By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers

Russia, Germany, and Poland 1917-1945 Part Six

In early April 1922, representatives from thirty-four countries began to arrive in Genoa for an economic summit. There were two subjects to be discussed. The first involved shifting the world economy back toward a gold standard, abandoned by most of the Great Powers under the financial pressures of the war. The other was to seek the reintegration of Russia into the global economy. Both Weimar German and Bolshevik Russian delegations were invited to attend the conference, the first time either had been invited as an equal member of the international community to a summit of this sort. The conference’s host, Italian prime minister Luigi Facta, declared in the conference’s opening speech, “In this place the memories of the hatreds and resentments of the war must be forgotten; here there are no longer friends and enemies, victors and vanquished, but only men and nations striving in common for the attainment of a lofty ideal.”1 There was a feeling of hopefulness in the air that three years after the disaster of the war, the moment to return to economic prosperity and political stability had arrived. On their way to Genoa, the Soviet delegation stopped in Berlin. They had two crucial tasks there. First, Soviet commissar for foreign affairs Georgy Chicherin pressed for an agreement to settle outstanding disputes of a diplomatic and economic nature between the German and Soviet governments. This included war claims leveled by each state against the other. Article 116 of the Treaty of Versailles had included language suggesting Russia’s right to German war reparations, in part as a measure to divide the two states. In 1922 it remained an impediment to reestablishing formal diplomatic ties. During the Berlin visit, the two sides worked to draft an agreement settling all outstanding issues between the two governments. They ran out of time, however, to reach a final agreement.2 

While in Berlin, members of the Soviet delegation also met with Hugo Junkers.3 Both the Reichswehr and the Soviet government were eager to formalize some form of military-industrial cooperation. Although still concerned about operating manufacturing facilities in the USSR, Junkers was persuaded by verbal guarantees from the Reichswehr that they would give Junkers priority on aircraft purchasing contracts from the German government.4 On March 15, 1922, during the Soviet delegation’s visit, Junkers and Sondergruppe R, represented by Otto Hasse, had signed an agreement to jointly establish production facilities in Russia.5 To make the concession possible, Hasse agreed to subsidize Junkers with a grant of 140 million paper marks ($333,659 USD); 100 million was to serve as the capital for Junkers’ Russian venture, while an additional 40 million was to cover the costs of any complications arising from the unique logistical difficulties of working in Russia, such as shortages of raw materials, transportation difficulties, and the lack of skilled labor.6 The details with the Russian side remained to be worked out, but with the financial support of the German military, Hugo Junkers was willing to move forward. With progress on both diplomatic reconciliation and private military cooperation, the German and Soviet delegations proceeded separately to Genoa.

On April 10, the negotiations in Italy began. The British and French delegations immediately pressed the Soviets for the payments of Tsarist-era war debts and remuneration for foreign (mostly French) property seized by the Soviet state. Chicherin countered with offers for partial repayment of foreign property losses in exchange for diplomatic recognition and large loans with which to rebuild the Soviet economy. Chicherin knew that the proposal was unlikely to be accepted.7 Instead, his primary job at the summit was to propose measures that would divide Western leaders and prevent them from presenting a unified front against Soviet Russia.8

The German delegation arrived in Genoa shortly after their Bolshevik acquaintances. It included Chancellor Joseph Wirth, Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau, Colonel Hasse (representing the Reichswehr), and Baron Ago von Maltzan, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Russia Desk. Rathenau, the delegation’s dominant personality, hoped for rapprochement with the West. He would quickly be disappointed. The French proved entirely intransigent on the issue of German war debt and reparations. During the first five days of the conference, the German delegation achieved none of its objectives.9 The question of returning to the text of a Russo-German Treaty soon arose, if in a curious fashion. After midnight on Sunday, April 16, Soviet diplomat Adolf Joffe telephoned the Germans and suggested that both countries’ delegations slip out of the conference and head to Rapallo, a small town on the Italian Riviera near Genoa, to complete the treaty negotiations they had begun in Berlin. At that early hour, dressed in their pajamas, the leadership of the Weimar Republic assembled in Rathenau’s hotel bedroom to debate whether or not to meet with the Bolsheviks at Rapallo.10 Maltzan and Wirth were adamantly in favor and convinced the wavering Rathenau. The next morning, after a half-hearted attempt to inform the British delegation (who would have opposed their plan) the Germans departed for Rapallo. By 5 p.m., Rathenau and Chicherin had affixed their signatures to a final draft of a new treaty.

The Treaty of Rapallo contained six articles and there was nothing particularly remarkable in any of them. Yet collectively, the agreement would rock the postwar European order. The two states agreed to “waive their claims for compensation for expenditure incurred on account of the war” or for lost property, and called the immediate resumption of “diplomatic and consular relations” and the reestablishment of commercial ties on the basis of “most favored nation” status.11 Germany was therefore the first capitalist state outside the former Tsarist Empire to formally normalize relations with the Soviet Union.12 Rapallo meant escape from international isolation for both states. 

Six days after the conclusion of the treaty, the London Times, soon followed by nearly every other major newspaper in Europe, began to publish documents purporting to prove Germany and the Soviet Union had agreed to a secret military alliance against Poland at Rapallo. The document was a forgery, likely inspired by fears of revived German military power and specter of communism. Seeckt himself confirmed this. In a letter to General Hasse in May 1922 he wrote that “no political-military agreements exist; however the possibility of their existence is believed. Is it in our interest to destroy this weak Nimbus [halo]?”13 While Rapallo was not a formal alliance, Seeckt did aspire to exactly that: a partnership with the USSR against Poland. He wrote that “Poland must and will be wiped off the map, with our help, through internal weakness and Russian action. Poland’s fall will be that of one of the key columns supporting the Treaty of Versailles.”14 But Germany remained too weak militarily to risk war, even with Poland alone. Rapallo, to Seeckt and many Ostpolitikers, instead represented a future opportunity for territorial revision of Eastern Europe, once rearmament had been accomplished. It marked a spirit of mutual understanding that started Soviet-German relations down a path to a grand bargain to divide Eastern Europe. In April 1939, Stalin would receive word of Hitler’s desire that “a new Rapallo stage should be achieved in German-Soviet relations.”15 Five months later, the two armies would complete the partition of Poland, just as Seeckt had proposed in 1922.

The immediate result of Rapallo was a joint military-industrial project in the field of aviation. German aviation had been among the world’s leaders in 1914. Versailles required that all existing combat aircraft were to be turned over to the Allies to be destroyed immediately. The Reichswehr duly handed over 15,000 aircraft, 28,000 aircraft engines, and 16 Zeppelins.16 The Allies further banned all aircraft production and flights over Germany for a period of six months, a deadline repeatedly extended until May 5, 1922.17 When German firms were allowed to build aircraft again, they faced strict limitations enforced by the Inter-Allied Aeronautical Control Commission. Those included limiting new aircraft to speeds of no more than 100 miles per hour (mph), as well as placing limitations on payload, flight ceiling, and flight range.18 Collectively, these measures prevented Germany from redeveloping its military aviation industry. As a result of the costs imposed by Versailles, the entire German aviation industry after the war consisted of only seven aviation companies, which owned eight airframe and four aircraft engine factories.19

Junkers AG was one of those survivors, buttressed by successful foreign subsidiaries. Soviet interest in Junkers AG was based upon the technological superiority of its aircraft. When negotiations began, the firm’s latest and most innovative design was the Junkers F-13. A sleek, aluminum passenger plane with an enclosed cockpit, it was the first mass-produced, all-metal commercial monoplane in the world, representing a revolutionary step forward from the biplane design common during the First World War.20 A demonstration for Russian state officials in Moscow in the spring of 1922 resulted in the F-13 crash landing. In a wooden aircraft the crew would have been killed and the plane destroyed. But the F-13’s crew did not even suffer injuries, and the plane was ready to fly again within a day.21 Trotsky was convinced that cooperation with these world-leading German manufacturers was worth considerable investment. 

However, lack of trust and the economic difficulties in both Germany and the Soviet Union led to long and contentious negotiations before Junkers could actually begin manufacturing aircraft in the USSR. The Soviet government proposed a concessionary agreement with Junkers AG for a thirty-year lease on the “Second Russo-Balt Automobile Factory,” located in the Moscow suburb of Fili. To guarantee the project’s profitability, the Soviet military agreed to buy a certain proportion of the resultant aircraft. During negotiations in May 1922, a Junkers representative wrote Trotsky that for the Russia venture to be worthwhile to his corporation, “the Junkers Corporation would need to bring into the company an approximate value of DM 1 billion”, an extravagant sum, even in the era of growing inflation.22 The Russians apparently scoffed at the idea of providing any portion of that figure themselves. Instead, Hugo Junkers wrote to Seeckt’s Sondergruppe R, noting that for the company to operate in “the truly vast and uncertain conditions,” the Reichswehr would have to procure the required capital “in full.”23 This meant at least 600 million paper marks ($120,000 USD), the stated sum necessary for the manufacture of aircraft frames and engines in the USSR. Junkers added in his letter that “Junkers AG must be secure against any risk created by internal and external political conditions.”24 Such a guarantee was clearly beyond the abilities of the Reichswehr in 1922. Junkers then indicated he could not accept the terms as they stood. The whole project seemed to be falling apart before it began.25 

While letters flew back and forth between Junkers AG and Sondergruppe R, Seeckt applied pressure in another way. The Reichswehr did not have the financial resources to guarantee Junkers anything substantial beyond what had already been promised. However, over a dinner with Hugo Junkers, Truppenamt chief Otto Hasse and Waffenamt chief Ludwig Wurtzbacher “talked about the common interests of both parties.” Over the course of the meal, there was some drinking and the “two gentlemen” made a number of toasts, convincing Junkers that they had agreed to guarantee him against possible financial losses.26 He took these promissory toasts as a contract, assuming, perhaps naturally, that given the clandestine nature of the work, not all of the negotiations would be drawn up on paper. This would later come back to haunt him.

By the end of the summer of 1922, Junkers considered his company financially protected by these verbal guarantees from Reichswehr representatives. He wrote back to Arkady Rosengoltz, the Soviet representative handling the concession negotiations, expressing renewed interest. Rosengoltz replied that Junkers needed to make a swift decision. Negotiations had already been drawn out for eight months and if he could not come to an agreement, “a large part of the [aircraft] orders could go on to other companies.”27 Finally, on October 23, 1922, Junkers’ representatives wrote back to Rosengoltz in Moscow: “We have decided to abandon our previous position and to welcome a concession for the Russo and Russo-Balt Fili and Russo-Balt Petersburg [factories].”28 Investment at the Russo-Balt Petersburg factory was to follow the Moscow Fili plant if the latter was successful. Junkers AG was now committed. 

Several members of Sondergruppe R appeared as signatories on the final treaty text, guaranteeing Junkers’ investment in the Fili facility, though exactly what this guarantee entailed were unclear. In addition, the agreement noted that the Soviets expected at least 650 million paper marks to be invested by the company before production would begin.29 Trotsky was intimately involved in the final negotiations; his name appeared on the document as well, showing the value the Soviets placed in assisting the German firm in establishing industrial facilities on their soil.30 The Soviets expected Junkers AG to begin manufacture in early 1924 with a goal of producing 100 aircraft a month at peak capacity. They followed this concessionary agreement with a purchase agreement intended to provide a guaranteed market to Junkers AG and the Fili plant. On November 26, 1922, they finalized this contract, which required Junkers AG to manufacture 300 aircraft and 450 aircraft engines on Russian soil by the second year of the agreement.31

The Second Russo-Balt Automobile Company factory had been built in 1917, though it had failed to produce any automobiles before being nationalized in the aftermath of the October Revolution. Automobile production began there in 1922, but under the extremely difficult circumstances of post–civil war Russia, lacking raw materials, skilled workers, or even a market for vehicles, only five automobiles rolled off the lines.32 The facility at Fili would reopen on January 23, 1923, when an engineering team from Junkers AG would arrive to begin updating the factory’s equipment. Since it lacked the necessary heavy machinery, the factory could not initially produce finished aircraft engines. Instead, throughout 1923 and into 1924, Junkers AG sent to Fili German engineers and managers, who supervised a largely Russian staff. Their main task involved assembling aircraft from parts shipped from Germany.33

Connected to the center of Moscow by a direct rail line, the factory consisted of six buildings during the time of German production. A main factory building, laid out in open floor style to accommodate a Ford-inspired assembly line, sat along the road from Moscow. In 1922, Fili stood at the outskirts of the Soviet capital; even so, it was only 6 miles from the Kremlin, with the political, logistical, and economic advantages that conferred. Behind the main factory building stood the assembly hall, where component parts were put together. Next door, an armory stored munitions and the machine guns to be mounted on each aircraft, a clear sign of the facility’s main function. Several hundred yards away from the factory grounds stood three large hangars that housed assembled aircraft. A separate rail line ran directly to the hangars for easy transport of the finished product.34 While some F-13 passenger planes were also to be produced there, the vast majority of Fili’s production would be warplanes.

One of the early debates at Fili involved the question of precisely which aircraft to manufacture. In 1920, Hugo Junkers had hired a twenty-three-year-old engineer named Ernst Zindel for his engineering team at Junkers AG’s corporate headquarters in Dessau. Junkers paired the young man with one of his longtime associates, Otto Mader.35 The Zindel-Mader team would be responsible for all of the new plane designs that were to be produced in Russia—four in all. Versailles’ restrictions meant that their prototypes were to be assembled only at Fili. Given that all four were explicitly designed for military use, their construction required secrecy that only Fili could provide.36

Versailles had of course severely limited German aircraft design. Across the rest of the world, however, cutting-edge designs appeared that had been commissioned but not finished during the war, pushing the limits of aeronautical engineering. These new designs relied more and more on lightweight metals. In the early 1920s, the top-of-the-line single-seater aircraft was the French Nieuport Delage NiD 29. With a top speed over 130 mph, it repeatedly broke world speed records in 1919 and 1920, until it was superseded by the Nieuport-31 sesquiplane.37

In the glamorous, rapidly evolving world of racing and fighter aircraft design, Zindel’s designs were not trailblazers. Two of his four designs were rejected for mass production after initial prototypes performed poorly.38 Instead, the Soviets concentrated their orders on his J-20 and J-21 design. The bulk of the initial order, fifty aircraft, were the latter, whose primary use was reconnaissance.39 Cutting corners to speed up the design process, Zindel based the J-21 on earlier, First World War designs, though it used a new Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) engine. The J-21 was designed to be a two-seater observer aircraft, but could also serve as a fighter. Each was armed with two 7.62 mm machine guns, the standard armament for World War One fighter aircraft.40 The Junkers plant in Dessau clandestinely began building two J-21s prototypes in 1922, with the aim of shipping them to Fili in early 1923 as models for the production line. 

The Soviets were not thrilled with this Junkers design. Even with the engine upgrade, the J-21 remained underpowered.41 The Soviets wanted to use the J-21 to replace their Tsarist, World War One–era reconnaissance aircraft, but it proved to be only a slight improvement on the old designs.42 Hugo Junkers had stated in the purchase agreement with the Soviet Air Force in 1922 that the J-21 would have a maximum speed of 116 mph; this was already slower than the best Allied fighters at the end of the war.43 But when actually delivered, Soviet tests indicated that the plane could barely break 100 mph.44 Soviet engineers also reported the aircraft was 440 pounds heavier than Junkers himself had claimed, and took twice as long to climb to altitude as he had promised.45 An instructor at a Soviet Air Force training facility was killed flying a J-21 not long after the first delivery. The Soviet Air Force blamed technical issues, further aggravating tensions over the issue.46 As 1922 came to an end, the Junkers Plant at Fili was failing to live up to the expectations of either the Reichswehr or the government of the renamed (December 1922) Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Events further isolating Germany on the international stage would intervene to prevent the unraveling of the nascent Soviet-German relationship.


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 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. Carol Fink, The Genoa Conference: European Diplomacy, 1921–1922 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993), 152.

2. Carr, German-Soviet Relations, 63. The primary difficulty was German foreign minister Walther Rathenau’s reluctance to make a deal with the Soviets, hoping instead for a better arrangement—particularly regarding reparations—with France and Great Britain at the upcoming Genoa Conference.

3. Richard Byers, Flying Man: Hugo Junkers and the Dream of Aviation (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2016), 52. 

4. “Junkers–Von Seeckt Correspondence,” 1922–1924, BA-MA, RH 8, 3681. 

5. Byers, Flying Man, 53. 

6. “Zweiter Schriftsatz des Reichsministeriums zur Klärung seiner Beziehungen zu Prof. Dr. Junkers,” 15 February 1926.

7. This agreement would be formalized a month later, when Junkers AG would sign a preliminary agreement with Ivan Peterskii, the head of the Soviet Civilian Aviation Office; Wagner, Hugo Junkers, 195. 7.Fink, The Genoa Conference, 161–162. 

8. Vourkoutiotis, Making Common Cause, 125.

9. Fink, The Genoa Conference, 162–163. For Rathenau’s assessment of the lack of consideration for German interests by the Entente powers, see Walter Rathenau, “Telegramm,” 18 April 1922, PA-AA, R 83435, 113–114, 1–2. 

10.Carr, German-Soviet Relations, 64. 

11.“[Rapallovertrag zwischen] Die deutsche Regierung, vertreten durch Reichsminister Dr. Walter Rathenau und die Regierung der russischen sozialistischen föderativen Sowjet-Republik, vertreten durch Volkskommissar Tschitscherine” [Rapallo Agreement between the German Government, represented by Reich Minister Dr. Walter Rathenau and the Government of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, represented by People’s Commissar Tschitscherin], 16 April 1922, PA-AA, R 83435/102–104, 1. 

12. Herbert von Dirksen, Moscow, Tokyo, London: Twenty Years of German Foreign Policy (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1952), 49, 167, 169; Vourkoutiotis, Making Common Cause, 159. 

13. Vourkoutiotis, Making Common Cause, 151. 

14. 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.

15. Ivan Maisky, The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St. James, 1932–1932, ed. Gabriel Gorodetsky, trans. Tatiana Sorokina and Oliver Ready (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2015), 203. 

16. Georg Cordts, Junge Adler: Vom Luftsport zum Flugdienst, 1920–1945 [Young Eagles: From Air Sports to Flight Duty, 1920–1945] (Munich: Bechtle Verlag Esslingen, 1988), 9. 

17. Edward L. Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe: The Reich Air Ministry and the German Aircraft Industry, 1919–1939 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1976), 2–3.

18. Homze, Arming the Luftwaffe, 3. 

19. Ibid., 26. 

20. Wagner, Hugo Junkers, 142. 

21. Alexander Baikov, “Voenno-promyshlennoye sotrudnichestvo SSSR i Germanii - kto koval sovetskii mech” [Military-Industrial Cooperation between the USSR and Germany - Who Forged the Soviet Sword?], 218–302 in Nepravda Viktora Suvorova [The Untruth of Victor Suvorov] (Moscow: Yauza, 2008), 247.)

22. “Vereinbarung zwischen der russischen Regierung und den Junkerswerken” [Agreement between the Russian Government and the Junkers Works], 6 February 1922, 1–5. 

23. Hugo Junkers, “Letter to Hans von Seeckt,” 19 May 1922, BA-MA, RH/2, 1130, 1.

24. Ibid.

25. In a letter sent to the Reichswehrministerium on July 7, Junkers apparently made it clear he could not accept the terms currently being offered for the Fili facility. He received a mollifying reply from Sondergruppe R, which argued that Junkers had a misconception of the whole idea of Fili and had imposed upon it “unfavorable assumptions and unsustainable business terms.” The letter continued by assuring him that a workable arrangement could be made between himself and Arkady Rosengoltz, the Russian then in charge of managing foreign concessions: “The Russians desire to come to an agreement and will eventually accept reasonable conditions.” “Letter to Herr Professor Junkers,” 12 July 1922, BA-MA, RH/2, 1130. 

26. Ibid., 1.

27. Rosengoltz, “Letter to Junkers AG,” 30 August 1922, BA-MA, RH/2 2305, 1. 

28. “Letter to Herrn Rosengoltz,” 23 October 1922, BA-MA, RH/2 2305. 

29. “Vereinbarung zwischen der russischen Regierung und den Junkerswerken,” 6 February 1922, BA-MA, 1–5; “Liefervertrag” [Contract of Delivery], 4 December 1922, BA-MA, RH/2/2293/586-189, 1–4. 

30. Ibid. 

31. “Junkers, Fili (Russland) bis zum Herbst ’25,” 13 January 1926, 1–2. 

32. “History,” Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, Accessed 17 October 2013, 

33. “Mitglied das Obersten Konzession, Moskau,” 23 October 1922, BA-MA, RH/2, 230, 1.

34. “Bericht den Besuch des Flugzeugwerkes in Fili,” 17 February 1931, BA-MA, RH/12/1, 56, 1.

35. Antony Kay, Junkers Aircraft & Engines 1913–1945 (London: Putnam Aeronautical Books, 2004), 42. 

36. Ibid., 45–46. 

37. A sesquiplane has one large and one small wing. In the aftermath of the war, designs increasingly shifted from biplanes toward sesquiplanes or parasol-winged monoplanes, with just an upper wing. Enzo Angelucci, The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft, 1914–1980 (New York: Military Press, 1980), 116, 127. 

38. Some of his aircraft did not get much further than prototype production. The first two, J-22 I and IIs, were single-seat, parasol-winged monoplane fighters armed with a 7.62 mm machine gun, the standard aircraft weapon of the First World War. To hurry the aircraft into production, Zindel based his design on an earlier model called the T-2. The results were mixed. The positioning of the wings on J-22 prototypes was somewhat awkward, restricting the pilot’s vision to a narrow slit ahead and to the sides of the aircraft, a serious disadvantage in a fighter aircraft. Only two prototypes were ever successfully produced before the design was determined unfit for mass production. Kay, Junkers Aircraft, 44–45. 

39. “Das Junkers-Unternehmen in Fili (Russland) in seiner Entwicklung und seinem Verhältnis zum Reichswehrministerium bis zum Herbst ’25” [The Junkers Operation at Fili (Russia) in Its Development and Its Relationship with the Ministry of War through the Fall of 1925], 13 January 1926, BA-MA, RH/2, 1130, 1. 

40. Kay, Junkers Aircraft, 45–46.

41. Peter Baranov, “RVS–Junkers Doklad” [Revolutionary Military Council–Junkers Report], 11 June 1925, RGVA, f. 4, op. 2, d. 14, l. 1–5. It appears that Junkers used an engine that exceeded the horsepower limitations of the IAACC in their Fili models, but just barely. 

42. “J-21,” Ugolok Neba, Aviation Encyclopedia (Russian), 

43. “Junkers, Fili (Russland) bis zum Herbst ’25,” 13 January 1926, 11. 

44. Ibid. 

45. Ibid. 

46. Peter Baranov, “RVS–Junkers Doklad,” 11 June 1925, 3. Baranov very much wanted the Fili project to succeed, and blamed the crash on the pilot involved in his report to the RVS.


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