Monday, May 27, 2013



Reluctantly Hitler gave in on the urging of Brauchitsch, Halder and Bock
and consented to the resumption of the drive on Moscow. But too late!
Halder saw him on the afternoon of September 5 and now the Führer, his
mind made up, was in a hurry to get to the Kremlin. 'Get started on the
central front within eight to ten days', the Supreme Commander ordered.
("Impossible!" Halder exclaimed in his diary.) "encircle them, beat and
destroy them", Hitler added, promising to return to Army Group Centre
Guderian's panzer group, then still heavily engaged in the Ukraine, and
add Reinhardt's tank corps from the Leningrad front. But it was not
until the beginning of October that the armoured forces could be brought
back, refitted and made ready. On October 2 the great offensive was
finally launched. "Typhoon" was the code name. A mighty wind, a cyclone,
was to hit the Russians, destroy their last fighting forces before
Moscow and bring the Soviet Union tumbling down.
But here again the Nazi dictator became victim of his megalomania.
Taking the Russian capital before the winter came was not enough, He
gave orders that Field Marshal von Leeb in the north was at the same
time to capture Leningrad, make contact with the Finns beyond the city
and drive on and cut the Murmansk railway.. Also, at the same time,
Rundstedt was to clear the Black Sea Coast, take Rostov, seize the
Maikop oil fields and push forward to Stalingrad on the Volga, thus
severing Stalin's last link with the Caucasus. When Rundstedt tried to
explain to Hitler that this meant an advance of more than four hundred
miles beyond the Dnieper, with his left flank dangerously exposed, the
Supreme Commander told him that the Russians in the south were now
incapable of offering serious resistance. Rundstedt, who says that he
"laughed aloud" at such ridiculous orders, was soon to find the contrary.
Evidence of Soviet resistance in the streets of Rostov, a scene in late 1941, 
encountered by the Germans as they entered the heavily besieged city'
The German drive along the old road which Napoleon had taken to Moscow
at first rolled along with all the fury of a typhoon. In the first
fortnight of October, in what Blumentritt called "textbook battle," the
Germans encircled two Soviet Armies between Vyazma and Bryansk and
claimed to have taken 650,000 prisoners along with 5,000 guns and 1,200
tanks. By October 20 German armoured spearheads were within forty miles
of Moscow and the Soviet ministries and foreign embassies were hastily
evacuating to Kuibyshev on the Volga. Even the sober Halder, who had
fallen off his horse and broken a collarbone and was temporarily
hospitalised, now believed that with bold leadership and favourable
weather Moscow could be taken before the severe Russian winter set in.
The fall rains, however, had commenced. 'Rasputiza', the period of mud ,
set in. The Great army, moving on wheels, was slowed down and often
forced to halt. Tanks had to be withdrawn from battle to pull guns and
ammunition trucks out of the mire. Chains and couplings for this job
were lacking and bundles of rope had to be dropped by Luftwaffe
transport planes which were badly needed for lifting other military
supplies. The rains began in mid-October and, as Guderian later
remembered, "the next few weeks were dominated by mud." General
Blumentritt, chief of staff of Field Marshal von Kluge's Fourth Army,
which was in the thick of the battle for Moscow, has vividly described
the predicament.
German  infantrymen in heavy winter gear march next to horse-drawn vehicles as 
they pass through a district near Moscow, in November 1941. Winter 
conditions strained an already thin supply line, and forced Germany to 
halt its advance - leaving soldiers exposed to the elements and Soviet 
counter-attacks, resulting in heavy casualties and a serious loss of 
momentum in the war.'

'The infantryman slithers in the mud, while many teams of horses are 
needed to drag each gun forward. All wheeled vehicles sink up to their 
axles in the slime. Even tractors can only move with great difficulty. A 
large portion of our heavy artillery was soon stuck fast... The strain 
that all this caused over already exhausted troops can perhaps imagined.'
For the first time there crept into the diary of Halder and the reports 
of Guderian, Blumentrit and other Generals signs of doubt and then of 
despair. It spread to the lower officers and troops in the field, or 
perhaps it stemmed from them. "and now, when Moscow was already almost 
in sight, " Blumentritt recalled, "the mood both of commanders and 
troops began to change, Enemy resistance stiffened and the fighting 
became more bitter... Many of our companies were reduced to a mere sixty 
or seventy men." There was a shortage of serviceable artillery and 
tanks. "Winter", he says, " was about to begin, but there was no sign of 
winter clothing... Far behind the front the first partisan units were 
beginning to make their presence felt in the vast forests and swamps. 
Supply columns were frequently ambushed..."

Rapidly advancing German forces encountered serious guerilla resistance 
behind their front lines. Here, four guerrillas with fixed bayonets and 
a small machine gun are seen in action, near a small village'
Now Blumentritt remembered, the ghosts of the Grand Army, which had
taken this same road to Moscow, and the memory of Napoleon's fate began
to haunt the dreams of the German conquerors. The German generals began
to read, or reread, Caulicourt's grim account of the French conqueror's
disastrous winter in Russia in 1812. Far to the south, where the weather
was little warmer but the rain and the mud were just as bad, things were
not going well either. Kleist's tanks entered Rostov at the mouth of the
Don on November 21 amidst much fanfare from Dr. Goebels' propaganda band
that the "gateway to the Caucasus" had been opened. It did not open very
long. Both Kleist and Rundstedt realised that Rostov could not be held.
Five days later Russians retook it and the Germans, attacked on both the
northern and southern flanks, were in headlong retreat back fifty miles
to the Mius River where Kleist and Rundstedt had wished in the first
place to establish a winter line. The retreat from Rostov is another
little turning point in the history of the Third Reich. Here was the
first time that any German army had ever suffered a major setback. "our
misfortunes began with Rostov," Guderian afterwards commented, "that was
the writing on the wall." It cost Marshall Rundstedt, the senior officer
in the German Army, his command. As he was retreating to the Mius:
'Suddenly an order to me (he subsequently told Allied interrogators)
from the Führer:"Remain where you are, and retreat no further." I
immediately wired back: 'It is madness to attempt to hold. In the first
place the troops cannot do it and in the second place if they do not
retreat they will be destroyed. I repeat that this order be rescinded or
that you find someone else." That same night the Führer's reply arrived:
I am acceding to your request. Please give up your command."
"I then," said Rundstedt , "went home."
This mania for ordering distant troops to stand fast no matter what
their peril perhaps saved the German Army from complete collapse in the
shattering months ahead, though many generals dispute this, but it was
to lead to Stalingrad and other disasters and help to seal Hitler's fate.
Heavy snows and subzero temperatures came early that winter in Russia.
Guderian noted the first snow on the night of October 6-7, just as the
drive on Moscow was being resumed. It reminded him to ask headquarters
again for winter clothing, especially for heavy boots and heavy woollen
socks. On October 12 he recorded the snow still falling. On November 3
came the first cold wave, the thermometer dropping below the freezing
point and continuing to fall . By the seventh Guderian was reporting the
first "severe cases of frostbite" in his ranks and on the thirteenth
that the temperature had fallen to 8 degrees below zero, Fahrenheit, and
that the lack of winter clothing "was becoming increasingly felt." The
bitter cold affected guns and machines as well as men.

Ice was causing a lot of trouble (Guderian wrote) since the calks for
the tank tracks had no yet arrived. The cold made the telescopic sights
useless. In order to start the engines of the tanks fires had to be lit
beneath them. Fuel was freezing on occasions and the oil became
viscous... Each regiment (of the 112th Infantry Division) had already
lost some 500 men from frostbite. As a result of the cold the machine
guns were no longer able to fire and our 37-mm antitank guns had prove
ineffective against the ( Russian) T-34 tank. "The result," says
Guderian, "was a panic which reached as far back as Bogorodsk. This is
the first time that such a thing had occurred during the Russian
campaign, and it was a warning that the combat ability of our infantry
was at an end." But not only of the infantry. On November 21 Halder
scribbled in his diary that Guderian had telephoned to say that his
panzer troops "had reached their end." This tough aggressive tank
commander admits that on this very day he decided to visit the commander
of Army Group Centre, Bock, and request that the orders he had received
be changed , since he "could see no way of carrying them out." He was in
a deep mood of depression, writing on the same day:
"The icy cold, the lack of shelter, the shortage of clothing, the heavy
losses of men and equipment, the wretched state of our fuel supplies,
all this makes the duties of a commander a misery, and the longer it
goes on the more I am crushed by the enormous responsibility I have to
In retrospect Guderian added: "only he saw the endless expanse of
Russian snow during this winter of our misery and felt the icy wind that
blew across it, burying in snow every object in its path, who drove for
hour after hour through that no-man's land and who saw by contrast the
well-fed, warmly clad Siberians, fully equipped for winter fighting...
can truly judge the events which now occurred."

Wehrmacht soldiers pulling a car from the mud during the rasputitsa period, 
November 1941'
Terrible as the Russian winter was and granted that the Soviet troops
were naturally better papered for tit than the German, the main fighting
of the Red Army troops and their indomitable will not to give up. The
diary of Halder and the reports of the field commanders, which
constantly express amazement at the extent and severity of Russian
attacks and counter-attacks and despair at the German setbacks and
losses, are proof of that. The German generals could not understand why
the Russians, considering the nature of their tyrannical regime and the
disastrous effects of the first German blows, did no collapse, as had he
French and so many others with less excuse. "With amazement and
disappointment," Blumentritt wrote, "we discovered in late October early
November that the beaten Russians seemed quite unaware that as a
military force they had almost ceased to exist."
Yet, as November approached its end amidst fresh blizzards and continued
sub-zero temperatures, Moscow seemed within the grasp to Hitler and most
of hi generals. North, south and west of the capital German armies had
reached points within twenty to thirty miles of heir goal. To Hitler
poring over the map at his headquarters off in East Prussia the last
stretch seemed o distance at all. His armies had advanced five hundred
miles, they had only twenty to thirty miles to go. "one final heave," he
told Jodl in mid-November, " and we will triumph." On the telephone to
Halder on November 22, Field Marshall von Bock, directing Army Group
Centre in its final push for Moscow, compared the situation to the
battle of the Marne, "where the last battalion thrown in decided the
battle." Despite increased enemy resistance Bock told the General Staff
Chief he believed "everything was attainable." By the last day of
November he was literally throwing in his last battalion. The final
all-out attack on the heart of the Soviet Union was set for the next
day, December 1, 1941.
Winter in Russia, 1941'
It stumbled on the steely resistance. The greatest tank force
concentrated on one front: General Höpner's Fourth Tank Group and
General Herman Hoth's Third Tank Group north of Moscow and driving
south, Guderian's Second Panzer Army just south of the capital and
pushing north from Tula, Kluge's great Fourth Army in the middle and
fighting its way due east through the forests that surrounded the city,
on this formidable array were pinned Hitler's high hopes. By December 2
a reconnaissance battalion of the 258th Infantry Division had penetrated
to Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, within sight of the spires of the
Kremlin, but was driven out the next morning by a few Russian tanks and
a motley force of hastily mobilized workers from the city factories.
This was the nearest the German troops ever got to Moscow, it was their
first and last glimpse of the Kremlin.
Already on the evening of December 1, Bock, who was now suffering severe
stomach cramps, had telephoned Halder to say that he could no longer
"operate" with weakened troops. The General Staff Chief had tried to
cheer him on. "one must try," he said, "to bring the enemy down by a
last expenditure of force. If that proves impossible then we will have
to draw new conclusions." The next day Halder jotted in his diary:"enemy
resistance has reached its peak." On the following day, December 3. Bock
was again on the phone to the Chief of General Staff, who noted his
message in his diary:
'Spearheads of the Fourth Army again pulled back because the flanks
could not come forward...The moment must be faced when the strength of
our troops is at an end."
When Bock spoke for the first time of going over to the defensive Halder
tried to remind him that "the best defence was to stick to the attack."
It was easier said than done, in view of the Russians and the weather.
The next day, December 4, Guderian, who's Second Panzer Army had been
halted in its attempt to take Moscow from the south, reported the
thermometer had fallen to 31 degrees below zero.The next day it dropped
another five degrees. His tanks, he said, were "almost immobilized" and
he was threatened on his flanks and in the rear north of Tula. December
5 was a critical day. Everywhere along the 200-mile semi-circular front
around Moscow the Germans had been stopped. By the evening Guderian was
notifying Bock that he was not only stopped but must pull back, and Bock
was telephoning Halder that "his strength was at an end,"he was quitting
as Commander of the Army. It was a dark and bitter day for the German
Soviet troops fighting near Moscow, Russia, 21 Sept 1941'
'This was the first time (Guderian later wrote) that I had to take a
decision of this sort, and none was more difficult... Our attack on
Moscow had broken down. All sacrifices and endurance of our troops had
been in vain. We had a grievous defeat.'
At KLuge's Fourth Army headquarters, Blumentritt, the chief of staff
realized that the turning point had been reached. Recalling it later, he
wrote:"Our hopes of knocking Russia out of the war in 1941 had been
dashed at the very last minute." The next day, December 6, General
Georgi Zhukov, who had replaced marshal Timoshenko as commander of the
central front but six weeks before, struck. On the 200-mile front before
Moscow he unleashed seven armies and two cavalry corps, 100 division in
all, consisting of troops that were either fresh or battle-tried and
were equipped and trained to fight in bitter cold and deep snow. The
blow which this relatively unknown general now delivered with such
formidable force of infantry, artillery, tanks, cavalry and planes,
which Hitler had not faintly suspected existed, was so sudden and so
shattering that the German Army and the Third Reich never fully
recovered from it. For a few weeks during the rest of that cold and
bitter December and on into January it seemed that the beaten and
retreating German armies, their front continually pierced by Soviet
breakthroughs, might disintegrate and perish in the Russian snows, as
had Napoleon's Grand Army just 130 years before. At several crucial
moments it came very close to that. Perhaps it was Hitler's granite will
and determination and certainly it was the fortitude of the German
soldier that saved the armies of the Third Reich from complete debacle.
But the failure was great. The Red Army had been crippled but not
destroyed. Moscow had not been taken, nor Leningrad nor Stalingrad nor
the oil fields of the Caucasus, and the lifelines to Britain and
America, to the north and to the south, remained open. For the first
time in more than two years of unbroken military victories the armies of
Hitler were retreating before a superior force. That was not all. The
failure was greater than that. Halder realized this, at least later.
"The myth of the invincibility of the German Army,"he wrote, "was
broken." There would be more German victories in Russia when another
summer came around, but they would never restore the myth. December 6,
1941, then, is another turning point in the short history of the Third
Reich and one of the most fateful ones. Hitler's power had reached its
zenith, from now on it was to decline, sapped by the growing
counter-blows of the nation against which he had chosen to make
aggressive war.

Marshal Georgy Zhukov, along with Colonel-General Nikolay Voronov and 
Marshall Kliment Voroshilov, inspecting a captured Tiger I heavy tank'
A drastic shake-up in the German High Command and among the field
commanders now took place. As the armies fell back over the icy roads
and snowy fields before the Soviet Union counter-offensive, the heads of
the German generals began to roll. Rundstedt, as we have already seen,
was relieved of his command of the southern armies because he had been
forced to retreat from Rostov. Field Marshall von Bock's stomach pains
became worse with the setbacks in December and he was replaced on
December 18 by Field Marshal von Kluge, whose battered Fourth Army was
being pushed back, forever, from the vicinity of Moscow. Even the
dashing General Guderian, the originator of massive armoured warfare
which had so revolutionized modern battle, was cashiered, on Christmas
Day, for ordering retreat without permission from above. General Höpner,
an equally brilliant tank commander, whose Fourth Armoured Group had
come within sight of Moscow on the north and then been pushed back, was
abruptly dismissed by Hitler on the same grounds, stripped of his rank
and forbidden to wear a uniform. General Hans Count von Sponeck, who had
received the Ritterkreuz for leading the airborne landings at The Hague
the year before, received a severer chastisement for pulling back one
division of his corps in the Crimea on December 29 after Russian troops
had landed by sea behind him. He was not only summarily stripped of his
rank but imprisoned, court-martialed and, at the insistence of Hitler,
sentenced to death.[He was not executed until after the July 1944 plot
against Hitler, in which he was in no way involved, sic]
Even the obsequious Keitel was in trouble with the Supreme Commander.
Even he had enough sense to see during the first days of December that a
general withdrawal around Moscow was necessary in order to avert
disaster. But when he got up enough courage to say so to Hitler the
latter turned on him and gave him a tongue-lashing, shouting that he was
a "blockhead." Jodl found the unhappy OKW Chief a little later sitting
at a desk writing out his resignation, a revolver at one side. Jodl
quietly removed the weapon and persuaded Keitel, apparently without to
much difficulty, to stay on and to continue, to swallow the führer's
insults, which he did, with amazing endurance, to the very end.

Hans Count von Sponeck, leaving a briefing .[On 20 July 1944, Sponeck 
heard on his radio of the bomb attempt on Hitler's life. Heinrich 
Himmler was given the position of Reichs Security Official and Sponeck 
was one of the first on his list as a suspected anti-Nazi. Himmler gave 
the order for Hans Graf von Sponeck to be executed by firing squad. This 
was carried out at 7:13 am on 23 July 1944 in Germersheim, Germany. 
Sponeck was allowed Holy Communion before his execution. In a letter to 
his wife he wrote "I die with firm faith in my Redeemer". Pleading the 
innocence of his actions in the Kerch peninsula, he went to the firing 
squad boldly, as witnessed by the priest present, and requested not to 
be bound or to be blindfolded. Facing the firing squad his last words 
were "For forty years I have served Germany, which I have loved with my 
entire heart, as a soldier and an officer. If I must let myself die 
today, I die in the hope of a better Germany!" Sponeck was buried in 
Germersheim and while no citations or speeches were permitted at his 
grave, they did allow the Lord's Prayer to be said. After the war, 
Sponeck's mortal remains were exhumed and his last resting place was the 
Soldiers' Cemetery at Dahn in the Palatinate forest. On 23 July 1999, 
the 55th anniversary of the execution, Sponeck's son by his second 
marriage, Hans-Christof Graf Sponeck, who was just six years old when 
his father was executed, held a requiem at his father's grave. 
Hans-Christof Graf Sponeck served as Assistant Secretary General and 
Diplomat, United Nations, until his retirement a short time ago.sic]
The strain of leading an army which could not always win under a Supreme
Commander who insisted that it always do had brought about renewed heart
attacks for Fieldmarshal von Brauchitsch, and by the time Zhukov's
counter-offensive began he was determined to step down as Commander in
Chief. He returned to headquarters from a trip to the receding front on
December 15 and Halder found him "very beaten down". Brauchitsch no
longer sees any way out," Halder noted in his diary, " for the rescue of
the Army from its desperate position." The head of he Army was at the
end of his rope. He had asked Hitler on December 7 to relieve him and he
renewed the request on December 17. It was formally granted two days
later. What the Führer really thought of the man he himself had named to
head the Army he told to Goebels three months later: 'The Führer spoke
of him (Brauchitsch) only in contempt. (Goebels wrote in his diary on
March 20, 1942). a vain, cowardly wretch... and a nincompoop.
To his cronies Hitler said of Brauchitsch, "He's no soldier, he is a man
of straw. If Brauchitsch had remained at his post only for another few
weeks, things would have ended in catastrophe. There was some
speculation in the Army circles as to who would succeed Brauchitsch, but
it was wide of the mark as the speculation years before as to who would
succeed Hindenburg. On December 19 Hitler called Halder and informed him
that he himself was taking over as Commander in Chief of the Army.
Halder could stay on as Chief of the General Staff if he wanted to, and
he wanted to. But from now on, Hitler made it clear, he was personally
running the Army, as he ran almost everything else in Germany.

Walther von Brauchitsch' Heinrich Alfred Hermann Walther von 
Brauchitsch was a German field marshal and the Oberbefehlshaber des 
Heeres (Commander of the Heer (Army)) in the early years of World War 
II. When Germany turned east and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, the 
Army's failure to take Moscow earned Hitler's enmity. Things went 
further downhill for Brauchitsch as he endured a serious heart attack, 
and Hitler relieved him on 10 December. He was transferred to the 
Officers Reserve (Führerreserve) where he remained without assignment 
until the end of the war. Brauchitsch spent the last three war years in 
the Tři Trubky hunting lodge in the Brdy mountains southwest of Prague. 
One of the few public comments he made after his retirement was a 
statement condemning the attempt on Hitler's life.
After the war, Brauchitsch was arrested and charged with war crimes, but 
died in Hamburg in 1948 before he could be prosecuted.
Hitler's triumph over the Prussian officer corps was thus completed. The
former Vienna vagabond and ex-corporal was now head of state, Minister
of war, supreme Commander of the Armed forces and Commander in Chief of
the Army. The generals, as Halder complained, in his diary, were now
merely postmen purveying Hitler's orders based on Hitler's singular
conception of strategy. Actually the megalomaniac dictator soon would
make himself something even greater, legalizing a power never before
held by any man, emperor, king or president, in the experience of the
German Reich. On April 26, 1942, he had his rubber-stamp Reichstag pass
a law which gave him absolute power of life and death over every German
and simply suspended any laws which might stand in the way of this. The
words of the law have to be read to be believed:
... In the present war, in which the German people are faced with a
struggle for their existence or their annihilation, the Führer must have
all he rights postulated by him which serve to further or achieve
victory. Therefore, without being bound by existing legal regulations,
in his capacity as Leader of the Nation, Supreme Commander of the Armed
Forces , Head of Government and supreme executive chief, as Supreme
Justice and Leader of the Party, the Führer must be in a position to
force with all means at his disposal every German, if necessary, whether
he is a conman soldier or officer, low or high official or judge,
leading or subordinate official of the party, worker or employer, to
fulfil his duties. In case of violation of these duties , the Führer is
entitled after conscientious examination, regardless of so-called
well-deserved rights, to mete out due punishment and to remove the
offender from hid post, rank and position without introducing prescribed
Truly Adolf Hitler had become not only the Leader of Germany but the
Law. Not even in medieval times nor further back in barbarous tribal
days had any German arrogated such tyrannical power, nominal and legal
as well as actual, to himself. But even without this added authority,
Hitler was absolute master of the Army, of which he had now assumed
direct command.. Ruthlessly he moved that bitter winter to stem the
retreat of his beaten armies and to save them from the fate of
Napoleon's troops along the same frozen snow-bound roads back from
Moscow. He forbade any further withdrawals. The German generals have
long debated the merits of his stubborn stand, whether it saved the
troops from complete disaster or whether it compounded the inevitable
heavy losses. Most of the commanders have contended that if they had
been given freedom to pull back when their position became untenable
they could have saved many men and much equipment and been in a better
position to re-form and even counter-attack. As it was, whole divisions
were frequently overrun or surrounded and cut to pieces when a timely
withdrawal would have saved them. And yet some of the generals later
reluctantly admitted that Hitler's iron will in insisting that the
armies stand and fight was his greatest accomplishment of the war in
that it probably did save his armies from completely disintegrating in
the snow. This view is best summed up by General Blumentritt:
' Hitler's fanatical order that the troops must hold fast regardless in
every position and in the most impossible circumstances was undoubtedly
correct. Hitler realized instinctively that any retreat across the snow
and icemust, within few days, lead to the dissolution of the front and
that if this happened the Wehrmacht would suffer the same fate that had
befallen the Grande Armee... The withdrawal could only be carried out
across the open country since roads and tracks were blocked with snow.
After a few nights this would prove too much for the troops, who would
simply lie down and die wherever they found themselves. There were no
prepared positions in the rear into which they could be withdrawn, nor
any sort of line to which they could hold on.'
General von Tippelskirch, a corps commander agreed: 'It was Hitler's one
great achievement. At that critical moment the troops were remembering
what they had heard about Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, and living
under the shadow of it. If they had once begun a retreat, it might have
turned into a panic flight'. [During my own short period from the Rhein
to the border of Czechoslovakia, the whispered comment each morning or
night was: "Vorwärts Kameraden, es geht zurück!' (Forward comrades, it
goes back) sic]
There was panic in the German Army, not only at the front but far in he
rear at headquarters, and it is graphically recorded in Halder's diary.
"Very difficult day!" he begins his journal on Christmas Day 1941, and
thereafter into the new year he repeats the words at the head of many a
day's entry as he describes each fresh Russian breakthrough and the
serious situation of the various armies.
'January 3.:" The situation has become more critical as the result of
the breakthrough between Maloyarsolavets and Borovsk. Kübler and Bock
very exited and demand withdrawal on the north front, which is
crumbling. Again a dramatic scene by the Führer, who doubts the courage
of generals to make hard decisions. But troops simply don't hold their
ground when it's 30 below zero. Führer orders: He will personally decide
if any more withdrawals necessary..."

Soviet troops fighting in snowy terrain near Moscow, Russia, late 1941'

Not the Führer but the Russian Army was by now deciding such matters.
Hitler could force the German troops to stand fast and die, but he could
no more stop the Soviet advance than King Canute could prevent the tides
from coming in. At one moment of panic some of the High Command officers
suggested that perhaps the situation could be retrieved by the
employment of gas. "Colonel Ochsner tries to to talk me into beginning
gas warfare against the Russians," Halder noted in his diary on January
7. Perhaps it was too cold. At any rate nothing came of the suggestion.
January 8 was "very critical day noted Halder in his journal. The
breakthrough at Sukhinichi (south-west of Moscow) is becoming unbearable
for KLuge. He is consequently insisting on withdrawing the 4th Army
front." all day long the Field Marshall was on the phone to Hitler and
Halder insisting on it. Finally, in the evining the Führer reluctantly
consented. Kluge was given permission to withdraw, "step by step in
order to protect his communications," Step by step and sometimes more
rapidly throughout that grim winter the German armies, which had planned
to celebrate Christmas in Moscow, were driven back or forced by Russian
encirclements and breakthroughs to retreat. By the end of February they
found themselves from 75 to 200 miles from the Russian capital. By the
end of that freezing month Halder was noting in his diary the cost in
men of the misfired Russian adventure. Total losses up to February 28,
he wrote down were 1,005,636, or 31 per cent of his entire force. Of
these 202,251 had been killed, 725,642 wounded and 46,511 were missing.
Casualties from frostbites were 112,627. This did not include the heavy
losses among Hungarians, Romanians and Italians in Russia.

German soldiers treating a wounded comrade, near Moscow, Russia, Nov-Dec 1941
With the coming of the spring thaws a lull came over the long front and
Hitler and Halder began making plans for bringing up fresh troops and
more tanks and guns to resume the offensive, at least on part of the
front. Never again would they have the strength to attack all along the
vast battle line. The bitter winter toll and above all Zhukov's
counter-offensive doomed that hope. But Hitler we now know, had realized
before, that his gamble of conquering Russia, not only in six months but
ever, had failed. In a diary entry of November 19, 1941, General Halder
notes a long "lecture" of the Führer to several officers of the High
Command. Though his armies are only few miles from Moscow and still
driving hard to capture it, Hitler has abandoned hopes of striking
Russia down this year and has already turned his thoughts to next year.
Halder jotted down the Leader's ideas.
'Goals for next year. First of all the Caucasus. Objective: Russia's
southern borders. Time: March to April. In the north after the close of
this year's campaign, Vologda or Gorki, but only at the end of May.
Further goals for next year must remain open. They will depend on the
capacity of our rail-roads. The question of later building an "East
Wall" also remains open.'
No East Wall would be necessary if the Soviet Union were to be
destroyed. Halder seems to have mulled over that as he listened to the
Supreme Commander go on. 'On the whole (he concluded) one gets the
impression that Hitler recognizes now that neither side can destroy the
other and this will lead to peace negotiations.
'The winter of 1939-1940 in Finland was exceptionally cold. In January, 
temperatures dropped below -40° in some places. Frostbite was a constant 
threat, and the corpses of soldiers killed in battle froze solid, often 
in eerie poses. This January 31, 1940 photo shows a frozen dead Russian 
soldier, his face, hands and clothing covered with a dusting of snow. 
After 105 days, the Finns and Russians signed a peace treaty, allowing 
Finland to retain sovereignty, while it ceded 11 percent of its 
territory to the Soviets.'
This must have been a rude awakening for the Nazi conqueror who six
weeks before in Berlin had made a broadcast declaring "without any
reservation" that Russia had been "struck down and would never rise
again." His plans had been wrecked, his hopes doomed. They were to be
beaten back from the suburbs of Moscow. The next day, Sunday, December
7, 1941, an event occurred on the other side of the round earth that
transformed the European war, which he had si lightly provoked, into a
world war, which, though he could not know it, would seal his fate and
that of the Third Reich. Japanese bombers attacked Pearl Harbour. The
next day Hitler hurried back by train to Berlin from his headquarters at
Wolfsschanze, He had made a solemn secret promise to Japan and the time
had come to keep it, or break it.
View YouTube:
Continued under Part 3

Tuesday, May 21, 2013



There is a curios notation in Halder's diary for the first day of the attack on Russia. After mentioning that at noon the Russian radio stations, which the the Germans were monitoring, had come back on the air, he writes: "They have asked Japan to mediate the political and economic differences between Russia and Germany, and remain in serious contact with the German Foreign Office". Did Stalin believe, nine hours after the attack, that he somehow might it called off?.
By the beginning of autumn 1941,  Hitler believed that Russia was finished. Within three weeks of the opening of the campaign, Field Marshal von Bock's Army Group Centre, with thirty infantry divisions and fifteen panzer or motorized divisions, had pushed 450 miles from Bialistock to Smolensk. Moscow lay about 200 miles further east along the high road which Napoleon had taken 1812. To the north Field Marshal von Lebb's army group, twenty-one infantry and six armoured division strong, was moving rapidly up through the Baltic States toward Leningrad. To the south Field Marshal von Rundstedt's army group of twenty-five infantry, four motorised, four mountain and five panzer divisions was advancing toward the Dnieper River and Kiew, the capital of the fertile Ukraine, which Hitler coveted.
So planmäßig (according to plan), as the OKW puts it, was the German progress along a thousand mile front from the Baltic to the Black Sea, and so confident was the Nazi dictator that it would continue at an accelerated pace as one Soviet army after another was surrounded or dispersed, that on July 14, a bare three weeks after the invasion had begun, he issued a directive advising that the strength of the Army could be 'considerably reduced in the near future' and that armament production would be concentrated on naval ships and Luftwaffe planes, especially the latter, for the conduct of the war against the last remaining enemy, Britain, and, he added, 'against America should the case  arise'. BY the end of September he instructed the high Command to prepare to disband forty divisions so that this additional manpower could be utilized by industry.
 Ruins of Minsk - July 1941 'The Soviet troops trapped in the gigantic pockets continued fighting, and concluding operations resulted in high German casualties. Many Soviet troops escaped due to the lack of German infantry troops' motor transport that slowed the encirclement process.The Polish institute of National remembrance claims that withdrawing Soviet troops committed regular crimes against the inhabitants of Białystok and its areas, including cases of whole families being executed by firing squads.On conclusion, 290,000 Soviet soldiers were captured, and 1,500 guns along with 2,500 tanks were destroyed, but 250,000 Soviet troops managed to escape (most of the prisoners would be dead within a few months because of inhumane conditions at the POW enclosures).
The quick advance East created the possibility for the Wehrmacht to advance rapidly towards the land bridge of Smolensk, from which an attack on Moscow could be planned. It also created the impression in the OKW that the war against the Soviet Union was already won, within days of its start.

Russia's two greatest cities, Leningrad, which Peter the Great had built as the capital on the Baltic and Moscow, the ancient and now Bolshevik capital, seemed to Hitler about to fall. On September 18 he issued strict orders: 'A capitulation of Leningrad or Moscow is not to be accepted, even when offered'. What was to happen to them he made clear to his commanders in a directive of September 29:
"the Führer has decided to have St. Petersburg (Leningrad) wiped off the face of the earth. The further existence of this large city is of no interest once Soviet Russia is overthrown...The intention is to close in on the city and raze it to the ground by artillery and continuous attack...Requests that the city be taken over will be turned down, for the problem of the survival of the population and of supplying it with food is one which cannot and should not be solved by us. In this war for existence we have no interest in keeping even part of this great city population. [A few weeks later Göring told Ciano. 'This year between twenty and thirty million persons will die of hunger in Russia. But even if it were not, nothing can be done, certain nations must be decimated.  It is obvious that humanity is condemned to die of hunger, the last to die will be our two peoples...In the camps for Russian prisoners they have begun to eat each other".(Ciano's Diplomatic Papers pp 464-65), sic]
This photo, taken in the winter months of 1942, shows citizens of Leningrad as they dip for water from a broken main, during the nearly 900-day siege of the Russian city by German invaders. Unable to capture the Leningrad (today known as Saint Petersburg), the Germans cut it off from the world, disrupting utilities and shelling the city heavily for more than two years.
That same week, on October 3, Hitler returned to Berlin and in an address to the German people proclaimed the collapse of the Soviet Union. 'I declare today, and I declare it without any reservation'. he said, ' that the enemy in the East has been struck down and will never rise again...Behind our troops there already lies a territory twice the size of the German Reich when I came to power in 1933'. When on October 8, Orel, a key city south of Moscow fell, Hitler sent his press chief, Otto Dietrich, flying back to Berlin, to tell the correspondents of the world's leading newspapers there the next day that the last intact Soviet armies, those of Marshal Timoshenko, defending Moscow, were locked in two steel German pockets before the capital, that the southern army of Marshal Budenmy were routed and dispersed, and that sixty to seventy divisions of Marshal Voroshilov's army were surrounded in Leningrad.  For all military purposes', Dietrich concluded smugly, 'Soviet Russia is done with. The British dream of a two-front war was dead'. These public boasts of Hitler and Dietrich were, to say the least, premature. In reality the Russians, despite the surprise with which they were taken on June 22, their subsequent heavy losses in men and equipment, their rapid withdrawal and the entrapment of some of their best armies, had begun in July to put up a mounting resistance such as the Wehrmacht had never encountered before. Halder' diary and the reports of such front line commanders as General Guderian, who led a large panzer group on he central front, began to be peppered, and then laden, with accounts of server fighting, desperate Russian stands and counter-attacks and heavy casualties to German as well as Soviet troops.
December 1941. Soviet troops in winter gear, supported by tanks, counter-attack German forces.
'The conduct of the Russian troops', General Blumentritt wrote later, 'even in the first battle (for MInsk) was in striking contrast to the behaviour of the Poles and the Western Allies in defeat. Even when encircled the Russians stood their ground and fought'. And there proved to be more of them, and with better equipment, than Adolf Hitler had dreamed was possible. Fresh Soviet divisions which the German intelligence had no inkling of were continually being thrown into battle.  'It's becoming ever clearer', Halder wrote in his diary on August 11, that we underestimated the strength of the Russian colossus not only in the economic and transportation sphere but above all in the military. At the beginning we reckoned with some 200 enemy divisions and we have already identified 360. When a dozen of them are destroyed the Russians throw in another dozen. On this broad expanse our front is too thin. It has no depth. As a result , the repeated enemy attacks often met with some success'. Rundstedt put it bluntly to Allied interrogators after the war. 'I realized', he said, 'soon after the attack began that everything that had been written about Russia was nonsense'.
Seveal generals, Guderian, Blumentritt and Sepp Dietrich among them, have left reports expressing astonishment at their first encounter with the Russian T-34 tank, of which they had not previously heard and which was so heavily armoured that the shells from German anti-tank guns bounced harmlessly off it. The appearance of this panzer, Blumentritt said later, marked the beginning of what came to be called the 'tank terror'. Also for the first time in the war, the Germans did not have the benefit of overwhelming superiority in he air to protect their ground troops and scout ahead. Despite the heavy losses on the ground in the first day of the campaign and in early combat, Soviet fighter planes kept appearing, like he fresh divisions, out of nowhere. Moreover, the swiftness of the German advance and the lack of suitable airfields in Russia left the German fighter base too far back to provide effective cover at the front. "At several stages in the advance", General von Kleist later reported, "my panzer forces were handicapped through lack of cover overhead". There was another German miscalculation about the Russians which Kleist mentioned to Liddell Hart which, of course, was shared by most of the other peoples of the West that summer: "Hopes of victory", Kleist said, "were largely built on the prospect that the invasion would produce a political upheaval in Russia... Too high hopes were built on the belief that Stalin would be overthrown by his own people if he suffered heavy defeats. The belief was fostered by the Führer's political advisers.
Indeed Hitler told Jodl. "We have only to kick in  the door and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down".
T-34 Russian Tank'. The USSR was able to produce T-34s in a seemingly endless stream. Between 1940 and 1945 some 40,000 T-34 tanks were manufactured.
The opportunity to kick in the door seemed to the Führer to be at hand halfway through July when there occurred the first great controversy over strategy in the German High Command and led to a decision by the Führer, over the protests of most of the top generals, which Halder thought proved to be " the greatest strategic blunder of the Eastern campaign". The issue was simple but fundamental. Should Beck's Army Group Center, the most powerful and so far the most successful of the three main German Armies, push on the two hundred miles to Moscow from Smolensk, which it ha reached on July 16? Or should the original plan, which Hitler laid down in December 18 directive, and which called for the main thrust on the north and south flanks, be adhered to? In other words, was Moscow the prize goal, or Leningrad and the Ukraine? The Army High Command, led by Brauchitsch and Halder and supported by Bock, whose central Army group was moving up the main highway to Moscow, and by Guderian, whose panzer forces were leading it, insisted on an all-out drive for the Soviet capital. There was much more to their argument that merely stressing the psychological value of capturing the enemy capital. Moscow they pointed out to Hitler, was a vital source of armament production and communication system. Take it, and the Soviets would not only be deprived of an essential source of arms but would be unable to move troops and supplies to the distant fronts, which thereafter would weaken, wither and collapse.
But there was a final conclusive argument which the Generals advanced to the former corporal who was now their Supreme Commander. All their intelligence reports showed that the main Russian forces were now being concentrated before Moscow for an all-out defence of the capital. Just east of Smolensk a Soviet army of half a million men, which had extricated itself from Bock's double envelopment, was digging in to bar further German progress toward the capital.
German sources described the gloomy looking officer at the right as a captured Russian colonel who is being interrogated by Nazi officers on October 24, 1941'
The centre of gravity of Russian strength (Halder wrote in a report prepared for the Allies immediately after the war) was therefore in front of Army Group Centre... The General Staff had been brought up with the idea that it must be the aim of an operation to defeat the military power of the enemy, and it therefore considered the next and most pressing task to be to defeat the forces of Timoshenko by concentrating all available forces at Army Group Centre, to advance on Moscow, to take this nerve centre of enemy resistance and to destroy the new enemy formations. The assembly for this attack had to be carried out as soon as possible because the season was advanced. Army Group North was in the meantime to fulfil its original mission and try to contact the Finns. Army Group South was to advance farther East to tie down the strongest possible enemy force.... After oral  discussion the General Staff of the Supreme Command (OKW) had failed, the Commander in Chief of the Army (Brauchitsch) submitted a memorandum of the General Staff to Hitler. This was done on August 18. "The effect", says Halder. "was explosive". Hitler had is hungry eyes on the food belt and industrial areas of the Ukraine and on the Russian oil fields just beyond the Caucasus. Besides he thought he saw the golden opportunity to entrap Budenmy's armies east of the Dnieper beyond Kiew, which still held out. He also wanted to capture Leningrad and join up with the Finns in the north. To accomplish these twin aims, several infantry, and several infantry and panzer divisions from Army Group Centre would have to be detached and seer north and especially south. Moscow could wait. On August 21, Hitler hurled a new directive at his rebellious General Staff. Halder copied it out word for word in his diary the next day.
'The proposals of the Army for the continuation of the operation in the East do not accord with my intentions. The most important objective to attain before the onset of winter is not the capture of Moscow but taking the Crimea, the industrial and coal-mining areas of the Donets basin and cutting off of Russian oil supplies from the Caucasus. In he north it is the locking up of Leningrad and the union with the Finns'.
Adolf Hitler, centre, studies a Russian war map with General Field Marshal Walter Von Brauchitsch, left, German commander in chief, and Chief of Staff Col. General Franz Halder, on August 7, 1941'
The Soviet Fifth Army on the Dnieper in the south, whose stubborn resistance had annoyed Hitler for several days, must, he laid down, be utterly destroyed, the Ukraine and Crimea occupied, Leningrad surrounded and a junction with the Finns achieved. "only then", he concluded, "will the conditions created whereby Timoshenko's Army can be attacked and successfully defeated". Thus (commented Halder bitterly) the aim of defeating decisively the Russian armies in front of Moscow was subordinated to the desire to obtain a valuable industrial area and to advance in the direction of Russian oil... Hitler now became obsessed with the idea of capturing both Leningrad and Stalingrad, for he persuaded himself that these two 'holy cities of Communism' were to fall, Russia would collapse. To add insult to injury to the field marshals and the generals who did not appreciate his strategic genius, Hitler sent what Halder called a "counter-memorandum" (To that of the Army of the eighteenth), which the General Staff Chief as "full of insults', such as stating that the Army High Command was full of "minds fossilized in out-of-date theories".
"Unbearable! Unheard of! The limit!' Halder snorted in his diary the next day. He conferred all afternoon ans evining with Field Marshall von Brauchitsch about the Führer's "inadmissible" mixing into the business of the Army High Command and General Staff, finally proposing that the head of the Army and he himself resign their posts.  "Brauchitsch refused", Halder noted, "because it wouldn't be practical and change nothing". The gutless Field Marshall had already, as  on so many other occasions, capitulated to the one-time corporal. When General Guderian arrived at the Führer's headquarters the next day, August 23, and was egged on by Halder to try to talk Hitler out of this disastrous decision, though the hard bitten panzer leader needed no urging, he was met by Brauchitsch. "I forbid you", the Army Commander in Chief said, "to mention the question of Moscow to the Führer. The operation south has been ordered. The problem now simply how it is carried out. Discussion is pointless".
Hitler let me speak to the end (Guderian later wrote). He then described in detail the considerations which had led him to make a different decision. He said that the raw materials and agriculture of the Ukraine were vitally necessary for the future prosecution of the war. He spoke of the need of neutralizing the Crimea, "the Soviet aircraft carrier for attacking the Rumanian oil fields". For the first time I heard him use the phrase: "My generals know nothing about the economic aspects of war"...He had given strict orders that the attack on Kiew was to be the immediate strategic objective and all actions were to be carried out with that in mind. I here saw for the first time a spectacle with which I was later to become very familiar: all those present, Keitel, Jodl and others, nodded in agreement with every sentence that Hitler uttered, while I was left alone with my point of view....
With a burning bridge across the Dnieper river in the background, a German sentry keeps watch in the recently-captured city of Kiev, in 1941
But Halder at no point in the previous discussions nodded his agreement. When Guderian saw him the next day and reported his failure to get Hitler to change hiss mind, he says the General Staff Chief "to my amazement suffered a complete nervous collapse, which led him to make accusations and imputations which wee utterly unjustified". [Halder, in his diary of August 24, gives quite a different version. He accuses Guderian of "irresponsibly" changing his mind after seeing Hitler and muses how useless it is to try to change a man's character. If he suffered, as Guderian alleged, " a complete nervous breakdown,' his pedantic notes indicate that he quickly recovered.sic]

German mechanized troops rest at Stariza, Russia on November 21, 1941, only just evacuated by the Russians, before continuing the fight for Kiev. The gutted buildings in the background testify to the thoroughness of the Russians "scorched earth" policy.
This was the most severe crisis in the German Military Command since the beginning of the war. Worse were to follow, with adversity. In itself Rundstedt's offensive in the south, made possible by the reinforcement of Guderian's panzer forces and infantry divisions withdrawn from the central front, was, as Guderian put it, a great tactical victory. Kiev itself fell on September 19, German units had already penetrated 150 miles beyond it, and on the twenty-sixth the battle of Kiev ended with the encirclement and surrender of 665,000 Russian prisoners, according to German claims. To Hitler it was "the greatest battle in the history of the world", but though it was a singular achievement some of his Generals were sceptical of its strategic significance. Bock's armour-less army group in the centre had been forced to cool its heels for two months along the Desna River just beyond Smolensk. The autumn rains, which would turn the Russian roads into quagmires, were drawing near. And after them, the winter, the cold and the snow.                                                                                                           Continued under Part 2

Tuesday, May 14, 2013



Despite all he evidence of Hitler's intentions, the build-up of German forces in eastern Poland, the presence of million of German troops in the nearby Balkans, the Wehrmacht's conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece and its occupation of Rumania, Bulgaria and Hungary, the men in the Kremlin, Stalin above all, stark realists though they were reputed to be and had been, blindly hoped that Russia somehow would still escape the Nazi tyrant's wrath. Their natural suspicions, of course, could not help but feed on the bare facts, nor could their growing resentment at Hitler's moves in south-eastern Europe be suppressed. There is, however, something unreal, almost unbelievable , quite grotesque, in the diplomatic exchanges between Moscow and Berlin in these spring weeks, in which the Germans clumsily to deceive the Kremlin to the last and the soviet leaders seemed unable to fully grasp reality and at in time.Though they several times protested to the entry of German troops into Rumania and Bulgaria and then the attack on Yugoslavia and Greece as a violation of the German-Soviet Pact and a threat to Russian "security interest", the Soviets went out of their way to appease Berlin as the date for the German attack approached. Stalin personally took the lead in this. On April 13, 1941, Ambassador von der Schulenburg telegraphed an interesting dispatch to Berlin recounting how on the departure of the Japanese Foreign Minister, Ysuke Matsuoka, that evening from Moscow,, Stalin had shown "a remarkable friendly manner" not only to the Japanese but to the Germans. At the railway station:
Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow
"Stalin publicly asked for me (Schulenburg wired)... and threw his arm around my shoulders: 'We must remain friends and you must now do everything to that end'! Somewhat later Stalin turned to the acting German Military Attaché, Colonel Krebs, first made sure that he was a German, and then said to him: 'We will remain friends with you,through thick and thin'!
Three days later the German chargé in Moscow, Tippelskirch, wired Berlin stressing that the demonstration at the station showed Stalin's friendliness toward Germany and this was especially important 'in view of the persistently circulation rumours of an imminent conflict between Germany and the Soviet Union'. The day before, Tippelskirch had informed Berlin that the Kremlin had accepted 'unconditionally', after months of wrangling, the German proposals for the settlement of the border between the two counties from the Igorka River to the Baltic Sea. 'The compliant attitude of the Soviet Government', he said, 'seems very remarkable.' In view of what was brewing in Berlin, it surely was.
In supplying blockaded Germany with important raw materials, the Soviet Government continued to be equally compliant. On April 5, 1941, Schnurre, in charge of trade negotiations with Moscow, reported jubilantly to his German masters that after the slowdown in Russian deliveries in January and February 1941, due to a 'cooling off of political relations', they had risen  'by leaps and bounds in March, especially in grains, petroleum, manganese ore and the non-ferrous and precious metals'. Transit traffic through Siberia, he added is proceeding favourable as usual. At our request the Soviet Government even put a special freight train for rubber at our disposal at the Manchurian border. Six weeks later, on May 15, Schnurre was reporting that the obliging Russians had put on special freight trains so that 4,000 tons of badly needed raw rubber could be delivered to Germany over the Siberian railway.
Map of the Trans-siberian railway (red)'
German deliveries of Machinery to Russia were falling behind, Schnurre observed, but he did not seem to mind if the Russians didn't. However, he was disturbed on May 15 by another factor. 'Great difficulties are created', he complained, 'by the countless rumours of an imminent German-Russian conflict', for which he blamed German official sources. Amazingly, the "difficulties", Schnurre explained in a lengthy memorandum to the Foreign Office, did not come from Russia but from German industrial firms, which, he said, were trying "to withdraw" from their contracts with the Russians.
Hitler, was doing his best to contradict the rumours, but at the same time he was busy trying to convince his generals and top officials that Germany was in growing danger of being attacked by Russia Though the generals, from their own military intelligence, knew better, so hypnotic was Hitler's spell over them that even after the war Halder Brauchitsch, Mannstein, and others (although not Paulus, who seems to have been more honest) contended that a Soviet military build-up on the Polish frontier had become very threatening by the beginning of the summer. Count von der Schulenburg, who had come home from Moscow on a brief leave, saw Hitler in Berlin on April 28 and tried to convince him of Russia's peaceful intentions. 'Russia", he attempted to explain, 'is very apprehensive at the rumours predicting a German attack on Russia. I cannot believe', he added, 'that Russia will ever attack Germany... If Stalin was unable to go with England and France in 1939 when both were still strong, he will certainly not make such a decision today, when France is destroyed and England badly battered. On the contrary, I am convinced that Stalin is prepared to make even further concessions to us'.
The Führer feigned scepticism. He had been 'forewarned', he said, 'by events in Serbia...What devil had possessed the Russians', he asked, 'to conclude the friendship pact with Yugoslavia?' He did not believe, it was true, he said, that 'Russia could be brought to attack Germany'. Nevertheless, he concluded, he was obliged 'to be careful'. Hitler did not tell the ambassador to the Soviet Union what plans he had in store for that country, and Schulenburg, an honest, decent German of the old school, remained ignorant of them to the last.
German Plane over Russia' (date unknown)
Stalin, too, but not of the signs, or of the warnings, of what Hitler was up to. On April 22 the Soviet Government formerly protested eighty instances of border violations by German planes which it said had taken place between March 27 and April 18, providing accounts of each. In one case, it said, in a German reconnaissance plane which landed near Rovno on April 15 there was found a camera, rolls of exposed film and a torn topographical map of western districts of the U.S.S.R., 'all of which give evidence of the purpose of the crew of this airplane'. Even in protesting the Russians were conciliatory. They had given the border troops, the note said, 'the order not to fire on German planes flying over Soviet territory so long as such flights do not occur frequently. Stalin made further conciliatory moves in May. To please Hitler he expelled the diplomatic representatives in Moscow of Belgium, Norway, Greece and even Yugoslavia and closed their legations. He recognized the pro-Nazi government  of Rashid Ali in Iraq. He kept the Soviet press under strictest restraint in order to avoid provoking Germany.
'These manifestations, Schulenburg wired to Berlin on May 12, of the intention of the Stalin Government are calculated... to relieve the tension between the Soviet Union and Germany and to create a better atmosphere for the future. We must bear in mind that Stalin personally has always advocated a friendship between Germany and the Soviet Union'.
Though Stalin had long been absolute dictator of the Soviet Union this was the first mention by Schulenburg in his dispatches of the term "Stalin Government". There was good reason. On May 6 Stalin had personally taken over as Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, or Prime Minister, replacing Molotov, who remained as Foreign Commissar. This was the first time the all-powerful secretary of the Communist Party had taken government office and the general world reaction was that it meant the situation had become so serious for the Soviet Union, especially in its relation with Germany, that only Stalin could deal with it as the nominal as well as the actual head of government.  This interpretation was obvious, but there was another which was not so clear but which the astute German ambassador in Moscow promptly pointed out to Berlin. Stalin, he reported, was displeased with the deterioration of German- Soviet relations and blamed Molotov's clumsy diplomacy for much of it.
'In my opinion, schulenburg said, it may be assumed with certainty that Stalin has set himself a foreign-policy goal of overwhelming importance...which he hopes to attain by his personal efforts. I firmly believe that in an international situation which he considers serious, Stalin has set himself the goal of preserving the Soviet Union from a conflict with Germany'.
Stalin at the Tehran Conference in 1943
Did the crafty Soviet dictator not realize by now, the middle of May 1941, that this was an impossible goal, that there was nothing, short of an an abject surrender to Hitler, that he could do to attain it? He surely knew the significance of Hitler's conquest of Yugoslavia and Greece, of the presence of large masses of German troops in Rumania and Hungary on his southwest borders, of the Wehrmacht build-up on his western frontier in Poland. The persistent runors in Moscow itself surely reached him. By the beginning of May what Schulenburg called in a dispatch on the second dau of that month 'rumours of an imminent German-Russian military show-down" were so rife in the Soviet capital that he and his officials in the German Embassy were having difficulty in combating them.
'Please bear in mind, he advised Berlin, that attempts to counteract these rumours here in Moscow must necessarily remain ineffectual if such rumours incessantly reach here from Germany, and if every traveller who comes to Moscow, or travels through Moscow, not only brings these rumours along, but can even confirm them by citing facts'.
The veteran ambassador was getting suspicious himself. He was instructed by Berlin to continue to deny the rumours, and to spread it about that not only was there no concentration of German troops on Russia's frontiers but that actually considerable forces (eight divisions, he was told for his 'personal information') were being transferred from 'east to west'. Perhaps these instructions only confirmed the ambassador's uneasiness, since by this time the press throughout the world was beginning to trumpet the German build-up along the Soviet borders. But before this, Stalin had received specific warnings of Hitler's plans, and apparently paid no attention to them. The most serious one come from the government of the United States. Early in January 1941, the U.S. commercial attaché in Berlin Sam E. Woods, had sent a confidential report to the State Department stating that he had learned from trustworthy German sources that Hitler was making plans to attack Russia in the spring. It was a long and detailed message, outlining the General Staff plan of attack (which proved to be quite accurate) and preparations being made for the economic exploitation of the Soviet Union, once it was conquered.
German infantrymen watch enemy movements from their trenches shortly before an advance inside Soviet territory, on July 10, 1941
Secretary of State Cordell Hull thought at first that Woods had been victim of a German 'plant'. He called in J. Edgar Hoover. The F.B.I. had read the report and judged it authentic. Woods had named some of his sources, both in various ministries in Berlin and in the German General Staff, and on being checked they were adjudged  in Washington to be men who ought to know what was  up and anti-Nazi enough to tattle. Despite the strained relations then existing between the American and Soviet governments Hull decided to inform the Russians, requesting Under-secretary of State Summer Welles to communicate the substance of the report to Ambassador Constantine Oumansky. This was done on March 20.
Mr. Oumansky turned very white , Welles later wrote. He was silent for a moment and then merely said: "I fully realise the gravity of the message you have given me. My government will be grateful for your confidence and I will inform it immediately of our conversation. [The American consul in Königsberg (East Prussia), Koykendall, relayed a report specifying correctly the exact day the attack would begin. sic] If it was grateful, indeed if it ever believed this timely intelligence, it never communicates any inkling to the American government. In fact, as Secretary Hull related in his memoirs, Moscow grow more hostile and truculent because America's support of Briton made it impossible to supply Russia with all the materials it demanded. Nevertheless, according to Hull, the State Department, having received dispatches from its legations in Bucharest and Stockholm the first week in June stating Germany would invade Russia within a fortnight, forwarded copies of them to Ambassador Steinhardt in Moscow, who turned them over to Molotov. Churchill too sought to warn Stalin. On April 3 he asked his ambassador in Moscow, Sir Clifford Cripps, to deliver a personal note to the dictator pointing out the significance to Russia of German troop movements in southern Poland which he had learned through a British agent.  Cripps' delay in delivering the message still vexed Churchill when he wrote about the incident later in his memoirs. Before the end of April, Cripps knew the date for the German attack, and the Germans knew he knew it. On April 24, the German naval attaché in Moscow sent a curt message to the Navy High Command in Berlin: 'The British Ambassador predicts June 22 the day of the outbreak of the war'. This message, which is among the captured German papers, was recorded in the German Naval Diary on the same day, with an exclamation point added at the end. The Admirals were surprised at the accuracy of the British Envoy's prediction. The poor naval attaché, who like the ambassador in Moscow had not been let in on the secret, added in his dispatch that it was 'manifestly absurd.' Molotov must have thought so too. A month later, on May 22, he received Schulenburg to discuss various matters. 'He wa as amiable, self assured and well informed as ever', the ambassador reported to Berlin, and again emphasized that Stalin and Molotov, 'the two strongest men in the Soviet Union', were striving above all to avoid conflict with Germany.
Hitler's detailed plan of Action "Barbarossa". Hitler signed (Anhang No. 21) War Directive No. 21 to the German High Command for an operation now codenamed "Operation Barbarossa" stating: "The German Wehrmacht must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign. The operation was named after Emperor Frederick Barbarossa of the Holy Roman Empire, a leader of the Third Crusade in the 12th century. The invasion was set for 15 May 1941. The plan for Barbarossa assumed that the Wehrmacht would emerge victorious if it could destroy the bulk of the Red Army west of the Western Dvina and Dnieper Rivers. This assumption would be proven fatally wrong less than a month into the invasion.
On one point the usually perspicacious ambassador couldn't have been more wrong. Molotov, at this juncture, was certainly not 'well informed'. But neither was the ambassador.
The extent to which the Russian Foreign Commissar was ill-informed was given public expression on June 14, 1941, just a week before the German blow fell. Molotov called Schulenburg that evining and handed him the text of a Tass statement which, he said, was being broadcast that very night and published in the newspapers the next morning. Blaming Cripps personally for the widespread rumours of 'an impending war between the U.S.S.R. and Germany' in the English press", this official statement of the Soviet government branded them as an 'obvious absurdity...a clumsy propaganda maneuver of the forces arrayed against the Soviet Union and Germany".
Even the recent German troop movements from the Balkans to the Soviet frontiers were explained in the communique as 'having no connection with Soviet-German relations'. As for the rumours saying that Russia would attack Germany, they were 'false and provocative'. The irony of the Tass communique on behalf of the Soviet government is enhanced by two German moves, one on the day of its publication, June 15, the other on the next day.
From Venice, where he was conferring with Ciano, Ribbentrop sent a secret message on June 15 to Budapest warning the Hungarian government 'to take steps to secure its frontiers'. The Germans were tipping off the Hungarians, but not their principal ally. When Ciano the next day, during a gondola ride on the canals of Venice, asked Ribbentrop about the rumours of a German attack on Russia, the German Foreign Minister replied:
'Dear Ciano, I cannot tell you anything as yet because every decision is locked in the impenetrable bosom of the Führer. However, one thing is certain: if we attack them, the Russia of Stalin will be erased from the map within eight weeks'.[This is from the last diary entry of Ciano, made on December 23, 1943, in Cell 27 of the Verona jail, a few days before he was executed. He added that the Italian government learned of the German invasion of Russia a half hour after it began. (Ciano Diaries, p 583),sic]

On the afternoon of 24 July 1943, Mussolini summoned the Fascist Grand Council to its first meeting since 1939. At that meeting, Mussolini announced that the Germans were thinking of evacuating the south. This led Count Dino Grandi to launch a blistering attack on his long-time comrade. Grandi put on the table a resolution asking the king to resume his full constitutional powers—in effect, a vote leading to Mussolini's total ousting from leadership. The motion won by an unexpectedly large margin, 19-7, with Ciano voting in favour.
Mussolini did not think the vote had any substantive value, and showed up at work the next morning like any other day. That afternoon, Victor Emmanuel III, the King, summoned him to Villa Savoia and dismissed him from office. Upon leaving the Villa, Mussolini was arrested. For the next two months he was moved from place to place to hide him and prevent his rescue by the Germans.
Ultimately Mussolini was sent to Gran Sasso, a mountain resort in central Italy (Abruzzo). He was kept there in complete isolation until rescued by the Germans. Mussolini then set up a puppet government in the area of northern Italy still under German occupation and called  it the Repubblica Sociale Italiana (R.S.I.).
Ciano, having been dismissed from his post by the new government, attempted to find shelter in Germany, alongside Edda and their three children, but the Germans returned him to R.S.I. agents and he was then formally arrested for treason. Under German and Fascist pressure, Mussolini had Ciano tried [Who was his son in law, sic]. After the Verona trial sentence, a Fascist firing squad, at a shooting range in Verona on 11 January 1944, executed Ciano and others (including Emilio De Bono and Giovanni Marinelli) who had voted for Mussolini's ousting. The executed Italians were tied to chairs and shot in the back as a further humiliation. Ciano was effectively executed for dissenting against Il Duce's will. His last words were "Long live Italy!"
The Lend-Lease Memorial in Fairbanks, Alaska commemorates the shipment of U.S. aircraft to the Soviet Union along the Northwest Staging Route
 [There was no charge for the Lend Lease aid delivered during the war, but the Americans did expect the return of some durable goods such as ships. Congress had not authorized the gift of supplies after the war, so the administration charged for them, usually at a 90% discount. Large quantities of undelivered goods were in Britain or in transit when Lend-Lease terminated on 2 September 1945. Britain wished to retain some of this equipment in the immediate post war period. In 1946, the post-war Anglo-American loan further indebted Britain to the U.S. Lend-lease items retained were sold to Britain at 10% of nominal value, giving an initial loan value of £1.075 billion for the Lend Lease portion of the post-war loans. Payment was to be stretched out over 50 annual payments, starting in 1951 and with five years of deferred payments, at 2% interest. The final payment of $83.3 million (£42.5 million), due on 31 December 2006 (repayment having been deferred in the allowed five years), was made on 29 December 2006 (the last working day of the year). After this final payment Britain's Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Ed Balls, formally thanked the U.S. for its wartime support.sic]
Outdated, but serviceable U.S. destroyers sit in the Back Bay at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, on Aug. 28, 1940. Plans were well underway to bring these ships up to date and transfer them to Allied countries to aid their defence. These programs would be signed into law as the Lend-Lease program in March of 1941, and would result in billions of dollars worth of war material being shipped overseas.
While the Kremlin was smugly preparing to broadcast to the world on June 14, 1941, that the rumours of a German attack on Russia were an 'obvious absurdity', Adolf Hitler that very day was having his final big war conference on Barbarossa with leading officers of the Wehrmacht. The timetable for the massing of troops in the East and their deployment to the jumping-off positions had been in operation on May 22. A revised version of the timetable was issued a few days later. It is a long and detailed document and shows that by the beginning of June not only were all plans for the onslaught on Russia complete but the vast and complicated movement of troops, artillery , armour, planes, ships and supplies was well under way and on schedule. A brief item in the Naval War Diary for May 29 states: 'The preparatory movements of warships for Barbarossa has began'. Talks with the General Staff of Rumania, Hungary and Finland, the last country anxious now to win back what had been taken from her by the Russians in the winter war, were completed. On June 9 from Berchtesgaden Hitler sent out an order convoking the commanders in chief of the three Armed Services and top Field Generals for a final all-day meeting on Barbarossa in Berlin on June 14.
Despite the enormity of the task, not only Hitler but his Generals wee in a confident mood as they went over last-minute details of the most gigantic military operation in history, an all-out attack on a front stretching some 1,500 miles from the Arctic Ocean at Petsamo to the Black Sea. The night before , Brauchitsch had returned to Berlin from an inspection of the build-up in the East. Halder noted in his diary that the Army Commander in Chief was highly pleased. Officers and men. he said, were in top shape and ready.
This last military powwow on June 14 lasted from 11 A.M. until 6.30 P.M. It was broken by lunch at 2 P.M., at which Hitler gave his Generals yet another of his fiery,eve-of-the-battle pep talks. According to Halder, it was 'a comprehensive political speech', with Hitler stressing that he had to attack Russia because her fall would force England to 'give up'. But he bloodthirsty Führer must have emphasised something else even more. Keitel told abut it during direct examination on the stand at Nürnberg: "The main theme was that this was the decisive battle between two ideologies and that the practices which we knew as soldiers, the only correct ones under international law, had to be measured by completely different standards". Hitler thereupon, said Keitel, gave various orders for carrying out an unprecedented terror in Russia by "brutal means". 'Did you, or did any other Generals, raise objections to these orders?' asked Keitel's own attorney. "No. I personally made no remonstrances", the General replied. Nor did any of the other Generals, he added.
It is almost inconceivable but nevertheless true that the men in the Kremlin, for all their reputation they had of being suspicious, crafty hard-headed, and despite all the evidence and all the warnings that stared them in the face, did not realize right up to the last moment that they were to be hit, and with a force which would almost destroy their nation. At 9.30 on the pleasant summer evening of June 21, 1941, nine hours before the German attack was scheduled to begin, Molotov received the German ambassador at his office in the Kremlin and delivered his 'final fatuity'. [Churchill's expression, sic] After mentioning further border violations by German aircraft, which he said he had instructed the Soviet ambassador in Berlin to bring to the attention of Ribbentrop, Molotov turned to another subject, which Schulenburg described in an urgent telegram to the Wilhelmstrasse that same night:
'There were a number of indications, Molotov had told him, that the German Government was dissatisfied with the Soviet Government. Rumours were even current that a war was impending between Germany and the Soviet Union... The Soviet Government was unable to understand the reason for Germany's dissatisfaction... He would appreciate it if I could tell him what had brought about the present situation in German-Soviet relations. I replied, Schulenburg added, that that I could not answer his questions, as I lacked pertinent information.'
He was soon to get it. For on its way to him over the air waves between Berlin and Moscow was a long coded radio message from Ribbentrop, dated June 21, 1941, marked "Very Urgent, State Secret, For the Ambassador Personally", which began: "Upon receipt of this telegram, all of the cipher material still there is to be destroyed. The radio set is to be put out of commission. Please inform Herr Molotov at once that you have an urgent communiction to make to him... Then please make the following declaration to him".
An Sd.Kfz-250 half-track in front of German tank units, as they prepare for an attack, on July 21, 1941, somewhere along the Russian war-front, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union'
It was a familiar declaration, strewn with all the shop-worn lies and fabrications at which Hitler and Ribbentrop had become expert and winch had concocted so often before to justify each fresh act of unprovoked aggression. Perhaps it somewhat topped all the previous ones for sheer effrontery and deceit. While Germany had loyally abided by the German-Soviet Pact, it said, Russia repeatedly broken it. The USSR had practised 'sabotage, terrorism and espionage' against Germany. It had 'combated the German attempt to set up a stable order in Europe'. It had conspired with Britain 'for an attack against German troops in Rumania and Bulgaria'. By concentrating 'all availavle Russian forces on a long front from the Baltic to the Black Sea', it has 'menaced' the Reich. Reports received the last few days, it went on, eliminate the last remaining doubts as to the aggressive character of this Russian concentration... In addition, there are reports from England regarding the negotiation of Ambassador Cripps for closer political collaboration between England and the Soviet Union.
To sum up, the Government of the Reich declares, that the Soviet Government, contrary to the obligations it assumed,
1. has not only continued, but even intensified its attempts to undermine Germany and Europe.
2.has adopted a more and more anti-German foreign policy.
3.has concentrated all its forces in readiness at the German border. Thereby the Soviet Government has broken its treaty with Germany and is about to attack Germany from the rear in its struggle for life. The Führer has therefore ordered the German Armed Forces to oppose this threat with all the means to their disposal'.
"Please do not enter in any discussion of this communication", RIbbentrop advised his ambassador at the end. What could the shaken and disillusioned Schulenburg, who had devoted the best years of his life to improving German-Russian relations and who knew that the attack on the Soviet Union was unprovoked and without justification, say? Arriving back at the Kremlin just as dawn was breaking, he contended himself with reading the German declaration. Molotov, stunned at last,  had listened in silence to the end and then said:
"it is war. Do you believe we deserve that?"
[Thus ended he veteran ambassadors diplomatic career. Returning to Germany and forced to retire, he joined the Opposition circle led by General Beck, Gördeler, Hassel and others and for a time was marked to become Foreign Minister. of an anti-Hitler Regime. Hassel reported Schulenburg in 1943 as being willing to cross the Russian lines in order to talk with Stalin about a negotiated peace with an anti-Nazi government in Germany. Schulenburg was arrested and imprisoned after the July 1944 plot against Hitler and hanged.sic]
At the same hour of daybreak a similar scene was taking place in the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin. All afternoon on une 21, the Soviet Ambassador, Vladinimr Dekanozov, had been telephoning the Foreign Office asking for an appointment with Ribbentrop so that he could deliver his little protest against further border violations by German planes. He was told that the German Foreign Minister was 'out of town'. Then at 2 A.M. on the 22nd he was informed that Ribbentrop would receive him at 4 A.M. at the Foreign Office. The envoy, who had been a deputy foreign commissar, a hatch-man for Stalin and the troubleshooter who had arranged the taking over of Lithuania, received, like Molotov in Moscow, the shock of his life. Dr Schmidt was present, has described the scene.:
'I had never seen Ribbentrop so exited as he was in the five minutes before Dekanozov's arrival.. He walked up and down his room like a caged animal...Dekanozov was shown in and, obviously no guessing anything was amiss, held out his hand to Ribbentrop. We sat down and... Dekanozov proceeded to put on behalf of his Government questions that need clarification. But he had hardly began before Ribbentrop, with a stony expression, interrupted, saying: 'That's not the question now'...

Vladimir Georgievich Dekanozov
Soviet statesman and one of the leaders of the Soviet State Security (GB) in the 1930s. Dekanozov was head of the NKVD foreign intelligence from December 2, 1938 to May 13, 1939, and then, from May 1939 to 1947, was assistant head of the People’s Commissariat (later Ministry) of Foreign Affairs.In late November 1940, Dekanozov was appointed Soviet Ambassador to Berlin (while remaining the Deputy People’s Commissar of Foreign Affairs) – remaining in that position until the Nazi attack against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. During 1941, he became a full member of the party’s Central Committee. It is a common wisdom in Russia that as an ambassador, Dekanozov proved unable to appraise the situation and evaluate the Nazi plans against the Soviet Union. In fact, according to recently published documents, Dekanozov DID appraise the situation and warned his immediate boss, Molotov, of the Nazi plans to attack the Soviet Union. He died 1953.
German troops in Russia, 1941"
The arrogant German Foreign Minister thereupon explained that the question was, gave the ambassador a copy of the memorandom which Schulenburg at that moment was reading out to Molotov, and informed him that German troops were at this instant taking 'military countermeasures' on the Soviet frontier. The startled Soviet envoy, says Schmidt, 'recovered his composure quickly and expressed his 'deep regret' at the developments, for which he blamed Germany. 'He rose, bowed perfunctorily and left the room without shaking hands. The Nazi-Soviet honeymoon was over. At 3:30 A.M.on June 22, 1941, a half hour before the closing diplomatic formalities in the Kremlin and the Wilhelmstrasse, the roar of Hitler's guns along hundreds of miles of front had blasted it forever.
Thee was one other diplomatic prelude to the cannonade. On the afternoon of June 21, Hitler sat down at his desk in his new underground headquarters, WolFsschanze (Wolf's Liar), near Rastenburg in a gloomy forest of East Prussia, and dictated a long letter to Mussolini . As in the preparation of all his other aggression he had not trusted his good friend and chief ally enough to let him in on his secret until the last moment. Now, at the eleventh hour, he did. His letter is the most revealing and authentic evidence we have of the reasons for his taking this fatal step, which for so long puzzled the outside world and which was to pave the way for his end and that of the third Reich. The letter, to be sure, is full of Hitler's customary lies and evasions which he tried to fob off even on his friends. But beneath them, there emerges his fundamental reasoning and his true, if mistaken, estimate of the world situation as the summer of 1941, the second of the war, officially began.
I am writing this letter to you at a moment when months of anxious deliberation and continuous nerve-wrecking waiting are ending in the hardest decision of my life. The situation: England has lost the war. Like a drowning person, she grasps at every straw. Nevertheless, some of her hopes are naturally not without a certain logic... The destruction of France ... has directed the glances of the British warmongers continually to the place from which they tried to start the war: to  Soviet Russia. Both countries, Soviet Russia and England, are equally interested in a Europe...rendered prostrate by a long war. Behind these two countries stands the North American Union goading them on...
Hitler next explained that with large Soviet military forces in his rear he could never assemble the strength,"particularly in the air", to make the all-out  attack on Britain which would bring her down. 'Really, all available Russian forces are at our border... If circumstances should give me cause to employ the German Air Force against England, there is danger that Russia will then begin its strategy of extortion, to which I would have to yield in silence simply from a feeling of air inferiority........'
Germany, Hitler said, would not need any Italian troops in Russia. (he was not going to share the glory of conquering Russia any more than he had shared the conquest of France). But Italy he declared, could 'give decisive aid' by strengthening its forces in North Africa and by preparing 'to march into France in case of a French violation of the treaty'. This was a fine bait for the land-hungry Duce. As for the war in the East, Duce, it will surely be difficult, But I do not entertain a second's doubt as to its great success. I hope above all, that it will then be possible for us to secure a common food-supply base in the Ukraine which will furnish us such supplied as we may need in future. [The secret buildup of the infrastructure in the Generalgouvernement (the occupied part of Poland) to support Operation Barbarossa. sic]
Then came the excuse for not tipping off his partner earlier. 'If I waited until this moment Duce, to send you this information, it is because the final decision itself will not be made until 7 o'clock tonight...Whatever may come, Duce, our situation cannot become worse as a result of this step, it can only improve... Should England nevertheless not draw any conclusion from the hard facts, then we can, with our rear secured, apply ourselves with increased strength to dispatching of our enemy.
Finally Hitler described his great feeling of relief at having finally made up is mind.....With hearty and comradely greetings, Your ADOLF HITLER' [The letter has been abbreviated and is not the entire text, sic]

'The German Axis'
         Hitler forced countries to become allies with Germany during Operation Barbarossa. When Romania and Hungary joined Germany’s list of allies, Russians accused Berlin of violating the spirit of the 1939 pact.  Hitler also was able to strengthened his allies by signing a new military alliance with Italy and Japan called the Tripartite Pact. Hitler used his allies for resources as well. Poland was used for supplies of iron, nickel, and other agronomies. Finland wanted revenge against Russia after the Red Army defeated them in 1939, so they too became allies with Germany.

Children of Japan, Germany, and Italy meet in Tokyo to celebrate the signing of the Tripartite Alliance between the three nations, on December 17, 1940. Japanese education minister Kunihiko Hashida, center, holding crossed flags, and Mayor Tomejiro Okubo of Tokyo were among the sponsors.
The second member of the Axis was Japan. Th story of the relationship between Hitler's Germany and imperial Japan involved a series of up and downs. Germany sought better relations with Japan initially for economic reasons. The relationship between Germany and Japan steadily improved as both countries were drawn closer by tension with the Soviet Union. Japan, along with Italy, signed the Anti-Comintern Pact, a treaty theoretically directed against the the Soviet Union, but in reality nothing more than a symbolic gesture. In Japan's case, tensions with the Soviet Union broke out into the open warfare along he border between Soviet controlled Mongolia and Japanese dominated Manchuria. The ensuing fighting resulted in two severe dubbing's of the Japanese by the Red Army. The Japanese, however, evaded attempts by Ribbentrop to bring Japan into a formal alliance with Germany. The Germans were also annoyed by what they regarded as unwelcome attempts by Japan to mediate between Germany and Poland. The relationship improved mainly due to the opposition to communism through the Anti-Comintern Pact and secondly the military alliance through the Tripartite Pact. Both nations had been adversaries during WW I and these agreements settled previous animosity between the nations through Yosuke Matsuoka's visit to Berlin, a German delegation was sent to Tokyo to celebrate the Tripartite Pact's signing, and through the Japanese ambassador to Germany Hiroshi Oshima among other correspondences. Gemany's declaration of war further solidified German-Japanese relations and showed Germany's solidarity with Japan and encouraged Japanese cooperation against the British.

At 3 0'clock in the morning of June 22, a bare half hour before the German troops jumped off, Ambassador von Bismarck awakened Ciano in Rome to deliver Hitler's long missive, which the Italian Foreign Minister then telephoned to Mussolini, who was resting at his summer place at Riccione. It was not the first time that the Duce had been awakened from his sleep in the middle of the night by a message from his Axis partner, and he resented it. 'Not even I disturb my servants at night', Mussolini fretted to Ciano, 'but the Germans make me jump out of bed at any hour without the least consideration'. Nevertheless, as soon as Mussolini had rubbed the sleep from his eyes he gave orders for an immediate declaration of war on the Soviet Union. He was now completely a prisoner of the Germans. He knew it and resented it. 'I hope for only one thing', he told Ciano, 'that in this war in the East the Germans lose a lot of feathers'. Still, he realised that his on future now depended wholly on German arms. The Germans would win in Russia, he was sure, but he hoped that at least they would get a bloody nose. He could not know, nor did he suspect, nor did anyone else in the West, on either side, that they would get much worse. On Sunday morning, June 22, the day Napoleon crossed the Niemen in 1812 on his way to Moscow, and exactly a year after Napoleon's country France, had capitulated at Compiegne, Adolf Hitler's armoured, mechanized and hitherto invincible Army poured across the Niemen and various other rivers and penetrated swiftly into Russia. The Red Army, despite all the warnings and warning sites, was, as General Halder noted in his diary the first day, 'tactically surprised along the entire front'. All the first bridges were captured intact. In fact, says Halder, at most places along the border the Russians were not even deployed for action and were overrun before they could organize resistance. Hundreds of Soviet planes were destroyed on the flying fields. Within a few days tens of thousands of prisoners began to pour in, whole armies were quickly encircled. It seemed like the "Feldzug in Polen"all over again.
'It is hardly too much to say', the usually cautious Halder noted in his diary on July 3 after going over the latest General Staff reports, 'that the "Feldzug" against Russia has been won in fourteen days'. In a matter of weeks, he added, it would all be over.

                                                                                                            FINAL-  HKS, May 2013

W.L. Shirer
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J.M. Roberts