CHAPTER 26 – Why the Second Strategic Echelon was Formed 248

CHAPTER 26 – Why the Second Strategic Echelon was Formed 248

Mobilization is war, and we do not contemplate any other interpretation.
Marshal B. M. SHAPOSHNIKOV (Vospominaniya M., Voenizdat 1974, p. 558)

Shortly after the first German troops began to invade the Soviet Union, General I. V. Tyulenev was having a conversation in the Kremlin with Zhukov. ‘I reported it to Stalin’, Zhukov said, ‘but at first he didn’t believe it, and thought it was a provocation by some German generals.’ (Cherez Tri Voiny, Moscow Voenizdat 1960, p. 141)

This creates a serious contradiction for communist historians who argue that Stalin carried out the largest regrouping of troops in history because he sensed that a German attack was imminent. Even after the attack had actually begun, Stalin refused to believe that it was happening. Moving the Second Strategic Echelon was not a reaction to what Hitler was doing. This vast railway operation needed long and detailed preparation and accurate preparatory planning. Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Kurkotkin states that the General Staff passed all the necessary documents on the troop transfers to the People’s Commissariat for railways on 21 February 1941. (Tyl Sovetskykh Vooruzhenykh Sil v Velikoi Otechest-vennoi Voine, Moscow Voenizdat 1977, p. 33)

But the General Staff was asked for more time to prepare these documents with due thoroughness. They would have to tell the railwaymen what transport to provide, how to camouflage the loads and the movements, what routes to take, and where to prepare for massive troop disembarkations. In order to have all this ready, the General Staff would have had to have known the details of troop movements in advance. It means we must go further back to find the decision to set up the Second Strategic Echelon, and where the planning began for its transfer and for its combat use. In fact, the process was set in motion by a Politburo decision, and began on 19 August 1939 – before Hitler had invaded Poland or gone to war with Britain and France. At no time did it falter, but gradually gathered momentum.

Let us take just one Military District, the Urals, as an example. Two new divisions were formed there in September 1939, the 85th and the 159th. On 21 June 1941, we find the 85th right on the German frontier near Augustow, in a sector where the NK VD was cutting down the barbed wire. We also find the I59th Division right on the frontier in Rava-Russkaya, where it was part of the 6th (heavy shock) Army. The 110th, 125th, and 128th Rifle Divisions were formed in the same Urals Military District at the end of 1939, and later we find each one of them on the German border. Not only that, Soviet sources tell us that the 125th was ‘directly on the frontier’ of East Prussia. The Urals District raised many more regiments and divisions, and they were all moved quietly and without fuss nearer to the borders.

While the Second Strategic Echelon still did not officially exist, the senior Soviet military leadership was working out methods by which the troops of the First and Second Strategic Echelons could co-operate. In the second half of 1940, General D. G. Pavlov held a meeting with the officers commanding the armies and the chiefs of staff in the Western Special Military District. Among all the thousands of Soviet generals and admirals, D. G. Pavlov was fourth highest in seniority. The Western Special Military District was making grandiose plans to hold command-staff exercises. Plans of action were worked out for commanders, headquarters, and communications systems to be used in the initial period of war.

In the course of the exercises, the Soviet headquarters had to move to the west in exactly the same way as they would prepare to do as war began. ‘But these headquarters which are right on the frontier?’ Colonel-General Sandalov, Chief of Staff of the 4th Army, asked perplexedly. ‘Where will they move to?’ (L. M. Sandalov, Perezhitoe, Moscow Voenizdat 1966, p. 65)

Nobody keeps headquarters ‘right on the frontier’ when preparing for a defensive war, but Soviet headquarters had been moved there, and stayed there, immediately after the common border with Germany had been established. The reaction of this chief of staff of an army on the frontier is also interesting. In his mind the order to move was only associated with the concepts of ‘move to the west’, and ‘move across the frontier’; it did not occur to him that in a war the headquarters could be moved elsewhere. In addition to the commanders of the First Strategic Echelon, the meeting was also attended by highlyplaced guests from the Second Strategic Echelon, led by General I. V. Tyulenev, officer commanding the Moscow Military District. Taking advantage of Tyulenev’s presence, General D. G. Pavlov explained to Lieutenant-General V. I. Chuikov, the officer commanding 4th Army and a future Marshal of the Soviet Union, the objectives of the Second Strategic Echelon:

‘When the troops get here from the internal military districts,’ said Pavlov, ‘and when a density has been achieved in your army’s zone of seven and a half kilometres per division, then there can be movement forward without any doubts about success.’ (Ibid) The presence of General Tyulenev at this meeting is very significant. He already knew in 1940 what his role would be in the initial period of war. This was to report with his headquarters to the frontier military district, when the First Strategic Echelon would cross the state frontier. This Soviet plan was changed in February 1941 under pressure from Zhukov, who had by then taken over the General Staff. In the changed version, instead of going to the German frontier, General Tyulenev and his headquarters had to move secretly to the Romanian frontier, for that was where the main efforts of the Red Army were to be concentrated.

The troop density of seven and a half kilometres per division which the Soviet generals were using is the standard one for an offensive. At that time a division would have been allocated a stretch of terrain some three to four times greater for defensive operations. This same meeting also discussed how the movement of Soviet troops to the frontier could be camouflaged. ‘Movements . . . of new divisions,’ the meeting decided, ‘can be carried out under the guise of training refresher courses.’ By 13 June 1941, 77 divisions from the internal military districts were headed for the Soviet western frontiers ‘under the guise of training refresher courses’. In that situation, Hitler did not sit back and wait.

While the Soviet generals were establishing ‘the regulation density of seven and a half kilometres per division’, he struck the first blow. After Germany had begun its preventive war, the Second Strategic Echelon, like the First, was used for defence. But this in no way means that this was the purpose for which it had been created. General Mikhail Ilyich Kazakov said of the Second Echelon that ‘after the war began, cardinal changes had to be made in the plan governing its use’. (VIZH1972, No. 12, p. 46) Major-General Vassily Ivanovich Zemskov expressed him-’ self more exactly: ‘We were compelled to use these reserves for defence, and not in accordance with the plan for an offensive.’ (VIZH 1971, No. 10, p. 13)

General of the Army Simion Pavlovich Ivanov outlines the original plan behind the formation of the Second Strategic Echelon: If the troops of the First Strategic Echelon were to succeed … in carrying military operations on to enemy territory even before the main forces had been deployed, the Second Strategic Echelon would have to augment the efforts of the First Echelon by developing a response attack as laid down by the general strategic plan. (Nachal’nyi Period Voiny, Moscow Voenizdat 1974, p. 206)

The reader must not be misled by the term ‘response attack’ in this sentence. Its meaning, as used here, may be understood by glancing at the Winter War with Finland. Almost 50 years later, the Soviet version is still that Finland attacked, and that the Red Army only delivered a ‘response attack’. Lieutenant-General S. A. Kalinin tells of the mood which prevailed then in the Second Strategic Echelon. Before the secret troop movements began, he was training troops in the Siberian Military District for operational action.

During the exercises, the general heard this opinion expressed by a very junior officer: ‘Those fortifications there will not be used, that’s for sure. We’re getting ready not for defence but attack, you see. We’ll hit the enemy on his own territory.’ (Razmyshleniya o Minuvshem, Moscow 1963, p. 124) General Kalinin relayed the young officer’s words with a certain irony: how naive can one be, he implied. But he did not say from where the young officer had got such ideas. If the young officer was wrong, General Kalinin should have corrected him, and then pointed out to all the commanders that there was something which the junior officers were failing to understand, and that was that the orientation of the training was not quite right.

He then should have immediately questioned the commanders in the adjacent battalions, regiments and divisions, and if he then found that this ‘incorrect’ opinion was being repeated, he should have issued a stern command throughout the 24th Army ordering that the orientation of the training be corrected. But General Kalinin did not do this, and the troops continued to be trained ‘to fight on enemy territory’. It was not the fault of the young commanders that they were not being trained for defence. It was not even the fault of General Kalinin. He was only the officer commanding one army, when all armies were being trained to fight ‘on enemy territory’. He reveals his own attitude to the issue in an interesting anecdote.

After he had handed over the command of the 24th Army to General K. Rakutin, Kalinin returned to Siberia, where he trained ten new divisions ‘in the small towns of hutments for lumberjacks’. ‘From where do I begin?’ he asked himself. On what has the main attention of the troops to be concentrated when they do their training, on defence or attack? The position at the fronts was still tense. Red Army troops were continuing to fight heavy defensive battles. Experience gained in the fighting showed that we were far from adept on occasions when constructing our defence. Defensive positions were frequently ill-equipped in the engineering sense. Sometimes there was not even a trench system at the first position. The battle formation of the defenders often consisted of only one echelon and a small reserve, which diminished the troops’ resistance.

In many cases the men were badly trained in anti-tank defence, and the notorious tankophobia, or fear of tanks, was present among the troops. But at the same time the thought occurred – ‘We shall not always be defending ourselves. Attack – that’s the compulsory thing . . . ‘What is more, defence is not considered, nor has it ever been, to be the main form of military action . . . this means that the troops must be trained for offensive fighting . . .’ I shared this view with the commanders. We all came to the same conclusion. The principal efforts in training must be directed at carefully working through offensive action. (Ibid, pp. 182-183)

The first duty of the state and its army at the time was to stop the enemy, if only at the walls of Moscow. Yet it was obvious to everyone that the Red Army was not ready for defence – it was not even preparing for it. Even after the German attack, when the Wehrmacht was threatening the very existence of the communist regime, General Kalinin was going on training his troops only to attack. What had he been training them to do before the German invasion began? As a result of German preventive action, the Second Strategic Echelon had to be used for defence, and not for its intended purpose. I have sufficient documentation to establish the role which had been assigned to it by the Soviet war plans.

Here, as in the First Echelon, each army had its own unique individuality, and its own personality and character. Most armies travelled light, like a strong frame which had to be filled in after it had arrived in the forests in the western parts of the country and been deployed there. The standard complement of the armies in the Second Strategic Echelon was two rifle corps, each with three rifle divisions. This was not a shock army, but an ordinary one with a reduced complement. On arrival in the western areas of the country, each army immediately set about completing its mobilization and supplementing its divisions and corps. It was quite logical that most of the armies in the Second Strategic Echelon did not have mechanized corps with large numbers of tanks. First, such corps were set up mainly in the western parts of the country.

If the need arose, they did not have to be moved westwards from provinces deep in the Urals and Siberia. It would be more simple to reinforce them where they already were by light armies arriving from these distant provinces. There was an even better alternative. This was to use by far the greater part of the mechanized corps in the first surprise strike, in order to make it an extraordinarily powerful one; then to throw the Second Strategic Echelon into battle, and transfer to its light armies all the tanks which had survived the first operations. There was, however, an exception among the armies of the Second Echelon. The i6th was manifestly a shock army. Its complement included a full-strength mechanized corps which had over 1,000 tanks. In addition, the detached 57th Tank Division, under the command of Colonel V. A. Mishulin, was moved westwards along with this army.

The 57th Tank Division was under the operational command of the officer commanding the i6th Army. Taking this division into account, the i6th Army had more than 1,200 tanks, and on full complement this figure must have exceeded 1,340. The 19th Army was even more powerful. This had been moved secretly from the Northern Caucasus. Its complement included four corps, including the 26th Mechanized Corps. There is sufficient evidence to show that the 25th Mechanized Corps, under the command of Major-General Simion Krivoshein, had also been earmarked for the 19th Army. This clearly was a heavy shock army. Even its rifle corps were organized in an unusual way and were headed by very high-ranking commanders. The 34th Rifle Corps, under LieutenantGeneral R. P. Khmel’nitsky, for example, had four rifle and one mountain rifle divisions on its complement, as well as several heavy artillery regiments.

The presence of the mountain rifle divisions in these armies was not accidental. The I9th Army, the most powerful in the Second Strategic Echelon, was secretly deployed, but not against Germany. The whole Soviet grand design is revealed here- the most powerful army in the First Strategic Echelon was deployed against Romania; and the most powerful army in the Second Strategic Echelon, right at its back, against Romania as well. The 16th Army, the second most powerful in the Second Strategic Echelon, was deployed alongside. It could also have been used against Romania and its vital oilfields, but it was more probable that the plan was to use it against Hungary alongside the 26th (shock) and the I2th (mountain shock) Armies, cutting off the oil from its users. Hitler disrupted this deployment with his invasion. The 16th and 19th Armies had to move immediately to Smolensk, thereby putting back the ‘liberation’ of Romania and Hungary by several years.

Immediately after the partition of Poland in the autumn of 1939, a great number of Soviet troops were transferred from permanent garrisons on to the new frontier. The new territories, however, had not been adapted to the stationing of large numbers of troops, especially modern troops equipped with a great deal of weapons and technical equipment. The official History of the Second World War records how ‘the troops in the western frontier districts experienced great difficulties. Everything had to be built and equipped anew, bases and supply points, airfields, the road network, junctions and lines of communication . . .’ (1973-77, Vol. 4, p. 27)

The official History of the Byelorussian Military District paints a similar picture: The displacement of formations and units of the District to the western areas of Byelorussia gave rise to not inconsiderable difficulties . . . The personnel of the 3rd, 4th and loth Armies had to build and repair barracks, depots and camps, and equip training grounds, firing ranges and tank training areas. The troops were under great strain. (KBVO, Moscow Voenizdat 1983, p. 84)

General Sandalov says that in 1939-40, depots, wooden huts and any buildings at all were used for billeting troops. But the troops kept on coming. ‘There was a great pile-up of troops in Brest-Litovsk . . . four-tiered bunks were fitted up in the lower floors of barrack buildings.’ (Na Moskovskom Napravlenii, Moscow Nauka 1970, p. 41)

Lieutenant-General V. N. Kurdyumov, head of the Combat Training Directorate of the Red Army said at a command staff meeting in December 1940 that the troops in the new regions were often compelled to do domestic work instead of doing combat training. At the same meeting, Lieutenant-General Ya. N. Fedorenko said that almost all his tank units had moved their deployment garrisons three or four times towards the border during 1939-40. The result was that more than half of the units who had gone to new locations had not had any ranges to train on. In 1939 and 1940, at the cost of strenuous effort, the enormous number of troops belonging to the First Strategic Echelon accommodated and quartered. But then, in February 1941, slowly at first and then at an ever increasing speed, the transfer began of the huge numbers of troops in the Second Strategic Echelon.

At that point, a change of considerable importance took place. Soviet troops ceased to concern themselves about how they would spend the following winter. All the troops of the First Strategic Echelon left their dugouts and partially built barracks and moved directly onto the frontier. (Marshal I. Kh. Bagramyan, VIZH 1976,
No. I, p. 62)

The troops in the Second Strategic Echelon who were being moved from the interior of the country did not use the uncompleted barracks and small military centres which the First Echelon had left behind. The arriving troops did not mean to spend the winter in these places, and were in no way preparing themselves for winter. They no longer made dug-outs, they did not build training grounds or firing ranges; they did not even dig trenches. There are many official documents and memoirs by generals and marshals to show that the troops were now quartered only under canvas. In the early spring of 1941, the 188th Rifle Division of the 11th Army’s 16th Rifle Corps was being formed in the Baltic area. It took in reservists in May. The division struck a temporary summer encampment under canvas near Kozlovo-Rua, some 45-50 kilometres from the state frontier.

Under cover of the TASS report, the division abandoned this encampment and moved to the frontier. Any attempt to find even a hint of preparations for winter would be bound to fail. It was the same story with the 28th Tank Division, which was being deployed nearby. Marshal of the Soviet Union K. S. Moskalenko, who was then a brigade commander with the rank of majorgeneral, recalls the orders given to him by Major-General M. I. Pota-pov, officer commanding the 5th Army: ‘The formation of your brigade has begun here . . . You will take that section of forest, and build a camp . . .’ This powerful, full-strength brigade, with a complement of more than 6,000 men armed with more than one hundred heavy guns of a calibre of up to iO7mm, had the camp working in three days. After this, the intensive combat training began. It went on for eight to ten hours daily, and this did not include night work,
homework, arms maintenance, and weapons training. (Na Yugo — Zapadnom Napravleny, Moscow Nauka 1969, p. 18)

If the Soviet troops had been preparing for defence, they would have had to dig in and make a continuous line of trenches stretching from the Arctic to the mouth of the Danube. But they did not do this. If they had intended to spend another winter in peace and quiet, then, from the beginning of April, they should have been building. They did not do this either. Some divisions had left half-built barracks somewhere behind. But many divisions formed in the spring of 1941 had neither barracks nor hutments, yet they were not even making dug-outs. So where did they intend to spend the winter, if not in central and southern Europe?

Major-General A. Zaporozhchenko has left us a remarkable description of the movements of troops towards the frontier: The concealed movement of the shock groupings up to the areas from where the offensive would begin was the concluding phase of the strategic deployment. This movement was carried out over several nights prior to the attack. The covering action for the movement was organized by forces of reinforced battalions which had been previously moved up to the frontier, and which were controlling those sectors of the front which had been allotted to the divisions, until the main forces arrived. The redeployment of air force units to other bases began in the last days of May and was concluded by 18 June. At the same time fighter and military aircraft were concentrated at airfields up to 40 kilometres from the frontier, while bombers were put on airfields no more than 180 kilometres from the border. ( VIZH 1984, No. 4, p. 42)

The only surprising thing about this description is the date -18 June. The Soviet air forces did not complete their redeployment to other bases on that day – they had only began it on 13 June under cover of the TASS report. So why does the general talk about 18 June? The fact is that he was speaking not about the Red Army, but about the German Wehrmacht. The same thing was happening in Germany: troops were being moved up to the frontier at night. Reinforced battalions were being sent ahead. The arriving divisions were occupying the departure areas for the offensive, or to put it more simply, they were hiding in the forests. The actions of one colossal army were the mirror image of the actions of the other.

The only respect in which they failed to coincide was time. At first the Soviet troops were ahead. Then Hitler went into the lead by two weeks. He had fewer troops and had to move them over very short distances. Interestingly, at the beginning of June the German Army was in a most disadvantageous position. A great number of the troops were in military trains. The guns were in one train, the shells in another. Combat battalions were disembarked in places where there were no headquarters; and headquarters were set down in places where there were no troops. There were no communications, so that for security reasons radio stations were simply forbidden to operate until military action began. The German troops did not make dug-outs either, nor did they build ranges.

The greatest similarity, however, was the massive quantity of supplies, troops, aircraft hospitals, headquarters and aerodromes, all up against the Soviet frontiers. Few people knew what was planned; that was the most closely guarded secret of the German High Command. Everything that we have seen in the Red Army, and have taken for foolishness and idiocy, had in fact been done two weeks before in the German Army. It was neither foolishness nor idiocy, but preparation for a massive offensive. What should have happened following the full build-up of troops belonging to the Second Strategic Echelon in the western parts of the country? The answer to this question was given long before World War II began, by the Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Army, General V. Sikorsky: ‘A strategic wait cannot be continued after all forces have been mobilized and their build-up completed.’ (Budushchaya Voina, Moscow Voenizdat 1936, p. 240).

The Soviet General Staff decided that his book should be published in Moscow for the benefit of Soviet commanders. It corroborated Soviet military thought, which was firmly convinced that ‘the worst thing in modern conditions is the urge to stick to waiting tactics in the initial period of war’. (Voina i Revolyutsiya 1931, Book 8, p. n) Marshal of the Soviet Union Boris Mikhailovich Shaposhni-kov, Chief of the Soviet General Staff, held firm views about this.

If reservists who have been called up have to spend a long time under the colours without any prospect of war in view, the result can be a negative effect on their morale. Their combat readiness deteriorates instead of improving . . . In a word, no matter what the command, and even more what the diplomats might wish, once mobilization has been declared, the guns might start firing on their own for purely military reasons. Thus the proposition must be considered doubtful that it is possible in modern conditions of warfare for mobilized armies to remain for a long period in a state of military peace without going over to active fighting. (Mozg Army, Vol. 3, GIZ, 1929)

Soviet military thinking considered then, as it does now, that ‘mobilization, concentration, operational deployment and mounting the first operations are all parts of one and the same single uninterrupted process’. (VIZH 1986, No. I, p. 15) Having begun to mobilize and thereby to concentrate troops and deploy them operationally, the Soviet command could no longer stop this process, or even slow it down. It is roughly the same thing as thrusting one’s arm sharply downwards, unfastening the holster, pulling out the revolver, pointing it at the enemy and cocking the trigger all in one movement. After that, whether you like it or not, firing is inevitable, for as soon as your hand is thrust downwards, your opponent is doing the same thing just as quickly, or even more so.

In trying to answer the question of who started the Soviet -German war in 1941, communist historians apply the criterion that the guilty party was the one who fired the first shot. But why should we not apply another criterion? Why should we not turn our attention to the one who was first to begin mobilization, to concentrate his troops and to deploy them operationally?

Who first reached for his pistol? Soviet apologists argue that while Shaposhnikov – and modern Soviet strategists, for that matter – understood that the movement of troops was war, Zhukov did not. This was very far from the case. In order to understand the determination being shown by the Soviet High Command in what it was doing, we must go back to 1932, to the 4th Cavalry Division. This was not just the best division of Soviet cavalry; it was the best in the whole of the Red Army. Until 1931, this division was quartered in the Leningrad Military District in places where the Imperial Horseguards had once been. The conditions in which this division lived and trained for battle can easily be imagined. Their living conditions were nothing less than magnificent.

In 1932, for urgent operational reasons, this division was moved to another, this time totally unprepared, base. Marshal Zhukov wrote that this division was compelled to spend eighteen months building itself barracks, stables, a headquarters, living quarters, depots and an entire training base. The result was that this brilliantly trained division was turned into a bad, unskilled military unit. A shortage of building materials, wet weather and other unfavourable conditions prevented the building being completed by the time winter came. This had an extremely bad effect on the general condition of the division and its combat preparedness. Discipline became slack . . . (Vospominaniya iRazmyshleniya, Moscow, APN 1969, p. 118)

In spring, the best division in the Red Army was ‘in a state of rapid collapse’ and ‘was unfit for battle’. The divisional commander was held to be chiefly to blame for this and suffered the consequences. A new commander was then sought for the division, and G. K. Zhukov was ***** that his ascent began. Zhukov’s work was closely followed by S. K. Timoshenko, the corps commander, and even by the People’s Commissar for Defence himself, K. E. Voroshilov. The division bore his name and was considered to be the best. Voroshilov expected Zhukov to restore past glories to the 4th Cavalry Division. Zhukov achieved this by draconian measures, proving that he could be entrusted with any theoretically impracticable task.

By 1941, all the characters in this story had risen considerably in rank. K. E. Voroshilov was a member of the Politburo, a Marshal of the Soviet Union and chairman of the Defence Committee; S. K. Timoshenko was a Marshal of the Soviet Union and People’s Commissar for Defence; and Zhukov was a full general, deputy People’s Commissar for Defence and Chief of the General Staff. These three together directed the secret Soviet troop movements towards the German frontier. They knew better than we did, and not from theoretical deduction, that not even one division could be left to spend the winter in the open forest. A soldier can spend the winter in any conditions, but that was not the problem.

The problem was that on the Soviet western frontiers there were no firing ranges, training grounds, tank training areas, training centres, or conditions needed for combat training. If the troops were not put into battle immediately, there would be an inevitable deterioration in their combat readiness. They knew that not even one division could be left for the winter in a place which had not been prepared in any way. They knew that culprits would be found, and they also knew what happened to culprits. But even so, they moved practically the entire Red Army to places where there was nowhere to do combat training. The war did not begin as Stalin wanted and therefore it did not end as he had wanted either.

Stalin got only half of Europe. But in order to understand what Stalin intended, let us for a moment envisage a situation in which Hitler did not attack the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, but decided to postpone Operation Barbarossa and capture Gibraltar, for example, instead. What would Stalin have done in that situation? He could not have turned back his massive armies. Many of the armies and corps which were set up in the first half of 1941 had nowhere to go back to, apart from the ‘small towns of hutments for lumberjacks’. It would have taken many months to move the troops back, paralysed the railways and brought on an economic catastrophe. What would have been the sense of spending six months concentrating troops in secret, and then spending another six months dispersing them?

But even if a total dispersal had immediately followed the total concentration, it would have been quite impossible to complete this process before winter set in. Nor could Stalin have left his vast armies to winter in the forests of the frontier area. An army quickly loses its fighting capability without intensive combat training. In addition, the process by which the armies of the Second Strategic Echelon were raised and moved westwards was kept, for whatever reason, a close secret by Stalin. For how long could he have been sure of preserving that secret had he left these armies with their countless troops on the border for even a few weeks?

This is the central question of this book: if the Red Army could not go back, but could not stay long in the border area either, what was left for it to do? It is a question which all communist historians are afraid to answer. But we need look no further than the opinion of a general who ‘was a deputy chief of the operations headquarters in the General Staff from May 1940 onwards, and who worked on the operational part of the plan for the strategic deployment of the Soviet armed forces in the north, north-west, and western sectors’. (Soviet Military Encylopedia, Vol. 2, p. 27)

Everything was correct in his planning. That was why he became a Marshal of the Soviet Union only eighteen months after beginning the war as a major-general. He was one of those who was closest to Stalin. It was he, and not Zhukov, who controlled the Red Army in the last years of Stalin’s life, and who fell from high rank when Stalin died. Marshal of the Soviet Union Alexander Mikhailovich Vasi-levsky was perfectly frank in his appraisal of the situation: ‘The fears that the allegedly aggressive intentions of the USSR might cause a clamour in the West had to be thrown overboard. We had then reached . . . the Rubicon of war, and had to take a firm step
forward.’ ( VIZH 1978, No. 2, p. 68)

In every grandiose scheme, there comes a critical point after which events become irreversible. For the Soviet Union that point was the date of 13 June 1941. After that day, war for Stalin not only became inevitable: it became inevitable in the summer of 1941, no matter how Hitler might act.

CHAPTER 27 Undeclared War 265

Published on June 4, 2013 at 7:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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