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The Buildup to the Russian Invasion in 1941:the Nazi- Russia Non-Aggression Pact

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College, and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters

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Background

In 1933 Hitler came to power in Germany with a fractured mandate. The Nazi party became the single largest party in the Reichstag and the aging president Marshal Hindenburg, much against his wish invited Hitler to form the government. The Nazi leader had a devious plan and once ensconced as head of the government, he had decided that he would not hand power to anybody else. Precisely four weeks after being sworn in on 27 February, Hitler and the Nazi party carried out an arson attack and burnt the German parliament. He blamed it on the communists and this gave him an excuse to appropriate more powers.

Hindenburg died on 2 August 1934 at the age of 87. Hitler now began to consolidate his power and from June 30 to July 2, 1934, he along with his close associates like Himmler ordered the execution of nearly 700 to 1000 opponents of his regime referred to as the "Night of the Long knives." He followed up and anointed himself as chancellor of Germany after the death of Hindenburg.

Once Hitler was in power he tore the Treaty of Versailles clause by clause. He started a process of re-armament of Germany. He had a magnetic personality and he promised the restoration of German pride to the people and the masses began to adulate him.

Hitler had only been a corporal in World War I but it would be a fallacy to consider that his thinking was of a corporal. During the intervening period after the end of World War I, he studied the masters of military thought like Frederick, Clausewitz, Moltke, and Alfred von Schlieffen. He had a fair knowledge of tactics and strategy But he did not study the exponents of air warfare like Giulio Douhet and had to pay a price for this in the war.

Hitler had been preparing for war from day one but he was aware that he could not be the supreme power in Europe until France was destroyed. At the same time, he was aware that Germany could not fight a two-front war as laid down by Marshall Von Schlieffen in his papers. He discussed the issue with his foreign minister Von Ribbentrop and formulated a plan to approach Stalin for a nonaggression pact.

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Change of perception

Hitler had always felt that the Soviet Union was a danger to Germany. In his book "Mein Kampf" he had spelled out his views regarding Russia and the east. He was of the view that the German people need to colonize the vast lands of Russia for the good of the people. He followed up on 25 November 1936 by signing the anti-Comintern pact with the empire of Japan. The pact was against the communist international in general, and the Soviet Union in particular.

The Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was aware of Hitler's theories as he had read his biography in detail and had no illusions about the Germans. He was sure there would be war with Germany at some stage but he wanted to fight Germany at a stage when he had made Russia strong and he was susceptible to some form of accommodation with the Germans. When Britain and France in 1938, signed the Munich agreement with Hitler and accepted most of his terms, Stalin felt isolated.

Though the Soviet Union was continuing discussions with England and France for a collective security agreement by early 1939 the Russians faced the prospect of resisting the Germany military machine all alone in Eastern Europe. To adjust to the new situation on 03 May 1939, Stalin sacked the Russian foreign minister Maksim Litvinov who had Jewish roots, and brought in Molotov.

Events now we moved with breathtaking speed. Stalin was almost sure then Britain and France would not oppose Germany and instructed the new foreign minister to immediately get in touch with the Germans for some form of accommodation.

On August 14, 1939, Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop contacted the Soviets to arrange a deal. Ribbentrop met with the Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov in Moscow, and together they arranged two pacts: the economic agreement and the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact.

The Economic Agreement

The first pact was an economic trade agreement, which Ribbentrop and Molotov signed on August 19, 1939.

The agreement was of great help to Germany. It provided a way to bypass the British blockade. The Soviet Union agreed to provide food products and raw materials to Germany in exchange for German machinery.

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The Non-Aggression Pact

The Western powers namely England and France were surprised at the developments. They were in for a bigger shock when on 23 August 1939 just four days after the signing of the economic agreement the new non- aggression pact between Russia and Germany was made public. The pact was signed in Moscow in the presence of Joseph Stalin by Ribbentrop and Molotov.

Unknown to the West the Pact was in two parts, the second being a secret protocol that was not made public. The pact stated publicly that Germany and the Soviet Union would not attack each other and in case there was a problem between the two the same would be solved amicably. The pact was signed for 10 years and was supposed to expire in 1949.

The pact created quite a stir because it stated that in case Germany was to have a war with Poland the Soviet Union would not come to the help of Poland. It also stated that in case of war between England and France and Germany the Soviet Union would remain neutral. The Soviets were clearly stating that they would not enter the war. The Germans were free to attack Poland and they were also sure that when they went against France they would have a free run. This helped the Germans smash the French inside 40 days.

The Secret Protocol

There was another aspect to the pact which was kept absolutely secret. The Russians never acknowledged this secret protocol till 1989 having denied it for close to 4 decades. In 1989 Nikhil Gorbachev accepted that this protocol had been signed. Later the protocol was also accepted by Putin but he compared it to the Munich conference.

The secret protocol gave the Soviets the Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania), leaving Poland to be divided. The division was to be along the Narew, Vistula, and San rivers. The pact lasted only two years and on 22nd June 41, the Wehrmacht launched 'Operation Barbarossa'; the invasion of Russia. It is worth noting that after the pact had been signed in Moscow, Joseph Stalin sent a message to Adolf Hitler which is reproduced below.

To the Chancellor of the German Reich, Herr A. Hitler,
I thank you for your letter. I hope that the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact will mark a decisive turn for the better in the political relations between our two countries.- j Stalin

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 04, 2020:

Tom, she married a German.

tom on October 03, 2020:

netajis daughter is anita

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 03, 2020:

Ribbentrop and Himmler both respected Netaji. Subash Bose was given a house in Berlin and a monthly allowance. That's the time he fell in love with the German girl and then went with her on a holiday to the Alps. She was carrying his child when he sailed in the U-boat to Japan.

tom on October 02, 2020:

kruschev dismissed molotov ,he died in 198os

tom on October 02, 2020:

kruschev was in stalingrad battle as political officer and he wasin ukraine agriculture

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 02, 2020:

Tom, I have read the book nearly 10 years back and I can tell it's a fascinating tale.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 02, 2020:

Alan, its good some people remember him. I was talking about Russia where nobody seems to know anything about Nikita Khrushchev. He was the man who started the destanilisation program after his1956 secret speech to the supreme Soviet.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on October 02, 2020:

Nikita Khrushchev certainly isn't a forgotten man in this country, emge. His son Sergei was interviewed for a couple of documentaries that appeared on the Yesterday channel on UKTV. He came out with some real eye openers about his father, and it's possibly down to him that Nikita featured in the film 'Enemy At The Gate', played by the late Bob Hoskins. I don't think the older - my - generation in the US has forgotten him either, and it was US money that supported the film's production, with one US actor who played the German sniper school principal from Berlin who is shot by the hero in a late scene. Khrushchev was assigned to an agricultural five year plan in the Ukraine before his disappearance from public life, that's the version reported in the press here.

His contribution to Stalingrad's stand against the Germans - based in an underground HQ - is undisputed as morale booster with threats (carrot and stick 'therapy').

tom on October 02, 2020:

details are available in three volume memoirs kruschev and shirers rise and fall of third reich

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 02, 2020:

Litvinov's Wife claimed that Stalin was on good terms with him in fact he says he looked after him with the best treatment in hospital before he died of a heart attack one can't say really what happened because the Soviet Union at that time was such a secretive place.

tom on October 01, 2020:

litvinov death 1951,not 1946 probable murder by nkvd

tom on October 01, 2020:

litvinov later became ambassador to usa and was murdered by nkvd in 1946

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 01, 2020:

Alan, Lenin was an intellectual and he wrote prodigiously. But it's my opinion that he could not interpret Marx properly. The dictatorship of the proletariat did not mean that one class had to be wiped out. This is the way the Communist system floundered in Russia.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 01, 2020:

Alan, I think the personal biography of Adolf Hitler says everything.He wished to take over the land in the east for the resources and the food for the German people and leave the Russians to die of hunger. Maybe keep a few people alive to work as slaves. That's why he felt that in World War I the Germans had been betrayed though they still had lots of areas under their control. I am not an admirer of Stalin but then I have to admit he had some qualities because it was during his time that the Soviet Union at least militarily caught up with the United States. The person I prefer among the Soviet leadership is Nikita Khrushchev. Sadly he is the forgotten man in Russia and nobody knows about him. I think the agricultural policy of Stalin was a failure because somewhere I read the grain production during his time fell down. That was one of the reasons for the collapse of communism and the Chinese learned from the Russian mistake and they adopted a market economy as well as allowed private ownership. Collectiveness is against the human spirit where a person would like to be an owner. Ultimately the Russian Empire had to collapse like all empires. I can't say about China but I have a feeling that within another decade something will happen in China and Tibet and Sinkiang will get autonomy. This looks far-fetched at the moment but it is my conviction that it will happen.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on October 01, 2020:

Whilst Vladimir Lenin (Ulyanov) with his middle class, professional background may be the father of the Soviet state, he wasn't long enough in the public eye to have made a lasting impression. Joseph Stalin ('the man of steel', o/w Djugashvili) with his working class origins probably touched more Russians' lives - aside from those he sent to gulags, executed or exiled - than Lenin, who warned those around him about the threat Stalin posed. Lenin's path took him out of Russia before the Kaiser's agents arranged his return in the sealed train, to St Petersburg in 1917, just in time to take Russia out of its initially successful war - then demoralisation after Hindenburg's victory at Tannenberg - against the Germans and free the eastern divisions for the Western Front against the Allies (nothing if not scheming b******s, these Germans in WWI). Just as well US forces under Pershing were able to come into the war to finally tire the German troops out.

The Kaiser and his war leaders would've carried on the war with cold disregard for their starving civilian population. I think THIS was the motivation for Hitler's aim in trying to take Russia for its large grain stores in WWII.

For his part Stalin accused large areas and sections of Soviet society of hampering the state acquisition of grain supplies from private ownership. The 'Kulaks', as he called them were removed from their fertile lands to unproductive regions or to gulags. This era is subject to interpretation, depending on personal political stance. To the Soviets it meant freeing up huge stores of food from hoarding for profit. To us it's wholesale land-grabbing. Six of one, half-a-dozen of the other, emge. What's your perspective?

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on October 01, 2020:

Alan, all credit to Churchill who despite his opposition to communism changed track and at the crucial moment informed Stalin of an impending Russian attack. Stalin thought it was a trick by the British to entangle him in a fight with Hitler. Stalin also ignored the information given by the Russian spy in Tokyo Sorge and also from Germany. In fact he used a four letter word for the man who had passed the information from Germany. He was not even ready to order partial mobilisation because of fear of antagonising Hitler. He paid a terrible price for it and almost 3,000,000 Russian soldiers taken POW in the initial stages of the campaign were just starved to death. But I am really wonderstruck to observe during my visits to Russia that Lenin is a totally forgotten man and the Russians have a nostalgic love for Stalin. I can't explain it.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on October 01, 2020:

Stalin suspected British motives for reporting the German build-up on the Russo-Polish border. He was not informed as to how we came by the intelligence because MI5 was worried the Russians would know about Bletchley Park's interception of Enigma and Lorenz messages. He was concerned the Germans would bring their invasion forward if they knew of a soviet build-up.

In England the thought was, if the Russians got hold of either or both communication systems from the Germans after WWII then the US would 'cast us adrift' in intelligence-sharing, blaming MI5 for sharing secrets with a 'Third Party', namely the Soviet Union (amazing what you find out from documentaries these days... there were several programmes about Bletchley Park, Alan Turing and a post office technician who set up 'Colossus', the decoding computer at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire).

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 30, 2020:

Tom, Stalin got fooled but he collected his wits fast.

tom on September 30, 2020:

ribbentrop molotov pact ,stalin got eastern poland ,three baltic states ,two year time to prepare,sorge and churchills warning ignored

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 20, 2020:

Yes, Alan, Japan certainly was a partner in that nefarious pact of steel. The Japanese follow Buddhism, a pacifist religion yet their atrocities are unheard of. For example, photographs are available of the Japs using captured Indian army POWs for target practice. I have also done some research on a bizarre competition between officers of the Imperial army as to who can behead the maximum number of Chinese. Yes, I am well conversant with Dad's army. Hindenburg had lost his reasoning power otherwise he should never have allowed Hitler to get away with the act of burning the German parliament. That was the beginning and Hitler didn't look back after that.

You have a point that in case, he had married Eva Braun maybe he would have been a little more human. Another clown who played into Hitler's hands was Chamberlain. When I see the old photographs of Hitler and Chamberlain, one can see that Hitler is the dominant personality. The clash had to take place. There was no choice and the good thing is that Stalin was on the side of the Allies.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 20, 2020:

Ever see "Dad's Army" when you were here? The title song by Bud Flanagan goes, "Who do you think you are kidding Mister Hitler...?" That goes not just for post-Dunkirk Britain but the Chancellorship of Germany full stop. He was handed it on a plate by the doddery old Paul von Hindenburg, who had as much understanding of running a country as Hitler did. They had a democratically elected government until 1933 and couldn't wait for it to get to grips with running the country for the 'putsches' by extreme left and right (Rosa Luxembourg on one hand and Adolf Schickelgruber - Hitler was his mother's maiden name - on the other).

They were too het up for revenge on the League of Nations, too keen to get their hands on the Czech and Austrian armaments industries in 1938 to care about the country they'd been given the mandate to run. He - Hitler - just might've succeeded in pulling the wool over everyone else's eyes by calling a halt in 1938 but that's not what he was about. A mass or right arms in the air at his parades told us, "Watch him closely, he'll put his foot in it sooner or later".

Maybe if he'd married Eva Braun in 1938 things might've passed a bit more quietly... We'd still have had Japan on our hands though...

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 20, 2020:

I think you are right that both Hitler and Himmler could not pull the trigger themselves to kill anybody. It's a bit of a surprise to me that he finally gathered courage to kill himself with his revolver. Herman Goering was the only man who never committed suicide and faced the international tribunal bravely but he also decided that was better to kill himself then to be hung by the neck. Somebody smuggled in a cyanide capsule, I think it could be the American military police and he killed himself. William Shirer in his "Rise and fall of the third Reich" has painted a vivid picture of a vibrant and energetic Germany in 1938. It is sad that Mr Hitler threw everything away.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 19, 2020:

You're talking about the accused in the July Plot, along with Von Stauffenberg. Admiral Canaris, former head of the Abwehr (the Reich's military security as opposed to the Sicherheits Dienst, the civilian security department associated with the Geheim Stabs Polizei, aka Gestapo - the Germans and Austrians love making 'words' out of initials) was thus 'disposed of', his execution filmed for Hitler to gloat over.

Hitler was unable to pull the trigger or personally execute anyone on the spot. He was a queasy, 'military-mannequin' sort, like Himmler, who had other people do their dirty work for them. Eichmann was another. Which is why Hitler was a runner. Goering was the only one in the upper hierarchy who had pressed a trigger in WWI. Goebbels was a cripple with a club-foot who wore uniform all the time because it made him feel 'equal'.

A veritable troupe of mental misfits who led a nation of political misogynists to ruin. Have they learned after two catastrophic debacles? Most of them seem to have, it's the illiterates and misfits that 'catch the media light'.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 19, 2020:

Nice comment Alan. I am aware of the rise of Nazi sympathisers both in England and Germany. Even in the United States many right-wing groups are supporting the swastika the nazi symbol. I wonder if these groups are aware of the atrocities which were committed by people who followed the swastika. Hitler was not only a megalomaniac but he was an extremely cruel man and I read the other day that he executed 84 German generals during the war. That is a huge number. You are right many of his opponents were strung up on meat hooks with piano wire and hanged. But history is very funny I read that in 1815 Napoleon was the most hated man in Europe and the Prussians were eager to capture him and string him on the first tree. That is the reason he surrendered to the English.

Similarly, on many visits to Russia, the Russian people are nostalgic about Stalin and nobody wants to think of the concentration camps and they only think of the way he led Russia during the war. They also remember with a lot of respect how he made the USSR the rival to the USA. Even the church in Russia has rehabilitated him and in the latest megachurch outside Moscow, a mural depicts Stalin leading.

I wonder how the young will react to Hitler hundred years down the line. You will re-collect Napoleon was rehabilitated and his remains moved to France and he became a national hero. The French forgot the 500,000 soldiers killed in the Russian campaign and many more.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 19, 2020:

The Germans had glorified warmaking to the extent Goering told them, "Bullets, not butter" when some moaned about the lack of something to put on their bread. When the bullets flew the other way too often they stopped worshipping Hitler, but it was too late by then. Any soldier caught facing the wrong way was strung up with piano wire. Even some civilians who glibly mocked the fatherland were hanged in public when the allies were across the Rhine.

In the East the story was different. Unbeknown to civilians their glorious army had committed war crimes against Soviet civilians and the Soviet troops were out to even the score. The Germans 'back home' were fed on a diet of propaganda most other nationalities would've laughed at in its 'innocence', and believed long after the war that the Russians were animals in their treatment of Germans in their zone. German soldiers, sailors and airmen knew their fate if they were taken prisoner. Such had been the scale of their crimes, SS men didn't like to think about their fate. It was instant hanging without leniency. A quick 'trial' and that was it, up on the board...

Hitler-worship is back in Germany and Austria, so I'd guess history lessons were ineffective. It's forbidden in modern-day Germany and Austria to even possess memorabilia, but it doesn't stop them. We've got Hitler worshippers here in England as well, emge, you probably know about them. They call themselves 'English Nationalists' and wear swastika tattoos, which means whoever taught them history glossed over the WWII part - as they gloss over lots of parts in order to keep the 'exam factories' going - but some schools do their bit. Both my daughters have been taken to Auschwitz. Belsen is closer, but that was levelled by British Army engineers after the inmates were rehoused.

Hitler memorabilia is still marketable everywhere. He's become such a cult figure that he equals Stalin in 'attraction value', along with Attila, Genghis Khan and Pol Pot.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 18, 2020:

Winston Churchill was a hundred percent correct when he compared Italy to the underbelly of the axis. Mussolini had tried to instill a martial spirit in Italy but the Italians were not interested in fighting and the Germans had to come to the aid of the Italians at so many places both in the Balkans and North Africa.

There is a good chance that in case the invasion of Russia had not been delayed by about three weeks the Wehrmacht would have captured Moscow but that would not have brought victory. We must remember that Napoleon also captured Moscow but then had to retreat. One facet of the Russian Empire has always been that it has never given equality to the people it occupied like Ukraine, Poland, and Finland. The net result is there is deep distrust of Russia even in the present era.

During World War II Stalin was the right man to face Hitler. In 1941 he was the master of Europe but he frittered all his gains away. Had he concentrated on the destruction of the UK and not being distracted but to invade Russia the story of the world war would have been different.

I have a feeling that after winning victories in 40 and 41 Hitler began to believe that he was God and he could do no wrong and that was perhaps the reason for his defeat because after that he began to take many irrational decisions and they spelt the death knell of the German army.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on September 18, 2020:

On the whole faultless, emge, and all-encompassing.

However, you vary between 'England' and 'Britain'. I'd stick with 'Britain' throughout, after all the rest of the UK were involved with England, and were bombed equally badly by the Luftwaffe.

Stalin had a reason to agree to a non-aggression pact: his eyes were on Finland. The Karelian Peninsula in particular had been part of Russia before WWI, and all Finland had been part of the Russian Empire before the turn of the Century. Finnish leader General Mannerheim had been an officer in the Imperial Russian army.

Had the Germans not gone to the aid of their Italian ally Mussolini in the Balkans they'd certainly have taken Moscow, although even setting out when they did in the summer of 1941 - without diverting to Leningrad and the southern Russian oilfield - they'd still have rolled Stalin up. Funny how Corporal Hitler 'missed the bus' as Neville Chamberlain said in 1940, and more or less mis-timed his whole war.

As to being a corporal, he was only made up from private due to his predecessors biting the bullet. He himself, as a message runner never fired a shot in anger. He was shot in WWI, though, by a sniper of one of the Midlands regiments, and where it definitely hurt! It was when he was hospitalised that things took an interesting course. He was sexually assaulted by a recuperating officer. Although one of his stalwarts Roehm, the head of the Brownshirts was that way inclined it was Himmler who influenced Hitler to take action against Roehm and his Brownshirts on the pretext that they were a threat to the Reich in general, and to Hitler's authority in particular. Roehm was held in isolation for a short time before being quietly disposed of. The members of the Brownshirts were thereafter incorporated into the SS. Another aspect of Hitler's sexual insecurity was his affair with his niece that ended in her death and disposal at the hands of his SS chauffeur.

Funny things happen in politics, emge, and former opposing forces become strange bedfellows.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 18, 2020:

Flourish, Its such a pleasure to read your comments.

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 18, 2020:

I didn’t know they denied it for four decades. You have covered this topic superbly.