CHAPTER 16 What are ‘Armies of Covering Forces’? 135
The basic and dominant strategic operational idea behind the modern ‘army of covering forces’ is active surprise invasion. It is clear from this that the modern defensive term ‘army of covering forces’ is a screen to conceal a surprise offensive blow to be dealt by the ‘invading army’. (Problems of Strategic Deployment, Frunze Military Academy, 1935)
In the European part of the Soviet Union there were five military districts which shared common frontiers with foreign countries. The First Strategic Echelon was made up of troops from these five frontier districts and three fleets. These frontier and indeed all other districts had divisions and corps in their structure, but no armies. Armies had existed in the Civil War, but they were disbanded after it had ended. An army is too large a formation to be maintained in peacetime. The only exception was the Special Army of the Red Banner.
We cannot take it into account here, however, since this body included all the Soviet troops in the Far East and Trans-Baikal, and also the air force, naval forces, military settlements, and other elements. This vast shapeless creation embraced collective farms and even had its own concentration camps. The unusual nature of this formation was highlighted by the fact that it bore no number, while at the head of its huge organization stood a Marshal of the Soviet Union. In 1938, for the first time ever in peacetime, two armies, the 1st and the 2nd, were formed in the Far East.
It was entirely understandable that the Soviet government should take this step. Relations with Japan were very bad and prolonged periods of hostility frequently overflowed into real fighting in which great numbers of troops were used. Up until this point, there had never been any armies in the European part of the country since the time of the Civil War. Hitler’s coming to power, the economic, political and military crisis in Europe, the direct clash between Soviet communists and the fascists in Spain, the German Anschluss in Austria and its seizure of Czechoslovakia; none of these events caused Soviet armies to be set up in the western part of the country.
At the beginning of 1939, the Soviet Union, with the Great Purge behind it, was entering a new era of its existence. Its beginning was marked at the 18th Party Congress by a speech by Stalin, which in Ribbentrop’s words was ‘accepted with understanding’ in Berlin. Soviet foreign policy was rapidly changing course: Britain and France were openly called warmongers, and if Stalin was not actually offering Hitler the hand of friendship, Soviet diplomats were clearly letting Hitler know that if he were to extend his hand, then it would be accepted. That was the outward face of this new era. In 1939, however, the Soviet Union began to form armies in the
European part of its territories.
For geographical reasons alone, it would have been impossible to use these armies against the ‘warmongers’ of Britain and France. Against whom then? Surely not against Hitler, with whom negotiations about rapprochement were being held with such enthusiasm behind the scenes? Thus while Soviet diplomats were ‘seeking the road to peace’, armies secretly appeared on the western frontiers, suddenly and in whole series: the 3rd and 4th Armies in Byelorussia, the 5th and 6th in the Ukraine, and the yth, 8th and 9th on the Finnish frontier. These armies were growing in strength, and new armies were being added to them: the loth and nth in Byelorussia, and the i2th in the Ukraine.
Communist propaganda sometimes tries to present the matter in such a way as to suggest that the Soviet Union began to form its armies only after the Second World War began. But it was not like this. There is sufficient evidence to prove that Stalin decided to form the armies before the war broke out. Even according to official Soviet sources, the armies were set up before the signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The 4th and 6th Armies are known to have been already in existence in August 1939. There is also knowledge of the existence of the 5th Army in July. The 10th and 12th Armies were set up ‘before the Second World War began’, that is before I September 1939. (Soviet Military Encylopaedia)
Of the remaining armies, they are also known to have been set up in the areas of forthcoming conflicts, and that these conflicts subsequently broke out there. Shortly after they had been formed, each of these armies got down to its real task. All seven armies deployed on the Polish frontier were involved in the ‘liberation’ of Poland, while the three armies on the Finnish border ‘helped the Finnish people throw off the yoke of the oppressors’. Three armies were not enough here, so new ones, the I3th, 14th and 15th, were added. When the Winter War in Finland ended, four Soviet armies on the Finnish frontier appeared to withdraw into the shadows and dissolve.
Shortly afterwards the I5th Army appeared in the Far East, the 8th was seen on the frontiers with the Baltic states, while the 9th turned up on the Romanian frontier. ‘Requests from the workers’ in these countries to come and liberate them were soon forthcoming. And the valiant Soviet armies then liberated Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. After this, the 9th Army again
withdrew into the shadows. Like the ijth Army, it was ready to make an appearance again at any moment. And as we shall see, it did just that.
After the ‘liberation’ campaigns had been completed, not one of these armies was disbanded, in spite of the vast expenditure needed to maintain them. This was unprecedented in the whole of Soviet history. Until this point, armies had only been formed during wartime, and only in order to fight in war. Now there was no one else left in Europe to ‘liberate’ — except Germany. It was just at this point that the process of forming new armies was appreciably stepped up. Two armies, the 16th and the l7th, were established in Trans-Baikal in June 1940. The 16th was set up and deployed in such a way that it could be transferred westwards at any moment. But it is not this army which interests us.
The 17th Army is the one which compels our attention. During the Civil War, at the most dramatic moment in the blood-stained conflict to preserve the communist dictatorship, the highest number used in the designation of an army was 16. Throughout Soviet history the number 17 had never been used to designate an army. The appearance of an army bearing such a number meant that the Soviet Union, while at
peace and not expecting an attack from outside, had surpassed the highest number ever reached. (Previously this number had been reached on one occasion only, for a brief period in the course of a very bitter war.)
The Soviet leaders clearly understood that in setting up a 17th Army, they were crossing a Rubicon which was not visible to the uninitiated. Even two years previously, the state could not allow itself to maintain even one formation which could have been described by the military term ‘army’. Now more armies were being formed than had ever been established in the past. A critical degree in the Soviet Union’s power had now been exceeded. From then onwards, the development of the country would proceed in entirely new conditions of a kind that had never before been encountered.
The creation of the l7th Army was clearly a most highly protected state secret, and Stalin did his best to ensure that it remained a secret both within the country and abroad. The 16th and l7th Armies were formed in such a way that it was almost impossible for them to be seen by outside observers. Extra measures were taken to scotch rumours about growing Soviet military might. The order to set up the l7th Army was signed by Marshal of the Soviet Union K. S. Timoshenko on 21 June 1940. (Order of the Peoples’ Commissariat for Defence, No. 4, point 3)
The next day, Soviet radio broadcast a TASS report. Schulenberg, the German ambassador, unerringly deduced that Stalin had written it himself, and told Molotov, who did not consider it necessary to refute the suggestion. In the TASS report, Stalin resorted to his favourite device of attributing to his opponents words which they did not use, thus allowing himself easily to ‘unmask a lie’: There are rumours circulating to the effect that not just 100, not even 150 Soviet divisions are concentrated on the Lithuanian—German frontier . . .
This is pure invention by Stalin. I have checked British, French and American newspapers, which Stalin exposes here as the slanderers, and there is not one newspaper which quotes such fantastic figures. Having attributed to the Western press something it did not write, Stalin easily refuted this non-existent slander before passing on to his main point: It is considered in responsible Soviet circles that those who are spreading these ridiculous rumours are pursuing the special aim of casting a shadow over Soviet-German relations. These gentlemen, however, are simply expressing their suppressed desires as reality. They are apparently incapable of understanding the obvious fact that the good neighbourly relations which have been established between the Soviet Union and Germany as a result of the conclusion of the non-aggression pact cannot be shaken by any rumours or petty propaganda. (Pravda, 23 June 1940)
There is some truth in this report. Stalin was quite correct in saying that Soviet troops were not being concentrated on the frontier. But he passed over in silence the fact that, far from inquisitive eyes in the depth of the country, powerful formations were being set up which would one day turn up on the German frontier, also under the cover of another and equally false TASS report. It is quite obvious that, in their mobility, their technical equipment, and their fire, strike and fighting power, the armies of the ‘pre-war period’ were immeasurably superior to the armies which fought in the Civil War. But this was not the only difference. Whereas the armies were then dispersed in six different directions, they were now mustered into only two. Against Japan, with whom conflicts were unceasing, there were five armies; while facing Germany and its allies, with whom peace had been signed, there were twelve.
Nor did the rapid process of setting up armies stop there. Yet another army, the 26th, was formed on July 1940 on the German border. In the Red Army, the sequence of numbers had always been rigorously observed. The next number in the sequence should have been 18. So why was the sequence broken? Neither Soviet marshals nor eminent communist historians give us the answer to this question. But if a close study is made of the way in which these armies were created, history itself will suggest the answer. The sequence of numbering armies had not in fact been broken; in the summer of 1940 the Soviet leadership set up another eleven armies, one directed at Japan, ten at Germany.
The 26th Army was formed on the German border as part of this long series, and its formation preceded that of the others. But all the other armies in the same series were in the process of being set up; at the very least, the decision had been taken to set them up. The formation of these armies was completed somewhat later than that of the 26th Army, but before the German invasion began. The 23rd and 2yth Armies made their secret appearances in the western military districts in May 1941. The same month, the phantom army already known to us, the ijth, came floating out of the mists. A few weeks later, another similar army, the 9th, changed from being a vague mirage into a solid reality.
On 13 June 1941, the day the TASS report was transmitted, all the other phantoms came into view: the 18th, 19th, 2Oth, 21st, 22nd, 24th, 25th (against Japan) and the 28th, thus completing the uninterrupted series of numbers. Officially the formation of all these armies was completed in the first half of 1941. This, however, was only the end of the process. But where was its beginning? Communist historians conceal this, and they do so with good reason. The creation of these armies betrays Stalin’s craftiness – while Hitler was the enemy, there were no armies; while Poland was being partitioned, while Soviet and German troops were facing each other, it was sufficient for Stalin to have seven to twelve armies in the west of the Soviet Union.
Then Hitler turned away from Stalin, and threw the Wehrmacht into Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Holland and France, with the clear intention of landing in Britain. Hardly any German troops were left on the Soviet frontiers. It was precisely at this moment that the Soviet Union began secretly to set up an enormous number of armies, among them the 26th. The further the German divisions moved to the west, to the north, and to the south, the more Soviet armies were created against Germany. Supposing that Hitler had gone even further, and had landed his troops in Britain, had seized Gibraltar, Africa and the Near East, how many armies would Stalin have then formed on the undefended German border? And for what purpose?
The basis of Soviet strategy was the ‘operation in depth’ theory: the delivery of surprise strikes in great depth at the enemy’s most vulnerable places. The theory of the shock army was born at the same time as the ‘operation in depth’ theory. The shock army was to be the instrument used to deliver those strikes in depth. Set up purely to solve offensive tasks (Soviet Military Encylo-paedia, Vol. I, p. 256), these shock armies had on their complement a considerable quantity of artillery and infantry whose purpose it was to break the enemy’s defence, and one or two mechanized corps with 500 tanks each, which would deliver a heavy shock attack in
The German Blitzkrieg and the Soviet operation in depth are strikingly similar in both concept and detail. Tank groups were the special instrument which had been created to carry out the Blitzkrieg. Three such groups were used in the invasion of France, and four in the invasion of the Soviet Union. Each one usually had between 600 and 1,000 tanks, and on occasions as many as 1,250 tanks, along with a considerable number of infantry and artillery whose purpose it was to break a way through for the tanks.
One difference between the Soviet and German war machines was that in Germany everything was called by its own name, so that the tank groups bore their own numerical designations, while the field armies had theirs. In the Soviet Union shock armies existed only in theory; and although that theory was soon turned into substance, they still did not formally bear the title of shock army. This name was officially introduced only after the Germans had invaded. Before this, all Soviet armies had a single numerical designation, and bore no distinguishing name. This was misleading then, and is misleading now. In Germany we can see the engines of aggression, the tank groups, clearly called by their own names.
In the Red Army, we do not see them quite so distinctly. This is not evidence of great peaceableness, however, but rather of excessive secretiveness. At first sight, Soviet armies are like soldiers in a row. They all look the same. If one takes a closer look, however, the differences quickly emerge. For some months before the ‘Finnish aggression’ occurred, several armies intended for the ‘liberation’ of Finland were deployed on Soviet territory. This is how they were made up in December 1939, in the order in which they were deployed from north to south:
14th Army — no corps, two rifle divisions
9th Army — no corps, three rifle divisions
8th Army — no corps, four rifle divisions
7th Army — 10th Tank Corps (660 tanks); three tank brigades (each with 330 tanks); the 10th, 19th, 34th and 50th Rifle Corps (each with three rifle divisions); a detached brigade: eleven detached artillery regiments, apart from those which form part of the complement of the corps and divisions of this army; several detached tank and artillery battalions; and the army’s air arm.
We can therefore see that although the 7th Army did not differ in name from its neighbours, it had several times more tanks and artillery than the three other armies put together. In addition, the 7th Army was commanded by K. A. Meretskov, the commander of the Leningrad Military District. A favourite of Stalin’s, Meretskov was shortly to be appointed Chief of the General Staff and later promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union. Nor was he the only future marshal in the 7th Army. This army was staffed by the most promising officers, who had held senior appointments already and who were to rise even higher in future. L. A. Govorov, for example, the Chief of the Artillery Staff of the 7th Army, also went on to become Marshal of the Soviet
The other armies, on the other hand, were led by commanders who had not been prominent in the past, nor would they become so in the future. The position of the 7th (shock) Army was interesting. The Finnish ‘militarists’ began their armed ‘provocations’ precisely in that area where the Soviet High Command, a few months earlier, had deployed the 7th Army, which was thus able to deliver a blow in response. For some curious reason, the Finnish ‘militarists’ did not stage any provocations in those areas where weak Soviet armies had been deployed. Soviet organization was extremely flexible. Any army could become a shock army at any time, simply by adding a corps or more to its complement, and translated just as quickly back to its normal state.
From being the strongest army in 1940, the 7th Army had by 1941 become the weakest; it no longer had any corps, and consisted of four rifle divisions only. In order to understand what had been taking place on the Soviet-German frontier, we must make a clear definition of which were shock armies and which were ordinary ones. Officially all armies were the same, and none was called a shock army. Yet some armies had hardly any tanks, while other armies had hundreds of them. In order to identify shock armies, we should make an elementary comparison of the strike power of the Soviet armies with the German tank groups, and with the Soviet pre-war criteria used to define what a shock army was.
The element needed to change an ordinary army into a shock one was a mechanized corps organized in a new way, with an establishment of 1,031 tanks. When one such corps was included in an ordinary army, its strike power would become comparable to that of any German tank group, or even exceed it. Here is a striking revelation. On 21 June 1941, all the Soviet armies on the German and Romanian borders, as well as the 23rd Army on the Finnish frontier, were of shock army standard, although, as we have already seen, they were not called such. They were, from north to south, the 23rd, 8th, 11th, 3rd, 10th, 4th, 5th, 6th, 26th, 12th, 18th and 9th.
The 16th Army was then added to them. This was a typical shock army, with more than 1,000 tanks on its complement. (Central Archives of the Ministry of Defence of the USSR, Archive No. 208, list 2511, item 20, p. 128) The 19th, 20th, and 21st Armies, which had been secretly moved up to the German border, had already been fully brought up to this standard. Germany had a powerful engine for aggression in its tank groups. The Soviet Union had a similar engine. The difference lay in their designations and in their numbers. Hitler had four tank groups, while Stalin had sixteen shock armies. Not all mechanized corps were made up entirely of tanks. But to appreciate Stalin’s intentions fully, account must be taken both of what he achieved, and also of what he was prevented from achieving. The German attack caught the Soviet Union in the process of setting up a great number of shock armies.
First came the framework for these enormous structures, which was then filled in, completed, and finally put into working order. Not all armies reached the levels planned for them, but this work was proceeding when Hitler interrupted it. He had enough sense not to wait until they were all ready to be turned loose. Soviet experts at one time used the term ‘invasion army’. This term did not have a particularly diplomatic ring, especially for the neighbouring countries with whom Soviet diplomats were doing their best to have ‘normal relations’. In the 19305, this excessively frank term was replaced by the happier-sounding expression ‘shock army’. Soviet sources, however, stress that these are one and the same thing. (VIZH, 1963, No. 10, p. 31)
But even the term ‘shock army’, for purposes of disguise, was not used until the war began, even though the greater part of the Soviet Army deserved this title. The Soviet generals then introduced the term ‘cover army’ to conceal their designs. There are other such terms in communist double-speak. Soviet expressions like ‘liberation campaign’, ‘counter-attack’, ‘seize the strategic initiative’ mean respectively aggression, attack, and beginning a surprise war without declaring it. It is a great pity that some historians, either through ignorance or design, use Soviet military terms without explaining their true meaning to their readers.
The true purpose of a Soviet ‘cover army’ was to conceal that, in the initial period of a war, the Red Army was fully mobilizing its main forces, deploying them, and then entering the war. ‘Cover’, however, in no way meant defence. As early as 20 April 1932 the Revolutionary Military Council of the USSR laid down that powerful mobile invasion groups should be kept near state borders in peacetime, to enable them to cross the frontier immediately war broke out, in order to disrupt the enemy’s mobilization and seize strategic reserves and important areas. In the view of the Soviet Union’s top military and political leaders, these actions would be the best cover for Soviet mobilization. It was precisely in this sense that the armies in frontier areas were called ‘cover armies’.
July 1939 was the time when theory was put into practice, and the creation of ‘cover armies’ began on the Soviet western frontiers. Stalin was using the Molotov—Ribbentrop Pact to push Hitler into a war with the West, to establish a common frontier with Germany, and to form an increasing number of these ‘cover armies’. Among the ordinary Soviet invasion armies, which usually consisted of one mechanized corps, two rifle corps, and some detached divisions, were some armies that did not conform to the general pattern. There were three of them, the 6th, 9th and loth. These armies together had not three corps, but six. Two were mechanized, one was cavalry, and three were rifle. Each of these armies was moved as close as possible to the frontier, so that if a large salient developed on the enemy side, the special armies would find themselves precisely in these salients.
Each army was equipped with the latest weaponry. The 6th Mechanized Corps of the 10th Army, for instance, was armed with 452 of the latest T-34 and K V tanks. The 4th Mechanized Corps of the 6th Army, had 460 of the latest T-34 and KV tanks, besides others. The air divisions of these armies had hundreds of the latest planes, including the YAK-1, MIG-3, IL-2, and PE-2.
After each army had been fully equipped, it must have had 2,3 50 tanks, 698 armoured vehicles, over 4,000 guns and mortars and more than 250,000 soldiers and officers. In addition to their basic complements, these armies were given ten to twelve heavy artillery regiments, NKVD units and much else besides. I do not know what to call these out-of-the-ordinary armies. If we use their official names, the 6th Army, the 9th, and the loth, then we involuntarily fall into the trap which was set as long ago as 1939 by the Soviet General Staff.
We lose our awareness and begin to think of these armies as ordinary shock armies, or ordinary invasion armies. They were completely out of the ordinary; each one of these armies, with more than 2,000 tanks each, was equal to or even exceeded one half of the entire German Wehrmacht, while in quality the superiority of the Soviet tanks was astonishing. If we call the German tank groups, each with between 600 and 1,000 tanks, engines of aggression, what then are we to call the 6th, 9th, and 10th Soviet Armies?
That was not all, however. The Soviet High Command had a fair number of corps at its disposal which did not belong to these armies, but which were deployed quite close to the frontier. Any ordinary army could be changed into a shock one just by including corps in its complement, and any shock army could be changed into a heavy shock one without changing either its name or number. Of the three heavy shock armies, it is the most powerful of them, the 9th, which attracts our attention. Not very long before, in the Winter War against Finland, the 9th Army was simply a rifle corps consisting of three rifle divisions with a fine-sounding name.
After the Winter War, the 9th Army dissolved into the mists, appeared elsewhere, was dissolved once again, only to turn up yet again under cover of the TASS report of 13 June 1941. It had not yet been brought up to full strength, but was still the unfinished shell for the most powerful army in the world. It had six corps, two of which were mechanized, and one cavalry. On 21 June 1941, the 9th Army had 17 divisions in all, including two air, four tank, two motorized, two cavalry and seven rifle. It was very similar to other heavy shock armies, but it was planned to add to the 9th Army yet another mechanized corps, the 2yth, commanded by Major-General I. E. Petrov.
his corps was established in the Turkestan Military District, and was secretly transferred westwards before its formation had been fully completed. After it had been included, the Army’s complement consisted of 20 divisions, including six tank. At full strength, the seven corps of the 9th Army had 3,341 tanks. This was roughly the same number as the Wehrmacht had; in quality, they were superior. According to Colonel-General P. Belov (at that time he was a major-general, commander of the 2nd Cavalry Corps of the 9th Army), it was intended to give T-34 tanks even to the cavalry of this army. (VIZH, 1959, No. u, p. 66)
The 9th Army had so far had undistinguished commanders. Then everything changed. The 9th Army was given a colonel-general as its commander. It was an exceptionally high rank at the time. There were only eight colonel-generals in the whole of the armed forces of the Soviet Union, while the tank troops had none, the air arms had none, and the NKVD had none. Thirty Soviet armies were led by major-generals and lieutenantgenerals. The 9th Army was the only exception. In addition, some very bright generals and officers had joined this exceptional army, including three future marshals of the Soviet Union, R. Ya Malinovsky, M. V. Zakharov, and N. I. Krylov; A. Poryshkin, a future air marshal and three times Hero of the Soviet Union; and I. E. Petrov, I. G. Pavlovsky, P. N. Lashchenko, all future full generals of the Army.
Many other talented and aggressive commanders, who had already distinguished themselves in battle, joined, including the 28-year-old Air Major- General A. Osipnenko. There is no escaping the impression that somebody’s solicitous hand was selecting everything which was best and most promising for this unusual army. Here we come to a small but significant discovery. The most powerful army in the world was set up in the Soviet Union in the first half of June 1941. It was not set up on the German frontier, but on the border of Romania.
After its first disappearance, the 9th Army had suddenly turned up in June 1940 on the Romanian frontier. By this stage, it had already assumed its new capacity as a real shock army. It was soon to participate in the ‘liberation’ of Bessarabia; Soviet sources indicate that ‘the 9th Army was created specially to solve this important problem’. (VIZH, 1972, No. 10, p. 83)
The training of the army had been accomplished by the most aggressive of Soviet commanders, K. K. Rokossovsky, who by then had been released from prison. The 9th Army became part of the Southern Front as the key lead army, playing the same role as the 7th Army had done in Finland. The Front was under Zhukov’s personal command. After the brief ‘liberation campaign’, the 9th Army disappeared again. Then, under cover of the TASS report of 13 June 1941, it turned up again in the same place.
By now, though, it was no longer simply a shock invasion army. It had become a heavy shock army, and was on the way to becoming the most powerful army in the world. Its purpose can hardly have been defensive, for there were very few troops on the Romanian side of the frontier. Even if there had been, no aggressor would have delivered his main strike through Romania, for the most elementary geographical reasons. Another ‘liberation campaign’ by the 9th Army into Romania, however, could have changed the entire strategic balance in Europe and in the world. Romania was Germany’s basic source of oil. A strike at Romania would ground all Germany’s aircraft, and bring all its tanks, machines, ships, industry and transport to a halt.
That is why the most promising commanders were to be found there. The 9th Army suddenly appeared on the Romanian frontier in the middle of June 1941. But this suddenness was only for the benefit of outside observers; in fact, the 9th Army had never left the area since ‘liberating’ Bessarabia in the middle of 1940. It was simply that its name had not been used officially for some time, and orders had gone directly to the corps from the headquarters of the Military District. The headquarters of the 9th Army and the headquarters of the Odessa Military District (established in October 1939) simply merged into one entity and then equally simply
separated again on 13 June.
Experience shows that, after a shock army appears on the borders of a small country, an order to ‘liberate’ the neighbour’s territory is sure to follow within the month. Irrespective of how events might have unfolded had Soviet troops invaded Germany (which incidentally was just as unprepared for defence as the Soviet Union was), the outcome of the war could have been decided far from the main battlefields. Stalin was clearly counting on this. That was why the 9th Army was the strongest. That was why, as early as March 1941, at a time when the 9th Army officially still did not exist, there arrived there a youngish, highly audacious majorgeneral
named Radion Yakovlevich Malinovsky.
This was the same Malinovsky who four years later was to astonish the world with the tremendous strike he delivered across hills and wilderness into the vast heartland of Manchuria. In 1941 the task facing Malinovsky and his colleagues in the 9th Army was a fairly simple one. They were faced with a distance of only 180 kilometres to traverse, as opposed to 810 kilometres in Manchuria; not across hills and wilderness, but across a plain with really good roads. The attack had to be made, not against the Japanese Army, but against the considerably weaker Romanian one. What is more, it was planned to give the 9th Army three times more tanks than the 6th Guards Tank Army would have in 1945 Hitler allowed none of this to happen.
A German government statement handed over to the Soviet government on the outbreak of war in the East gives the reasons for Germany’s action. One of these reasons was that Soviet troops were being concentrated unjustifiably on the frontier with Romania, and that this represented a mortal danger for Germany. None of this has been invented by Goebbels’s propaganda. The 9th (heavy shock) Army had been established exclusively as an offensive army. According to evidence from Colonel-General P. Belov, the 9th Army usually ‘regarded every defensive problem as short-term, even after German operations had begun on Soviet territory’. (VIZH, 1959, No. n, p. 65)
But then this was the trouble with not just the 9th Army, but with all the other armies as well. Three times Hero of the Soviet Union, Marshal of the Air Force A. I. Pokryshkin (then a senior lieutenant and deputy commander of a fighter squadron belonging to the 9th Army) sheds an interesting light on the 9th Army’s mood. Here is his conversation with a ‘filthy bourgeois’, whose shop had been confiscated by his ‘liberators’. The scene takes place in the spring of 1941, in ‘liberated’ Bessarabia: ‘Ah, Bucharest! You should see what a fine city it is.’ ‘I’ll certainly see it sometime,’ I answered with conviction. The shop-owner opened his eyes wide, waiting for me to go on. I had to change the subject. (A. I. Pokryshkin: Nebo voiny, Novosibirsk ZSKI, 1968, p. 10)
We have a natural reluctance to believe Hitler’s explanation that he launched Operation Barbarossa to defend Germany from a treacherous attack by Soviet troops on Bucharest and Ploesti. But the other side says the same thing; even the Soviet lieutenants knew that they would shortly be in Romania. A Soviet officer is not entitled to wander across frontiers as a tourist. In what capacity could Pokryshkin get there except as a ‘liberator’? Hitler did everything he could to prevent this, but all he succeeded in doing was briefly to delay the inevitable.
CHAPTER 17 – Mountain Divisions on the Steppes of the Ukraine 151