By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers

Russia, Germany, and Poland 1917-1945 Part Sixteen

September 1, 1939,  dawned over a bloodied Poland. Beginning at 4:30 in the morning, the German air force unleashed terror bombing against 158 towns and cities across the country's western portion. Several hours later, without a declaration of war, fifty divisions of the reborn German Army crossed the Polish-German border. Despite Polish resistance, within a week, the Wehrmacht’s armored spearheads were approaching the suburbs of Warsaw. British and French declarations of war against Germany proved irrelevant to Polish soldiers defending the capital. As the German Army encircled the city, the remnants of the Polish Army retreated toward the Romanian border, intending to maintain control over at least part of the country.

On September 16, the Polish ambassador in Moscow arrived at the Kremlin to meet with the deputy commissar for foreign affairs. To his shock, the Soviet diplomat informed him that the “Polish-German war had revealed the internal inadequacy of the Polish state. . . . the Soviet government intends to ‘liberate the Polish people from the unfortunate war, where its irrational leaders cast it, and allow them to live a peaceful life ” A few hours later, half a million Red Army soldiers invaded Poland from the East without a declaration of war. In the face of now- inevitable defeat, Warsaw surrendered to the Germans on September 27.

The 1939 partition of Poland between Hitler and Stalin has often been described as a moment of opportunism, a temporary alignment of interests between the two dictators. It was the culmination of nearly twenty years of intermittent cooperation between Germany and the Soviet Union. Following the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922, the Soviet Union hosted hundreds of German soldiers, engineers, and scientists at secret military bases inside Russia. In this first Soviet-German pact, the revolutionary regime in Moscow and aristocratic officer corps in Berlin agreed to work together despite immense ideological differences. Broken off by Hitler in 1933, then renewed again in 1939, the Soviet-German partnership would eventually lead both states into war—first, with their neighbors, and then, with each other.

After the First World War, a Soviet-German alliance seemed highly unlikely, for it was hard to overstate how much the two partners despised each other. Vladimir Lenin had publicly called the German military ‘"savages,” “plunderers,” and "'predators” and had noted that in the First World War “the German robbers broke all records in war atrocities.”1 He thought even less of the German Social Democrats who ran the Weimar Republic after 1918, singling them out as ‘"heroes of philistine stupidity and petty-bourgeois cowardice.”2 After the Social Democrats ordered the German military to suppress the first major attempt at communist revolution outside Russia in January 1919, Lenin wrote that “no words can describe the foul and abominable character of the butchery perpetrated by alleged socialists.”3 For the Bolsheviks, the right-wing military officers who dominated the interwar German Army, were archetypes of counterrevolution, and their government even worse.

The German officer corps was hardly more circumspect in articulating its hatred of Bolshevism. Some senior German generals referred to Lenin and Trotsky as “enemies” and the “devil” in their writings.4 A German veteran and former non­commissioned officer (NCO) would write publicly in 1925 that the Russian leaders—Lenin was dead, so this was mainly Stalin and his abettors—were “the scum of humanity which, favored by circumstances, overran a great state in a tragic hour, slaughtered and wiped out thousands of her leading intelligentsia in wild blood lust, and now for almost ten years have been carrying on the cruelest and tyrannical regime of all time.’0 This view was more or less common among the German military’s officers and NCOs, many of whom were drawn from right-wing veterans’ associations that had banded together to put down left-wing insurrections in 1918 and 1919.

Why therefore did two states whose leaders saw the other as the very embodiment of evil make a deal with one another in exchange for temporal power? The Germans and Soviets would use each other—at significant cost—to remedy their own perceived military weaknesses. The Soviet Union, devastated by war and internationally isolated, needed technical expertise, financial capital, and new military technologies, which only the Germans were willing to provide in quantity. For the German military leaders, an alliance with the Soviets held out the best possibility of getting around the terms of the Treaty of Versailles that had ended the First World War. The victorious Allies had all but dismantled the vaunted Imperial German Army, reducing it from over four million to only 100,000 men. The terms of the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany from producing or purchasing the modern tools of war, such as aircraft and armored vehicles. For German military leaders, a partnership with the Soviet Union meant rearmament and— someday—a war of revenge.

The first tentative connections between the German military and Soviet state would be made almost before the ink had dried on the treaties ending the First World War. In 1919, critical figures in Soviet Russia and Weimar Germany began to discuss matters of mutual interest quietly. In April 1922, the two states normalized relations when they signed the Treaty of Rapallo. Secret negotiations conducted later that year would initiate covert military cooperation. This first period of partnership—the Rapallo Era—would end nine months after Hitler arrived in power in 1933.

During the Rapallo Era, the Red Army encouraged the German military industry to relocate experts and banned industrial production to the Soviet Union. Several German factories were established on Soviet soil to produce aircraft and other military technologies. The German military also served as an intermediary between the Soviet state and German businesses, drawing in investment to critical sectors of the Soviet defense industry. As the relationship grew, the Red Army and the German army also established several joint military ventures on Russian soil. These included a flight school and an armored warfare testing ground, and two chemical weapons facilities. In exchange for space to train their men, German officers helped educate thousands of Red Army engineers, pilots, mechanics, and scientists. During cooperation’s peak between 1928 and 1932, hundreds of German and thousands of Red Army personnel worked together at bases, military academies, laboratories, and factories operated in collaboration.

Hitler's rise to power ended this first period of the relationship. At his orders, the secret facilities closed one by one, the last concluding in September 1933. Although mistrust would pervade Soviet-German relations over the next six years, ties would never be severed completely. The economic exchange continued. Soviet envoys repeatedly probed German diplomats and military officials about renewing their earlier partnership. German diplomats in the Foreign Ministry argued for rapprochement with the Soviet Union. And then, in the first half of 1939, relations rapidly warmed.

That spring, both Stalin and Hitler suddenly proved open to renewing cooperation for various strategic and ideological reasons. On August 23, 1939. the country’s two foreign ministers signed the Treaty of Nonaggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, better known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. This new arrangement renewed military and economic ties and partitioned Eastern Europe between the two states in a secret protocol added to the treaty, secured against the prospect of a two-front war. Hitler invaded Poland on September 1. Britain and France, in turn, honored their guarantees to Poland and declared war on Germany. The Second World War in Europe had begun, sparked by a German-Soviet pact.

Much has been written about the political and administrative aspects of Soviet-German cooperation. Historians have provided chronologies of the negotiations, opening, organization, and eventual closure of each shared military facility and the major military-industrial plants in the Soviet Union. Except for a handful of works to appear in the 1990s, most books on the subject have treated the communal facilities themselves as a sort of “black box"—important because of their very existence but mysterious in their inner workings.6 Given that the primary goal of Soviet-German cooperation was to develop new technologies of war, to train new officers and engineers, and to expand military-industrial capacities, any attempt to estimate the impact of the secret military relationship between the two states that do not engage directly with the work conducted at the facilities is incomplete. Drawing from twenty-three archives in five countries, this project aims to help elucidate precisely what the Soviets and Germans did together at their secret facilities and the role that work played in the origins of the Second World War.

As has been argued here, the technological component of Soviet- Gennan cooperation was, in hindsight, its most significant element. German rearmament would pose the most critical problem to European stability and lead directly to September 1939. If Hitler had not initiated a European arms race in 1933, a new war would have been unlikely. And it was work conducted in the USSR that laid the foundation for that rearmament program.

This was primarily a product of the Treaty of Versailles. Following Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the victorious allies stationed inspectors across Germany to oversee disarmament and the demobilization of Germany’s military. But senior German officers in the Reichswehr—the German military—proved unwilling to accept the terms of German defeat. Instead, they immediately embarked on efforts to retain or revive critical aspects of German military power, particularly technologies that the Treaty of Versailles forbade: tanks, planes, poison gas, submarines, and heavy artillery. Unable to develop such equipment under the watchful eyes of Allied inspectors, the Reichswehr would turn to the Soviet Union, where Germany would develop and test the next generation of aircraft, tanks, and chemical weapons technology. Work in the Soviet Union also led toward developing military radios suitable for coordinating formations of fast-moving aircraft and vehicles—a key concept for what would later be called “Blitzkrieg.” Nearly every major German industrial firm and most of the significant German aircraft and tank designers of the Second World War participated in this process. Many of the latter moved to the USSR to work on new technologies of war. Most of the prototypes they developed and tested at the joint facilities were a generation removed—meaning more primitive—from the combat vehicles of World War Two. Still, without the former, the latter would not have been possible. The Panzers I, II, III, and IV—the tanks with which Germany would begin the war—all resulted directly or indirectly from work conducted in the USSR.

For the Soviets, the joint facilities enabled partnerships with German firms and opportunities for industrial espionage. Intellectual exchange—and theft—played a crucial role in the design or modification of many of the Soviet tank designs, including the T-24, T-26, T-28, T-35, and the Bystrokhodnyi Tank (Fast-Moving Tank, or BT) series. These designs represented the bulk of Soviet armored forces when the Second World War began. The German impact on Soviet aircraft design was only slightly less profound. The first generation of Soviet heavy bombers was so derivative of German designs that an impetuous designer working with the German military (to the great embarrassment of his government) sued the Soviet government in an international court for patent infringement.

Technological research and development also drove doctrinal changes in both militaries. Only in the Soviet Union could German officers gain hands-on access to banned technologies of war. The work conducted at the joint armored warfare facility led the German military to reassess the role and place of tanks completely and shift from the production of light to medium tanks—eventually resulting in the Panzer IV, the leading German battle tank the war. The exact process unfolded in the German air force. So necessary was the doctrinal experimentation performed at the German airfield in the USSR that future Luftwaffe General Wilhelm Speidel would write that “the spiritual foundations of the future Luftwaffe were developed on that aeronautical field/' In turn, the intellectual influence of the Reichswehr on the Red Army by 1933 is hard to overstate. The Reichswehr assisted in training thousands of Soviet officers, directly or indirectly. Between 1925 and 1933, 156 senior Soviet officers spent time training or studying in Germany, some for a year at a time. The list of Soviet students in Germany included two Red Army chiefs of staff; two of the Soviet Union's five marshals; the heads of the Soviet Air Force, Directorate of Motorization and Mechanization, and the Soviet Chemical Weapons Program; as well as the country’s leading theorists and heads of most of its major military education institutions. Cooperation even led the Red Army to reform German lines, adopting the German General Staff model as its central organizing principle. And, as they rearmed together, the German and Soviet militaries evolved in similar—though by no means identical—directions.

As we have seen the height of cooperation collaborative work between Germany and the Soviet Union took place on an enormous scale. German firms provided large sums and technological assistance to aid the growth of the Soviet military industry. 

Yet while the German military leadership, who in 1919 sought rearmament and the destruction of Poland as part of a program to overturn the results of the First World War, olshevik leaders in Moscow were even bolder, dreaming of a worldwide revolution. Their shared antagonisms produced the partnership at Rapallo that started Europe down the road to renewed war. As has been argued here, many of the key milestones along that path—the Reichswehr’s acceptance of Hitler, the speed of German rearmament, British and French appeasement, the Soviet purges, the inability of the European powers to contain Hitler, and finally, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact—can only be fully understood in light of the Rapallo relationship.

Leader of the German delegation in Russia Hans von Seeckt (third from right) next to Wilhelm II (center):

The Reichswehr – and Hans von Seeckt himself – embraced Hitler in 1933, albeit with some reservations. Their shared views on rearmament and Germany’s borders played a significant role in that process. So too did the general instability of the late Weimar Republic, to which Reichswehr rearmament efforts had contributed. The personal budgets and semi-autonomous foreign policy conducted by the Reichswehr between 1919 and 1933 strengthened the hand of the military and weakened the state. It was no coincidence the two most significant political figures in Weimar immediately before Hitler came to power—Hindenburg and Schleicher—were both military men. It was they who would hand Hitler the chancellorship of a country already possessing the essential elements needed for a revival of its military power.

While Hitler’s arrival in power spelled trouble for the European order, German rearmament was the essential precondition for a new war. Seeckt had written in 1923 that “the Frenchman has occupied the Ruhr area. The Lithuanians have occupied the Memel area. Instinctively, the hand goes where the sword used to be. It only grabs air: we are unarmed. Today, one cannot conduct a war with flails and hayforks.”1 Replacing those flails and hayforks with tanks and planes was only possible for Germany in the USSR. Lipetsk, Kama, and Tomka provided the foundation for the German military's rapid expansion and technological rearmament, a process Hitler accelerated when he took power. Without the Rapallo Era, rearmament, at least on Hitler’s timeline, would have been impossible. 

Thanks to preparatory work conducted in the Soviet Union, the speed of German rearmament between 1933 and 1939 caught European leaders by surprise. In 1933, Germany had 100,000 men in arms and possessed fewer than a dozen tanks and a few dozen combat aircraft, all hidden in the USSR. On the eve of the invasion of Poland, Hitler had at his disposal over 3 million men, 4,000 aircraft, and nearly 3,500 tanks. The training, arming, and equipping of that vast German force in six brief years was only possible because of the work that had already been done before Hitler came to power. 

The speed and timing of German rearmament under Hitler were of the utmost significance. Reluctant to commit to their rearmament programs, London and Paris fell behind in a new arms race. That meant the perceived strength of German military forces deterred British and French intervention at crucial moments between 1935 and 1938, resulting in the most infamous acts of appeasement. Those acts further convinced Hitler that he had a lead in the arms race and a “technological window”—a brief moment of superiority in arms—in which to launch a war to reclaim German territory in the east, and more besides. That window of opportunity, which he believed would close after 1942 or 1943, drove him to decide upon an invasion of Poland in 1939 before his likely adversaries could catch up militarily. 

The failure of the Western democracies to contain Hitler was a product of their apparent military weaknesses and the difficulty of building a coalition with either Mussolini or Stalin. Mussolini was a faithless partner, bent on his conquests, but British and French reluctance to partner with Moscow derived, in part, from Stalin’s Great Terror. It had been initiated, at least in part, because of the Red Army’s past relationship with Germany. London and Paris became convinced that Stalin had little to offer to contain Hitler, eliminating whatever enthusiasm there might have been for military accommodation. The result was Munich, the Polish guarantee, and the half-hearted failed diplomacy of 1939. 

While France and Great Britain were wary of a Soviet partnership, Hitler was not, at least from March 1939 onward. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact marked a resumption of the Rapallo Era partnership. The logic behind it was much the same. For Stalin, Germany had far more to offer than its rivals. Germany could supply the machine tools and military technology upon which the Red Army had become dependent in the 1920s and early 1930s. And Hitler might also agree to the expansion of Soviet territory in Eastern Europe. By contrast, the British and French could only offer possible military conflict with Germany in the name of defending the hostile state of Poland. For Hitler, the Soviet Union provided strategic depth, economic resources, and the chance to destroy Poland, that “pillar of Versailles”—the same factors driving Seeckt toward Russia in 1919. Perhaps prophetically, shortly before he died in 1936, Seeckt had told the Führer that “we were one in our aim; only our paths were different.”2 Seeckt had identified that path in 1922 when he wrote that “Poland must and will be wiped off the map, with our help, through internal weakness and Russian action,” but that such action would need to wait for German rearmament.3 In 1939, Germany was rearmed, and the partition of Poland Seeckt (and Soviet leaders) had imagined finally came to pass. 

The Soviet-German partnership formed at Rapallo not only helps to explain the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe; it also offers some insights into the course, conduct, and eventual conclusion of that conflict. The Rapallo pact cast long shadows on the war itself, offering some explanation for initial German successes, the horrors of the fighting on the Eastern front, and ultimate Soviet victory. 

The German army enjoyed unmitigated success over the first six weeks of Operation Barbarossa. During that span, the Soviets would suffer a quarter of a million casualties and the destruction of one-sixth of their equipment—tanks and planes—per week. Various factors contribute to these early victories, but advantages in leadership, doctrine, and materiel were vital from the German perspective. 

Those German advantages were due, in part, to the high standard of the German officer corps, which succeeded in expanding as war approached with far fewer difficulties than their Soviet counterparts. The Soviet-German partnership played a crucial role in providing the experienced officers who would make that possible. Between 1922 and 1933, hundreds of German officers or future officers taught, visited, or trained at the facilities in Russia—at a time when the entire German officer corps only numbered 4,000. More than sixty of them would reach the general officer rank, the cadre at the core of the reborn Luftwaffe and the Wehrmacht’s Panzer divisions. When flight schools and armored warfare training grounds began appearing in Germany after 1933, they were usually commanded by alumni of Lipetsk or Kama, the only places where such training had been conducted since 1918. 

The Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe also possessed key advantages in material born from the Rapallo partnership. As argued here, it laid the foundation for the technological rearmament of the German military, providing the basis for the generation of tanks and planes with which Germany would begin the Second World War. Thanks to this work and the Treaty of Versailles, almost all the German equipment used in Operation Barbarossa had been manufactured after 1935. By contrast, their Soviet adversaries possessed some special equipment—the T-34 in particular—but most Red Army units were equipped with tanks and planes built in the early to mid-1930s and designed even earlier. Only 11 percent of Soviet armored vehicles on the western frontier were new models in 1941.4 Of the remainder, 73 percent required repair.5 In the Soviet Air Force, less than two-thirds of aircraft were fit for flying in 1941, and of those deployed to the Western Front, only 20 percent were modern designs.6 As a result, the average German vehicle or plane could best the average Soviet one on the battlefield, especially given German advantages in communications and control, doctrine, logistics, and leadership. If German military successes in 1941 were, in part, products of its partnership with the Soviet Union, so too was the execrable conduct of the German Army and the trailing Einsatzgruppen death squads against Soviet civilians. The experience of living in Stalinist Russia had affected many German officers, if in contradictory ways. While some senior officers—like Blomberg—returned from Russia enthusiastic about the Soviet model, many more German officers studying in the Soviet Union became rabid anti-communists after seeing Stalinism up close. The Soviet secret police carefully monitored the political affiliations of the German officers at Kama, Lipetsk, and Tomka. They noticed that many—particularly junior officers—became more likely to support Nazism as their time in Russia progressed. This was particularly true at Lipetsk and Kama during the worst of the famines triggered by Soviet collectivization.7 Erich von Manstein, for instance, visited Kama in 1931 as part of a Reichswehr delegation. He returned for a more extended visit in 1932 to attend Red Army maneuvers.8 He wrote that “the shadow of Asian despotism hung over the country, its people and its events.”9 One of his biographers has argued that his visits to the USSR resulted in his enthusiastic support for the Nazi extermination program in the Soviet Union. Manstein would be convicted of war crimes after the war.10 In like fashion, General Wilhelm Keitel, who had lived in the USSR and taught at the Frunze Military Academy, was responsible for issuing the infamous Barbarossa Decree authorizing Wehrmacht officers to shoot Soviet civilians as they saw fit in May 1941. He would be executed following conviction at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. In sum, the experience of seeing the worst of Stalinism reinforced existing racial prejudices and anti-communism among the officer corps, encouraging support of—or nonresistance to—Nazi brutality during the invasion of the Soviet Union. 

Ironically, the German experiences at the Rapallo sites may also help explain another historical mystery: the disastrous state of German military intelligence on the Soviet Union on the eve of Barbarossa.11 The Wehrmacht’s handbook on the USSR in January 1941 indicated no knowledge of the size or organization of the Red Army. Still, it confidently concluded that it lacked modern equipment and was “unsuited for modern warfare and incapable of decisive resistance against a well-commanded, well-equipped force.”12 Prewar Wehrmacht estimates of the number of Soviet divisions were off by more than a hundred, while the Luftwaffe similarly underestimated the Soviet Air Force by a factor of two.13 This seems shocking on its face, given the number of officers who spoke Russian and were familiar with the Red Army. That experience may have been why such assessments were accepted uncritically by senior officers like Keitel, Manstein, and Guderian: low estimations of the Red Army matched their impressions from much earlier. Guderian, for instance, told Hitler and his superiors that based on his experience in Russia in the early 1930s (and again in 1939 at Brest-Litovsk), he felt that Soviet armored forces were unlikely to be prepared for war or effective in combat.14 On August 11, 1941—six weeks into the German invasion—General Halder would write in his diary, “It is becoming ever clearer that we underestimated the strength of the Russian colossus, not only in the economic and transportation sphere but above all in the military.”15 Experiences during the Rapallo Era, coupled with German hubris following the Fall of France and deep-seated prejudices against Soviet Russia, help to explain why the Wehrmacht disastrously underestimated the strength and equipment of the Red Army before the invasion of the Soviet Union. 

That Russian colossus of Halder’s description had come into being only with German assistance over the preceding two decades. At the beginning of the Rapallo Era, the Red Army had been in a Promethean state. Emerging from the Russian Civil War, its form and function remained undefined. Some senior Bolsheviks envisioned a national militia, while Tukhachevsky argued for a mechanized, technically sophisticated professional army. Stalin eventually chose the latter, though the early Soviet state lacked all the essential prerequisites for building such a military—a professionalized officer corps, strong industry in relevant fields, and coherent operational doctrine.

Technology, in particular, came to be seen as a panacea for a range of the challenges facing the Red Army, which it could not first produce aircraft, tanks, or chemical weapons. With few options, Trotsky and then Stalin came to depend upon foreign expertise to remedy those weaknesses. Throughout the interwar period, the Red Army bought (or stole) numerous alien designs and reverse-engineered them. Up to 1940, 97 percent of Soviet tank production was of foreign designs or their derivatives.16 

Aviation followed a similar pattern: as late as 1933, a report from the chief of staff of the Soviet Air Force called for the extensive “borrowing” of technical developments from Arado, Heinkel, and Junker's models at Lipetsk.17 The Red Army modernized through the acquisition of technology abroad, with Germany as its top partner. However, while these efforts resulted in a Red Army equipped with vast arsenals of new weapons, the Soviet military neglected much else, suffering from constant shortages of trained personnel, spare parts, logistical support, and maintenance officers. This was a product of the uneven process by which the Red Army had mechanized and modernized—a process described by one visiting German officer as a “quick fix.”18 In one early engagement of the war, for instance, a unit of Soviet KV tanks—which had higher-caliber guns and thicker armor than their German opponents—were ordered to ram enemy vehicles because there was no ammunition and their weapons had not been bore-sighted, which meant they could not fire with any accuracy. In the event, ramming proved out of the question, as the unit had no fuel, either.19

A related development was Germany's role in expanding the Soviet military industry over the same period. Germany was the Soviet Union’s largest trading partner in the interwar period as a whole, particularly as a source of machine tools and technology. It played an essential role in Stalin’s first two Five Year Plans, the crash-course industrializations he had initiated in 1928, which would see Soviet military spending grow from 3.4 percent of the national budget to nearly 33 percent.20 By 1941, around half of the Soviet Union’s tank production, a majority of its chemical weapons production, and much of its aviation production depended in some way upon German assistance provided during the interwar period. This productive capacity, much of it moved from the western Soviet Union to the Urals during the “Great Evacuation” of Soviet industry in 1941, would prove enormously important. From 1941 to 1945—despite German occupation of the most populous parts of the Soviet Union—the USSR would produce nearly 30,000 more aircraft and 50,000 more tanks than Nazi Germany.21 

The other essential aspiration of the Red Army in partnering with the Reichswehr had been to professionalize its personnel. German assistance aimed to help address this problem. During the period of cooperation, 156 senior Soviet officers visited or studied in Germany. This led to the fundamental redesign of the structure of the Red Army—in the form of the General Staff—and the reshaping of Soviet military education. The Reichswehr trained thousands of junior Soviet officers, too—directly and indirectly. For instance, the 187 Soviet students who passed through the Kama were, in the words of Red Army planners, primarily “combat commanders or teachers of the tactical and technical courses at the Armored Warfare University (BUZ).” At the same time, “a smaller percentage were engineering staff.”22 They formed a central part of the Soviet armored forces, teaching new armor officers and designing the next generation of tanks. The ultimate value of cooperation in this cadre development in the Soviet Union was limited by the purges.

Whereas the German alumni of the communal facilities played central roles in the Second World War, most of the officers who served alongside the Germans disappeared in the Great Terror between 1936 and 1938.23 There were some survivors: all three generals who would be promoted to marshal in 1940—Grigory Kulik, Semyon Timoshenko, and Boris Shaposhnikov—had studied in Germany for extended periods.24 At least five graduates of Kama also survived to reach the general rank.25 But they were exceptions, rather than the rule. At least 24,026 officers, disproportionately from the upper levels of the army and air force, were arrested or dismissed.26 By 1938, not a single graduate of the Red Army’s leading training institution, the Frunze Military Academy, served as a regimental commander.27 Amid the simultaneous expansion of the Red Army, the purges were particularly catastrophic: by December 1938, the Red Army was short 93,000 officers, or 34.1 percent of its strength, a shortage that would not be remedied by 1941. This reality undoubtedly contributed to the disastrous Soviet performance early in the war.28 Despite the uneven modernization of the Red Army and shortcomings of the Soviet officer corps in 1941, the Red Army survived Operation Barbarossa. It emerged victorious after four horrific years of war. While the USSR had produced almost no combat vehicles before 1928 and only a few aircraft, by 1941, it had over 20,000 armored vehicles and the world’s most significant air force. It would outproduce Germany in tanks, planes, artillery, and rifles during the war. Although purges and rapid expansion had significantly diluted the quality of the Red Army officer corps, Red Army military education facilities had produced 170,000 commissioned officers by 1940—four times the number of commissioned officers in the entire Tsarist Army in 1914.29

While its modernization and professionalization remained uneven, the Red Army had made clear progress—with German help—in addressing both challenges that had led to the defeat of Tsarist Russia in 1917. The result was a Red Army that proved more resilient and robust than the Germans—or any other European power—had anticipated. The bargain that the Soviets and Germans made to rearm would pay its final dividend in blood. Their partnership could justifiably be described as an “alliance” at times: a formal political arrangement for mutual benefit based upon military cooperation and economic exchange. But the Soviet-German relationship in the interwar period hinted at something more significant. From Trotsky and Seeckt to Hitler and Stalin, leaders in each country saw the future of the two states as intertwined. German ambassador Brockdorff-Rantzau called the Soviet-German relationship a Schicksalgemeinschaft, a “community of fate.”30 The term implied that the destinies of the two states were bound up, for good or for ill. German officers and politicians hoped that the Soviet Union would serve as a partner against Western democracies, a role that the Soviets did fulfill from 1939 to 1941. In turn, Soviet leaders Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin all saw Germany as a future partner in revolution. It was a part that would be forced upon East Germany for over four decades. The futures of both countries and their hundreds of millions of residents were inextricably linked. By June 22, 1941, thanks to years of work in collaboration, Germany and the Soviet Union shared a border, a capacity for making war, and exterminationist ideologies. This where more than 30 million people would die in the struggle that unfolded between Berlin and Moscow, the final price of the Bargain.


As we will see next however, in the end it was Hitler’s intervention in reference to Pearl Harbor that truly created a world war and transformed international history.


Part One:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part One

Part Two:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Two

Part Three:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Three

Part Four:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Four

Part Five:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Five

Part Six:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Six

Part Seven:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Seven

Part Eight:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Eight

Part Nine:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Nine

Part Ten:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Ten

Part Eleven:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Eleven

Part Twelve:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Twelve

Part Thirteen:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Thirteen

Part Fourteen:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Fourteen

Part Fifteen:   Russia, Germany, and Poland Part Fifteen


Apart from the archival documents listed in the footnotes following is a list of published sources that have been used:


1. Strohn, “Hans von Seeckt and His Vision of a ‘Modern Army,” 330–331.

2. Wheeler-Bennett, The Nemesis of Power, fn. 118.

3. Gottfried Schramm, “Basic Features of German Ostpolitik, 1918–1939,” in From Peace to War: Germany, Soviet Russia, and the World, 1939–1941, ed. Bernd Wegner (Providence, RI: Berghahn Books, 1997), 23.

4. Glantz, Stumbling Colossus, 156.

5. Ibid., 117–118.

6. Ibid., 204.

7. Soviet agents tended to identify “Hindenburg followers” as “Fascists,” but not “Strong Fascists,” which was something of a generalization. The distinction between conservative nationalists and racial nationalists was somewhat stronger than they understood. “O buivshem 4-m nemetskom aviaotriade,” 18 January 1950, 3.

8. Benoit Lemay, Erich von Manstein, Hitler’s Master Strategist (Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, 2010), 26; Rauschning, Makers of Destruction, 25, cited by Zeidler, 268.

9. Lemay, Manstein, 26.

10.I bid.

11. David Thomas, “Foreign Armies East and German Military Intelligence in Russia 1941–45,” Journal of Contemporary History, 22:2 (Apr., 1987), 276; Glantz, Stumbling Colossus, 107. In 1938, the OKH reorganized its intelligence agencies and placed Abteilung Fremde Heer Ost (Department of Foreign Armies—East) in the hands of Lieutenant Colonel Eberhard Kinzel. He spoke no Russian, had never visited the Soviet Union, and was simultaneously placed in charge of all military intelligence for China, Japan, the United States and the Western Hemisphere, despite having only a tiny staff at his disposal. Hillgruber, “The German Military Leaders’ View of Russia,” 179.

12. Hillgruber, “The German Military Leaders’ View of Russia,” 179–180.

13. Halder, Halder War Diary, VI, 190; Halder, Halder War Diary, VII, 36.

14. Hillgruber, “The German Military Leaders’ View of Russia,” 181. David Glantz, Barbarossa Derailed: The Battle for Smolensk, 10 July–10 September 1941, Volume I (West Midlands, UK: Helion, 2010), 66. Guderian then expressed shock upon his first encounter with a T-34 on July 3, 1941, despite evidence even in the early 1930s that the Soviets were building some larger and more heavily armored vehicles than their German counterparts. Guderian, Panzer Leader, 162.

15. Halder, Halder War Diary, VII, 36; translation from Charles Burton Burdick, Hans Adolf Jacobsen edition of the Halder War Diary.

16. Zaloga and Grandsen, Soviet Tanks and Combat Vehicles, 48. The authors also add that “It is curious that the designs which the Soviets so wisely chose, for their excellent capabilities and ease of manufacture, were in most cases not procured in any numbers by the armies of the countries in which they originated.”

17. Sobelev and Khazanov, Nemetskii sled, 125–126. These adaptions included wing and flap design, engine and turbocharging systems, and navigational equipment that would be incorporated into new Soviet aircraft.

18. “Betr. Strategische Aufgabe Nr. 1” [Report on Strategic Problem Nr. 1], 15 February 1926, 1.

19. Glantz, Stumbling Colossus, 145.

20. Harrison, Soviet Planning in Peace and War, 149.

21. Glantz and House, When Titans Clashed, 306; Chamberlain and Doyle, Encyclopedia of German Tanks, 261–262.

22. Gryaznov, “O rabote kursov TEKO,” 14 March 1932, 1; Zeidler, 352–354.

23. For two very different assessments of the purges, see Conquest, The Great Terror; and Getty and Naumov, The Road to Terror.

24. All three had traveled to Germany for maneuvers or training at some point in the interwar period: Kulik in 1928, Shaposhnikov in 1929, and Timoshenko in 1931. The difference in their cases seems to have been personal. Kulik survived because of his slavish loyalty to Stalin. Stalin valued Shaposhnikov’s nonpolitical background (he was not a Party member), his military writing, and his administrative competence. The reasons for Timoshenko’s survival are less clear, though it may have also been a product of his personal relationship with Stalin.

25. Zeidler, 306.

26. Erickson, The Soviet High Command, 505; Conquest, The Great Terror, 450; Reese, Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers, 134. Erickson and Reese agree on a figure of around 25,000 total purged officers.

27. Conquest, The Great Terror, 450. In retrospect, of the Soviet Union’s major theorists, it seems that only Igor Svechin had correctly identified the logical course of Soviet strategy: attritional warfare would be the inevitable result of modern warfare between the Soviet Union and a more technologically advanced neighbor to the west. This would rapidly become apparent in early 1941, even to Stalin. He would tell his commanders early in the war to eschew complicated maneuvers in favor of attritional battles, which relied upon the Soviet Union’s superior reserves of manpower. Deep Battle as described in the 1936 manual was too fine an instrument for the Soviet Union as it existed in 1941, particularly in the aftermath the purges. Perhaps, in a Red Army headed by Tukhachevsky, it might have been more effective. It would take more than a year of combat for the Red Army to become capable of complex maneuver warfare like Deep Battle, on clear display by the time of Operatsiya Uran in November 1942. See Earl Ziemke, “The Soviet Theory of Deep Operations,” Parameters, Journal of the US Army War College, 13:2 (1983), 23–33.

28. Roger Reese estimated that one third of this shortfall was a direct product of the purge and the rest from the expansion of the Red Army. Reese, Stalin’s Reluctant Soldiers, 147.

29. Glantz, Stumbling Colossus, 39.

30. Hilger and Meyer, The Incompatible Allies, 131.   


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