Historian Details Stalin’s Two-Year ‘Mobilization’ Plan for European Conquest

Book Review
Published: 1995-11-01

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Der Tag M (“M Day”), by Viktor Suvorov (Vladimir B. Rezun). Translated from the Russian by Hans Jaeger. Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 1995. Hardcover. 356 pages. Photos. Source references. Bibliography. Index.

Daniel W. Michaels is a Columbia University graduate (Phi Beta Kappa, 1954), a Fulbright exchange student to Germany (1957), and recently retired from the US Department of Defense after 40 years of service.

When Hitler launched “Operation Barbarossa” against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Germany’s leaders justified the attack as a preemptive strike to forestall an imminent Soviet invasion of Germany and the rest of Europe. After the war, Germany’s most prominent surviving military and political leaders were put to death at Nuremberg for, among other things, planning and waging “aggressive war” against the Soviet Union. The Nuremberg Tribunal rejected outright defendants’ pleas that “Barbarossa” was a preventive attack.

In the decades since, historians, government officials, and standard reference works in the United States, Europe and the USSR accordingly have held that Hitler betrayed the trusting Soviet leaders to launch his treacherous surprise attack, motivated by greed for Russian and Ukrainian resources and “living space,” and as part of a mad drive to “conquer the world.”

In this well researched and powerfully argued study, a Russian-born specialist has presented abundant evidence that essentially affirms the German contention. Based primarily on a scrupulous analysis of the pertinent military and political literature, and the memoirs of prominent members of the Soviet military and Party elite, military analyst Suvorov has produced an important revisionist work that obliges a radical reevaluation of the long-accepted view of Second World War II history.

The author, whose real name is Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun, was trained as a Soviet army officer in Kalinin and Kiev. Later, after staff level service and completing studies at the Diplomatic Military Academy in 1974, he served as a Soviet military intelligence (GRU) officer, working for four years in Geneva under diplomatic cover. He defected in 1978, and was granted diplomatic asylum in Britain.

His first work on this subject, Icebreaker, was initially published in Russian (in France) in 1988, followed by editions in other languages, including English. It caused a sensation in the military and intelligence community, especially in Europe, because it carefully documents the offensive nature of the massive Soviet military buildup on the German border in 1941. In “M Day” Suvorov adds substantially to evidence and arguments presented in Icebreaker.

In making his case, Suvorov stresses here the central importance to Stalin’s planning of military strategist Boris Shaposhnikov, Marshal and Chief of the General Staff. His most important work, Mozg armii (“The Brain of the Army”), was for decades required reading for every Soviet officer. Stalin not only respected Shaposhnikov’s military acumen, but, uncharacteristically, personally liked the man. He was the only man Stalin was ever known to address routinely in public by his first and patronymic names (Boris Mikhailovich), in Russia a personal form of address, less than formal but definitely respectful. Stalin addressed everyone else by his family name preceded by Comrade (“Comrade Zhdanov,” for example). Stalin’s admiration was also shown by the fact that he always kept a copy of Shaposhnikov’s Mozg armii on his desk.

Shaposhnikov’s mobilization plan, faithfully implemented by Stalin, laid out a clear, logical, two-year program (August 1939-summer 1941) that would inexorably and purposefully culminate in war. According to Suvorov, Stalin announced his decision to implement this plan at a Politburo meeting on August 19, 1939, four days before the signing of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact. (It was also at this Politburo meeting, which came shortly after Stalin had concluded his draconian purges of military and political “unreliables,” that the Soviet leader ordered General Georgi Zhukov to attack, and defeat, in classic blitzkrieg fashion, the Japanese Sixth Army at Khalkhin-Gol, Mongolia.)

Thirteen days after Stalin’s speech, German troops struck against Poland, and two days after that – September 3, 1939 – Britain and France declared war on Germany.

Once Stalin decided to embark on this process of mobilization, the regime radically retooled the nation’s economy, directing the enormous physical and human resources of the Soviet Union for war. By its nature, this all-encompassing process could be pursued only to its logical conclusion – war. Simply stated, Stalin’s 1939 decision to mobilize inevitably meant war.

Massive Buildup

In 1938 some 1,513,400 men were serving in the Red Army. This was about one percent of the Soviet population, which is generally considered the normal, economically sustainable, maximum ratio of men under arms to total population. As part of their two-year mobilization program, Stalin-Shaposhnikov more than doubled the number of men under arms – to more than five million.

During this period – August 1939 to June 1941 – Stalin raised 125 new infantry divisions, 30 new motorized divisions, and 61 tank and 79 air divisions – a total of 295 divisions organized in 16 armies. The Stalin-Shaposhnikov plan also called for mobilizing an additional six million men in the summer of 1941, to be distributed into still more infantry, tank, motorized and air divisions.

Between July 1939 and June 1941, Stalin increased the number of Soviet tank divisions from zero to 61, with dozens more in preparation. By June 1941, the “neutral” Soviet Union had assembled more tank divisions than all the other countries of the world put together – a mighty force that could be effectively employed only in offensive operations.

Joseph Stalin, Boris Shaposhnikov

Stalin with his most trusted military adviser, Boris Shaposhnikov. Together they worked out a two-year mobilization plan that was to culminate in an attack against Germany and the subjugation of Europe.

In June 1941 Hitler threw ten mechanized corps into battle, of which each, on average, had more than 340 light and medium tanks. By contrast, Stalin had 29 mechanized corps, each with 1,031 light, medium and heavy tanks. While it is true that not every Soviet corps was at full strength, a single Soviet mechanized corps was militarily stronger than two German corps put together.

When Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939, Germany had a total of six tank divisions. If this light tank force can be regarded as conclusive proof of Hitler’s intention to launch a war of world (or at least European) conquest, what – asks Suvorov – can we conclude from Stalin’s buildup of 61 tank divisions between late 1939 and mid-1941, and with further dozens in preparation?

In mid-1941, the Red Army was the only military force in the world with amphibious tanks. Stalin had 4,000 of these weapons of offensive war; Germany had none. By June 1941, the Soviets had increased the number of their paratroop corps from zero to five, and the number of their field artillery regiments from 144 to 341, in each case more than all the other armies of the world put together.

At the outbreak of war in September 1939, Germany had a fleet of 57 submarines, a fact that is sometimes cited as proof of Hitler’s aggressive intentions. But at that same time, Suvorov points out, the Soviet Union already had more than 165 submarines. These submarines, he notes, were not inferior vessels, but rather of standard quality. By June 1941, the Soviet navy had more than 218 submarines in service, with another 91 under construction. Stalin commanded the world’s largest submarine fleet, a force that was created for aggressive war.

A ‘World’ War?

As Suvorov points out, at the time of Hitler’s 1939 strike against Poland, no one in Germany or western Europe regarded this as the outbreak of a “world war.” Even the declarations of war against Germany by Britain and France two days later – on September 3, 1939 – did not make this a “world war.” It was only much later, looking back, that Germany’s Polish campaign came to be regarded as the start of the Second World War. Only in Moscow, writes Suvorov, was it understood right from the outset that a world war had begun.

Echoing the findings of such historians as A. J. P. Taylor and David Hoggan, Suvorov points out that Hitler neither wanted nor planned for a European-wide conflict in 1939. It was the British and French declarations of war against Germany that transformed a local conflict between Germany and Poland into a European-wide one.

Vladimir Rezun

Vladimir Rezun, a former Soviet military intelligence officer, wrote "Icebreaker" and several other books under the pen name ofViktor Suvorov.

Consequently, Hitler did not authorize the conversion of his nation’s economy to a war footing. Soviet GRU chief Ivan Proskurov accurately informed Stalin that German industry was not geared to full-scale war. In fact, Germany did not begin in earnest to put its economy on war footing until early 1942, two years after the Soviet Union. But whereas Soviet military and arms production reached a crescendo in the summer of 1941, Germany’s did not peak until 1944 – three years too late.

Attack Plan

Suvorov presents overwhelming evidence to show that Stalin was preparing for a massive surprise attack against Germany, to be launched in the summer of 1941. (Suvorov believes the attack was set for July 6, 1941.) In preparation for this, the Soviets had deployed enormous forces right on the German frontier, including paratroops, together with airfields and large caches of weapons, ammunition, fuel and other supplies.

In April 1941 the Red Army ordered a massive deployment of artillery pieces and ammunition production to the frontier, and their storage there on the ground and in the open. This alone, writes Suvorov, proves Stalin’s intention to attack, because this weaponry and ammunition had be used before the fall, when the annual rains would begin. Storing munitions in the open in 1941 meant that an attack had to come that same year. “Any other interpretation of this fact is not conceivable,” he writes.

Suvorov sums up:

By studying the archive records and the publicly available publications, I came to the conclusion that the transport [in 1941] to the frontier of millions of boots, munitions, and spare parts, and the deployment of millions of soldiers, and thousands of tanks and airplanes, could not have been a mistake, or a miscalculation, but rather that it must have been the result of a thoughtful policy ...
This process had as its goal the preparation of industry, the transport system, agriculture, the state territory, the Soviet population, and the Red Army to carry out the war of “liberation” in central and western Europe.

In short, this process is called mobilization. It was a secret mobilization. The Soviet leadership prepared the Red Army and the entire country for the conquest of Germany and western Europe. The conquest of western Europe was the main reason that the Soviet Union unleashed the Second World War.

The final decision to start the war was taken by Stalin on August 19, 1939.

The Soviet attack plan, Suvorov explains, called for a strike on two major fronts: the first, west and northwest, into Germany proper, and the second, equally powerful, southwest into Romania to quickly seize the oil fields there.

Three main strategic echelons would carry out the invasion. The first echelon consisted of 16 invasion armies and several dozen corps and divisions for auxiliary thrusts, made up of professional Red Army men trained to smash through the German lines. The second strategic echelon, consisting of seven armies of inferior troops (including many Gulag prisoners), would secure and expand the breakthroughs of the first echelon. The third echelon, consisting of three armies made up mostly of NKVD troops, would secure the Soviet occupation. It would thwart any and all potential resistance by rounding up and killing Germany’s social, political, and military elite – much as had already been done in the Baltic states and eastern Poland (as in the Katyn massacre).

As his main strike aircraft Stalin had settled on the “Ivanov” (one of Stalin’s nicknames), later known as the Su-2, a highly effective attack bomber plane that was produced and deployed in large numbers. Stalin ordered construction of more than 100,000 Su-2s, as well as the training of 150,000 pilots. Weighing four tons, the Su-2 had a top speed of 486 km/h, a range of 1200 km, and a bomb load capacity of 400–600 kg. Similar, but superior to the German JU-87 “Stuka” dive bomber, it strikingly resembled the Japanese Nakajima B-5N2, which was the main warplane used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Soviet PoWs behind the German lines, 1941

Enormous numbers of Soviet troops were captured during the first months of Germany's "Barbarossa" offensive. Greatly contributing to the seizure of so many prisoners was the concentration of Soviet forces on the frontier in preparation for an invasion of Europe.

Hitler’s Miscalculation

For decades establishment historians have held that Stalin naively trusted Hitler. This image of a trusting Stalin and a treacherous Hitler is widely and officially accepted in the United States and much of Europe. Suvorov mocks this view, and contends that, to the contrary, it was Hitler who fatally miscalculated Stalin’s cunning, at least for some 15 months, by which time it was too late.

While Hitler succeeded in foiling Stalin’s great invasion plan, the German leader fatally underestimated the magnitude and aggressiveness of the Soviet threat. Suvorov writes: “Hitler grasped that Stalin was preparing an invasion, but he failed properly to estimate the entire extent of Stalin’s preparations ... Hitler was unclear about just how great and how close the danger was.”

Historians, notes Suvorov, do not adequately explain why Hitler decided to attack the Soviet Union at a time when Britain was still not subdued, thus engaging Germany in a dangerous two-front war. They often simply refer to Hitler’s lust for Lebensraum or “living space.” Actually, the Russian author writes, “Stalin gave Hitler no alternative way out. The secret [Soviet] mobilization was of such an enormous dimension that it would have been difficult to ignore.” Stalin’s “secret mobilization had reached such an extent that it could no longer be disguised. For Hitler the only possibility left was a preventive strike. Hitler beat Stalin to it by two weeks.” In short, given the situation, the only responsible recourse for the German leadership was to launch a preemptive strike.

Stalin did not need Churchill, Roosevelt or ace Soviet spy Richard Sorge to warn him of a possible German attack. He had already made his own preparations to deal with Germany. But in readying his forces for offensive war, Stalin did nothing for the country’s defense.

The Germans, writes Suvorov, enjoyed the temporary advantage of surprise because they were able to position and launch their strike forces just two weeks before the Red Army was scheduled to attack, catching it completely off balance. The surprise was all the greater because Stalin did not believe the Germans would dare open a second front in the East while still engaged against the British. Also contributing to the spectacular initial German successes was the daring and professionalism of the German soldier.

As Suvorov writes:

The [Soviet] defeat at the outbreak of the war [June-September 1941] was due to the fact that the German Wehrmacht launched its surprise attack at just the moment when the Soviet artillery was being moved to the border, and together with it the corresponding supplies of munitions. The artillery was not prepared to deal with a defensive war, and on June 22 was not able to go on the offensive.

Because Germany lacked the natural resources to sustain a protracted war, Hitler could prevail only by completely subduing Russia within four months – that is, before the onset of winter. In this he failed. During the summer and fall of 1941 Hitler shattered, but did not destroy the Soviet military machine. (As it was, the Germans were able to achieve stunning initial successes only by utilizing Soviet stores captured during those first few months.)

In “Operation Barbarossa,” Hitler threw 17 tank divisions against the Soviets. After three months of fighting, only about a quarter of his tanks were left, while Stalin’s factories were turning out not only many more tanks, but of generally higher quality.

During the first four months of the “Barbarossa” attack, Axis forces destroyed perhaps 75 percent of Stalin’s war-making ability, thereby eliminating the immediate military threat to Europe. Between July and November 1941, German forces seized or overran 303 gunpowder, munitions and grenade factories, which annually produced 85 percent of the country’s entire Soviet munitions production.

But as Suvorov points out, this was not enough: “Hitler’s attack could no longer save Germany. Stalin not only had more tanks, artillery pieces and airplanes, more soldiers and officers, but Stalin had also already put his industry on a war economy basis and could produce weapons in whatever quantities he desired.” On November 29, 1941, Reich Armaments Minister Fritz Todt informed Hitler that from an armaments and war economy point of view, Germany had already lost the war.

Stalin ultimately prevailed because a residual 25 percent of the giant Soviet war economy, including 15 percent of her munitions production – mostly from factories east of the Volga, in the Urals and in Siberia – remained intact. Thus, with just a fraction of her initial superpower strength, Stalin was still able to win the decisive battles of Stalingrad, Kursk, and Berlin, and defeat the mighty forces of Germany (and her Axis allies). Also contributing substantially to the Soviet victory was the entry into the war of the United States, the substantial American aid, and, of course, the legendary stoic toughness of the Russian soldier.

Even though Hitler struck the first blow, at the end of the war Stalin controlled Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and eastern Germany.

Noting that Hitler repeatedly postponed the launch date of “Operation Barbarossa,” Suvorov remarks:

Let us suppose that Hitler had postponed once more the attack against Stalin, and Stalin had struck the first blow on July 6, 1941 ... Let us try to imagine what would have happened if Hitler had delayed his attack so that he became victim to the devastating assault prepared by Stalin. In this case Stalin would have had not just 15 percent of the production capacity of the Munitions Industry Commissariat, but 100 percent. In that case how would be Second World War have concluded?

In this situation, it is not unreasonable to suppose that by November–December 1941 Soviet forces would have reached the Atlantic, hoisting the red flag over Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Rome and Stockholm.

Uncovered Speech Text

Since the publication of “M Day,” Russian scholars have dug up additional evidence from the former Soviet archives that further confirms the Suvorov thesis and obliges a radical rewriting of Second World War history.

While it is likely that many records have been removed and destroyed, some revealing papers are being unearthed. One of the most important of these long-suppressed documents is the complete text of Stalin’s secret speech of August 19, 1939. For decades leading Soviet figures denied that Stalin ever delivered this address, even insisting that no Politburo meeting was held on that date. Others have dismissed this speech as a forgery.

Russian historian T. S. Bushuyeva found a version of the text among the secret files of the USSR Special Archives, and published it, together with commentary, in the prominent Russian journal Novy Mir (No. 12, 1994). German writer Wolfgang Strauss reports on this, and other recent findings by Russian historians, in the April 1996 issue of the German monthly Nation und Europa. To this reviewer’s knowledge, no American historian has yet taken public notice of the speech text.

It should be kept in mind that this address was delivered just as Soviet officials were negotiating with British and French representatives about a possible military alliance with Britain and France, and as German and Soviet officials were discussing a possible non-aggression pact between their countries. Four days after this speech, German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop met with Stalin in the Kremlin to sign the Soviet-German non-aggression pact.

In this speech, Stalin declared:

The question of war or peace has entered a critical phase for us. 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 down the road events could become dangerous for the USSR. If we accept Germany’s proposal and conclude a nonaggression pact with her, she will of course invade Poland, and the intervention of France and England in that war would be unavoidable. Western Europe would be subjected to serious upheavals and disorder. Under those conditions, we would have a great opportunity to stay out of the conflict, and we could plan the opportune time for us to enter the war.

The experience of the last 20 years has shown that in peacetime the Communist movement is never strong enough to seize power. The dictatorship of such a party will only become possible as the result of a major war.

Our choice is clear. We must accept the German proposal and politely send the Anglo-French mission home. Our immediate advantage will be to take Poland to the gates of Warsaw, as well as Ukrainian Galicia ...

Summing up, Wolfgang Strauss points out that Stalin strove for an all-European war, a war of exhaustion that would bring down Europe’s states and system. Further, Stalin planned to enter the war on the ruins of “capitalist” Europe, and then dictate its Sovietization by military force. (The key term “Sovietizatsia” comes up repeatedly in his speech.)

While noting that this speech further confirms Stalin’s aggressive intentions, the cautious Bushuyeva quotes Clausewitz to the effect that wars tend to assume their own directions and dimensions, regardless of what one side or the other might have planned or said.

Soviet 'Ivanov' Su-2 attack bomber, Japanese 'Nakajima' B-5N2

The Soviet "Ivanov" Su-2 attack bomber (above), produced in large numbers, was designed for surprise attack. It resembled the Japanese "Nakajima" B-5N2 (below), used in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Painful History

In her Novy Mir article Bushuyeva writes of the pain that Russians must now endure in acknowledging that much of what they have believed for decades about the “Great Patriotic War” is wrong. She notes that of the young men born between the years 1922 and 1925, and who were sent to war by Stalin, only three out of a hundred survived the conflict. Writes Bushayeva: “The entire depth of the tragedy that befell our five-million-man army in June 1941 must be plumbed. The evil that the rulers of the Soviet Union had planned for others suddenly, by some inscrutable fate, struck our own country.”

It would be easy, Bushuyeva continues, to curse those who “are rewriting” history, and to continue to believe in the familiar contrived myths and symbols that appeal to our national pride – to the patriotism of the Russian people. “Yes, it would be possible to go on as before,” she writes, “if it were not for one peculiar circumstance. Man is so constituted that the truth, however painful, is more important in the final analysis than the spurious bliss of living in lies and ignorance.”

Suvorov likewise acknowledges that many Russians despise him for his revelations. He writes:

I have challenged the one sacred thing the Russian people still cling to – their memory of the “Great Patriotic War.” I have sacrificed everything dear to me to write these books. It would have been intolerable to have died without telling the people what I have uncovered. Curse the books! Curse me! But even as you curse me try to understand.

Further Confirmation

Following the publication of Stalin’s speech in Novy Mir, historians at Novosibirsk University undertook a major revisionist study of the immediate prewar situation. The results of this scholarly seminar were published in April 1995. Russian historian I. V. Pavlova, stated bluntly in her seminar contribution that for decades Communist Party historians worked to bury the background, origins and development of the Second World War, including Stalin’s August 1939 speech, under a mountain of lies.

Another of the participating scholars, V. L. Doroshenko, said that the new evidence shows that “Stalin provoked and unleashed the Second World War.” Suggesting that Stalin and his regime should have been on trial at Nuremberg, Doroshenko went on explain:

... Not just because Stalin helped Hitler but because it was in Stalin’s own interests that the war begin. First, because of his general goal of seizing power in Europe, and, second, because of the immediate advantage of destroying Poland and taking over Galicia. But Stalin’s most important motive was the war itself ... The collapse of the European order would have made it possible for him to establish his dictatorship [over all of Europe].

To this end, Stalin wanted for the time being to stay out of the war, but only with the intention of entering it at the most favorable moment. In other words, the nonaggression pact freed Hitler’s hands and encouraged Germany to unleash a war [in Poland]. As Stalin signed the Pact, he was already determined to break it. Right from the outset he did not intend to stay out of the conflict but, to the contrary, to enter the war directly at the most advantageous moment.

Revisionist Breakthrough

One must marvel at the courage shown by such Russian historians in their willingness to come to grips with this very emotion-laden chapter of history. They show much greater forthrightness and open-mindedness in confronting taboos of 20th century history than do their counterparts in western Europe and the United States.

But there are exceptions. In recent years, a few Western historians have likewise affirmed this drastically revisionist view of Second World War history. These include German historian Max Klüver in his 1986 book, Präventivschlag 1941 (“Preventive Strike”), and Austrian scholar Ernst Topitsch in Stalins Krieg, published in English in 1987 by St. Martin’s Press as Stalin’s War. American historian R. H. S. Stolfi echoes Suvorov’s views in his 1991 book, Hitler’s Panzers East: World War II Reinterpreted (reviewed in the Nov.–Dec. 1995 Journal), and German historian Dr. Joachim Hoffmann has added considerably to the discussion with his impressively researched 1995 study, Stalins Vernichtungskrieg 1941–1945 (“Stalin’s War of Annihilation”).

In the view of Wolfgang Strauss, the new revelations about Stalin’s long-suppressed speech, and the treatment of this issue by younger Russian historians, constitute a victory for European revisionism and represent a major shift in historical research. Meanwhile, Suvorov and other historians continue to track down historical evidence. In addition to archival digging, Suvorov reports that, in response to Icebreaker and “M Day,” Soviet and German veterans of World War II have written to offer further evidence in support of his thesis. He bolsters his case in a third book, “The Last Republic,” recently published in Russian, and in a fourth, still unpublished volume on this subject.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Daniel W. Michaels
Title: Historian Details Stalin’s Two-Year ‘Mobilization’ Plan for European Conquest, Book Review
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 16, no. 6 (November/December 1997), pp. 28-34
Published: 1995-11-01
First posted on CODOH: Jan. 6, 2013, 6 p.m.
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