It is rather unfair to say that Poland stood alone.
Douglas Milnes
31

Poland was not the reason anyone went to war, except for the Poles of course. Poland was the excuse in some cases, but never the reason. Britain honoured its commitment to Poland only in word and only after Britain had already betrayed its commitment to Czechoslovakia.

There is nothing exceptional about Britain. Russia behaved in the same way too. Countries tend to honour their commitments to their “allies” only when it is expedient for them to do so. Russia betrayed the Poles again near the end; briefly halting their advance towards Berlin to allow the Germans time to decimate the Polish home army uprising in Warsaw. British and American intelligence services similarly betrayed the French Resistance in 1944, suspicious of their pro-communist leanings. It was a case of — “Thanks for the help fellas but we don’t need you any more and we suspect you might become an inconvenience in the future.”

I don’t know how many people in Britain really expected their government to declare war on Russia. Britain at the time was worried about the threat from Germany, not Russia. Russia had no designs on Britain and declaring war on Russia from a British point of view, would simply have played into Hitler’s hands.

The British government was using plain old fashioned pragmatism and there is not much room for moral superiority in pragmatism. The British people in the long run were better served by their government’s use of cold hard practicality. There would be plenty of time for jumping back on the moral high-horse later.

I also agree that if Russia France and Britain had co-operated in 1939 and had invaded Germany instead of waiting for the Germans to take the initiative; then it probably would have all been over quickly. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to have been much appetite for that approach in any of those countries.

The potential for the fall of Egypt did not appear to be a high priority on anybody’s mind in either Moscow or Berlin. Rommel didn’t have the manpower to accomplish it and Mussolini didn’t have the competence. He had tried it before and failed miserably. Nobody really believed that Italy was capable of taking the near east from Britain. Italy could not even manage to take Albania.

Egypt was not a particularly practical route to Caucasian oil fields anyway. German forces had already pushed into the Caucuses from Ukraine in 1941 / 42. No detours through Egypt were required. Operation Edelweiss was Germany’s bid for Caucasian oil. It involved millions of German and Rumanian troops coming from Ukraine. It also overwhelmed the city of Rostov on Don, before taking the North Caucuses including the prized Baku oil fields. They held it for less than a year though before they were driven out by Red Army counter offensives. Denying the Germans access to Caucasian oil had precious little to do with the British Eighth Army in Egypt.

From a German point of view, sending Rommel more troops to try to take Egypt would have been a waste of resources even if he had managed to pull it off. Taking the Suez might have hurt the British, but the British were not the most serious threat to Germany at the time. German troops driving up towards the Caucasus might also have drawn Turkey more firmly onto the allied side and that would not have been welcomed by anyone in Berlin.

So given that the Germans and their allies already had millions of troops in Ukraine Southern Russia and the North Caucuses, I am not sure why they would have thought that diverting troops to North Africa to take a much longer, roundabout route through the Middle East would have been a good idea.

Hitler had declared that the war against Russia would be “a war of annihilation.” It was a fight to the death. But by 1942 it was clear that the sub-humans were not lying down as they were supposed to do, and the German high command was worried. They had committed the most dreadful crimes against the Russian people. Now they knew they were fighting for their own survival, and the only way that Germany was going to survive was to defeat Russia.

If that could be accomplished then Britain could be brought to the negotiation table and probably America too. There was still not much appetite in America for a war in Europe. If Russia could be brought down, then it wouldn’t really matter a jot to anyone who controlled Egypt.

The assertion that Russia was fighting on only one front is a bit of a stretch. Russia’s front stretched from the Black Sea to the Arctic; nearly 3000 miles from Baku to Murmansk. At any point in between it could fluctuate backwards and forwards over a thousand miles from Moscow to Warsaw or from Stalingrad to Budapest. It later stretched the entire length of the Manchurian border too. Those fronts were about 6000 miles apart and stretched half way across the earth, and supplying troops in the east was a logistical nightmare through some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet. Russian naval forces during the war also fought along the Arctic, in the Sea of Japan, the Baltic, the North Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, The Kurrils and the Black Sea.

Russian forces also invaded Manchuria in 1945 taking an area as large as Western Europe from a more than million strong Japanese army, and taking half a million prisoners in the process. Operation August Storm was the last offensive of WWII, the third largest, and probably the most successful given that it was all over in a matter of weeks. It is often overlooked in the west that Russia’s sudden defeat of the Japanese armies in China played a significant part in Japan’s decision to surrender.

Stalin had honoured his agreement, made at Yalta, to take Japan out of China and to refuse to negotiate a separate peace with the Japanese, independent of Britain and America. Russians could climb on their moral high horse over that I suppose, but Moscow was only doing what suited Moscow. There was no agreement or treaty that either Stalin or Churchill would not have torn up if need be.

In terms of equipment and sharing of knowledge and design: I didn’t know that the British had requested shipments of katusha rockets. I know that the Russian Destroyer Lyubov arrived in Scotland in 1942 with several different models of T34. Britain was still toying with the idea of producing a new tank and their designers were studying Russian, American and captured German models. In the end they scrapped the idea and just adopted the American Sherman instead. Various artillery guns and some examples of the new semi-automatic rifle which had recently been designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov were also onboard the Lyubov. Russian factories were already churning out knock-offs of the American Studebaker trucks that had proved better than the ones the Red Army had used before. Russia also took delivery of six Lancaster bombers early in 1942 which were to be studied in view of producing a heavy bomber for the Russian air-force; although that plan was also scrapped. So there was a lot of sharing of design technology, sometimes by agreement and sometimes by stealth.

The Lyubov also brought a crew of technicians who were to be allowed to study British radar technology which the Russian air force was interested in. Air-force designers always suspected that the British had held back more than they had shared, but there is no evidence that they did, and the Germans were soon getting nasty shocks on the Eastern Front with the sudden pin-point accuracy of Russian squadrons: The same accuracy that the RAF had surprised them with over the English Channel in 1940.

Russia ceased all military aid to Germany in 1938. After that only non military trade was permitted. Germany still relied on Russian imports of oil and rubber, but I cannot see how the simple business of business could be a sign of any kind of “support for Britain’s enemies.” Germany was Russia’s enemy too and nobody was kidding themselves about that, not even as Molotov shook hands with Ribbentrop. But Britain, the USA and most other countries traded openly with Germany too right up until the war broke out and sometimes even after it did. As for Russia supporting Britain’s enemies: I am not sure it did, but that depends on what you mean by support and anyway — there are a lot of pots and kettles there; the most obvious one being Britain’s support for Finland, an ally of Germany and an enemy of Russia.

So Britain might have had no reason not to just sit back and laugh at Russia’s misfortune, except that Russia’s misfortune would very quickly become Britain’s misfortune if Russia went under. Britain was wise enough to understand that and those North Sea convoys were not charity. They were Britain’s recognition that no matter what they thought of Bolshevism; Nazism must be defeated as a priority for everyone’s sake, and the only country now capable of making that defeat happen was Russia. Britain would not have been able to withstand Barbarossa; and if Barbarossa had succeeded then Britain would have been left with a simple choice. Agree to Hitler’s original offer to become Germany’s loyal sidekick, or face Barbarossa part two. I don’t believe that the Brits would have accepted Hitler’s conditions, and I don’t think even they believed they could survive the alternative, which was a full scale blitzkrieg by the entire weight of Axis forces.

I also don’t think anyone in Russia was sneering at Britain’s efforts. Britain was recognised as a valuable ally against the Axis and Britain’s help was appreciated and well received. There was certainly no sneering at the plight of those valiant sailors of the Arctic convoys or the sacrifices of the servicemen of Britain and its commonwealth allies. Stalin might have sneered, but Stalin sneered at everyone including his own people.

I simply think that in Britain today there is a tendency to enormously over-estimate the impact of the British war effort and to all but ignore the Russian one.

I use the example of my grandfather to illustrate how Russian veterans felt about British and American and other allied troops. My grandfather was a member of the “Leningrad Society.” It had nothing to do with communism or the government. It just took its name from the city where it was founded. It was groups of old soldiers who would find the bodies of the fallen; have them properly identified, give them proper burials and inform any living relatives. They also had a lot of input into the annual Victory Day commemorations. My grandfather therefore maintained a lot of contact with other veterans not only from Russia, but also from Britain, the USA and several other countries. He believed all his life, that they too should be invited to take part because they too had played an important part in bringing down the Nazis.

After years of lobbying, and endless hours of contacts with friends of his in the British Legion, he finally got his wish in 2010, when about 80 men of the Welsh Guards marched in the Moscow parade along with contingents of soldiers from the USA, France, Australia and Poland. A hand-full of British and American veterans sat in the viewing stand in the company of my grandfather and his old army friends.

There was no sneering.

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