The story of D-Day has been told many times. It has made a powerful impression on the public through films such as The Longest Day and, more recently, Saving Private Ryan. The recent celebrations, accompanied by a steady stream of television documentaries, have revived the stories about the heroic invasion of France, the terrible cost in human lives, the sacrifice and the bravery. All of this is true. But it does not tell anything like the full story.
The military cemeteries, with their endless lines of crosses, laid out in strict formation, provide no hint of what it was like. The American cemetery is like a beautifully manicured park, with background music from bells that play tunes like The Battle Hymn of the Republic and old men adorned with medals weep for their lost companions and their lost youth.
One curious thing was pointed out to me. The crosses in the American cemetery record only the date of death. There are no dates of birth. Soldiers, it seems, are never born. They only die. That is, in fact, their main function in this life. They die so that others can live in peace and democracy. That is the official legend, at any rate. The truth about war is somewhat different. But on anniversaries such as this, the last thing that is wanted is the truth.
The official celebrations of D-day were like an elaborate piece of theatre. And like all theatre it has to be carefully orchestrated and rehearsed. This year the role of impresario was skilfully played by Jacques Chirac and the French government. As might be expected, they played it with great panache. The villages and towns were all covered with flags of the Allies and placards with slogans such as "Welcome, Liberators" (in English) and "Thank you". It was all very moving.
Moving, yes, but also a little surprising. This was, after all, the sixtieth anniversary. On the fiftieth anniversary, which is a far more logical time to celebrate, the scene was very different. The celebrations then were on a far smaller scale. The official ceremonies were practically limited to a handful of dignitaries. In fact, many of them were actually cordoned off so as to exclude the public altogether.
What is the difference this time? Clearly more was at stake than a historical memory. It had far more to do with our own times, and the fact that, following the row between Europe and the USA over Iraq, the European governments, and France in the first place, are anxiously trying to mend broken bridges. Stung by American criticisms of "ingratitude", the French government was trying to prove its sincere commitment to the North Atlantic Alliance. The D-day anniversary was the perfect excuse.
The many former US servicemen who visited France in recent weeks were undoubtedly sincerely moved by the welcome they received from ordinary French people, who in turn were sincere in their desire to pay tribute to the soldiers who risked everything fighting a bloody war against fascism. When ordinary men and women speak of their desire to live in peace and freedom, there is never any doubt about their sincerity. But the words and deeds of ordinary people is one thing, those of the governments and ruling classes are another thing altogether.
The cross-Channel invasion in the summer of 1944 was undoubtedly a massive feat of military planning, involving colossal resources and manpower. The Germans had fortified the coastline with concrete bunkers and artillery - a huge defence system known as the Atlantic Wall. Despite heavy bombardments the German forces retained considerable strength. I was surprised to see that, even today, a number of German bunkers (some with guns still inside) still remain, like grotesque ruined castles, surrounded by deep bomb craters, defying time.
But the history of warfare shows that walls and bunkers are of little use if there are no serious forces to defend them. In 1940, the French felt secure behind the supposedly impregnable defences of the Maginot Line, until the German army swept round them. The German commander Rundstedt complained to close associates that the wall was nothing but a gigantic bluff, a "propaganda wall." He believed that the invaders had to be hit hard while they were still on the beaches, and driven back into the sea. This required mobile armour, not static defences. Unfortunately, Rundstedt knew his forces were depleted and of generally poor quality:
"Most of the troops left in France were either over-age, or untrained boys, or else Volksdeutschef ethnic Germans from eastern Europe. There were even Soviet prisoners of war -Armenians, Georgians, Cossacks, and other ethnic groups who hated the Russians and wanted to rid their homelands of communism. The weaponry of the coastal divisions was also second-rate, much of it being foreign-made and obsolete." (M. Veranov, The Third Reich at War, p. 490.)
Alarmed by the prospect of an Allied invasion in France, Hitler dispatched Germany's most famous general, the legendary Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, former commander of the Afrikakorps, to assess the coastal defences. The German high command expected to benefit from Rommel's experience and sound technical knowledge, and also hoped that his presence would calm the German public and worry the Allies. But Rommel was shocked by the relative weakness of the German defences and particularly the lack of effective fighting forces.
"Rommel was dismayed by what he found. He was so shocked by the lack of an overall strategic plan that, at first, he dismissed the whole idea of the Atlantic Wall as a figment of Hitler's imagination, calling it a Wolkenkucksheim, cloud-cuckoo-land. He rated the army troops he saw as no more than barely adequate, and he wrote off the navy and the air force as all but useless. The Luftwaffe could muster no more than 300 serviceable fighter planes to meet the thousands of British and American aircraft that could be expected to cover the skies over the invasion beaches, and the navy had only a handful of ships
"Given the manifest weakness of the German forces, Rommel could see no alternative except to make every effort to stop the invaders at the water's edge. From his experience in North Africa, he was convinced that Allied fighter planes and bombers would preclude any large-scale movement of German troops hoping to counter-attack against an established beachhead." (M. Veranov, The Third Reich at War, p. 490.)
The only possibility for the Germans was to halt the invasion on the beaches. As the above lines show, this tactic was determined by weakness, not strength. The Germans concentrated all their best forces for this purpose, with deadly results. Near Saint Laurent, a powerful 88mm anti-tank canon inside a massive protective bunker can still be seen to this day. From this strategic position, with a clear sighting range across the length of Omaha beach, it is easy to imagine the devastating effect of such guns, combined with an incessant hale of machine-gun fire raking the shore, destroying tanks and cutting down soldiers by the score.
Such was the intensity of the German fire that one naval commander prematurely unloaded 29 supposedly amphibious Sherman tanks, too far from the calmer waters near the beach, sending 27 of the tanks straight to the sea-bed with their crews. This left the men of the 116th Regiment without vital tank cover once they were on the beach. On the first day alone, over 2,000 British and American men were killed, wounded or missing.
Despite the heavy losses on the beaches of Normandy, once the British and American forces had landed, the result was a foregone conclusion. The German forces were too weak to offer effective resistance. The reason for this lamentable state of affairs is clear. Hitler had been draining the reserves based in France, in order to make good the heavy losses on the Russian front.
The Normandy landings were an impressive and costly military operation, but they cannot be compared to the scale of the Red Army's offensive in the east. This was quite clear to anyone with the slightest knowledge of the conduct of the war, including the Allied commanders and the governments they represented. In August 1942 the US Joint Chiefs of Staff drew up a document that said:
"In World War II, Russia occupies a dominant position and is the decisive factor looking toward the defeat of the Axis in Europe. While in Sicily the forces of Great Britain and the USA are being opposed by 2 German divisions, the Russian front is receiving the attention of approximately 200 German divisions. Whenever the Allies open a second front on the Continent, it will be decidedly a secondary front to that of Russia; theirs will continue to be the main effort. Without Russia in the war, the Axis cannot be defeated in Europe, and the position of the United Nations becomes precarious." (quoted in V. Sipols, The Road to Great Victory, p. 133.)
These words accurately express the real position that existed at the time of the D-day landings. Yet an entirely different (and false) version of the war is assiduously being cultivated in the media today.
The truth is that the war against Hitler in Europe was fought mainly by the USSR and the Red Army. For most of the war the British and Americans were mere spectators. Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in the Summer of 1941, Moscow repeatedly demanded the opening of a second front against Germany. But Churchill was in no hurry to oblige them. The reason for this was not so much military as political.
The policies and tactics of the British and American ruling class in the Second World War were not at all dictated by a love of democracy or hatred of fascism, as the official propaganda wants us to believe, but by class interests. When Hitler invaded the USSR in 1941, the British ruling class calculated that the Soviet Union would be defeated by Germany, but that in the process Germany would be so enfeebled that it would be possible to step in and kill two birds with one stone. It is likely that the strategists in Washington were thinking on more or less similar lines.
But the plans of both the British and US ruling circles were fundamentally flawed. Instead of being defeated by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union fought back and inflicted a decisive defeat on Hitler's armies. The reason for this extraordinary victory can never be admitted by the defenders of capitalism, but it is a self-evident fact. The existence of a nationalised planned economy gave the USSR an enormous advantage in the war. Despite the criminal policies of Stalin, which nearly brought about the collapse of the USSR at the beginning of the war, the Soviet Union was able to swiftly recover and rebuild its industrial and military capacity.
In 1943 alone, the USSR produced 130,000 pieces of artillery, 24,000 tanks and self-propelled guns, 29,900 combat aircraft. The Nazis, with all the huge resources of Europe behind them, also stepped up production, turning out 73,000 pieces of artillery, 10,700 tanks and assault guns and 19,300 combat aircraft. (See V. Sipols, The Road to a Great Victory, p. 132.) These figures speak for themselves. The USSR, by mobilising the immense power of a planned economy, managed to out-produce and outgun the mighty Wehrmacht. That is the secret of its success.
There was another reason for the formidable fighting capacity of the Red Army. Napoleon long ago stressed the decisive importance of morale in warfare. The Soviet working class was fighting to defend what remained of the gains of the October Revolution. Despite the monstrous crimes of Stalin and the Bureaucracy, the nationalized planned economy represented an enormous historic conquest. Compared with the barbarism of fascism – the distilled essence of imperialism and monopoly capitalism, these were things worth fighting and dying for. The working people of the USSR did both on the most appalling scale.
The real turning point of the War was the Soviet counteroffensive in 1942, culminating in the Battle of Stalingrad and later in the even more decisive Battle of Kursk. After a ferocious battle lasting one week, the German resistance collapsed. To the fury of Hitler, who had ordered the Sixth Army to "fight to the death," General Paulus surrendered to the Soviet army. Even Churchill, that rabid anti-Communist, was compelled to admit that the Red Army had "torn the guts out of the German army" at Stalingrad.
This was a shattering blow to the German army. Though accurate figures are not available, it seems that half of the 250,000 men of the Sixth Army died in combat, or from cold, hunger and disease. About 35,000 reached safety, but of the 90,000 who surrendered, barely 6,000 ever saw Germany again. The Russian victory had cost them about 750,000 men dead, wounded or missing. The cumulative picture was even blacker. In just six months fighting since Mid-November 1942, the Wehrmacht had lost an astonishing 1,250,000 men, 5,000 aircraft, 9,000 tanks and 20,000 pieces of artillery. Over a hundred divisions had either been destroyed or ceased to exist as effective fighting units.
Martin Gilbert writes: "In the first weeks of 1943 the resurgent Red Army seemed to be on the attack everywhere. Operation Star was a massive Soviet advance west of the river Don. On 14 February the Russians captured Kharkov, and further south they were approaching the Dnieper river." (M. Gilbert, Second World War) Far more than the Normandy landings, the battle of Kursk in July 1943 was the most decisive battle of the Second War. The German army lost over 400 tanks in this epic struggle.
After this shattering blow, the Russian armies began to push the Germans on a long front back towards the west. This was the greatest military offensive in all of history. It immediately caused the alarm bells to ring in London and Washington. The real reason for the Normandy landings was that if the British and Americans had not immediately opened the second front in France, they would have met the Red Army on the Channel.
The reason for the Churchill-Roosevelt conflict
Already at that time, the ruling circles in Britain and the USA were preparing for the coming conflict between the West and the USSR. The real reason why they hastened to open the second front in 1944 was to ensure that the Red Army's advance was halted. George Marshall expressed the hope that Germany would "facilitate our entry into the country to repel the Russians." (ibid., p. 135.).
The conflicts between Churchill and Roosevelt on the question of D-day were of a political and not a military character. Churchill wanted to confine the Allies' war to the Mediterranean, partly with an eye on the Suez Canal and the route to British India, and partly because he was contemplating an invasion of the Balkans to bloc the Red Army's advance there. In other words, his calculations were based exclusively on the strategic interests of British imperialism and the need to defend the British empire. In addition, Churchill had still not entirely given up the hope that Russia and Germany would exhaust themselves, creating a stalemate in the east.
The interests of US imperialism and British imperialism were entirely contradictory in this respect. Washington, while formally the ally of London, was all the time aiming to use the war to weaken the position of Britain in the world and particularly to break its stranglehold on India and Africa. At the same time it was concerned to halt the advance of the Red Army and gain control over a weakened Europe after the war. That explains the haste of the Americans to open the second front in Europe and Churchill's lack of enthusiasm for it. Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's main diplomatic representative, complained that Churchill's delaying tactics had "lengthened the timing of the war."
In August 1943 Churchill and Roosevelt met in Quebec against the background of a powerful Soviet offensive. The Soviet victories at Stalingrad and Kursk forced the British and Americans to act. The remorseless Soviet advance obliged even Churchill to reconsider his position. Reluctantly, Churchill gave in to the insistent demands of the American President. Even so, the opening of the second front was delayed until the Spring of 1944.
All along the conduct of the war by the British and US imperialists was dictated, not by the need to defeat fascism and defend democracy, but by the cynical considerations of great power politics. The divisions between London and Washington arose because the interests of British and US imperialism were different, and even antagonistic. American imperialism did not want Hitler to succeed because that would have created a powerful rival to the USA in Europe. On the other hand, it was in the interests of US imperialism to weaken Britain and its empire, because it aimed to replace Britain as the leading power in the world after the defeat of Germany and Japan.
The decision to open a second front in Italy was dictated mainly by the fear that, following the overthrow of Mussolini in 1943, the Italian Communists would take power. The main aim of the British and Americans was, therefore, to prevent the Italian Communists from taking power. So at a time when the Red Army was taking on the full weight of the Wehrmacht in the battle of Kursk, the British and Americans were wading ashore on the beaches of Sicily. In vain Mussolini pleaded with Hitler to send him reinforcements. All Hitler's attention was focused on the Russian front.
Churchill's attention was fixed on the Mediterranean, a position determined by the strategic concerns and interests of British imperialism and its empire. However, from late 1943 it became clear to the Americans that the USSR was winning the war on the eastern front and if nothing was done, the Red Army would just roll through Europe. That is why Roosevelt pressed for the opening of the second front in France. On the other hand, Churchill was constantly arguing for delay. This led to severe frictions between London and Washington. One recent article on the subject states:
"The Normandy landings were long foreshadowed by a considerable amount of political manoeuvring amongst the allies. There was much disagreement about timing, appointments of command, and where exactly the landings were to take place. The opening of a second front had been long postponed (it had been initially mooted in 1942), and had been a particular source of strain between the allies. Stalin had been pressing the Western Allies to launch a 'second front' since 1942. Churchill had argued for delay until victory could be assured, preferring to attack Italy and North Africa first." (http://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Battle%20of%20Normandy)
The concerns of the imperialists were openly expressed in a meeting of the Joint British and American Chiefs of Staff that took place in Cairo on November 25, 1943. They noted that "the Russian campaign has succeeded beyond all hope and expectations [that is, the hopes of the Russians and the expectations of their "allies"] and their victorious advance continues." Yet Churchill continued to argue for a postponement of Operation Overlord.
Conflicts with Stalin
The date of the invasion had been fixed for 1 May, but a Note submitted to the meeting stated: "We must not, however, regard ‘Overlord' on a fixed date as the pivot of our whole strategy on which all else turns. In actual fact, the German strength in France next Spring may, at one end of the scale, be something which makes Overlord Completely impossible." It would "inevitably paralyse action in other theatres." (Public Record Office, Prem. 3/136/5, vol. 2, pp. 77-8.)
What "other theatres" are referred to here? The answer was provided in another Note entitled "Entry of Turkey into the War." It stated that for Turkey to declare war on Germany would spark off hostilities in the Balkans which "would involve the postponement of ‘Overlord' to a date that might be as late as the 15th of July." (Public Record Office, Prem. 3/136/5, vol. 2, pp. 106-7.). In other words, Churchill was still concentrating on the Mediterranean and the Balkans. Referring to this, George Marshall told the US Joint Chiefs of Staff that "the British might like to ditch ‘Overlord' now in order to go into the Balkans." (John Ehrman, Grand Strategy, vol. V, August 1943-September 1944, p. 117.)
The argument about the second front continued in Teheran, where Stalin met Churchill and Roosevelt on November 28, 1943. The next day, the following exchange took place between Stalin and Churchill:
"Stalin: If possible, it would be good to undertake Operation Overlord during the month of May, say, on the 10th, 15th or 20th.
"Churchill: I cannot give such a commitment.
"Stalin: ‘If Overlord were to be undertaken in August, as Churchill said yesterday, nothing would come out of that operation because of the bad weather during that period. April and May are the most convenient months for Overlord.
"Churchill: […] I do not think that many of the possible operations in the Mediterranean should be neglected as insignificant merely for the sake of avoiding a delay in Overlord for two or three months.
"Stalin: The operations in the Mediterranean Churchill is talking about are really only diversions." (The Teheran Conference, p. 97.)
That was absolutely correct. The Mediterranean operations were a sideshow compared to the titanic battles on the eastern front. To make matters worse, the British and US forces in Italy, although they had a considerable superiority over the German army, were slowing their advance, allowing the Wehrmacht to move forces from Italy to the Russian front. On November 6, 1943, Molotov had pointed out that the Soviet Union was "displeased by the fact that operations in Italy have been suspended," allowing for this transfer of troops to the eastern front. "True," he said, "our forces are gaining ground, but they are doing so at the cost of heavy losses." (Quoted by Sipols, p. 161.)
The slowness of the Allied advance in Italy was no coincidence. It is now common knowledge that the British and American forces could have taken Rome without having to battle it out for months at Montecassino. They organised a landing at Anzio, further up the coast from Montecassino, and if they had marched quickly towards Rome they could have cut off the German troops who had dug in around the Abbey of Montecassino. Instead they wasted precious time in building their bridgehead on the beach. This allowed the German army to regroup and build a defensive line that basically kept the Allied troops on the beach of Anzio. Once this happened there remained no alternative but to fight their way through the formidable German defence lines at Montecassino. The Allies lost a huge number of soldiers and were bogged down for months as result.
What is evident is that the British and Americans were worried that the partisans could come to power long before the arrival of the Allied forces. Their view was that it was better to let the Nazis fight it out with the partisans and thus weaken the resistance forces. Thus while the Allies were fighting the Germans in Italy, there was an undeclared and tacit agreement between the two sides when it came to stopping the common class enemy, in this case the Italian working class.
However, going back to the question of the second front, it was clear that Roosevelt took a rather different position to Churchill. The Americans had their own reasons for wanting to satisfy the demands of the USSR to open the second front in Europe. They were involved in a bloody war with Japan in the Pacific, where their troops had to capture heavily defended islands, one by one. They realised that, to take on the powerful land armies of Japan on the Asian mainland would be a formidable task, unless the Red Army also launched an offensive against the Japanese in China, Manchuria and Korea. Stalin let it be known that the Red Army would attack the Japanese, but only after the German army had been defeated. This was a weighty reason for Roosevelt to agree to Russia's demand to launch ‘Overlord' and overrule the objections of the British.
Fears in London and Washington
The rapid advance of the Red Army in Europe at last forced Churchill to change his mind about Overlord. From a position of supine inactivity in Europe, the Allies hurriedly moved into action. The fear of the Soviet advance was now the main factor in the equations of both London and Washington. So worried were the imperialists that they actually worked out a new plan, Operation Rankin, involving an emergency landing in Germany if it should collapse or surrender. They were determined to get to Berlin before the Red Army. "We should go as far as Berlin […]", Roosevelt told the Chiefs of Staff on his way to the Cairo meeting. "The Soviets could then take the territory to the east thereof. The United States should have Berlin." (FRUS, The Conferences at Cairo and Teheran, 1943, p. 254.)
Despite the successes of the Red Army, Hitler still had considerable forces at his disposal. The Wehrmacht remained a formidable fighting machine, with over ten million men, over six and a half million of them in the field. But what is never made clear in the West is that two-thirds of these were concentrated on the Russian front. The only contribution of the British and Americans was the bombing campaigns that devastated German cities like Hamburg and killed a huge number of civilians, but which completely failed either to destroy the Germans' fighting spirit or halt war production.
The German forces on the eastern front had 54,000 guns and mortars, more than 5,000 tanks and assault guns and 3,000 combat aircraft. In spite of the Allied bombing raids, Hitler's war industries were increasing their production in 1944. They produced 148,200 guns, as against 73,700 in 1943. Production of tanks and assault guns increased from 10,700 to 18,300 and of combat aircraft from 19,300 to 34,100.
The Red Army launched a huge offensive in late December, 1943, which swept all before it. After liberating the Ukraine, they pushed the German forces back through Eastern Europe. The fact is that both Roosevelt and Churchill (not to mention Hitler) had underestimated the Soviet Union. In the event, the Allies met the Red Army, not in Berlin but deep inside Germany. If they had not launched Overlord when they did, they would have met them on the English Channel. That is why the D-Day landings were launched when they were.
The fact is that even after the Normandy landings of June 1944, the eastern front remained the most important front of the war in Europe. The British and US armies got as far as the borders of Germany but were halted there. On the other hand, the advance of the Red Army was the most spectacular in the whole history of warfare. In December 1944, the German High Command decided to launch a counteroffensive in the Ardennes (the "Battle of the Bulge"), with the aim of cutting off the British and US forces in Belgium and Holland from the main Allied forces. The aim of this offensive was more political than military. Hitler hoped to force the British and Americans to sign a separate peace. But the German forces on the western front were too weak to inflict a decisive blow, since most were concentrated on the main theatre of operations in the East. The Wehrmacht advanced some ninety kilometres before being halted.
Churchill wrote to Stalin on January 6, 1945:
"The battle in the West is very heavy and, at any time, large decisions may be called for from the Supreme Command. You know yourself from your own experience how very anxious the position is when a very broad front has to be defended after temporary loss of the initiative. It is General Eisenhower's great desire and need to know in outline what you plan to do, as this obviously affects all his and our major decisions […] I shall be grateful if you can tell me whether we can count on a major Russian offensive on the Vistula front, or elsewhere, during January […] I regard the matter as urgent." (Correspondence between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. and the Presidents of the United States and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945, vol. 1, Moscow, 1957, p. 294.)
The Soviet forces did advance on January 12, pushing the German army back on a broad front. The British and US imperialists were placed in a difficult position. On the one hand, as Churchill's letter shows, they were dependent on the military power of the USSR to defeat Hitler. On the other hand, they were terrified of revolution in Eastern Europe and the rapid advance of the Red Army and the power of the USSR.
Behind the German lines on the Eastern Front, many thousands of Soviet workers and peasants engaged in a heroic and desperate partisan war. On the night of June 19, 1944, more than ten thousand demolition charges laid by Soviet partisans damaged beyond immediate repair the whole German rail network west of Minsk. On the next two nights, a further forty thousand charges blew up the railway lines between Vitebsk and Orsha, and Polotsk and Molodechno. The essential lines for German reinforcements, linking Minsk with Brest-Litovsk and Pinsk, were also attacked, while 140,000 Soviet partisans, west of Vitebsk and south of Polotsk, attacked German military formations.
Martin Gilbert writes: "All this, however, was just the opening prelude to the morning of June 22, when the Red Army opened its summer offensive. Code-named Operation Bagration, after the tsarist General, it began on the third anniversary of Hitler's invasion of Russia, with a force larger than that of Hitler's in 1941. In all, 1,700,000 Soviet troops took part, supported by 2,715 tanks, 1,355 self-propelled guns, 24,000 artillery pieces and 2,306 rocket launchers, sustained in the air by six thousand aircraft, and on the ground by 70,000 lorries and up to a hundred supply trains a day. In one week, the two-hundred-mile-long German front was broken, and the Germans driven back towards Bobruisk, Stolbtsy, Minsk and Grodno, their hold on western Russia broken for ever. In one week, 38,000 German troops had been killed and 116,000 taken prisoner. The Germans also lost two thousand tanks, ten thousand heavy guns, and 57,000 vehicles. German Army Group North, on which so much depended, was broken into two segments, one retreating towards the Baltic States, the other towards East Prussia." (M. Gilbert, Second World War, p. 544.)
Offensive operations on the Western front were renewed in February. In fact, the British and US forces met with little serious resistance, because the great majority of Hitler's effective fighting forces were fighting on the eastern front. This enabled the British and American forces to advance all along the length of the Rhine. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, admitted that they had not encountered any serious opposition. The two US divisions that made the assault suffered only thirty-one casualties. (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, New York, 1948, p. 389, my emphasis, AW.)
The fighting spirit of the German army was broken. An average of 10,000 German soldiers surrendered to the British and Americans every day. Yet on the eastern front they continued to fight desperately on. The reason for this must be found in the policies of Stalin. Under Lenin and Trotsky, the Bolsheviks had pursued an internationalist policy. During the bloody Civil War that followed the October revolution, Soviet Russia was invaded by 21 foreign armies of intervention. At one time the Soviet power was reduced to the area around Moscow and Petrograd – little more than the territory of ancient Muscovy. Yet the Revolution succeeded in defeating the imperialists. The reason was that the Bolsheviks carried out internationalist propaganda among the imperialist troops.
As a result, there were mutinies in every one of the interventionist armies. The British prime minister Lloyd George said that the British soldiers had to be withdrawn from Murmansk because they were "infected with Bolshevik propaganda." By contrast, Stalin pursued a nationalist policy. There was no attempt to win over the ordinary German soldier and to turn them against the Nazi SS. In effect, Stalin's policy was "the only good German is a dead German." This ensured that the German army on the eastern front fought to the bitter end, causing terrible casualties in the Soviet army.
The problem for London and Washington was that the Red Army was sweeping through Eastern Europe like an irresistible wave. In only 12 days the Soviet troops moved forward up to 500 kilometres – that is, 25-30 kilometres per day. The German army lost 300,000 killed and 100,000 were taken prisoner. By the time the American and British forces had recovered from the Battle of the Bulge and recommenced their advance on February 8 the Red Army was only 60 kilometres from Berlin, while the British and Americans were still 500 kilometres distant. By the beginning of April the Nazi forces had been driven out of Poland. On April 13 the Soviet forces entered Vienna.
The Nazi leaders knew they had lost the war but a section of them were hoping that the alliance between the USSR and the British and Americans would break down. The idea was to surrender in the west and keep on fighting the Russians in the east. This was not as impossible as it might seem. Negotiations were opened in Switzerland between the chief of American Intelligence in Europe, Allen Dulles, and the representative of the German High Command in Italy, S.S. General Wolff, about a German surrender in Italy.
Upon learning of these negotiations, the Russians insisted on their right to be present in any such negotiations. They were concerned – quite rightly – that the aim of such a surrender would be to transfer German troops from Italy to the eastern front to hold up the advance of the Red Army, thus permitting the British and US forces to advance further eastwards.
Churchill wrote to Stalin with an air of hurt innocence, while Roosevelt assured Stalin of his "truthfulness and reliability". (Correspondence…, vol. 2, p. 206 and vol. 1, pp. 317-8.) American representatives said that the only contacts they had established with the Germans were to discuss the opening of negotiations. This was a lie. American records reveal that negotiations were already being conducted in Bern. From this it is clear that the aim of the Nazis was indeed to halt the fighting in Italy to transfer troops to the eastern front. (See Bradley F. Smith and Elena Agarossi, Operation Sunrise, The Secret Surrender, Basic Books, New York, 1979.)
In mid-April, the Red Army delivered a crushing blow to the German forces defending Berlin. It had 2.5 million troops, 41,600 guns and mortars, 6,250 tanks and self-propelled guns, and 7,500 combat aircraft. They closed in on Berlin on April 25. Simultaneously, the Soviet and US forces linked up at Torgau on the Elbe, cutting Germany in half.
All this, however, did not mean that the British and American imperialists had not given serious consideration to the possibility of a war against the USSR. In fact, the ruling circles in both London and Washington had considered the possibility, but they realised it was impossible. After fighting a bloody war that was supposed to be a war against fascism, the American and British soldiers would never have been prepared to fight against the Soviet Union. The fears aroused by the economic and military successes of the USSR were expressed in internal memos that were only published years later. A special document was prepared by the US State Department, which stated:
"The outstanding fact [that] has to be noted is the recent phenomenal development of the heretofore latent Russian military and economic strength – a development which seems certain to prove epochal in its bearing on future politico-military international relationships, and which is yet to reach the full scope attainable with Russian resources." (FRUS, The Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945, pp. 107-8.)
These lines startlingly reveal the real calculations of the imperialists. At the height of the War, the British and US ruling circles were already sizing up the situation in Europe and preparing for a struggle against their Russian allies. The Americans considered the possibility of a war against the Soviet Union even before Hitler was defeated, and ruled it out – only because they correctly though that they could not win.The report pointed out that the USSR's military and industrial strength was already greater than that of Britain. Even if the USA joined forces with Britain against the USSR, the report concluded, with amazing frankness, they "could not, under existing conditions, defeat Russia." The State Department concluded that in such a conflict the USA "would find itself engaged in a war which it could not win." (ibid., my emphasis, AW)