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In the east aerial bombardment was yet more destructive. The bombing of Moscow began on 21 July 1941. Half a million Muscovites were killed – ten times the number killed in the London Blitz.19 In 1943, when the war reached its turning point and Germans began to understand that they would lose, Hitler became ever more preoccupied with ‘secret weapons’ that were being developed. At Peenmünde in an underground factory, rocket scientist Werner Von Braun developed the V2 rocket, leading Hitler to proclaim that ‘this is the decisive weapon of the war’ and ‘a technical breakthrough which would change the face of the future’.20 Hitler was deluded. The V2 rocket terrorised and killed scores of Londoners, but it could not change the course of the war. Ten thousand slave labourers died making the V2, twice the number that died from the V2 bombings. The same resources could have made a much more decisive 24,000 fighter aircraft.21 Like the Allies, Hitler used aerial bombardment as a substitute for real victories on the ground. The great human sacrifice went on for the simple reason that there was no victory at hand. After the war, Von Braun and his engineers were seized by an advance US Commando Squad, and he went on to help develop the American Space Program.
V2 rocketeer Werner von Braun in 1964, at NASA Chapter Sixteen Collapse of the Soviet Empire In 1928, Stalin’s ‘Soviet’ state, having beaten off the political challenge of the left opposition, steadied its rule by the forced collectivisation of agriculture. The policy underwrote industrialisation as peasants were forced into the towns to work in factories, but for the country it was a disaster. Productivity fell so much that more than a quarter of the capital stock of the farms was lost between 1928 and 1933. By 1932, the Soviet Union was starving, and five million died over the next two years. Collectivisation shored up the urban based officialdom that ran the country, but weakened the Soviet state’s grip on the countryside – especially the grain rich Ukraine, that was officially a Soviet Republic to the south west of Russia. To the north on the western border with the USSR stood the Versailles-created state of Poland, that, under its military leader Marshall Pilsudski, had invaded the Ukraine in 1920.1 Under Stalin the Soviet leadership had lost confidence in its revolution, and hoped to hang onto power by alliance with those it once called imperialist states. Above all, the USSR needed advanced technology to develop, and sought it from Germany under the terms of the commercial agreement of February 1940. As we have seen, alliance with Germany led to the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, that agreed the division of Poland between them.
The Soviet betrayal and destruction of Poland in 1940 was profound – and only laid the basis for Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. German troops entered Poland on 1 September 1939, absorbing West Prussia, Upper Silesia and other districts into the Greater German Reich. Seventeen days later the Soviet army invaded the east (at German prompting) and divided that territory between the Ukraine and Byelorussia, handing Vilnius over to Lithuania. For the Comintern Dolores Ibárurri dismissed the ‘state artificially created by the Treaty of Versailles’ as ‘a republic of concentration camps’. To the Spanish firebrand-cum-Stalin-apologist ‘Social Democracy weeps for the loss of Poland, because imperialism has lost a point of support against the Soviet Union, against the fatherland of the proletariat’.2 The Soviets deported two million Poles eastwards to Arctic Russia, Siberia and Kazakhstan, many of whom died in the upheaval. In the Spring of 1940 15,000 Polish officers, professionals and reservists – identified by the Soviets as potential leaders of a resistance – were taken prisoner. Later they were killed in Katyń, near Smolensk, in Byelorussia – clubbed to death like cattle.3 Under the non-aggression pact, Hitler blessed Stalin’s use of military force against the Versailles-created Baltic States. The Soviet Union first imposed ‘mutual assistance pacts’ 4 and then later annexed Lithuania and Estonia in June and Latvia in August on 1940 – while Germany invaded Western Europe, without condemnation from Moscow. The reach of Moscow’s western expansion, though, was dependent on German sponsorship, as became apparent in the ‘Winter War’ with Finland.
Over the winter of 1939-1940 the Soviets pressed their rights under the non-aggression pact and invaded Finland. Unlike its authoritarian Baltic neighbours, the Finnish government was popular and the nation put up a successful resistance. One hundred thousand Soviets were killed, against 23,000 Finns, and on 13 March a Peace Treaty was signed respecting Finland’s borders.5 Watching the Finns struggle, the German leadership changed their minds about the USSR, thinking that victory would be easier than they had feared.
The German decision to turn east to invade the Soviet Union was opportunistic, and borne of weakness. The decision to abandon Sea Lion was taken on 12 October 1940, and Hitler signed Directive number 21 authorising operation Barbarossa on 18 December. The Fourth, Twelfth and Eighteenth Divisions were moved from the Atlantic coast to Poznan in Poland.6 General Franz Halder wrote in his diary on 28 January 1941: ‘Barbarossa: purpose not clear. We do not hurt the English.’ 7 But that was the point. Barbarossa was an evasion of the challenge of taking on the British Empire – on the assumption, which turned out to be wrong, that the USSR would quickly crumble. The westward progress of the blitzkrieg had faltered. Berlin needed a new campaign to bind the German people to the war policy.
Moscow got many warnings of the coming war – from the spy Leopold Trepper (who was monitoring troop movements with the help of French railworkers), from the spy Richard Sorge and from Marshal Golikov. Each report was marked in the margins ‘Double Agent’, or ‘British Source’.8 On 14 June 1941 the Tass News Agency in Moscow made the announcement that according to Soviet information, Germany complies with the terms of the SovietGerman nonaggression pact as scrupulously as does the Soviet Union, in light of which, in the opinion of the Soviet Union, rumours about Germany’s intentions to annul the pact and to launch an attack on the Soviet Union are completely baseless.9 A week later, the Soviet Union, wholly unprepared, was invaded by an overwhelming force of German military firepower. When he was later asked about the wisdom of this announcement, Molotov defended it as a part of the ‘game of diplomacy’, an attempt to win a concession from the other side – but that only shows how far the Soviet leadership’s reliance upon its allies amongst hostile and predatory powers, and its indifference to the fate of its people, had gone. By midday on the day of the invasion, 22 June 1941, the Soviet Air Force lost 1,200 aircraft, 900 of them on the ground, around a seventh of its total.10 An invasion force of 153 divisions, 600,000 vehicles, 3,580 tanks, 7,184 artillery pieces, 600,000 horses and 2740 planes poured eastward along a front that stretched 930 miles.11 Stalin himself disappeared from sight, and refused to address the people over the radio. ‘I can’t,’ he said. ‘Let Molotov speak.’ 12 The dictator fled Moscow to a dacha in Kuntsevo.
Stalin feared that he would be blamed, and overthrown, perhaps to be executed, as so many of his rivals had been. But he underestimated just how successful the purges had been.
There was no other candidate left. When he did emerge to rally the Soviet people on 3 July 1941, the architect of the disaster was their only plausible leader.
But the Soviet Union’s misery was only beginning. The second stage of the invasion operation Typhoon was launched on 30 September 1941. In October 1941 Stalin offered Germany the Baltic States, Moldavia and much of Byelorussia and the Ukraine for an end to the war.13 By December, though, the German advance had taken as much as that and more, a territory of 500 000 square miles, moving the border 1000 miles to the east to take in all of the Ukraine and some of western Russia. One third of all Soviet citizens fell under the occupation. By December 1941 the Wehrmacht was closing in on Moscow and Leningrad, having taken Lvov, Kharkov, Kiev, Odessa, Smolensk and scores of other cities and towns.
3,350,00 Soviet troops were captured by the end of 1941 – of whom 2 million were starved to death by the end of 1942.14 The success of the German campaign was premised on superior equipment, but just as importantly the disaffection of the peasantry, and of national minorities under Soviet rule.
In the summer of 1941 Germans offered Ukrainians on the west bank of the Deieper a generous payment of one in three sheaves – which was more than they were accustomed to under the Soviets.15 German troops were greeted as liberators when they marched into Lwow, Riga and Hrubieszów – where locals offered the traditional gifts of bread and salt.16 Germans recruited legions of Soviet citizens – Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army, as well as Balts, Georgians, Turkistanis and Caucasus Muslims. Even Finland joined the German campaign against the Soviets, in what was known as the ‘Continuation War’. In time these allies would pay a heavy price for their choice.
In 1941 Ukrainian nationalists under hetman Taras Bulba-Borovets fought alongside Germany. General Andrei Vlasov had been awarded the Order of Lenin in 1940 and fought hard in the defence of Moscow. But when he was captured on 12 July 1942 he offered to lead an anti-Stalin Russian Liberation Army, saying he was sick of the Red Army’s dictatorial waste of its own soldiers. In December 1942 Vlasov put out the ‘Smolensk Declaration’ against the Soviet system – to abolish collective farms and the state run economy, and for civil rights. The Declaration was drafted to flatter the Nazis, trying to fit
Russian interests together with Fascist ideology:
Stalin’s allies, the British and American Capitalists – have betrayed the Russian people. They aim to make use of Bolshevism in order to take over the natural riches of our country. These plutocrats not only save their own skins at the cost of millions of Russian lives, but they are signatories to secret pacts biased in their favour.
Germany, meanwhile, is not waging a war against the Russian people and their Motherland, but only against Bolshevism. Germany does not wish to encroach on the living space of the Russian people or on their national and political liberties. Adolf Hitler’s National Socialist Germany aims to organise a ‘New Europe’ without Bolsheviks and Capitalists, in which every nation is guaranteed an honourable place.17 Hitler, though, did indeed want to encroach on the living space of the Russian people, and was opposed to the Vlasov project as he was of most alliances with anti-Stalinist Slavs.
All the same his generals in the east went ahead anyway. Later, much of Vlasov’s army was redeployed to the West.18 Germans recruited two Ukrainian divisions, a Turkestan division and an SS division from Galicia. There were more than 150 000 Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians fighting alongside the Wehrmacht. In 1942 the Germans crossed into the Cossack homelands – and were welcomed as liberators with songs and garlands. In 1943 a Cossack division was raised and by 1944 a quarter of a million Cossacks were fighting for the Axis.19 Around a million Red Army soldiers fought for Germany as the Soviet system collapsed under the pressure of invasion.
Having lost the support of much of the people, the Soviet state was on the verge of collapse. In September 1941 the civilian ministries were ordered to evacuate. Anyone who stumbled into the NKVD headquarters would have heard nothing but telephones ringing unanswered while papers fluttered around the offices. It was rumoured that Stalin himself had left.
Under pressure, the Soviet Union starved. One third of Soviet Citizens fell under the German occupation – but its losses in food were much higher, as agricultural and foodprocessing output fell by three fifths.20 In Leningrad around one million died from hunger and hunger-related illnesses – about 40 per cent of the city’s people. In Kalinin (today called Tver) typhus numbers multiplied 88 times till seven per cent of the population were infected.
Between 1940 and 1942 the death rate rose from 18 to 24 per thousand.21 In an extraordinary desperate defence, the Soviet leadership ordered its industrial base to be relocated to the east. Factories were taken apart and moved from Leningrad, Moscow and Kiev eastwards to the Urals, Siberia and the Far East. In 1940 37 per cent of industrial workers were in the east – but by 1942 that had risen to 70 per cent. In 1943, output had fallen to just 38 per cent of its 1940 level.22 Suspect populations were also moved east, to prevent them from collaborating. In 1941 400,000 Volga Germans were deported to Siberia and Central Asia – many to work in NKVD camps. Between 1943 and 1944 one million Crimean Tartars, Chechens and other Caucasus people were relocated to Kazakhstan, an operation that took up more than 100,000 Soviet troops.23 By December 1941 it was assumed across the world that the Soviet Union’s days were numbered.
In Berlin, at the Theatre Hall of the Ministry of Propaganda on 10 October 1941, press chief Otto Dietrich showed off a great map of the Soviet Front before the foreign press corps.