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Unformatted text preview: Russia’s War Richard Overy Scanned & Proofed By MadMaxAU * * * * Contents List of illustrations List of Maps and Tables Preface Introduction 1. The Darkness Descends: 1917‐1937 2. The Hour Before Midnight: 1937‐1941 3. The Goths Ride East: Barbarossa, 1941 4. Between Life and Death: Leningrad and Moscow 5. The Fight from Within: Collaboration, Terror and Resistance 6. The Cauldron Boils: Stalingrad, 1942‐43 7. The Citadel: Kursk, 1943 8. False Dawn: 1943‐44 9. Fall of the Swastika: 1945 10.The Cult of Personality: Stalin and the Legacy of War Epilogue: Russia’s War: Myth and Reality References Bibliography * * * * Illustrations 1. Josef Stalin at Lenin’s funeral, 1924 2. Victims of the Ukrainian famine, 1933 3. Ukrainian nationalist prisoners in a labour camp 4. Molotov in Berlin, 1941 5. The morning after: news of the outbreak of war, Moscow, 22 June 1941 6. Ukrainians greet German cavalrymen, summer 1941 7. Leningrad: the Ice Road, 1942 8. Leningrad: civil defence in action 9. Leningrad: Shostakovich in rehearsal, 1941 10.Soviet ski troops in action 11.Ukrainians support ‘Hitler the Liberator’ 12.Babi Yar 13.The children of the ghetto 14.Death to the collaborators! 15.The ruins of Stalingrad 16.The defence of Stalingrad: women at war 17.A moment’s respite, 1943 18.The end of one man’s war 19.The fog of war 20.The blessing of war 21.Lend‐Lease supplies: the vital artery 22.A soldier falls on the Ukrainian front 23.German prisoners, Moscow 1944 24.Disinfecting the Moscow streets after German prisoners had passed through 25.Massacre in Lublin 26.‘Accursed Germany!’ 27.‘What will it mean for me?’ 28.Marshal Zhukov: the battle for Berlin, 1945 29.The end of Hitler? 30.Rebuilding the homes 31.Rebuilding the city: women at work 32.‘Big Brother’ is always watching * * * * List of Maps and Tables MAPS 1. Operation Barbarossa, June ‐ September 1941 2. The Siege of Leningrad 3. The Moscow Counter‐offensive, December 1941 – April 1942 4. Main Partisan Areas in the German‐Occupied Soviet Union, Summer 1943 5. Operation Blue: The German Southern Offensive, June ‐ November 1942 6. Operation Uranus, November ‐ December 1942 7. Battle of Kursk, July 1943 8. From Kursk to Kiev, August ‐ December 1943 9. Operation Bagration, June ‐ August 1944 10.The Vistula‐Oder Operation, January – May 1945 11.The Assault on Berlin TABLES 1. Soviet and German wartime production 1941‐45 2. American Lend‐Lease supplies to the USSR 1941‐45 3. Soviet Losses in World War Two * * * * Preface The story of the Soviet war effort between 1941 and 1945 is one of the most remarkable, not just in the modern age, but in any age. For a long time it was a story shrouded in secrecy, little known or understood in the West. Over the past decade or so that situation has changed. Few would now contest the view that the Soviet war effort was the most important factor, though not the only one, in the defeat of Germany. The focus of the debate has now shifted to how the Soviet Union achieved that victory, and on this issue there is still no scholarly consensus. There is now a wealth of evidence not available twenty years ago to help to answer that question. Much of Russia’s War draws on that evidence, which is now widely available in the West. It shows both sides of the war: the war against Germany and the war against Soviet society; the military conflict and the terror. This book was produced to accompany a television series that has succeeded triumphantly in bringing the Soviet war effort to life. ‘Russia’s War’, a series of ten fifty‐two minute documentaries produced and financed by IBP Films in London in association with Victory Series in Russia, was inspired by the changing history of the war. The documentaries show all sides of the war, from military defeat and incompetence to military triumph, from simple Soviet patriotism to the terror of the regime against its own people. The films were made using materials made available from hitherto‐closed film sources in the former Soviet Union. They are intercut with testimony from survivors of the war. The interviews were conducted in Russia in 1995, with the exception of a number which were made much earlier for Soviet films. The inspiration behind the project lay with the executive producer, Judith De Paul, who succeeded in winning the co‐operation of five senior Russian film directors and a co‐executive producer in Moscow, Alexander Surikov. The films were produced in collaboration over a two‐year period in 1994 and 1995. The book was written in 1997 and incorporates further material that became available from Russia in the two preceding years. I am particularly grateful for all the unstinting encouragement that Judith De Paul has given me. I would also like to thank the supervising editor of ‘Russia’s War’, Nick Barnard, who has been unfailingly helpful over the six months it took to produce the book. Vladimir Bouilov has translated at a moment’s notice anything in Russian that I needed, for which I am more than thankful. My publisher, Peter B. Kaufman, has been patient and long‐suffering enough. The usual pre‐emptive confession of responsibility for errors and misinterpretations is more than necessary here as I trespass into less familiar territory. A final thanks, as ever, to my family. Richard Overy London, May 1997 <<Contents>> * * * * Introduction This book is the direct offspring of a remarkable series of television documentaries that were made in London during 1995 with the cooperation of a number of distinguished Russian film‐makers. The film records used in making the series were made available from the KGB film collection and the Presidential Archive, and they are unique in their range and historical quality. The very fact that ‘Russia’s War’, the name given to the television series, could be made outside Russia at all reflects the greater openness between Russia and the West following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The objective of the films is to give Western audiences for the first time as full a visual account of the Soviet war effort as the film sources will allow. The book follows closely the structure and substance of the films and takes its title from the series. Like the films, the purpose of the book is to bring to a non‐Russian readership a history of the Soviet war effort based on the extensive revelations made during the decade after Mikhail Gorbachev declared the age of glasnost. It does not pretend to offer startling new discoveries. It is a summary of the present state of the debate in what has become an extraordinarily unstable historical landscape. Every month brings new discoveries and new publications. The history of the former Soviet Union is in ferment. In twenty years’ time it may be possible at last to write something approaching a definitive history. Current writing has a provisional air to it, and this book is no exception. Nonetheless, the history of the Soviet war effort between 1941 and 1945 is well worth writing. The spate of new material has not failed to make the subject more exhilarating and more vivid. None of the human drama has been lost. In many ways the revelations have fortified it. The established story of the Soviet war effort, of the ‘Great Patriotic War’, as it came to be called, was allowed to solidify in the decade after 1945 and remained remarkably intact down to the 1980s. In official circles the tale of heroic socialist struggle against the fascist demon remained intact down to 1991. Soviet writing on the war was carefully censored, and the central archives of the conflict remained closed or were restricted to only the most privileged of officially favoured historians. To give but one example: in the 1960s Marshal Zhukov, Stalin’s Deputy Commander in Chief for much of the war, wrote two volumes of memoirs. They were heavily doctored. The first edition took three years to prepare and was shown, briefly, to Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet leader, for final approval. Zhukov was told to include the fiction that Brezhnev took part in an incident on the southern front. When the first edition was published Zhukov complained, ‘That book, it is not mine.’ Even the smallest changes were insisted upon. Where Zhukov wanted to call the failure in the summer of 1941 a ‘rout’, he was made to write ‘retreat’ instead.1 Zhukov’s memoirs finally appeared in a tenth, and full, version in 1990. Other memoirs have been released for the first time or have been freed from the censor’s red pencil. The full version of Khrushchev’s taped interviews, many of which were suppressed in the 1960s when his sanitized memoir was published, has now become available.2 Much of the testimony on which it was necessary to rely even ten years ago has turned out to be misleading and distorted, even mendacious. When Zhukov challenged Marshal Yeremenko face‐to‐face about why he had lied in his memoirs about the role he and Zhukov had played at Stalingrad, Yeremenko replied that Khrushchev had asked him to. 3 It may never be possible to penetrate entirely this veil of half‐
truths and distortions, but there is a genuine will in modern Russia to set the record straight. We now know much more than we did, and we can be more confident that what we do know is closer to historical reality. There remain serious gaps, however. Wartime Foreign Ministry archives and the records of the main political and administrative organs remain closed, as do the records of the KGB/NK VD security apparatus and military or technical records regarded as still too sensitive to reveal. Even where greater candour has prevailed ‐ the publication of official casualty statistics, for example ‐ there remain frustrating gaps. The figures published in 1993 by General G. F. Krivosheyev give the fullest account yet available, but they omit three operations that were clear failures. The official figures themselves must be viewed critically, given the difficulty of knowing in the chaos of 1941 and 1942 exactly who had been killed, wounded or even conscripted. 4 If the words ‘alleged’ or ‘suggested’ or ‘approximately’ appear with disarming regularity in what follows, this is testament to how much work still needs to be done to provide even an agreed‐upon narrative for the war years. Stalin remains almost as elusive as ever. The crude popular image of Stalin, the triumphant and omnicompetent warlord, disappeared in 1956 when de‐Stalinization began in earnest in the Soviet Union. But the absence of a full private archive, or even one based upon Stalin’s extensive public activities, forces historians to speculate on a great many aspects of his wartime leadership. Much more testimony is available now from Stalin’s political associates or from his military leaders than ever before, but the inner thoughts, hard to decipher even for those who knew him, remain shrouded. Even the circumstances of his death, discussed at greater length in Chapter 10, cannot be agreed upon among those who claim to have been witnesses. This is not the only problem when discussing Stalin. The revelations of the wartime terror and the early military failures make Stalin an easy target in the search for culprits. Yet the concentration of fire on the dictator not only makes it difficult to understand how a man so apparently corrupt and brutalized could have led his country to victory at all, but also fails to take account of the wider system in which Stalin was lodged. The war effort was not the product of one man, nor could it be made to bend entirely to his will. The role of the Party in sustaining popular mobilization, of the apparatus of terror under the grotesque Beria or of the Red Army itself, the largest military force ever assembled, is as much a part of the history of the war as Stalin’s personal dictatorship. The mood of glasnost history has been one of recrimination and anger. When the dust has settled there will be time to assess Stalin and the system anew, both strengths and weaknesses. Stalin is an easy figure to hate but more difficult to understand, as history must. Writing the story of the Soviet war has been a humbling experience. The debt that is owed to the many historians of the conflict, Russian and non‐
Russian, will quickly be evident. Soviet studies now provide a wealth of imaginative and exciting scholarship, much of it carried out at the very coalface of the subject, where the material is being dug out and shipped to the sunlight for the first time. Two veritable Stakhanovites deserve particular mention. Professor John Erickson and Colonel David Glantz have done more than any other Western scholars to communicate to the non‐Russian world the fruits of Soviet and post‐Soviet research. The account of the military struggle that follows would have been impossible without the careful reconstruction of the battle history carried out by both historians over the last twenty years. The story of the Soviet war is humbling in another sense, too. The conflict was fought on such a gigantic scale and with such an intensity of feeling that conventional historical discourse seems ill‐equipped to convey either very satisfactorily. The human cost, now estimated by some Soviet scholars to be as high as 43—47 million people, can only poorly be conveyed by statistics.5 It is surely no accident that poetry meant so much to ordinary Russians and that through poetry, not a mere recital of numbers, the awful reality of war could be expressed: ‘Tired with the last fatigue/ Seized by the death‐before‐death,/ His great hands limply spread,/ The soldier lies.’6 Even Marshal Zhukov, remembered by those who served him as a coarse and brutal commander, read poetry in the midst of the carnage. A Tolstoy, a Nietzsche, perhaps might convey the essence of the suffering of the vast, tragic canvas on which that suffering was daubed. Little, perhaps nothing, of the experience of most Western historians will have prepared them to account for what they find in the history of Russia’s war. The key to understanding that war lies with an understanding of Russia herself. It was not, of course, just ‘Russia’s war’. The Russian empire, and after it the Soviet Union, embraced a complex ethnic geography. In 1940 Russians made up only 58 per cent of the population. There were at least twenty other major nationalities, most prominent among them the Ukrainians and Belorussians, on whose territories in the western Soviet Union most of the war was fought out. The nationalities, though dominated by the Russian heartland, provided a rich and diverse set of cultures, steeped in an ancient history. These differences were also shaped by topography. The Soviet Union spanned the whole of northern and central Asia, from almost permanently frozen tundra wasteland in the north to the luxuriant farmlands of Transcaucasia in the south. The Soviet Union inherited a state that was as Asian as it was European. It is essential to grasp this diversity to understand what it is that made Russia, and the Soviet Union, different from the Western world. That difference has often been ignored. It is still underestimated by many in the West, who see the region as a backward version of modern industrial society, just as it was played down by Communists and fellow‐travellers of the 1930s and 1940s, who thought that Stalin had created a form of the modern Western state that was both more socially efficient and more just. That difference was greater still in the 1940s. ‘Few Western Europeans,’ wrote the German SS General Max Simon, ‘have any idea of the actual habits and mode of life of the Russians…’7 The German attackers were already predisposed to assume that Soviet society was primitive, and, by the standards of the developed economies of the West, much of it was, at least in the countryside. But this was to misunderstand Russian society. It was not so much primitive as alien. The Soviet Union was not like Western Europe, and there is no reason why it should have been. The war exposed many of the enduring features of Russian and Soviet culture. Soldiers were brutal because much of their experience of life was brutal and harsh. Their resilience and stubbornness, the toughness of both men and women, were the product of a bitter climate and extreme conditions of work. The coarser side of Russian life was evident in the routine of the labour camps or the discipline of the regiment or the factory. Yet ordinary people could also display a traditional sentimentality, founded in a powerful sense of both history and place. Some idea of how universal was that respect for the past, the feeling of rootedness, of belonging, can be gleaned from one among many stories of the war years told by the writer Ilya Ehrenburg. In the retreat of 1941 before the German onslaught, the curator of the Turgenev Museum in the city of Orel packed up the contents and placed them in a railcar. The centrepiece was a worn sofa upon which the famous writer had thought great thoughts. At every station the curator was faced with an angry crowd of refugees struggling to find space on the train to take them eastward. Each time he explained that the jumble belonged to the great Turgenev, and each time the mob relented. 8 This is a story that can be understood only in the wider context of a popular attachment to art that cuts entirely across boundaries of class or education. It fits ill with any idea of primitiveness. Locked away in the horrors of the Gulag camps, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn could still recall a man who sang to him snatches of Schubert. 9 The almost universal love of poetry has already been remarked. People were sentimental about the place they came from, about their way of life, even when conditions were grim. Soviet society was still, by the war, shot through with traditional modes of association, through tribe or clan or commune. The modernization imposed by the Communist Party in the 1930s had already begun to break down those ancient patterns of belonging, but not entirely so. The feeling can scarcely be described as nationalism, for there were too many nationalities for that to be coherent. Patriotism conveys it better, but not entirely, for the feeling which brought forth a remarkable endurance from the Soviet people is almost passive, fatalistic. One of the most famous verses to come out of the ‘Great Patriotic War’, from a poem about the comic hero Vasya Tyorkin, exactly captures the mixture of dull stoicism and historical awareness: Tiorkin snores. There’s no more to it. He just takes things as they come. ‘I belong, and well I know it. Russia needs me. Here I am.’ 10 The history of the war cannot be understood if these elements in Soviet life are ignored. Material explanations of Soviet victory are never quite convincing. It is difficult to write the history of the war without recognizing that some idea of a Russian ‘soul’ or ‘spirit’ mattered too much to ordinary people to be written off as mere sentimentality, however mundane or banal or brutalizing was the real day‐to‐day experience of war. Other striking aspects of the Soviet war effort are the continuities with an older past, which Stalinist modernization did not eliminate. Much of what is taken to be a product of the Stalinist system was part of Russian tradition, modified, enlarged or transposed, but still recognizable. Some of those continuities are more trivial. The famous Potemkin villages of Catherine the Great’s Russia, which were painted and cleaned up for important visitors to demonstrate the cheerful progressiveness of the autocracy, have more‐than‐
faint echoes in the model farms and factories decked out to show Western well‐wishers the smiling face of Communism. When the American politician Henry A. Wallace visited the gold‐mining centre at Magadan in the Soviet far east in 1944, he saw nothing of the brutal forced‐labour regime that kept the mines going. In Irkutsk Wallace gave a speech laden with a terrible irony: ‘Men born in wide, free spaces will not brook injusti...
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