Ever since discovering that old Time/Life book about “the eastern front”, I’ve been trying to re…
Ron Collins
41

I suppose we have had this conversation many times. When did WWII become inevitable? Everybody has a different angle. Was it the day Lenin boarded that train in Switzerland or the day the treaty of Versailles was finalised or the day Hitler became Chancellor of Germany or even the day Germany became unified. Or could you take it all the way back to the middle ages. Border disputes between Germany and Poland go back to the days of the Teutonic Knights for example.

But if we restrict the origins of it to the 20th century, my opinion is that WWII was made inevitable in 1917 / 1918. It was written into the terms of the post-war treaties, the betrayal of Turkey and Italy and the slicing up of Germany. The great depression helped it along its way, and rise of both fascism and communism finally lit the fuse.

But when I was talking about the second front that Stalin was constantly demanding, I was echoing Molotov’s opinion, not mine. I agree with you about the right of American or British or Australian soldiers to ask the same question. Where is our second front? I think it was a silly question whether coming from Russia or America, because in the end, nations act in their own interests, not anybody else’s. Not even if they are supposed to be allies.

Many Russians believed that the lend lease deal was almost an admission of guilt on the part of the US; that America was happy to sit back and watch Russians doing the lion’s share of the dying until such time as Germany had been sufficiently depleted and the USA could then enter the war in Europe and claim its place at the victory table. But yes; the Americans could just as easily have made the same accusation against Russia in the east.

I think it was practicality more than anything else. Nobody was prepared to take on Germany in 1940. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about Russia, the United States, France or Britain. They all had small, under-equipped and dangerously out of date armies. That is why France went under so quickly. Germany had by far the largest and best equipped armed forces in 1940 because nobody else had been updating. Britain survived because of the English Channel more than the legendary pluck of Churchill’s “few” and because of Hitler’s obsession with Russia. The United States of course had the Atlantic Ocean as its best defence. Russia had its endless space in which to manoeuvre.

The invincible German army turned out to be a myth in the end. It was only invincible up to the point when the other countries began to re-arm and update and they did that rapidly. The Molotov / Ribbentrop deal was not going to stop the war. Nobody in Moscow expected it to. It was designed to buy time for Russia to update its forces. It didn’t work. But Russia didn’t go to war in 1941 because it was ready. It went to war, like France, because it had no choice. If it had had a choice, then obviously Moscow would have stayed out of it for a couple of years until it had time to prepare, just like America did. America’s decision was sensible and practical and I believe Russia would have made the same choice if it had been available.

So America was as entitled to demand operation August Storm as Russia was entitled to demand operation Overlord, but neither of them would have been successful if they had been launched much earlier. Russia would not have had the resources to invade China before the fall of Berlin, and the western allies would not have had any chance of mounting a full scale amphibious invasion of France if the bulk of the German armed forces were not still trying to hold off the Red Army in Eastern Europe.

I think Stalin was blind-sided by Barbarossa but only because Stalin was in denial. He had been receiving warnings from spies in Berlin for years. All he had to do anyway was listen to any broadcast by Hitler or other top Nazis. The invasion of Russia was a certainty. The only question was when. War with Japan was also inevitable from a Russian point of view but not considered so much of a threat. The Japanese army was not going to come pouring over the Manchurian border and march on Moscow. They had tried that twice already and had been swatted back by Russian forces. After the Russian / Japanese conflict in 1938 / 1939, Zhukov made it clear that he didn’t believe the Japanese were capable of mounting any serious threat to Russia, but he, like many Russian generals warned repeatedly about the very clear danger from Germany.

The Japanese had naval power they could use to threaten American interests, but their navy was not much use against Russia. Russia controlled the Arctic because Russia possessed most of the world’s ice-breaking ships. Nevertheless the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was welcome news in Moscow. It was still unclear if the United States would get involved in the war against Germany, but it would keep the Japanese busy in the Pacific and make it less likely that the Kwantung Army would make another attempt at crossing the Khalkhyn Gol. The Russian 57th corps was mostly re-deployed to the west within weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and was partly responsible for the encirclement of the German forces at Stalingrad.

Even after Japanese naval power had been decimated by the United States, the Japanese army was still superbly equipped to fight the kind of island-hopping campaign the Americans fought. The Americans had better equipment and armour, but that didn’t matter so much in jungles, and the Americans were often at a dangerous disadvantage despite their air superiority, when they were making amphibious landings against well dug in Japanese positions. On the wide open plains of Manchuria in 1945 the Japanese had no answer to massed armour.

So I agree. It was the years of hard fighting by the United States, along with its allies in the Pacific, that eventually gave Russia an easy victory in Manchuria; just as it was years of hard fighting by Russia that allowed Overlord to be possible.

I suppose in the beginning both the United States and Russia had different priorities. Japan could have posed a threat to the United States. Germany could not. Germany could pose a very dangerous threat to Russia. Japan could not.

Now we are back to the atomic bomb! A final blow to make Japan surrender, or a warning to Russia?

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