Russia In World War 2

The great war plan, preparations, collapse, and recovery, a revised view

The history of Russia in World War 2 is still being revised. In the first decades after World War 2, the historiography of Russia's part in the war in between 1939 and the end of 1941, was largely based on a combination of the strictly censored Russian state propaganda's version and of what was known outside Russia, which was then closed behind the "Iron Curtain" of the Cold War.

Eventually, two new factors provided new insights and new proofs which enable a revision that let us get much closer to the truth.

The first factor was the great and laborious work of a few open-minded 2nd generation independent researchers like Viktor Suvorov and Mark Solonin, which applied analytic approaches to the vast scope of publicly available Russian wartime and post-war documentation and literature, detected thousands of small details of information that slipped over the years through the Soviet censorship, and processed these into coherent new insights which dramatically changed our perception of what happened, both before the German invasion (Suvorov's work), and after it started (Solonin's work).

First and foremost of these researchers was Vladimir Rezun (known by his pen name Viktor Suvorov), a Russian military intelligence officer who applied his deep knowledge of intelligence gathering and analysis methods, and of Russian military doctrines, to Russia's World War 2 military literature, with dramatic results.

The second factor was the partial removal of the deep cover of censorship from Russian military and state archives for a period of just five years, between the collapse of the Communist Soviet Union in 1991 and the gradual recovery of conservative nationalism in the Russian government, marked, for example, by the rise to power of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer. This gap of five years of relative openness was used by historians to access previously closed archives and reach documents which provide previously unavailable proofs that further support the claims of Suvorov and the other researchers. Since the mid-1990s, 'mainstream' western historiography increasingly accepts both the main claims and the main supporting facts and evidence of the pioneering work of researchers like Suvorov, and the "history as we know it" of Russia in World War 2 is being re-written.

The 'old' historiography of Russia in 1939-1941 can be summarized to this:

Most of this story is correct, but there are two major problems with this story that attracted the attention of the analytical researchers, and which I will discuss here:

  1. It appears as if in all the time of years months and weeks before the German invasion in June 1941, the Russian military and leadership were consistently irrational and made almost every possible mistake, not just in how and where the majority of the giant Russian forces were deployed, but even in terms of military planning, military procurement, and political decisions. This was simply too bad to be true and demanded a better explanation, which Suvorov provides.
  2. It appears as if once the fighting started, the quality advantage of the formidably efficient Germans over the poor Russian soldiers was so great, that it resulted in amazing, enormous, total and almost immediate German victories that dwarfed even their great victories in France a year earlier. The alleged tremendous rate of German success in destroying the giant Russian military in the first days and weeks of the invasion, was simply too high to be true, and demanded a better explanation, which Solonin provides.

The scope and details of each of these issues are vast, worthy of the full books that the researchers published. I apologize for the inevitable briefness in presenting them in the limited scope of an essay.

The most prepared for war - the great Soviet war plan

It is well known how the western allies prepared for the invasion of Normandy for over two years, how they considered every possible aspect of the enormous preparations, trained huge forces, some purposely trained for specific roles, invented new purpose-designed weapons and other equipment, and even conducted smaller scale invasions in order to find out early enough where they were wrong and fix it before the big operation.

Under Stalin's dictatorship, Russia's military, industrial, domestic, and diplomatic preparations for a second World War were of greater magnitude. Furthermore, in August 1939 Stalin was in a position in which he could prevent Hitler's invasion of Poland, the invasion that started World War 2, and he knew it well and said so. But at that decisive point in history, instead of preventing war, Stalin did the opposite. He cleared the way and provided guarantees for Hitler to invade, after he knew for sure that this will start a war not just in Poland but also in Western Europe, a war that the Communist ideology expected, planned and prepared for, and desired. Then, with Germany at war with Britain and France, Stalin's Russia moved to the 2nd phase of its long term preparations. Russia moved to a maximum effort war regime in which it enormously expanded its military force and military production rates, expanded its territory westwards, by force, which also gave it a long common border with Germany, and finally in 1941 began to mobilize millions and transferred its enormous attack-oriented forces to the German and Romanian borders, and prepared to enter the European war in a gigantic attack that would:

  1. Immediately cut Germany's main source of oil in Ploesti, in southern Romania, just about 120 miles from the Russian border, in order to paralyze Hitler's armed forces for lack of oil (as eventually happened in 1944).
  2. Defeat the exhausted Germany and its allies across the entire front from the Finland in the North to the Black Sea in the South - a mirror image of the German attack that eventually started in June 22, 1941.
  3. Continue with the Communist "liberation" of the entire Europe, by advancing all the way first to Germany, then to France, and Spain, bringing all of Europe under the brutal totalitarian regime which the Russian people already "enjoyed" then, that made Russia one big prison with countless prisons in it.

Hitler's Germany managed to be the first to attack, by a narrow gap of a few weeks at most (Suvorov's conclusion, based on various evidence, is that Russia's Red Army was going to attack on July 6, 1941, so Hitler got ahead of them by exactly two weeks). The German attack forced the Red Army put its operational plans aside. It returned to those plans and implemented them three years later, except that since by then the situation was different, Communism occupied only Eastern Europe, not all of it.

The plan to invade Germany and conquer all of Europe in the name of Communism's expansionist ideology, is likely the greatest secret of World War 2 that remains officially Top Secret. The Communist Empire kept that secret for five decades, preferring to appear peaceful and militarily incapable, even dumb, than to appear as the aggressive expansionist "Evil Empire" that it always was. And modern Russia, nationalist but no longer Communist, understandably might never officially admit that either, although key evidence slipped out of their control.

Some key details :

To summarize, driven by its expansionist Communist ideology, Russia (then the U.S.S.R, or Soviet Union) planned and prepared in every possible military and civilian aspect, and at an enormous scale and cost, to an aggressive war of invasion and occupation, and NOT to a war of defense. While Hitler's aggression was genuinely his own, Russia cynically used it with the intention that while Germany and the western powers will exhaust each other at war, which they did, Russia will maximize and complete its enormous preparations for war, and will in the summer of 1941 perform a gigantic surprise attack that will first cut Hitler's Romanian oil supply, then defeat Germany, and then continue to complete the occupation of all of Europe, all the way to Spain. This was the largest, longest, and deepest pre-war effort ever in history, but it was knocked out of course (yet partially implemented later, in 1944, resulting in the occupation of 'just' half of Europe) because of a combination of three factors:

  1. In mid 1940, following the Russian ultimatum to Romania, Germany's ally and only source of oil, Hitler realized how urgent it became for him to strike Russia ( which he always intended to do ) as soon as possible and regardless of his unfinished war with Britain and lack of readiness for the Russian winter. In July 1940 the German military was ordered to prepare to invade Russia as soon as the weather will permit in May 1941.
  2. Stalin was repeatedly warned by his intelligence services, military advisors, and by Britain, that the Germans are also preparing a giant surprise attack against Russia, and was advised by Zhukov and the General Staff to start the planned Russian surprise attack earlier, in May 1941, instead of waiting to complete ALL the preparations, but Stalin, relying mostly on the verified fact that the German military was not ready for Russian winter conditions, dismissed the warnings and preferred to wait just a little more t complete the preparations for the Russian surprise attack, but that was a little too late, and Hitler struck first, not prepared for winter, but still at enormous power, with the world's most effective army then.
  3. The human factor of morale. When the Germans invaded, instead of fiercely fighting back, the mighty Soviet military machine collapsed and disintegrated at an incredible rate.

The missing part of the Red Army's collapse

It is obvious that suffering a surprise attack by millions of soldiers of the world's best army is shocking, and can result in a military collapse, in high rate of casualties, in organized and unorganized retreats, in surrenders of entire encircled units, etc. Also, the German Blitzkrieg tactic was designed to achieve mass encirclements that will result in mass surrenders of encircled enemy units. The fact that the majority of the Russian ground and air forces, even some naval bases, were deployed close to the border, deployed in the fields and forests in pre-attack concentrations instead of being dug-in, or fortified, or deployed in deep arrays of multiple lines of defense, and further the fact that very large forces and equipment were still on the railways to the front when the Germans attacked, so that they or at least their vehicles were still stuck on trains, all that can further explain the tremendous losses and chaos that the Russians suffered in the first hours, days, weeks, of the German invasion.

But what Russian historiography censored for decades, is the large scale of total morale collapse of Soviet armed forces and Communist party establishments which escaped, 'disappeared', or surrendered before they even were engaged in battle. Millions, from privates to Generals, individually or as entire units, abandoned their tanks, guns, air bases, without battle, and escaped on vehicles or on foot, or simply disappeared into the nearby villages and forests.

Fighting and then losing is one thing. Massive and rapid escape without a fight and massive voluntary surrender, are another, and Soviet censorship tried to hide that, by further intensifying the myth of the destructiveness of the German attack, and by further intensifying the belief that the entire red army was right on the border. There are reports of entire unit staffs which escaped without battle and were found again hundreds of kilometers to the East. There were tens of Generals who disappeared and were never located again. There are reports of tank divisions which, although they were not right on the border and were not engaged in fighting in the first day, miraculously 'lost' 100% of their tanks and other fighting equipment in the second day of fighting, without actually being engaged in battle, and then escaped hundreds of kilometers eastwards almost without losing a single truck even to technical malfunction. There are reports of entire Air Force regiments which reported that they suffered negligible or no losses in the air or on the ground at the first day, and then simply abandoned their air bases and escaped by trucks and on foot. In 1941 Russia lost millions of soldiers. Only 32% of the reported losses were the dead and wounded. Millions surrendered, many of them as fast as they could, and so many others escaped from the front, either disappeared or remained in service, but only after a distant escape and after abandoning every weapon or equipment, even rifles and light mortars, that could force them to stay and fight.

The apparent reasons for this mass unwillingness to fight were:

The Russian people starts fighting seriously

"One of the great laws of war is Never invade Russia" - Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery
"History knows no greater display of courage than that shown by the people of the Soviet Union" - Secretary of War Henry Stimson

There were heroic exceptions of very persistent and fanatic Russian fighting of course, right from the very first moments of the German surprise attack. For centuries, Russian soldiers and civilians were known for their toughness, their ability to persist in terrible conditions. That's part of Russian culture, regardless of whether it's a result of having to survive Russia's cruel weather, as some suggest, or not.

The Russian border fortress in Brest, Poland, for example, with 4000 Russian soldiers, was massively attacked and encircled immediately when the Germans invaded. Despite being besieged, outnumbered 10:1, running out of food, water, ammunition, the Russian defenders fought fiercely for five weeks, while the war front moved hundreds of kilometers behind them, and later resistance of a few survivors continued underground for months. For the Germans, Brest was a very bitter first taste of the type of fierce Russian fighting they would later experience in Stalingrad and elsewhere.

In the city of Smolensk, on the main road to Moscow, the advancing Germans encircled in the 3rd week of fighting a large Russian force, but unlike other encirclements, this force did not surrender. It kept fighting fiercely, counter attacked the Germans, and eventually succeeded in braking out of the encirclement in order to continue fighting. Similar persistent fighting took place in Odessa, Murmansk, and elsewhere, and especially in Leningrad, which remained besieged, terribly starved, and shelled since the 3rd month of the war, and kept fighting for over two years until the horrible siege was finally removed by the advancing Russian army.

What eventually changed the attitude of the millions of Russian soldiers and made such persistent fierce fighting the norm of the Russian army everywhere, was the gradual realization that they were under an attack of unprecedented deliberate cruelty that intended to literally decimate and destroy the Russian people, as Hitler ordered his army and S.S, according to the Nazi ideology of a war of racial destruction of the German "masters race" against the Russians in the occupied territories which were treated, both civilians and captured prisoners of war, with terrible cruelty that intended to make them all die of cold and starvation. Vast numbers of Russian prisoners of war died of starvation and of exposure to the harsh weather, and so were countless civilians in the captured villages who were either mass murdered or simply stripped of their winter clothing and left to die of exposure in the snow. With time, a stream of surviving starved refugees, both civilians and escaping prisoners of war, were able to escape back to Russian held territory and tell their terrible stories of the German treatment of the population and of captured soldiers. Many did not have to say a word, it was enough to see how starved they were. Russian media and military propaganda published their stories and pictures, and many were moved from one army unit to another, to be shown and heard. This, more than anything else, ignited what the Russians still call "The Great Patriotic War". The Russians everywhere realized that even compared to the cruelty of Stalin's terror regime, the alternative of Nazi occupation was far worse, and that they are literally fighting to avoid extinction by the Nazis. Initially heroic and fanatic Russian fighting was the exception, then it intensified when the Russians were literally fighting for home and family, in the battle of Moscow, and later, as the horrible realization of the monster they're facing became known to them, the Russians fought the toughest war in their tough history, with key examples Stalingrad, Kursk, and so many other places in their giant country. That way, although Russia lost about 85% of the enormous military production potential is prepared for the invasion of Europe, although it lost before the end of 1941 a military force that was more than double the size the that German intelligence originally estimated as the entire Russian force, Russia survived, recovered its military production far beyond German reach, recruited new millions of new soldiers instead of those lost, and fought a lengthy and costly war of survival, and revenge, that destroyed Nazi Germany, and Russia, despite its enormous losses, ended World War 2 as a super-power.

Related essays:
Adolf Hitler - Biography
Blitzkrieg
German Field Marshals
German tanks in World War 2, Panzer
The Battle of Kursk
The Battle of Stalingrad
When did Hitler lose the war ?

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