70. years have passed since on June 22, 1941 German troops invaded the Soviet Union. No doubt this event changed the course of Second World War and affected the fate of the Latvian people. Not only Latvian, but many other who lived within Central and Eastern Europe. For decades it was thought that Hitlers invasion was realized to achieve German hegemony in Europe. Soviet Union was considered to weak to defend itself from Germany and was not prepared for any counteractions. However, since the fall of Soviet Union Russian and Western historians have gathered enough sources and evidence to make new interpretation about World War II. New researches has broken the myth of Soviet desire for peace and German sole blame for the war. We can now with high probability of belief say that the Soviet Union was the blame for causing the World War II. Soviet Union was the revisionist state with no desire to keep status quo and was guided by the idea of worldwide socialist revolution. And Soviet leaders thought that this revolution can only be started by causing a major war. This article uses newest information gathered from Russian, Western and Latvian historiography to show new perspective on why Hitler invaded the Soviet Union. This is in no way intended to defend Nazi actions, its a attempt to bring people’s attention on alternative view on history. And more and more people believe that this not the alternative, but reality.
The main question in this matter is if the German attack on Soviet Union was preventive. Many historians disagree on this matter. Even if Soviet Union was actually preparing for attack on Germany, German intentions were aggressive, because they were not entirely aware of Soviet attack plans. Germans had expansionist plans for Soviet Union so as the Soviet had for Germany.
To discover why Hitler changed his plans from attacking England to invading Soviet Union we must look deep within German-Soviet relations from August 23, 1939 to June 22, 1941. On the first hours of invasion German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop gave a note of declaration of war to Soviet ambassador V. Dekazanov. Later same document was given by German ambassador Shulenburg to Soviet Foreign Commissar Molotov. The note accused Soviet Union on breaking the treaty of non-aggression between both states. Was it was really so or it was a false accusation we will see further.
First set of German dissatisfaction was the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states. Germans agreed to add Baltic States to Soviet sphere of interest. But, because of the British war blockade Baltic states became important trade partner for Germany. Germans wanted to keep their economical influence in Baltic State while allowing Soviets to have political influence. So when in 1940, Soviets occupied and annexed the Baltic States Germans were shocked, but decided to not make any counteractions. Germans were dissatisfied with the fact that Soviets had annexed the region of Marijampole in Lithuania, that connected East Prussia to Lithuania. This small piece of land was considered German sphere of interest and significant importance in case of Soviet attack on Germany. Also by the removal of the Baltic States all German economical assets in these states were lost.
Next German shock was Soviet annexation of Bessarabia and Northen Bukovina in 1940, when Germans were fighting in France. Germans had acknowledged that they have no political interest in South Europe, but they want to keep their economical interests there. Soviets without warning Germans had annexed the possessions of Rumania- German main oil supplier. Germans did everything to prevent Rumanian – Soviet conflict and Rumania was forced to gave away their lands. Germans saw this the prime dissatisfaction. Germans was in fears of possible Soviet invasion in Rumania, the loss of Rumanian oil supplies would mean economical collapse for Germany. Because of this Germans sent a contingent of 22, 430 troops to Rumania and Rumania joined the Axis.
Next source of disagreement was Finland. Hitler ordered to make plan Rennteir (Reindeer) that would sent two German divisions to Finland to capture valuable nickel mines in case of the Soviet invasion. Also Germany sent weapons for Finnish army.
After the capture of France, Germany had gotten itself in dead end situation. Hitler had to choose between invasion in Great Britain or risky attack on Soviet Union. Despite capturing so many countries, Germany could not defeat Great Britain. German submarines could not break trough British sea blockade and German warplanes was unable to conquer the British skies. Meanwhile Soviet Union had annexed the Baltic States, Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Karelia. Germany was in desperate need for resources.
To solve this problem Hitler invited Soviet Foreign Commissar V. Molotov to three day visit in Berlin. The reason was to offer the Soviet Union to join the Axis powers. The visit took place between November 12.-13, and now Germans wanted to divide the whole world with the Soviet Union. Hitler offered Soviets free hand for Middle East, Iran and India. Germans clearly wanted to get Soviet hands out of Europe. However, Molotov pointed out that first things must be set out in Europe. Molotov asked Germans to remove troops from Finland and Rumania and add Rumania and Turkey to the Soviet sphere of interests. Soviets also wanted Swedish isles of Spitsbergen and whole Sweden itself. Not only that, also Soviets wanted Bulgaria and naval base in Dardanelles.
By meting such demands Germany would became economically dependent to Soviet Union. If Soviets would acquire all these resources Germany would be unable to fight the war. This was Stalin’s attempt to get prime sets for his “attack of liberation”. Even if Germans would submit to Stalin’s will, Soviet Union would eventually invade Germany. Instead Hitler realized that because of such demands the peace with Soviet Union would not last long.
The talks with Molotov went nowhere and he returned to Moscow. New disagreements over Balkans between both sides continued. Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria joined the axis. The question was which side will Yugoslavia will chose. In April 5, 1941 Yugoslavia signed non aggression pact with Soviet Union. It was just few days after a coup in Yugoslavia when the new military government together with Greeks prepared to attack Germans and Italians. Soviet – Yugoslavian agreement stated that Soviet Union have rights to assist Yugoslavia in case of invasion by the third country. That meant that Soviet Union had right to declare war on Germany.
Germany invaded Yugoslavia, but Soviet Union did not react. Why? One of the explanations is that Stalin was aware of the possibility of German attack and wanted to keep Germans in Balkans as long as possible to force out the preparations for his attack against Germany. German forces would be kept below river Danube and the Red Army would have clear line of attack.
This showed that Soviet Union has broke its agreement with Germany. It also showed the German weakness, because the every new Soviet maneuver made Germany more vulnerable. So Hitler was forced issue the preparations for operation “Barbarossa”.
What Germans knew about Soviet attack plans and war preparations? German diplomats spotted Soviet army movements on German border already in 1940. The occupation of the Baltic States was alarming for Germans since it opened new bridgehead for invasion in Germany. Germans discovered that Soviets plan to place 50 – 100 divisions within Baltic States, because of such alarming rumors Soviet news agency issued a statement that Soviets only have 10 – 20 divisions there. While the core of German army was fighting in France and only few divisions in occupied Poland, Germans certainly had to be worried.
In summer of 1940, Germans discovered a force of 700, 000 men in Ukraine and demanded explanation. Soviets said that they were for defensive actions, but Germans did not believed them. Soon after that Bessarabia was annexed. As Germans gathered intelligence for the attack they discovered a large troop concentration in Soviet Union. Germans discovered the existence of 160 Soviet divisions while in reality there more than 300 Soviet divisions. But, even 160 divisions were alarming for Germans. Yet, Germans did consider that these divisions were capable of attacking Germany. German General Staff was optimistic about their forces and disregarded the potential of Soviet forces. Hitler himself thought that Soviet Union is “colossus with out a head” and sudden attack would bring him down.
However after the invasion, German army found many evidence for Soviet planned attack. Topographic maps of German cities, bombing spots and leaflets within Lithuania. Also they discovered special dictionaries for Soviet soldiers. Russian to Latvian, Russian to Estonian were issued before the occupation of the Baltic states. Also there was dictionaries like Russian to Rumanian and Polish. The selected phrases and words were useful for combat actions and why would Soviet soldier would need a Russian – Czech dictionary if he is required to defend his homeland.
The Directive 21, the plan for Operation Barbarossa was issued in January 31, 1941. Hitler ordered to deploy German forces against Soviet Union only in case of need. If Soviet Union will not stop its hostile acts against Germany the Germany must take cautions steps to make preparations for attack. No particular date of attack was not set out in the directive. The decision to deploy forces against Soviet Union was only taken in 30. April, 1941.
German reason for attack was preventive only in strategical means. Germany had to clear out the danger in East to finish war with Great Britain. Germans knew that every delay with Soviet Union would endanger their position in Europe. So Germans wanted to defeat Soviet Union as quick as possible. Even if Hitler did not saw Soviet attack as close possibility he felt the need to prevent such possibility. If Hitler would continue his operations against Great Britain or delay his attack even further the situation could now turn on him, and today historians would try to explain his mistakes, not Stalin”s mistakes.
Soviet Union and Germany were two violent countries who simultaneously planed to attack on each other. Even if Germany managed to outscore Soviet Union it did not brought them victory in world war. Allied forces still won the war. The fact that Germany was forced to attack Soviet Union showed how weak was the German chances to achieve victory in the Second World war.
Recommended sources for further reading:
Raack, R. Stalin’s drive to the west 1938-1945. The origins of the cold war. – Stanford, 1995
Davies, N. Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory. – Oxford, 2006
Post, W. Unternehmen Barbarossa. – Hamburg, Berlin, Bonn, 1996
Hoffmann, J. Stalin’s War of Extermination 1941-1945: Planning, Realization and Documentation, – Capshaw, AL, 2001
Feldmanis, I. Kā sākās padomju – vācu karš? // Latvijas Vēsture. Jaunie un jaunākie laiki, 2011, Nr. 2 (82),
Viktor Suvorov Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II
The Ribbentrop Memoir
Мельтюхов, М. Упущений Шанс Сталина. Советский Союз и борба за Европу: 1939-1941 (Документы, факты, суздения). – Москва, 2000
Солонин, М. 23 июня «день М». – Москва, 2009
Гогун, А. Главная ошибка Сталина // Новая правда Виктора Суворова. – Москва, 2009