Placating Stalin

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Germany’s only real hope in WWII was for a rift to form between the Soviets and the Anglo-Americans, von Mellenthin (Panzer Battles) notes — which they more-or-less expected, because it was perfectly obvious that annihilating Germany would destroy the balance of power in Europe:

In his way, however, Roosevelt was as single-minded as Hitler, and was prepared to go to extraordinary lengths in order to placate Stalin. The political consequences of his policy lie beyond the scope of this book, but the military aid he extended to Russia had an effect on operations on the Eastern Front which even now is insufficiently appreciated.

In 1941 and even in 1942 the flow of Anglo-American supplies to Russia was relatively small and cannot be said to have had a material effect on events. In 1943, however, great quantities of arms and equipment were poured into Russia, and in the last twelve months of the war the flow of war material became a veritable flood.
From the Russian point of view the most important items were the aircraft and motor vehicles. These greatly increased the striking power of the Red Army, and enabled the Russian to speed up the whole tempo of their operations.


  1. Buckethead says:

    It always kind of blew my mind that Hitler went East. He’d actually achieved a huge victory in isolating Stalin from the west. It was almost a year between the end of the Battle of Britain and the start of Barbarossa. It seems odd to me that with his eastern front secure (Soviet shipments of material to Germany continued up to the very day of the invasion) he didn’t focus on taking out his one serious enemy still in the game, rather than taking on another and six months later, yet another.

  2. Isegoria says:

    Russian defector Viktor Suvorov argues that Stalin intended to invade Germany, but Hitler beat him to the punch.

  3. Buckethead says:

    Stalin had been repeatedly warned by his own agents in Japan, and by the English, that Hitler was about to invade. He didn’t believe it. It may be that Stalin intended to invade later, at a time of his own choosing.

    But think — we know for a fact that Stalin wouldn’t have invaded until sometime after June 22, 1941. And if his strategy was to wait until his enemy was exhausted, well, that wasn’t terribly likely until some time after the Germans had invaded the Soviet Union.

    If the Germans had devoted all their efforts to invading Britain, it’s likely they could have done it sometime before summer ’41. And once invaded, it’s unlikely the British would have posed much more resistance than any other Europeans did. Britain is a small island, and it wouldn’t take that much of an army to hold it once you crack the nut.

    Then the Germans could have safely invaded the Soviet Union.

    Of course, the stupidity of the highest levels of the Reich argue against that — the switch to targeting the British cities just when the RAF was on the ropes, etc. And what the Americans did to the Japanese at Midway the Germans could have done to the Royal Navy, without any need for carriers.

  4. 1. One alternative storyline between the received version of June 22, 1941 and Suvorov’s contention was raised by “Larry” Beria’s son in his hagiography of his father: Stalin knew the German attack was coming but he wanted the Germans to look like the aggressors and he thought the Red Army could quickly throw the Wehrmacht back and take the offensive. He choose poorly. The younger Beria’s version has the advantage of explaining why Stalin seemed so uncharacteristically trusting of Hitler in the days before the invasion but was shocked into inactivity in the 10 days immediately after. It has the disadvantages of being relayed by a son whose credibility is tarnished by his insistence that “Larry” was an angelic Georgian patriot struggling to free his country.

    2. If the Germans, despite their navy being crippled during the Norway invasion and a chronic shortage of transports, had managed to cross the English Channel and land in Britain, the British plan was to hit them with mustard gas on the beaches.

    Preparations for potential chemical warfare in the Italian theater later on during WWII led to the discovery of chemotherapy:

    3. German attempts to knock out the Royal Navy would have been stymied by their lack of long-range bombers or fighters in 1940-1941. If only Zepplins were bullet-proof.

  5. Isegoria says:

    I have no trouble imagining that Stalin thought he was outsmarting Hitler, and that he would spring his trap when Germany was vulnerable — after, say, it moved too many divisions to North Africa or to France, in preparation for an invasion of Great Britain. The fact that Hitler did not consolidate his positions elsewhere before launching his invasion to the east may explain why he took the Russians so off guard.

  6. Isegoria says:

    I hadn’t thought of the propaganda effect of letting the Germans launch their own invasion and then defending Mother Russia. If you’re going to do that though, and you’ve seen what the Blitzkrieg did to the Poles and the French, don’t you plan for a defense in depth?

    That’s an interesting historical tidbit about the mustard gas.

    In reading up on Operation Sea Lion, one thing that stood out to me is how poorly prepared the Germans were to deploy their much-feared fighter-bombers against ships:

    The track record of the Luftwaffe against naval combat vessels up to that point in the war was less than impressive. In the Norwegian Campaign, despite eight weeks of continuous air supremacy, the Luftwaffe sank only two British warships. The German aircrews were not trained or equipped to attack fast moving naval targets, particularly agile naval destroyers or motor torpedo boats (MTBs). The Luftwaffe also lacked armour-piercing bombs or aerial torpedo capabilities that were essential to defeating larger warships. The Luftwaffe made 21 deliberate attacks on small torpedo boats during the Battle of Britain, sinking none. The British had between 700 and 800 of these vessels in service, making it a critical threat if the Luftwaffe could not deal with the force. Only nine MTBs were lost to air attack out of 115 sunk by various means throughout the Second World War. Only nine destroyers were sunk by air attack in 1940, out of a force of over 100 operating in British waters at the time. Five were sunk while withdrawing British forces from Dunkirk despite large periods of German air superiority, thousands of sorties flown, and hundreds of tons of bombs dropped against them. The Luftwaffe’s record against merchant shipping was also not impressive. It sank only one in every 100 British vessels passing through British waters in 1940. Moreover, most of this total was achieved using mines.

Leave a Reply