The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II, by Viktor Suvorov
An offensive, not a defensive, war. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I have previously offered a summary of Suvorov’s book, and have since updated my “Timeline to War” to reflect information found therein.
With this post, I begin my review of the details in the book. This will take a few posts.
The narrative – peddled both by the Soviets during and after the Second World War, as well as by many in the west – is that the Red Army was totally unprepared for war. Hitler overwhelmed a clearly inferior Soviet army with his surprise attack on June 22, 1941.
The narrative is convenient for all parties except, perhaps, the Germans. It ensures blame resides solely on Germany for the attack (technically correct, but ignores several inconvenient facts); it hides the intent behind Stalin’s plans for aggression; it creates the myth that the Soviets were innocent victims of a tyrant – Hitler; it aids the story of US support for Stalin and against Hitler.
The Soviet military buildup prior to the war is ignored. The capability of Soviet military equipment is greatly downplayed – instead we get peasants fighting with brooms and picks. Suvorov sheds light on these deceptions. Following are some of the key points made by the author.
If I had known that the Russians really possessed such a number of tanks…I think I would not have started this war.
Adolf Hitler, August 4, 1941 (P. 50)
It wasn’t just the number of tanks, but also the capability of the tanks. Suvorov examines both points.
On January 1, 1939, the Red Army was equipped with 21,000 battle-ready tanks. In 1939, Hitler started World War II with 3,195 tanks, the same number that Soviet factories produced per year in peace time. (P.50)
Of course, in 1939 Stalin and Hitler were allies – of a sort. What of the start of the war between these two?
By June 22, 1941, Hitler had on the eastern front 180 tanks in the under-six-ton category [out of 3,350 tanks of all types]. Not one of them was amphibious and not one of them could compete with the Soviet light tanks. Stalin, on the other hand, had more than 4,000 tanks in this weight category. All of them were amphibious. (P. 56)
Pay attention to the dates of some of these events – Stalin was preparing for war up to a decade or more before Hitler attacked, at a time when the Germans were held down at least to some extent by Versailles.
In 1933, the Red Army adopted the T-28 tank. A variant of this model was designed in 1937 – the T-28 PKh…. Tests showed that if necessary, all series of T-28s could be converted to cross water barriers underwater, at a depth of up to 4.5 meters and width of up to one kilometer with a stream speed of up to one m/s (meter per second). Not a single German, British, American, French, or Japanese tank from the 1930s could compete with the T-28 in terms of weapons, armor, or engine power. (P. 41)
Amphibious; able to cross on or under water.
The Soviets had the T-37A – a light tank, first received by the Red Army in 1933; 3.2 tons with a 40 horsepower engine. It could float – it could move in water at a speed of 6 km/h, and on the road at speeds up to 40 km/h. Germany had no such tanks, nor did France and England. At the time, the United States had no tank troops at all – only by June 1941 did the US Army have something under 400 tanks, obsolete in every way when compared to the Soviet tanks. (P. 53)
Soviet tanks successfully traversed mud and snow in Finland; German tanks got stuck in the snow and mud of the Soviet Union. The difference was not the weather, but the design. (P. 47)
In 1937, the Germans began producing the Pz-IVA, the most powerful German tank in the first half of the war. Compared to the T-28, its armor was half as thick, its engine half as power; it carried 2 machine guns to the Russian tank’s four or five. Only in the gun was the German tank roughly comparable. (P. 41)
On December 19, 1939, the Red Army enlisted in its ranks the T-34. Following are German reviews of its performance. General Field Marshal von Kleist said: “Their T-34 was the best in the world.” Major General von Mellentin agreed: “We had nothing equal to the T-34.” (P.42)
The tank was of very advanced design:
The T-34 was the only tank in the world created before the beginning of World War II that was not obsolete by its end. (P.43)
The arrival of the T-34 surprised both Stalin’s enemies and his allies. Leading British historian and military theorist B.H. Liddell Hart said: “None of our tanks could compare with the T-34.” French General G. Bouche recounted: “The arrival of the T-34 tank, significantly superior to German tanks, greatly surprised the Germans.” (P. 43)
The T-34 was a direct descendent of the Soviet made “BT.” The “spiritual father” of the BT was George [John] Walter Christie, the great American tank genius. (P. 50)
Two of Christie’s tanks were purchased and shipped to the Soviet Union with fake documents, in which they were listed as agricultural tractors. On December 24, 1930, a ship carrying the “tractors” of Christie’s design left New York. (P. 50)
In 1932, the BT-2 had a 400 horsepower engine. German tanks had engines of equal power only in 1942. The BT-2 had a specific power of 36.4 horsepower per ton of mass. The German T-111J, beginning serial production in April 1941, had a specific power of 13.9 horsepower per ton of mass. (P. 51)
These Soviet tanks were high speed tanks – once behind enemy lines, they could quickly move to cities, bridges, factories, airports, and communication hubs. They were made for aggression, not defense. At the beginning of World War II, the Soviets had 6,456 BT tanks – as many BT tanks as all operational tanks in the rest of the world. Once the Germans invaded on June 22, 1941, these tanks immediately became obsolete. (P. 52)
The German Panther tank, claimed by some experts to be better than the T-34 in every respect, did not appear in battle until the summer of 1943. (P. 44) Yet it was complicated, not as maneuverable, ran on a carbureted as opposed to a diesel engine, and had other drawbacks when compared to the T-34. (P.45)
In 1941, the Germans had no heavy tank – the Tiger only existed in sketches. The Soviets, beginning in 1933, began producing the T-35 heavy tank. Other heavy tanks were tested prior to the start of the war – the KV-1, SMK, and T-100. (P. 46)
Stalin had a dive-bomber, the Pe-2. Hitler had good airplanes, but the Pe-2 surpassed any of them, in all the major characteristics. For example, the Pe-2 had a top speed of 75 km/h more than the best German bomber, the Ju-88, and 100 km/h more than the He-111. Prior to June 22, 1941, 490 Pe-2 planes had been produced, more than all the Ju-88s positioned on the entire Soviet-German front. (P. 69)
Stalin had three types of new fighters – the MiG-3, the LaGG-3, and the Yak-1. Each of them was equal or superior to the best German models. For example, the MiG-3 had a speed of 628 km/h at an altitude of 7,000 meters. Hitler had nothing similar in 1941. On June 22, 1941, Hitler had 1,129 fighters of all types on the Soviet-German front. Stalin had 1,309 of the newest MiG-3 model fighters alone. On top of this, Stalin also had 399 of the newest YaK-1 models and 322 LaGG-3s. (P. 69)
On many metrics, Stalin had a more powerful and capable air force on June 22, 1941 than did Hitler – more planes (even counting only the newest models), more range, more payload, more speed. (P. 69) Stalin had heavy bombers, Hitler had none. (P. 70)
According to the British pilot Alfred Price: “The most powerful weapon among the series of fighters in the world in September 1939 was possessed by the Russian I-16, which twice surpassed the Bf-109e and almost three times the ‘Spitfire-1.’…Those who think that the Russians were backward peasants before the Second World War and only moved forward under the influence of using German expertise need to remember the facts.” (P. 70)
Airborne Assault Troops
Airborne assault troops are designed for action in sudden, decisive offensive operations….The Soviet Union was the first nation in the world in which airborne assault troops were created. They were created in 1930, before Hitler came to power in Germany…. At the beginning of the war, the Soviet Union had more than one million trained parachutists, according to the official Communist Party newspaper, Pravda, on August 18, 1940. In light of declassified documents it is clear that this was a deliberate underestimation of the real number, which arguably was closer to two million parachutists. (P. 73)
The intent of the deception was to reduce concerns of a Soviet attack.
One could suggest that these statistics are subject to what we have come to learn of Soviet (and most) government propaganda – in other words, an inflation in order to demonstrate prowess. Suvorov effectively argues the opposite – Stalin had reasons to downplay his military buildup – at the time before 1939, in order to not wake the world to his designs of revolution through war, and during his alliance with Hitler in order to later surprise the Germans with attack.
Additionally, many of the sources cited by Suvorov are post the Soviet period, using official party and government documents. This would seem to at least minimize the risks of party propaganda in the data.
It seems clear from Suvorov’s work that Stalin was preparing for war almost throughout the entire period after he consolidated power in the Soviet Union. It also seems clear that the military capabilities of the Soviet Union, in both quantity and quality, at the start of the war were far in advance of many of the other powers at the time.
If the Red Army was so capable, so superior, how did it get overrun so quickly by the Germans? While only touched upon in this section, in a subsequent post I will expand further on the purpose of this buildup – to strike first, and take advantage of the western powers’ relative weakness after fighting each other. This made the Russians vulnerable to anyone crazy enough to attack.