I continue with a more detailed review of Suvorov’s book, The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II. “June 13, 1941” is the title of Chapter 34. This will be my final post for this book; in this post, I will focus on the key date in support of the key point of the book: Suvorov suggests that Stalin’s objective was conquest for the sake of expanding communism. In this, Stalin followed a very cohesive strategy; ultimately, he achieved partial success, but not to the extent he desired.
In other words, Stalin manipulated events with the intent of drawing the western powers (Germany, France, Great Britain, and ultimately the United States) into a war of exhaustion, after which the Soviet Union would move west and spread communism throughout a spent continent.
Things went according to plan up to this point – so far, so good. Stalin manipulated events that drew Great Britain and France into war with Germany. So, what is special about June 13, 1941 – just a few days before Hitler invaded the Soviet Union? Suvorov suggests that events on and around this date make clear that Stalin was within weeks of invading Germany…had not Hitler beat him to the punch.
On June 13, 1941, Moscow radio broadcast a rather unusual announcement of the Soviet Union Telegraph Agency (TASS). It claimed that “Germany was following the conditions of the Soviet-German Pact as flawlessly as the Soviet Union,” that the rumors of an impending German attack on the USSR “were clumsily fabricated propaganda by the enemies of Germany and the USSR, interested in broadening and prolonging the war.” (P. 207)
According to Suvorov, the style of the announcement was widely recognized to be that of Stalin’s:
Everyone knew the author of the TASS announcement. Stalin’s characteristic style was recognized by generals in Soviet staffs, inmates in the labor camps, and Western experts. (P. 207)
Yet, one week later, Germany invaded.
Both the Soviet and foreign press wrote extensively about the TASS announcement. Many of those who spoke out on the subject laughed at Stalin. The TASS announcement was sometimes described as a sign of nearsightedness. (P. 207)
Suvorov suggests that the TASS announcement, on the surface, did not fit Stalin’s character:
The man most familiar with Stalin, his personal secretary Boris Bazhanov, characterized him in the following way: “Secretive and extremely sly….He possessed an extraordinary ability to remain silent, and in this respect was unique in a country where everyone spoke too much.” (P. 207)
Citing A. Avtorkhanov, “[Stalin] was an implacable enemy of word inflation and excessive talking. Do not say what you are thinking.” Robert Conquest, a scholar of the Stalin era: “Extremely reserved and secretive. We still have to peer through the darkness of Stalin’s exceptional secrecy….Stalin never said what was on his mind, even regarding political goals.” (P. 207)
If silence and secrecy were Stalin’s hallmarks, why the announcement on June 13 – made so publicly, and counter to facts known well both within and outside of the Soviet Union?
On May 5, 1941, in the Kremlin, Stalin in essence told the graduates of the military academies to disregard official propaganda and to prepare for war. (P. 207)
Had the June 13 announcement been serious, Stalin would have followed it with secret orders in accord with the announcement. None were issued. The armed forces quickly realized that Stalin didn’t mean it. Instead, orders for troop movements to the west were issued – in many cases, continuing movements already ongoing, and in other cases new movements.
While the TASS announcement was broadcast on the radio, the military newspapers that were inaccessible to outsiders began to publish radically different ideas. (P. 208)
The intense transfer of troops from the inner regions to the Kiev military district began in May. This involved hundreds of thousands of troops, including all equipment. (P. 210)
Suvorov goes on to identify orders regarding troop movements in detail; for example, regarding one directive, dated June 13 (the same day as the public announcement), to the Military Council of the Kiev special military district – labeled “Top Secret, Special Importance,” the highest level of secrecy that could be used beyond the Kremlin:
The directive ordered the “transfer [of] all deep-rear divisions and corps commands with the corps formations to new camps close to the state border.” (P. 208)
This directive affected four armies, five rifle corps, and four motorized corps. This order is confirmed by several officers of the time.
On June 12 (one day before the public announcement), the Kiev military district received another directive – also labeled “Top Secret, Special Importance.” This directive indicated the number and identity of the many corps and divisions being transferred to the district. (P.209)
The movements were not limited to the Kiev district; according to Suvorov, the other four military districts received similar directives. (P. 211) Hundreds of divisions were on the move.
June 13, 1941, marked the beginning of the biggest organized movement of troops, arms, ammunition, and other military supplies in history. (P. 216)
It seems clear that Stalin did not act in accord with the TASS announcement. Otherwise, had he believed that the Germans were acting in good faith, why move the troops forward?
The question remains: was this for the purpose of defense or offense? Suvorov offers examples to support his view: movements of the naval fleet to positions useful for offensive operations; air bases moved close to the border – in some cases within ten kilometers – such proximity being useful for attack and a handicap for defense; ammunition moved on railway cars and not stored in strategically located defensive bunkers and storage depots; one-hundred thousand tons of fuel moved close to the border – again convenient for offense, at great risk if the intent is defensive. (P. 214, 215)
Did Stalin have a premonition and concentrate troops along the borders for defense? That explanation is implausible. The massive operation described above couldn’t be defensive. Troops preparing for defense dig themselves into the ground. They take over the largest fields that the enemy will have to cross, close off roads, establish barbwire barriers, dig anti-tank trenches, and prepare covers behind the barricades. The Red Army did nothing of the kind. However, Soviet divisions, armies, and corps destroyed all previously constructed defensive structures. Troops were concentrated not behind water barriers, in a fashion convenient for defense, but in front of them, which was convenient for offense. (P. 216)
According to Suvorov, the full concentration of Soviet troops along the German border was planned for July 10. (P. 216) For this, he cites M. I. Kazakov, Reflections over Maps of Former Battlefields (Moscow: Voyenizdat, 1971), 64. Kazakov was a Soviet General during the war.
I offer the cite, as this date is the focal point for the controversial hypothesis (that Stalin was preparing to invade, and was instead pre-empted by Hitler) of the book. This chapter, additionally, has more footnotes than any other chapter in the book.
It is a controversial position. The Soviets were initially so overwhelmed by the Germans that it is difficult to imagine, on the surface, that Stalin had an army capable of launching an effective offensive operation. However, according to Suvorov, it was precisely because Stalin positioned the military in an offensive stance that made the Red Army vulnerable to a sudden attack – with all troops, weapons, and supplies either immediately on the front or in trains headed to the front; there was no second line – no backup – if the front was to be broken. In any case, those on the front were positioned for offense, not defense.
Others point out that Stalin did not have the capability to launch an offensive operation – at least not one that would have been successful against the German Wehrmacht. Suvorov, in an earlier section of the book, offers evidence to the contrary – citing both the quantity and capabilities of tanks, airplanes, and ammunitions produced by the Soviets in the years leading up to the war. (P. 52 – 75) Of course, one might argue that the numbers were propaganda – Suvorov does not believe so.
Suvorov goes on to describe his view of Stalin’s supposed panic immediately after the German invasion, Stalin’s views and purpose regarding the purge of senior military officers, etc. Suvorov does not shy away from any of the controversial points that might discredit his interpretation of events.
Believe his view or not, it seems one cannot come to a fair conclusion without considering Suvorov’s arguments. Ultimately, all that matters is what Stalin believed at the time. Stalin, a man who kept secret and quiet about many of his intentions; a man who did not allow meeting protocols or written notes for many key events. To uncover what Stalin believed to be possible had to be determined based on Stalin’s actions, not his words.
And for Stalin’s actions – as seen through the actions and behavior of the Soviet military in the days and months leading up to Hitler’s invasion – Suvorov offers a compelling case. Stalin – whether he would have ultimately been successful in invading Germany and from there on to a worn-out Europe – acted in a manner of one preparing an offensive.
Stalin, it seems, was just a few weeks too late. If Suvorov is correct, it might have been a very different war (and aftermath) had Stalin succeeded in his plans for a pre-emptive attack of Germany. We might never have talked about Eastern Europe or the Iron Curtain; instead, the darkness of communism might have reached to the Atlantic.
Hitler might have saved the west from communism. An interesting thought. Maybe that’s why the liberals, lovers of Stalin (the international socialist), hated Hitler (whose socialism, after all, was only “national”).