CHAPTER 22 – The TASS Report 195
Stalin was not one of those figures whose
real intentions were ever openly declared.
ROBERT CONQUEST (The Great Terror, London, 1968)
On 13 June 1941, Moscow Radio broadcast an unusual and puzzling report from TASS. It claimed that ‘like the Soviet Union, Germany is also steadfastly observing the conditions of the Soviet—German non-aggression pact . . .’ and that ‘these rumours [of a German attack on the Soviet Union] are propaganda clumsily concocted by forces which are hostile to the Soviet Union and Germany, and which are interested in further extending and developing the war . . .’
The main Soviet newspapers published this report the next day. Yet within the week, Germany had attacked the Soviet Union. Everybody knew who had written the TASS report. Stalin’s characteristic style was recognized by generals serving in the various Soviet headquarters, by GULAG prisoners, and by Western experts. Although Stalin purged TASS after the war, none of the leading figures in this institution were ever accused of having spread reports which could have been considered ‘manifestly harmful’. Stalin could also have put the blame for broadcasting the TASS report onto any member of the Politburo, but he did not do this either; he took the entire responsibility for it himself.
Much has been written about this TASS report in both the foreign and the Soviet press. Everyone who has dealt with the subject has laughed at Stalin’s touching naivety. The TASS report, however, is not so much amusing as mysterious and incomprehensible. Only one thing is clear: the identity of its author. All the rest is an enigma.
The TASS report appears to contradict everything we know about Stalin’s character. Boris Bazhanov, who was Stalin’s personal secretary and knew him better than anyone, describes him as ‘secretive and cunning in the extreme . . . He possessed the gift of silence to a high degree, and in this he was unique in a country where everyone talks too much.’ Many writers have testified to Stalin’s taciturnity: ‘He was an irreconcilable enemy of verbal inflation, or garrulousness,’ wrote Abdurachman Avtokhranov. ‘Don’t say what you think, and don’t think what you say, could be another motto for his life.’ Robert Conquest, a prominent researcher into the Stalin period, has observed that ‘we still have to peer through the darkness of Stalin’s exceptional secretiveness’, and that ‘Stalin never said what was on his mind, even when speaking about his political aims’. (The Great Terror)
The ability to keep silent, in Dale Carnegie’s apt words, is the most rarely found talent of all in human beings. From this viewpoint Stalin was a genius. Nor was this only a very strong trait in his character; it also served as a very strong weapon in dispute. He lulled his enemies with his silence, so that the suddenness of his blows made them irresistible. Why then did Stalin suddenly publicize his thoughts about relations with Germany in a Radio Moscow broadcast? Where was his secretiveness and cunning then?
If Stalin had any thoughts about how future events would develop, why did he not discuss them in the close circle of his comrades-in-arms? Who passes important messages to his army through the radio station of the capital and the main newspapers? The army, navy, secret police, concentration camps, industry, transport, agriculture, and the entire population of the Soviet Union formed part of the state system. They were all subordinated, not to newspaper reports, but to their superiors, who in turn received orders through special, often secret channels from their chiefs.
Stalin’s empire was centralized like no other and, particularly after the Great Purge, the mechanism of state government was built in such a way that any order was immediately transmitted from the highest level down to the lowest functionaries, who rigorously carried it out. The largescale operations in 1939 involving the arrest and elimination of Yezhov’s supporters, and the actual replacement of the entire directorate of the secret police, were carried out quickly and effectively, in such a
way that no one outside ever decoded the signal to begin the operations, or knew how or when Stalin gave the signal to set them in motion.
If Stalin, in June 1941, had had ideas to put before millions of functionaries without delay, why did he not avail himself of that smooth machine of government, which would transmit any order immediately and without distortion? If it were a statement of some gravity, it could be duplicated on secret channels. The TASS report, according to Marshal of the Soviet Union A. M. Vasilevsky, ‘was not followed by any new policy instructions about the armed forces, or by any review of previously taken decisions’. (A. M. Vasilevsky: Delo Vsei Zhizni, Moscow IPL 1973, p. 120).
The Marshal goes on to say that it changed nothing in the work of the General Staffer of the People’s Commissariat for Defence. Indeed, ‘it was essential that nothing should change’. No confirmation of the TASS report was sent along secret military channels. On the contrary, there are documents which show that, at the same time as the TASS report was published, an order was given to the troops in the military districts, including the Baltic Special Military District, which in both sense and spirit was directly contrary to the TASS report. (Archiv MO SSSR, Archive 344, schedule 2459, item n, p. 31)
The material published in military newspapers, especially those which are unavailable to outsiders, was also in direct conflict to the content of the TASS report. (See for example Vice-Admiral I. I. Azarov; Osazhdennaya Odessa, Moscow Voenizdat)
The TASS report was not only out of keeping with Stalin’s character; it did not tally with the central idea. of all communist mythology. Throughout his entire life, any communist tyrant, and especially Stalin, constantly repeats a simple and eminently comprehensible sentence: ‘The enemy is watching.’ This magic sentence explains the absence of meat in the shops, the ‘liberation campaigns’, censorship, torture, mass purges and closed frontiers. Phrases like ‘the enemy is on the watch’ and ‘we are surrounded by enemies’ are not just ideology; they are the sharpest weapon the Party has.
This weapon destroyed all forms of opposition. Yet once, and only once in the history of all communist regimes, the head of the most powerful of them all told the whole world that the threat of aggression did not exist. 13 June 1941 was one of the most important dates in Soviet history. Its significance is considerably greater than that of 22 June 1941, and Soviet generals, admirals and marshals describe this date in their memoirs in far more detail.
On 13 June 1941,’ wrote Lieutenant-General N. I. Biryukov, who at the time was a majorgeneral in command of the 186th Rifle Division belonging to the 62nd Rifle Corps in the Urals Military District, ‘the Military District headquarters sent us a directive of special importance, which ordered the division to leave for a “new camp”. The address of the new quartering was not even communicated to me, the commander of the division. I only learnt on a trip to Moscow that our division was to be concentrated in the woods to the west of Idritsa.’ ( VIZH 1962, No. 4, p. 80)
In peacetime, a division holds secret and sometimes top-secret documents. A document graded ‘of special importance’, however, can be sent to a division only in wartime, and only in exceptional circumstances where operations of extreme importance are being planned. Many Soviet divisions passed through the war without ever holding even one document with this highest secrecy grading. The fact that Biryukov chose to put inverted commas around the words ‘new camp’ is also significant.
The 186th Division was not the only one in the Urals Military District which received this order: all the divisions in the district received it. The official history of the district (Krasnoznamennyi Ural’sky, Moscow Voenizdat 1983, p. 104) records how ‘the loading began of the 112th Rifle Division. The military train left the small railway station on the morning of 13 June . . . Other military trains followed. Then the entrainment began of units belonging to the 98th, 153rd, and 186th Rifle Divisions.’ The 170th and I74th Rifle Divisions, along with artillery, sapper, anti-aircraft and other units were got ready for departure. Headquarters of the two corps were set up to handle the Urals divisions.
These headquarters in turn came under the command of the headquarters of the new 22nd Army, whose commanding officer was Lieutenant-General F. A. Ershakov. Covered by the soothing TASS report, this great mass of headquarters and troops moved off secretly for the forests of Byelorussia. The 22nd Army was not the only one on the move: ‘Just before the war began, additional forces were assembled for posting in the strictest secrecy to the frontier districts. Five armies were moved westwards from the heart of the country.’ (General S. M. Shtemenko, General’nyi shtab v Gody Voiny, Moscow Voenizdat 1968, p. 26)
General S. P. Ivanov adds that ‘while this move was in progress, a further three armies were prepared for redeployment’. (Nachal’nyi Period Voiny, Moscow Voenizdat 1974, p. 211)
The question now arises as to why all eight armies did not move at the same time. The answer is simple. The large-scale secret transfer of Soviet troops westwards took place in March, April and May. The country’s entire railway transport was involved in this vast secret operation. It was completed on time, but tens of thousands of wagons had to be sent back across thousands of kilometres of railway. Therefore on 13 June, when another secret large-scale transfer of troops began, the armies found that there were not enough railway wagons available.
It is almost impossible to give the scale of these troop movements, as we do not have exact figures. Some idea of the size of the operation can be gathered from published accounts, however: In May and early June, the transport system of the USSR had to move about 800,000 reservists . . . these movements had to take place secretly. (I. V. Kovalev, formerly Deputy People’s Commissar for State Control, Transport v Velikoi Otechestvennoi Voine, Moscow Nauka 1981, p. 41)
In May … an airborne assault corps was concentrated near Zhitomir and in the forests to the south-west of it. (Colonel-General I. I. Lyudnikov, VIZH 1961, No. 9, p. 66)
Marshal Bagramyan, based in the Kiev Special Military District at the time, later recalled how The headquarters of the 3ist Rifle Corps from the Far East was to arrive on 25 May to join the troop complement here … in the second half of May the General Staff sent us a directive instructing us to accept the headquarters of the 34th Rifle Corps, four divisions, each with a strength of 12,000 and one mountain rifle division, all coming from the Northern Caucasus Military District . . . Almost a whole army had to be billeted in a very short space of time … at the end of May, one military train after another began to arrive in the district. The operations branch changed into something resembling a movements office, into which all information flowed about the arriving troops. (VIZH 1967, No. I, p. 62)
The situation was very similar on 13 June, when another secret re-grouping of troops began. These were to form the Second Strategic Echelon of the Red Army. I now have information about 77 divisions and a very great number of regiments and battalions who had secretly begun to move westwards under cover of the TASS report. Lieutenant-General of Artillery G. D. Plaskov, who was a colonel at the time, has given a vivid description of the events of that day:
The 53rd Division, in which I was officer in command of artillery, was deployed on the Volga. Our senior Command Staff were summoned to the headquarters of our 63rd Corps. V. F. Gerasimenko, the commander of the District, came to the meeting. The arrival of the top brass put everyone on his guard, for it meant that something important was in the offing. A. G. Petrovsky, the corps commander, who was usually a quiet unruffled man, was noticeably agitated.
‘Comrades,’ he said. ‘The corps has been ordered to mobilize fully. We must bring our units up to their full war-establishment strength, for which emergency reserves are to be used. We must call up our remaining reserve complement immediately. Major-General V. S. Bensky, the chief of staff of the corps, will give you the plan with the loading rota, the military trains available, and times of departure.’
The meeting did not last long. Everything was clear. And although General Gerasimenko hinted that we were going off on an exercise, everyone knew that the matter was much more serious than that. A full complement of combat equipment had never before been taken off on a training exercise. Nor were people called up from the reserve . . . (Pod Grokhot Kanonady, Moscow Voenizdat 1969, p. 125)
The First Strategic Echelon, meanwhile, which had entrained for the frontier regions earlier in the year, was being moved right up to the frontier itself. On 14 June the military council of the Odessa Military District was ordered to establish the headquarters of the 9th Army in Tiraspol (VIZH 1978, No. 4, p. 86), and the Military Council of the Baltic Special Military District ratified a plan to redeploy a number of divisions and detached regiments in the frontier area. (Soviet Military Encyclopedia, Moscow, Vol. 6, p. 517)
General S. P. Ivanov recalls that while troops were being moved from the depth of the country, a covert regrouping began of formations inside the military districts on the frontier. Formations were moved nearer the frontier, under the guise
of changing the locations of summer camps . . . Most formations were moved at night . . . (Nachal’nyi Period Voiny, Moscow Voenizdat 1974, p. 211)
Many other officers corroborate his account of these events. Major-General S. Iovlev, who was then commander of the 64th Rifle Division of the ijth Army’s 44th Rifle Corps, wrote that ‘on 15 June 1941 General D. G. Pavlov, the officer commanding the Western Special Military District, ordered the divisions in our corps to prepare to redeploy in full complement . . . We were not told where our destination was . . .’ (VIZH 1960, No. 9, p. 56)
According to Colonel-General L. M. Sandalov, who was then a colonel and chief of staff of the 4th Army of the Western Special Military District, ‘a new division, the 75th Rifle, appeared on the southern wing of the 4th Army. It had been moved up from Mozyr’ and had put up heavily camouflaged tent encampments in the forests. (Perezhitoe, Moscow Voeniz-dat 1966, p. 71)
The official history of the Kiev Military District states that on 14 June,’Major-General F. F. Alyabushev’s 87th Rifle Division was moved up to the state frontier under the guise of exercises.’ (Kievsky Krasnoznamennyi, Moscow Voenizdat 1974, p. 162)
The method of moving troops up to the frontier under the guise of exercises is not adopted on local initiative. Marshal Zhukov’s recollections make it clear that the order came from above: S. K. Timoshenko, the People’s Commissar for Defence, recommended to the officers commanding the troops in the military districts that they have their formations carry out tactical exercises beside the state frontier so that, in accordance with the plan for cover, troops could be moved up nearer
The method of moving troops up to the frontier under the guise of exercises is not adopted on local initiative. Marshal Zhukov’s recollections make it clear that the order came from above: S. K. Timoshenko, the People’s Commissar for Defence, recommended to the officers commanding the troops in the military districts that they have their formations carry out tactical exercises beside the state frontier so that, in accordance with the plan for cover, troops could be moved up nearer to their areas of deployment. The districts carried out this recommendation from the People’s Commissar but with one vital proviso – a significant part of the artillery did not take part in these movements. (G. K. Zhukov, Vospominaniya i razmyshleniya, Moscow APN 1969, p. 242)
Marshal of the Soviet Union K. K. Rokossovsky, then commander of the 9th Mechanized Corps, explains why the troops had moved up to the state frontier without artillery; the artillery had been ordered up to the frontier a short time before. (Soldatsky Dolg, Moscow Voenizdat 1968, p. 8)
According to Marshal Kirill Meretskov, then a general and Deputy People’s Commissar for Defence, ‘an exercise of the mechanized corps was carried out on my orders. The corps was brought up to the frontier area in training order, and it stayed there. I then said to Zakharov that Major-General R. Ya. Mali-novsky’s corps was also in the district, and that it too had to be brought up to the frontier area during the exercises.’ (Na Slyzhbe Narodu, Moscow IPL 1968, p. 204)
Marshal Rodion Malinovsky, then a major-general in command of the 48th Rifle Corps of the Odessa Military District, confirms that this order was carried out. ‘As early as 7 June, the corps had left the Kirovograd area for Bel’tsy, and it was already in place by 14 June. This displacement was carried out under the guise of large-scale exercises.’ (VIZH 1961, No. 6, p. 6)
Marshal Bagramyan has said that ‘we had to prepare all the operational documentation needed for moving five rifle and four mechanized corps out of the areas where they were stationed permanently into the frontier zone’. (Tak Nachinalas’ Voina, Moscow Voenizdat 1971, p. 64) ‘On 15 June we were ordered to begin moving all five rifle corps to the frontier . . . They took with them everything necessary for combat operations. For the purposes of secrecy, these movements took place only at night.’ (Ibid, p. 77)
Colonel-General I. I. Lyudnikov, then a colonel in command of the 20Oth Rifle Division of the 3ist Rifle Corps, was one of those who carried out this order. ‘The Military District’s directive,’ he recalled, ‘which arrived in divisional headquarters on 16 June 1941, gave the order to set out on the march . . .with full complement . . . and to concentrate in the forest some 10-15 kilometres to the north-east of the frontier town of Kovel’. The order was that the move should be carried out covertly, and only by night, through forestcovered terrain.’ (Skvoz’ Grozy, Donetsk, Donbass, 1973, p. 24)
It was not only armies, corps and divisions that were moved to the state frontiers. There are hundreds of pieces of evidence to show that much smaller sub-units were also transferred there. Lieutenant-General V. F. Zotov, for example, then a major-general and chief of the SZF (North-Western Front) engineering troops, reported that ‘the sapper battalions were fully mobilized on a wartime footing . . . ten battalions which had come from the Far East were armed to the full’. (Na Severo-Zapadnom Fronte, Moscow Nauka 1969, p. 172)
Colonel S. F. Khvalei, then deputy commander of the 2O2nd Motorized Division of the 8th Army’s I2th Mechanized Corps, stated that ‘on the night of 18 June 1941, our division set out on field exercises’. (Na Severo-Zapadnom Fronte, Moscow Nauka 1969, p. 310) The colonel adds that by the time the war began, the sub-units of the divisions found themselves directly behind the frontier security detachments, in the immediate proximity of the state frontier.
A brief excerpt from the operational order issued on 18 June 1941 to Colonel I. D. Chernyakhovsky has been published in the Soviet Union. Chernyakhovsky, who was later to become a general of the army, was then the commander of the tank division of the same I2th Mechanized Corps. On receipt of this order the Commander of the 28th Tank Division Colonel Chernyakhovsky is to bring all units to a state of combat preparedness in accordance with the battle alert plans, but the alert itself is not to be declared. Everything is to be carried out quickly, but noiselessly, without panic or careless talk, and the prescribed levels must be attained in both individual portable reserves and transportable reserves which will be needed for physical sustenance and battle . . . (VIZH 1986, No. 6, p. 75)
It is a great pity that the whole order was not published. It remains just as much a secret as it was half a century ago. According to captured German documents, their first encounter with the 28th Tank Division took place near Shaulya. But that division had been given the task of moving right up to the frontier itself. Marshal of Armoured Tank Troops P. P. Polyboyarov, then a colonel and chief of the motorized armoured tank headquarters of the North-Western Front, stated that ‘the division (the 28th Tank) had to leave Riga for a position on the Soviet—German frontier.’ (Na Severo-Zapadnom Fronte, Moscow Nauka 1969, p. 114)
The German invasion simply caught this division, like many others, on the way to the frontier. In my private library there are sufficient documents on the movements of troops towards the frontiers to fill several voluminous books. Let us try to bear in mind the overall picture that emerges from this mass of detail. The First Strategic Echelon had in all 170 divisions, either tank, motorized, cavalry or rifle; 56 of these were stationed right up against the state frontiers. The remaining 114 divisions of the First Strategic Echelon were lying inside the territory of the western frontier districts, within moving distance of the frontier.
One question interests us – how many of these 114 divisions began to move towards the frontiers under cover of that soothing TASS report? The answer is that they all did. ‘Between 12 and 15 June, the western military districts were ordered to move all divisions in the interior of the country into positions closer to the state frontiers.’ (V. Khvostov, Major-General A. Grylev, Kommunist 1968, No. 12, p. 68)
To these 114 divisions of the First Strategic Echelon we may add the 77 divisions of the Second Strategic Echelon which, as we already know, had either begun to move westwards, or else were preparing to do so. The 13 June 1941, therefore, marks the beginning of the greatest displacement of troops in the history of civilization. The TASS report, published on the same day, speaks not only about German intentions, but also about Soviet plans:
Rumours to the effect that the Soviet Union is preparing for war with Germany are false and provocative . . . the summer training courses now being held for Red Army reservists, as well as the impending manoeuvres, have as their purpose nothing more than the training of reservists and testing how the railway system works. It is general knowledge that they are held every year, and it is therefore absurd, to say the least, to portray these measures as hostile to Germany.
When this declaration is compared with what in fact was actually happening, we discover that the words used do not always tally with the facts. The TASS report attempts to explain these troop movements as ‘testing the railway system’. Let us beg leave to doubt this. The Soviet troop movements began in February. They were stepped up in March, reached enormous proportions in April and May, and became truly all-embracing in June. These movements involved those divisions which had already been moved up close to the German frontier; those which were preparing to invade Iran; and those which had remained in the Far East.
The full build-up of Soviet troops on the German frontier was planned to have been completed by lojuly. (General of the Army S. P. Ivanov, Nachalnyi Period Voiny, Moscow Voenizdat 1974, p. 211) The railways, which were the country’s principal means of transport, were paralysed for almost six months by these secret military movements. In the first half of 1941, all the indices in the State Plan were disrupted, except the military ones. The principal reason for this was transport. The second was the covert mobilization of the male population into the new armies which were then being formed. It is surely not quite right to use the term ‘testing’ to describe such widespread disruption of the State Plan.
The TASS Report describes these manoeuvres as ‘the usual exercises’, but the accounts of Soviet marshals, generals and admirals refute this. Major-General S. lovlev, for example, recalled how ‘these call-ups for training were so unusual, and had not been provided for in military training plans, that they put people on their guard’. (VIZH 1960, No. 9, p. 56) Vice-Admiral Ilya Azarov has pointed out that ‘as a rule, training exercises were held nearer to autumn, and here they were beginning in the middle of the summer’. (VIZH 1962, No. 6, p. 77) Colonel-General I. Lyudnikov backs this up: ‘Reservists are usually called up after the harvest has been gathered in … This rule was broken in 1941.’ (VIZH 1966 No. 9, p. 66)
General Mikhail Kazakov was in the General Staff at the time and personally met Lieutenant-General Mikhail Ferdorovich Lukin and other commanders who had been secretly sent to the Soviet western frontier. He is quite categoric that, ‘it was clear that it was not manoeuvres they were going on’. (Nad Kartoi Bylykh Srazheny, Moscow Voenizdat 1971, p. 64)
Let us note that all these marshals and generals use the term ‘under the guise of exercises’. The pretence that these movements were exercises simply concealed the true purpose of this regrouping and build-up of Soviet troops. But nobody has ever said what this true purpose was. Four decades after the war ended, the true aim of these troop movements still remains a Soviet state secret. At this point the reader might suggest that the reason for all this was that Stalin perhaps sensed that something hostile was afoot, and concentrated these troops there for defensive purposes. But these preparations had nothing to do with defensive measures.
Troops who are preparing for defence dig themselves in. This is an inviolable rule, which every Soviet non-commissioned officer has taken to heart ever since the Russo-Japanese War, and all the wars which followed it. The first thing which troops who are preparing for defence do is to cover the widest fields over which the enemy will advance, cover the roads, put up barbedwire entanglements, dig anti-tank ditches, and erect defensive and cover installations behind water defences.
But the Red Army did nothing like this.
As we have seen, the Soviet divisions, armies and corps pulled down the defensive installations which had been erected previously. The troops were not concentrated behind the water defences, as is done to aid defence, but in front of them, which can only aid attack. Soviet troops did not intercept these wide fields which would suit an enemy advance. They hid in the forests instead, just as those German troops were doing as they themselves prepared to attack. But were not all these measures perhaps just a display of power? Of course not; to be effective, such a display must have been visible to the enemy.
The Red Army was not giving a display but, quite the reverse, was trying to conceal its preparations. The TASS report was not written to frighten the enemy, but to set his mind at rest.It is striking how the German Army was doing exactly the same thing in those days. It moved up to the border and hid in the forests, but these movements were very difficult to hide. Soviet reconnaissance aircraft flew over German territory ‘by mistake’. But no one shot them down. Nor was it only ordinary pilots who flew over German territory.
Commanders of much more senior rank made these flights as well. Air Major-General G. N. Zakharov, who commanded the 43rd Fighter Division of the Western Special Military District, looked down upon German troops from above and said ‘one had the impression that there was being generated, in the depth of this vast territory, movement which came to a halt at the frontier, pushing against it as against some invisible barrier, and ready at any moment to pour over the top’. (Povest’ ob Istrebitelyakh, Moscow, Izd DOSAAF 1977, p. 43)
Interestingly, German pilots also flew over Soviet territory ‘in error’, and nobody shot them down either. I have found in old captured archives impressions given by a German pilot who describes the Soviet troops in exactly the same words. The accounts of Soviet officers are fully corroborated by German military intelligence:
prior to 22 June 1941, the Red Army was moving towards the frontier in a massive tide. Many other independent sources say the same thing. Georgy Alexandrovich Ozerov was one of the deputies to Andrei Nikolaiyevich Tupolev, the aircraft designer. In June 1941, he was in prison along with Tupolev and his entire design team. Ozerov later wrote a book that was distributed in the Soviet Union in samizdat form, by-passing the usual censorship. From there it reached the West, where it was published in Germany. Ozerov’s account captures the awesome rhythm of the Red Army’s massive movement towards its western border, which made itself felt even in Soviet prisons.
‘People living in houses on the roads of Byelorussia and Windau,’ he wrote, ‘are complaining that they cannot sleep at night for the noise of trains laden with tanks and guns rumbling past.’ (Tupolevskaya Sharaga, Frankfurt-am-Main, Posev, 1973, p. 90)
After my first articles on this subject were published, I received many letters which give a picture of the enormous movement westwards of Soviet troops. People of the most varied nationalities and types wrote to me: Estonians, Jews, Poles, Moldavians, Russians, Latvians, Germans, Hungarians, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, and Romanians. All of them for a variety of reasons were in the ‘liberated’ territories at the time. The war was later to scatter these people to the four corners of the earth. Their letters come from Australia, the United States, France, Germany, Argentina, West Germany, and even from the Soviet Union. I received a letter from
someone in Canada who had been a soldier in the Russian Liberation Army.
He was in the Red Army in 1941, was sent to the frontier, and was hiding with his regiment in the forests in the border area when he was caught by the war. He was taken prisoner, joined the Russian Liberation Movement, was taken prisoner again, and escaped to spend a long life under strange names in strange lands. The soldier showed me several books written by former commanders and troops of the Russian Liberation Army (ROA), who miraculously survived after the war. Interestingly, they all begin their books from the moment when Soviet troops began to move towards the border.
Many other witnesses, and people who knew them well, have written to scientific journals, and on occasions some of these letters are published. James Rushbrook, a British citizen, draws attention to a book entitled The Promise Which Hitler Kept, written in 1944 by Stefan Stsende, and published in 1945 in Sweden. The author is a Polish Jew who was in L’vov in 1941. Here is his impression of these days which preceded 22 June:
Military trains crammed full of troops and military equipment passed with increasing frequency through L’vov heading westwards. Motorized units drove through the main streets of the town, and at the railway station all traffic was purely military. (RUSI, June 1986, p. 88)
I am grateful to all those who write to me and to journals, as they keep adding new fragments to the picture of the Red Army’s general movement westwards. In addition, there are thousands of documents preserved in Soviet archives which bear out what I say. Very few people have access to these archives, and the most interesting documents have long since been destroyed. Traces of this destruction are all too apparent; sometimes as many as a hundred pages may be missing from a document. (Even so, I ask those who work in the archives to pay heed to the enormous amount of confirmation which exists there of these Soviet troop displacements westwards.
I do not ask you to publish the corroboration you find, but simply that you yourselves bear it in mind, for your own personal interest.) In addition to secret archives, there is an ample supply of overt official publications, including the histories of the Soviet military districts, armies, corps and divisions. Anyone interested in this subject can quickly find thousands of statements like this one: Even before the war began, on the instructions of the General Staff of the Red Army some formations of the Western Special Military District began to move up to the state frontier. (Krasnoznamennyi Byelorussky Voennyi Okrug, Moscow Voenizdat 1983, p. 88)
Should anyone consider all these sources to be unreliable, there is one corroboration which it is impossible to refute: the subsequent history of the war itself. After the Germans had routed the First Strategic Echelon and broken its defences, their advance units suddenly came up against new divisions, corps and armies – such as the i6th Army near Shepetovka – whose existence the German commanders had not even suspected. The whole Blitzkrieg plan had been built on the calculation that the Soviet troops stationed right on the frontier would be routed by a lightning strike. But once it had successfully carried that plan into effect, the German Army then discovered itself up against another wall of armies which had moved up from beyond the Volga, the Northern Caucasus, the Urals, Siberia, Trans-Baikal and the Far East.
Thousands of railway wagons were needed for one army alone. They had to be brought up to the stations for loading, and then the troops, heavy armament, vehicles and supplies all had to be put on the trains and then transported across thousands of kilometres. If the German troops encountered Siberian, Urals and Trans-Baikal armies at the end of June, this means that their transfer to the west must have begun, not on 22 June, but earlier. While this was going on Soviet naval forces were also on the move. The official Estonian history of the war states that the Soviet Baltic Fleet left the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland on the eve of hostilities. (Estonsky Narod v Velikoi Otechestvennoi Voine, Tallinn EestiRaamat 1973, Vol. i,p. 143)
Let us look at the map. If the fleet emerged from the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland it had only one direction to go in, westwards. It was certainly not sailing on an exercise; its task ‘was actively to work on the enemy’s sea communications’. (Ibid) The war had not yet begun, Stalin still did not know that Hitler was going to attack him, yet a Soviet fleet had already left its base with the combat task of active offensive operations!
At the same time, transfers from one air base to another were proceeding at an intensive rate in the air forces. Whole air divisions and regiments, flying at night and in small groups in the guise of carrying out exercises, redeployed to airfields, some of which were less than 10 kilometres from the frontier. It was not just combat sub-units of the air force which were being sent westwards. There were also, in increasing numbers, the latest types of aircraft which had not yet been given to any regiments or divisions. Colonel-General L. M. Sandalov recalled that ‘We began to receive new operational technical armament from 15 June onwards. The Korbin and the Pruzhan fighter regiments were given Yak-i fighters armed with cannon; the ground-attack regiment was given 11-2 aircraft, and the bomber regiment Pe-2s.’ (Na Moskovskom Napravleny, Moscow Nauka 1970, p. 63)
At that time fighter regiments each had 62 fighter aircraft, 63 ground-attack aircraft and 60 bombers each. One division alone (the loth Mixed Aircraft Division) expected to be given 247 of the latest aircraft. Sandalov also states that when the division began receiving the new aircraft, the old ones were not phased out. In this way the division was turned into a great fighting machine numbering several hundred aircraft. Archival documents show that this process was going on everywhere. The 9th Mixed Aircraft Division, for instance, which was located alongside and had also been moved up close to the frontier, had 409 aircraft, including 176 of the latest MIG-3s and also a few dozen Pe-2s and I1-2S. But new aircraft kept on coming. On the morning of 22 June, the same Western Front was ordered to accept 99 MIG-3 aircraft at Orsha airfield. (Komando-vanie i Shtab VVS v VO V, Moscow Nauka 1977, p. 41)
If they were ordered to accept them on the morning of 22 June, then obviously the aircraft were ready for sending on the evening of 21 June. Chief Air Marshal A. A. Novikov has stated that on 21 June, the Northern Front (where he was then Officer Commanding VVS10 with the rank of air major-general) was given an echelon of MIG-3 fighters. (VIZH1969, No. 1, P. 6l) In addition to the fighter aircraft, there was a solid flow of tanks, artillery, ammunition and fuel: ‘A military train carrying a heavy artillery regiment arrived for off-loading at the Shaulyai station at dawn on 22 June.’ (Bitva za Leningrad, Moscow Voenizdat 1964, p. 22)
Not just one military train, of course, and not only with guns: ‘By the end of June 1941, there were 1,320 trains laden with motor vehicles standing on the railways.’ (VIZH 1975, No. I, p. 81) The standard weight for a military train at that time was 900 tons (45 wagons each weighing 20 tons). Assuming that there was one vehicle to every wagon, this would mean that at least 59,400 vehicles were expected to be offloaded. However, it often happened that, in conditions where an enemy attack has not been foreseen (and this one was not foreseen), the vehicles were loaded ‘like a snake’, that is with the front wheels of each vehicle placed on the body of the one in front. In this way an increased number of vehicles can be loaded onto one train.
10 Soviet Air Force. Someone must have gathered together this great quantity of railway wagons and motor vehicles, loaded the vehicles on to the wagons, and conveyed them across a vast distance to the western frontier. This process clearly began before the war started. Yet no one succeeded in unloading these vehicles. Meanwhile, military trains carrying ammunition kept arriving one after the other in a never-ending stream. The Red Star newspaper wrote on 28 April 1985 that ‘on the evening of 21 June 1941, the manager of that sector of railway lines controlled by the Liepaja station was told to “accept a special train. It’s carrying ammunition.
It has to be sent on to its destination at the first opportunity.”‘ At that time Liepaja was very close to the frontier. The train was in transit, and there was nowhere it could have been bound for except the frontier itself. Ammunition was held in great quantities in railway wagons on all fronts. This is usually done before preparing for an offensive in great depth. It is simpler, more reliable and cheap in a defensive war to keep ammunition in previously prepared defensive positions. When they have used up the ammunition at one defensive position, the troops can easily and quickly withdraw to the second position with its previously prepared supply of ammunition, and then to a third position and so on. But before an offensive, ammunition is stored on mobile transport, which is a very expensive and dangerous thing to do.
‘At the small railway station of Kalinovka alone, the South-West Front had 1,500 wagons laden with ammunition.’ (Sovetskie Zheleznodorozhniki v Gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi Voiny, Izd. AN. SSSRI963, p. 36)
I have much material showing how military trains laden with ammunition were saved in 1941. It did not of course prove possible to save them all. Artillery Colonel-General Ivan Ivanovich Volkotrubenko relates that in 1941 the Western Front alone lost 4,216 wagons carrying ammunition. ( VIZH, No. 5, 1980, p. 71) But there was not just one front, but five, and the Western Front was not alone in losing ammunition wagons. Let us try to imagine the amount of ammunition on all five fronts which fell into enemy hands, and the amount which was able to be saved. In the middle of June, under cover of the TASS statement, all this ammunition was rolling in closed wagons straight for the German frontier.
Marshal of the Soviet Union Simion Konstantinovich Kur-kotkin reports that at the beginning of June, ‘on a proposal from the General Staff, the Soviet government approved a plan to shift 100,000 tons of fuel from the interior regions of the country’. (Tyl Vooruzhennykh Sil SSR v VOV, Moscow Voenizdat 1977, p. 59) Other decisions similar to this one were apparently also being taken. ‘About 8,500 railway cistern wagons, all containing fuel, piled up at railway junctions and even at halts between stations.’ (Ibid, p. 173)
Assuming that only the smallest 2O-ton cistern wagons were used, then we are not just speaking about 100,000 tons, but of a much greater quantity. The usual cistern wagon in use in 1940 was not of 20 tons, but of 62 tons. Consequently we can see that there were huge quantities of fuel involved here. But these 8,500 were only those cistern wagons which were standing at stations in the early days of the war, waiting to be off-loaded. We must also take into account what had already been destroyed at railway stations by the enemy air force as the war was breaking out.
Colonel-General Ivan Vassilyevich Boldin, then a lieutenant-general and deputy officer commanding the Western Front, later remarked that the loth Army, the most powerful in his front, had sufficient reserves of fuel in storage tanks and in railway cistern wagons, but that all this was lost in the first minutes and hours of the war. (Stranitsy zhizni, Moscow Voenizdat 1961, p. 92)
On the eve of war, this great mass of cistern tanks, along with trains laden with troops, technical equipment, arms and ammunition, was moving up to the frontier. When we speak of the reasons for the Red Army’s defeats in the initial period of the war, we sometimes forget the main reason, which is that the Red Army was in railway wagons at the time. General of the Army, Simion Pavlovich Ivanov, then a colonel in charge of the operations branch of the I3th Army headquarters, describes how Biryuzov’s 132nd Rifle Division was caught unprepared:
The enemy suddenly attacked the train, in which part of the strength of the division, along with its headquarters, was bound for the frontier. They had to go into battle straight from the wagons and the railway platforms. (Red Star, 21 August 1984)
Marshal Biryuzov, then a major-general recalled the chaos that ensued: We were added to the complement of the 2Oth Mechanized Corps at the very last minute. I could not find either the commander or the chief of staff of the corps, in fact I did not even know where their command post was. The 137th Rifle Division, under the command of Colonel I. T. Grishin, was operating to the left of us. It had come from Gor’kii . . . Our neighbour on our right was thrown into battle as we were, straight from the railway wagons, even before all their military trains had reached their off-loading points. (Kogda Gremeli Pushki, Moscow Voenizdat 1962, p. 21)
General of the Army, Sergei Shtemenko, then a colonel in the operations headquarters of the General Staff, reported that troop trains were moving west and south-west in an uninterrupted stream. First one of us, then another went to the offloading stations. The ever-changing situation and its complexity often compelled the offloading to be stopped and the trains to be sent on to some other station. It happened on occasions that the divisional command and its headquarters were off-loaded in one place, and the regiments in another, or even in several places all some considerable distance apart. (General’nyi Shtab v Gody Voiny, Moscow Voenizdat 1968, P. 30)
Soviet publications contain thousands of accounts of how the German attack found the Red Army in transit and unprepared for such an onslaught. Colonel-General A. S. Klemin recalled how, in early July ‘there were 47,000 wagons carrying military loads moving on the railways’. (VIZH 1985, No. 3, p. 67) ‘Many rail junctions were almost completely paralysed by this great accumulation of wagons. At most stations only one track was left free to allow other trains to pass through.’ (I. V. Kovalev: Transport v VO V, Moscow Nauka 1981, p. 59)
It might be suggested that this vast mass of troops and equipment had been put on the trains after 22 June and then sent to the fronts. This is a mistaken proposition. After 22 June, the fronts needed empty wagons only, to remove the vast reserves of arms, ammunition, fuel and other military supplies which had already been stockpiled at the border. In order to realize the tragedy of the situation, one must remember General Lukin. He was already fighting near Shepetovka as officer commanding his army while the headquarters of his army was still in Trans- Baikal. The trains carrying his army were thousands of kilometres apart. Then the headquarters arrived, but its communications battalion was still somewhere on the way. Situations like this were occurring everywhere.
Headquarters without troops were off-loaded at some stations, while troops without headquarters were offloaded at others. It was worse when a train stopped in the open country instead of at a station. A tank battalion is a great force, but it is completely defenceless on a train. If the fighting caught a train laden with heavy technical armament at a place where there was nowhere to unload it, then the train either had to be destroyed or abandoned. The losses in military trains were enormous.
But even those divisions which were in the First Strategic Echelon and were making their own way to the frontier were in no better a position. A division marching in columns is an excellent target for any air force. The entire Red Army had made an excellent target of itself. Many people saw the transfer of Soviet troops taking place, but each individual saw only a part of it. Few could have imagined its true scale. German military intelligence had assessed that a great build-up of fighting strength was taking place, but all it saw was the First Strategic Echelon, never suspecting that there was a second, and indeed a third, which we shall come to in another book.
I believe that many Soviet marshals and generals, with the exception of the most eminent, or those who were directly involved in these troop transfers, likewise had no idea of their true dimensions, and consequently, of their significance. That is why many of them talk about them in so serene a manner. Their ignorance about the general situation and the true extent of the build-up of Soviet troops was in no way fortuitous. Stalin took draconian measures to cover it up. His TASS report was one of these measures. It was clearly impossible to conceal the actual fact that troop transfers were taking place. But amazingly Stalin succeeded in concealing both the dimensions of these transfers and their purpose from the entire country, from German intelligence and even from future generations.
Air Colonel-General Alexander Sergeiyevich Yakovlev, who was a personal aide to Stalin at the time, bears witness that ‘at the end of May or beginning of June’ a meeting was held in the Kremlin to discuss matters related to camouflage and deception. (TseV Zhizni, Moscow IPL 1968, p. 252)
An incident recounted by Marshal Matvei Vassilyevich Zakharov reveals the degree of secrecy surrounding these troop movements: At the beginning of June, Colonel P. I. Rumyantsev, the chief of VOSO11 of the Odessa Military District, came round to see me in my office when I was chief of staff of the Odessa Military District and told me in secret that over the past few days ‘ Annushkas’ had been passing through the Znamenka railway station from the Rostov direction and would be off-loaded near Cherkassy.’ Annushka’ is a term which is used in the VOSO to mean a division. Two days later, I received an enciphered message from Cherkassy, signed by M. A. Reiter, deputy officer commanding the troops in the Northern Caucasus Military District, in which he asked permission to take over some clothing-storage hutments in our district for storing the belongings of troops which had just arrived in this area from the Northern Caucasus.
As the headquarters of the Odessa Military District had not been informed about any concentration of troops here, I rang the operations headquarters of the General Staff on the VCh.12 A. F. Anisov, the deputy chief of the headquarters came to the telephone. I told him about the enciphered message I had received from M. A. Reiter, and asked him to explain what it was all about. Anisov replied that I must destroy Reiter’s message at once, that he (Reiter) would be given the necessary instructions from the General Staff, and that the Military District headquarters was not to interfere in this matter. (Voprosy Istory, 1970, No. 5, p. 42)
Marshal Zakharov also states that Colonel-General Yakov Timofeyevich Cherevichenko, who was commanding the troops in the Odessa Military District, likewise knew nothing about the ‘Annushkas’. It may be argued that when Soviet troop movements take place, precautionary measures are always taken, and that Soviet troops always keep their intentions secret. This is quite true. But everything has a limit. An officer 11 Central Office of Military Railway Communications.
12 High-Frcquency Governmental Communications. commanding a military district in the Soviet Union – particularly one who commands a military district on the frontier – and his chief of staff are persons who have been invested with special plenary powers and authority. They take full responsibility for everything which takes place on the territory which is under their control. Even in the case where the commander of the Odessa military district learnt by chance that a concentration of outside troops was taking place on his territory, the General Staff, which was commanded by G. K. Zhukov, ordered him to forget the information he had been sent, and to destroy the secret enciphered message which had been intended only to be read by the military district chief of staff. This enciphered message represented a danger even as it lay in the chief of staff s safe.
Lieutenant-General M. A. Reiter’s behaviour was interesting. Max Reiter was a disciplined German. He had been a colonel in the Russian Army in World War I, an old hand of Prussian stock. He knew very well how to keep a secret. But even he regarded it as perfectly natural, when he turned up with his ‘Annushkas’ on the territory of another military district, to get in touch with his counterpart and ask his permission (in personal coded message of course!) to do something. The General Staff quickly set his thinking straight, and he did not write a cipher message like that again. Molotov summoned the German ambassador on 13 June and handed him the text of the TASS report. (V. Khvostov and Major-General A. Grilev, Kommunist, No. 12, 1968, p. 68)
This stated that Germany did not wish to attack the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union did not wish to attack Germany, but that ‘forces hostile to the Soviet Union and Germany which were interested in developing and extending the war’ were trying to cause trouble between them by spreading provocative rumours that war was near. The report names these ‘hostile forces’ as Sir Stafford Cripps (the British ambassador in Moscow), London and the British press. It would be reasonable to suppose that a meeting also took place that day in London between Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, and Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador in London. Imagine the scene:
Maisky throws the TASS report on the table, stamps his foot and demands that ambassador Cripps be withdrawn from Moscow, that the sowing of dissention between the good friends Stalin and Hitler should stop, and that provocative rumours about war between the Soviet Union and Germany should cease. On 13 June 1941 a meeting did in fact take place between Maisky and Eden. Maisky did not hand over a copy of the TASS report to the British government, he did not stamp his foot, and the meeting passed off in a friendly atmosphere. The discussion was concerned with what measures the British government could take to help the Red Army ‘should war break out between the Soviet Union and Germany in the near future’. Specific measures included direct combat operations by the Royal Air Force to help the Red Army, military supplies, and co-ordination of operations undertaken by the military commands of the two countries. (Istoriya Vtovoi Mirovoi Voiny, Vol. 3, p. 352)
On 13 June, Stalin’s diplomats were laying the foundations of what would soon be called the Anti-Hitler Coalition. There was nothing wrong with this from the British side. Britain was at war with Germany. The Soviet Union, however, was playing a dirty game. It had concluded a non-aggression pact with Germany and, immediately after this, a treaty of friendship. If the Soviet government had decided that these documents were no longer relevant to a situation which had really become very complex, they should have abrogated them. But Stalin did not do this. He went on assuring Hitler of his ardent friendship and claimed in the TASS report that it was the British politicians who wanted to extend the war. The neutral diplomatic tone concealed some highly serious matters. Soviet diplomats had quite recently held negotiations with Germany over Poland ‘should changes occur on the territory of the Polish state’.
The time had now come when Soviet diplomats were striking a similar tone about Germany behind her back. It is surprising that, in the negotiations in London, both sides used the phrase ‘if war begins’, instead of saying ‘if Germany attacks’; to put it another way, the interlocutors were not in any way excluding the possibility that a war could begin, not as a result of German aggression, but in some other way. It is interesting that at the negotiations in London, the Soviet Union put itself down first — ‘if war breaks out between the USSR and Germany’. The TASS report too, speaks of ‘rumours that war is near between the USSR and Germany’. If Germany was considered the most likely aggressor, why not put it the other way round?
Someone may perhaps argue that the Soviet ambassador was holding these negotiations without Stalin’s knowledge, exceeding his authority as did those Soviet generals who assembled their troops on the borders ‘without notifying Stalin’. But Maisky himself has emphasized that when he was leaving for London in 1932, he had a meeting with M. M. Litvinov. Litvinov, who was People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, warned Maisky that while en paste he would be carrying out instructions, not from Litvinov, but ‘from higher instances’. Only Molotov, who was head of the government of which Litvinov was a member, and Stalin were ‘higher’ at that time. In 1941, Litvinov had already been dismissed, so there remained only two ‘higher instances’, Molotov and Stalin.
Maisky survived the purges, and remained in his post for a very long time. His head remained on his shoulders only because he did not infringe any of the instructions sent him by the ‘higher instances’. In order to have a clear understanding of Comrade Maisky and Soviet diplomats generally, it must be added that after he returned to Moscow after having served in London for eleven years, he accompanied Stalin to conferences with Churchill and Roosevelt, in order to ask that aid be increased. He then wrote a book entitled Who Helped Hitler? (Kto Pomogal Gitleru, Moscow IML 1962)
We learn from this book that Hitler could not have begun World War II by himself, and that Britain and France helped him to do so. The Soviet ambassadorthen went on to lay the blame for ‘suffering and sacrifices without number’ on the shoulders of the country which offered Stalin military and economic help as far back as 13 June 1941. The purpose of the TASS report was to put an end to rumours that war between the Soviet Union and Germany was inevitable. Stalin waged determined warfare on these rumours. On the night of 13-14 June, there was a sudden outburst of terror in Moscow. Heads came off, including some very eminent ones.
Hitler had the same problem. War preparations are difficult to conceal. People see them, and express all sorts of suppositions about them. On 24 April, the German naval attache sent an anxious report to Berlin that he was having to counter ‘clearly absurd rumours about a forthcoming German-Soviet war’. On 2 May, ambassador Von der Schulenberg reported that he was having to counter rumours, but all German officials who were arriving from Germany were bringing ‘not only rumours, but facts to back them up’. On 24 May, Karl Bohmer, head of the foreign press department of the German Ministry of Propaganda, got into a drunken state and said something indiscreet about relations with the Soviet Union. He was immediately arrested.
Hitler took up the matter personally, and in Goebbels’s words ‘attached too serious a significance’ to it. On 13 June, the day the TASS report was given out, Karl Bohmer stood before a people’s court (how staggering – a people’s court, just as in the Soviet Union) and declared that what he had said had been drunken gibberish. This did not save the unfortunate Bohmer from heavy punishment, which served as a good lesson for all Germany – there would be no war! There would be no war! There would be no war! And just so that nobody abroad should have any doubts about it, Ribbentrop sent top-secret telegrams to his ambassadors on 15 June, saying that it was planned to hold highly important negotiations with Moscow. The ambassadors had to
relay this information to certain people in the strictest secrecy.
For instance, the counsellor at the German Embassy in Budapest had to convey the news to the Hungarian president as a special secret. The principles of disinformation are the same for everyone. If you do not want the enemy to learn the secret, then keep it away from your friends as well! On 8 May 1940, German radio announced that Britain intended to invade the Netherlands. There then followed the most interesting part of the announcement, which was that information to the effect that two German armies had been moved up to the border with Holland was ‘absurd rumour’ put into circulation by ‘British warmongers’. What happened thereafter is common knowledge. These two announcements, one from German radio and the other from the Soviet agency T AS S, repeat one another almost word for word.
Following the appearance of my first publications, Soviet historians exclaimed that yes, Soviet troop movements had taken place, but that Soviet sources had long ago given a satisfactory (that is, a defencerelated) explanation of what had occurred. This is very far from the truth. It was the absence of such an explanation which attracted my attention in the first place. Not one Soviet marshal or general has ever given the exact number of the divisions which took part in these vast movements. As we have seen, it was 191, but not one of them has ever given even an approximate figure. But can we really expect a satisfactory explanation from a general if he does not know, or is concealing the true dimensions of everything which took place?
The memoirs of the generals and marshals who had either directed or taken part in these troop movements display a surprising flexibility on the part of Soviet historical science. Colonel-General Ya. T. Cherevichenko, officer commanding the troops of the Odessa Military District, was in the Crimea between 9 and 12 June, where he received the troops of the 9th Special Rifle Corps. We learn this from Marshal M. V. Zakharov. (Voprosy Istory, 1970, No. 5, p. 44)
We shall return to this corps later. It was a most unusual one, and it was not for nothing that it was officially named ‘special’. But for some reason or other, General Cherevichenko passes it over in silence. This, incidentally, is the same Cherevichenko who was unaware that an entire army under the command of Lieutenant-General I. S. Konev and his deputy Lieutenant-General Max Reiter was secretly being concentrated on the territory of his own military district. I. S. Konev became a marshal of the Soviet Union during the war, and I picked up his book in the hope of finding some explanation as to how he found himself with his ‘Annushkas’ in somebody else’s military district, and why.
Surprisingly, the gallant marshal has simply omitted the entire initial period of the war. He preferred to write about 1945, and so he entitled his book Forty-Five. I then picked up the memoirs of General of the Army P. I. Batov. It was his corps which Cherevichenko was meeting in the Crimea, but alas, Batov simply leaves out the facts. Batov was the deputy of the officer commanding the Trans-Caucasian Military District. What was he doing in the Crimea at the head of a corps on the eve of the war? Which divisions belonged to this corps? Why was the corps called ‘special’?
Who was the deputy commander of the corps, and who was its chief of staff? Why was the corps trained to board ships, land on a hostile coast, and destroy oil derricks? We can find answers to all these questions, after prolonged research, from many different sources, but these do not include the memoirs of Batov, who simply omits the entire period. Having failed to find the explanations there, I then raised my sights. But neither Stalin nor any of the members of the Politburo wrote any memoirs. The only really senior figure to leave an account of his wartime experiences was Marshal Zhukov. He was Chief of the General Staff at the time, and was personally responsible for the deployment, garrisoning and movements of troops. Without his official stamp, it would have been impossible to move even one battalion, let alone regiments and divisions.
What was more, the VOSO service, that is, everything related to the military use of the railways, was directly subordinated to him. Zhukov admits that troop movements did in fact take place, and that they were of monumental dimensions. But instead of giving figures and explaining them from the height of his position as Chief of the General Staff, the three pages Zhukov devotes to the troop movements simply quote his friend I. Kh. Bagramyan, who was a colonel at the time. Listen to what Bagramyan thinks about this — Bagramyan who had no access to state secrets! Listen to Bagramyan, who was in the First Strategic Echelon where he only carried out orders sent by Moscow, who only accepted one military train after another without being given any explanations as to what they were needed for.
Dear Georgy Konstantinovich, comrade Marshal of the Soviet Union! If we want to find out Ivan Khristoforovich Bagramyan’s opinions, we shall simply open his excellent books and read them. But we are interested in finding out from your memoirs your point of view, your figures and your explanations. We want to see the situation from the dizzy height of your position and not from Ivan Khristoforovich’s parochial post. He speaks well and at length. He possesses shining erudition, a fine analytical mind, an excellent memory and great knowledge of the situation. But he played no part in the troop movements, nor did he direct them. The troop movements were directed by you. Zhukov’s sharp manoeuvre behind Bagramyan’s back, and the lack of exact figures and explanations only strengthen the suspicion that not everything was straightforward, that not everything had been said, and that there was something here which, then as now, was not for publication.
CHAPTER 23 – The Military Districts 226