Okay, so I'm reading Winston Churchill's account of World War 2. As you may already know, Churchill was Prime MInister of Great Britain during almost the entire war (for part of 1939, just after the Nazi aggression began, he was First Lord of the Admiralty--the civilian chief of the British navy).
He gives a detailed, comprehensive account, in six volumes, of everything he knew and did, relating to the War. He reproduces official written policy documents on almost every page. Each volume includes one or more Appendixes, containing even more memorandums, minutes, telegrams, and letters, as well as many technical details about a wide range of related subjects and activities.
I'm halfway through the third volume right now. Hitler has just invaded Russia. The British position in North Africa appears strong, but Rommel has already begun to turn the tide. Roosevelt is putting the finishing touches on the Lend-Lease program.
So far, each chapter I've read, from the first volume onward, has surprised me in some way. There are striking parallels to current events. There are many misconceptions I've had, that are now dispelled. And it's not always what I'd expect, either. I'm learning a lot not just about World War 2, but about war in general.
I brought up Russia in a previous article, because I just got to the part of the saga where Russia is invaded.
Three things struck me: First, Britain was working overtime trying to get the other nations of Europe to stand up and fight. Churchill was constantly urging other heads of state to take a stand, mobilize their armies, and put up a united front against the aggressors before it was too late. Not only that, but Britain was promising any and all help it could possibly give, to any nation that was willing to
step up to the challenge.
But Greece was pretty much the only nation that took them up on the offer. So they busted their asses to help Greece out. Totally weakened their position in North Africa, to do it, too. But they were committed to the fight, and they came through with support for any nation (i.e., Greece) that was also willing to commit to the fight. For the record, the Greeks fought hard and well.
All those nations in Eastern Europe that ended up under Soviet domination? They spent the first half of the war with their heads in the sand, categorically refusing to mobilize, fight, or put up a united front. They refused all offers of assistance, andjust sat idly by, watching Hitler and the Stalin gobble up their neighbors piecemeal. So I'm having a hard time feeling like it's our fault that they ended up under Stalin. The people actually fighting the war (Britain) did everything they could to get nations like Yugoslavia and Turkey to join forces, and offered them all help and all hope they could possibly spare.
But the nations of Eastern Europe sat back and let themselves become the big losers of the war. If they'd actually fought hard from the beginning, they probably wouldn't have needed rescuing later on. Plus, if they'd stepped up, they would've taken their own pound of flesh out of the Wehrmacht. This would've meant much less wear and tear on their liberators, who might actually have finished the war with enough juice left to liberate much more than what they ended up with.
I mean, we tried our best to save Europe. In the end, we couldn't do it without Soviet support. If the Eastern European states hadn't been such idiots, we probably wouldn't even have needed Russia. Hitler couldn't invade Russia until his Balkan flank was secure. If the Balkan states had taken up the British offer of support, things would've gone much differently. If Stalin had heeded Churchill's warnings, and if he had actually been interested in the defeat of Nazism and peace in Europe, the combination of a British-backed Balkan coalition and a comitted Soviet threat would have checked Hitler right there.
Second, Stalin really did get totally blindsided by Hitler. The Soviet Union kept shipping war supplies to the Nazis right up until Hitler invaded. The week before the invasion, the Soviets actually expedited/shipments of rubber to Germany. The day before the invasion, Soviet officials met with the Nazi ambassador and asked him, what has Russia done to make Germany so angry? As far as we know, we've done nothing wrong, so why is Germany acting so cold towards us lately? We're even hearing rumors about German plans to
invade us, said the Russians. Obviously, the rumors are false, but they illustrate just how bad our relationship has become. Please tell us what we need to do, to be friends again.
I would write this all up as a clever Soviet trick, but the next day almost the entire Russian air force was caught on the ground by the Luftwaffe, and bombed into oblivion. I figure, even if Stalin wanted to sit back, let Hitler do the hard work of conquering Eastern Europe for him, giving up his entire air force on the ground was not the play of a competent playa.
Third, remember this: Soviet Russia started the war on Germany's side. In fact, Hitler's play for Western Europe was based on an understanding that Soviet Russia wouldn't stab him in the back while he was looking the other way. Soviet Russia bought into this plan, in exchange for half of Poland.
Russia won the war? Please. Russia enabled the war.
Sure, when the scorpion finally stung them in the face, they did grind the Nazi war machine down to something manageable, but from the moment they were attacked Stalin began demanding supplies and and fighters from Britain. He'd been totally ignoring Churchill's
overtures, and then he gets attacked. Suddenly, it's please divert some of your vital home defense supplies to our ports! Please
re-allocate some of your precious air force to our front! Please openup a second fron in Western Europe!
That one made me laugh. Stalin actually writes to Churchill, telling him that it would be a good idea to push the front back from the borders of Britain. Asks him to go ahead and come ashore on the French coast. Explains that about 4 divisions or so would do the trick. Points out that such a move would be very popular with Churchill's troops and with his civilian population.
Churchill replies, politely, that Stalin is totally underestimating the difficulty of an amphibious assault against a heavily fortified coastline, without total air and sea superiority. Also, that Britain doesn't have troops to spare (since they're all busy fighting desperate delaying strategies in North Africa and Southeast Europe--delaying actions which would have been full-blown second fronts, with devastating effects on Hitler's war plans, if the rest of Europe had stepped up in the first place, and if Russia hadn't been on Hitler's side to begin with).
Anyway, Russia needed huge amounts of warsupplies, which the U.S. and Britain diverted at great cost and great risk from their own defenses. Remember, Britain's convoys were under incredible strain at this time, and their supplies were running very low. They're
barely making ends meet, but they go ahead and divert supplies to Russia anyway. Why? Because Britain, unlike just about anybody else, was actually committed to defeating Nazism.
Not only that, but if Great Britain had caved, Hitler would've been able to focus his entire strength on Russia, rather than having to keep major elements of his army in France, Southern Europe, and North Africa to keep Britain off his back. And he would've been able to focus on a Russia unsupported by shipments of vital war supplies, if Great Britain had caved. Because Britain held out in 1939, 1940, and
1941, Russia only got as much of the Wehrmacht as they could handle, instead of too much for them to take.
In the end, Soviet Russia didn't contribute anything more to Allied victory than the U.S. or Great Britain did. On the other hand, Russia did contribute quite a lot to Axis victory. I think that accepting half of Poland as payment for giving Hitler a free hand in Western Europe more than offsets any contribution the Soviet Union made to the Allies later on. Especially since that contribution was made not by choice, but by necessity. It's not like Stalin volunteered his army to fight and die to save Europe. If Hitler hadn't turned east, the great Red Army would have contributed exactly nothing to the Allied cause. Giving Russia credit for winning World War 2 would be like the FBI giving Tony Soprano credit for fighting crime, just because he whacked Johnny Sack and took over his territory.
The way I see it, Russia didn't win the war by fighting Germany. Rather, Hitler lost the war by invading Russia.