We rather knew this, didn’t we?

“It is necessary to deprive the German command of all initiative, forestall the adversary, and to attack the German army when it is still in the deployment stage and has no time to organise the distribution of forces at the front,” wrote the Soviet commanders to Joseph Stalin. The day on which they did so is by far the most surprising part of the document: 15 May 1941, one month and one week before Hitler attacked the USSR. In the spring of 1941, the Soviets considered attacking the Germans first, writes Sean McMeekin in his latest book, Stalin’s War.

The grand mistake? The only useful way of defending against an armoured invasion being defence in depth? The one thing Stalin absolutely forbade?

18 thoughts on “We rather knew this, didn’t we?”

  1. Since the Russians opened the archives in the 1990s, we have more details available than previous generations. This is hardly therefore revisionism, it might just fill in some gaps.

    One thing that surprised me, coming back to the subject after many years, was that the Red Army was not that difficult to re-form. Many officers had been suspended or sacked, although Stalin did have a lot shot, there was still a significant surviving reserve that could be called upon to start again. The Russians were lucky that the Japanese were unwilling to take on the Soviets on the Machurian front in 1940-1 in a serious manner, they had other plans.

    Something that is not made clear enough these days is that Hitler and Stalin were gangsters, completely without scruples and (especially in Stalin’s case) regard for the human cost of their policies.

  2. Rhoda +100

    No doubt Suvorov was enriched with characteristic Russian eccentricity, but he made a compelling case.

    Idk why calling it “Stalin’s War” is regarded as revisionist. Stalin was very obviously the most consequential man of the 20th century, and by far the biggest winner of the bloodiest war in history.

    Of course Stalin wanted war, the Soviet Union didn’t invade Poland in 1939 for peaceful purposes. No doubt he hoped the Germans, French and British would tire each other out before the Red Army swept in, but war was in the post.

  3. I don’t think I have the stamina to read another book about the bloody Nazis, or the bloody Second World War, even if it is written from an uncommon point of view.

    The only thing I might read, though probably not, is a book explaining why Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao appeared in one brief historical period.

  4. I do mean that seriously. Any attempt to put Marxist theory into practise will result in despotic dictators. The big four haven’t been the only ones.

  5. I’d say the same about liberalism. You get too carried away by the freedom of the individual, you leave the door open to be taken over by the authoritarians. What’s happening now.

  6. Was not the ‘pre-emptive strike’ the logical conclusion of the development of warfare of armoured movement? The best form of defence to an impending armoured strike being to strike first with your own one?

    In WW1 defenders had the upper hand over attackers, as it was impossible to amass enough men in one spot to create a breakthrough, machine guns and artillery could mow them down as fast as you you send them over the top. Whereas once tanks and mobile troops came long the attacker could always amass the weight of his forces at a point of his choosing while the defenders must be of necessity spread more thinly. Ergo the attacker can always break through.

    Hermann Balck, possibly the most successful general of WW2, always considered that the only defence available to him when outnumbered many times by Russian attackers was to attack himself with whatever forces he had available, hopefully at a point the enemy was not expecting. Using these tactics he won many tactical battles against numerically far superior Soviet forces.

  7. dearieme,

    “The only thing I might read, though probably not, is a book explaining why Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao appeared in one brief historical period.”

    Various reasons, but part of it is industrialisation and how it created opposition to the aristocracy. Britain largely avoided it because our aristocrats didn’t put up much opposition, while the German aristocracy were just as keen on a dictatorship (of aristocrats) in the 1930s as Hitler.

  8. ‘he hoped the Germans, French and British would tire each other out before the Red Army swept in, but war was in the post.’

    I agree Steve. It certainly wasn’t surprising that Stalin assumed that WW2 would go something like WW1. After all, Adolf decided to build the Siegfried Line to stop any invasion of Germany while he duplicated the Second Reichs’ defeat of Russia.

    What’s always surprised me is that Hitler didn’t try to duplicate the Nazi-Soviet pact by making a similar deal with the US instead of declaring war on America. A simple calculation of the odds would have shown him that fighting the USSR, US and the UK all at once was a bad idea. Even if the chances of success were about 1%, it was still worth trying. But perhaps he was too sozzled with drugs by then to think straight.

  9. Boganboy, sometimes there is honour amongst thieves and Hitler felt obliged to support his ally against the USA. It had been hoped that by tying up the Atlantic Fleet in the U Boat war, it would allow the Japanese to finish the job started at Pearl Harbor.

    Lots of permutations can be divined, but the war in the Pacific would have ended a year earlier, if the USA only had Japan to deal with and there would have been a total annihilation of German cities by the RAF. Whether the UK could have summoned the resources to develop and drop The Big One on Berlin is debatable, but the war would have dragged on in Europe well into the late 40s and by then a nuclear bomb of some description may well have been within Britain’s grasp.

  10. Ottokring,

    “Something that is not made clear enough these days is that Hitler and Stalin were gangsters, completely without scruples and (especially in Stalin’s case) regard for the human cost of their policies.”

    I’m not sure what you mean by “gangster” but Hitler made almost no personal gain out of being Fuhrer. There wasn’t a string of mistresses or whores, or money in bank accounts, or jobs for his family. Lots of people under him did rather nicely out of it, but he didn’t.

  11. He bloody did ! 🙂

    The party paid for all his expenses and properties and he received all the royalties to Mein Kampf, which couples were required to purchase when they got married as well as his salary as chancellor.

    Anyway gangsterism isn’t just amassing loot. There is the literal kind – just look at his behaviour during The Night of the Long Knives

  12. Despite all the signs Stalin didn’t believe that the Germans were stupid enough to attack. The German army was running on Russian fuel as synthetic fuel made from coal was too costly. The Germans could only win if they took the oil wells in the Balkans without Stalin destroying them in a scorched earth withdrawal.

  13. Ottokring. Well maybe you’re right about honour among thieves. But, as Ribbentrop pointed out, the Germans were only bound to support Japan if it was attacked. And of course the Japs attacked the US. You would have expected the Germans to at least try to push the Japs into breaking their treaty with Russia and attacking them from the east before they declared war on the US.

    How the Germans could have believed that the Japs could decisively defeat the US if they conducted a U boat campaign in the Atlantic is hard to imagine. Perhaps Hitler simply believed that the US was bound to declare war on Germany anyway, so he might as well create havoc in the Atlantic before the Yanks properly mobilised their fleet, and then declared war on him.

  14. Boganboy – What’s always surprised me is that Hitler didn’t try to duplicate the Nazi-Soviet pact by making a similar deal with the US instead of declaring war on America

    I dunno if such an thing would’ve been feasible, but Hitler was highly motivated by striking out at the enemies he fought as a corporal in WW1 so may not have even considered it. In general Nazi foreign policy was stupid and obvious, Molotov-Ribbentrop notwithstanding.

    German secret squirrel activity in the prewar US was completely amateurish squareheaded autistic Kraut stuff anyway. Britain was so much better at manipulating elite opinion (it helped that elite opinion, while not exactly pro-British, was firmly anti-Hitler. Joe Kennedy aside.).

    BoM4 – Hitler made almost no personal gain out of being Fuhrer.

    “You know, with Hitler, the more I learn about that guy, the more I don’t care for him.” – Norm Macdonald

    This is another reason why strutting Dago fascism is far superior to the incel Teutonic weirdo variety.

    The Chad Generalissimo loves beautiful women of all races and has many bastard sons, while the Aryan-obsessed uni-testicled Austrian virgin ended up being killed by Hitler.

  15. Even a quick google shows the importance of oil in the WW2 campaigns, full of risky/daring raids (high risk/high gain) yet barely covered in a lot of history curriculums

  16. “why Lenin, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao appeared in one brief historical period.”
    Mass communication? Look at those old newsreels, not so much the mass of people but the forest of microphones. A population attuned to the lure of old style oratory, but not to modern amplification.

    And today, that kind of mass-media has had its day, we have tuned out and muted it, but not so the new social media.

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