(a) Norway, then France, Fall
Yet there remained the serious obstacle of Germany’s U-boats and air superiority. And besides this problem, to guarantee its own iron and steel ‘security’, it was quite possible that Hitler might be planning to occupy Norway, - which, indeed, he was. However, on April 8, the mining off Narvik went ahead, Norway’s government being notified later.(WC4i, 531) On the same day Germany invaded first Denmark then, with 7 divisions, Norway - all its main ports, including Narvik, being in German hands within 48 hours. Notwithstanding the radically changed situation, British plans, which by then included a military operation to recover Narvik and other German-held territories went ahead despite the fact that the 2 British divisions (originally destined for Finland) were unavailable – they having been sent to France. Thus only 11 battalions were ready to go on the night of April 10, the rest, together with a French Alpine division, being due 3-4 days later.(WC4i, 540) Yet writing on April 10 to Admiral Pound about the enemy’s occupation of the Norwegian ports, Churchill expressed the view that “….large-scale operations will be needed to turn them out of any of them. ..…Narvik must be fought for. Although we have been completely outwitted, there is no reason to suppose that prolonged and serious fighting in the area will not impose a greater drain on the enemy than on ourselves.” (WC4i, 540-1)
But why the optimism for, as Churchill was later to write, the starker picture was that: “It was from the beginning obviously impossible for us to rescue Southern Norway. Almost all our trained troops, and many only half trained, were in France. ……. Still we felt bound to do our utmost to go to their aid, even at violent derangement of our own preparations and interests. Narvik, it seems, could certainly be seized and defended with benefit to the whole Allied cause. …… The troops which had been released from the Finnish project, and a nucleus kept on hand for Narvik, could soon be ready. They lacked aircraft, anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank guns, tanks, transport, and training. The whole of Northern Norway was covered with snow to depths which none of our soldiers had ever seen, felt, or imagined. There were neither snow shoes nor skis – still less skiers. We must do our best. Thus began this ramshackle campaign.” (WC4i, 547)
Notwithstanding that reality, within a week of writing to Admiral Pound, Churchill on April 17, 1940, outlined to the Supreme War Council his plan (Operation Hammer) for a landing at Trondheim using a 2,500-strong French Brigade supported by 1,000 Canadians and “…about 1,000 men of a Territorial brigade as a reserve.”, the landing to be on April 22 – a second demi-brigade of Chasseurs Alpins due on the 25th. (WC4i,561) And so it went ahead using the forces of other nations as much as possible, a long-established feature of British military campaigns. In the event, however, in both the Trondheim and Narvik areas, Germany’s vast superiority in U-boats, land, and air power soon overwhelmed the small, ill-equipped forces valiantly attempting to gain a foothold. Consequently, throughout May, one-by-one, these forces had to be evacuated, the last from Narvik in Norway’s far north on June 8.
Moreover, even as Churchill and Prime Minister Chamberlain met with the Supreme War Council in Paris on April 22, an early German invasion of Western Europe was being planned. In fact it occurred within weeks, but before that, on May 7 the British government had reached crisis point, its Opposition forcing a debate on leadership, many on both sides of the House insisting Chamberlain step down. The outcome, hastened by Germany’s invasion of Holland, Belgium and France on May 10 - was a new broad coalition National government brought in with Opposition support - on condition it be led by Churchill (not Lord Halifax or other Hitler sympathiser!).(WC4i, 573-4; 593-601)
Hitler’s attack on Western Europe was a demonstration of overwhelming military force applied at lightning speed. With 136 divisions, many armoured, and backed by 2,500 aircraft, it was indeed a ‘Blitzkrieg’, a lightning war, one carried out with ruthless ‘efficiency’, including the bombing of cities like Rotterdam and the machine-gunning of refugees fleeing the highways. By May 21 German forces had reached the Channel and Churchill was preparing to evacuate his fast-retreating troops. Broadcasting to the British people for the first time as Prime Minister, Churchill was to say “This is one of the most awe-inspiring periods in the long history of France and Britain. .….It is also beyond doubt the most sublime.” (One is used to accounting for various views, but “sublime” ?!!) Churchill then went on to proclaim how Britain and France would have to conquer, “….as conquer we must, as conquer we shall.” Hitler’s response was one of elation, commenting “The British can have their peace as soon as they return our colonies to us.” (MG2,309)
There followed the successful evacuation of over 300,000 British soldiers from Dunkirk, 150,000 from other ports. Grave times indeed, for on May 28 as the first 30,000 were embarking, British, French, Polish and Norwegian soldiers were being landed at Narvik, 150 being lost in the assault – all unaware that the decision for their complete withdrawal had already been taken! (MG2,311) Although the evacuations from northern France rescued a total of 338,226 British soldiers, some 34,000 remained behind, along with most tanks, vehicles, guns and other equipment. All the above was ‘good news’ for Hitler who, cock-a-hoop, was heard saying to one of his generals how he could now “ ..begin the final scores with Bolshevism.” Towards that task he soon had the added support of Italy when on June 10 Mussolini, having seen the British evacuation and stricken state of France, ‘valiantly’ declared war on both countries.(MG2, 316)
Of course Hitler had still to subdue the rest of France, but with help from sympathetic collaborators at the highest levels this was soon accomplished. German troops freely entered Paris on June 14, the government making a separate peace with Germany on June 16. Marshall Petain, replacing Reynaud as Prime Minister, was delegated to administer the southerly regions of unoccupied France (with Vichy as its capital) along with France’s colonial possessions. While all this ‘success’ for Hitler came with apparent ease, there were in fact great human losses, including 100,000 military deaths. As in WWI, the French had paid the West’s major cost, losing 92,000, Belgium next with 7,500 and Germany with 5,000, while Britain’s loss was 3,500 and Holland’s 2,900.(MG2, 323)
Clearly the situation was extremely grim. As Britain’s Prime Minister Churchill wrote, although he would not “…enter into any peace negotiations with Hitler …… obviously I cannot bind a future government which, if we were deserted by the United States and beaten down here, might very easily be a kind of Quisling affair ready to accept German overlordship and protection.” (MG2,325) That situation was a real possibility because there followed a full year, from mid June 1940 to June 1941, in which Britain and its Dominions, bereft of all former allies - France, Russia, Italy, Japan, United States - literally ‘stood alone’ against the threat of German, Japanese and Italian aggression. But ‘standing alone’ is exactly what it was, for (even had it been so motivated) as long as Britain was ‘alone’ it was powerless to challenge Hitler’s Germany, let alone the combined military force of the Axis Powers. It was in fact a rather precarious, and (fortunately for Britain) temporary stand-off. And this remained the situation until June 25, 1941 when Hitler, in one absolutely ‘brilliant’ move, ordered Germany’s invasion of the USSR, thereby both relieving the pressure on Britain and ensuring his own country’s eventual defeat. The only other country that could have added to that certainty was the United States which, following Japan’s Pearl Harbour attack on December 7, 1941, it did.
(b) A British Settlement with Hitler?
But going back to1940, despite Churchill’s determination to hold fast, there was within Britain’s upper circles much serious consideration of the necessity, even desirability, of a settlement with Hitler. Lords Halifax, Londonderry, Lothian, Astor, Beaverbrook, Hoare, together with Neville Chamberlain, Geoffrey Dawson, David Lloyd George, and many other influential figures long sympathetic to Hitler’s aims, were not satisfied with Churchill’s approach to Britain’s predicament, an approach they saw as wildly brash, quite unreal. In view of his past war-time Prime Ministership, as well as known sympathies, Lloyd George (then aged 76) was favoured by many as the preferable leader.(DD2,11) On January 24, Sir Alexander Cadogan, top Foreign Office civil servant noted in his dairy discussing with Lord Halifax possible ‘peace terms’.(DD2,15) Lloyd George, himself believed it was only a matter of time before a compromise peace must come, a view promoted by Lord Beaverbrook through his newspapers. (DD2,17) Also, as research of official government documents by Australian historian David Day revealed, essentially similar views were held by Prime Minister Robert Menzies and other prominent Australians.(DD2,14-6)
Throughout this period, although the United States had been supplying Britain with war materials, technically it remained ‘neutral’. But by July 1940, matters were complicated for the US, its interests threatened by Japan moving to take over the Far Eastern colonial ‘possessions’ of defeated European powers, France and Holland. Initially that meant it occupying certain ports of French Indochina (now Vietnam). Already concerned about Japan’s deep invasion of China (since 1937) and even more so at what further far-reaching objectives Japan might have in mind, alarm bells rang in the USA. Indeed, by then the US was so concerned it put an export embargo on aircraft parts and other strategic materials, which soon included oil, iron and steel.(MG2,331)
At this stage, Japan had been putting pressure on Britain to close the Burma Road, a supply link enabling war materials to reach China via British Burma. Fearing that refusal could precipitate a Japanese attack on its own colonies in the Far East, and preoccupied with the possibility of a German invasion, Britain agreed.(MG2, 331) Naturally, all of this greatly concerned the Australian government as it could see Britain’s home concerns leaving the more distant parts of the Empire, including Australia, totally unprotected against a likely Japanese assault. Indeed, that had long been an Australian concern. According to David Day, as early as September, 1939, Prime Minister Menzies had cabled Dominions Secretary, Eden advocating that to offset Japanese threats in its Far East, Britain should work towards a ‘settlement’, that would include pressure on China to ‘accommodate’ Japan’s demands.(DD2,9) Similarly, on July 9,1940, Menzies had cabled Bruce, Australia’s High Commissioner in London, to support the closing of the Burma Road, commenting that he could not “…understand why some trifle of this kind should be allowed to stand in the way of a Japanese settlement.”, further advocating Japan be allowed to “…establish her commercial position in East Asia and get some assistance in what must be her real economic difficulties”.(DD2, 26) (Oh, how our national morals were so easily compromised – altogether similar to the British government’s response to Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931.- see 7C (d))
Obviously Prince Konoye, Prime Minister of the new Japanese government which came to power that July, could only have agreed. Japan had long wished to emulate the pattern of forced colonisation that other major powers had established over past centuries. Accordingly, in explaining his government’s policy of setting up a ‘New Order in Greater East Asia’, he did not ‘rule out’ the use of force, - code for what to expect.(MG2,331) As did Hitler, the Japanese and their puppets sought to justify their ambitions on the grounds that all their predations were for the good of the local people and in defence ‘against Communist activities’.(MG2, 357)
In July, 1940, Hitler ordered preparations to invade Russia in mid 1941. And in August 1940 he began his air offensive against Britain, including the bombing of industrial and civilian targets in many cities. At the same time Churchill was planning an offensive air war against Germany that began on August 23, 100 RAF aircraft bombing Berlin. Germany’s raids on London, which included incendiary bombs, were aimed at breaking morale, but as we know, the English people’s response was rather to be utterly appalled by the barbarity, - to be determined not to give in, and to ‘fight back’. By the end of October more than 6,000 British civilians had been killed, including 643 children.(MG2, 345) Over the following months, the size of the raids in both directions was to escalate, though initially Britain suffered greater losses, 4,588 being killed in November alone, many more injured and tens of thousands made homeless. (MG2, 352)
In October 1940 Mussolini sent his troops into Greece, but within 5 months the Greeks had repelled them. Similarly, in September, Italian forces had entered Egypt from Libya, creating a colonial problem for Britain, but by December British and Indian troops had expelled them.(MG2, 349-55) Indeed, by the end of January 1941, British and Australian troops (three Australian Divisions having at Britain’s request been present there since early 1940 (DD1, 40, 50, 53)) had pushed the Italian army as far back as Tripoli, eventually taking 130,000 prisoners.(MG2, 362) Feeling confident, Churchill began in March 1941 to send what would be a total of 100,000 troops, including Australia’s 6th and 7th divisions, to combat the Italian forces in Greece.(WC4iii, 195) That commitment had been made without prior Australian government consultation or approval.(DD2, 84) As frequently occurred over the past (and still to the present day) Australia and Australians were simply ‘taken for granted’.
That aside, Britain’s earlier successes against the Italians in North Africa and, for a while, in Greece had for some time decided Hitler to intervene with German troops. By April 8, 1941, these had invaded through Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, advancing as far as the Aegean port of Salonica.(MG2, 364-6) And by April 16, things were going so badly for the Allies that the Greek Commander-in-Chief, General Papagos, anticipating surrender, urged all British, Australian and New Zealand and Polish forces to leave so as to save his country from total devastation, - but that was refused. However, since on April 23 the Greek army surrendered, moves were made for the evacuation of all Allied troops, a force of British, Australians and New Zealanders valiantly holding the narrow Thermopylae pass to enable the rest to get through and embark. According to figures quoted by David Day, of the 53,000 Allied soldiers in Greece, only 43,000 got away, 500 of whom were lost at sea.(DD2, 166)
The evacuees were then transferred to Crete, the last arriving on April 25, for what Churchill hoped would be a successful stand. But to no avail. Since Britain continued to reserve almost all its aircraft for the North African campaign, Germany had complete control of the skies. As New Zealand’s General Freyberg later reported, “A small ill-equipped and immobile force such as ours cannot stand up to the concentrated bombing that we have been faced with during the last seven days.” (WC4iii, 261) Hence holding Crete was impossible.(MG2, 369) On May 20, Germany launched a massive airborne paratroop assault plus air attacks which over the following week overwhelmed the Allied force, causing 1,742 deaths. Beginning May 26, evacuation followed, but the ongoing air attacks resulted in 2,265 more deaths.(MG2,372) In addition, very significant naval losses in both ships and lives occurred during the final rescue efforts.(WC4iii, 258-9, 269)
The whole campaign had been an absolute disaster, the more so because so many troops had been diverted from North Africa over the very period the German army, under Rommel, had rapidly regained Libya, - in the process laying siege to Australian forces in Tobruk. Indeed, already by the end of April, Rommel’s army had begun its advance into Egypt, towards Cairo and the Suez Canal (MG2, 369) All of these reverses and losses put Churchill’s reputation and future on the line. They also greatly concerned P.M. Menzies, then in London to confer on prospects for future naval and air defence support for both Singapore and Australia itself. Australia’s three AIF divisions were fighting in the Middle East, as were many of its naval vessels, and a steady stream of RAAF air crew were being supplied to Britain. Yet at the same time, for its home defence Australia had almost no military aircraft and no aircraft industry. Indeed, the British government had dissuaded Australia from developing one, claiming Britain should be its sole source of military aircraft. (DD2, 88,95,110,146) And when in April Menzies had sought Hurricane fighter planes, he was put off with the suggestion that Brewster Buffalos (a quite inadequate US plane) would be a good match for Japan’s Zeros! (DD2, 120) He did about as well with his request for naval support. Clearly the Middle East had total priority.
(c ) Challenge to Churchill’s Leadership fails
The reaction in British ruling circles to the defeats and losses in the Middle East by those who had long been dissatisfied with Churchill’s leadership was to increase their efforts towards his replacement. More than ever convinced that further war with Hitler was certain to bring only further defeats, they wanted someone whose past outlook and experience might guarantee favourable terms of settlement with Hitler. Lloyd George seemed one possibility, Eden a less favoured one. Aware of these undertones and anticipating serious fall-out from the recent military disasters, - especially his decision over Greece and the utter failure of the campaign, - Churchill brought on a parliamentary debate on May 7 for a ‘vote of confidence’ in his leadership. That was a very astute move not only because dissatisfactions with his leadership were almost always covert, but because he had always stated that the struggle would be difficult and long. So he was able, in effect, to mute the criticism by again stressing these difficulties, along with the need of ‘sticking together’ if final victory was to be attained. And although the Astors, Bedfords, etc., etc., had a very different idea as to the preferred outcome - i.e., of ‘accommodating’ Hitler, - it was not one they were prepared to go public on, especially since the general public were far more sympathetic to Churchill’s approach. Lloyd George and Hore-Belisha led the attack, but when it came to the House vote, 447 to 3 supported Churchill’s confidence motion.(DD2, 179-81)
But of course with the further disaster of Crete and the visit to Britain of Nazi leader Rudolph Hess just around the corner Churchill was still anything but secure. A day before Hess flew in, parachuting into Scotland on May 10, London suffered its most severe bombing attack. The same day, the Duke of Bedford proposed Lloyd George should make a public statement setting out possible peace terms with Germany. As Lord Beaverbrook outlined to his fellow editors and correspondents, “Hess had come over to explain that we are beaten and had better give way”. David Day makes the point that although Churchill knew he could never have negotiated with Hitler, the official records of his note to Eden, show how Churchill believed, “…that the British Empire could at this time get out of the war intact, leaving the future struggle with a Germanised Europe to the United States”. Certainly that was a possible way out - one that would leave the eventual decision and war fighting to another and more powerful country.(DD2, 184-5) But that was a policy utterly opposed by Churchill.
Meanwhile in Libya, matters had not improved and by June Rommel’s army was still holding Egypt’s western border region with General Wavell anything but confident he could drive it back beyond besieged Tobruk. (Wavell to CIGS; WC4iii, 304) Nevertheless, Wavell’s attack with British and Indian forces began on June 15. Although at first all went well, within 48 hours things had gone seriously wrong, his forces having to fall back within the Egyptian border. Rommel, still awaiting reinforcements, did not pursue them. Wavell was replaced by General Auchlinleck and there followed a prolonged “….lull in the German offensive in the Middle East...” (WC4iii, 313-4) Indeed, it was a ‘lull’ that was to last almost 5 months.
C. Germany Invades Russia
(a) Germany Invades Russia, June 22, 1941
From that time on things would be very different, for on June 22 there occurred a German offensive of profound significance. That was Hitler’s invasion of the USSR. As earlier documented by Churchill, the Russians had all along expected that it was only a matter of time before Hitler, making good his long-held ambition, would move to invade Russia’s extensive lands.(WC4i, 95-8) It reflected the fact that neither Germany nor Russia had ever believed the ‘Russo-German Non-Aggression Pact’ to be other than a temporary device. As Churchill had early recognised, it was in Russia’s case a desperate holding move, the only option left them once his own and Russia’s bid to get the British government to support a ‘Grand Alliance’ (i.e.,of Russia, France and Britain) that would have put Hitler on notice to stop further unilateral aggressions across Europe – had, finally, been rejected yet again. (WC4i, 347-8)
However, notwithstanding these underlying insights found in volume 1 of Churchill’s WWII series, by volume III, Chapter XX, “The Soviet Nemesis”, he was adopting a very different line, accusing the Soviet government of ignorance of Russia’s imminent threat of invasion (they having “no inkling that Hitler had for more than six months resolved to destroy them.”); of failing to prepare adequate defences; and of having failed to engage in the war against Germany for 18 months ‘while Britain stood alone.’ Indeed, according to Churchill, Russia’s fateful burden, - of subsequently having to bear virtually the full brunt of Germany’s military might over the following three years was a thoroughly deserved one, since “They had shown a total indifference to the fate of the Western Powers, although this meant the destruction of that ‘Second Front’ for which they were soon to clamour.” (WC4iii, 315)
Notwithstanding that later judgement (given post-war, long after the event) at the time of his broadcast to the nation on the evening of the invasion, June 22, 1941, Churchill had in fact recognised Britain’s good fortune in acquiring a new ally which (unless it collapsed) would be opposing almost the entire force of Germany’s military might. Even so his broadcast began with the words “The Nazi regime is indistinguishable from the worst features of Communism.” Notwithstanding that equation, however, speaking of Hitler Churchill went on to say “We shall fight him by land, we shall fight him by sea, we shall fight him in the air, until with God’s help, we have rid the earth of his shadow and liberated its peoples from its yoke. …. We shall give whatever help we can to Russia and the Russian people. … Let us redouble our exertions, and strike with united strength while life and power remain.” (WC4iii, 331-3).
Of course it must have been clear to Churchill that Germany’s attack on Russia, with 3,200,000 troops, some120 divisions, along such a greatly extended front - from the Baltic to the Black Sea – must reduce enormously Britain’s threat of invasion and the pressure on British and Dominion forces in North Africa. Indeed, the sooner Britain and its allies (hopefully to include the United States) could establish a ‘Second Front’, whether in Western, Northern or South-Eastern Europe, the sooner would Germany’s military machine be overpowered and the war brought to a close. Yet despite his ‘fighting words’, the above stirring rhetoric, and notwithstanding that for many months the German onslaught was so severe the Russians were driven back hundreds of miles, suffering the gravest losses of territory, people (both military and civilian) and equipment, and despite Stalin’s urgent pleas for a European Second Front’ to divert at least some of Hitler’s forces from his sorely-pressed troops, that was not to be. Instead, notwithstanding Russia’s highly precarious situation and possible defeat, all Churchill undertook to do was to send munitions and other supplies from the UK, including portion of the vast supplies from the USA originally destined for Britain.(WC4iii,346) As he explained, a European second front then was simply ‘out of the question’. (WC4iii, 344)
By September the German armies had invaded so deeply into Russia, they were laying siege to Leningrad and had come to within 40 miles of Moscow, as well as extending far towards Russia’s oil-bearing Caucasus.(WC4ii, 347) And although Roosevelt expressed his belief that the Russian front would hold, that Moscow would not be taken, Churchill was aware that “Almost all responsible opinion held that the Russian armies would soon be defeated and largely destroyed.” (WC4iii, 350) Clearly, at the very least, the situation was so critical it could go either way. Yet despite Churchill’s earlier proclamation that Britain would “… strike with united strength while life and power remain” (WC4iii, 331-3), and notwithstanding that if Russia was crushed, Britain would indeed be ‘standing alone’, Churchill’s response was essentially to mark time, to ‘wait and see’. And this, despite the fact that Britain was at the beginning of a 5-month ‘pause’ in its comparatively small North African campaign, even though Australian troops were still holding out under great difficulties and hardship against their siege at Tobruk.(WC4iii, 438) The North African campaign’s relative smallness deserves emphasis here because, on the scale of things, it was for Germany a campaign of very limited significance. As Churchill admitted, it was never one favoured by the German High Command, its forces having been sent there only because of the Italian rout. (WC4iii, 491) In fact, it was destined to remain a minor theatre with but 90-100,000 troops on each side.
So the commitment of some 100,000 troops by the British (with its Allies) in Libya has to be compared with the 3.2 million by each side on Europe’s ‘Eastern Front’. Indeed, Martin Gilbert’s History of the Twentieth Century indicates the number of troops along that front to have been even greater, a total of some 7,400,000, -(i.e., ~3.7 million each side).(MG2, 379) And of course that is besides the very large but unknown numbers of non-military, behind-the-lines, Russian partisan or ‘guerrilla’ fighters. Altogether it is impossible for us to gain a full realisation of the scale of that campaign, what it was ‘really’ like.
That aside, in his account of WWII, Churchill could be bizarrely contradictory about relative contributions. On the one hand he could write, “The entry of Russia into the war was welcome but not immediately helpful to us”, - going on to stress how much Britain gave in the way of war supplies.(WC4iii, 350-1) On the other hand he could in contorted contradiction - within the one sentence - conclude, ”Without the slightest degree challenging the conclusion which history will affirm that the Russian resistance broke the power of the German armies and inflicted mortal injury upon the life-energies of the German nation, it is right to make it clear that for more than a year after Russia was involved in the war she presented herself to our minds as a burden and not as a help.” (WC4iii, 352) And just how many casualties, just how much suffering on both sides of that Russian-German conflict did that ‘burdensome’ year’s interval entail for Britain?! One can only doubt Churchill’s sincerity as to that ‘burden’, since when writing to President Roosevelt on October 20, 1941 about the future expectations of an expanded British army, he could explain such potential as “...rendered possible by the fact that we have not been engaged to any serious extent since the losses of Dunkirk, and that munitions and reserves have been accumulated instead of being expended on a great scale.” (WC4iii, 485) (But, publicly, what a master of subterfuge, of ‘ever-so-clever’ rhetoric!)
All the above is pretty telling, and further analysis of Churchill’s account simply confirms the impression of calculated ‘wait and see’ while these two nations progressively weakened one another, Britain simply standing aside, itself avoiding anything even faintly resembling comparable effort and sacrifice. By the end of 1941, Churchill was convinced that “The threat of invasion of our Island was removed so long as the German armies were engaged in a life-and-death struggle in the East.” (WC4iii, 477) And yet, in cabling Stalin on November 21, he could carry on the pretence of comparable commitment and effort by concluding “It may well be that your defence of Moscow and Leningrad, as well as the splendid resistance to the invader along the whole Russian front, will inflict mortal injuries upon the internal structure of the Nazi regime. We must not count upon such good fortune, but simply keep on striking at them to the utmost with might and main.”(WC4iii, 472) Well, as you might agree, given the circumstances, what else could he do but strike a pose of mutual effort?!
For long, Hitler was fully confident of a short sharp war, one with fast-moving armored divisions, one that would be over in a matter of weeks – certainly not one requiring winter uniforms! To expedite Russia’s invasion, as well as to prepare the way for subsequent settlement and exploitation of its resources, he planned to be utterly ruthless. That applied of course to all who resisted, whether Russian troops or civilian partisans. And conveniently Hitler had designated all of Russia’s original inhabitants, of whatever ‘Non-Ayran’ background, as ‘inferior people’ and therefore expendable. In his terms, better they be hugely reduced in number to make way for the newcomers. That applied not only to the Jews and partisans, but to Gypsies, the mentally and physically afflicted, indeed, to all who might interfere with his ‘grand plans’ for the region. To facilitate this approach, SS ‘Special Task Forces’ accompanied the invading armies.(MG2, 380)
As indicated above, in the face of Hitler’s ‘shock and awe’ onslaught, Russia’s armies had been forced back many hundreds of miles. Consequently, the Russians adopted a ‘scorched earth’ regime whereby all that could not be carried away was destroyed, nothing left to support the invaders. In addition there began in July, 1941 a program of transferring entire factories and their populations to the East, beyond the Ural mountains - to Siberia or Central Asia. But despite that effort, unavoidably most of the civil population was overtaken by the invaders and by mid July 1941 the SS Special Task Force had begun large-scale executions of Jews, partisans and others, - for example some 10,000 Jews being machine-gunned into pits in Kishinev and over 30,000 being similarly slaughtered when the German army entered Kiev.(MG2, 390-8)
But that was only the beginning, for what Hitler ordered and Goering and Heidrich, Head of the Reich Security Services then set about, was the systematic deportation of Jews and other unwanted ‘inferior people’ to specially set up camps where they were exterminated in gas chambers. As Hitler explained to visitors at his Rastenburg headquarters, “The law of existence prescribes uninterrupted killing, so that the better may live.” In line with this thinking, his Field Marshall, Walther Reichenau’s directive that day stated, “The most essential aim of the campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevist system is the complete crushing of its means of power, and the extermination of Asiatic influences in the European region.”(MG2, 399)
In addition, in places like besieged Leningrad, Russians were dying from cold and starvation at the rate of 4,000 a day. At about the same time, 100,000 Russian military prisoners in German-occupied Poland, were surrounded by barbed wire and left in the open without food to perish in the cold.(MG2, 414) Looking forward to the near future, when ‘victory was theirs’, Hitler’s ‘most wonderful plan’ (long referred to in Mein Kampf) was to tap the Caucasus for its near-inexhaustible quantities of oil, to have the Crimea provide Germany with citrus fruits, cotton and rubber, and to use the Ukraine to supply plentiful grain. He is reported to have said, “We’ll supply grain to all in Europe who need it.” It was to be the realization of his long-dreamed plan for German colonization, - not overseas like the West’s - but close to home in Europe. The conquered Russian people would be denied any access to education. They would become the tillers of the soil for Germany. German settlers and rulers would control the whole region. “The least of our stable lads must be superior to any native.” (MG2, 396) Indeed, by October 2, 1941 Hitler was anticipating the fall of Moscow and an early victory.
However, winter was soon to descend with a vengeance and while the Russians (who were both suitably equipped and used to it) stiffened their resistance, the German troops were caught with inadequate equipment and clothing. So in November, not long after Hitler was triumphantly renaming various Russian regions, giving them ‘Ayran’ names and boasting how he was deciding the fate of Europe ‘for the next one thousand years’, his soldiers at the front, enduring temperatures of 12 degrees below zero, were encountering equipment-failures and suffering the severest frost bite.(MG2, 401) By December 4, at minus-35 degrees Celcius, German tanks could not be started nor artillery pieces fired, and thousands of their young soldiers were dying from the cold.(MG2, 406)
None of this is to suggest that the Russian defenders were not also suffering. To the contrary, they were suffering and dying on an even more horrifying scale. After all, as explained above, there was a Hitler-driven policy of ruthless violence and extermination which applied equally to all Russians, whether military or civilian. Although the Russians ‘won’ eventually, it was throughout a hard-fought struggle of the most desperate kind which continued with no let up for the 4 terrible years of that awful campaign. In deaths alone, the figures provided by American historian David Kennedy reveal terrible and telling comparisons. The deaths for Germany, suffered by mostly young German soldiers, were approximately 6 million. Those for Russia amounted to 8 million military, to which must be added 16 million civilians.(DK, 10) Its all so hard to comprehend, but we should do our best to do so if we want in any way to understand the course of post-WWII history - with its immediate transition to the Cold War, supposedly ‘justified’ by the ‘military threat’ to Western Europe from an absolutely war-devastated Russia. For comparison, the United States lost 404,399 military dead, the UK 250,000, (plus 100,000 civilians - mostly killed in air raids). (Figures for other nations are given below, see 9H(a))