CHAPTER 31 – How Hitler Frustrated Stalin’s War 325
We have been fully prepared for an aggressive war.
It was not our fault that we were not the ones to
cany out the aggression.
Major-General P. GRIGORENKO
(Memoirs: ‘Dentinez’, New York 1981, P. 138)
On 17 June 1945, a group of Soviet military investigators were interrogating some senior Nazi military leaders. In the course of his interrogation, Field-Marshal Keitel maintained that all the preparatory measures we took before spring 1941 were defensive measures against the contingency of a possible attack by the Red Army. Thus the entire war in the East, to a known degree, may be termed a preventive war . . . We decided …to forestall an attack by Soviet Russia and to destroy its armed forces with a surprise attack. By spring 1941, I had formed the definite opinion that the heavy buildup of Russian troops, and their attack on Germany which would follow, would place us, in both economic and strategic terms, in an exceptionally critical situation . . . Our attack was the immediate consequence of this threat . . .
Colonel-General Alfred Jodl, the main author of the German military plans, adopted the same stance. The Soviet investigators did their best to force Keitel and Jodl out of their postures, but did not succeed. Keitel and Jodl did not change their testimony and, along with the principal war criminals, were sentenced to be hanged by the international tribunal at Nuremberg. One of the main accusations against them was ‘the unleashing of an unprovoked aggressive war’ against the Soviet Union.
Twenty years went by and new evidence appeared. Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union N. G. Kuznetsov was, in 1941, an admiral, People’s Commissar for the Navy, member of the Central Committee of the Party, member of Stavka from the time it was set up. In the 19603, he shed some startling new light on the matter: For me there is one thing beyond all argument – J. V. Stalin not only did not exclude the possibility of war with Hitler’s Germany, on the contrary, he considered such a war . . . inevitable . . . J. V. Stalin made preparations for war . . . wide and varied preparations – beginning on dates . . . which he himself had selected. Hitler upset his calculations. (Nakunune, Moscow Voenizdat 1966, p. 321)
The admiral is telling us quite clearly and openly that Stalin considered war inevitable and prepared himself seriously to enter it at a time of his own choosing. In other words, Stalin was preparing to strike the first blow, that is to commit aggression against Germany; but Hitler dealt a preventive blow first and thereby frustrated all Stalin’s plans. Admiral Kuznetsov is a witness of the highest rank. In 1941, he was even more highly placed in the Soviet military-political hierarchy than Zhukov. Kuznetsov was a People’s Commissar; Zhukov was a deputy People’s Commissar. Kuznetsov was a member of the Central Committee; Zhukov was only a candidate member. Not one of those who have written their memoirs was as highly placed as Kuznetsov in 1941, and no one was closer to Stalin than he.
What Kuznetsov says after the war, incidentally, is in full accord with what he said before the war, for instance at the 18th Party Congress in 1939. This was the Congress which marked out a new path: to reduce the terror inside the country and to transfer it to the Soviet Union’s neighbours. At this Congress, Kuznetsov’s speech was perhaps the most aggressive. It was for this speech that Kuznetsov was made a member of the Central Committee at the end of the Congress, passing over the candidate-member level, and given the post of People’s Commissar.
Everything which Kuznetsov said openly had been said many years before by Stalin in his secret speeches. Everything which Kuznetsov said has been borne out by what the Red Army and Fleet actually did. Finally, Admiral Kuznetsov has to be believed in this case, because his book has been read by all friends and enemies alike; it has been read by political and military leaders in the Soviet Union; it has been read by marshals, diplomats, historians, generals and admirals; it has been read by paid friends of the Soviet Union abroad, and nobody has ever tried to deny Kuznetsov’s words.
Let us compare Keitel’s words with those of Kuznetsov. Field-Marshal Keitel said that Germany was not preparing an aggression against the Soviet Union; it was the Soviet Union which was preparing the aggression. Germany was simply using a preventive attack to defend itself from an unavoidable aggression.
Kuznetsov says the same thing — yes, the Soviet Union was preparing for war and would inevitably have entered into it, but Hitler disrupted these plans with his attack. What I cannot understand is why Keitel was hanged, and Kuznetsov was not. Soviet marshals and generals do not hide their intentions. General S. P. Ivanov, Chief of the General Staff Academy of the Armed Forces of the USSR, along with a group of leading Soviet historians, wrote a scientific paper entitled The Initial Period of War (Nachal’nyi Period Voiny, Moscow Voenizdat 1974), in which he not only admits that Hitler launched a preventive attack, but also puts a time to it: ‘the Nazi command succeeded in forestalling our troops literally in the last two weeks before the war began’, (p. 212)
Another open declaration of Soviet intentions in 1941 can be found in the Military Historical Journal (VIZH 1984, No. 4) The journal is the official publication of the Soviet Ministry of Defence, and cannot be published without the stamp of the Minister of Defence and the Chief of the General Staff. (At the time these were, respectively, Marshals of the Soviet Union S. Sokolov and S. Akhromeev). The Military Historical Journal explained why such great stockpiled reserves of ammunition, liquid fuel and provisions were built up so close to the frontier. The explanation was simple: they were for offensive operations, (p. 34) It is stated quite openly on the same page that the German attack disrupted the Soviet plans.
Had the Red Army been preparing for defence or even a counter-attack, it would have been no simple matter to disrupt its plans. Quite the contrary, for a German invasion would have served as a signal to Soviet troops to act according to plans which had already been drawn up. Only if the Red Army had intended to attack could the German invasion have disrupted its plans. Soviet troops would then be compelled to defend themselves, that is to improvise, and act in a situation which had not been envisaged.
On 6 June 1941, German intelligence received information that the Soviets intended to transfer their seat of government to Sverdlovsk. Only Hitler and those closest to him were informed about it. Dr Goebbels noted in his diary that he had received such a report, and spoke very unflatteringly about the Soviet government’s intention to run away further to the east. Only now, several decades later, can we evaluate the report on its merits. We now know that a decoy command post had been built in Sverdlovsk. It was only during the war that it turned out that it was not Sverdlovsk which was to be the emergency capital, but Kuibyshev. Even Kuibyshev, however, was not the whole truth, but only half of it.
The institutions which were set up in Kuibyshev were those whose loss did not affect the stability of the country’s top military and political leadership, such as the Supreme Soviet with ‘President’ Kalinin, unimportant people’s commissariats, and embassies. All the important bodies were located nearby, not in Kuibyshev itself, but in great underground tunnels hewn out of the Zhiguli rocks. Before the war the construction of this giant had been disguised by the building of the Kuibyshev hydro-electric power station. Thousands of labour-camp prisoners, thousands of tons of construction materials and building machinery were sent there and everybody knew why. It was to build the hydroelectric power station.
After the war the entire gigantic edifice was moved higher upriver on the Volga, and the hydro-electric station arose on a new site. The original site had been selected in a place where a power station should not have been built but which was an eminently suitable place for an underground command post I found no mention in pre-war German archives of Kuibyshev as the emergency capital, or of the underground command post in Zhiguli. German intelligence only had information about the transfer of the Soviet government to a command post in Sverdlovsk. But a government cannot move to a command post which does not exist. Who was spreading these reports about the transfer to a fictitious command post?
This could only have been done by the person who invented the bogus command post in the first place, that is the Soviet government, or more exactly, the head of that government, Stalin. That bogus command post was created so that the enemy should find out about it one day. That day came, and German intelligence acquired the secret which had been specially manufactured for it. If German intelligence obtained a false report about Soviet government intentions, it meant that the Soviet government itself must have been trying to conceal something at the time. It is not difficult to guess what. If the Soviet leaders were spreading false information about their intention to move eastwards, it meant without any doubt that they were going to do the opposite.
The subtlety was that, in addition to the powerful Zhiguli command post, whose location was difficult though not impossible to establish, there was another government command post. It was a railway train. In the event of war, this command post, under cover of several armoured trains of the NKVD and accompanied by three trains belonging to the People’s Commissariat for Communications, could go at any time to any area where hostilities were in progress. This capability to move alongside an area where the main events of the war were taking place was reflected in the name of the train-the PGKP, or Main Forward Command Post. Several carefully hidden, camouflaged stations were built expressly for this command post. Government telegraph lines were led into these stations before the war, and all the trains had to do was to plug into them with their own communications equipment.
There is no need to explain that the mobile command post was intended for an offensive war; in a situation where the troops are rapidly pressing forward, the command, with its cumbersome paraphernalia of control and communications, must keep up with them. In a defensive war, on the other hand, it is simpler, more reliable and safer to exercise direction from an office in the Kremlin, from an underground station in the Moscow Metro, or even from the tunnels of Zhiguli. Were we to gather up all available snippets of information and put them together, we should be able to conclude with a fair degree of certainty that a very high-calibre command post had been established, or must have been established nearer to Vilnius, on the Minsk-Vilnius main railway line.
Several days after the German leaders received their ‘secret’ report about the Soviet government’s transfer eastwards, the Soviet government began its secret move towards the Soviet western frontier near Minsk and Vilnius. Every military man knows how a large headquarters is moved in exercises or in a combat situation. The operations branch selects the site for the future headquarters, the senior commander approves the site and then authorizes the move there. The forest where the headquarters will be located is cordoned off, in order to keep out unauthorized persons. Then sappers and signallers appear to build shelters and a communications system. Then the head of communications turns up and personally checks that the communications are functioning reliably.
Finally, when that has been done, the headquarters itself arrives. All its officers have to do is to plug in their telephones and enciphering machines. In 1941, the Red Army was functioning like a single well-oiled machine. Dozens of officers in charge of signals in rifle and mechanized corps appeared in the forests near the border. The secret deployment of the command posts of these corps followed in their wake. Immediately after this, the signals chiefs of the armies turned up in other forests. Their appearance was a sign that army headquarters would shortly arrive. Sure enough, the headquarters did indeed turn up. It was exactly on the day that the TASS report was published that the signals chiefs of the fronts appeared in secluded corners of these prohibited, well guarded woods.
After the communications had been checked, the front headquarters secretly moved their columns to their new positions. The moment then arrived for the most important signals chief of all to appear, 150 kilometres from the East Prussian frontier. I. T. Peresypkin, People’s Commissar for Communications, secretly moved to Vilnius. Can we guess for whom Peresypkin was going to check communications there? People’s Commissar Peresypkin has only one direct superior, and that is the Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, Comrade J. V. Stalin himself.
The People’s Commissar for Communications went to the East Prussian frontier in such a way that no one could know about it. He travelled in an ordinary train running to the regular timetable but with an additional special wagon, for Peresypkin and his deputy, coupled on to it. The journey of the People’s Commissar for Communications was a total secret. He even received encoded messages from Moscow signed in his own name, so that the cipher clerks should believe that Peresypkin was still in Moscow. Peresypkin’s own account of his journey is revealing: Literally on the eve of war, J. V. Stalin sent me to the Baltic republics. I somehow mentally linked this crucial mission with approaching military events. On the evening of 21 June 1941, I travelled to Vilnius along with a group of executives from the People’s Commissariat for Communications. The war broke out while we were on the way . . . (Svyazisty v Gody Velikoi Otechestvennoi, Moscow Svyaz’ 1972, p. 17)
On the morning of 22 June, while he was at the Orsha railway station, Peresypkin received a telegram from Moscow: IN CONNECTION WITH CHANGE IN SITUATION DO YOU NOT THINK IT NECESSARY TO RETURN MOSCOW? PERESYPKIN. (Ibid, pp. 32-33) Peresypkin was travelling on a railway system which not only had been completely turned over to the military, but which had been ordered a few days before to place itself on a war footing and to be ready to work under conditions of war. (V. Anfilov, Bessmertnyi Podvig, 1971, p. 184)
Having been ordered to take with him ‘only what is necessary for life and battle’, Peresypkin went to an area where troops were being secretly concentrated in vast numbers on the frontier, and where a government command post was being secretly set up. Travelling on Stalin’s personal orders, Peresypkin knew that his journey ‘was connected with approaching military events’. But as soon as Hitler attacked, Peresypkin abandoned his secret railway wagon and rushed back to Moscow on a lorry which happened to come to hand. Had Hitler not attacked, then Comrade Peresypkin, People’s Commissar for Communications, would have gone to the secret command post near Vilnius to co-ordinate the military, governmental and state communications systems during the war.
The German attack constituted such a serious change in the situation that it caused the Soviet government to abandon many of its most important measures and compelled it to improvise, even to the extent of a People’s Commissar having to return to Moscow on the back of the first lorry he could lay his hands on. It had been planned that leading figures in the People’s Commissariat for Defence, the NKVD, the People’s Commissariat for State Control, and other important Soviet governing bodies, should move into the western areas that same night, travelling along the same Moscow—Minsk railway line. The purpose of that journey was war.
Among the leaders of the Stalinist empire who were getting ready that night to make the secret journey to the western borders were the People’s Commissar for the Interior, candidate member of the Politburo and Commissar General for State Security, L. P. Beria; member of the Central Committee, People’s Commissar for State Control, Grade I Army Commissar L. Z. Mekhlis; and candidate member of the Central Committee, People’s Commissar for Defence, Marshal of the Soviet Union S. K. Timoshenko. It cannot be excluded that even Stalin was also preparing himself to make that secret journey westwards.
Mixed groups were then formed consisting of the most senior executives from those People’s Commissariats which would be most important in wartime. Each of these groups was then allotted to a leader. By the morning of 21 June the formation of these operational groups was completed, and all their members knew that they were going to war. Surprisingly, however, nobody, including the group leaders then sitting in the Kremlin, even suspected that a German invasion was then in preparation. Even more surprisingly, when reports that an invasion was under way came flooding in that evening, the top Soviet leaders refused to believe them.
Then directives and shouts down the telephone poured out to the frontier from the Kremlin, from the People’s Commissariat for Defence, and from the General Staff: ‘Don’t give in to provocation!’ If the Soviet leaders did not believe that a German invasion was possible, for what war were they preparing themselves? There can be only one answer. They were preparing themselves for a war which would begin without the German invasion.
The groups who were to accompany the leaders spent many weary hours waiting before being told at 6 o’clock in the morning of 22 June that their trains to the western frontier had been cancelled, since Hitler had started the war. If it had been the intention of the Soviet leaders to travel to the western borders to man the secret command posts in order to contain a German invasion, they would have hurried westwards as soon as they had received a signal that such an invasion had begun. Instead, they cancelled their trains which were to have taken them to war. They were ready to turn up on the frontier and direct a war, but one which began as part of a Soviet scenario, and not a German one.
Hitler deprived them of this satisfaction. On 21 June 1941, Dmitri Ortenberg was head of the organizational instructors department of the People’s Commissariat for State Control. He himself described his job as ‘dealing with military ideas – a sort of chief of staff. His account vividly evokes the events of that night: Sometimes they would ask me, ‘When did you leave for the war?’ ‘Twenty first of June.’ ‘What?!’
Yes, it was like this … In the morning I was called into the People’s Commissariat for Defence and told that a group of officials from the Commissariat headed by Marshal S. K. Timoshenko was leaving for Minsk. I was notified that I was to go with it. They suggested that I should go back home, put on military uniform and report back to the Commissariat . . . The waiting-room of the People’s Commissar for Defence was choc-a-bloc full of military people, carrying files and maps, and obviously excited. They spoke in whispers. Timoshenko had gone to the Kremlin . . . The Commissar got back from the Kremlin about five o’clock in the morning of 22 June. He called me: ‘The Germans have started the war. Our trip to Minsk has been cancelled.’ (Ortenberg, lyun’ Dekabr’ Sorok Pervogo, Sovetsky Pisatel’ 1984, pp. 5-6)
Nobody knows where the legend has come from that on 22 June 1941 Hitler began the war in the east, almost having to drag the Soviet Union into it by force. If we listen to those officers – from Kuznetzov to Ortenberg — who were right alongside the most important Soviet leaders in those minutes, hours and days, everything appears quite differently. On 22 June 1941 Hitler spoilt the war by carrying it on to the territory where it had been planned on 19 August 1939. Hitler did not allow the Soviet leaders to wage the war as they had intended. He forced them to improvise and do something for which they were unprepared: to defend their own territory.
CHAPTER 32 – Did Stalin Have a War Plan? 336