The Great Dictator: The film that dared to laugh at Hitler

Hynkel’s anti-Semitic rants (consisting of cod-German punctuated by shouts of “Juden”) are terrifying, but there is no conviction behind them, just a desperate need to distract the Tomainians from his economic failures. As his urbane sidekick and Goebbels substitute, Garbitsch (Henry Daniell), says: “Violence against the Jews might take the public’s mind off its stomach.”

The film has been accused of trivialising Nazi atrocities. Chaplin himself said, in his autobiography, “Had I known the actual horrors of the German concentration camps, I could not have made The Great Dictator; I could not have made fun of the homicidal insanity of the Nazis.” But he isn’t just making fun of Hitler – as Mel Brooks did in The Producers in 1967 – he is making an astute point about the fragile egos of male world leaders.

Think of today’s dictators and would-be dictators, in any country, and you can spot all the juvenile qualities that Chaplin identified: the fetish for photo opportunities, the lavish lifestyles, the policy flip-flops and the crackpot schemes, the self-aggrandising parades and the chests full of medals: Billy Gilbert’s Herring, ie. Göring, has so many medals pinned to his uniform that Hynkel has to turn him sideways to find room for the latest addition. Hitler was at the peak of his power when The Great Dictator was being made, but Chaplin had already recognised that, as with every subsequent dictator, his villainy was bound up with his immaturity.

According to biographer Jürgen Trimborn, much of the film was inspired by a screening of Leni Riefenstahl’s pro-Hitler documentary, Triumph of the Will, at the New York Museum of Modern Art. While other viewers were appalled, Chaplin roared with laughter at the ridiculous spectacle. This attitude sustained him when he was urged to abandon The Great Dictator. “I was determined to go ahead,” he wrote in his autobiography, “for Hitler must be laughed at.”

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Politician named after Adolf Hitler wins election in Namibia

A politician named after Adolf Hitler has won a seat at a Namibian election – but says he has no plans for world domination. 

Adolf Hitler Uunona was elected with 85 per cent of the vote in the former German colony, which is still home to a small German-speaking community and where a number of streets, places and people still bear German names.   

After winning the seat on the ticket of the ruling SWAPO party – which has ruled Namibia since independence from apartheid South Africa in 1990 – the politician told Bild that he had ‘nothing to do with’ Nazi ideology. 

‘My father named me after this man. He probably didn’t understand what Adolf Hitler stood for,’ his namesake said. 

‘As a child I saw it as a totally normal name. Only as a teenager did I understand that this man wanted to conquer the whole world.’ 

Adolf Hitler in 1935

Left: Adolf Hitler Uunona, who won a seat at a Namibian regional election; right: the real Adolf Hitler at a Nazi party congress in 1935 

German soldiers with captured indigenous people in Namibia in 1905, when the country was part of the short-lived German colonial empire

German soldiers with captured indigenous people in Namibia in 1905, when the country was part of the short-lived German colonial empire 

The politician said his wife calls him Adolf, adding that he usually goes by Adolf Uunona but that it would be ‘too late’ to change his name officially. 

‘The fact I have this name does not mean I want to conquer Oshana,’ he said, referring to the region where he won the election. ‘It doesn’t mean I’m striving for world domination.’   

Uunona won 1,196 votes in the recent election compared to 213 for his opponent, returning him to a seat on the regional council which he previously won in 2015. 

His name was abbreviated to ‘Adolf H’ in a list of candidates printed in a government gazette, but his name appeared in full on an official results website.   

Once known as German South West Africa, Namibia was a German colony from 1884 until the empire was stripped of its possessions following World War I.  

The real Hitler would later use the humiliation of the post-war Treaty of Versailles as a propaganda tool to win support for the Nazis in the 1920s and 1930s. 

While Germany has spent 75 painstaking years trying to atone for the war and genocide that it unleashed under Hitler’s rule, its colonial atrocities in Namibia are little discussed – but pressure for reparations has been growing in recent years.   

German soldiers slaughtered some 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama tribespeople in a bloody campaign to suppress a local revolt between 1904 and 1908.  

The killings came after German occupiers forced native tribespeople off their land and recruited them for forced labour, leading to an uprising in which Herero people killed 123 German settlers. 

A German bakery in Swakomund, Namibia, is seen in 2008 in a remnant of the German colonial settlement which took place there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries

A German bakery in Swakomund, Namibia, is seen in 2008 in a remnant of the German colonial settlement which took place there in the late 19th and early 20th centuries 

German colonial architecture in Luderitz, Namibia, in a country where traces of the colonial past are still visible in names of places and streets

German colonial architecture in Luderitz, Namibia, in a country where traces of the colonial past are still visible in names of places and streets 

A German flag is on display next to a street vendor in Windhoek, Namibia, ahead of a World Cup match involving the German team in 2010

A German flag is on display next to a street vendor in Windhoek, Namibia, ahead of a World Cup match involving the German team in 2010

In addition to the slaughter, thousands of Hereros were driven into the desert and died of thirst and starvation, and the rest were sent to prison camps. 

Last year, a German government minister described the massacre as a genocide while on a visit to the African country. 

‘It has become clear that the crimes and abominations from 1904 to 1908 were what we today describe as genocide,’ Mueller said after meeting tribespeople. 

The German government says it has a ‘special responsibility’ towards Namibia ‘on account of the two countries’ shared colonial past’. 

But in August, Namibia turned down Germany’s £9million offer of reparations for the colonial massacres, stating that it needs to be ‘revised’.     

A small German-speaking community still lives in the country today, and around 120,000 Germans visit Namibia every year.  

That community has occasionally been associated with displays of neo-Nazi sentiment, including a celebration of Hitler’s 100th birthday in 1989. 

Three years earlier, a group of German speakers took out an advert commemorating the death of Hitler’s deputy Rudolf Hess and paying tribute to ‘the last representative of a better Germany’.  

In 2005, a German-language newspaper ran an advert voicing ‘joy and satisfaction’ over the death of Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal. 

The German ambassador to Namibia demanded that the newspaper apologise, which it subsequently did.  

In 2011, members of a Namibian delegation in Berlin stand over a set of skulls of Namibian tribespeople who were victims of German colonial atrocities in the early 20th century

In 2011, members of a Namibian delegation in Berlin stand over a set of skulls of Namibian tribespeople who were victims of German colonial atrocities in the early 20th century 

Back in Namibia, a crowd awaited the return of the skulls while one car was emblazoned with a message saying that 'Germany must pay' for the genocide

Back in Namibia, a crowd awaited the return of the skulls while one car was emblazoned with a message saying that ‘Germany must pay’ for the genocide 

Native Herero people in chains during Germany's brutal suppression of an uprising in Namibia in the early 20th century

Native Herero people in chains during Germany’s brutal suppression of an uprising in Namibia in the early 20th century 

The 20th century’s first genocide: German massacres in Namibia  

A depiction of the conflict between Herero fighters and German colonialists in 1904

A depiction of the conflict between Herero fighters and German colonialists in 1904 

German soldiers killed tens of thousands of indigenous Herero and Nama people in colonial Namibia between 1904 and 1908 in what has been labelled the first genocide of the 20th century. 

Namibia, then known as German South West Africa, was one of the few German possessions overseas – after its 1871 unification meant it arrived too late to capture much of the colonial spoils. 

The German occupiers forced native tribespeople off their land and recruited them for forced labour, leading to an uprising in which Herero people killed 123 German settlers. 

The German Reich sent reinforcements in response, and its soldiers carried out a brutal four-year campaign of slaughter in which 65,000 Herero and 10,000 Nama people are thought to have been killed.  

In addition to the slaughter, thousands of Hereros were driven into the desert and died of thirst and starvation, and the rest were sent to prison camps.

In the Battle of Waterberg in August 1904, around 80,000 Herero fled including women and children. 

Germany recently handed over a cache of skulls and other remains of massacred tribespeople, which were used for experiments to push long-debunked claims of European racial superiority.  

The German colonial empire was disbanded after World War I when the country was stripped of its possessions, and the colonial past has since become largely overshadowed by the horrors of Hitler’s rule. 

Namibia was later handed to South Africa by the League of Nations and finally achieved independence from the apartheid state in 1990.  

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Hitler Attacked Russia Because He Thought a Soviet Assault Was Imminent

As dawn was breaking on Sunday morning, June 22, 1941, military forces of Germany, Finland and Romania suddenly struck against the Soviet Union along a broad front stretching hundreds of miles from the Arctic Circle in the far north to the Black Sea in the south. Italy, Hungary, Slovakia, and Croatia quickly joined the campaign – the largest military offensive in history. Soldiers from those nations were soon joined by volunteers from other European countries, including France, Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Spain, and Belgium.

The stunning news of this attack was announced to the world by German radio at 5:30 that Sunday morning, when Reich Minister Joseph Goebbels broadcast the text of a proclamation by Adolf Hitler to the German people that laid out his reasons for the historic offensive.

Following that was the broadcast of Germany’s declaration of war against the Soviet Union. This was in the form of a diplomatic note to the Soviet government, read by Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to a packed and hastily organized news conference of journalists representing the German press, as well as newspapers across Europe and overseas.

This Foreign Office statement explains in some detail the German government’s reasons for the momentous decision to attack the USSR. About two hours earlier, Ribbentrop had given the text to the Soviet ambassador in Berlin, while at the same time the German ambassador in Moscow was delivering a shorter version of it to the Soviet Foreign Minister.

The text of Ribbentrop’s statement, quickly distributed by Germany’s DNB news agency, appeared the next day in newspapers in Germany and abroad. An English-language text, which contained a number of errors due perhaps to the haste with which it had been prepared, appeared in The New York Times.

Although the two German statements of June 22 portrayed a grave and looming Soviet threat, they actually understated the scale of the danger. While Hitler and his generals knew that the Red Army was large and formidable, they had seriously underestimated its size and power. This miscalculation proved to be an important and probably decisive factor in the failure to crush the Soviet military by the onset of winter 1941-42, as planned – which then made possible the ultimate triumph of the Red Army in the titanic four-year clash.

By June 1941, the Soviet air force was not only the world’s largest, it was greater than the combined air forces of all other countries together. Similarly, the Soviet airborne assault force – which could be used only in offensive operations – was not only larger than Germany’s, it was larger than the combined paratroop forces of the rest of the world. The Soviet Red Army’s tank force was not only the world’s largest, it was larger than the tank forces of the rest of the world combined.

German leaders did not know that the Soviets were already producing the T-34, KV-1 and KV-2 tanks, the heaviest and most deadly in the world, and more formidable than any German model. Nor they did they know that the Soviet military had more than 4,000 amphibious tanks – which were meant only for offensive operations – while the Germans had none.

The Germans were also unaware of how the Soviets had been preparing their military commanders for war. For example, at a secret speech to military academy graduates in May 1941, just weeks earlier, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin said: “In conducting the defense of our country, we are compelled to act in an aggressive manner. From defense we have to shift to a military policy of offense. It is indispensable that we reform our training, our propaganda, our press to a mindset of offense. The Red Army is a modern army, and the modern army is an army of offense.”

It did not take long for German leaders to realize that they had greatly misjudged the scope of the Soviet military buildup. On August 11, 1941 – just eight weeks after the start of “Operation Barbarossa” – General Franz Halder, chief of the German army high command, noted in his diary: “In the situation as a whole, it is becoming ever clearer that we have underestimated the Russian colossus, which has consciously prepared for the war with the absolute lack of restraint that is peculiar to totalitarian states … At the outset of the war we reckoned with about 200 enemy divisions. Now we are already counting 360.”

A week later – on August 19 – the well informed Reich Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, similarly noted in his diary: “We obviously quite underestimated the Soviet shock power and, above all, the equipment of the Soviet army. We had nowhere near any idea of what the Bolsheviks had available. This led to erroneous decision-making …”

Hitler himself acknowledged, both in public and in private, that he had misjudged the extent and scale of the Soviet threat. “Certainly, though, we were mistaken about one thing,” the German leader told a large audience in Berlin on Oct. 3, 1941. “We had no idea how gigantic the preparations of this enemy were against Germany and Europe and how immeasurably great was the danger; how we just barely escaped annihilation, not only of Germany but also of Europe.”

The US government responded to the news of the German-led offensive with an official statement, issued by Deputy Secretary of State Sumner Welles. Completely ignoring the points made by the leaders in Berlin, it claimed that Germany’s “treacherous” attack was part of a plan by Hitler “for the cruel and brutal enslavement of all peoples and for the ultimate destruction of the remaining free democracies.” Actually, it was the Soviet Union – the world’s most oppressive regime at the time – that was dedicated to the eradication of “free democracies” and to the ultimate triumph of “proletarian dictatorship” in all countries. Stalin had made clear his elemental hostility to “free democracy” when the Red Army tried impose a Bolshevik regime on Finland in the “Winter War” of 1939-1940. In fact, soldiers of Finland – a parliamentary democracy – were now fighting as allies of Hitler’s Germany against the Soviets.

The American public, largely ignorant of European affairs and conditioned by years of media propaganda and alarmist rhetoric by President Franklin Roosevelt, generally accepted their government’s view of the conflict. “Of course,” Roosevelt told reporters on June 24, “we are going to give all the aid that we possibly can to Russia.” In violation of its proclaimed status as a neutral country, and with disregard for international law, the US was soon providing military aid to Soviet Russia.

Influential American historians have for years accepted the official US view of the German-Soviet clash. They portrayed the German-led offensive as a treacherous and unprovoked surprise attack against a peaceable country, motivated above all by grandiose visions of empire. Typical is the view of James MacGregor Burns, a prominent US historian and specialist of twentieth century American history. In his widely acclaimed book Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom he dismissed the German Foreign Office declaration of June 22, 1941, as a “pack of Nazi lies.”

In recent years, however, a growing number of historians have assembled considerable evidence that validates key points made by Hitler and the German government, and which shows that the Soviets were preparing a massive assault. The most influential of these historians has probably been a former Soviet GRU military intelligence officer, Vladimir Rezun. In a series of books written under the pen name of Viktor Suvorov, he has presented impressive evidence to show that the Soviet regime was preparing a massive offensive against Germany and Europe, and that the German-led attack forestalled an imminent Soviet strike. It is Stalin, not Hitler – he says – who should be considered the “chief culprit” of World War II.

Numerous documents and other historical evidence have come to light in recent decades that validate key points made in the German statements of June 22, 1941. This evidence also thoroughly discredits the simplistic portrayal of the German-Soviet clash, and indeed of the Second World War itself, that US officials and prominent historians presented to the American public during the war, and for years afterwards.

Even if the leaders in Germany, Finland, and other European countries were mistaken in believing that a Soviet assault was imminent, they certainly had ample reason to regard the Stalin regime as a dangerous threat, and to conclude that the Soviets were deploying vast military forces in preparation for attack at some point in the future. The reasons given by Hitler and his government to justify the German-led attack were not lies or pretexts.

Indeed, the German, Finnish, and Romanian leaders had more valid and substantive cause to strike against the USSR in June 1941 than American leaders have had for launching a number of wars – including against Mexico in 1845, against Spain in 1898, and against Iraq in 2003. In none of those cases did the country attacked by US military forces present a clear and present danger to the US, or a threat to vital American national interests.

Because Hitler’s proclamation of June 22, 1941, and the German Foreign Office declaration of the same day, explain at some length the reasons and motives for the fateful decision to strike against the USSR, these are documents of historic importance. The texts of specially prepared translations of these two statements are given below in full.

                                                                                                                                         – Mark Weber, March 2019

Hitler’s Proclamation to the German People

German people! National Socialists!

Weighed down with heavy cares, condemned to months-long silence, the hour has now come when at last I can speak frankly.

When on September 3, 1939, the German Reich received the British declaration of war there was repeated anew the British attempt to thwart every beginning of a consolidation of Europe and thereby its rise, by fighting against whatever power on the Continent was strongest at any given time. That is how, in times past, Britain ruined Spain in many wars. That is how she conducted her wars against Holland. That is how later she fought France with the aid of all Europe, and that is how, at the turn of the century, she began the encirclement of the then German Reich and, in 1914, the [First] World War. It was only on account of its internal lack of unity that Germany was defeated in 1918. The consequences were terrible.

After hypocritical declarations that the fight was solely against the Kaiser and his regime, and once the German army had laid down its arms, the annihilation of the German Reich began according to plan.

While the prophecies of a French statesman [Georges Clemenceau] that there were twenty million Germans too many – in other words, that this number would have to be eliminated by hunger, disease or emigration – were apparently being fulfilled to the letter, the National Socialist movement began its work of unifying the German people, and thereby initiating the resurgence of the Reich. This rise of our people from distress, misery and shameful disregard was in the form of a purely internal renaissance. In no way did that affect, much less threaten, Britain.

Nevertheless, a new, hate-filled policy of encirclement against Germany began immediately. Internally and externally there came into being that plot, familiar to all of us, between Jews and democrats, Bolsheviks and reactionaries, with the sole aim of inhibiting the establishment of the new German people’s state, and of plunging the Reich anew into impotence and misery.

Apart from us, the hatred of this international world conspiracy was directed against those nations that, like ourselves, were neglected by fortune and were obliged to earn their daily bread in the hardest struggle for existence.

Above all, the right of Italy and Japan, just as much as that of Germany, to share in the goods of this world was contested and in fact was formally denied. The alliance of these [three] nations was, therefore, purely an act of self-protection in the face of the egoistic global combination of wealth and power that threatened them. As early as 1936 [Winston] Churchill, according to statements by the American General Wood before a committee of the American House of Representatives, declared that Germany was once again becoming too powerful and must therefore be destroyed.

In the Summer of 1939 the time seemed to have come for Britain to begin to realize its intended annihilation by repetition of a comprehensive policy of encirclement of Germany. The plan of the campaign of lies staged for this purpose consisted in declaring that other people were threatened, in tricking them with British promises of guarantees and assistance, and of getting them to go against Germany, just as had happened prior to the [First] World War.

From May to August 1939, Britain thus succeeded in broadcasting to the world that Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Finland and Bessarabia. as well as Ukraine, were being directly threatened by Germany. Some of these states allowed themselves to be misled into accepting the promise of guarantee proffered with these assertions, thus joining the new encirclement front against Germany. Under these circumstances I considered myself entitled to assume responsibility, before my own conscience and before the history of the German people, not only of assuring these countries or their governments of the falseness of these British assertions, but also of setting at rest the strongest power in the east [the Soviet Union], by especially solemn declarations regarding the limits of our interests.

National Socialists! At that time you probably all felt that this step was a bitter and difficult one for me. The German people has never harbored hostile feelings against the peoples of Russia. However, for more than two decades the Jewish Bolshevik rulers in Moscow had been endeavoring to set aflame not only Germany but all Europe. At no time did Germany ever attempt to carry her National Socialist worldview into Russia, but on the contrary Jewish Bolshevik rulers in Moscow unswervingly endeavored to foist their domination upon us and other European nations, not only by ideological means but above all with military force. The consequences of the activity of this regime were nothing but chaos, misery and starvation in all countries.

I, on the other hand, have been striving for two decades, with a minimum of intervention and without destroying our production, to arrive at a new socialist order in Germany, one that not only eliminates unemployment but also permits the productive worker to receive an ever greater share of the fruits of his labor. The achievements of this policy of national economic and social reconstruction – which strove for a true national community by overcoming rank and class divisions – are unique in today’s world.

It was therefore only with extreme difficulty that I brought myself in August 1939 to send my [Foreign] Minister [von Ribbentrop] to Moscow in an endeavor there to counter the British encirclement policy against Germany. I did this only out of a sense of responsibility toward the German people, but above all in the hope of finally, in spite of everything, achieving lasting easing of tensions and of being able to reduce sacrifices that otherwise might have been demanded of us.

While Germany solemnly affirmed in Moscow that the designated territories and countries – with the exception of Lithuania – lay outside any German political interests, a special [supplementary] agreement was concluded in case Britain were to succeed in inciting Poland into actually going to war against Germany. In this case, as well, German claims were subject to limitations entirely out of proportion to the achievements of the German forces.

National Socialists! The consequences of this treaty, which I myself desired and which was concluded in the interests of the German nation, were very severe, particularly for Germans living in the countries concerned. Far more than half a million [ethnically] German men and women, all small farmers, artisans and workmen, were forced to leave their former homeland practically overnight in order to escape from a new [Soviet] regime that at first threatened them with boundless misery and sooner or later with complete extermination.

Nevertheless, thousands of Germans disappeared! It was impossible ever to determine their fate, let alone their whereabouts. Among them were no fewer than 160 men of German Reich citizenship. To all this I remained silent – because I had to! For, after all, it was my one desire to bring about a final easing of tension and, if possible, a permanent settlement with this [Soviet] state.

However, already during our advance in Poland, Soviet rulers suddenly, and contrary to the treaty, also claimed Lithuania. The German Reich never had any intention of occupying Lithuania, and not only failed to present any such demand to the Lithuanian government, but on the contrary refused the request of the then Lithuanian government to send German troops to Lithuania in that spirit for that purpose as inconsistent with the aims of German policy.

Despite all this I complied also with this fresh Russian demand. However, this was only the beginning of continually renewed extortions, which have been repeated ever since.

The victory in Poland, which was won exclusively by German troops, prompted me to address yet another peace offer to the Western powers [Britain and France]. It was rejected, due to the efforts of the international and Jewish warmongers. Already at that time the reason for this rejection lay in the fact that Britain still had hopes of being able to mobilize a European coalition against Germany, which was to include the Balkans and Soviet Russia. It was therefore decided in London to send Mr. Cripps as ambassador to Moscow. He received clear instructions under all circumstances to resume relations between Britain and Soviet Russia, and develop them in a pro-British direction. The British press reported on the progress of this mission, except insofar as tactical reasons did not impose silence.

In the fall of 1939 and the spring of 1940 the first results actually made themselves felt. As Russia undertook to subjugate by armed force not only Finland but also the Baltic states, she suddenly motivated this action by the assertion, as ridiculous as it was false, that she must protect these countries from an outside threat, or forestall it. This could only be meant to apply to Germany, for no other power could even intervene in the Baltic area, let alone go to war there. Still I had to be silent. However, those in power in the Kremlin immediately went further.

Whereas in the spring of 1940 Germany, in accordance with the so-called Friendship Treaty [with Soviet Russia of Sept. 28, 1939] , withdrew her forces from the eastern frontier and, in fact, for the most part cleared these areas entirely of German troops, a deployment of Russian forces at that time was already beginning, to an extent that could only be regarded as a deliberate threat to Germany.

According to a statement that [Soviet Foreign Minister] Molotov personally made at that time, there were 22 Russian divisions in the Baltic states alone already in the spring of 1940. Given that the Russian government always claimed that it had been called in by the local population, the purpose of their presence there could only be a demonstration against Germany.

While our soldiers from May 10, 1940, onward were breaking Franco-British power in the west, Russian military deployment on our eastern frontier was continuing to an ever more menacing extent. From August 1940 onward I therefore considered it to be in the interest of the Reich to no longer permit our eastern provinces, which moreover had been laid waste so often before, to remain unprotected in the face of this tremendous deployment of Bolshevik divisions.

Thus, and just as intended by this British-Soviet Russian cooperation, there came about the tying up of such strong [German] forces in the east that a radical conclusion of the war in the west, particularly as regards aircraft, could no longer be vouched for by the German leadership. This, however, was in line with the goals not only of British but also of Soviet Russian policy, for both Britain and Soviet Russia intended to let this war go on for as long as possible in order to weaken all Europe and render it ever more impotent.

Russia’s threatened attack on Romania was in the last analysis equally intended to gain possession of or, if possible, to destroy, an important base of the economic life of not only Germany, but of all of Europe. Since 1933 the German Reich sought with boundless patience to win over states in southeastern Europe as trading partners. We therefore also had the greatest interest in their internal consolidation and order. Russia’s advance into Romania and Greece’s alliance with Britain threatened to quickly turn these regions as well into a general theater of war.

Contrary to our principles and customs, and at the urgent request of the then Romanian government, which was itself responsible for this development, I advised that it acquiesce to the Soviet Russian demands for the sake of peace, and to cede [the province of] Bessarabia. The Romanian government believed, however, that it could answer for this before its own people only if Germany and Italy in compensation would at least guarantee the integrity of what still remained of Romania. I did so with heavy heart, above all because when the German Reich gives a guarantee, that means it also abides by it. We are neither Englishmen nor Jews.

I still believe at this late hour to have served the cause of peace in that region, albeit by assuming a serious obligation of our own. In order, however, finally to solve these problems and achieve clarity concerning the Russian attitude toward Germany, as well as under pressure of continually increasing mobilization on our eastern frontier, I invited Mr. Molotov to come to Berlin.

The Soviet Foreign Minister [during their meeting, Nov. 12-13, 1940] then demanded Germany’s clarification of or agreement to the following four questions:

Molotov’s first question: Is the German guarantee for Romania also directed against Soviet Russia in case of attack by Soviet Russia against Romania?

My answer: The German guarantee is a general one and is unconditionally binding upon us. Russia, however, never declared to us that she had other interests in Romania beyond Bessarabia. The [Soviet] occupation of Northern Bukovina was already a violation of this assurance. I did not therefore think that Russia could now suddenly have more far-reaching intentions against Rumania.

Molotov’s second question: Russia again feels itself menaced by Finland, Russia is determined not to tolerate this. Is Germany ready not to give any aid to Finland, and above all immediately to withdraw German relief troops marching through to Kirkenes?

My answer: As ever, Germany has absolutely no political interests in Finland. A new war by Russia against the small Finnish nation could not, however, be regarded any longer by the German government as tolerable, all the more so because we could never believe that Finland could threaten Russia. Under no circumstances did we want another theater of war to arise in the Baltic.

Molotov’s third question: Is Germany prepared to agree that Soviet Russia give a guarantee to Bulgaria and, in this regard, send Soviet troops to Bulgaria, in connection with which he – Molotov – was prepared to state that the Soviets did not intend on that account, for example, to depose the King?

My answer: Bulgaria is a sovereign state, and I have no knowledge that Bulgaria had ever asked Soviet Russia for any kind of guarantee such as Romania had requested from Germany. Moreover, I would have to discuss the matter with my allies.

Molotov’s fourth question: Soviet Russia absolutely requires free passage through the Dardanelles, and for her protection also demands occupation of a number of important bases on the Dardanelles and the Bosporus [in Turkey]. Is Germany in agreement with this or not?

My answer: Germany is prepared at any time to agree to altering the Treaty of Montreux [1936] in favor of the Black Sea states. Germany is not prepared to agree to Russia’s taking possession of bases on the [Turkish] Straits.

National Socialists! Here I adopted the only attitude that I could adopt as the responsible leader of the German Reich, but also a conscientiously responsible representative of European culture and civilization. The result was to increase the activity in Soviet Russia directed against the Reich, above all, however, the immediate commencement of undermining the new Romanian state from within, and an attempt to remove the Bulgarian government by propaganda.

With the help of confused and immature leaders of the Romanian [Iron Guard] Legion a coup d’état was staged in Romania whose aim was to overthrow Chief of State General Antonescu and produce chaos in the country so as to eliminate the legal authority and thus remove the precondition for implementing the German guarantee. I nevertheless still believed it best to remain silent.

Immediately after the failure of this undertaking, there was renewed reinforcement of concentrations of Russian troops on Germany’s eastern frontier. Tank units and parachute troops were transferred in ever increasing numbers to dangerous proximity to the German frontier. The German armed forces and the German homeland know that until a few weeks ago not a single German tank or motorized division was stationed on our eastern frontier.

If any final proof was required for the coalition meanwhile formed between Britain and Soviet Russia, despite all diversion and camouflage, the Yugoslav conflict provided it. While I made every effort to undertake a final attempt to pacify the Balkans and, in sympathetic cooperation with the Duce [Mussolini], invited Yugoslavia to join the Tripartite Pact, Britain and Soviet Russia jointly organized that coup d’état which, in a single night [March 27, 1941], removed the government that had been ready to come to agreement.

For today we can inform the German nation that the Serbian coup d’état against Germany did not take place just under British, but primarily under Soviet Russian auspices. While we remained silent on this matter as well, the Soviet leaders now went one step further. They not only organized the putsch, but a few days later [April 5, 1941] concluded that well-known friendship treaty with those submissive creatures, which was meant to strengthen the Serbs in their will to resist pacification of the Balkans, and to incite them against Germany. And this was no platonic intention: Moscow demanded mobilization of the Serbian army.

Because, even then, I still believed it better not to speak out, those in power in the Kremlin went still further: The government of the German Reich today possesses documentary evidence proving that Russia, in order finally to bring Serbia into the war, gave her a promise to supply her, by way of Salonika, with weapons, aircraft, munitions and other war materials against Germany. And this happened almost at the very moment that I was advising Japanese Foreign Minister Matsuoka to bring about an easing of tensions with Russia, still hoping thereby to serve the cause of peace.

Only the rapid advance of our incomparable divisions to Skoplje [Skopje], as well as the capture of Salonika itself, frustrated the aims of this Soviet Russian-British plot. Officers of the Serbian air force, however, fled to Russia and were there immediately received as allies.

It was only the victory of the Axis powers in the Balkans that thwarted the plan to tie down Germany this summer in months of fighting in southeastern Europe while meantime steadily completing the deployment of Soviet Russian armies and strengthening their readiness for battle in order, finally, together with Britain and supported by anticipated American supplies, to tie down and then defeat the German Reich and Italy.

Thus Moscow not only broke but miserably betrayed the stipulations of our friendship treaty. All this was done while the rulers in the Kremlin, exactly as in the case of Finland and Romania, up to the last moment pretended peace and friendship and issued seemingly harmless denials.

Although I have been obliged by circumstances again and again to keep silent, the moment has now come when to continue as a mere observer would not only be a sin of omission but a crime against the German people – yes, even against the whole of Europe.

Today something like 160 Russian divisions are standing at our frontier. For weeks there have been constant violations of this frontier, not only affecting us but also in the far north [against Finland], as well as Romania. Russian airmen consider it sport nonchalantly to overlook these frontiers, presumably to prove to us that they already feel themselves masters of these territories. During the night of June 17 to 18 Russian patrols again penetrated into Reich territory, and could only be driven back after prolonged exchange of fire.

This has brought us to the hour when it is necessary for us to counter this plot of Jewish-British warmongers and equally the Jewish rulers of the Bolshevik center in Moscow.

German people! At this moment a deployment of forces is taking place that, in its extent and scope, is the greatest the world hitherto has seen. United with their Finnish comrades, the fighters of the victory of Narvik are standing in the Northern Arctic. German divisions commanded by the conqueror of Norway [General Dietl], together with the heroes of Finnish freedom under their Marshal [Mannerheim], are protecting Finnish soil. Formations of the German eastern front extend from East Prussia to the Carpathians. German and Romanian soldiers are united under Chief of State Antonescu from the banks of the Prut [river] along the lower reaches of the Danube to the shores of the Black Sea.

The task of this front, therefore, is not merely the protection of individual countries, but the safeguarding of Europe, and thereby the salvation of all.

I therefore decided today to once again lay the fate and future of the German Reich and our people in the hands of our soldiers.

May the Lord God help us especially in this fight!

Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop announces Germany’s declaration of war against the Soviet Union. At a meeting room packed with foreign correspondents and journalists representing the German press, he reads the text of the lengthy diplomatic note to the Soviet government, which explains in some detail the reasons for the decision to attack the USSR. His reading of the statement on Sunday morning, June 22, 1941, is broadcast to the world on German radio.

Germany’s Declaration of War Against the USSR

The German Foreign Office Note to the Soviet Government


When in the Summer of 1939 the Reich government, motivated by the desire to achieve a settlement of interests between Germany and the USSR, approached the Soviet government, it was quite aware that it was no easy matter to reach an understanding with a state that on one hand claimed to belong to a community of nation states with rights and duties resulting therefrom, yet on the other hand was ruled by a party that, as a section of the Comintern [Communist International], was striving to bring about world revolution – in other words, the dissolution of those nation states.

The German Reich government made the effort, setting aside its serious misgivings, which were based on this fundamental difference in the political aims of Germany and Soviet Russia, and on the sharp contrast between the diametrically opposed worldviews of National Socialism and Bolshevism. It was guided by the idea that the elimination of the possibility of war, which would result from an understanding between Germany and Russia, and the safeguarding of the real vital needs of the two nations, between whom friendly relations had always existed, would offer the best guarantee against a further spreading to Europe of the Communist doctrine of international Jewry. This belief was strengthened by the fact that certain events in Russia itself and certain measures of international scope undertaken by the Russian government allowed one to assume that a departure from those doctrines and previous methods of subversion of other nations seemed at least possible. The reception accorded in Moscow to this German initiative and the readiness of the Soviet Russian government to conclude a pact of friendship with Germany appeared to confirm this change of attitude.

Thus, a Non-Aggression Pact was concluded on August 23, 1939, while a Boundary and Friendship Agreement was signed by the two states on September 28, 1939. The essence of these agreements consisted of:

1. Reciprocal pledges by both states not to attack one another and to live as peaceful neighbors, and

2. Delineation of spheres of interest, with the German Reich renouncing all influence in Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Bessarabia, while territories of the former Polish State as far as the line formed by the Narew, Bug and San [rivers] were to be incorporated into Russia according to the wishes of the Soviets.

Immediately following the conclusion of the Non-Aggression Pact with Russia, the Reich government in fact carried out a fundamental shift in its policy toward the USSR, and since that time assumed a friendly attitude toward the Soviet Union. The German government faithfully adhered in both letter and spirit to the treaties concluded with the Soviet Union. In addition, it had – through the defeat of Poland, that is, by shedding German blood – helped the Soviet Union to gain its greatest successes in foreign policy since its establishment. That was only possible as a result of Germany’s well-intentioned policy toward Russia and the overwhelming victories of German armed forces.

Not unreasonably, the Reich government therefore felt justified in expecting that the Soviet Union would adopt a similar attitude toward the German Reich, especially given that during the negotiations conducted by Reich Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop in Moscow, and on other occasions, the Soviet government had repeatedly expressed the view that these treaties would be the basis for a lasting settlement of German-Soviet Russian interests, and that the two nations, each respecting the regime of the other, and prepared to abstain from any interference in the internal affairs of the other partner, would achieve lasting good neighborly relations. Unfortunately it soon became evident that the Reich government had been quite mistaken in that assumption.


In fact the Comintern resumed its activities in every sphere very soon after conclusion of the German-Russian treaties. This was true not only with regard to Germany, but also regarding states friendly to Germany, as well as neutral States, and areas in Europe that were occupied by German troops. In order to avoid openly violating the treaties, methods were changed and camouflage was applied more carefully and with greater cunning. In Moscow it obviously was thought necessary to offset the impact of the conclusion of the pact with National Socialist Germany by continually denouncing Germany’s supposed “imperialistic war.” Strong and effective preventive police measures compelled the Comintern to try to conduct its subversive activities and its intelligence work in Germany in other ways, making use of centers established for that purpose in neighboring countries.

For that purpose former German Communist officials were deployed to foment subversion and to arrange for acts of sabotage in Germany. GPU [NKVD] Commissar Krylov was in charge of systematic training courses organized for that purpose. In addition, intensive subversive activities were carried out in territories occupied by Germany, notably in the Protectorate [Bohemia- Moravia] and in occupied France, as well as in Norway, Holland, Belgium, and so forth.

Soviet Russian diplomatic posts, notably the General Consulate in Prague, rendered valuable assistance in that regard. An active intelligence service that included radio transmitters and receivers is absolute proof of the work of the Comintern directed against the German Reich. There is also extensive documentary evidence consisting of witnesses’ statements and written materials on the full scope of other subversion and reconnaissance work of the Comintern. In addition, sabotage groups were organized, which maintained their own laboratories for making incendiary and high-explosive bombs for use in acts of sabotage. Such attacks were carried out, for example, against no fewer than 16 German ships.

In addition to this subversion and sabotage activity, espionage was also carried out. Thus, the repatriation of [ethnic] Germans from Soviet Russia was exploited by the most reprehensible means for the purpose of gaining the services of these Germans for the ends of the GPU. Not only men but women as well were victims of shameless extortion and forced to enter the service of the GPU. Even the Soviet Russian embassy in Berlin, in operations headed by embassy counselor [Amayak] Kobulov, did not shrink from unscrupulous abuse of the rights of extraterritoriality for espionage purposes. A staff member of the Russian Consulate at Prague, Mokhov [L. Mikhailov], headed another Russian espionage network that extended across the Protectorate [Bohemia-Moravia]. Further instances in which the police were able to take action in time provided clear, unequivocal evidence of these extensive Soviet Russian machinations. The evidence as a whole proves irrefutably that Soviet Russia carried out against Germany illegal, large-scale subversive activities, acts of sabotage and terror, and espionage in preparation for war, in the political, military and economic spheres.

With regard to Soviet Russia’s subversive activities in European countries outside of Germany, those extended to almost all countries in Europe that are friendly to or are occupied by Germany. Thus in Romania, for example, Communist propaganda in the form of leaflets of Russian origin portrayed Germany as being responsible for all local troubles in order to foster an anti-German public mood. The same thing had been evident in Yugoslavia since the Summer of 1940. Leaflets there incited the people to protest against the [Dragiša] Cvetković government, which was aligning with the “imperialistic” governments of Berlin and Rome. At a meeting of Communist party functionaries in Zagreb the whole of Southeastern Europe from Slovakia to Bulgaria was described as a Russian protectorate that would come into being after Germany’s hoped for military decline. In the Soviet embassy in Belgrade, German troops discovered documentary evidence of the Soviet Russian origin of this propaganda. Whereas Communist propaganda in Yugoslavia sought to make use of nationalist slogans, in Hungary it was effective chiefly among the Ruthenian population, to whom it held out hopes of forthcoming liberation by Soviet Russia. Anti-German propaganda was particularly active in Slovakia, which openly agitated for annexation of that country by Soviet Russia.

In Finland the notorious “Society for Peace and Friendship With the Soviet Union” actively worked with the [Soviet-run] Petroskoi radio broadcasting station to promote the subversion of the country, and thereby operating in an entirely anti-German way.

In France, Belgium and Holland agitation was directed against the German occupation authority. A similar propaganda campaign, but of nationalist and pan-Slavic character, was carried out in the Government General [Poland]. Scarcely had Greece been occupied by German and Italian troops when Soviet Russian propaganda commenced there as well. All this is evidence of a campaign systematically carried out in every country by the USSR against Germany’s endeavor to establish a stable order in Europe.

Parallel with that was propaganda directly aimed at countering German policy measures, which denounced those measures as anti-Russian and sought to win over these various countries for Soviet Russia and against Germany. In Bulgaria there was agitation against that country’s joining the Tripartite Pact, and in favor of a guarantee pact with Russia. In Romania attempts were made at infiltration of the [nationalist] Iron Guard [movement] and suborning its leaders, including Groza, a Romanian who initiated the attempted putsch of January 23, 1941, and behind whom Bolshevist agents of Moscow stood as wire-pullers. The Reich government has indisputable evidence of this.

With regard to Yugoslavia, the Reich government has come in possession of documents showing that the Yugoslav envoy [Milorad] Georgevic [Djordjevich] became convinced, on the basis of a conversation with [Soviet foreign minister] Molotov in May 1940 that Germany was regarded there as the “powerful enemy of tomorrow.” Soviet Russia’s attitude was made even more clear by its response to the requests for armaments made by Serbian military circles. In November 1940, the chief of the Soviet Russian General Staff declared to the Yugoslav military attaché: “We will give you, immediately, everything you ask for.” The prices to be paid and the method of payment were left to the discretion of the Belgrade government, and only one condition was made: to keep this a secret from Germany. When the Cvetković government subsequently approached the Axis powers, Moscow began to delay deliveries of weapons, and this was communicated curtly to the Yugoslav military attaché by the Soviet Russian War Ministry. The staging of the Belgrade putsch of March 27 of this year was the climax of those conspiratorial activities against the Reich by Serbian plotters and Anglo-Russian agents. The Serbian leader of that putsch and the head of the “Black Hand,” Mr. [Božin] Simić, is still in Moscow, where he works actively against the Reich in close collaboration with Soviet Russian propaganda centers.

The foregoing points are only a small portion of the enormously comprehensive propaganda activities against Germany that the USSR has been carrying out across Europe. In order to furnish the outside world with an overview of these activities by Soviet Russian agencies since the conclusion of the treaties between Germany and Russia and to enable the public to reach its own judgment, the Reich government will be publishing the extensive material at its disposal. In summary, the Reich government points out the following:

At the conclusion of the treaties with Germany, the Soviet government repeatedly made the unequivocal declaration that it did not intend to interfere, either directly or indirectly, in German affairs. When the friendship treaty was concluded, it solemnly stated it would work together with Germany in order to bring an end, in accordance with the true interests of all nations, of the war existing between Germany on one hand and Britain and France on the other, and to achieve this aim as soon as possible. In the light of the above-mentioned facts, which have steadily become more apparent during the further course of the war, these Soviet Russian agreements and declarations have been shown to be intentionally misleading and deceptive. Nor did the advantages accruing from Germany’s friendly attitude cause the Soviet government to adopt a loyal attitude toward Germany. On the contrary, the Reich government has been forced to realize that the conclusion of the pacts in 1939 was yet another instance of the application of Lenin’s thesis, as expressly reaffirmed in the October 1939 “Guidelines for the Communist Party in Slovakia,” stating that “pacts may be concluded with certain other countries if they further the interests of the Soviet government and help render the opponent innocuous.” The signing of these treaties of friendship was, accordingly, for the Soviet government only a tactical maneuver. The real goal was to reach agreements that were advantageous to Russia and, at the same time, enable preparation for powerful future action by the Soviet Union. The guiding idea remained the weakening of non-Bolshevist states in order to be in a position to subvert them more easily and, when the time came, to smash them. In a Russian document discovered after the capture of Belgrade in the Soviet legation there, this purpose was expressed with stark brutality in the following words: “The USSR will respond only at the opportune moment. The Axis powers have further dissipated their forces, and the USSR will consequently strike a sudden blow against Germany.” The Soviet government has not heeded the voice of the Russian people, who sincerely wish to live in peace and friendship with the German people. Instead, it has continued the old Bolshevist policy of duplicity and, by so doing, has assumed a heavy burden of responsibility.


If the Soviet Union’s subversive propaganda carried out in Germany and the rest of Europe leaves no room for doubt with regard to its attitude toward Germany, then the policy of the Soviet government toward Germany in the military sphere and in the field of foreign policy, even since the conclusion of pacts between Germany and Russia, makes matters even clearer. On the occasion of the delineation of spheres of interest, the Soviet government declared in Moscow to the Reich Foreign Minister that it did not intend to occupy, bolshevize or annex any of the states situated within its sphere of interest, other than territories of the former Polish State, which were at that time in a state of disintegration. In truth, however, and as the course of events has shown, the policy of the Soviet Union during this period was exclusively directed toward one goal – namely, to extend Moscow’s military power wherever the possibility presented itself in the area between the Arctic Ocean and the Black Sea, and to further spread Bolshevism in Europe.

The development of this policy was carried out in the following stages:

1. It was initiated by the conclusion of so-called assistance pacts with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in October and November 1939, and by the establishment of military bases in those countries.

2. The next Soviet Russian move was against Finland. When the Finnish government rejected the Soviet Russian demands, acceptance of which would have meant the end of the sovereignty of an independent Finnish state, the Soviet government then set up the Kusinin Communist pseudo- government. When the Finnish people rejected any association with that government, an ultimatum was presented to Finland, and then, in late November 1939, the Red Army attacked. The Finnish-Russian peace concluded in March [1940] obliged Finland to surrender part of her southeastern provinces, which were immediately brought under Bolshevist rule.

3. A few months later – that is, in July 1940 – the Soviet Union took action against the Baltic states. Under the terms of the first Moscow treaty, Lithuania was in the German sphere of interest. In the second treaty, and at the desire of the Soviet Union, the German government relinquished its interests in the greater part of that country for the sake of peace, although it did so with a heavy heart. A strip of this territory still remained within the German sphere of interest. Following up on an ultimatum delivered on June 15, the whole of Lithuania, including the part that had remained within the German sphere of interest, was occupied by the Soviet Union without notification to the German government, so that the USSR now extended right up to the entire eastern frontier of East Prussia [Germany]. When subsequently Germany was approached on this matter, the German government, after difficult negotiations and in order to make a further effort toward reaching a friendly settlement, ceded that part of Lithuania as well to the Soviet Union.

A short time later Latvia and Estonia were likewise occupied by military force, an action that constituted a violation of the pacts of assistance concluded with those states. Contrary to the express assurances given by Moscow, all the Baltic states were then bolshevized, and a few weeks after occupation were summarily annexed by the Soviet government. Simultaneously with the annexation, the Red Army was for the first time strongly massed against Europe throughout the entire northern sector of the Soviet Russian territory.

Incidentally, the Soviet government thereby unilaterally cancelled the economic agreements that had been concluded between Germany and those [Baltic] states, which, according to the Moscow agreements were not to be affected.

4. In the treaties of Moscow it had been expressly agreed in connection with the delineation of interests in the territory of the former Polish state that no kind of political agitation was to take place beyond the frontiers marking those zones of interests. Instead, the activities of the occupation authorities on both sides were to be restricted exclusively to the peaceful development of those territories. The German government possesses irrefutable proof that in spite of those agreements the Soviet Union very soon after the occupation of the territory not only permitted anti-German propaganda for consumption in the [German controlled] General Government of Poland but, in fact, supported it along with Bolshevist propaganda in the same region. Strong Russian garrisons were also transferred to these territories immediately after the occupation.

5. While the German army was still fighting in the west against France and Britain, the Soviet Union advanced against the Balkans. Although the Soviet government had declared during the Moscow negotiations that it would never make the first move toward settling the Bessarabia question, the German government was informed on June 24, 1940, by the Soviet government that it was now resolved to settle the Bessarabia question by force. At the same time it was stated that Soviet claims also extended to Bukovina, that is, to a territory that had been an ancient Austrian crown land, had never belonged to Russia, and, moreover, had never been mentioned at the time of the Moscow negotiations.

The German ambassador to Moscow declared to the Soviet government that its decision had come as a complete surprise to the German government, and that it would have a seriously adverse impact on German economic interests in Romania, and would also lead to disruption in the life of the large [ethnic] German settlement there, as well as for the [ethnic] German presence in Bukovina. Molotov replied that the matter was one of extreme urgency, and that the Soviet Union expected to be apprised of the German government’s attitude with regard to this question within 24 hours. In spite of this brusque action against Romania, the German government once again intervened in favor of the Soviet Union in order to preserve peace and maintain its friendship with that country. It advised the Romanian government, which had appealed to Germany for help, to yield, and recommended that it surrender Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina to Soviet Russia. The affirmative answer of the Romanian government was communicated to the Soviet government by Germany, together with the Romanian government’s request to be granted sufficient time for evacuation of these large areas and the safeguarding of lives and property of the inhabitants there.
Once again, however, the Soviet government presented an ultimatum to Romania, and, before its expiration, began on June 28 to occupy parts of Bukovina, and immediately afterward the whole of Bessarabia as far as the Danube. These territories were also immediately annexed by the Soviet Union, bolshevized, and thus literally reduced to ruin.

By occupying and bolshevizing the entire sphere of interests in Eastern Europe and in the Balkans accorded to the USSR by the Reich government during the Moscow negotiations, the Soviet government clearly and plainly acted contrary to the Moscow agreements. In spite of this, the Reich government continued to maintain an absolutely loyal attitude toward the USSR. It refrained entirely from intervention in the Finnish war and in the Baltic question. It supported the stance of the Soviet government against the Romanian government in the Bessarabia question, and reconciled itself, albeit with a heavy heart, to the state of affairs created by the Soviet government.

Furthermore, in order to eliminate as far as possible from the outset any divergences between the two states, it [Germany] undertook a large-scale resettlement action, whereby all [ethnic] Germans in areas occupied by the USSR were brought back to Germany. The Reich government maintains that more convincing proof of its desire to come to a lasting peace with the USSR could scarcely be given.


As a result of Russia’s advance toward the Balkans, territorial problems in that region came up for discussion. In the Summer of 1940, Romania and Hungary appealed to Germany for help in arranging a settlement of their territorial disputes, after these divergences, stirred up by British agents, had resulted in a serious crisis at the end of August. War was imminent between Romania and Hungary. Germany, which had repeatedly been requested by Hungary and Romania to mediate in their dispute, desired to maintain peace in the Balkans and, together with Italy, invited the two states to confer at Vienna, where, at their request, it proclaimed the Vienna Arbitration Award of August 30, 1940. This established the new frontier between Hungary and Romania. In order to help enable the Romanian government to justify before its people the territorial sacrifice they were making and to eliminate any dispute in this area for the future, Germany and Italy undertook to guarantee the remaining Romanian state. Given that Russian aspirations in this area had already been satisfied, this guarantee could not in any way be taken as directed against Russia. Nevertheless the Soviet Union lodged a complaint and stated that, contrary to earlier declarations according to which its aspirations in the Balkans had been satisfied by the taking of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, it had further interests in Balkan questions, though for the time being those were not further defined.

From that time Soviet Russia’s anti-German policy became steadily more apparent. The Reich government continued to receive ever more concrete reports, according to which negotiations that had been carried on for some time in Moscow by British ambassador [Sir Stafford] Cripps were developing favorably. At the same time the Reich government came into possession of evidence of the Soviet Union’s intensive military preparations in every sphere. This evidence was confirmed by, among other things, a report of Dec. 17, 1940, recently found in Belgrade, by the Yugoslav military attaché in Moscow, which reads: “According to information received from Soviet sources, the arming of the air force, tank corps and artillery in accordance with experiences of the present war are in full progress and will, substantially, have been completed by August 1941. This probably also constitutes the [time] limit before which no appreciable changes in Soviet foreign policy can be expected.”

Despite the unfriendly attitude of the Soviet Union with regard to the Balkan question, Germany made a fresh effort to come to an understanding with the USSR: the Reich Foreign Minister, in a letter to Stalin, gave a comprehensive survey of the policy of the Reich government since the negotiations in Moscow. The letter referred in particular to the following points:

When Germany, Italy and Japan concluded the Tripartite Pact [Sept. 27, 1940] it was unanimously agreed that this pact in no sense is directed against the Soviet Union, but rather that the friendly relations of the three powers and their treaties with the USSR should remain completely unaffected by this agreement. This was also placed on record in the Tripartite Pact of Berlin. At the same time the letter expressed the desire and hope that it might prove possible jointly to clarify still further friendly relations with the USSR, as desired by the signatories to the Tripartite Pact, and to give such relations concrete form. In order to discuss these questions more fully, the Reich Foreign Minister invited Mr. Molotov to visit Berlin.

During Molotov’s visit to Berlin [Nov. 12-13, 1940] the Reich government was forced to the conclusion that the USSR was only inclined toward genuinely friendly cooperation with the Tripartite Pact powers, and with Germany in particular, provided they were prepared to pay the price demanded by the Soviet Union. This price consisted of further penetration of the Soviet Union into North and Southeast Europe. The following demands were made by Molotov in Berlin and in subsequent diplomatic conversations with the German ambassador in Moscow:

1. The Soviet Union desired to give a guarantee to Bulgaria and, beyond that, to conclude with her a pact of assistance on the same lines as those concluded with the Baltic states – that is, providing for [Soviet] military bases. At the same time Molotov declared that he did not wish to interfere with the internal regime of Bulgaria. A visit of Russian commissar [Arkady] Sobolev to Sofia at that time was likewise undertaken with the object of realizing this intention.

2. The Soviet Union demanded an agreement in the form of a treaty with Turkey for the purpose of providing, on the basis of a long-time lease, a base for Soviet land and naval forces on the Bosporus and in the Dardanelles. In case Turkey did not agree to this proposal, Germany and Italy were to cooperate with Russia in diplomatic measures to be undertaken to enforce compliance with this demand. These demands were aimed at the domination of the Balkans by the USSR.

3. The Soviet Union declared that once again that it felt itself threatened by Finland, and therefore demanded complete abandonment of Finland by Germany, which practically would have meant the occupation of that state and the extermination of the Finnish people.

Germany naturally was unable to accept these Russian demands, which the Soviet government characterized as a pre-condition for cooperation with the Tripartite Pact powers. Thus the efforts of the Tripartite Pact powers to come to an understanding with the Soviet Union failed. The result of this German attitude was that Russia now intensified its already steadily more obvious anti-German policy, and that its increasingly closer cooperation with Britain became more clear. In January 1941 this disapproving attitude on the part of Russia first manifested itself in the diplomatic sphere. When in that month Germany adopted certain measures in Bulgaria against the landing of British troops in Greece, the Russian ambassador in Berlin pointed out in an official démarche that the Soviet Union regarded Bulgarian territory and the two straits as a security zone of the USSR, and that it could not remain a passive spectator of events taking place in these areas, which threatened those security interests. For that reason the Soviet government warned against the appearance of German troops on Bulgarian territory or on either of the two straits.

In response the Reich government furnished the Soviet government with exhaustive information about the causes and aims of its military measures in the Balkans. This made it clear that Germany would prevent, with every means of her power, any attempt on the part of Britain to gain a foothold in Greece, but that it had no intention of occupying the straits, and would respect Turkish sovereignty and territory. The passage of German troops through Bulgaria could not be regarded as an encroachment on the Soviet Union’s security interests; on the contrary, the Reich government believed that those operations served Soviet interests. After carrying through its operations in the Balkans, Germany withdrew her troops from there.

Despite this Reich government declaration, the Soviet government for its part published a declaration addressed to Bulgaria directly after the entry of German troops into that country that manifested a character clearly hostile to the German Reich, and said in effect that the presence of German troops in Bulgaria was not conducive to peace in the Balkans, but rather to war. An explanation for this attitude was found by the Reich government in incoming information, steadily increasing in scale, about ever closer collaboration between Soviet Russia and Britain. Even in the face of these facts, Germany remained silent.

Along the same lines was the assurance given by the Soviet government in March 1941 that Russia would not attack Turkey in event of the latter’s joining in the war in the Balkans. According to information in possession of the Reich government, this was the result of Anglo-Russian negotiations during the visit of the British Foreign Secretary [Anthony Eden] in Ankara, whose efforts were aimed at drawing Russia closer to the British camp.


The aggressive policy of the Soviet government toward the German Reich, which steadily was becoming more pronounced ever since that time, as well as the hitherto somewhat discreet political cooperation between the Soviet Union and Britain became, however, obvious to the entire world at the outbreak of the Balkan crisis at the beginning of April of this year. It is today fully established that the putsch instigated by Britain in Belgrade after Yugoslavia had joined the Tripartite Pact was instigated with the connivance of Soviet Russia. For some time before that, in fact since November 14, 1940, Russia had secretly assisted Yugoslavia in arming against the Axis powers. This is conclusively proven by documents that came into the hands of the Reich government after the occupation of Belgrade, which reveal every phase of those Russian deliveries of weapons to Yugoslavia.

Once the Belgrade putsch had succeeded, Russia on April 5 concluded a pact of friendship with the illegal Serbian government of General [Dušan] Simović, which was to lend moral support to the putschists and with its weight assist the growing Anglo-Yugoslav-Greek front. Evident satisfaction was expressed on that occasion by American Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles, when he stated on April 6, 1941, after several conversations with the Soviet ambassador in Washington: The Russo-Yugoslav Pact might, under certain circumstances, be of the greatest importance. It is attracting interest in many quarters, and there are grounds for assuming that it will be more than a mere pact of friendship and non-aggression.

Thus, at the same time when German troops were being concentrated on Romanian and Bulgarian territory against growing large-scale landings of British troops in Greece, the Soviet Union, now obviously in cooperation with Britain, was attempting to stab Germany in the back by:

1. Giving Yugoslavia open political and secret military support.

2. Attempting to get Turkey to adopt an aggressive attitude toward Bulgaria and Germany by promising not to attack her and to deploy the Turkish army in a very unfavorable strategic position in Thrace.

3. Itself concentrating a strong military force on the Romanian frontier in Bessarabia and in Moldavia, and

4. Through a sudden attempt early in April by [Andrey] Vyshinsky, Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs in his conversations with [Grigore] Gafencu, Romanian ambassador in Moscow, to inaugurate a policy of rapid rapprochement with Romania in order to persuade that country to break away from Germany. British diplomacy, through the intermediary of the Americans, was making efforts in the same direction in Bucharest.

According to the Anglo-Russian plan, German troops concentrated in Romania and Bulgaria were to have been attacked from three sides, namely from Bessarabia, from Thrace, and from the Serbian-Greek frontier. It was due solely to the loyalty of [Romanian leader] General [Ion] Antonescu, the realistic attitude of the Turkish government and, above all, to the rapid German initiative and decisive victories of the German army, that this Anglo-Russian plan was frustrated.

According to information in the hands of the Reich government, nearly 200 Yugoslav aircraft carrying Soviet Russian and British agents as well as Simović and other Serbian putschists took off — some of them to Russia, where those officers are today serving the Russian army, and some to Egypt. This fact alone throws a particularly characteristic light on the close collaboration between Britain, Russia and Yugoslavia.

In vain the Soviet government tried on various occasions to hide the real intentions underlying its policy. Besides maintaining trade-economic relations with Germany even during the final period, it adopted a succession of specific measures to deceive the world into thinking it was maintaining normal, even friendly, relations with Germany. These include, for example, the expulsion a few weeks ago of the diplomatic representatives of Norway, Belgium, Greece and Yugoslavia, the silence observed by the British press about German-Russian relations, arranged through the British ambassador Cripps in cooperation with the Russian government, and finally the dementi [statement] issued [June 13] by the [Soviet] Tass agency, which sought to portray relations between Germany and the Soviet Russia as completely correct. These attempts at camouflage, which were in such crass contrast to the real policy of the Soviet government, naturally did not succeed in deceiving the Reich government.


The anti-German policy of the Soviet government was accompanied in the military sphere with a steadily increasing concentration of all available Russian armed forces along a broad front extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Already at a time when Germany was deeply engaged in the west in the French campaign, and when only a very few German detachments were stationed in the east, the Russian High Command began systematically to transfer large contingents of troops to the eastern Reich frontiers, with especially large deployments being identified on the borders with East Prussia and the Government General [Poland], as well as in Bukovina and Bessarabia, opposite Romania.

Russian garrisons facing Finland were also steadily being strengthened. Transfers of ever more new Russian divisions from the Far East and the Caucasus to western Russia were additional measures in that regard. After the Soviet government had declared that the Baltic area, for instance, would only be occupied by very small numbers of troops, it proceeded to concentrate in that area, after the occupation had been completed, steadily increasing masses of troops, their number today being estimated at 22 divisions. It became clear that Russian troops were being moved ever closer to the German frontier, even though the German side had adopted no military measures that might have justified such Russian action. It is this Russian behavior that first compelled the German armed forces to adopt counter-measures. Moreover, various units of the Russian army and air force moved up, and strong air force detachments were posted on air fields along the German border. Since early April ever more frontier violations and a steadily increasing number of incursions over German Reich territory by Russian aircraft have also been observed. The Romanian government has reported similar developments on the Romanian frontier areas of Bukovina, Moldavia and the Danube.

Since the beginning of this year the German Armed Forces High Command has repeatedly notified the [German] foreign policy leadership of the steadily increasing menace posed against Reich territory by the Russian army, emphasizing in that regard that only aggressive intentions could account for these deployments. These Armed Forces High Command reports will be made public, with all the details.

If there was even the slightest doubt about the aggressive nature of this Russian deployment, they have been completely dispelled by the news that reached the German High Command in recent days. Now that the Russian general mobilization is complete, no less than 160 divisions are deployed against Germany. The results of reconnaissance carried out in recent days have shown that the deployment of Russian troops, and especially of motorized and armored units, has been carried out in such a way that the Russian High Command is ready at any moment to take aggressive action at various points against the German frontier. Reports of increased reconnaissance and patrol activity as well as reports coming in daily of incidents on the frontier and outpost skirmishes between the two armies complete the picture of an extremely strained military situation, which could erupt at any moment. News received today from England about negotiations by British ambassador Cripps to establish even closer collaboration between the political and military leaders of Britain and Soviet Russia, together with the appeal by [Britain’s] Lord Beaverbrook, who at one time was anti-Soviet, to support Russia in the coming conflict by every available means, and his call for the United States to do the same, show unambiguously what kind of a fate is being prepared for the German nation.

To sum up, the Reich government makes the following declaration:

Contrary to all the obligations it had assumed, and in crass violation of its solemn declarations, the Soviet government has turned against Germany. It has:

1. Not only continued but, since the outbreak of war, intensified its subversive activities against Germany and Europe. And it has

2. In steadily increasing measure developed its foreign policy against Germany in an ever more hostile way. It has

3. Deployed its entire military forces on the German border ready for attack.

The Soviet government has thus violated and broken its treaties and agreements with Germany. Bolshevist Moscow’s hatred of National Socialism was stronger than its political wisdom. Bolshevism is opposed to National Socialism in deadly enmity. Bolshevist Moscow is ready to stab National Socialist Germany in the back while she is engaged in a struggle for her existence.

Germany has no intention of remaining inactive in the face of this grave threat to her eastern frontier. The Führer has, therefore, ordered the German armed forces to oppose this threat with all the might at their disposal. In the coming struggle the German people fully understand that they are called upon not only to defend the homeland, but to save the entire civilized world from the deadly dangers of Bolshevism, and clear the way for true social progress in Europe.

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Prosecutors pull Hitler stamps off the shelves in Russia’s Oryol region

Prosecutors in Russia’s western Oryol region have managed to get postage stamps featuring a portrait of Nazi Germany’s leader Adolf Hitler withdrawn from sale. According to the head of the Karelia-based community organization that printed the stamps, they were meant to underscore the Soviet Union’s victory over Nazi Germany in the Second World War. The Oryol Regional Prosecutor’s Office, on the other hand, concluded that the stamps violate Russia’s federal law banning the use of Nazi symbols.

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These Russian Tanks Helped Stop Hitler in His Tracks

Here’s What You Need to Know: The Red Army was an early practitioner of mechanized warfare.

In the first six months of Operation Barbarossa, the brutal Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, Panzer tanks overran hundreds of miles of Soviet territory and reached the outskirts of Moscow before winter weather and reinforcements from Siberia brought a halt to their advance. In a period when the Red Army seemed on the verge of collapse, a lumbering forty-eight-ton heavy tank that could absorb German tank shells like so many spitballs was one factor that bought it badly needed time.

The Red Army was an early practitioner of mechanized warfare, with thousands of light T-26 and BT tanks in its operational units when Germany invaded. It also also developed huge T-28 and T-35 multiturret heavy tanks to punch through enemy defenses. However, these hulking “land battleships” proved ill conceived: they had great difficulty negotiating rough terrain, and their large hulls were surprisingly poorly armored.

Therefore, in the late 1930s, designer Josef Kotin rushed into production the simpler, more densely armored Kliment Voroshilov, named after the Soviet defense minister. The early-model KV-1s boasted an extraordinary seventy to ninety millimeters of armor, rendering them impenetrable to the standard thirty-seven- or forty-five-millimeter antitank guns of the day. By contrast, early war German Panzers ranged in armor from ten to thirty-five millimeters and weighed less than half that.

For armament, the KV-1 had a single short-barrel seventy-six-millimeter L11 gun in the turret, as well as 7.62-millimeter machine guns in the hull and turret. There was even a third machine gun in the rear of the turret to fend off ambushing infantry.

The KV-1 debuted promisingly against the Finnish during the 1939–40 Winter War, with only one lost in action. The Soviets busily iterated, and the 1940-model KV-1s added higher-velocity seventy-six-millimeter F32 guns to that could bust Panzers with ease, and caked on even more armor. The KVs were organized into small sixteen- to twenty-two-vehicle battalions which served alongside T-34 mediums tanks in mixed brigades. The T-34 was cheaper and faster, had similar armament, and was also quite tough—but still not as tough as the KV-1.

The Soviets also produced over three hundred KV-2 tanks, which had a huge boxy turret mounting a massive 152-millimeter howitzer for swatting concrete bunkers. Though its shells could annihilate anything they hit, the fifty-seven-ton KV-2 was so unstable it couldn’t fire when on uneven terrain or while moving, and it did not reenter production after nearly all were lost in 1941.

Roadblock at Raseiniai

The Soviets Union only disposed of 337 KV-1s and 132 KV-2s in the Western military district when the Nazis invaded. German intelligence somehow failed to identify the threat they posed. However, the Wehrmacht should have had an inkling of its heavy tank problem from its experiences in the Battle of France, when Panzers faced heavily-armored Matilda II and Char B1 tanks that their guns could not penetrate. Unfortunately, the Allied heavies lacked the combined arms and logistical support to capitalize on initial battlefield success.

German commanders had also countered with heavy antiaircraft guns or howitzers in direct-fire mode to penetrate heavy armor. This was not ideal for an army on the attack, however, as the artillery had to be towed into position by soft-skinned vehicles and required minutes of setup time. Deploying them in front of advancing enemy tanks bristling with firepower was a risky business.

The shortcomings of this approach became evident in the Battle of Raseiniai, in the opening days of Operation Barbarossa. On June 23, German tankers in Czech-built 35(t) tanks were startled when KVs of the Second Tank Division rolled straight through their regiment, unperturbed by ricocheting thirty-seven-millimeter shells, to rampage amongst the infantry behind them. The 35(t)s had to wheel around and chase after the Russian heavies, eventually immobilizing some with hits to the tracks and driving off the rest.

However, one of the KVs penetrated far behind German lines before running out of fuel directly in the supply lines of the Sixth Panzer Division on June 24. When a fuel-and-ammunition convoy attempted to pass the seemingly abandoned tank, it opened fire and set twelve of the trucks ablaze. A battery of fifty-millimeter antitank guns began smacking the tank with high-velocity shells, but the Russian behemoth wiped it out it with cannon fire.

Then the Germans tried setting up a more powerful eighty-eight-millimeter flak gun seven hundred meters away to destroy the Russian tank, but it too was knocked out before it could land a shell on target.

That night, German pioneers tried sneaking up to the tank and blow it up with satchel charges. But as the sappers made a dash for the tank, its machine guns blazed into action, foiling the attack.

Perturbed that a single Russian tank had delayed an entire Panzer division for twenty-four hours, Gen. Erhard Raus coordinated a tank-infantry-artillery assault the following morning. The crew was stunned by repeated hits, including several penetrating shots from flak guns. German Schutzen finally climbed on top of the tank’s hull only for the turret to begin rotating! They hastily chucked grenades through some of the shell holes, bringing an end to the crew’s heroic stand.

Shock at Kamenevo

Despite the intimidating armor and firepower of the T-34 and KV tanks, the Wehrmacht seemed to roll on to victory after victory. After encircling and destroying over six hundred thousand Soviet troops in Kiev in September, the Germans finally committed to a drive on Moscow. The tip of the armored spear piercing northeast towards the Soviet capital was led by the Fourth Panzer Division’s Kampfgruppe Eberbach. This combined arms force included a motorcycle-infantry battalion, five companies of Panzer III and IV tanks, and nine towed eighty-eight- and 105-millimeter guns.

On the morning of October 6, 1941, the Kampfgruppe overran infantry and T-26 light tanks defending the town of Kamenevo, close to Mtsensk, 170 miles southwest of Moscow. However, as the Panzers rolled up the road leading to Tula, they were started to behold a vast armada of T-34 and KV tanks charging towards their left flank across an open plain. The night before, Col. Mikhail Katukov had hidden his Fourth Tank Brigade in an ambush position. The Soviet armor now pounced in a concentrated rush.

Heavy guns deployed on an overlooking ridge began picking off Soviet tanks, but there were too few to stem the tide. The armored horde overran the ridge, crushing several of the guns under their treads, and plunged into a wild melee with the undergunned Panzers. The only bright side for the Germans was at that short range, they had a slightly better chance of penetrating the thick Russian armor from the side.

Amidst the chaos of milling Russian tanks, Eberbach was eventually able to fall back, losing around a dozen tanks destroyed or damaged while knocking out eight of the Russian heavies—at least by their own count. The first winter snow arrived the following day. The Wehrmacht would secure the Mtsensk region three weeks later, but Katukov’s counterattack had fatally upset the pace of their advance, which fell just short of Moscow before the Russian winter froze it for good.

That victory came at great cost. The Red Army had lost nine hundred KV-1s and 2,300 T-34s by December 1941.

Unreliable Steel Beast

Through 1943 the Soviets built more than four thousand KV-1s, with successive model initially bolting on more and more armor to the overloaded vehicle. This trend peaked with model 1942 KV-1c, which boasted a ZiS-5 seventy-six-millimeter gun, a maximum of 130 millimeters of armor—and a road speed of just seventeen miles per hour! These assumed a major role in the Soviet offensives of 1942. There was also a run of around seventy KV-8s sporting flamethrowers in place of their main guns.

However, while the KVs were nearly invulnerable to early-war German tanks, they suffered from terrible visibility and defective transmissions. Frequent mechanical breakdowns and slow speed meant they struggled to keep up with the T-34s alongside which they served.

Finally recognizing these crushing defects, Soviet factories followed up with the lighter KV-1S, which selectively trimmed armor down to seventy-five millimeters, while fixing the transmission and vision slits. The more reliable vehicle could keep pace at twenty-eight miles per hour.

But by that time, new German tanks with improved armor and long-barreled seventy-five- or eighty-eight-millimeter guns could penetrate the KV’s formerly near-impervious armor. While the KVs were still tough, that no longer made up for their high expense and by then merely average firepower.

Thus, the KV-1 was fated to fade from prominence, unlike its stablemate the T-34. Only a few battalions of KVs served in the Battle of Kursk, the titanic armored clash of the summer of 1943. These proved completely outclassed in confrontations with new German Tiger and Panther tanks.

To counter that threat, Soviet factories churned out 148 KV-85s, a stopgap model upgraded with an eighty-five-millimeter gun. However, tank designers were already working on installing the gun on the T-34 tank, while the more heavily armed and armored Joseph Stalin series of tanks took over the KV’s role. Still, small numbers of surviving KV-1s would serve through the remainder of the war, including in the siege of Leningrad, the recapture of Crimea and the invasion of Japanese-held Manchuria in August 1945.

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Hitler Had a U-Boat Sneak Into Scapa Flow and Sink This Battleship

In October 1939, illuminated by the northern lights, the German submarine U-47 threaded its way through sunken barriers and slipped into the British anchorage at Scapa Flow, a 125.3-square-mile natural port off the northern coast of Scotland, in the Orkney Islands.

Penetrating the anchorage had long been an unrealized German dream, one that U-boats had attempted twice in World War I; both times they had failed. One U-boat had been rammed and run aground and the second destroyed with all hands.

But now, at last, a German submarine slid quietly across its surface.

U-47 and its 31-year-old captain, Günther Prien, moved across the anchorage from the east where they had entered and then turned toward the north, searching for targets. Prien was surprised at how few British ships were in the area.

He had expected hundreds and was unaware that Sir Charles Forbes, commander in chief of the British Home Fleet, had become concerned by German aircraft recently spotted in the area and had ordered most of the fleet to disperse.

Finally, a lookout on U-47’s bridge spotted a small cluster of ships including the 1914 battleship Royal Oak silhouetted against the northern lights.

Unknown to Prien and the crew of U-47, the 29,000-ton Royal Oak had just returned to Scapa Flow after a battering from storms in the North Atlantic. Some of her smaller caliber guns had been rendered inoperable by flooding and many of her life rafts had been seriously damaged. Because of her condition, Forbes had decided to keep the Royal Oak in Scapa Flow to provide added antiaircraft fire if needed.

In the darkness, U-47 slid toward the big ship.

The Royal Oak, like Scapa Flow itself, was a veteran of World War I, but by the outbreak of World War II, the 25-year-old ship was no longer considered fit for modern combat.  She had been launched in 1914, had seen battle in 1916 at Jutland, and had later served as part of Britain’s Atlantic, Home, and Mediterranean Fleets.

At the end of World War I, Royal Oak had also served as escort to several German vessels that had surrendered and were interned at Scapa Flow, which had been used by ships since prehistory.

In 1904, in response to the German naval action, British naval planners had decided a northern base was needed to control access to the North Sea. Scapa Flow was chosen, and the area was reinforced with minefields, artillery, and concrete barriers.

Primarily because of its distance from German airfields, Scapa Flow was again selected as a main British naval base when World War II broke out. By then, however, the defenses built earlier and during World War I had fallen into disrepair and new “block ships” were sunk in an attempt to block the Flow’s three entrances. Navigable channels remained, however.

German Commander of Submarines Commodore Karl Dönitz, who had commanded a submarine in World War I and who had developed the German Rudeltaktik (“wolf pack”) submarine attack tactic while a British POW, decided early in the outbreak of hostilities to attack the Flow.

Such an attack, he realized, could, if successful, force the British Home Fleet out of Scapa Flow, thus lessening the British hold on the area and allowing greater German  access to the North Atlantic and the convoys that sailed there with supplies for the United Kingdom.

Such an attack would also be seen as an act of vengeance for the ships of the German High Seas Fleet that had surrendered at the end of World War I and—like those escorted by the Royal Oak—had then scuttled themselves in Scapa Flow.

In addition, Dönitz believed, the propaganda value of the attack and its effect on British morale were inestimable. In a single attack, Germany could bring the war to Britain and show the British that even their home waters were not safe from German aggression.

Dönitz was aided in his planning by aerial reconnaissance photographs taken by German aeronautics pioneer Siegfried Knemeyer, who received an Iron Cross for the mission that supplied the photos. (Knemeyer’s flight may have been the aircraft that had moved Forbes to scatter the fleet.) Dönitz also handpicked U-boat Kapitänleutnant Günther Prien as commander of the actual attack.

Prien was a loyal member of the Nazi Party and had in fact been called “the most Nazified U-boat captain.”  He had been at sea in the Merchant Marine and the German Navy since he turned 21 and, by the end of the war, would be credited with sinking or seriously damaging 40 Allied ships. At the time of the Scapa Flow mission, however, he had been in command of U-boats for less than a year. The Scapa Flow attack was only his second patrol of the war.

The proposed raid was scheduled for the night of October 13-14, 1939, when the tides would be high and the night moonless. U-47 approached the British base a little after midnight through the narrow approaches of Kirk Sound, the most easterly of the three entrances to Scapa Flow.

Staying on the surface, Prien first sailed toward the southeast across the Flow and toward the island of Hoy before realizing a navigational error had the submarine heading toward some dangerous shoals. Prien turned to the north, spotting what appeared to be several ships anchored in that area. (Fifty-one ships––18 of which were combat vessels––were reported to be in Scapa Flow at the time.)

“It was absolutely dead calm in there,” Prien later said. “The entire bay was alight because of bright northern lights.”

Sailing north between the sunken block ships Seriano and Numidian, U-47 grounded itself temporarily on a cable strung across the channel from the Seriano and was briefly caught in the headlights of a taxi onshore, but no alarm was raised in either incident.

As U-47 moved north, a lookout on the bridge spotted the Royal Oak about 4,400 yards to the north and correctly identified the ship as a battleship of the Revenge class. Mostly hidden behind her was a second ship, only the bow of which was visible to U-47. (Prien misidentified that second ship as a battlecruiser of the Renown class, but it was later determined to be the World War I seaplane tender Pegasus.)

The submarine quietly approached the Royal Oak and fired a three-torpedo spread, then turned quickly to escape.

One of the three torpedoes struck the Royal Oak’s bow at 12:58 am, and the dull thud and muffled explosions of its detonation confused the sailors onboard. Most thought the cause was an internal problem on the ship, perhaps in the paint locker. The hit caused little damage other than severing the Royal Oak’s starboard anchor chain.

When Prien realized there was no surface or air reaction to his attack, he fired a torpedo from his rear tube, but this torpedo also missed the battleship. He then turned U-47 back to the north and fired another array of three torpedoes, hitting the Royal Oak amidships at 1:06 am.

“There was a bang and the next moment the Royal Oak blew up,” Prien said. “The view was indescribable.” (Kept secret by the German naval command when it jubilantly announced the attack was that several of the torpedoes fired by Prien failed to strike the Royal Oak or to detonate because of long-standing problems with their depth steering and magnetic detonator systems. These problems continued to bedevil the German submariners.)

The Royal Oak heeled over from the force of the explosions, and its gun barrels shifted with the heel, pulling the ship even more quickly onto her side. All her lights went out as the power failed. Water poured in through the gaping hole in her side and through the hatches, which were all open at the time, standard practice for a ship in port.

Men asleep in their bunks or just lying there were trapped by the speed of the deluge. In minutes the Royal Oak was going down, and those few men who had been able to get on deck were in the freezing water swimming through a thick oil slick.

“It was so cold that I was told that it was colder than the inside of a fridge,” one survivor later said.

Meanwhile, U-47 turned away to the east and slipped out of Scapa Flow by the same channel it had used to enter the British anchorage. The Royal Oak continued to take on water and finally disappeared below the waves at 1:29 am, only 13 minutes after U-47’s second successful hit.

After the sinking, Prien and his crew reached the German North Sea port of Wilhelmshaven on October 17 and were immediately greeted as heroes. Hitler sent his personal airplane to ferry the crew to Berlin, where each man aboard U-47 was awarded the Iron Cross Second Class. Prien received the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross, Germany’s highest military award. It was the first time the award had been made to a German submarine officer.

Prien was later nicknamed “the Bull of Scapa Flow,” and his crew at one point decorated U-47‍ ’s conning tower with the painted image of a snorting bull, which later became the emblem of the 7th U-boat Flotilla. Prien also found himself in demand for radio and newspaper interviews, and his autobiography, ghost-written by a German journalist, was published the following year.

Of those men in the water who attempted the half-mile swim to the nearest shore, only a handful survived. Many more were rescued by the tender Daisy 2, which had been tied up for the night to Royal Oak’s port side.

When the Royal Oak was hit and began to list, Daisy 2’s commander, John Gatt, quickly cut his ship clear, snapped on his floodlights, and began picking up survivors, managing to pull 386 men from the cold water, including the Royal Oak ’s commander, Captain William Benn. Rescue efforts continued until nearly 4 am.

Out of the Royal Oak ’s complement of 1,234 men and boys, 833 were killed that night or died later of their injuries. Among that number were 126 “boy sailors,” young men under the age of 18 who were stationed on the ship.

“I was a very lucky man [to survive],” said survivor Bert Peacock, who was 17 years old at the time of the attack.

Immediately after the sinking, there was confusion—and sometimes wild speculation—as to what had caused the sinking. It was only when divers descended to the wreck and discovered the remains of a German torpedo that the cause was confirmed as having been a U-boat attack.

That confirmation was nonetheless followed by additional speculation including a rumor that a local German spy had paddled out into Scapa Flow and led the U-boat into the harbor, a rumor that was labeled “nonsense” by the authorities.

Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, announced the attack to the House of Commons, calling it “a remarkable exploit of professional skill and daring”––an indication of the more gentlemanly attitude taken by both sides at that stage of the war.

Six months later, the commander of a German heavy cruiser sank a British destroyer off the coast of Norway, stayed on the scene to rescue 31 British seamen, congratulated them on putting up a good fight, and then recommended the British captain for a Victoria Cross. It is said to be the only time in British history that the award was given on the recommendation of an enemy.

In his announcement to the Commons, Churchill said the sinking of the Royal Oak would have only a minor effect on British naval readiness and answered questions including several as to why so many “boy sailors” were aboard the Royal Oak.

Three days after the U-47attack, four Luftwaffe Junkers Ju-88 bombers also raided Scapa Flow in what was one of the first bombing attacks on Britain during the war. The attack badly damaged the battleship HMS Iron Duke, and one German bomber was shot down by an antiaircraft battery during the attack.

There exists an underlying and as yet unresolved mystery about the attack.

When Captain Prien reported on Scapa Flow, he stated that he had sunk the Royal Oak and that he had also torpedoed a second ship that night, a ship he identified as the battlecruiser HMS Repulse. The Repulse, however, had left Scapa Flow earlier in the day. Researchers have suggested that U-47 may have instead hit HMS Iron Duke, the British Atlantic Fleet’s flagship, the same ship later attacked by the four Ju-88 bombers. When those planes arrived at Scapa Flow on October 17, the Iron Duke already lay beached on Hoy Island and was reported to have a large hole in her bow.

The British Admiralty, however, never confirmed that HMS Iron Duke had been hit by a torpedo, possibly because it was considered too sensitive to report that the fleet’s flagship had been attacked by a German submarine inside a British anchorage.

A Board of Enquiry held shortly after the Royal Oak sinking found that there were 11 possible submarine routes into Scapa Flow still open. It also uncovered information that junior officers at the base had complained that Scapa Flow was not safe but that senior officers had chosen to ignore these views.

Admiral Sir Wilfred French, commander of the Orkney and Shetland Isles, was eventually held responsible for what had happened and was put on the retired list despite his insistence prior to the Royal Oak sinking that Scapa Flow needed additional safeguards. History has labeled the blame put on French as “unjust.”

In addition, when it became public knowledge that 126 of the 163 “boy sailors” on the ship had been killed—a fatality rate of 77 percent—it became generally accepted in the British Navy that the centuries-old practice of allowing young men under the age of 18 to serve on warships should be discontinued in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

In Germany the raid was celebrated as a triumph, and Commodore Dönitz was promoted to rear admiral. The sinking of the Royal Oak, which was the first of the five Royal Navy battleships and battlecruisers sunk in World War II, while having little effect on the naval superiority of the British, did establish, as Admiral Dönitz had envisioned, that the anchorage British planners had considered impregnable was in fact vulnerable, and it gave a solid body blow to British morale. The German Navy had shown it was capable of bringing the war home to Britain.

In the very last days of the war, Dönitz was named the last president of Germany, replacing German Führer Adolph Hitler after the latter killed himself on April 30, 1945.

Scapa Flow, which was capable of holding the entire Grand Fleet, was temporarily abandoned until its defenses could be improved, but it eventually became the main British naval base of the war. New block ships were sunk, booms and mines were placed over the main entrances, coast defenses and antiaircraft batteries were installed, and Churchill ordered the construction of a series of causeways to block the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow. They were built by Italian prisoners of war being held in Orkney.

In the months following the attack on the Royal Oak, Captain Prien and his crew continued to prove themselves one of Germany’s top U-boats. On their sixth patrol in June 1940, for example, they sank eight ships for a total of 51,483 tons of Allied shipping lost.

U-47 was last heard from in March 1941.

A radio message was received from her on the morning of March 7, sent from the North Atlantic near the Rockall Banks, west of Scotland. It was her last message. She is presumed to have been sunk there by the British destroyer HMS Wolverine and lost with all hands—including her commander, Günther Prien.

Today the Royal Oak, still lying beneath the waters of Scapa Flow, is a recognized war grave, and each year on October 14, a team of Royal Navy divers descends to the wreck. There they fly the Royal Ensign from her overturned hull.

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No World War II? Georg Elser’s Plot to Kill Adolf Hitler

At exactly 8 PM on November 8, 1939, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler strode briskly into Munich’s Burgerbraukeller beer hall at the head of his glowering entourage, brushing past a forest of hands raised in the Nazi salute. As a band struck up the party anthem, the “Horst Wessel Song” (named after a dead SA storm trooper killed in a brawl with a Communist), Hitler and the other party leaders, including Josef Goebbels, Rudolf Hess, Martin Bormann, and Heinrich Himmler, took their seats at the plain wooden tables where so many Nazis had quaffed good Bavarian brews in years gone by. The evening marked the 16th anniversary of Hitler’s abortive 1923 attempt to take over the German state by force. That would-be coup had ended in bloodshed and disaster, but since Hitler’s appointment as chancellor a decade later, the event had taken on a semireligious atmosphere in the Nazi pantheon of solemn holidays, commemorating those killed by police bullets when the future Nazi Führer was still an unknown street agitator. Now he commanded the mightiest nation in Europe. 

Because of the just-begun war with Great Britain, France, and their allies, Hitler had not been expected to address the present gathering of Nazi “Old Fighters” and had in fact named Hess to be his stand-in. At the last minute, however, Hitler decided to come himself. At 8:10 pm, he took his place at the usual lectern, with a Nazi swastika flag covering the pillar directly behind him, six feet away. He immediately launched into a furious speech attacking the British, which had his supporters clapping and cheering. As he spoke, however, Hitler’s adjutant, Julius Schaub, passed him cue cards reminding him of the time—he had a train to catch. “Ten minutes. Five minutes. Stop!” read the cards. Abruptly, Hitler ended his speech after 57 minutes, not the usual 90 minutes he devoted to listening to himself rant. He left his followers with the injunction: “Party members, comrades of our National Socialist movement, our German people, and above all our victorious Wehrmacht, Sieg Heil!” and stepped down from the podium. Normally, Hitler would have stayed behind to shake hands, but Schaub managed to hustle him out of the hall at 9:12 pm, closely followed by all the top members of the Nazi government. The group was in a limousine heading for the Munich train station when a muffled explosion was heard in the distance. What did it mean?

At exactly 9:20—a mere eight minutes after Hitler left the hall—waitress Maria Strobel was busy clearing Hitler’s table of empty steins and full ashtrays, fretting that the Führer had neglected to pay his bill. Suddenly, the ceiling exploded, and she was flung down the entire length of the hall and out through the doors. The smell of cordite lingered in the air, along with the thick choking dust of collapsed brick. Groans from the dying and wounded could be heard in the confusion. Among those emerging from the rubble covered with chalk dust was the father of Eva Braun, the Führer’s mistress. In all, seven people were killed and another 63 injured. Climbing aboard his train, Hitler was blissfully unaware that he and his top men had narrowly avoided death. At Nuremberg, Goebbels, his face deathly pale, brought Hitler the news in the form of a telegram from Munich. Later, reflecting upon his miraculous luck, Hitler told photographer Heinrich Hoffmann: “I had a most extraordinary feeling, and I don’t myself know how or why, but I felt compelled to leave the cellar just as quickly as I could. The fact that I left the Burgerbraukeller earlier than usual is a corroboration of Providence’s intention to let me reach my goal.” Earlier that day, Hitler recalled, Gerdy Troost, the widow of his favorite architect, had warned him of a possible assassination, and he had been uneasy upon his arrival in Munich.

Immediately after the news, Himmler announced that the bombing had been “a foreign plot,” posted a reward for the culprits, and ordered the German frontiers sealed. In his diary, Goebbels claimed that the bombing had been the work of “Black Front” leader Otto Strasser, exiled in Paris since 1934, the year that Hitler had murdered Strasser’s older brother, Gregor, in the famed “Blood Purge” of June 30. Strasser denied any involvement in the attempt. Within the ranks of the secret anti-Hitler German Army resistance movement, there was talk that the number-two Nazi, Luftwaffe Field Marshal Hermann Göring, was behind it all and, indeed, Göring had been mysteriously absent from the annual ceremony. In truth, however, the portly Göring had not taken part in the attempt and had missed the occasion because of legitimate illness. Who, then, was responsible? Within the resistance, there was consternation, as the monocled Prussian generals had been debating how best to depose Hitler and head off his planned assault on the West ever since the victorious conquest of Poland a few weeks earlier. Indeed, on November 5, Hitler had had a furious argument with General Walther von Brauchitsch at the Chancellery, during which time the general had claimed that there was talk of mutiny in certain German Army units, reminiscent of 1918, and a refusal to fight the British and French. Enraged, Hitler shouted: “What action has been taken by the Army commander? How many death sentences have been carried out?” He stormed out, slamming the door behind him.The real culprit was much more prosaic. Rather than being an aristocratic, high-ranking German officer or a pair of suave British spies, he was an unassuming 36-year-old Swabian cabinetmaker, Johann Georg Elser, whose only previous political activity was to become a member of the local woodworkers’ union. Elser was angry at Hitler for failing to cure unemployment and for leading Germany into a war that Elser felt was a lost cause from the start. Noting that Hitler was always surrounded by heavily armed guards and rarely appeared or traveled at set times, Elser decided to strike at the one moment and place where the Führer almost never failed to appear—the Burgerbraukeller in Munich on November 8. On that day a year earlier, Elser had stalked Hitler at the same beer hall, watching him and other Nazi leaders stride down the boulevard in their annual commemorative march for the dead of 1923. Ironically, at that same moment another would-be assassin, Swiss waiter and ex-seminarian Maurice Bavaud, was in the same crowd, trying unsuccessfully to use a pistol to shoot Hitler from a distance. Bavaud was caught and later beheaded for his troubles.

Elser was more careful and diligent. He worked in a mine quarry and had access to explosives. Beginning in August 1939, Elser smuggled himself into the Burgerbraukeller every night for 35 days, working on the pillar undetected and silently in the dark with a flashlight, installing his time bomb, complete with a hidden compartment and a hinged door. On November 6, 63 hours and 20 minutes before the actual explosion, Elser set the timing device on the mechanism and left. He returned to check it on the 7th at 9 pm, and then headed for the Swiss frontier, where he was arrested at Constance, Germany, on suspicion of smuggling just before the actual Munich detonation. A search of his knapsack revealed pliers, suspicious metal parts, handwritten notes on explosives making, and a postcard of the Burgerbraukeller. Brought to Berlin, Elser was brutally interrogated, kicked in the ribs several times by Himmler himself. Bloodied, Elser denied all knowledge of a wider plot, although he reportedly admitted that two mysterious men had supplied him with the explosives. He did not know who they were, Elser claimed. That same day, November 9, Hitler decided not to march in the Beer Hall Putsch commemoration as in years past. On the 10th, still fearful of army reaction to his western assault plans, he postponed the jump-off date of November 15 for the first of 29 times. (It finally took place on May 10, 1940.) On November 11, Hitler attended the public funeral in Munich for victims of the blast.

Meanwhile, Elser was sent to Dachau concentration camp, where he later smuggled a note to Best and Stevens claiming that he had been brought before the commandant at Dachau in October 1939 and given the bomb by the two unknown men—SS agents?—who had persuaded him to plant the device to kill “traitors against the Führer.” According to Elser’s alleged account, the explosion was intentionally delayed until after Hitler left the building. Was any of this true? Was Schellenberg, in fact, a double agent for the British? He survived the war, escaped being tried as a war criminal at Nuremberg, and died peacefully in 1948 of natural causes. Was the explosion caused by a dissident Nazi anti-Hitler movement angry over the Nazi-Soviet Pact of the previous August? Was the blast calculated by Hitler himself to whip up German enthusiasm for the war, as American radio correspondent William Shirer believed? Or was there actually an SS plot to take over the Third Reich in 1939? We will never know for sure. Heydrich was assassinated in 1942, and Himmler died a suicide in 1945, taking his secrets with him to the grave. He had, however, seen to it that Georg Elser lived an almost privileged existence at Dachau, and even provided him with tools and wood to make cabinets.

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Operation Barbarossa: How Hitler Betrayed Stalin (And Lost WWII)

“War is mainly a catalogue of blunders.”   

—Winston Churchill (1950)

On Sunday, June 22, 1941, as the sun slumbered, 3.6 million soldiers, 2,000 warplane pilots, and 3,350 tank commanders under skilled German command crouched at the border of Soviet-occupied Poland ready to invade the Communist nation Joseph Stalin had ruled with steel-fisted brutality for years. 

Shortly after 3 am, in an operation Adolf Hitler called “Barbarossa,” a three-million-man Axis force struck Soviet positions along a 900-mile-long front. German aircraft bombed military bases, supply depots and cities, including Sevastopol on the Black Sea, Brest in Belarus, and others up and down the frontier. The night before, German commandos had snuck into Soviet territory and destroyed Red Army communications networks in the West, making it difficult for those under attack to obtain direction from Moscow.

By the end of the first day of combat, some 1,200 Soviet aircraft had been destroyed, two-thirds while parked on the ground. The poorly led Soviet troops who were not killed or captured buckled under the German onslaught.

Stalin was staggered by the German ambush. Germany’s unannounced act of war violated the nonaggression pact that Hitler and Stalin had signed less than two years earlier and placed at risk the very survival of the Soviet Union. 

At first, Stalin insisted that it was just a provocation triggered by some rogue German generals and refused to order a counterattack until he heard officially from Berlin. The German declaration of war finally arrived four hours later. 

Hitler justified Barbarossa on the basis that the Soviet Union was “about to attack Germany from the rear.” Eventually, after much dithering, Stalin ordered the Red Army to “use all their strength and means to come down on the enemy’s forces and destroy them where they have violated the Soviet border,” but oddly directed that until further orders “ground troops were not to cross the border.”

The Soviet dictator lacked the heart to inform the Russian people that the Germans had invaded. That bitter task fell to Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov, who reported the assault in a radio broadcast more than eight hours after the conflict began. Sadly, Axis bombs and bullets had already alerted millions to the disaster.

Despite the urging of his military officers, Stalin, fearing he would be blamed for the losses, declined to take on the title of commander in chief of the Red Army. He did not even meet with the Politburo until 2 pm on that traumatic day.

Lacking sufficient skilled military leadership, the shocked Red Army reacted slowly and fearfully. As the Germans stormed east and mauled the Soviet troops, Stalin’s generals asked for permission to retreat to reduce casualties, move to defensive positions, and prepare for a counterattack. Stalin refused. His poorly equipped, trained, and led soldiers were ordered to stand their ground regardless of the consequences.

In the first 10 days of combat, the Germans thrust some 300 miles into Soviet territory and captured Minsk and more than 400,000 Red Army troops. At least 40,000 Russian soldiers died each day. Axis forces gained almost total air control and destroyed 90 percent of Stalin’s mechanized forces. Twenty million people who had been living under Soviet control were suddenly living in Axis territory. Many of those in areas previously invaded by Stalin (e.g., Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland) initially welcomed the Germans as liberators.

Stalin seemed close to a nervous breakdown. The losses were so humiliating that, despite being the head of government, he retreated to his summer home and, during several gloomy June days of heavy drinking, refused to answer his phone or play any role in his nation’s affairs, leaving the ship of state to flounder helplessly. On June 28, he muttered, “Lenin left us a great legacy, but we, his heirs, have ****ed it up.” 

Senior Soviet leaders mustered the courage to visit Stalin’s dacha on June 30. Upon arrival, they found him despondent and disheveled. He nervously asked, “Why have you come?” Stalin apparently thought that his underlings were there to arrest him. But they, long cowed by the dictator’s brutal intimidation, simply beseeched him to return to work at the Kremlin. He eventually did so.

Certainly, Operation Barbarossa was spawned by Hitler’s hatred of communism and dream of world domination. But Stalin’s many missteps in the previous two years enticed Hitler to attack and contributed significantly to Barbarossa’s early successes. Stalin’s blunders included purging the Soviet military of its leaders, entering into a treaty with Hitler that triggered a world war that subsequently ravaged Russia, launching a bumbling attack on Finland in late 1939, misreading Hitler, adopting a flawed plan of attack on Germany, and ignoring warnings of Hitler’s forthcoming Axis invasion of the Soviet Union.

In furtherance of Lenin’s goal of provoking a worldwide communist revolution, Stalin sought to undermine capitalist governments across Europe. He sought to destroy anyone abroad or at home who might stand in the way of his brand of communism. According to Stalin, “As long as the capitalist encirclement exists there will continue to be present among us wreckers, spies, saboteurs and murderers.” 

In a 1937 speech, the “man of steel” (which is what “Stalin” means in Russian) made his brutal stance clear: “Anyone who tries to destroy the unity of the socialist state, who aims to separate any of its parts or nationalities from it, is an enemy, a sworn enemy of the state and of the peoples of the USSR. And we will exterminate each and every one of these enemies, whether they are old Bolsheviks or not. We will exterminate their kin and entire family. We will mercilessly exterminate anyone, who with deeds or thoughts threatens the unity of the socialist state.”

This thinking gave rise to the Great Terror in which Stalin had millions of Soviet citizens arrested for “counterrevolutionary crimes” or “anti-Soviet agitation.” In 1937 and 1938, at least 1.3 million people were convicted of being “anti-Soviet elements.” More than half were executed—on average 1,500 people shot dead each day.

Stalin used the Great Terror to eliminate potential threats within the Soviet military. He removed some 34,000 Red Army officers from service. Of those, 22,705 were shot or went “missing.” Out of 101 members of the Red Army’s supreme leadership, Stalin had 91 arrested and 80 shot. Eight of nine senior admirals in the Soviet navy were put to death. By 1939, he had essentially decapitated the military forces responsible for protecting the Soviet Union from invasion.

In Hitler’s 1925 autobiography, Mein Kampf,he declared both his fierce opposition to Marxism and Germany’s need to acquire more territory to provide “living space” for its people. Hitler made clear that one source of such lands would be “Russia and her vassal border states.”

Following Hitler’s 1933 rise to power in Germany, the fascist policies he implemented were directly targeted against Stalin’s communism. Over the next half-dozen years, in contravention of the Versailles Treaty that basically forbade Germany from rearming, Germany’s military might and expansionist aspirations grew at a fearsome rate. Hitler added to Germany’s territory by absorbing Austria in 1938 and large parts of Czechoslovakia in early 1939. His gaze then fell upon neighboring Poland.

Stalin was right to fret about Hitler’s goal of seizing fertile lands to the east of Germany, including Ukraine. Stalin recognized that the Soviet Union and its Red Army in the late 1930s were not ready for war. He could buy time and seek to retard Hitler’s appetite either by forming an alliance with Germany’s traditional foes, Great Britain and France, or by pursuing a nonaggression treaty with Hitler.

In early 1939, Stalin began negotiations with France and Great Britain aimed at a treaty that would leave Hitler facing opponents to the east and west of Germany. These efforts, however, were impeded by the reluctance of both France and Great Britain to enter into a treaty with a communist nation bent on undermining capitalist democracies and especially one led by an unpredictable and ruthless dictator like Stalin.  The negotiations proceeded fitfully.

Several months later, seeking to thwart a treaty among Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, Hitler secretly invited Stalin to discuss a nonaggression pact (the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, named after the two countries’ foreign ministers). Hitler’s covert plan for a late summer attack on Poland, which both France and Great Britain had promised to defend, motivated him to strike a deal with Stalin so that Germany would not face a hostile military to the east.

In late August 1939, Hitler and Stalin stunned the world by announcing that their two nations had agreed to a trade and nonaggression pact. This came about only after Stalin obtained Hitler’s secret promise that the two nations would invade and carve up Poland between them, and Germany would facilitate Stalin’s desire to take over Latvia, Estonia, Bessarabia, and parts of Finland.

On August 19, Stalin justified his unlikely deal with Hitler to the Politburo: “The question of war and peace has entered a critical phase for us.  Its solution depends entirely on the position which will be taken by the Soviet Union. We are absolutely convinced that if we conclude a mutual assistance pact with France and Great Britain, Germany will back off from Poland and seek a modus vivendi with the Western Powers. War would be avoided, but further events could prove dangerous for the USSR.

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