How the Soviet Union Achieved the Surrender of Nazi Germany

Domenico Losurdo the morning of May 1, the red flag of the 150th Assault Division was raised over the Reichstag, later renamed the Victory Flag (Photo: Multimedia Art Museum Moscow).

Today marks the 76th anniversary of Victory Day, when Germany’s official defeat in the so-called Second World War to the Soviet Union on May 9, 1945, is commemorated. German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel signed the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht at the Soviet Union’s Karlshorst headquarters in the capital Berlin on that day, capitalizing on the Soviet military victory of May 3. On this date, and to remember with justice the leading role of the Red Army, we reproduce in full three of the opening chapters of the book Stalin. Historia y crítica de una leyenda negra, del filósofo italiano Domenico L (Stalin. History and Critique of a Black Legend, by the Italian philosopher Domenico Losurdo), in which he examines the figure of the leader and dismantles some of the myths surrounding him, including the arguments of the “Khrushchev Report” used to attack the Soviet strategy of the Great Patriotic War.

In the following chapters the preparation of Stalin and the Red Army to the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa) is revealed, the development of the Great Patriotic War is recounted with several sources and Losurdo gives a balance of the Soviet implications in one of the greatest conflicts of modern history, questioning head on all the current historiography about the Soviet Union, its role in that war and the legacy of Stalin.

The Great Patriotic War and Khrushchev’s “inventions”.

After Stalingrad and the defeat inflicted on the Third Reich (a power that seemed invincible), Stalin had acquired enormous prestige throughout the world. And it is not by chance that Khrushchev pauses at this point. The new leader described in catastrophic terms the lack of military preparedness of the Soviet Union, whose army, in some cases, would have lacked even the most elementary armament. Directly opposite is the picture that emerges from an investigation that seems to come from the Bundeswehr [Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Germany since 1955] and which draws extensively on its military archives. It described the “multiple superiority of the Red Army in mechanized infantry, aircraft and artillery”; on the other hand, “the industrial capacity of the Soviet Union had reached such dimensions as to provide the Soviet armed forces with an almost unimaginable armament”. This grew at an ever-increasing rate as Operation Barbarossa approached. One fact is particularly revealing: if in 1940 the Soviet Union manufactured 358 tanks of the most advanced type, clearly superior to those available to other armies, in the first half of the following year it manufactured 1503. At the same time, documents from the Russian archives show that, in the two years immediately preceding the aggression of the Third Reich, Stalin was literally obsessed with the problem of “quantitative increase” and “qualitative improvement of the entire military apparatus”. Some data are in themselves eloquent: if in the first five-year plan they reach 5.4% of state expenditure, in 1941 the defense budgets rise to 43.4%; “in September 1939, following Stalin’s orders, the Politburo took the decision to build before 1941 nine new factories for the manufacture of aircraft”; at the time of the Nazi invasion “the industry had produced 2700 modern aircraft and 4300 battle tanks”. Judging by these data, many things can be said, except that the USSR had come unprepared to the tragic rendezvous with the war.

Moreover, ten years have passed since an American historian dealt a hard blow to the myth of the moral collapse and evasion of responsibilities on the part of the Soviet leader as soon as the Nazi invasion began: “despite the initial shock, on the day of the attack Stalin called an eleven-hour meeting with the leaders of the party, the government and the army, and in the following days he did the same”. The fact is that we now have access to the register of visitors to Stalin’s office in the Kremlin, discovered in the early 1990s: it seems that from the hours immediately following the military aggression, the Soviet leader immersed himself in an incessant succession of meetings and initiatives to organize the resistance. These days and nights were characterized by “strenuous activity […],” but orderly. In any case, “the whole episode [narrated by Khrushchev] is a complete fabrication”, this “story is false”. In reality from the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Stalin not only made the most compromising decisions, giving orders for the transfer of the population and industrial facilities away from the front, but “controlled everything minutely, from the size and shape of bayonets to the authors and titles of Pravda articles.” There is no evidence of panic or hysteria. Let us read the corresponding entry in Dimitrov’s diary: “At 7 a.m. I have been urgently summoned to the Kremlin. Germany has attacked the USSR. The war has begun […]. Surprising calm, firmness and security in Stalin and in all the others”. Even more surprising is the clarity of ideas. It is not only a question of proceeding to the “general mobilization of our forces”. It is also necessary to define the political situation. Yes, “only the Communists can defeat the Fascists”, putting an end to the apparently unstoppable rise of the Third Reich, but we must not lose sight of the real nature of the conflict: “The [Communist] parties are promoting on the ground a movement in defense of the USSR. They do not raise the question of socialist revolution. The Soviet people are fighting a patriotic war against fascist Germany. The problem is the defeat of fascism, which has subjugated a series of peoples and is trying to subjugate others”.

The political strategy that would have preceded the Great Patriotic War is clearly outlined. Several months earlier Stalin had emphasized that to the expansionism applied by the Third Reich “in pursuit of the subjugation, of the submission of other peoples”, the latter responded with justified wars of resistance and national liberation. On the other hand, to those who scholastically opposed patriotism and internationalism, the Communist International had already replied before the Hitlerite aggression, as the entry in Dimitrov’s diary of May 12, 1941 shows, that

it is necessary to develop the idea which combines a healthy nationalism, correctly understood, with proletarian internationalism. Proletarian internationalism must be based on this nationalism of each country […]. Between nationalism correctly understood and proletarian internationalism there is and can be no contradiction whatsoever. Homelandless cosmopolitanism, which denies national sentiment and the idea of homeland, has nothing in common with proletarian internationalism.

Far from being an improvised and desperate reaction to the situation created with the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the strategy of the Great Patriotic War pointed to a theoretical orientation of a general character matured over a long period of time: internationalism and the international cause of the emancipation of the peoples pointed concretely to the wars of national liberation, necessary given Hitler’s pretension to take up and radicalize the colonial tradition, subjecting and enslaving in the first place the supposedly servile races of Eastern Europe. These themes were taken up again in the speeches and declarations made by Stalin in the course of the war: they constituted “important cornerstones in the clarification of Soviet military strategy and its political objectives, and played an important role in strengthening popular morale”; they also attained international importance, as Goebbels noted with dismay about the speech broadcast on July 3, 1941, which “aroused enormous admiration in England and the USA”.

A series of disinformation campaigns and Operation Barbarossa

Even in the strict realm of military conduct, the secret Infime has lost all credibility. According to Khrushchev, by ignoring the “warnings” that were reaching him from all sides about the imminence of the invasion, Stalin was rushing towards disaster. What can be said about this accusation? In the meantime, information from a friendly country could also prove to be erroneous: for example, on June 17, 1942 Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned Stalin of an imminent Japanese attack, which subsequently did not take place. At the dawn of the Nazi aggression, the USSR was forced to find its bearings amidst gigantic maneuvers of distraction and disinformation. The Third Reich is intensely dedicated to the belief that the accumulation of troops in the East is only aimed at camouflaging the imminent jump beyond the English Channel, something that seemed quite credible after the conquest of the island of Crete. “The entire state and military apparatus is mobilized,” Goebbels notes complacently in his diary (May 31, 1941), to stage the “first great mimicry wave” of Operation Barbarossa. Thus, “14 divisions are transported to the west”; in addition, all the troops deployed on the western front are put on high alert. About two weeks later the Berlin edition of the “Völkischer Beobachter” published an article pointing to the occupation of Crete as a model for the planned settling of scores with England: a few hours later the original was hijacked in order to give the impression that a secret of great importance had been treacherously revealed. Three days later (June 14) Goebbels notes in his diary: “The English radios already declare that our deployment against Russia is only a bluff, behind which we sought to hide our preparations for the invasion [of England]”. To this campaign of disinformation Germany added another: voices were circulating according to which the military deployment in the East was intended to put pressure on the USSR, if necessary by resorting to an ultimatum, so that Stalin would agree to redefine the clauses of the German-Soviet pact and commit himself to export more cereals, oil and coal, needed by a Third Reich immersed in a war that did not seem to be coming to an end. They therefore wanted to make people believe that the crisis could be resolved with new negotiations and with some supplementary concession on the part of Moscow. This was the conclusion reached in Great Britain by the army information services and the military commanders, who still warned their War Cabinet on May 22: “Hitler has not yet decided whether to pursue his objectives [the USSR] by persuasion or by force of arms”. On June 14 Goebbels noted with satisfaction in his diary: “In general they still believe that it may be a bluff, or else an attempt at blackmail”.

Nor should we underestimate the disinformation campaign staged on the opposite side and which had begun two years earlier: in November 1939 the French press published a non-existent speech (delivered in front of the Politburo on August 19 of the same year) in which Stalin allegedly set forth a plan to weaken Europe, promoting a fratricidal war within it, in order to then Sovietize it. There is no doubt that it was a false text, intended to break the German-Soviet non-aggression pact and direct the expansionist fury of the Third Reich towards the East. According to a widespread historiographical legend, on the eve of the Nazi aggression, the London government had repeatedly and disinterestedly warned Stalin, who, however, as a good dictator, trusted only his Berlin counterpart. In fact, if on the one hand he communicated to Moscow information concerning Operation Barbarossa, on the other hand Great Britain spread rumors about an imminent attack by the USSR against Germany or the territories occupied by it. The interest in making the German-Soviet conflict inevitable or accelerating it is obvious and understandable.

Then Rudolf Hess’ mysterious flight to England comes into play, clearly motivated by the hope of rebuilding the unity of the West in the struggle against Bolshevism, thus giving concreteness to the program enunciated in Mein Kampf of alliance and solidarity of the Germanic peoples in their civilizing mission. Soviet agents abroad informed the Kremlin that the second in command of the Nazi regime had taken the initiative with the consent of the Führer. Meanwhile, leading personalities in the Third Reich unswervingly defended the thesis that Hess had acted with Hitler’s encouragement. Hitler, in any case, felt the need to send Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to Rome immediately in order to clear Mussolini of any suspicion that Germany was preparing an exclusive peace agreement with Great Britain. Obviously, the concern in Moscow about this coup d’état was even stronger, especially insofar as the attitude of the British government only fueled it: it did not take advantage of the opportunity to “capture the Führer’s lieutenant” and thus achieve “a maximum propaganda effect, something that both Hitler and Goebbels feared”; moreover, the interrogation of Hess – Ambassador Ivan Maysky informed Stalin from London – was entrusted to a promoter of the policy of appeasement. While leaving the door open to an Anglo-Soviet rapprochement, His Majesty’s secret services were busy feeding the pre-existing rumors of an imminent peace signed between London and Berlin; all this with the aim of increasing the pressure on the Soviet Union (which perhaps would have sought to avoid the feared alliance between Great Britain and the Third Reich with a preemptive attack of the Red Army against the Wehrmacht) and to reinforce the negotiating capacity of England.

The Kremlin’s caution and distrust are well understood: the danger of a Munich rerun, on a wider and more tragic scale, was very much present. Perhaps one can speculate that the second disinformation campaign staged by the Third Reich played a role. Based at least on the transcript preserved in the archives of the Soviet Communist Party, despite taking for granted in the short term the entry of the USSR into the conflict, Stalin emphasizes in his speech of May 5, 1941, addressed to the graduates of the Military Academy, how historically Germany had achieved victory when it had concentrated on a single front, while it had suffered defeat when it had been forced to fight contemporaneously east and west. Of course, Stalin might have underestimated the seriousness with which Hitler assessed the possibility of attacking the USSR. On the other hand, he was well aware that a hasty total mobilization would have provided the Third Reich with the casus belli on a silver platter, as had happened in the First World War. There is in any case one unquestionable point: despite moving with circumspection in a remarkably complicated situation, the Soviet leader proceeded to “accelerate war preparations”. Indeed, “between May and June 800,000 reservists were called up, in mid-May 28 divisions were deployed in the western territories of the Soviet Union”, while the work of fortifying the borders and camouflaging the most sensitive military targets continued at a steady pace. “On the night between June 21 and 22 all these forces are given the alarm and are called upon to prepare for a surprise attack by the German side.”

To discredit Stalin, Khrushchev insisted on the spectacular initial victories of the invading army, but ignored the forecasts made in the West at the time. After the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and the entry of the Wehrmacht into Prague, Lord Halifax had continued to reject the idea of a re-approximation of England and the USSR by resorting to this argument: it made no sense to ally with a country whose armed forces were “insignificant”. On the eve of Operation Barbarossa, or at the time it began, the British secret services had calculated that the Soviet Union would have been “liquidated in 8 to 10 weeks”; in turn, the advisers to the US Secretary of State (Henry L. Stimson) had predicted on 23 June that everything would be over in a period of between one and three months. On the other hand, the fulminating penetration of the Wehrmacht into Soviet territory – an illustrious military historian now observes – is easily explained by a little geography:

The extent of the front-1800 miles-and the paucity of natural obstacles offered the aggressor immense advantages when it came to infiltration and maneuver. Despite the colossal dimensions of the Red Army, the relationship between its forces and space was so unfavorable that German mechanized units could easily find opportunities for indirect maneuvers behind their adversary’s back. Moreover, widely separated cities, where roads and railroads converged, offered the aggressor the possibility of aiming at alternative targets, putting the enemy in the difficult situation of guessing the real direction of march, and facing one dilemma after another.

The quick negative outcome of the blitzkrieg

One should not be blinded by appearances: carefully observed, the project of the Third Reich to reedit in the east the triumphant Blitzkrieg carried out on the western side begins to show itself problematic already in the first weeks of the gigantic clash. The diaries of Joseph Goebbels are revealing in this regard. On the eve of the aggression he emphasizes how unstoppable the German attack would ultimately prove to be, “undoubtedly the most powerful that history has ever known”; no one can dispute the “most powerful display in world history”. And therefore: “We have before us an unprecedented triumphal march […]. I consider the military strength of the Russians very low, even lower than the Führer may consider it. If there was and if there is an action of certain result, it is this one”. In reality, Hitler’s assurance is not inferior, that a few months earlier in front of a Bulgarian diplomat he had referred to the Soviet army in this way: it is only a “joke”.

What is certain is that from the beginning the invaders encountered, in spite of everything, unpleasant surprises: “On June 25, on the occasion of the first assault on Moscow, the anti-aircraft defense proved so effective that from that moment on the Luftwaffe was forced to limit itself to night attacks at reduced ranges”. Ten days of war were enough for the previous certainties to begin to enter into crisis. On July 2 Goebbels wrote in his diary: “On the whole, the fighting is very hard and stubborn. By no means can one speak of a walk. The Red Regime has mobilized the people”. Events follow and the mood of the Nazi leadership changes radically, as evidenced in Goebbels’ diary.

July 24:

We can retain no doubt about the fact that the Bolshevik regime, which has existed for almost a quarter of a century, has left deep traces on the peoples of the Soviet Union […]. It would therefore be right to emphasize clearly, to the German people, the harshness of the struggle being waged in the East. The nation must be told that this operation is very difficult, but that we can and will overcome it.

August 1:

At the Führer’s headquarters […] it is also openly admitted that the assessment of Soviet military strength has been somewhat mistaken. The Bolsheviks reveal greater resistance than we would have supposed; above all the material means at their disposal are greater than we thought[68].

August 19:

The Führer is privately very irritated with himself that he has allowed himself to be deceived to such an extent about the potential of the Bolsheviks, through the reports coming from [German agents sent to] the Soviet Union. Especially his underestimation of the enemy’s armored infantry and aviation has created many problems for us. He has suffered a lot. It is a serious crisis […]. Compared, the campaigns conducted so far were almost walks […]. As far as the West is concerned the Führer has no cause for concern […]. With our rigor and objectivity we Germans have always underestimated the enemy, with the exception in this case of the Bolsheviks[69].

September 16:

We have miscalculated the potential of the Bolsheviks entirely.

Researchers in the field of military strategy stress the unforeseen difficulties in which a powerful, experienced war machine, surrounded by the myth of invincibility, such as the German one, is immersed when entering the Soviet Union. Particularly significant for the success of the Eastern war is the battle of Smolensk, in the second half of July 1941 (so far hidden in research by the shadow of other events)”. The remark is from an illustrious German historian, who then quotes these eloquent entries from the diary of General Fedor von Bock, dated July 20 and 26 respectively:

The enemy seeks to reconquer Smolensk at any cost and constantly mobilizes new troops there. The hypothesis expressed somewhere that the enemy acts without a strategy is not supported by any facts […]. It is noted that the Russians have carried out around the front built by me a new and compact deployment of forces. At many points they are trying to go on the attack. Surprising for an adversary who has suffered similar blows; he must possess an incredible amount of material, in fact our troops still lament today the powerful effect of the enemy artillery.

Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, head of counter-espionage, was even more uneasy and in fact decidedly pessimistic. Speaking to General von Bock on July 17, he commented: “I see it very dark indeed”.

Not only did the Soviet army not flee in disarray in the first days and weeks of the attack, mounting in fact a “stubborn resistance,” but it proved to be well led, as revealed otherwise by Stalin’s “resolution in checking the German advance at exactly the right point for him.” The results of this attentive military leadership were also revealed on the diplomatic level: “impressed by the tenacious combat in the Smolensk area”, Japan, present there with observers, decided to reject the proposal of the Third Reich to participate in the war against the Soviet Union. The analysis of the German historian, fiercely anti-Communist, is fully confirmed by Russian researchers, supporters of the Khrushchev Report and prominent as champions of the struggle against “Stalinism”: “The plans of the [German] Blitzkrieg had been wrecked by mid-July”. In this context, the tribute paid by Churchill and F. D. Roosevelt on 14 August 1941 to the “splendid defense” of the Soviet Army does not seem purely formal. Outside diplomatic and governmental circles, in Great Britain – according to an entry in Beatrice Webb’s diary – ordinary and even conservative citizens showed a “lively interest in the surprising courage and initiative and the magnificent equipment of the Red Army forces, the only sovereign state capable of facing the almost mythical power of Hitler’s Germany”. In Germany itself, three weeks after the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, voices begin to be heard that radically question the triumphalist version of the regime. This is what appears in the diary of an eminent German intellectual of Jewish origin: apparently, in the east “we suffered an immense number of casualties, we had underestimated the resistance capacity of the Russians”, who “never run out of men and war material”.

Long read as an expression of politico-military ignorance or even of blind confidence in the Third Reich, Stalin’s extremely cautious conduct in the weeks preceding the outbreak of hostilities now appears in a completely different light: “The concentration of Wehrmacht forces along the border with the USSR, the violation of Soviet airspace and numerous other provocations had a single purpose: to draw the bulk of the Red Army as close as possible to the border. Hitler intended to win the war in a single, gigantic battle.” Even generals among the most valuable were attracted by the trap, and foreseeing the enemy’s irruption, they urge a massive movement of troops towards the border: “Stalin categorically rejected the request, insisting on the necessity of maintaining large-scale reserves at a considerable distance from the front line”. Later, being aware of the strategic plans of the devisers of Operation Barbarossa, Marshal Georgy K. Zhukov recognized the correctness of the line followed by Stalin: “Hitler’s command counted on a displacement of the bulk of our troops towards the frontier, with the intention of surrounding and destroying it”.

In fact, in the months preceding the invasion of the USSR the Führer remarked, discussing with his generals: “Problem of Russian space. The infinite breadth of space makes it necessary to concentrate on decisive points”. Later, when Operation Barbarossa had begun, he further clarified his opinion in a conversation: “In world history there have so far been only three battles of annihilation: Cannes, Sedan and Tannenberg. We can be proud of the fact that two of them have been victoriously fought by German armies”. For Germany, however, the third and greatest decisive battle of annihilation and subjugation, so longed for by Hitler, became more and more difficult, and a week later he was forced to admit that Operation Barbarossa had seriously underestimated the enemy: “the warlike preparation of the Russians must be considered fantastic”. The attitude of a card player trying to justify the failure of his forecasts is clear here. And yet, the English expert in military strategy cited above comes to similar conclusions: the reason for the defeat of the French lay “not in the quantity or quality of their material but in their military doctrine”; moreover, a too advanced deployment of the army had a disastrous influence, since it “seriously compromised their strategic ductility”; a similar mistake had also been made by Poland, favored by “national ferocity and overconfidence of the military”. None of this was true in the case of the Soviet Union.

More important than the individual battles is the overall picture: “The Stalinist system succeeded in mobilizing the great majority of the population and practically all the resources”; in particular the “capacity of the Soviets” was “extraordinary”, in a situation as difficult as the one created in the first months of the war, in “evacuating and then converting a considerable number of industries to military production”. Indeed, “set up two days after the German invasion, the Evacuation Committee succeeded in moving 1500 large factories to the East, following titanic operations of great logistical complexity”. On the other hand, this process of relocation had begun in the weeks or months preceding the Nazi aggression, further confirming the fantastic character of the accusation launched by Khrushchev.

There is more. The Soviet leading group had somehow intuited the development of the war that was looming on the horizon, from the very moment in which it promoted the industrialization of the country: with a radical turn with respect to the previous situation, it had identified “a central point in Asiatic Russia”, at a distance and sheltered from possible aggressors. In fact, Stalin had insisted on this repeatedly and forcefully.

January 31, 1931: the “creation of a new and well endowed industrial camp in the Urals, in Siberia, in Kazakhstan” was imposed. A few years later, the Report presented on January 26, 1934 at the XVII Congress of the CPSU had drawn attention with satisfaction to the powerful industrial development that had taken place “in Central Asia, in Kazakhstan, in the Buryat, Tatar and Bashkir Republics, in the Urals, in Eastern and Western Siberia, in the Far East, etc.”. The implications of all this had not escaped Trotsky, who a few years later, in analyzing the dangers of war and the degree of preparedness of the Soviet Union, and in underlining the results achieved by the “planned economy” in the “military” sphere, had observed: “The industrialization of remote regions, mainly Siberia, gives the steppe and forest regions a new importance”. Only now the large spaces assumed their full value and made the blitzkrieg used by the German general staff more complicated than ever.

It was precisely in the sphere of the industrial apparatus built up in anticipation of war that the Third Reich was forced to face the bitterest surprises, as two of Hitler’s notes reveal.

November 29, 1941: “How is it possible that such a primitive people can achieve such technical goals in such a short time?”.

August 26, 1942: “As far as Russia is concerned, it is incontestable that Stalin has raised the standard of living. The Russian people were not suffering from hunger [at the time of the beginning of Operation Barbarossa]. On the whole it is necessary to recognize that: workshops of the importance of the Hermann Goering Werke have been built where until two years ago there were only unknown villages. We find railroad lines that are not on the maps”.

At this point it is appropriate to give the floor to three experts, remarkably different from each other (one Russian and the other two Westerners). The first, who once headed the Soviet Institute of Military History, and who has shared the militant anti-Stalinism of the Gorbachev years, seems to be moved by the intention of taking up and radicalizing the requisition of the Khrushchev Report. And yet, by the very results of his research, he is forced to formulate a rather more nuanced judgment: without being a specialist and much less the genius described by the official propaganda, already in the years preceding the outbreak of the war Stalin is intensely concerned with the problems of defense, the defense industry and the war economy as a whole. Yes, on the strictly military plane, only through trials and errors, even serious ones, and “thanks to the hard praxis of everyday military life” he “gradually learns the basic principles of strategy.” In other fields, however, his thinking shows itself “more developed than that of many Soviet military leaders.” Thanks also to his long practice in the management of political power, Stalin never loses sight of the central role of the war economy, and contributes to strengthening the resistance of the USSR by transferring the industrial war apparatus to the interior: “it is almost impossible to underestimate the importance of this endeavor”. Finally, the Soviet leader pays great attention to the political-moral dimension of the war. In this area “he had ideas totally out of the ordinary”, as evidenced by the “courageous and far-sighted” decision, taken despite the skepticism of his collaborators, to hold the military parade commemorating the anniversary of the October Revolution on November 7, 1941, in a Moscow besieged and besieged by the Nazi enemy. In summary, it can be said that with respect to the career military and the circle of his collaborators, “Stalin gives proof of a more universal thought”. And it is a thought – it may be added – that does not overlook even the most minute aspects of the life and morale of the soldiers: informed of the fact that they had run out of cigarettes, thanks also to his ability to dispatch “an enormous workload”, “at the crucial moment of the battle of Stalingrad, he [Stalin] found time to telephone Akaki Mgeladze, head of the party in Abkhazia, the main tobacco-producing region: ‘Our soldiers can no longer smoke! Without cigarettes the front can’t hold!””.

In the positive appreciation of Stalin as a military leader the two Western authors go even further. If Khrushchev stressed the overwhelming initial successes of the Wehrmacht, the first of the two experts mentioned mentioned this same piece of evidence in a rather different language: it is not surprising that “the greatest invasion in military history” had achieved initial successes: the response of the Red Army after the devastating blows of the German invasion in June 1941 was “the greatest production of weapons that the world had ever seen”. The second researcher, a lecturer at an American military academy, from an understanding of the conflict in terms of its long duration, the attention paid to the rear as well as to the front, the economic and political dimension as well as the military dimension of the war, speaks of Stalin as a “great strategist”, in fact as “the first true strategist of the twentieth century”. This is an overall assessment broadly coinciding with that of the other Western scholar cited above, whose basic thesis, summarized in the book’s jacket, sees in Stalin the “greatest military leader of the twentieth century.” Obviously, these flattering assessments can be disputed or qualified; however, it is clear that, at least as far as the war issue is concerned, the landscape drawn by Khrushchev has lost all credibility.

All the more so for the fact that when the time comes for the final examination, the USSR shows itself to be quite prepared from another essential point of view as well. Let us again give the floor to Goebbels, who, in explaining the unexpected difficulties of the Barbarossa operation, apart from the enemy’s war potential, also refers to another factor:

For our trusted men and our spies it was almost impossible to penetrate into the interior of the Soviet Union. They could not acquire a precise vision. The Bolsheviks made a direct effort to deceive us. From a whole series of weapons they possessed, especially heavy weapons, we were unable to get anything out of them. Exactly the opposite of what happened in France, where we knew practically everything and could not have been surprised in any way.

Translation by Internationalist 360°