one of their first counterblows at the enemy.'

.

Ibid. , p. 242.

With good reason, Zhukov  draws attention to the `grandiose border battle of the initial period in the war', which is little studied in his opinion. And with good reason. To further his political intrigues, Khrushchev  painted this period as a series of criminal errors by Stalin, who completely disorganized the defence. But, facing the Nazi blitzkrieg, disorganization, defeats and important losses were to a great extent inevitable. The important fact is that, placed in very difficult circumstances, the army and its leading cadres undertook phenomenal, determined resistance. Their heroic fighting began to create, right from the very first days, the conditions for the defeat of blitzkrieg warfare. All this was possible, to a great extent, because of Stalin's energetic resistance.

Right from June 26, Stalin took the strategic decision to build a reserve front, some 300 kilometres behind the front, to stop the enemy should it succeed in breaking through the defences.

That very day, the Western Front was broken and the Nazis charged toward Minsk, the capital of Byelorussia. That evening, Stalin convoked Timoshenko,  Zhukov  and Vatutin  and told them:

`Think together and decide what can be done about the current situation'. Zhukov  reported:

`All these proposals were approved by Stalin ....

`(B)uilding up a defence in depth on the approaches to Moscow, continuously harrying the enemy and checking his advance on one of the lines of defence, then organizing a counter-offensive, by bringing up for this purpose troops from the Far East together with new formations.'

.

Ibid. , p. 256.

On June 29, a series of measures were taken. Stalin would announce them to the people in his famous radio speech of July 3, 1941. Its content reached the Soviets by its simplicity and by its tenacious will to win. Stalin said:

`The enemy is cruel and implacable. He is out to seize our lands, watered with our sweat, to seize our grain and oil secured by our labor. He is out to restore the rule of landlords, to restore tsarism, to destroy national culture and the national state existence of the Russians, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Lithuanians, Letts, Estonians, Uzbeks, Tatars, moldavians, Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaidjanians, and the other free peoples of the Soviet Union, to Germanize them, to convert them into the slaves of German princes and barons.

`Thus the issue is one of life or death for the Soviet State, for the peoples of the U.S.S.R.; the issue is whether the peoples of the Soviet Union shall remain free or fall into slavery ....

`Our people must know no fear in fight and must selflessly join our patriotic war of liberation, our war against the fascist enslavers.

`Lenin,  the great founder of our state, used to say that the chief virtue of the Bolshevik must be courage, valor, fearlessness in struggle, readiness to fight, together with the people, against the enemies of the country ....

`The Red Army, 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 ....

`We must strengthen the Red Army's rear, subordinating all our work to this cause. All our industries must be got to work with greater intensity to produce more rifles, machine-guns, artillery, bullets, shells, airplanes ....

`We must wage a ruthless fight against all disorganizers of the rear, deserters, panic-mongers, rumor-mongers, we must exterminate spies, diversionists, and enemy parachutists ....

`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 car, not a single pound of grain, or a gallon of fuel ....

`In areas occupied by the enemy, guerilla units, mounted and on foot, must be formed, diversionist groups must be organized to combat the enemy troops, to foment guerilla warfare everywhere ....

`Forward, to our victory!'

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Stalin, The German invasion of the Soviet Union. The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Union (New York: International Publishers, 1945), pp. 13--17.

On July 10 began the Battle of Smolensk. After the seizure of that city, the Hitlerites  thought that they could charge towards Moscow, 300 kilometres further on. The Battle of Smolensk raged for two months.

`The battle of Smolensk played a crucial role in the initial period of the Great Patriotic War .... According to German generals their forces lost 250,000 officers and men ....

`As a result we gained time and were able to raise strategic reserves and carry out defensive measures at the Moscow sector.'

.

Ibid. , p. 275.

Vasilevsky  made the following remark:

`The Smolensk battle ... laid the basis for disrupting the blitzkrieg ....

`(It was) a most valuable school for testing the fighting efficiency of Soviet soldiers and commanders, including top commanders and the Supreme Command'.

.

A. M. Vasilevsky,  A Lifelong Cause (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1973), p. 96.

On September 30, the Nazis began their final offensive to take Moscow.

Some 450,000 inhabitants of the city, 75 per cent women, were mobilized to build fortifications and anti-tank defences. General Panfilov's  troops led memorable battles in defence of the Volokolamsk Road, immortalized in a novel of the same name by Alexander Beck .

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Alexandre Beck,  La chaussée de Volokolamsk (Paris: Éditions Bordas, 1946).

Moscow was bombed by German aviation. Panic began to seize the city's population. The Nazis were only 80 kilometres away. Part of the administration was evacuated. But Stalin decided to remain in Moscow. The battles became more and more fierce and, in early November, the Nazi offensive was stopped. After consulting with Zhukov,  Stalin took the decision to organize the traditional November 7 military parade on Red Square. It was a formidable challenge to the Nazi troops camped at the gates of Moscow. Stalin made a speech, which was broadcast to the entire country.

`(T)he enemy is before the gates of Leningrad and Moscow.

`The enemy calculated that our army would be dispersed at the very first blow and our country forced to its knees. But the enemy wholly miscalculated .... our country --- our whole country --- has organized itself into a single fighting camp in order, jointly with our army and navy, to rout the German invaders ....

`Is it possible, then, to doubt that we can and must gain victory over the German invaders? The enemy is not as strong as some terror-stricken would-be intellectuals picture him. The devil is not as terrible as he is painted ....

`Comrades, Red Army and Red Navy men, commanders and political instructors, men and women guerillas:

`The whole world is looking to you as a force capable of destroying the brigand hordes of German invaders. The enslaved peoples of Europe under the yoke of the German invaders are looking to you as their liberators. A great mission of liberation has fallen to your lot.

`Be worthy of this mission! ....

`Under the banner of Lenin  --- onward to victory!'

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Stalin, The twenty-fourth anniversary of the October Revolution, The Great Patriotic War of the Soviet Revolution, pp. 35--38.

On November 15, the Nazis began their second offensive against Moscow. On November 25, some units advanced into the southern suburbs of Moscow. But on December 5, the attack was contained. Throughout this period, new troops coming from all over the country were able to reach Moscow. Even at the most dramatic moments, Stalin kept his strategic forces in reserve. Rokossovsky  wrote:

`The Army's defences were spread so thin that they threatened to burst. It took feats of troop juggling to prevent this from happening.'

.

K. K. Rokossovsky,  A Soldier's Duty (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1985), p. 87.

After having consulted all of his commanders, Stalin decided on a large counter-attack, which began on December 5. Some 720,000 Red soldiers pushed back 800,000 Hitlerites  100 to 300 kilometres.

For the first time, the `invincible' German troops were defeated, and well. In front of Moscow, the fascists lost more than 500,000 men, 1,300 tanks, 2,500 canons, more than 15,000 motorized vehicles and much more matériel. Hitler's  army had not yet suffered such losses.

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Vasilevsky,  op. cit. , p. 128.

Many consider the Battle of Moscow to be the real turning point of the anti-fascist war. It took place less than six months after the beginning of the lightning war. The unflinching will, the immense organizational capacities and the mastery of large strategic problems by Stalin contributed significantly.



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Fri Aug 25 09:03:42 PDT 1995