Saturday, March 7, 2015

Guest Post from Chris Oakley: "We Will Shield Our Moscow"

On October 16th, 1941, Soviet ruler Joseph Stalin went on the radio to make an announcement that would change the course of the Second World War. In a speech that ran only ten minutes but whose impact would reverberate through history for decades to come, Stalin informed his listeners he would be personally taking charge of the defense of Moscow in order to set what he called “the ultimate revolutionary example” for his fellow Soviets; just minutes after he went off the air, Stalin made good on his promise by traveling to the Red Army forward lines outside the Soviet capital and assuming command of what just hours earlier had been Marshal Georgi Zhukov's field headquarters. While Zhukov assumed responsibility for evacuating the rest of the Soviet government elite from Moscow, Stalin would lead a do-or-die last stand against the German armies advancing on the Soviet capital. For the next four days, Stalin would be in the thick of the fighting as the Red Army and the Wehrmacht struggled for control of Moscow; not until an SS sniper's bullet killed him late on the afternoon of October 20th the fight, and even as he was dying he managed to lob a grenade at an oncoming Wehrmacht panzer and blow it to smithereens.

Publicly Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels bragged that Stalin's death was a sign of the Soviet Union's impending final defeat, but behind closed doors he fretted that the demise of his Führer's bitterest ideological enemy might actually inspire the Soviet people to fight on even harder to drive the Germans out of the USSR. Goebbels was right to be worried-- in the days immediately after Stalin was killed anti-Nazi partisan groups used his name as a rallying cry to inspire their fellow countrymen to launch devastating guerrilla attacks on those German troops still occupying Soviet territory. And still grimmer news was to come for Berlin: less than two months after Stalin was killed, the United States finally entered the war on the Allied side following a clash between U.S. and Japanese carrier planes off the coast of Oahu. Under the pragmatic leadership of new Soviet premier, Maxim Livitnov, the Kremlin and the White House worked closely together to push the Germans back towards the Third Reich's own borders. At the Battle of Stalingrad, the presence of a detachment of U.S. Army Rangers played a critical role in the Red Army's final victory over the beleaguered men of the German 6th the Soviets aided the 1943 Anglo-American invasion of Sicily by dispatching NKVD sabotage squads to disrupt vital German rail and communications links.

By 1944, the Western Allies were steadily pushing across France while the Soviets had driven the Germans out of the Ukraine, Belarus, and most of western Russia; in the summer of that year, an assassination attempt by some of his own army officers left Adolf Hitler a physically crippled and psychologically scarred shadow of his former dynamic self. Morale in all sectors of the German armed forces, which had been steadily declining since the defeat at Stalingrad, plummeted after the Führer's death from a cerebral hemorrhage on October 17th. New chancellor of the Third Reich Hermann Goering was unable to reverse the tide of defeat, and on December 21st, 1944, he shot himself just as advance elements of the Soviet Third Guards Army and the U.S. 79th Infantry Division were closing in on the ruins of Goering's bunker near the heart of Berlin. The day after Goering's death, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, the third and last chancellor of the Third Reich, formally surrendered to the Allies to end the war in Europe.

With Germany vanquished and Italy having returned to the Western camp since the overthrow of Benito Mussolini in 1943, the Allied powers then turned their attention to the final defeat of the one Axis power still opposing them: Japan. In the spring of 1945, Anglo-American ground and air forces launched a massive push to expel the Japanese from their remaining holdings in the Pacific islands while the Soviets unleashed a massive Red Army invasion force against the Japanese puppet regime controlling Manchuria; three months after the Soviet declaration of war against Japan Allied scientists working in the deserts of the American Southwest would successfully test-detonate the first prototype atomic bomb. On July 21st, 1945, with Kyoto and Hiroshima having already been leveled by U.S. atom bombs and other Japanese cities facing the threat of nuclear attack, Emperor Hirohito instructed what remained of his armed forces to surrender to the Allies, officially ending the Pacific phase of the Second World War. Under the terms of existing agreements between Livitnov's government and the Western Allies, the U.S. would assume responsibility for occupying the Japanese home islands while the Soviets took charge of Manchuria; the two world powers would share the task of rebuilding war-devastated Korea.

Livitnov shared the 1945 Nobel Peace Prize with U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull and was posthumously awarded the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature for his critically acclaimed account of the Battle of Moscow, A Bridge Too Far. Livitnov died of heart failure in 1953 during a state visit to Great Britain; Livitnov's widow, the former Ivy Low, would accept the Nobel Literature Prize on Livitnov's behalf. Livitnov's grandson, Pavel Livitnov, would grow up to become one of the most respected liberal political figures in post-Communist Russia. Following Livitnov's death his longtime chief deputy, ex-Red Army political commissar Nikita S. Khrushchev,  would succeed Livitnov as Soviet premier.

Throughout much of Joseph Stalin's life, and in the wake of his death, the Soviet people had revered him as a messianic figure, almost a demigod; that attitude would begin to dramatically change, however, after a March 1953 speech by Khrushchev to the CPSU Presidium in which the new Soviet premier vehemently denounced the brutal acts which Stalin had committed or sanctioned against perceived internal opponents during Stalin's twenty-nine-year reign as the Soviet head of state. His harshest attacks against Stalin in that speech were directed towards Stalin's role in the 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky, which Khrushchev labeled “a hideous, unspeakable crime against the ideals of socialism”. By the late 1960s anti-Stalin sentiment in the Soviet Union had spawned a massive dissident movement that challenged the very nature of Communism itself. After an abortive attempt to set up a Communist regime in Afghanistan in 1975 ended in disaster, the Soviet government began to fall into irretrievable collapse in the face of growing demands for more political and economic freedom from the dissidents; by the time Ronald Reagan began his first term as President of the United States in 1981, the Soviet Union was on the verge of breaking up completely.


In reality, Stalin decided to evacuate Moscow only to change his mind and have anyone who knew of his earlier plans to flee the Soviet capital shot. The Germans never got closer to the city than two hundred miles, and after the German 6th capturing Moscow was effectively lost. The Second World War in Europe would drag on until May of 1945, when the German government formally surrendered to the Allies; the war with Japan would finally end in September of 1945 following U.S. atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maxim Livitnov died in 1951; the exact circumstances of his demise are still a subject of dispute to this day. Khrushchev took over from Stalin's original successor as Soviet premier, Georgi Maleknov, in 1955 and in 1956 delivered his now-legendary “de-Stalinzation” speech to the Soviet Presidum. The Soviet Union would survive as a sovereign state until the summer of 1991, when internal turmoil following a coup against Mikhail Gorbachev triggered its final dissolution.

While the Soviets didn't send any sabotage squads to Italy during the Allied campaign there, a number of Italian partisan cells did receive financial and material support from the Kremlin. By the same token no U.S. troops saw action on the Eastern Front but the United States shipped thousands of tons of food, fuel, munitions, and weapons to the Soviets under Lend-Lease. On April 26th, 1945, American and Soviet advance troops linked up on the Elbe River at the village of Torgau, effectively cutting Berlin off from the rest of the world and ensuring its eventual fall to the Red Army; after the Second World War ended, the United States and the Soviet Union would continue to maintain a substantial military presence in Europe until the end of the Cold War.

1 comment:

  1. It's Litvinov and Malenkov, not the way you put it in the text.


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