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The Soviet offensive plans controversy refers to the debate among historians on the question of whether Joseph Stalin was planning to invade Germany prior to Operation Barbarossa, which caught the Soviet government by surprise.



Immediately after the German invasion of the USSR during World War Two, Adolf Hitler put forward a thesis that the Red Army made extensive preparations for an offensive war in Europe, thus justifying the German invasion as a pre-emptive strike.[1] After war this view was brought forward by some Wehrmacht leaders, like Wilhelm Keitel.[2]

Suvorov, "Icebreaker", and the 1980s

In the 1980s, this thesis was reiterated by Victor Suvorov, a former officer of the Soviet military intelligencein his book "Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War"[3] and several subsequent books. He argued that Soviet ground forces were extremely well organized, and were mobilizing en masse all along the German-Soviet border for a Soviet invasion of Europe slated for Sunday July 6, 1941, but they were totally unprepared for defensive operations on their own territory.

One of Suvorov's pieces of evidence favoring the theory of an impending Soviet attack was his claim regarding the maps and phrasebooks issued to Soviet troops. Military topographic maps, unlike other military supplies, are strictly local and cannot be used elsewhere than in the intended operational area. Suvorov claims Soviet units were issued with maps of Germany and German-occupied territory, and phrasebooks including questions about SA offices — SA offices were found only in German territory proper. In contrast, maps of Soviet territory were scarce. Notably, after the German attack, the officer responsible for maps, Lieutenant General M.K. Kudryavtsev was not punished by Stalin, who was known for extreme punishments after failures to obey his orders. According to Suvorov, this demonstrates that General Kudryavtsev was obeying the orders of Stalin, who simply did not expect a German attack.

Reactions and critiques

In some countries, particularly in Russia, Germany and Israel Suvorov's thesis has jumped the bounds of academic discourse and captured the imagination of the public.[1] However, the most widely read and specialized studies of the Soviet history lend no support to Suvorov's ideas[4] Among the noted critics of Suvorov's work are Israeli historian Gabriel Gorodetsky, American military historian David Glantz,[5], Russian military historians Makhmut Gareev and Lev Bezymensky, and perhaps his most vehement Russian opponent Alexei Isayev,[6] the author of Anti-Suvorov. Many other western scholars, such as Teddy J. Uldricks,[1] Derek Watson,[7] Hugh Ragsdale,[8] Roger Reese,[9] Stephen Blank,[10] Robin Edmonds,[11] agree that the major Suvorov's writings rest circumstantial evidences,[12] or even on "virtually no evidentiary base"[1] [13] According to Jonathan Haslam, Suvorov's claim that "Germany frustrated Stalin's war"[14] "would be comical were it not taken so seriously".[15] Late Soviet emigre historian Alexandr Nekrich (extremely critical of Stalin in other contexts) also rejected major Suvorov ideas as unsubstantiated and contrary to the broader Stalin's policy.[16]

Nevertheless, studies of some historians, e.g. Russian military historian Mikhail Meltyukhov (“Stalin's Missed Chance”) gave partial support to the claim that Soviet forces were concentrating in order to attack Germany. Other historians who support this thesis are Vladimir Nevezhin, Boris Sokolov, Valeri Danilov and Joachim Hoffmann.[17]. Offensive interpretation of Stalin's prewar planning is also supported by Robert C. Tucker and Pavel Bobylev.[18] Moreover, it is argued that the actual Soviet troop concentrations were near the border, just like fuel depots and airfields. All of this is claimed to be unsuitable for defensive operations.[19] It is interesting to note that while mainstream Western historians mainly dismiss Suvorovs' ideas and are not in support of reassessing Stalin and his war plans, historians from Post-Soviet countries in Eastern Europe (for example one of main Latvian historian of the World War 2 period - Inesis Feldmanis) and also liberal historians in Russia are much more in favor of rethinking Soviet Union's foreign policy during Stalin and look more favorably on Suvorovs thesis.

Strength of the opposing forces on the
Soviet Western border. June 22, 1941
Germany and Allies Soviet Union Ratio
Divisions 166 190 1 : 1.1
Personnel 4,306,800 3,289,851 1.3 : 1
Guns and mortars 42,601 59,787 1 : 1.4
Tanks (incl assault guns) 4,171 15,687 1 : 3.8
Aircraft 4,389[20] 11, 537[21] 1 : 2.6
Source: Mikhail MeltyukhovStalin's Missed Chance” table 47,[22]

Supporters of Soviet offensive plans theory also refer to some recently discovered facts, e.g. publication of Zhukov's proposal of May 15, 1941[23], which called for a Soviet strike against Germany. This document suggested secret mobilization and deploying Red Army troops next to the western border, under the cover of training.[24] However, Robin Edmonds argued that RKKA's planning staff would not have been doing its job well if it had not considered a potential possibility of a pre-emptive strike against Wehrmacht,[11] whereas Teddy J. Uldricks pointed out that there is no documentary evidence that this Zhukov's proposal was accepted by Stalin.[1] Another piece of evidence is a recently discovered Stalin's speech on the 5 May 1941 when he revealed his mind to graduating military cadets.[25] He proclaimed: "A good defense signifies the need to attack. Attack is the best form of defense... We must now conduct a peaceful, defensive policy with attack. Yes, defense with attack. We must now re-teach our army and commanders. Educate them in the spirit of attack"[26]. However, according to Michael Jabara Carley, this speech could be equally interpreted as a deliberate attempt to discourage the Germans from launching the war.[27]

Other Russian historians, Iu. Gor'kov, A.S. Orlov, Iu. A. Polyakov, Dmitri Volkogonov analyzed newly available evidence to demonstrate that Soviet forces were certainly not ready for the attack.[1]

According to Meltyukhov, the January 1941 strategic war games on 'Northern' and 'Southern' variants (conducted respectively on January 2-6 and Jan. 8-11 1941, as also depicted in articles by Pavel Bobylev[28]) did indeed assume that the forces of the 'East' (i.e. USSR) at first had to repel an assault by the 'West' (i.e. Germany), no concrete actions on how this could take place were covered. Instead, the war games concentrated on the Soviet 'counterattack'. As the attack of the forces of the 'East' was more successful in the Southern variant, this area was chosen as the main direction of Soviet forces[29].

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Teddy J. Uldricks. The Icebreaker Controversy: Did Stalin Plan to Attack Hitler? Slavic Review, Vol. 58, No. 3 (Autumn, 1999), pp. 626-643
  2. ^ André Mineau. Operation Barbarossa: ideology and ethics against human dignity Rodopi, 2004. ISBN 9789042016330
  3. ^ Viktor Suvorov, Thomas B. Beattie. Icebreaker: who started the Second World War? Hamish Hamilton, 1990. ISBN 0241126223, 9780241126226
  4. ^ R. C. Raack Reviewed work(s):Was the USSR Planning to Attack Germany in 1941? by Joseph Bradley Source: Central European History, Vol. 32, No. 4 (1999), pp. 491-493)
  5. ^ David M. Glantz (Source: The Journal of Military History, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Apr., 1991), pp. 263-264
  6. ^ See Alexei Isayev at Russian Language Wikipedia (Russian)
  7. ^ Source: Slavic Review, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Summer, 2000), pp. 492)
  8. ^ Hugh Ragsdale, Reviewed work(s): Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia by Gabriel Gorodetsky, Slavic Review, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Summer, 2000), pp. 466-467
  9. ^ Slavic Review, Vol. 59, No. 1 (Spring, 2000), p. 227
  10. ^ Russian Review, Vol. 59, No. 2 (Apr., 2000), pp. 310-311
  11. ^ a b Reviewed work(s): Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? by Viktor Suvorov ; Thomas B. Beattle. Source: International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 66, No. 4, Seventieth Anniversary Issue (Oct., 1990), p. 812
  12. ^ Chris Bellami. Absolute war. Soviet Russia in the Second World War. Vinage, 2007. ISBN 9870375724718. p.103.
  13. ^ Cynthia A. Roberts. "Planning for War: The Red Army and the Catastrophe of 1941" Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 47, No. 8 (Dec., 1995), pp. 1293-1326
  14. ^ V. Suvorov, Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? (London, 1990) p. 325
  15. ^ Jonathan Haslam. Reviewed work(s): Stalin's Drive to the West, 1938-1945: The Origins of the Cold War. by R. Raack The Soviet Union and the Origins of the Second World War: Russo-German Relations and the Road to War, 1933-1941. by G. Roberts. The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Dec., 1997), pp. 785-797
  16. ^ Aleksandr Moiseevich Nekrich, Adam Bruno Ulam, Gregory L. Freeze. Pariahs, Partners, Predators: German-Soviet Relations, 1922-1941. Columbia University Press, 1997. ISBN 0231106769, 9780231106764, p. 233
  17. ^ Bellamy 2007, p. 115.
  18. ^ Weeks 2003, p. 103.
  19. ^ (Maser 1994: 376–378; Hoffmann 1999: 52–56)
  20. ^ Bergström 2007, p. 130:Uses figures from German archives. Bundesarchiv-Militararchiv, Frieburg; Luftfahrtmuseum, Hannover-Laatzen; WASt Deutsche Dienststelle, Berlin
  21. ^ Bergström 2007, p. 131-2: Uses Soviet Record Archives including the Rosvoyentsentr, Moscow; Russian Aviation Research Trust; Russian Central Military Archive TsAMO, Podolsk; Monino Air Force Museum, Moscow.
  22. ^ Meltyukhov 2000, (electronic version). Note that due to the fact that Russian archives have been and to an extent still are inaccessible, exact figures have been difficult to ascertain.
    The official Soviet sources invariably over-estimated German strength and downplayed Soviet strength, as emphasized by David Glantz (1998:292). Some of the earlier Soviet figures claimed that there had been only 1,540 Soviet aircraft to face Germany's 4,950; that there were merely 1,800 Red Army tanks and assault guns facing 2,800 German units etc.
    In 1991, Russian military historian Mikhail Meltyukhov published an article on this question (Мельтюхов М.И. 22 июня 1941 г.: цифры свидетельствуют // История СССР. 1991. № 3) with other figures that slightly differed from those of the table here, though had similar ratios. Glantz (1998:293) was of the opinion that those figures “appear[ed] to be most accurate regarding Soviet forces and those of Germany's allies,″ though other figures also occur in modern publications.
  23. ^ Russian original
  24. ^ Stalin: The First In-depth Biography Based on Explosive New Documents from Russia's Secret Archives, Anchor, (1997) ISBN 0-385-47954-9, pages 454-459
  25. ^ Robert Service, Stalin: A Biography,Macmillan, 2004 ISBN 978-0-330-41913-0, Chapter: The Devils Sup', Volkogonov Papers, reel no.8, p.1.
  26. ^ N. Lyashchenko, 'O vystuplenii I. V. Stalina v Kremle, 5 maya 1941', Volkogonov Papers, reel no.8, p.1.
  27. ^ Michael Jabara Carley. Review: Soviet Foreign Policy in the West, 1936-1941: A Review Article. Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 56, No. 7 (Nov., 2004), pp. 1081-1093
  28. ^ Бобылев П.И. Репетиция катастрофы//Военно-исторический журнал. 1993. № 7. С. 14—21; № 8. С,28—35; Русский архив: Великая Отечественная. Т.12(1). М..1993. С,388—390; Бобылев П.Н. К какой войне готовился Генеральный штаб РККА в 1941 году//Отечественная история. 1995. № 5. С.3—20
  29. ^


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