June 22, 2017

Today in History: Hitler betrays Stalin (1941)

John RobsonArchive

On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union.

Hitler’s betrayal of his supposed ally Stalin was an absolute stew of cunning, stupidity and evil… with a side of geopolitics.

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commented 2017-06-24 11:44:53 -0400
The commonly accepted belief in the US is that it was the US intervention in WWI that won the war for the allies. This is incorrect. It was in fact the Royal Navy that won the war, and they did so not by fighting battles, but just by being there.

Prior to WWI, Germany was more or less self-sufficient in food. However, agriculture was largely unmechanised, so taking away a million men or more from farming and enlisting them in the army resulted in agricultural output going abruptly down. Britain and France had the same problem, but they were able to import food from other parts of the world. This option was not open to Germany because of the presence of the Royal Navy blockading its ports. Most of the German merchant fleet spent WWI rusting in Hamburg Harbour.

By the winter of 1917/18, German troops on the Western front were raiding allied trenches for food. When you are unable to feed your troops, the end is only a matter of time. The German Spring offensive of 1918, although brilliantly carried out, was halted in part because whenever German troops overran British or French supply dumps, the advance was halted while the troops gorged themselves on food, and could not be moved by their officers for some time.

Meanwhile, German civilians at home were facing much greater privations, and the collapse of the German state from this cause was becoming a distinct possibility.

Certainly, the presence of American troops probably helped to shorten the war, but Germany was essentially beaten by the winter of 1917/18, not by military action but by starvation.

Roger Graves
commented 2017-06-23 19:46:12 -0400
@Jack Pallance
I truly don’t have a strong opinion on WW I. People tend to think of history as inevitable – as in, what happened would have happened no matter what – but I think history is full of turning points where if the ball had bounced a little differently, things might have turned out very differently.

I’m just reading a science fiction book called Time and Time Again which imagines a group of people who blame all the catastrophes of the 20th century on the killing of the Archduke Ferdinand and WW I. They reason that if that assassination can be averted – and Kaiser Wilhelm II assassinated instead – almost none of the horrors of the 20th century would have happened, including the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia, WW II, the Cold War, and so forth. The group determines a way to get an agent to do these things and sets the wheels in motion. I find that an interesting idea, even if it is just science fiction.

In the real world, I’m not sure we can reasonably say the US made the critical difference in winning WW I. In 1917, the German General Staff gathered up a number of long-exiled Russian radicals living in western Europe, including Lenin, put them on a train and sent them back to Russia, just a few months after the Tsar had abdicated. The Provisional Government had felt duty-bound to continue Russia’s participation in the war, despite the great difficulties the Russian Army was having and despite the many radicals that were fomenting unrest both at home in the front. The Germans reasoned that the Russian radicals would at least stir the pot and weaken the Russian forces on the Eastern Front. As it turned out, the radicals succeeded beyond the Germans’ wildest dreams: they actually seized control of the government via Lenin’s coup, sued for peace, and withdrew from the war, giving Germany a huge chunk of Russia (comprising much of modern Poland, Ukraine, Belarus, etc.) to boot. If the Allies could have prevented that somehow, Germany may well have been defeated before the Americans had arrived in significant numbers. The Kaiser might have hung on which might have precluded Hitler arising since the Kaiser’s abdication also ended the German Empire and turned it into a republic that used proportional representation, a system that made it possible for Hitler to come to power democratically. By the same token, Russia might have become a democracy, not a Bolshevik dictatorship and Stalin might have remained just another radical.
commented 2017-06-23 14:43:06 -0400
Great history Henry. What is your take on WW1? Would it have dragged on much longer without the late US entry?
commented 2017-06-23 05:35:24 -0400
Obviously Stalin did not read Mein Kampf. Where did he think Hitler was going to get his living space?
commented 2017-06-23 00:05:10 -0400
Both were evil inhuman scum. If Stalin did not know Hitler would betray him then he was a friggin dunce as well,how many times did Hitler say he would not invade somewhere and then invade them.
commented 2017-06-23 00:03:28 -0400
Henry Reardon they both probably thought that they would control the other. Socialist minds think alike.

Robert Mcclelland isn’t it funny how so many socialists seem to be crony capitalists when it comes to their own interests while they tell others to share and go without.
commented 2017-06-22 20:28:34 -0400
I would argue that both Hitler and Stalin were products of the left. Hitler was the leader of the National Socialist Party, a blue collar workers party which nationalized much of the German economy. Hitler did engage in crony capitalism when he made a deal with the industrial elite to gain their support.
commented 2017-06-22 20:27:34 -0400
For me, one of the more interesting aspects of Operation Barbarossa was that any number of reports from observers and defectors came to Stalin in the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the invasion. The Germans and their allies sent 199 divisions against Stalin and it inevitably takes many weeks to position that many fighters at their jumping off points for the invasion. Despite all these warnings, Stalin insisted that no invasion was imminent. He ordered anyone reporting such a thing shot. He clearly couldn’t believe that Hitler would turn on him no matter how much evidence was provided.

Even when the invasion began, he thought it was just a test and that the Germans would soon return to their side of the border. But, of course, that didn’t happen and it eventually dawned on him that the invasion was real. At that point, Stalin virtually disappeared. He wasn’t heard or seen anywhere. It ultimately fell to Molotov to announce the Soviet policy of hanging on and utterly destroying the Germans. After that, the entire politburo drove out to Stalin’s dacha to see him. He greeted them grim-faced. At least two separate accounts indicate that he assumed he was being arrested and, very possibly shot. He assumed they were looking to punish him for his foolishness in trusting Hitler, positioning the Red Army too far forward and in purging so much of the top leadership of the Red Army a few short years before. Much to his surprise, the Politburo had a completely different plan in mind. They begged him to please come back to his office and lead the fight against the Germans!

I sometimes wonder how differently things might have turned out if they had arrested and shot Stalin. It’s not inconceivable that the lesser lights in the Politburo would have sued for peace with the Germans and made some kind of accomodation with them, much as they had in World War I when they ceded a significant chunk of Russia to the Germans. That would have given the Germans a free hand to attack the West without the Communists at their backs. (Remember, the Soviets had roughly 28 million casualties stopping Hitler, roughly half of all the war dead.) Or maybe the Soviets would have fought on but without Stalin they might have lost. Or won sooner since Stalin’s approach to war fighting was extremely foolish in the early months.
commented 2017-06-22 20:11:34 -0400
I think the single most chilling remark I’ve ever heard made by a major world leader was a remark Stalin made to his daughter, Svetlana, after Operation Barbarossa began. He said “It’s a shame Hitler had to go an attack us. TOGETHER, WE COULD HAVE REALLY DONE SOME THINGS!”

I don’t know that Stalin actually liked or trusted Hitler – as far as is known, the two never met in the flesh – but Stalin apparently thought he could manage Hitler sufficiently for them BOTH to accomplish a great deal. My blood practically curdles at the thought of all that they might have accomplished together – perhaps with the assistance of Imperial Japan – with only the Western Allies to stop them.
commented 2017-06-22 20:03:15 -0400
History is plagued with evil. Which is prevalent today? And those who forget and follow blindly are doomed
commented 2017-06-22 18:49:34 -0400
Stalin damn well knew that Hitler was going to attack Russia. This was why Stalin declared that stupid winter war on Finland. Hey Professor Robson, can you please do a video on the Russia Finland winter war? Please and thank you.
commented 2017-06-22 14:27:00 -0400
And the American left had nothing but praise and kisses for Hitler and Mussolini up to that point. The three (with Stalin) were all seen as part of the same anti-capitalist trifecta. The left only started to hate Hitler AFTER the betrayal.