History does not tolerate the subjunctive mood, and yet, peering into the years preceding the German attack on the USSR, we continue to ask ourselves: could 22 June 1941 of the year be avoided or the course of events unfolding in Europe inexorably led to a tragic outcome?
It is usually believed that the Second World War could have been prevented by Western democracies, they came out in support of Czechoslovakia in 1938, when Hitler demanded the transfer of the German Sudetenland populated by Germany. Note that even without the help of the allies, Prague was able to defend independence, because its troops consisted of 40 well-armed and trained divisions, including four mechanized ones. This was enough to rely on the German divisions, which were also recognized by the commanders of the Third Reich, relying on the first-class engineering line and the fortified line built along the German border. The head of the Wehrmacht, Keitel, then a general, wrote 51 of the year in his diary in September: “The Generals Against the Offensive on the Czech Republic”. Moreover, the commander of the 1938 Army, General Witzleben, who was executed in 1 as a member of the anti-Hitler plot, intended to overthrow the Führer, taking advantage of the German attack on Czechoslovakia. Nevertheless, its president Benes planned to resolve the conflict with Berlin by peaceful means, relying on the diplomatic support of France and England. Although the problem was almost a stalemate: the return of the Sudetenland to the Reich was unacceptable for Prague from the point of view of state security. It was on the territory of the Sudetenland that the Czechoslovak defensive line ran.
“The process of rearmament of the Red Army was in full swing, as was the growing rapprochement between England and the United States. And Hitler made a fateful choice for himself. ”
Thus, the fate of the confrontation largely depended on London and Paris. It is obvious that about any military confrontation between Germany and France, which had the strongest army in Europe, was out of the question at that time. But on the night of 29 on 30 of September 1938, the leaders of England and France Chamberlain and Daladier signed the Munich Agreement, which provided for the transfer of the Sudetenland region to the Reich. Actually, this stopped Vitzleben from an attempted coup, because it prevented a military clash between Germany and Czechoslovakia. Neither the Czech nor the Soviet representatives, as you know, were not allowed to negotiate.
Soviet historiography has invariably given a negative assessment to this agreement. In addition, the combat potential of the Wehrmacht grew sharply due to the military-economic resources of Czechoslovakia occupied in the spring of 1939. Its famous Skoda factories in 1940 produced almost as much weapons as the entire British industry. The only foreign tanks in the combat units of the Nazis at the time of the attack on the USSR were precisely the Czech 35 (t) and 38 (t).
What was the logic of Paris and London, who, as is commonly believed, ceded Czechoslovakia to the slaughter? In order to understand Chamberlain’s and Daladier’s motivation, as Hitler’s, by the way, it is necessary to return 20 years ago to the basic provisions of the Versailles Peace Treaty, for it is in his main articles, not the Munich Agreement, and we should look for genuine reasons World War II. 11 November 1918 th never experienced the defeat of its troops, but broken by the clutches of the economic blockade, Germany concluded the Compiegne Truce, and 28 June 1919 th - Versailles Peace Treaty. It is necessary to take into account that the place of its signing - the Mirror Palace of Versailles - for German diplomats also became a serious moral test, because it was here, in the heart of the Prussian defeated weapons France, less than 50 years ago, the German Empire was solemnly proclaimed.
Let us turn to some points of a world humiliating for Berlin. Defeated by the Germans in 1870 and saved by Russia in 1914, France regained its coal-rich Alsace and Lorraine; Belgium, conquered by the Second Reich, acquired the districts of Malmedy and Eipen; Poland, which had not existed as an independent state at the beginning of the war, received Poznan, part of Pomerania and Silesia with its developed industry. The Germans lost all their colonies. Such carefully created armed forces were subject to a radical reduction. Germany lost its pride - naval fleet, she was forbidden to have a battle Aviation and the latest types of weapons, actively developed and created by the Germans on the eve and during the First World War. Finally, the huge reparations that had to be paid in favor of the victorious countries were not only a heavy economic burden, but also degraded national dignity. After reviewing the main provisions of the treaty, Earl Brockdorf-Ranzau, representing Germany at the conference, refused to sign it, noting: "The Allies offer us suicide." He returned to his homeland and resigned, but peace was nevertheless concluded.
It is not surprising that the most sober military leaders and politicians in the West warned about the fragility of the Versailles system and foresaw the actual inevitability of World War II. However, the reasons for the military-economic revival of Germany must be sought not only in the articles of the Versailles Treaty, but also in the fear felt by Britain and France over the possibility of a new slaughter. That is what explains the logic of the Western democracies, who looked through the fingers at the revival of the German military machine, "swallowed" the Anschluss of Austria and in fact refused allied obligations towards Czechoslovakia and Poland.
Without an idea there is no empire
It is not a matter of the evil will of the British and French governments, but rather the lack of it, as well as the psychological fatigue of their peoples. As subsequent events showed, the British and French empires were declining, giving way to the leading world powers of the USSR, the USA and China. Why did it happen? Aging of an ethnic group is often due to the lack of an idea capable of accumulating its internal reserves. Such was not the case in France, the majority of whose inhabitants lost their sense of national pride and preferred relatively well-fed slavery to the struggle for freedom, like the Romans of the era of decline with their "Bread and circuses!" But history knows the opposite examples. The genius of Genghis Khan immortalized in world history the name of the hitherto little-known Mongols, who created the largest and unique multicultural empire in the Middle Ages. Earlier, the tsars Philip and Alexander the Great glorified the previously unknown Macedonians for centuries. Had France at the end of the 30s found its own Alexander the Great, capable of awakening the nation, Germany would have remained the Weimar Republic. Alas, the ashes of Joan of Arc had long been scattered to the wind, and de Gaulle at that time served as a simple officer warning his compatriots of the impending danger. But the French, figuratively speaking, were asleep. Unlike the Germans: national pride, humiliated by the Versailles Treaty, opened the way to power for the possessed Hitler. It seems that if the conditions of peace with defeated Germany turned out to be more moderate and did not hurt her vanity so painfully, the victory of the national socialist ideas in the country would hardly be possible and, therefore, it would be possible to avoid the tragedy of World War II.
It is not surprising that it was precisely the German officer corps, educated in the old Prussian order, which is perhaps the best in Europe, the most humiliated by the unfair world from the point of view of the Germans, which allowed the Nazis to gain a foothold in power. As for the British, they, demonstrating political short-sightedness, looked with indifference at the collapse of the Versailles system in Europe, but the spiritual forces and national pride of the British woke up as soon as the immediate threat to their independence arose. And most importantly, at the time of trial at the head of Britain, Churchill turned out to be - the last great politician of the dying empire.
Was the war of Germany and the USSR inevitable after the defeat of Poland and France? In 1939, the main tasks of the Soviet foreign policy were formulated as follows: “The war is between two groups of capitalist countries (poor and rich against colonies, raw materials, etc.) for the division of the world, for domination of the world. We do not mind that they fought well and weakened each other. It would be nice if the position of the richest capitalist countries (especially England) would be loosened by Germany’s hands. ” Before us — if we reject Comintern’s rhetoric — a pattern of sober imperial politics based on rational egoism. After the well-known Soviet-German pact, the real threat of the USSR in the spring of 1940 came from the Anglo-French bloc, which planned air raids on the Caucasian oil fields: the French told the British about their readiness to strike at Baku 15 in May, but five days earlier the Germans launched an offensive on the Western front, and Gamelin was not up to Baku. Soon the Third Republic signed a truce with Germany, even earlier the British evacuated their troops from Dunkirk for the subsequent defense of the metropolis. Hitler hoped that London after the rapid defeat of France would go to the conclusion of peace with the Reich, but the last of the British Mohicans Churchill was not Raynaud.
However, it was during this period that it was worth considering the question of peace. First, the humiliation of the French in Compiegne - the Germans forced them to sign peace in the very car in which 11 November 1918 of the year concluded it themselves, Germany restored the status of a great power, got rid of the complex of national humiliation. Secondly, the tolerable living conditions for the conquered French did not arouse from their side the active support of the resistance movement. As for Britain, according to the modern historian M.I. Meltyukhov, the continuation of the war required the creation of a new anti-fascist coalition, but most small European countries were in a hurry to distance themselves from London, and the United States and the USSR took a wait-and-see attitude, because England's role on the world stage.
Thus, it was July 1940-th was the optimal month for the termination of the already started World War II. As a concession, the Germans could re-create a demilitarized Poland, but without a corridor providing it with access to the Baltic Sea, the Silesian industrial region and the lands that had ceded to the USSR. The revival of France as a great power was hardly included in the plans of Moscow, Washington and London. In addition, the Soviet Union was in a certain sense a counterweight to Germany in Europe, which was objectively in British interests. As for Czechoslovakia, then, as history has shown, its unification was artificial and did not stand the test of time. But here, Berlin could have gone for revival, albeit in a reduced form, of Czech and Slovak statehood, leaving the German garrisons there.
Hitler at the crossroads
It is known that Churchill opposed any peace with the Third Reich, but the end of the war depended in many respects on the position not of London, but of Moscow. November 10 The People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs V. Molotov arrived in Berlin on November 1940. Hitler proposed to the Soviet Union to join the Tripartite Pact, to be more precise - to conclude a quadripartite agreement of Germany, the USSR, Japan and Italy. In response, Molotov essentially raised the question of a new division of spheres of influence in Europe, emphasizing that the interests of the Kremlin extend to the Balkans, Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey. The Soviet People's Commissar also tried to get Hitler's consent to the occupation of Finland by the Red Army, but was refused.
The expansionist aspirations of the Kremlin were not due to the revival of the Trotsky-Leninist ideas of the early 20-s. The Soviet leadership set itself another goal: to create a cordon of dependent states as a barrier against Germany. Actually, this task was carried out after the Second World War in the form of the Warsaw Pact, which opposed NATO. However, Hitler did not want to see the Balkans the sphere of influence of the USSR, moreover, by November 1940, the detailed elaboration of the Barbarossa plan was completed and it was tested at two war games. At the same time, Berlin considered it necessary to crush the Soviet Union in order to finally bring Britain to its knees. The chief of the German General Staff, General Halder, wrote down the words spoken by the Fuhrer: “The hope of England is Russia and America. If hopes for Russia collapse, America will also fall away from England, since the defeat of Russia will result in an incredible strengthening of Japan in East Asia. ”
Nevertheless, there are no sufficient grounds to believe that by the fall of 1940, Hitler made the final decision to attack the USSR. Let us again turn to the point of view of M. I. Meltyukhov: “The German leadership at that moment was concerned about several military-political problems. It intended to attract France to the anti-British coalition, draw Spain and Portugal into the war (operations to capture Gibraltar and protect the Canary and Azores), support the Italian offensive in North Africa, prepare an operation against Northern Greece (through the territory of Bulgaria, which should have been brought to the Tripartite covenant), to continue developing a plan of war with the USSR and to be prepared for the possible implementation of Operation Sea Lion in the spring of 1941. ” That is, at this moment the German strategy was clearly at a crossroads.
Let us examine the possible options for action by Hitler. The idea of attracting Vichy France to the anti-British coalition, whose military potential was significantly weakened, looked utopian. Although it is impossible to deny the negative attitude of many of its citizens to a recent ally after the British operations against the French fleet in Oran and its neighboring Mers-el-Kebir 3 July 1940. However, as we have already noted, the Germans had to reckon with the reluctance of the population of the defeated Third Republic to fight. As for Spain, General Franco declined to participate in the adventures of Hitler, and the Portuguese dictator Salazar signed a pact of Iberian neutrality with Madrid in 1939 year. This was entirely reasonable, since Lisbon’s open support for the Reich threatened the vast Portuguese colonies in Africa. Join Salazar to Germany, the overseas possessions of Portugal would be occupied by the British. The operations of the Germans in North Africa and against Greece, as subsequent events showed, weakened the position of the British in the Mediterranean, but did not prompt London to make peace with Germany. For this, it was necessary either to land in Britain itself, which did not guarantee success, or to deprive Churchill of the allies, among whom in the foreseeable future and against the background of the controversy between Moscow and London could be the Soviet Union, which seemed to be even ready to sign a four-party agreement.
Great Soviet interest
Once again consider the proposals of Moscow. German troops must leave Finland in exchange for the defense of the USSR of German interests in this country - it is a reasonable condition. Further, the Soviet leadership insisted on the conclusion of a union treaty with Bulgaria and the deployment of military bases of the Red Army in the area of strategically important Bosphorus and Dardanelles. Thus, the USSR intended to protect its interests in the Black Sea basin. The area to the south of the Baku-Batumi line, including the Persian Gulf, was also recognized as the sphere of Moscow’s interests, which was natural from a geopolitical point of view and infringed upon the interests of the UK rather than Germany. Finally, Japan had to give up its rights to oil and coal concessions on North Sakhalin, which did not concern the interests of the Reich at all.
Quite reasonable suggestions. It seems that Berlin made a mistake by refusing to accept them. Time did not work for the Germans, because the process of rearming the Red Army was in full swing, as well as the growing rapprochement between Britain and the United States. Under these conditions, Hitler made a fateful choice for himself - to destroy the USSR in one short-term campaign. The decision did not take into account the full power of the military-economic potential of the Soviet Union and ultimately turned into the collapse of the Reich.
In our opinion, in November 1940, the most sober step for Berlin would be to agree to Moscow’s proposals and conclude a four-party agreement. This would fundamentally change the situation in the world: the United States would not oppose Japan and, perhaps, would distance itself from London, and England, deprived of allies, would go to the world with Germany, even against Churchill’s will - without agreeing to peace with the Reich, he most likely would just lose the prime minister’s chair. A new map of Europe could in fact take the forms we wrote about above.
We can argue about the immorality of the alliance with Hitler. However, the truth is that in big politics moral principles do not work. Each country strives to measure its actions based not on moral norms, but on state interests. Do not forget that the world was saved from the third world war with yesterday’s allies only by creating nuclear weapons in the USSR that didn’t allow Truman to realize his monstrous plans for the destruction of atomic bombings of Soviet cities with millions of civilians.
In conclusion, let us touch upon the question of the prospects for the preemptive strike of the Red Army on the Wehrmacht in 1941. Our task is not to discuss whether or not the USSR intended to attack Germany. However, the statement that the German troops would have been put in a difficult situation seems exaggerated. Yes, strategically, the Wehrmacht was vulnerable to attack by the Red Army, but the problem is that its commanders simply did not know how to carry out the most complex operations involving a large mass of troops and tanks. And in the first days of the war we would have been the victim of our own confusion and chaos, which would greatly facilitate the Germans’s stabilization of the front and the subsequent transition to a counteroffensive. But that's another topic.