History is the propaganda of the victors. Accordingly, Germany’s Adolf Hitler has been assigned total blame for starting World War II in Europe, history’s deadliest conflict in which 50 million died.
Interestingly, the 70th anniversary of World War II has reopened old wounds and ignited an ugly battle of words between Russia and its unloving neighbors, Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltic states. The latter two accuse Moscow of having stabbed them in the back in 1939 by becoming a partner with Nazi Germany.
The European parliamentary assembly (OSCE) recently held the USSR and Germany `equally responsible for World War II.’ After 70 years, it’s about time.
`A flat-out lie,’ angrily retorted Russia’s president, Dimitry Medvedev. The war cost the Soviet Union 25 million dead. Russians are quite right in believing that they, not the US and British Empire, defeated Hitler’s Germany. Russians fought with incredible heroism, suffered unthinkably casualties and damage, and ground Nazi Germany into dust. The Allies played an important but comparatively far less important role in Europe against an already defeated and ruined Germany.
Underlining Moscow’s worrying rehabilitation of Stalin, Medvedev claims the Soviet dictator saved Europe from Hitler and rejects all attempts to equate him with Hitler.
But the facts say differently. Stalin was an even worse mass murderer than Hitler by a factor of three or four. Stalin was also a much cleverer strategist, war leader and diplomat than Hitler, who stumbled into a war that Germany could not possibly win and for which it was woefully unprepared.
Russia’s Prime Minister Vladimir Putin admitted the 1939 Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact that partitioned Poland between Germany and the USSR, handed the Baltic states and Romania’s Bessarabia to the Soviets, was `immoral.’
But Putin correctly asserted that the 1938 Munich Pact signed by Britain and France with Hitler that returned Czechoslovakia’s ethnic German Sudaten region to German-Austrian ownership was equally immoral. He reminded Poland of its unsavory role in carving up bleeding Czechoslovakia. He blasted East European critics as `collaborators with Fascism.’
Interestingly, we know that Hitler was determined to undue the pernicious effects of the post-World War I `peace’ treaties that cruelly dismembered the German Reich, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. He was set on restoring the 1914 borders.
But it is little understood that Stalin was also bent on historic and geographic rectification. He sought to erase the effects of the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, imposed on defeated, revolution-torn Russia by the German-led Central Powers.
The draconian treaty tore away a quarter of Russia’s population and industry, and vast swathes of Russian-ruled territory: Poland, the Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine, Crimea, Bessarabia and Finland. Like Hitler, Stalin was determined to regain lost territories. This he largely did from 1920-1939. The 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the final act in the restoration of the old Russian Tsarist Empire.
A fascinating book, `The Chief Culprit’ by Viktor Suvorov (US Naval Institute Press), the pseudonym of a defector from Soviet military intelligence GRU, makes explosive new revelations about Stalin’s role in igniting World War II. My old friends at KGB despise the GRU. But it was GRU that got 2-3 high level agents into Franklin Roosevelt’s White House and shaped America’s wartime foreign policy.
Suvorov’s argument is simple. Stalin cleverly lured Hitler into war by offering to divide Poland. This act, Stalin knew, would prompt Britain and France to declare war on Germany. Stalin expected to pick up the pieces.
Stalin also knew Germany was no match for the USSR. Hitler had only 3,332 tanks, most of them light vehicles armed with machine guns or 20mm cannon. Contrary to our images of a motorized blitzkrieg, 75% of German transport was horse-drawn (think how much hay and how many hay wagons are needed to feed 750,000 horses.) The Wehrmacht had no winter uniforms. The German High Command expected to win the war against Russia in only three months before winter set in.
Most important, Germany had no raw materials save coal. Its sole sources of oil were Romania and Russia. Germany had only enough oil for a two-month campaign against the Soviet Union. It had no motor lubricants suitable for Russia’s -20 to -30 F winter weather.
From digging in GRU files, Suvarov asserts that in the spring of 1941, Stalin was poised to launch 170 divisions, 24,000 tanks and thousands of warplanes in a surprise blitzkrieg against Western Europe, supported by mountains of munitions and more reserve armies from Asia and the Far East. The first target was Ploesti, Romania, Germany’s sole source of oil. Germany was also Italy’s sole source of oil. Losing Ploesti would have knocked both Axis powers out of the war.
The Red Army and Air Force were deployed in vulnerable offensive formations hard on the new German-Soviet border. Stalin ordered all 1,000 plus defensive casemates of the formidable Stalin Line defending the USSR’s western border destroyed.
But Hitler struck first. Learning of the Soviet threat, Hitler secretly massed his armies and attacked on 22 June, 1941. Operation Barbarossa caught the Russians flat-footed: warplanes on the ground, tanks on rail cars, munitions in the open. Soviet ground forces were quickly enveloped, cut off and destroyed in vast numbers. Had they been positioned in defensive deployments behind the Stalin Line, this rout would not have happened.
Soviet propaganda later tried to cover up Stalin’s plan to attack Europe, claiming his forces were outmoded and unprepared, and generals incompetent. This view still prevails today.
Not so, claims Suvarov. His view will infuriate mainstream historians. I poured through Suvarov’s meticulous military analysis. To me, as a veteran military analyst, his figures appear to confirm that Stalin was just about to attack when Hitler pre-empted him.
By 1945, Stalin’s Red Army had taken half of Europe. But, contends Suvarov, had Hitler not attacked first in 1941, Stalin’s thirty-million man army, backed by mammoth industrial production, would have overwhelmed all of Europe in a 1941 surprise blitz.
Suvarov’s unstated conclusion: Hitler saved Western Europe from Stalin. He asserts, less convincingly, that Hitler’s offensive into Russia led to the inevitably downfall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the real end of WWII.
In the author’s view, if Poland had given back German-populated Danzig to Germany, war might have been avoided. The British Empire collapsed because of its fatal decision to go to war with Germany in 1939 over Poland, a nation it could not possibly defend.
All this is grand heresy. We need to clear away the lingering clouds of wartime propaganda and begin understanding what really happened.