December 04, 2001

Nazi-Soviet Pact and Barbarossa

Nazi-Soviet Pact and Barbarossa

Stalin repeatedly attempted to form an alliance with Great Britain and France against the growing Nazi threat in Eastern Europe. The final blow came when his overtures were ignored at the Munich Conference in September of 1938. Stalin knew he was rapidly facing the task of warding off Nazi occupation of Eastern Europe alone. On May 3, 1939, Stalin fired his Foreign Minister Maksim Litvinov and replaced him with V.M. Molotov. Molotov and his German counterpart, Joachim von Ribbentrop, began negotiations immediately. Stalin continued, unsuccessfully, to negotiate with Britain and France. The western powers, at the time, were very hesitant about opposing Hitler.

Stalin hoped to delay Nazi aggression in Eastern Europe long enough to rebuild the Red Army. Ironically, the Red Army was seriously depleted of leadership due to Stalin's purge of the officer ranks in 1937. The German leader, Adolf Hitler, was in favour of a nonaggression pact with the Soviets so as to enable his invasion of Poland, unopposed. The resulting pact was signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop on August 23, 1939, in Moscow with Stalin himself as a witness. The agreement is known by several names; Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, German-Soviet Treaty of Nonaggression, Hitler-Stalin Pact or Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. The public terms of the Pact, in brief were:

  • Germany and the Soviet Union agreed not to attack each other or support a third party attack on the other.
  • Remain in constant communication regarding issues and policies of common concern.
  • The two powers agreed not to align with other powers whose plan it is to threaten the other
  • All differences between the two countries would be resolved by arbitration
  • Pact was good for ten years with an automatic five year extension, unless one party gave the other a one year notification of termination of the pact.

Secretly, an addendum was added to the Pact. In it, Poland and the whole of Eastern Europe was divided up between Germany and the Soviet Union. The Soviets were to receive Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Poland east of a line formed by the Vistula and San rivers.

The Pact caused great concern among the western powers. Such a bold alliance was very threatening. Germany wasted no time in invading Poland {September 1, 1939}. The Soviets invaded eastern Poland on September 29th. Intending to take official hold of the regions granted her in the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Soviet Union attacked Finland on November 30, 1939 and annexed the Baltic republics of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in August of 1940. By mid-1941, Hitler had taken over most of mainland Europe. The United States had not entered the war. Hitler, counting on this not happening, invaded the Soviet Union, without warning or provocation, on June 22nd in, what is known as, Operation Barbarossa.

Hitler had planned on invading the Soviet Union in 1943-45. Aside from his obsession with the extermination of the Jews, Hitler's desire to avoid a global war hinged on his complete control of the European continent. His plan was to take the Soviet Union after having completely dominated the balance of Europe. Hitler had a passionate dislike for Bolshevism and considered it his personal mandate to destroy it. His feelings against the Soviets were roused in 1940, with Stalin's occupation of the Baltics and the Red Army's close encampment to German oil fields in Romania. Hitler took this as a threat, even though the Pact had promised the Baltic states to the Soviet Union.

Hitler decided the complete conquest of western Europe would have to wait. Suspicious of Stalin's motives and plans, Hitler made plans to invade the Soviet Union in May of 1941. These plans were delayed by the need to attack Yougoslavia and Greece, first. Hitler finally attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941. His swift victories in the Soviet occupied Balkan states was off-set by a twist of nature. As luck would have it, the Russian winter set in early that year. Nonetheless, Hitler and his military leaders firmly believed they could utterly control the European regions of the Soviet Union and the Ukraine in two to three months, or, by September at the latest.

Hitler was determined to have a swift and sure victory over Stalin's Red Army. He deployed 150 divisions containing 3 million men, nineteen panzer divisions with 3,000 tanks, 7,000 artillery pieces and 2,500 aircraft. The Germans were assisted by over thirty divisions from Finland and Romania. This was, possibly, the largest military offensive ever launched. But, the Soviets were a power to be reckoned with. They had two to three times more tanks and aircraft than the Nazis; although their aircraft were rather obsolete. German intelligence misjudged the number of reserve troops Stalin had at his disposal from the far reaches of the U.S.S.R. Hitler's people estimated, correctly, that Stalin had about 150 divisions with 50 in reserve; in the west. However, they failed to note the over 200 new reserve divisions which Stalin produced in early August, 1941.

While the Germans were successful in dealing with the 150 original Soviet divisions in the west, they soon found themselves up against 200 fresh divisions. Hitler and his generals spent much of August, 1941, debating what to do. This gave Stalin more time to build up his reserves. The Nazi position was further compounded by their firm belief that the Soviet regime would crumble, in no more than six months, due to lack of internal support. Thus, they reasoned that, if they could hold on long enough, the Soviet Union would be easily conquered in totality.

By November, 1941, the Germans had suffered an unprecedented 730,000 casualties. The Soviet winter counteroffensives,launched in December, steadily exhausted and demoralized the Nazi troops. Hitler, having visions of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, forbade any form of retreat. This caused his troops to suffer dramatically as they lacked proper clothing and supplies to survive the brutal Russia winter.

Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union prompted a resolution between Moscow, Britain and the United States in September of 1941. This U.S. and Britain pledged quarterly allotments of supplies to the Soviet Union to aide in their struggle with Germany. By the end of winter, Hitler's divisions had been diminished by roughly two-thirds; a force he would never fully rebuild.

Nazi - Soviet Relations; 1939-1941
Extensive list, from Yale Law School, Avalon Project. Memos and other documents reveal the content and nature of political dealings between Berlin and Moscow.

WWII Alliance
Brief explanation as to how the Soviet Union joined the Allies and the Lend Lease Act of March 1941.


image courtesy of Funet Russian Archives

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