Monday, July 18, 2016

To Save Himself, Stalin was Ready to Give Hitler Ukraine and Baltic Republics and Possibly More, Archives Show

Lieutenant General Pavel Anatolyevich Sudoplatov

Staunton, June 19 – A few days after Hitler broke his alliance with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union, the Soviet dictator used a diplomatic back channel to explore whether the Nazi leader would be prepared to end the war if Stalin agreed to hand over to German rule Ukraine, the Baltic republics and perhaps even more.

That is the conclusion of a Friday article by historian Nikita Petrov in “Novaya gazeta” an article that undercuts both Stalin’s carefully cultivated stance as someone who was prepared to fight the invader to the end and Vladimir Putin’s use of World War II as a legitimating and mobilizing tool in Russia today.

The history of these events is by its very nature murky and can be reconstructed only by a careful reading of Russian archival materials, Petrov suggests. But the basic facts of the case are these: In the first days after the German attack, Lavrenty Beria on Stalin’s order directed NKVD officer Pavel Sudoplatov to meet with a Bulgarian diplomat to explore what it would take for Hitler to stop his invasion of the Soviet Union.

Among the concessions Sudoplatov was authorized to discuss with the Bulgarian who Moscow believed would communicate his conversation to Berlin was the handing over to Hitler of Ukraine, the areas that Stalin had occupied in 1940-41 on the basis of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and perhaps more.

Such a sacrifice would constitute “a new Brest peace” but would save Stalin and his regime, Petrov points out by allowing the communist regime to continue to function beyond the Urals.

Obviously, discussing anything of this then or later was incredibly dangerous given that such things would have constituted in the clearest way treason, but information about them came out in the interrogations of Sudoplatov and Beria in 1953. And Petrov mines these sources for his article, even reproducing the key Sudoplatov declaration.

As many have pointed out, Stalin believed in Hitler and in his own ability to cut a deal right up to the moment of the German invasion. The archives suggest that he continued to believe in his ability to cut a deal with Hitler even after that time. In fact, however, Stalin was manipulated by double agents before June 22, 1941, and by his own fears after that time.

Nothing came as a result of Stalin’s feeler. Hitler was confident that his forces could defeat the Soviet Union and therefore ignored what was passed on by the Bulgarians. But there were consequences in the USSR for those most immediately involved because Stalin never forgot, Petrov continues.

Despite his regime’s presentation of him as the great military leader during World War II, Stalin remembered that “three people knew the secret of his cowardice and the depth of the collapse in 1941.” The Soviet dictator ordered Abakumov to arrest Sudoplatov, although Beria urged the secret police chief not to obey lest he and Beria himself be next.

And there was a third potential victim of Stalin’s malignant memory: Vyacheslav Molotov, who certainly knew about the meeting with the Bulgarian diplomat in June 1941 and Stalin’s willingness to sacrifice much of the country to save himself. Had Stalin lived, Petrov says, all three would have come to a bad end. But his death kept him from realizing his goal.

Soviet tanks in WWII: Correcting the errors of the first 2 years

Soviet soldiers in the Battle of Kursk. July 1943. Source: Fedor Levshin/RA Novosti

Following the German invasion of June 1941 it took a long time for the USSR to recover from the miscalculations made in the pre-war years, and it cost the country vast losses in infantry and materiel. But by the third year of the war many of the errors had been fixed, and the Red Army had got rid of its massive unwieldy machines, leaving it with a 100-percent modern mechanized force.

But while the tank divisions could now boast better motorization and better-trained crews, problems still remained, the most important of which concerned tactics for using the armored forces. Here the Soviet generals still had a lot to learn.

This was clearly demonstrated by the Battle of Kursk, one of the largest battles in world history, in which an unprecedented number of soldiers fought on both sides. One of the biggest tank clashes in history, the Battle of Prokhorovka, occurred near Kursk in July 1943. No one talked about the real results of that battle in the Soviet years. Everyone thought that it was an indisputable Soviet victory. But the truth was different.

The Soviet command's attempt to stop the German offensive with a frontal blow using tanks in a narrow part of the front in conditions of rough terrain and with the enemy having a definite advantage in terms of armament proved to be a failure.

The advancing Soviet units lost more than half of their tanks – 2.5 times more than the Germans. Only Soviet success on the other parts of the front saved the situation. But the Soviet command was now faced with the problem of how to use its tank forces.

New tactics, new results
In the second half of the war the Soviet generals finally understood that the tank is not a universal war instrument. It needs to be used correctly in order to realize all its advantages to their full potential.

There is no sense in having tank units storm the enemy's prepared fortifications: Modern anti-tank artillery can easily eliminate practically any armored advantage. Concentrating tanks in armored handfuls and using them in different sectors also has a series of shortcomings – primarily it leads to the dispersion of forces.

The tank is the modern equivalent of the cavalry. It is better to use an armored handful in a situation when the storming of enemy positions has already begun. In order to break through enemy lines it is better to use infantry reinforced with tanks. In the event of a successful tactical breakthrough in a narrow territory the tank turns into a threatening weapon of destruction.

In 1944-1945 the Soviet command confidently broke through enemy lines with their tank armies, expanding the breach, cutting the rear communications, throwing back the enemy's reserves and isolating its units, creating huge salients.

In the early days successful attacks by the Red Army's tank divisions would usually be stopped rather quickly by the Wehrmacht, and often with infantry alone. But towards the end of the war the Soviet tanks made it to the German rear, which basically meant the destruction of the whole front. In April 1945 the tank wedges of the two Soviet fronts united west of Berlin and sealed the fate of Hitler's capital.

Manchuria, China. Locals greet Soviet liberators after Japan’s surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, ending World War II in the Pacific. Source: Alexander Stanovov/TASS

The Manchurian Operation – Soviet military planning comes of age
The operations on the German front were often planned and realized "off the cuff" – there was just no time for thorough organization. But the Soviet offensive against the Japanese Kwantung Army in Manchuria in the summer of 1945 was a real masterpiece of operational art.

In its scale it was no less significant than the largest battles against the Wehrmacht. The Soviet army had to surround and destroy the enemy's well-armed million-strong army on an enormous territory. And here the protagonists were the tanks.

Carrying out the command's order, the Soviet tank army realized a maneuver unprecedented in its complexity. Having moved through hundreds of kilometers of Mongolian desert, surmounting mountain ridges, the army made it into the enemy's far rear, where no one had expected it.

The tanks immediately entered battle, obliterating three of the enemy's divisions, and encircling the entire Kwantung Army. Today the USSR's armored forces' actions in the Manchurian Operation are still considered a shining example of military strategy and are studied in military academies all over the world.

However, it took four years of heavy losses and mistakes this incredible victory.

Why did the Soviet Air Force fail in 1941?

On June 22, 1941 the German aviation went bombing Soviet cities. Germany started a war against the USSR. Source: RIA Novosti

The Second World War marked both the launch of Russian military aviation, and its most difficult period. In 1941, the Soviet Air Force suffered a devastating defeat. In the first six months of the war, it lost nearly 70 percent of its combat aircraft. On June 22, the day of the outbreak of hostilities, the losses amounted to 1,200 aircraft, more than half of which did not even manage to get airborne.

The Germans also suffered serious losses during the same period – almost 4,000 aircraft, which exceeded the Luftwaffe's losses in all previous campaigns. But, nevertheless, the balance was not in favor of the Soviet side. The June 22 losses were a great shock for Soviet generals. After flying around his devastated airfields, the Belorusian Military District's air force commander committed suicide in despair.

The German air force - the Luftwaffe - was rightly considered the world's best. Due to their high fighting qualities, the Germans turned a threefold superiority in the Red Army's aviation to zero by winter, achieving numerical parity, which, considering the Luftwaffe's general qualitative superiority put them on the path toward air supremacy.

German pilots located targets using properly functioning tracking stations, which neutralized the tactical superiority of Soviet aviation on various sectors of the front. The Red Army's pilots showed great heroism, frequently ramming enemy planes, but all this could not reverse the overall situation.

Reasons for defeat
The Red Army had widely varying air assets. They included both new (for example, the Il-2, dubbed the "Flying Tank") and outdated machines - three times as many as new. However, even modern models had significant drawbacks: the quality of Soviet aircraft engines left much to be desired; the aircraft had poorly functioning radio communication. Soviet fighter plane armor was so vulnerable that even relatively weak machine guns mounted on German bombers could pierce it.

The training of flight personnel was provided on a just-in-time basis: pilots barely had time to learn how to operate their new machines. Shortly before the war, Soviet pilot schools had worked overtime, producing thousands of new pilots. The volumes of graduates were such that many were not made officers, so as not to inflate staff levels. Not all of the young pilots were professionals. This had already become clear during the 1939-1940 Soviet-Finnish War, when a small Finnish air force caused serious problems for Soviet aviation, despite its overwhelming numerical superiority.

Deep-rooted problems
However, the question of why 1941 was such a tragic year for the Soviet Air Force is more complicated. It should be borne in mind that the creation of a fully-fledged air force in the USSR began just 10 years before the war.

Aviation plants were often built on greenfield sites and had neither sufficient materials nor the necessary number of qualified engineers and workers. In addition, aviation is one of the most technically complex types of modern weapons. Its creation requires a developed chemical industry, electronics and metallurgy. All this was also created in the Soviet Union on a just-in-time basis.

Designers studied largely by trial and error. Disadvantages of aircraft engines limited their freedom of action, and attempts to solve them in the short term led to grave consequences. The lack of qualified commanding staff was a major problem.

Stalinist repression did not create the problem, but it certainly exacerbated it. Training and combat experience of the Soviet pilots were not at a high enough level and they were still absorbing lessons learned during combat on the side of Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War a few years earlier.

Unique Soviet T-34 tank recovered from river in south Russia

A WWII T-34-76 tank is being pulled from the bottom of the Don River by Patriot Park specialists, servicemen of Russia's Western Military District and divers, July 14, 2016. Source: Kristina Brazhnikova / TASS

The solely survived Soviet T-34-76 tank produced at the Stalingrad Tractor Factory has been retrieved from the Don River in south Russia, a TASS correspondent reports from the scene.

The operation to recover the WWII Soviet tank was carried out near the village of Ukrainskaya Builovka in the Voronezh Region by specialists of Patriot Park in the Moscow Region, servicemen of Russia’s Western Military District and divers.

The tank was successfully retrieved by a BREM-1 repair and evacuation vehicle based on a T-72 tank from the 7-meter depth. The armored vehicle that had stayed at the river bottom for more than half a century endured the operation well.

TASS reported earlier with reference to Head of the Patriot Park Department for Exhibits’ Search, Repair and Restoration Anatoly Kalemberg that all T-34 tanks produced at the Stalingrad Factory had been destroyed in battles during the first years of the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany in WWII.

Two versions exist about how the T-34-76 tank got into the river bed. The first version has been offered by local residents who say that the Soviet troops sank the tank during their retreat so that it would not get into the enemy’s hands.

However, as Kalemberg said, the tank’s armament was not removed, which speaks against this version.

According to the second version, the tank was moving along a pontoon bridge when it fell into the river. This version appears to hold true as the sunken pontoons, transport vehicles and small-size vessels stayed close to the tank at the river bed. As Kalemberg said, the tank was most likely lost in the summer of 1942.

Patriot Park specialists said earlier the tank weighs about 30 tons.
The unique T-34 tank recovered from the river has remained in a very good condition and can run again, Kalemberg said.

"If it is restored externally, this won’t be difficult and won’t take much time as it has remained in a very good condition. If we start restoring it to its running condition, this will take more time," he said, speaking about the time limits of the tank’s restoration.

"I hope we’ll restore it to the running condition," Kalemberg said.

According to preliminary data, there are neither munitions and other dangerous items nor crew remains inside the tank.