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IN the spring of 1941, as German forces began massing for an attack on his country, Stalin refused to believe the reports confirming Hitler's intention even though messages were pouring in from intelligence sources all over the world and it was plain to everyone else in his immediate circle. Under pressure from his generals he did allow the mobilization of 500,000 reserves in May, but when informed of German reconnaissance flights, he commented, "I'm not sure Hitler knows about those flights." One report that crossed his desk in early June from Richard Sorge, a Soviet spy in Tokyo accredited as a German journalist, even gave the date of the invasion: June 22. Still he refused to believe it would happen. On June 14 he ordered TASS to publish a statement that "Germany is observing the terms of the non-aggression Pact as scrupulously as the USSR, and therefore rumors of Germany's intention to violate the Pact and attack the USSR are groundless." On the night of June 21 reports from German defectors who had risked their lives crossing into Russia were placed on Stalin's table clearly saying that the invasion was set for the next day: stillStalin didn't react. Operation Barbarossa commenced at dawn, as more than 3 million soldiers poured across the border, stunning Stalin. For days, as the news of the collapse of Russia's defenses and the advancement of the German armies continued to pour into the Kremlin, Stalin maintained that "Hitler simply does not know about it," that the invasion was the work of "provocation" by German officers; he would not order resistance. The bulk of the Soviet Air Force-almost 1,000 planes-was destroyed on the ground. Within a week the Germans captured 400,000 soldiers, advanced three hundred miles into Russia, and occupied Minsk; they were clearly marching toward Moscow. Faced with the enormity of the catastrophe that he had so stolidly refused to see, Stalin, reeling, finally faced his self-deception, acknowledging to his immediate circle that he had failed Russia, failed Lenin, and doomed the revolution. "Everything's lost. I give up," he announced. Leaving the Kremlin, he retired to his dacha in Kuntsevo, evidently in the grip of a nervous breakdown. According to Vyacheslav Molotov, Stalin's most trusted associate, he tendered his resignation. Only on July 3, eleven days after the invasion started, after a delegation including Marshal Kliment E. Voroshilov, Molotov, and Lavrenti Beria, the head of the Soviet secret police (NKVD), came to beseech him to return to the Kremlin did he pull himself together, take charge, make a measured, reassuring speech calling on all Russians to defend their country, and again start giving orders. Having survived his own self-doubts, and realizing that even in his moment of weakness he had been unchallenged, Stalin then assumed the titles of commissar of defense and supreme commander in chief.
By mid-July 2 million Russian soldiers had been killed and another 300,000 captured. On July 21 Roosevelt put Maj. Gen. James H. Burns, whom Hopkins called a "doer," in charge of Lend-Lease to Russia. On July 23, upon receipt of a $22 million Russian wish list, Roosevelt directed his appointments secretary Gen. "Pa" Watson to "get the thing through" within two days.
Harry Hopkins was in London in late July 1941 making arrangements for a meeting between the president and Winston Churchill at Argentia Bay in Newfoundland the second week of August. (As the president reminded the prime minister in Newfoundland, they had met once before, at Gray's Inn in London in 1918.) Hopkins knew that a primary purpose of the Argentia meeting was to work out the needs of those countries fighting Hitler, to establish what the United States could do to supply those needs. Everyone's information on Russia was extremely sketchy: could the Soviets hold out against Hitler long enough for winter to blunt the German attack, or would the Soviet Union have to capitulate? After arranging the details of the conference with Churchill, Hopkins cabled Roosevelt to suggest that he fly to Moscow to learn the answer from Stalin himself. Within twenty-four hours he had Roosevelt's cabled reply:
July 26, 1941
[Acting Secretary of State Sumner] Welles and I highly approve Moscow trip and assume you would go in a few days. Possibly you could get back to North America by August 8th. I will send you tonight a message for Stalin.
Hopkins delivered the following message from Roosevelt, which Sumner Welles had cabled to him in London.
July 26, 1941
Mr. Hopkins is in Moscow at my request for discussions with you personally and with such other officials as you may designate on the vitally important question of how we can expeditiously and effectively make available the assistance which the United States can render to your country in its magnificent resistance to the treacherous aggression by Hitlerite Germany. I have already informed your Ambassador, Mr. Oumansky, that all possible aid will be given by the United States Government in obtaining munitions, armaments and other supplies needed to meet your most urgent requirements and which can be made available for actual use in the coming two months in your country. We shall promptly settle the details of these questions with the mission headed by General Golikov which is now in Washington, The visit now being made by Mr. Hopkins to Moscow will, I feel, be invaluable by clarifying for us here in the United States your most urgent requirements so that we can reach the most practicable decisions to simplify the mechanics of delivery and speed them up. We shall be able to complete during the next winter a great amount of materiél which your Government wishes to obtain in this country. I therefore think that the immediate concern of both governments should be to concentrate on the materiél which can reach Russia within the next three months.
I ask you to treat Mr. Hopkins with the identical confidence you would feel if you were talking directly to me. He will communicate directly to me the views that you express to him and will tell me what you consider are the most pressing individual problems on which we could be of aid.
May I express, in conclusion, the great admiration all of us in the United States feel for the superb bravery displayed by the Russian people in the defense of their liberty and in their fight for the independence of Russia. The success of your people and all other people in opposing Hitler's aggression and his plans for world conquest has been heartening to the American people.
Hopkins sent the following report to Roosevelt of his first meeting with Stalin:
I told Mr. Stalin that I came as personal representative of the President. The President considered Hitler the enemy of mankind and that he therefore wished to aid the Soviet Union in its fight against Germany. I told him that my mission was not a diplomatic one in the sense that I did not propose any formal understanding of any kind or character. I expressed to him the President's belief that the most important thing to be done in the world today was to defeat Hitler and Hitlerism. I impressed upon him the determination of the President and our Government to extend all possible aid to the Soviet Union at the earliest possible time. I told Mr. Stalin that I had certain personal messages from the President and explained my relationship to the Administration in Washington. I told him further that I just left Mr. Churchill in London who wished me to convey to him the sentiments which I had already expressed from the President. Mr. Stalin said he welcomed me to the Soviet Union; that he had already been informed of my visit. Describing Hitler and Germany, Mr. Stalin spoke of the necessity of there being a minimum moral standard between all nations and without such a minimum moral standard nations could not co-exist. He stated that the present leaders of Germany knew no such minimum moral standard and that, therefore, they represented an anti-social force in the present world. The Germans were a people, he said, who without a second's thought would sign a treaty today, break it tomorrow and sign a second one the following day. Nations must fulfill their treaty obligations, he said, or international society could not exist. When he completed his general summary of the Soviet Union's attitude toward Germany he said "therefore our views coincide."
The rest of Hopkins report was a discussion of the immediate and the long-term needs as Stalin saw them: for machine guns, antiaircraft guns, rifles, airplanes. At this meeting and at the meeting next day, also at 6:30 in the evening, Stalin briefed Hopkins on the strength and makeup of the German Army and gave him a detailed description of Soviet armament, soldiers, and production capabilities. Stalin wrote down the supplies he needed in order of importance: 1. light antiaircraft guns, 2. aluminum (needed for planes), 3. fifty-caliber machine guns, and 4. thirty-caliber rifles.
Stalin * * *
Hopkins met with Stalin again the following evening, July 31, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., and reported that "after Stalin had completed his review of the military situation, he expressed to me his great thanks to the President for the interest he was showing in their fight against Hitler. He stated that he wanted to give the President the following personal message; that he had considered putting the message in writing but believed it would be more desirable to have the message delivered to the President by me."
Stalin said Hitler's greatest weakness was found in the vast numbers of oppressed people who hated Hitler and the immoral ways of his Government. He believed these people and countless other millions in nations still unconquered could receive the kind of encouragement and moral strength they needed to resist Hitler from only one source, and that was the United States. He stated that the world influence of the President and the Government of the United States was enormous.
Contrary wise, he believes that the morale of the German army and the German people, which he thinks is already pretty low, would be demoralized by an announcement that the United States is going to join in the war against Hitler.
Stalin said that he believed it was inevitable that we should finally come to grips with Hitler on some battlefield. The might of Germany was so great that, even though Russia might defend itself, it would be very difficult for Britain and Russia combined to crush the German military machine. He said that the one thing that could defeat Hitler, and perhaps without ever firing a shot, would be the announcement that the United States was going to war with Germany.
Stalin said that he believed, however, that the war would be bitter and perhaps long; that if we did get in the war he believed the American people would insist on their armies coming to grips with German soldiers; and he wanted me to tell the President that he would welcome the American troops on any part of the Russian front under the complete command of the American Army.
I told Stalin that my mission related entirely to matters of supply and the matter of our joining in the war would be decided largely by Hitler himself and his encroachment upon our fundamental interests. I told him that I doubted that our Government, in event of war would want an American army in Russia but that I would give his message to the President.
He repeatedly said that the President and the United States had more influence with the common people of the world today than any other force.
Finally, he asked me to tell the President that, while he was confident that the Russian Army could withstand the German Army, the problem of supply by next spring would be a serious one and that he needed our help.
In spite of his directives to his appointments secretary and Major General Burns, Roosevelt fretted that the supplies destined for Russia were mired in bureaucratic limbo and wouldn't reach Russia in time to stem the German advance. He directed the following message to Wayne Coy, one of the most respected administrators in Washington, whom Roosevelt had put in charge of Soviet aid in Harry Hopkins's absence:
August 2, 1941 Personal Memorandum for Wayne Coy I raised the point in Cabinet on Friday that nearly six weeks have elapsed since the Russian War began and that we have done practically nothing to get any of the materials they asked for on their actual way to delivery in Siberia. Frankly, if I were a Russian I would feel that I had been given the run-around in the United States
Please get out the list and please, with my full authority, use a heavy hand-act as a burr under the saddle and get things moving....
Step on it!
* * *
Intent on moving the Finnish border, only twenty miles from Leningrad, farther away, the Soviets invaded Finland in 1939. The Finns fought fiercely in the so-called Winter War, but in the end agreed to cede the disputed territory and sign a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union. The resentment toward Russia, however, pushed Finland into the Axis camp. Finland declared war on Russia and joined Hitler in Operation Barbarossa.
The U.S. State Department kept constant diplomatic pressure on Finland beginning in September, informing the Finnish ambassador that the country "would forfeit our friendly support in the future difficulties that would inexorably arise from her course of action." Finland remained an ally of Hitler; the United States finally broke off relations in 1944. Stalin asked Great Britain to declare war on Finland, but the British waited until December 7, 1941-a day after the Finns had declared war on them.
Ambassador Oumansky didn't realize that Roosevelt had left Washington, ostensibly on a vacation but actually to meet Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Argentia Bay in Newfoundland, when he tried to deliver the following message.
Excerpted from My Dear Mr. Stalin Copyright © 2005 by Susan Butler. Excerpted by permission.
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