Friday, June 5, 2015

Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? - a book review

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If Hitler had delayed the invasion of the Soviet Union by two weeks, Europe would today be speaking Russian and look much like East Germany prior to unification. That is the conclusion one draws from Suvorov's book.

Anyone with an interest in the history of the Second World War knows the general narrative of the German invasion of Russia June 22, 1941. Hitler fooled Stalin into signing the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, bribing him with the secret protocols dividing up Eastern Europe. This allowed Hitler to fight on one front only without having to watch his back and would deal with Russia later. The Germans were so successful in overrunning Western Europe, North Africa, Norway and the Balkans, that Hitler decided to risk invading the Soviet Union. Destruction of the USSR was his overriding goal all along - starving 1/3 of all Slavs, enslaving 1/3 and driving 1/3 behind the Urals.

The Red Army was massed along the border with Germany and munitions, aircraft, tanks etc were also there. The Red Army was badly led, Stalin having killed off all the experienced officers in the 1937-38 purges, and did not have time to prepare defenses. Stalin was convinced Hitler would not attack and disregarded warnings of the pending German invasion, from among other sources Churchill and Sorge, a spy in the German Embassy in Japan who gave the exact date of the invasion.

The Red Army was caught totally unprepared by the German attack and collapsed in utter confusion, though they fought bravely. It took several weeks for the Soviet Army to get organized and begin to provide any kind of solid defense. They were not helped by Stalin who insisted that there should be no retreat and no territory lost.

Originally scheduled for April, Barbarossa was delayed until late June while the Germans bailed out Mussolini in the Balkans and reinforced the Romanian oilfields. Hitler was convinced that the war with the Soviet Union would be over in 4 months. However, even though in the first few weeks and months of the war, the Nazi's captured over 4 million Red Army soldiers and destroyed or captured thousands of aircraft and tanks, and millions of tonnes of munitions, they were caught by winter at the gates of Moscow.

This is the accepted story from German sources and official Soviet sources. For some reason, no one questioned the official Soviet sources and no one asked the obvious question, "What the hell were the Russians doing between Sept 1939 and June 1941 and more importantly, what were they thinking?"

We know the Soviet Union supplied food and raw materials to the Germans. We know in September 1939 they invaded and annexed eastern Poland, fought the Winter War with Finland, then in 1940 invaded and annexed the Baltics as per the agreement with Germany. They also invaded and annexed Bessarabia which was not in the agreement and which was too close for comfort to the Ploiesti oilfields, Germany's only oil supply.

It is Suvorov's belief that it was Stalin who fooled Hitler into facing west and that Hitler was finished the moment he turned his back on the USSR. Stalin's logic goes back to the very beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Socialism was not supposed to be limited to one country, it was to be world wide. After Russia, the country most ready for revolution was Germany immediately after the Great War. But by 1920, when the Russian civil war ended, it was too late. The Red Army was beaten back at Warsaw in 1922 and the border established to 1939.

Stalin realized that WWII was essential to the spread of Socialism; for the Capitalist Europe (Germany, France and Britain), to destroy themselves. That is why the USSR began helping Germany rearm, contrary to the Treaty of Versailles, long before Hitler came on the scene. It is also why Stalin encouraged the rise of Hitler, because he recognized his usefulness to the Socialist cause. Stalin referred to Hitler as the "Icebreaker" who would open the way for a Socialist conquest of Europe.

So when Zhukov signaled Stalin in August that the Red Army was in position to annihilate the Japanese Army North at Khalkhin-Gol on the Mongolian-Manchurian border and ensure Russia did not have to fight on two fronts, Molotov signed the infamous agreement with Molotov.

Suvorov was a Russian Military Intelligence Officer until his defection to Britain with his family in 1978. As such he had access to documents that other historians did not or that they did not understand the significance of. Suvorov describes in well documented detail what the Red Army was doing and what they were thinking. He lists which officers commanded which armies, division, battalions, where and when they were stationed, what their training and equipment was. He asks many questions to which he then applies his knowledge of military strategy and tactics to work out possible answers.

IF the Soviet Union was determined to stay neutral and stay out of the war and their only concern was to defend themselves against German aggression then WHY did they:

  • Move their border up against Germany, rather than leaving a buffer?
  • Abandon and destroy the Stalin-Line of defensive fortresses stretching from north to south, which at least would have provided a fall back line of defense?
  • Train a million paratroopers and establish a marine landing invasion force stationed on the Danube?
  • Train and organize a First Echelon army of millions and secretly move it up against the Border with Germany and Romania?
  • Train and organize a Second Echelon army and secretly begin moving it towards the German border?
  • Build roads and railroads towards the German border and use them to move troops and to stockpile millions of tonnes of fuel, munitions etc within 50 km of the border?
  • Build airstrips within 40 to 50 km of the border and part aircraft wingtip to wingtip?
  • Train pilots not in air to air combat but in air to ground bombing and strafing?
  • Spend months of detailed planning but have no defense plans?

These are activities of an OFFENSIVE Army, not a defensive army. In other words Stalin was NOT waiting for Hitler, he was going to attack. Suvorov calculated the date of July 6, 1941. Sunday morning was a favoured Soviet attack time. And according to the railway schedule the Second Echelon armies would begin arriving at the front July 10, which meant they could actually be unloaded on the other side of the border on German territory. On July 6, the disasters which happened to the Red Army would have happened to the German army.

By May and early June 1941 the actions of both armies on both sides of the border were mirror images of each other. Both sides were well aware of the build up of the other side. Why didn't Stalin believe the warnings? He had no reason to trust Churchill whose very survival depended on opening of an Eastern Front. Nor did he trust Sorge who had been "recalled to Moscow" months previous but refused, knowing what was waiting for him when he got there.

Stalin did trust his own intelligence officers who were certain an attack would not be launched even if Hitler were foolish enough to want to fight on two fronts. They were monitoring two critical items which they knew Germany MUST have before an attack on the USSR. Winter clothing and winter lubricants. Hitler's hubris sunk Stalin.

Suvorov's claims have been disputed as revisionist. The mythology of the Great Patriotic War is that Russia did not want to fight but were invaded without cause by the German aggressor. Most of the documentation needed to prove Suvorov's version has of course been destroyed, in particular the detailed plans which every commander along the front had in a red envelope in a safe which was to be opened on command from Moscow. But there are enough clues left to indicate that Hitler attacked to preempt what he knew was coming and that it was just in time.

Until I find a specific detailed rebuttal, I am inclined to go with Suvorov.

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  1. An interesting and believable account. Unfortunately, as long as there are soldiers willing to die for these "leaders" things may never change. Sometimes I wonder how this species has survived.

    1. Any official Russian version is only what they want us to know. They are very good at hiding or destroying evidence to the otherwise as they have been at it for a few centuries. All governments do that of course but at least historians can usually dig out the facts. I have another book by Suvorov that I just bought and hope it will add to the information in this one.


    New Evidence on the 1941 'Barbarossa' Attack:
    Why Hitler Attacked Soviet Russia When He Did

    Stalins Falle: Er wollte den Krieg ("Stalin's Trap: He Wanted War"), by Adolf von Thadden. Rosenheim: Kultur und Zeitgeschichte/Archiv der Zeit, 1996. Hardcover. 170 pages. Photos. Bibliography.


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