CHAPTER 2O – Words and Actions 182
Words do not always match actions.
MOLOTOV (in conversation with Hitler, 13 November 1940)
In the best-known fragment of his secret speech of 5 May 1941, Stalin said that ‘the war with Germany will not begin before 1942′. From the vantage point of what we know today, Stalin’s mistake is obvious. But let us not be too quick to mock Stalin’s errors. If the speech was secret, then Stalin surely wanted to conceal its contents from the enemy. In the Kremlin, however, Stalin was heard by all the lecturers and graduates from all the military academies, as well as by the country’s highest political leaders and the most senior Red Army officers.
What is more, the content of his speech was passed on to all Soviet generals and colonels. ‘In the middle of May 1941,’ wrote Major-General B. Tramm, Air Force Major-General P. P. Kobelev, chairman of the Central Council of OSOAVIAKHIM (Society for the Defence of the Soviet Union and for the Development of its Aviation and Chemical Industries), gathered together the senior staff of the Council, and reported to us the basic points of the speech made by J. V. Stalin at the government reception held in the Kremlin in honour of graduates from the military academies. (VIZH 1980, No. 6, p. 52)
Despite the supposed secrecy of Stalin’s speech, thousands of people knew its content. Is there an explanation for such a paradox? Indeed there is. We know from the memoirs of Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union I. G. Kuznetsov that after Zhukov had been appointed Chief of the General Staff, a very important directive was written which ‘aimed the attention of the general officers commanding military districts and fleets at Germany as the most probable enemy in the forthcoming war’. (Nakanune, Moscow Voenizdat 1966, p. 313)
The directive lay in the General Staff building for two months, and on 5 May 1941 it was passed on to the headquarters of the frontier military districts for action. There is much to indicate that it was received by the headquarters on the day it had been sent. Marshal Bagramyan, for instance, has spoken about it. In fact Soviet marshals often talk about this highly secret directive, although they never make quotations from it. In the course of half a century, only one single sentence from this top secret document has ever got into the press, and this was ‘to be ready, on the orders of the High Command, to deliver swift blows utterly to destroy the enemy, to carry out combat operations over his territory and seize important positions’. (V. A. Anfilov, Bessermertnyii podvig, Moscow Nauka 1971, p. 171)
Had there been one word about defence in that directive, the marshals and the communist historians would not have failed to quote it. The whole of the remaining text of the 5 May directive is not, however, suitable for quotation. The directive is to remain top secret even half a century after the war has ended. Soviet censorship let slip only one sentence, but this was enough to reveal fully the sense of this carefully concealed document. In a defensive war, a soldier does not wait for orders.
For hundreds of years the Russian soldier has gone in to do battle with aggressors without waiting for orders from above. When the enemy crosses the river marking the frontier, that means to the ordinary soldier that the war has begun. The frontiers of Russia have been crossed by great armies of terrifying conquerors. Every time that this has happened, the Russian soldier, like the soldier of any other country and nation, has known from time immemorial that when the enemy crosses the frontier it means war, and he goes into action without awaiting orders to do so.
Guard-duty service has been devised in such a way that it frequently places every soldier in a situation where he has to make his own independent decision as to when he should use his weapons. The right and duty of a soldier is to kill anyone who tries to reach the target he is protecting. Soviet law especially preserves the right of each soldier to use his weapons independently. The same law severely punishes any soldier who does not use his arms when the situation demands that he do so. A soldier on a state frontier is a soldier at an action station. In a defensive war he needs neither orders nor directives.
A defensive war would usually begin like this. A soldier who has been freezing all night is getting ready to wrap himself up in his greatcoat and stand down. He gives his relief a wakening prod with his foot, but suddenly rubs his eyes – enemy soldiers are crossing the river. The soldier opens rapid fire, killing the leading enemy soldiers and warning his own comrades. The commander of the detachment wakes up, swears while still half-awake and, grasping what is happening, chases his other soldiers into the trenches. By then, fighting has flared up along thousands of kilometres of frontier.
The platoon commander comes on the scene. He coordinates the fire of his detachments. Then other commanders of more senior rank turn up. The fighting becomes more organized. A report flies off to regimental headquarters, and from there to the divisional headquarters. That is how a defensive war begins. Yet the top-secret directive of 5 May 1941 provided for millions of Red Army soldiers to enter the war in response to a single order which was to be received from the Soviet High Command.
A half-asleep soldier on the frontier can see the enemy making an attack, but how can the comrades in the Kremlin know that a war has started? Unless, perhaps, they themselves had fixed the date on which it was to begin. The first to enter a defensive war is the private soldier, folio wed by the sergeant, and then the platoon commander. In an offensive war, everything is the other way round.
The first to enter it is the Commander-in- Chief, and then the Chief of the General Staff, followed by the commanders of the fronts, the navies and the armies. The ordinary soldier is the last to know that an aggressive war has begun. Millions of soldiers enter a defensive war individually, while they all enter an aggressive war as one man. Hitler’s soldiers entered enemy territory as one man, minute by minute, hour by hour. Stalin’s soldiers also did the same thing in Finland, in Mongolia and in Bessarabia. That was the way in which they were to have gone to war with Germany.
The 5 May directive was issued, but the date when the war was due to begin was kept a close secret. Await the signal and be ready at any moment, the directive told the Soviet generals. Once he had issued this directive, Stalin immediately took over the post of head of the Soviet government so that he personally would give the signal for the directive to be carried into effect. Hitler gave his own troops the order to carry out a similar directive a little earlier . . .
We do not know, and apparently we shall never find out, what the top-secret directive of 5 May 1941 contained. It is clear, however, that it was a directive about a war with Germany, but a war which was not to be started by a German invasion, but by some other means. If the directive had had several alternative versions, and one of those had covered the contingency of Germany starting the war, then all the Soviet leaders in the Kremlin need then have done on 22 June 1941 was to telephone the officers commanding the frontier military districts and tell them, ‘Open your safes, take out the directive dated 5 May and carry out what it says.’
If the 5 May directive had contained several alternative sets of orders, and one of them had been defensive, then the officer commanding the frontier military district could have been told, ‘Put a line through the first nine versions, but carry out the tenth, the final one.’ But there were no defensive versions in the directive. That is why the directive of 5 May was never put into effect. The Soviet directive completely lost its point the moment the Germans invaded. It became instantly outdated, in the same way that all Soviet motorway tanks became obsolete.
Since the directive was now useless, the Soviet leaders in the Kremlin were compelled to improvise. Timoshenko and Malenkov were obliged to waste time composing a completely new directive. Then more time had to be wasted enciphering it, transmitting it, receiving it, and deciphering it. The 22 June directive, incidentally, was a thoroughly aggressive document. But it slightly dampened down the offensive urge of the Soviet troops. It must not be thought that all the copies of the 5 May directives had simply lain in the safes, waiting for the hour to come to use them. The directive had been issued to be executed, and in accordance with its instructions, troops were regrouped on a grand scale on the borders.
In the frontier areas, hundreds of kilometres of barbed-wire entanglements and thousands of mines were removed. Hundreds of thousands of tons of ammunition were moved right up to the frontier and stockpiled in the open. Hundreds of thousands of tons of stores of all kinds, needed for a swift and unavoidable war, were brought into the frontier areas.
On 15 June 1941, the time came for the generals in command of armies, corps and divisions to learn more about the Soviet leaders’ intentions. That day, the headquarters of the five frontier military districts issued combat orders which had been written on the basis of the top-secret 5 May directive. The circle of the initiated now extended to several hundred men. The orders issued on 15 June 1941 to middle-rank commanders in the Red Army also remained top secret, but there were several of these, so they are quoted more fully and more often.
The operative sentence from the order issued on 15 June 1941 by the headquarters of the Baltic Special Military District to the officers commanding its armies and corps is well known to historians: ‘We must be ready at any time to carry out the combat mission.’
Now let us return to Stalin’s secret speech of 5 May 1941. In a secret speech to a full auditorium, Stalin spoke of the aggressive war against Germany, which would begin in 1942. On the very same day, in a top secret directive, the officers commanding the frontier military districts were instructed to be ready for aggression at any moment. There is another coincidence. On 13 June 1941, TASS transmitted a report which said that the Soviet Union did not intend to attack Germany. It was moving troops up to the German borders solely for exercise purposes.
Yet two days later, on 15 June, the Soviet generals in the frontier military districts received an order which was strictly for their eyes alone — to be ready at any moment to seize positions on foreign territory. By May and June of 1941, Stalin knew that it was no longer possible to hide the preparations which the Soviet Union was making to ‘liberate’ Europe. That was why he ‘naively’ declared to the whole world in the TASS report that the Soviet Union was not preparing to make an attack.
Naturally, German intelligence did not believe such a crudely forged document, and it was with this in mind that Stalin ‘secretly’ informed thousands of his officers, and German intelligence at the same time, that the Soviet Union would attack
Germany in 1942.
Although it was no longer possible for Stalin to conceal his intentions, it was possible to conceal the date. This is just what Stalin’s ‘secret’ speech was calculated to achieve. If Hitler did not believe Stalin’s overt statements, the theory went, then maybe he would fall for his ‘secret’ one. Hitler had enough sense to believe neither.
CHAPTER 21 – Living Peaceably with Sharp Teeth 188