During all the 75 years that have passed since the beginning of the Great Patriotic War, we are looking for the answer to the seemingly simple question: how did it happen that the Soviet leadership, having irrefutable evidence of preparing aggression against the USSR, did not believe it to the end. Why Stalin, even after receiving news of the advancement of German units to the original areas for the offensive on the night of 22 June from the headquarters of the Kiev Special Military District, said to the People's Commissar of Defense Tymoshenko and the Chief of the General Staff Zhukov: you shouldn’t rush to conclusions, maybe still to be settled peacefully?
One of the answers - the Soviet leader was the victim of large-scale misinformation, carried out by the German special services. Stalin’s personal miscalculation, in turn, automatically spread to all decision-makers who ex officio were responsible for the state of defense and security of the country, regardless of whether they agreed with the leader’s point of view or not.
The Hitler command understood that the suddenness and maximum force of an attack on the Red Army could be ensured only when attacked from a position of direct contact. This required moving directly to the border dozens of divisions that formed the strike force of the invading army. In the German bet, they were aware that with any measures of secrecy this could not be done in secret. And then an incredibly daring decision was made - not to conceal the transfer of troops.
However, it was not enough to concentrate them at the border. Tactical surprise during the first strike was achieved only under the condition that until the last moment the date of the attack would be kept secret. But this is not all: the plan of the German military was also to simultaneously prevent the timely operational deployment of the Red Army and bringing its parts into full combat readiness. Even a sudden invasion would not have been so successful if it had been met by the troops of the Soviet border military districts already prepared to repel an attack.
On May 22, 1941, at the final stage of the operational deployment of the Wehrmacht, the transfer of 47 divisions began to the border with the USSR, including 28 tank and motorized. Public opinion, and through it, the intelligence agencies of all interested countries (not only the USSR) were planted with such an abundance of the most incredible explanations of what was happening, from which, in the literal sense of the word, the head was spinning.
Generally, all versions of the purpose for which such a mass of troops is concentrated at the Soviet border, boiled down to two:
to prepare for the invasion of the British Isles, here, in the distance, to protect them from the blows of the English aviation;
in order to forcefully ensure a favorable course of negotiations with the Soviet Union, which were about to begin, according to hints from Berlin.
As it should be, a special disinformation operation against the USSR began long before the first German military trains moved eastward on 22 in May. In scale, she knew no equal. To implement it, a directive was issued to the OKW, the Supreme Command of the German armed forces. Hitler, Minister of Propaganda Ribbentrop, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Weizsäcker, imperial Minister Meissner - the head of the presidential office, the highest ranks of the OKW, took personal and far from formal participation in it.
It should be said about a personal letter, which, according to some information, the Führer 14 of May sent to the leader of the Soviet people. The presence of the German divisions near 80 of the German divisions by the time the sender explained the need to keep the troops away from the British eyes. Beginning with 15 – 20 June, Hitler promised to begin a massive withdrawal of troops from the Soviet borders to the west, and before that he had urged Stalin not to succumb to provocative rumors about the possibility of military conflict between countries.
It was one of the peaks of the disinformation operation. And before that, through various channels, including through the press of neutral states, double agents used in the dark by USSR-friendly politicians and journalists, the official diplomatic line to the Kremlin was sent news that would strengthen the hope of preserving peace from the USSR government. Or, as a last resort, the illusion that even if the relations between Berlin and Moscow become conflicting, Germany will by all means attempt to resolve the issue through negotiations. This should have calmed (and, alas, really calmed down somewhat) the Kremlin leadership, instilling in him the assurance that some amount of time was guaranteed to him.
Official diplomatic contacts were also actively used as a channel of misinformation. The imperial minister mentioned above, Otto Meissner, who was considered a man close to Hitler, almost weekly met with the Soviet ambassador to Berlin, Vladimir Dekanozov, and assured him that the Fuhrer was about to finish developing proposals for negotiations and transfer them to the Soviet government. False information of this kind was transmitted directly to the embassy and the Lyceum - the agent-counterpart Berlings, a Latvian journalist who worked in Berlin.
For full credibility, the Kremlin was given information about possible German demands. It was not a trifle that, even if in a paradoxical way, it was necessary not to frighten Stalin, but to assure him of the seriousness of the intentions of the German side. These requirements included the long-term lease of grain expanses of Ukraine, then participation in the operation of Baku oil fields. Economic claims were not limited, creating the impression that Hitler was waiting for concessions and a military-political nature - consent to the passage of the Wehrmacht through the southern regions of the USSR to Iran and Iraq for actions against the British Empire. At the same time, German disinformers received an additional argument in explaining why the Wehrmacht units were squeezing to the Soviet borders.
The German secret services played out a mnogohodovka: simultaneously with the introduction of the main enemy, the USSR, the spreading rumors increased distrust between Moscow and London and minimized the possibility of any anti-German political combination behind Berlin.
At the most crucial moment in the course went heavy artillery. In agreement with Hitler, Goebbels published in the evening edition of the newspaper “Felkischer Beobachter” from 12 in June an article “Crete as an example”, in which he made a transparent allusion to the landing of the Wehrmacht in the near future on the British Isles. In order to create the impression that the Reich Minister of Propaganda made a grave mistake and issued a secret plan, the newspaper’s “Hitler’s personal order” was confiscated, and rumors spread around Berlin about the imminent resignation of the minister, who had fallen into disgrace. The newspaper didn’t really miss the newspaper at retail (so as not to misinform its own military and population), but the foreign embassies received a number.
“My article about Crete,” wrote Goebbels in his diary the next day, “is a real sensation in the country and abroad ... Our production was a great success ... From the phone conversations of foreign journalists working in Berlin, we can conclude that they all fell for the bait . In London, the topic of invasion is again in the spotlight ... The OKW is very quite my article. It is a great distraction. ”
And immediately after this, a new tactic was chosen - to keep complete silence. In the words of Goebbels, Moscow attempted to lure Berlin "out of the hole" by publishing a TASS report on June 14, in which rumors circulated in the West about a possible German attack on the USSR. The Kremlin seemed to invite the imperial office to confirm the message. But, wrote Goebbels 16 of June, “we do not polemicize in the press, we shut up in complete silence, and on the day“ X ”we simply strike. I strongly advise the Führer ... it is necessary to continue to spread rumors continuously: peace with Moscow, Stalin comes to Berlin, the invasion of England is coming soon ... I once again impose a ban on the discussion of the topic of Russia by our media in the country and abroad. Until day “X” is taboo. ”
Alas, the Soviet leadership took the explanations of the Germans at face value. In an effort to avoid war at all costs and not give the slightest pretext for attack, Stalin until the last day forbade bringing the troops of the border districts to combat readiness. As if the Hitler leadership still needed a reason ...
Illusion of confidence
On the last day before the war, Goebbels wrote in his diary: “The question about Russia is getting worse every hour. Molotov requested a visit to Berlin, but received a resolute refusal. Naive assumption. This had to be dealt with six months ago ... Now, Moscow must have noticed that it threatens Bolshevism ... ”But the magic of confidence that it would be possible to avoid clashes with Germany was so powerful for Stalin that even after receiving confirmation from Germany of Molotov , the leader in the directive given to 22 June in 7 hours 15 minutes of the Red Army to repel an invading enemy, forbade our troops, with the exception of aviation, to cross the German border line.
It is fundamentally wrong to make some kind of rabbit from Moscow numbing a boa under the gaze. The Soviet leadership made an attempt (active, but, unfortunately, on the whole failed) to oppose the operations of the German special services to a massive transfer to the “other” side of their own disinformation, in order to postpone the moment the Wehrmacht attacked or even eliminate the threat.
Feeling that the danger is increasing every day, and the country is not ready to repel it, the Soviet leader, on the one hand, tried to appease the Führer: he forbade the German aircraft to stop flights over Soviet territory, strictly controlled that supplies to Germany of grain, coal, petroleum products and other strategic materials were carried out strictly on schedule, broke off diplomatic relations with all countries that were subjected to German occupation, and on the other - with some of their actions and statements put pressure on Hitler, restrained his aggressive intentions.
Since one of the best ways to do this is to demonstrate force, since the beginning of 1941, four armies have been advancing from the depths of the country to the western border. 800 thousands of storerooms were called up to the Armed Forces. In offensive tones, Stalin's speech was sustained at the Kremlin reception of graduates of military academies 5 in May 1941.
In a series of measures designed to disorient the Fuhrer, there were also quite impressive disinformation measures carried out by the Soviet special services with the knowledge of the Kremlin. For example, German agents in Moscow were tossed up (and successfully, for reports of this kind were preserved in the funds of the German Foreign Ministry) that the most probable and dangerous direction of a possible strike on the USSR in the Soviet leadership is considered to be north-western - from Eastern Prussia through the Baltic republics to Leningrad. Here and the main forces of the Red Army. But the south-western and southern directions (Ukraine and Moldova), on the contrary, remain relatively poorly protected.
In fact, it was in the south-west direction that the main forces of the Red Army were concentrated: the troops of the Kiev Special Military District, the most powerful in the Red Army, had 58 divisions at the start of the war and there were 957 thousand people. For Hitler, it was as if they were preparing a wolf pit here, or, if resorting to literary associations, imitated a sheepfold, and arranged a kennel.
Even “misinformation” about oppositional sentiments allegedly present in the Soviet leadership was thrown on the “other” side. Thus, the people's commissar of defense Tymoshenko allegedly insisted on an all-out strengthening of the north-western direction, in order, as the German agents informed, to weaken the troops of his native Ukraine and thereby guaranteed to hand it over to the Germans. Even Stalin became a figure of misinformation. In the archives of the Ribbentrop Bureau, reports remained on the presence in the leadership of the CPSU (b) of a certain broad “labor opposition movement” that opposed “the exorbitant concessions of Stalin to Germany”.
The diplomats connected to disinformation events (which they might not have known) worked in the indicated direction. Up to 21 on June 1941, visiting the German Foreign Ministry, the Soviet ambassador in Berlin Dekanozov led only protocol conversations, discussing current private questions about marking individual sections of the common border, building a bomb shelter in the embassy in Berlin, etc.
A kind of misinformation peak, an attempt by Moscow, which was already mentioned above, to “lure out of the hole” Berlin was the publication of the 14 June 1941 of the TASS message. At the same time, Stalin tried to mislead Hitler about his own awareness of the Wehrmacht’s forces, and to make him speak out on this subject. And with special luck I wanted to hope that Hitler would regard the TASS message as an invitation to the negotiations and go for them. This gave delay the war for at least a few more months.
However, in Berlin they began to take final actions on the immediate preparation for the invasion, so the answer, as mentioned above, was complete silence. Keeping the initiative and consistently moving toward the invasion, the Nazi leadership could easily ignore any messages from Moscow.
But the preparation of the Soviet Union for the war, the same TASS statement, not linked and coordinated with other actions of the Kremlin, caused serious harm, disorienting the people and the army. “At us, the staff of the General Staff, as, naturally, among other Soviet people, the TASS report at first caused some surprise,” wrote Marshal Vasilevsky. The fact that it was actually a diplomatic move, calculated on the reaction of Berlin, was known only to a narrow circle of top military. According to the recollections of the same Vasilevsky, the heads of structural units of the General Staff were informed about this by the first deputy chief of the General Staff, General Vatutin. But even the commanders of the border districts were not warned, not to mention the commanders of the lower level. Instead of increasing vigilance and mobilization of all forces, the statement contributed to complacency and carelessness.
Out of fear of giving the Germans even the slightest reason for aggression, Stalin forbade any actions to bring the troops into the necessary degree of combat readiness. All attempts by district commanders to advance at least some additional forces to the border were harshly suppressed. The Soviet leader did not notice how he crossed the line separating reasonable caution from dangerous credulity.
Response, reflection is always secondary. Forced to answer in most cases plays according to the rules of the attacking side. To seize the initiative, it is necessary to take such actions that would radically change the situation, put the enemy at a standstill.
Did not these considerations drive the leaders of the Soviet General Staff (Chief of the General Staff Zhukov, his first deputy Vatutin and deputy head of the Operational Directorate Vasilevsky) in developing the document reported to Stalin in the middle of May 1941? The document, known as "Note Zhukov", contained a proposal "to preempt the enemy in deployment and attack the German army at a time when it will be at the deployment stage and will not have time to organize the front and the interaction of the armed forces." It was envisaged by the forces of the 152 divisions to defeat the enemy's 100 divisions in the decisive direction of Krakow-Katowice, and then continue the offensive, defeating the German forces in the center and on the north wing of their front, seizing the territory of the former Poland and East Prussia.
The leader of the USSR rejected this option of action, stating that the highest military men want to push him with Hitler, who is waiting for him to use the pretext for the attack. However, regardless of the reasons for the negative decision, Stalin was most likely right: a large-scale attack on the practically deployed Wehrmacht troops could become a gesture of despair at best: without a detailed study of operational documents and the creation of the necessary groupings of troops, he risked turning into an adventure.
There was, however, another course of action, quite real and also allowing it to break out of the coordinate system set by the Hitlerite leadership. Later, analyzing the situation on the eve of the war, the marshals Zhukov and Vasilevsky came to the conclusion that in the middle of June 1941, the time came when it was impossible to further postpone the adoption of urgent measures. It was necessary, without paying attention to the reaction of the German side, to bring the Red Army troops into full combat readiness, to take up defensive positions and get ready to repel the aggressor, without crossing the state border. In this case, it would be possible if not to detain the enemy at the border, then at least to deprive him of the advantages associated with the suddenness of the attack.
In strategic terms, such actions allowed the Soviet side to immediately seize the initiative. It would be extremely clear to Hitler that his aggressive designs had been revealed, they did not believe his peace-loving assurances, and the Red Army was ready to repel the invasion. Of course, at the same time all the bridges were burned, the difficult political and diplomatic game stopped, leading which Stalin hoped at the same time to appease the Fuhrer and scare him.
The leader did not go even to these measures, probably continuing to be in illusions that he was playing a game in the Soviet-German duet. For the need to act in the coordinate system of the enemy until the very moment of the invasion, a very high price was paid. The Red Army met the beginning of the war in peacetime. Their great potential to repel the massive blow of the enemy turned out to be unused. And this is for us a lesson for all time.
Do I need to say at the same time how much over the past 75 years have the technologies of deceiving a possible opponent, informational and psychological processing of the ruling elites and the masses advanced? The stratagems used in politics and military art in ancient China have been transformed today into a theory and an effective system of practical actions by troops for a controlled influence on the enemy with the help of a whole set of means and methods of disinformation. There is no need to go far for examples: US and NATO aggression against Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, an attempt to discredit Russia's efforts to fight international terrorism in Syria ...
But with all the sophistication of the strategies and technologies of misinformation, we can say for sure: the least vulnerable is a society in which there is a unity of power and people united by a big goal.