Ultima Thule

In ancient times the northernmost region of the habitable world - hence, any distant, unknown or mysterious land.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Did the Soviets singlehandedly defeat Hitler? Birdnow weighs in

By Aussiegirl

In response to the following article in The Australian, I asked
Tim Birdnow, of Birdblog to give me some historical perspective. I knew he'd know the answer.

First the article:

WWII victory was ours alone: Soviet veterans

WITH dozens of international leaders expected to attend, Moscow's celebrations to mark the end of World War II are being billed as a show of unity as well as remembrance.

But 60 years on, Soviet army veterans are accusing wartime British leader Winston Churchill of denying Russia credit for defeating the Nazis and are vowing to use the event to claim that they - not the allies - won the war.

"The role the Soviet army played in liberating Europe from the Nazis was deliberately played down in the post-war period," said Filipp Bobkov, a former top KGB general who fought in the war. "Our allies, especially Great Britain and Churchill personally, sought to show that the main role in the victory belonged to them.

We showed the world we could liberate half of Europe without the allies." The critics also accuse the allies and Churchill of delaying the opening of a second front with the Normandy landings while the Russians fought the Nazis in the east.

More than 25million Soviet soldiers and civilians died in the war and Russia saw some of the fiercest battles. Britain and the US lost fewer than 1million people.

Many veterans argue that Westerners believe Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the allies, when in fact it was stormed by the advancing Soviet army.

"The Soviets beat 607 German divisions. The allies destroyed 176," said Georgy Kumanyov, a leading Russian historian. "There was no force other than the Soviets that could have defeated the Nazis. "When the allies joined we could have won on our own." No other event in Russian history inspires as much patriotism. Barely a day goes by without television airing World War II films. There are even moves to rehabilitate Stalin, the Soviet dictator accused of sending 20million people to their deaths. At least three cities plan to erect a monument to mark his defeat of Hitler. Varvara Tomilina, 81, who took part in the fall of Berlin, said: "This victory cost us a lot of blood. Nobody can deny this is a victory that belongs to the Soviet Union."

And now the exchange of emails between Tim and yours truly:

Tim -- I've forwarded this article from the Australian saying that Soviet vets are saying that the victory over Hitler belongs completely to them. Now -- you are my history expert -- what would you say is the truth here?

I know just from what my mom has told me about the war and Hitler's occupation of their town, that the Germans were completely ill-prepared for the winter, so much like Napoleon. The Soviets withdrew, much as they had in Napoleonic times -- my mom tells me that by the time they began their retreat they were in full disarray -- and the officers who were staying in the house she occupied with her mother and her mother and my sister Julie (the officers were billeted there of course, and my mom and her mom had no choice) -- said to her as they were preparing to leave, "Deutschland Kaput!"

The officer who was billeted in their house was an Austrian, and he had made it clear to her on several occasions that he was forced into the German army, and she said when he said "Deutschland Kaput" -- he said it with some disgust and even relief. She said the soldiers and armies she saw retreating were a mess, ill-clothed, their equipment broken down, etc.

So -- that's one part of the story. The other thing she always mentioned to me was how the Soviets threw men into battle with literally nothing - no uniform, even no weapons -- they were simply cannon-fodder. When a soldier exclaimed that he had no gun with which to fight he was simply told "Never mind -- you march and follow orders -- and when one of your comrades dies -- you pick up his gun and remove his boots and coat and use them. So the figures that they always tout of all the millions who died -- well -- most died as a result of the indifference and inhumanity of the Soviets themselves, not to mention that Stalin had murdered almost the entire officer class and all his generals.

So - what is your take on this? I know there will be more and more of this stuff as that 60th Anniversary celebration in Moscow gets closer and closer.

Tim's response:

[It is true that the Germans] were ill-prepared. They had originally planned to invade Russia in April, but delayed until June to assist Mussolini. (If they had any sense they would have waited until the next year.)

Because they had delayed, and because they had hoped Britain would withdraw from the war (Germany sent out many peace feelers at this time; a late friend of my fathers had been at the Bulge, and he always insisted that the Germans let the Brits go at Dunkirk to make peace) or at least lay low, the Germans were forced to fight through the winter.

Their guns froze in the cold, and they were forced to urinate on them to get them to fire! They were unable to get an adequate supply of oil to their tanks and trucks (which likewise rarely started) and the men were unable to get proper winter gear. Hitler`s insistence on micromanaging the war also hurt them immensely; he refused to allow any sort of tactical retreat and his vicious nature repelled any potential allies within the Soviet Union itself. Further, he wanted the attack on Stalingrad which split the German forces at a critical moment.

Stalin was, of course, receiving enormous amounts of aid from the United States (without which they would have shredded like tissue).

When Stalin`s generals came to him, saying they had no equipment to fight the Germans, Stalin said ``you know what you have, general; use it!`` meaning, of course, manpower! Stalin didn`t care how many men he lost-every soldier shot dead was one less bullet the Germans could fire.

(Actually, he learned this from Ulysses Grant, who pioneered the technique and was refered to by Mary Todd Lincoln as a butcher.) The Germans who kept the POW camps loved the Russian soldiers because they were docile and somewhat grateful; they were used to taking orders and were being fed and housed better than they were used to!

Unfortunately for them, they would get a free vacation in the gulag if the Russians got them back. (Stalin figured they were traitors if they were taken POW and were corrupted by the ``soft`` western life of prison!)

It`s also important to note that the Russians did not lift a finger in the Pacific. We NEEDED them to help open a second front against the Japanese, but they failed to even declare war against Japan until the very last day specified by our treaty with them-and after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Stalin complained bitterly about our slowness in opening the second front in France (we were already engaging the Germans in Italy, while fighting the Japanese, but that didn`t matter to Uncle Joe) while he completely failed to do anything to assist us in Asia (where he was in a far better position than we were.) Had we not been fighting Japan, the Russians would have found Japanese troops taking Vladivostok and invading from the east. (Japan was Russia`s traditional enemy, after all, having humiliated them in the Russo-Japanese War.) Roosevelt was completely snuckered by Stalin. Churchill wanted to launch the invasion northward from Italy, driving through Hungary and Poland and cutting the Russian advancement off. Roosevelt vetoed this, wanting to give Stalin redress for the ``suffering`` of the Russians during the war (like they hadn`t suffered as much, or more, at Stalin`s hands!)

Under Roosevelt`s plan, we waited two weeks outside of Berlin for the Russian army to arrive, and then let THEM take the city. We could have avoided so much of the Cold War if we had simply did the sensible thing, but Roosevelt always believed Stalin was a bumpkin and that his urbane intellect would be able to control him. It`s too bad Truman didn`t take over before the end of the war; he understood exactly what was happening.


At 6:28 PM, Blogger Michael Morrison said...

For another look at how World War II was fratricidal, how vicious dictators waged war against one another but with the innocent being, as usual, the victims, see Julius Epstein’s "Operation Keelhaul: The Story of Forced Repatriation" published by Devin-Adair in 1973 and pretty well covered up by the usual suspects, academia and "news" media.
Go to http://www.worldaffairsbrief.com/keytopics/Keelhaul.shtml for some info.
Stalin and Hitler and Franklin del Ano Roosevelt and the others were brothers under the skin.

At 7:23 PM, Blogger Aussiegirl said...

Yes, not only in Operation Keelhaul were POW's forcibly repatriated to certain imprisonmenand death, but thousands of Eastern European refugees who had managed to flee the Soviet Union were forcibly repatriated as well. My own family, among a whole group of internees, waged a major battle to avoid such a fate brought on by the Yalta agreement. I plan to write a more detailed history of that in a future post. In these instances too, women and children threw themselves from trucks, soldiers beat men who resisted, and many people were betrayed in just the manner depicted in the article. They were told they were being moved to another safe camp, when in reality they were being turned over to the Soviets. My own dear old mum, pushed an American soldier down a stairwell as he came up to arrest my father and take him forcibly away -- they barricaded themselves in their rooms (they were being held in former POW camps, behind barbed wire and with armed sentries at the towers), my sister, then a 5 year old, clung to my father with such ferocity and with such hysteria, that the soldiers were unable to remove her. They had to leave my father behind, and he was able to negotiate an agreement to postpone the deportation. Through some amazing negotiations, appeals and even secret escapes to deliver secret letters, they were able to save all the people in their group from deportation. This is yet ANOTHER untold story.

Thanks for the great comment.

At 5:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to know what the figures for Lend-Lease were and what underlies the claim that the Soviets would have shredded without it. What was delivered (trucks, tanks, Spam,) when, in what numbers, etc. David Glantz ("When Titans Clashed,") seems to feel that it was not the linchpin to eventual Soviet success. It wasn't Lend-Lease that undertook the massive (and, frequently, nasty) effort to move entire plants east to keep wartime production going. Nor did it equip the Siberian divisions that turned the tide at the defense of Moscow.

As far as Stalin's "humanity" to his troops goes - well, he was a monster. I wonder, however, if those under-equipped soldiers who died in human wave attacks would have died in ways any more lovely had they been slaughtered like peaceful citizens of Belarus, Ukraine and Russia?

You note Soviet slowness in taking action in the Pacific, but I've never seen a convincing argument that the Japanese could have taken Vladivostok. Yes, they smashed the Imperial Fleet in 1905, but let's not forget events more contemporary: Khalkin-Gol, where Zhukov made his name.

And, let's not forget that - at D-Day - 75-80% of Wehrmacht forces were engaged in the East, against the USSR.

Lastly, if the Western allies had taken Berlin, what would have changed? The Soviets would still have been in charge in Poland, Rumania, etc.

At 12:23 AM, Blogger Aussiegirl said...

Here are the top Lend-Lease beneficiaries:
" Lend-Lease
Great Britain............$31 billion
Soviet Union.............$11 billion
France...................$ 3 billion
China...................$1.5 billion
Other European..........$500 million
South America...........$400 million
The amount totaled: $48,601,365,000."
source: History Central

"Total lend-lease aid exceeded $50 billion, of which the British Commonwealth received some $31 billion and the USSR received over $11 billion.

Within 15 years after the termination of lend-lease, settlements were made with most of the countries that had received aid, although a settlement with the USSR was not reached until 1972." source: infoplease.com

That'sa lotta spam!!

At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would have to say that the Soviets owe their victory to several blunders made by Hitler, and most of all to the reknowned Russian winter. To begin, the first and foremost resource Hitler failed to fully utilize was the disaffected people of the Soviet Union. At the beginning of Barbarossa, it was a known fact that many of the peoples of the USSR, primarily the Ukranians, welcomed the Germans as liberators. Stalin's purges and collectivisation of the peasantry contributed to millions of deaths throughout the breadbasket of the USSR. This feeling of hatred also would have resonated with the people of the Baltic regions which had been under Soviet occupation since 1939. Whatever welcome mat that was rolled out for the Germans was quickly removed once the front lines had been pushed further east by the initial successes of the Wehrmacht and after the Einsatzgrupfen (German death squads) moved in. These particular units were responsible for the enslavement, deportation and extermination of the communist commisars, jews and slavs. Thus Hitler squandered the opportunity to utilize the oppressed peoples of the USSR in his effort to conquer the part of Russia that lay west of the Ural mountains. Second, Hitler did not believe that the war against Russia would last very long. He was quoted as saying "All we need to do is kick in the door, and the whole rotten mess will come crashing down". Given this belief, he failed to prepare his armies for a campaign that could last into winter. In fact, he admonished his high command's request for winter clothing, antifreeze for engines, etc as being counterproductive to German morale. There were also many logistical problems associated with the rapid advance of German forces across the immense land of Russia. A critical oversight by the German army was the fact that Russian railways were gaged to different sized rail cars than that of the Germans. So in many instances, the German army had to rip up the old Soviet lines and replace them with rails that would fit their cars as the army advanced. The concept of the blitzkrieg could only be sustained with concentrated force supported by a continuous and flexible chain of supply. The immense size of Russia itself also would have hampered the hammer blows the German army was so used to incurring on the enemy at this point. Another factor was Hitler's wavering or lack therof of a strategic objective in conducting the Russian campaign. Hitler vascilated for 2 to 3 summers and squandered many months of favorable battle weather on what the final objective for his armies should be. First, it was Moscow. When he couldn't crack that nut in 1941, he turned his gaze to Stalingrad and the natural resources of the Caucuses in 1942. Hitler also failed to provide the Lutwaffe with long range strategic bombers that would be able to destroy the factories and plants that Stalin had removed from western Russia and reassembled further east in Siberia. With these plants safely out of German bomber range, they could continue to supply the Reds with new equipment for the war effort. Finally, Hitler's own stubborn orders to hold territory at any cost squandered thousands of German lives that could have been used to counterattack the advancing Russian spearheads after a strategic German withdrawal. His failure to make provisions for an elastic defense, as von Manstein had suggested following the defeat at Stalingrad, quickened and possbily altered the outcome for Germany on the eastern front.


Post a Comment

<< Home