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Pearl Harbor in Perspective: What Happened Around The World The Day Japan Attacked?

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December 7th, 1941 holds a singular place in America’s historical memory. It is the day that changed the national identity and destiny as few others. Like many Americans, my early introduction to the Second World War began with the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the war in the Pacific. It is natural for one to be drawn to the history of their own country, however it is but one piece a midst the greatest cataclysm in human history. For everything Pearl Harbor entails in American history, it is one of several major events in the war on that day. So, what kind of world did this attack draw the U.S. into? This is a global snapshot of that global conflict as it was on that quiet Sunday morning, 75 years ago today.

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The U.S. Lead Into Pearl Harbor – Preparation For War

When the Empire of Japan attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, the Second World War was already 27 months old. Beginning with the German invasion of Poland on September 1st, 1939, the European war began. With the war guarantee to protect Polish sovereignty issued by Great Britain and France, it lead each nation to declare war on Germany two days later.

Nazi Occupied Europe June 1941

Nazi Europe, 1 June, 1941

By June 1941, Nazi Germany controlled Europe from the Norwegian coast north of the Arctic Circle, stretching to Lorient on the French Atlantic coast, reaching east to the river Bug in former Poland, and down through the Balkans to the Greek Mediterranean coast. Adolf Hitler was master of continental Europe, and the only powers still fighting the Germans were Britain and its dominions.

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From September 1939 until late 1941, the United States was officially neutral. Despite a comprehensive British effort to persuade and coax the US to join the war, America was deeply gripped by a generation of isolationism.

As the war progressed with Nazi Germany bringing Europe under its iron grip, the Roosevelt administration recognized the greater Nazi threat to the United States. Despite being unable to gain popular support to enter the war, the US acted as a non-belligerent ally. Under the auspices of the Lend-Lease Act, America provided war materials, supplies, and food to nations opposing the Axis.

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George C. Marshall

Despite the American majority opposition to entering the war, President Roosevelt undertook quiet military preparations should America find itself at war. With the appointment of General George C. Marshall as Army Chief of Staff in 1939, the administration began to put its ducks in a row.

In 1940, the federal government instituted the Selective Service Act – a peacetime draft – for qualifying males between the age of 18 and 25. In doing so, it increased the ranks of the tiny 100,000 man army Marshall inherited in 1939.

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Congress also passed the Two Oceans Navy Act that same year. This legislation increased the size of the US Navy by 75%, ensuring that the U.S. would be one of the foremost maritime powers in the world.

Despite America’s military preparation, it was still very much ill equipped to fight a global war on two fronts. It would require an immense mobilization effort following Pearl Harbor to create a war machine capable of victory. It was the beginning of a long road that concluded with having 14 million Americans in uniform, and the foremost industrial capacity in the world by 1945. The attack on Pearl Harbor was a profound shock for the ill prepared United States, as they prepared for the world they would have to face.

 What was happening in the world on the morning of December 7th, 1941?

December 7th, 1941 – The Eastern Front

“You have only to kick in the door and the whole rotten edifice will come crashing down.” – Adolf Hitler

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Operation Barbarossa invasion plan

On December 7th, 1941, the German Wehrmacht was advancing on the city of Moscow. It was said that the Germans could see the shimmering onion shaped domes of the city through their binoculars. The Battle of Moscow had begun in October of that year, and included a combat front 370 miles long. The Battle for Moscow was both the largest battle of the Second World War, and perhaps for all time. At its height, it is believed to have included a collective total of up to 7 million combatant participants involved in some capacity.

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How did Hitler Fool Stalin so Badly with the Invasion of the USSR? | WW2 Brain Bucket Reader Q&A

Beginning with the invasion of the Soviet Union – Operation Barbarossa – on 22 June, 1941, nearly 4 million Axis troops crossed into the USSR from Eastern Europe. Their so-called surprise attack violated the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact, agreed to by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in August, 1939.

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The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact Division of Eastern Europe

Concurrent with his political ideology, the invasion of the Soviet Union was Hitler’s self-proclaimed great crusade. In one major campaign to the East, he sought for Nazi Germany to eliminate Bolshevism, the “sub-human” Slavic people of Europe, and to attain German Lebensraum – living space – in Eastern Europe. It was Germany’s goal to conquer the western Soviet Union to the Ural Mountains, with a frontier running from Arkhangelsk to Astrakhan.

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The Nazi Germany goal of Lebensraum

From June to December 1941, Germany made incredible progress deep into the Soviet Union. The Eastern Front was the apex conflict during the Second World War, where the delicate balance of victory or defeat lay.

On that December morning, three enormous German Army Group’s had their top objectives within their grasp.

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Army Group North began the devastating Siege of Leningrad in September, 1941. It would last for a total of 872 days, taking an average of 1,000 Russians lives a day.

Army Group South had conquered most of the fertile farming land in the Ukraine, and the coal rich Donbass region.

Army Group Center overran Minsk and Smolensk en route to the Soviet capital. Despite both sides experiencing appalling loss of life, it was the Red Army that found itself over matched by the confident and experienced Wehrmacht. The Soviet Union and its Red Army, despite their continued resistance, appeared as if they may be on the verge of collapse.

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Matters became so desperate at the front that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin issued infamous Order No. 227. Better known as, “Not One Step Back.” Among the many conditions within the directive, commanders were instructed to create blocking units. Small squads of soldiers to stand behind front line troops with orders to kill anyone who retreated. Additionally, it penalized any soldier – and their families – who allowed themselves to be taken prisoner.

The Western Allies recognized that the entire war would be won or lost on the Eastern Front. Therefore they did everything possible to encourage, bolster, and stiffen continued Soviet resistance.

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On the morning of December 7th, the Red Army was in the second day of its counter-offensive to save Moscow. With the addition of rushed Siberian reinforcements, the Red Army held a reserve of 58 divisions. The counter-offensive against the Germans included 1.1 million Soviet soldiers, only slightly outnumbering their enemy.

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Siberian reinforcements marching through Red Square in the Revolution Day Parade, and directly off to the front

It would be another 14 months before the Red Army defeated and captured the German 6th Army at Stalingrad. Enduring what was nothing less than the most horrific theater of war in history, the USSR would eventually gain its military footing. By 1943, the Germans would find the jackboot on the other foot, as they began their slow retreat towards Berlin.

In eventually achieving ultimate victory, the Soviet Union would pay the heaviest price of any member of the Allies. Soviet losses in the Second World War are estimated to be between 25-30 million combatant and civilian deaths.

December 7th, 1941 – North Africa

“Rommel! Rommel! Rommel! What else matters but beating him?!” – Winston Churchill to Brigadier Ian Jacob, August, 1942

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British Army Tanks driving through the desert

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After evacuating the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) from Dunkirk in May 1940, the only place the British were fighting the Germans on the ground was in colonial North Africa. Combat in North Africa began with the Italian declaration of war against the Allies on 10 June, 1940. Subsequently, the Italian 10th Army invaded Egypt from Libya.

The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini sought to seize the Suez Canal in Egypt. Doing so with the intent of severing the vital British sea route accessing the Mediterranean from the Red Sea and Indian Ocean.

The ill equipped Italian army immediately faced military defeat at the hands of the British, resulting in the destruction of the Italian 10th Army.

Hitler came to the rescue of his ideological soulmate seeking to boost Italian resistance, whilst avoiding Axis defeat in North Africa and the Mediterranean. In Operation Sonnemblume, Hitler deployed the crack German Afrika Korps under the command of General Erwin Rommel to Libya, in February, 1941.

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During Operation Sonnemblume, the Afrika Korps drove the British back into Egypt from the Libyan frontier.

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On December 7th, 1941, the British were a midst Operation Crusader – attempting to relieve the Axis siege of Tobruk that began on 10 April, 1941. In Britain’s withdrawal, they left a sizable garrison in the port of Tobruk to deny its use for vital shipping to Axis forces. Operation Crusader would lift the siege on 30 December, 1941.

December 7th, 1941 – The Battle of the Atlantic

“… the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.” – Winston Churchill

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A British merchant ship convoy with aerial cover

The Battle of the Atlantic was the longest battle of the Second World War. In December 1941, the conflict had delicately stabilized. German U-Boats (submarines) had routinely interdicted British merchant vessels transporting vital materials and supplies to the British Isles.

As an island nation, the British were a traditional maritime superpower entirely dependent on merchant shipping to meet their needs. The  U-Boat menace sought to defeat Britain through attrition, choking the U.K. of what it needed to survive.

The British managed the U-Boat threat in two-fold fashion. Foremost, the convoy system for merchant shipping was adopted. Civilian merchant vessels were escorted by British warships, overtime significantly improving shipping losses.

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The British also had the aide of the top-secret ULTRA project; the ingenious Enigma code breaking effort at Bletchley Park. By December 1941, ULTRA was consistently decoding the majority of Kriegsmarine – German Navy – U-Boat messages with use of the code breaking Bombe machine. The Bombe was based on a earlier Polish model, the Bomba, to decrypt Enigma messages correctly and in real-time. Despite their success at that time, Bletchley Park would face the devastating challenge of decoding the newest Enigma model used by the Kriegsmarine for most of 1942.

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A British Bombe on display at the Bletchley Park Museum

With this priceless information, the Royal Navy would coordinate their convoy routes to evade attack by U-Boat. With the combination of the improved convoy system and invaluable enemy intelligence, the UK was keeping its head above water at that time.

December 7th, 1941 – The Air War Over Europe

“They sowed the wind, and now they are going to reap the whirlwind.” – Sir Arthur Harris

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The Lancaster four-engine heavy bomber, the work horse of RAF Bomber Command

A year following the British victory in the Battle of Britain, and surviving the Blitz, the Royal Air force (RAF) pivoted from Fighter Command defense, to Bomber Command attack.

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The only way the British could attack Germany on the continent of Europe in this period was through strategic bombing. Long distance four-engine heavy bombers struck German cities by night.

During the Second World War, the ability to accurately bomb specific targets from high altitudes was a point of strategic contention between the Western Allies. The British solution to this quagmire was conducting a campaign of area bombing. Without the ability to bomb with precision, the RAF targeted entire German cities. Their aim was to both curtail German military production, and crack the domestic morale of the civilian population, hoping to hasten Allied victory. To this day, the effectiveness of this British policy is still hotly debated.

(Article Continues Below…)

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December 7th/8th, 1941 – The Pacific & Pearl Harbor

“A day that will live in infamy.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

USS Arizona after Pearl Harbor attack

The aftermath of Pearl Harbor

The attack on Pearl Harbor, though major, was not the only operation undertaken by the Japanese military on December 7th, 1941. The Japanese simultaneously invaded Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaya, Guam, Wake Island, and Thailand.

This major offensive was a coordinated effort to secure what the Japanese referred to as the, “southern resources area.” A major portion of Southeast Asia that contained the necessary raw materials to supply their military ambitions indefinitely.

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Due to a lack of energy resources, specifically oil, Japan was provoked to preemptive military action. With the US and UK oil embargo’s of Japan in mid-1941, the Japanese decided to strike. What was intended to be a policy of restricting Japanese aggression by the US and UK, the oil embargo only accelerated Japanese conquest.

The Japanese conquered these territories with ruthless efficiency. Even in spite of prolonged resistance in areas such as the Philippines, all of these regions would ultimately capitulate to Japan. Japan would come to call this geographic region the, “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

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The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

It was the logic of the Japanese military to quickly seize these territories, and sufficiently fortify their gains. It was the Japanese goal for the Western powers to consider the military cost of retaking these areas too high, and accept the fait accompli.

December 7th, 2016 – Looking Back

The more one studies the Second World War, it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of the struggle. As I reflect upon the event of Pearl Harbor, I see the beginning of American ascendance to its current role in the world. Yet as I place it within the context of the greater war, it only deepens my appreciation and gratitude for what the United States and its allies accomplished. While I cannot accept that war, any war, is ever a good war – the Second World War was a necessary war. It was a conflict whose outcome directed the fate of humanity, and a war the Allies simply could not lose.

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In the end, all anyone can do is be grateful for the sacrifice made by our near ancestors. We may not be able to repay the debt of our dearest blood, but we can honor it everyday.

Learn more about WW2 from Paul K. DiCostanzo, listen to his interview on KFAB 1110AM about if the Allies Failed on D-Day

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Paul K. DiCostanzo is the Managing Editor for TGNR. He is a noted public speaker, an emerging historian of the Second World War, a vocal advocate for Crohn’s Disease/Ulcerative Colitis, and highly regarded interviewer. Prior to TGNR, Paul has a background in American National Security and American Foreign Policy. He has served as the Managing Editor for TGNR since March 2015.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Hwong Seng

    December 7, 2016 at 9:38 PM

    On that day, a bitter struggle was also raging in the land populated by 400 million Chinese. The War of Resistance against the Japanese invaders had started way back in 1937. When it ended after a blood -bath lasting eight long years, Chinese casualties , military and civil would hit the 25 million mark. But at least a million Japanese troops were pinned down in China. Released from the Chinese war theatre they would certainly create havoc in the Pacific and India.

    • Paul K. DiCostanzo

      December 7, 2016 at 10:01 PM

      Without any doubt, you’re absolutely correct. It is a terrible state of affairs that China is very often the forgotten Allied power. The Chinese contribution to Allied victory in the Pacific was indispensable, and their loss of human life in that struggle is unspeakable.

      Given the nature of the article, I did not include the Chinese as I could not find a specific operation or battle the Chinese were engaged in on 12/7/1941 itself.

      If my research is in error and there was a specific battle or operation the Chinese were involved in on that very day, I would be very pleased to write an accompanying piece. If you know of something about that, please feel free to e-mail me with that information. You can find my address in the byline.

      Thank you very much for your extremely thoughtful and eloquent contribution. Also, thank you for reading!

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WW2 Brain Bucket

How did Hitler Fool Stalin so Badly with the Invasion of the USSR? | WW2 Brain Bucket Reader Q&A

Today we’re talking about how Hitler conned Stalin in 1941, Hirohito staying on the imperial throne post-war, the most underrated figure of WW2, and German/Italian Axis troops kept as POWs by the British and Americans.

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From left to right: Emperor Hirohito, Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke & Axis POW surrendering WW2
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In the Second World War, there is nothing as perplexing as to how Hitler fooled Stalin so completely in launching Operation Barbarossa – the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Nor are there many debates that are still so relevant to the politics of a nation than Emperor Hirohito’s role directing the war for Japan. It is also a tragedy for posterity that most people don’t know the names of either General George C. Marshall or Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke. Even fewer know the incredible story of how German and Italian POWs were kept by the Allies, especially the camps in the United States. However there is a more pressing introduction before getting down to your questions. 

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Over the last several years during my myriad published pieces on the Second World War, as well as critiquing its role in Amazon Prime’s adaptation of The Man in the High Castle, I have received many emails from readers asking questions about the subject as a whole. Its amazing hearing from people who have a strong curiosity about the wars history, and want the best information possible. After I was encouraged by those reaching out to me to start a reader submitted question and answer column, providing informed answers to any questions relating to WW2, I have chosen to take up the gauntlet. 

First things first, what the hell is a brain bucket? A brain bucket is a military colloquialism for a combat helmet. When searching for answers and historical understanding, the process is often volatile and incendiary. So, it’s always good to wear that brain bucket.

Here are the Brain Bucket Q&A ground rules:

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  • I will choose several questions a month. If your e-mail isn’t picked, don’t be discouraged. I can only answer so many at a time. Feel free to resubmit the question for the following month. 
  • Any question about or related to the Second World War is fair game. Even if you think its a little strange and off the beaten path, send it in. More often than not, history is both of those things and more. That also includes its place or role in popular culture, current or ongoing controversies related to the subject, and pretty much anything else you can fathom.
  • My replies to your questions will be thorough. If you have taken the time to e-mail a question I have chosen, you deserve the best possible answer. 
  • Most importantly as an unequivocal rule, I am only interested in evaluating history within the context of the era concerned. Imposing contemporary values and societal norms on history accomplishes less than nothing. One can learn from history and take those lessons to help better guide to a better future, but viewing entirely within the scope of a modern worldview is an exercise in futility. It has been said that the past is like another country, and much like learning about another culture it can only be evaluated in the context of its people and their ways. In the end, the only real goal is understanding, whether or not it comports to the beliefs of the present. 
  • My answer to your question is only the tip of the iceberg. I will include recommended reading and viewing so you can research the specific issue further. 

Do you have a question about WW2? E-mail the Brain Bucket!

Now, down to business and your questions!

Q: I am just getting into the history of the Eastern Front. The more I learn, the more I can’t understand how Stalin was actually so caught off guard by the Nazi invasion of Russia. It seemed pretty obvious even at the time. How did Germany dupe Stalin so completely? 

– Kyle, Macon, GA

This really goes under the category of Stalin being too close to the forest to see the trees. While contemporary Soviet propaganda would have you picture the dictator ruling omnisciently from his Kremlin perch, Stalin was just as limited as his fellow dictators at the time.  In short, he was still human and fully capable of misinterpreting even the best of intelligence about Nazi duplicity, as we shall see.

A Pact of Mutual Assistance

Hitler-Stalin pact division of Eastern Europe and the BalkansWikicommons

So it is important to recall that prior to 22 June 1941, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were bound together in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact (named after each country’s respective foreign ministers). Publicly each side was very careful to refer to the political relationship as only a pact of non-aggression. However their two year affiliation went much further despite neither side forgetting the near decade worth of mud each had slung at the other. They both were, after all, ideologically opposing powers.

To begin, the two antithetical nations fired the war’s opening salvo practically hand-in-hand. The Soviets discreetly provided operational support for Germany during the Poland invasion, as well as for the German U-Boat campaign prior to the occupation of Norway in April/May 1940. Secondly, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union actively exchanged supplies for the duration of the pact, with the Soviet Union exchanging raw materials for the industrialized goods and civil/military technologies of Germany.

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The pact also carved out distinct “spheres of influence” between the two countries in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Specifically, the overrun Poland would be partitioned between the two powers while the Baltic states would be ceded to Moscow. Likewise, the region of Bessarabia (modern day Moldova) would be annexed from eastern Romania and transferred to the Soviet Union. In exchange for these zones, Germany secured their eastern flank from attack, allowing them to concentrate on their wars in the West. Without a doubt, both Germany and the Soviet Union gained firm, tangible yields from their association. 

For Stalin, the biggest benefit was possibly bogging down Germany in their war with the West. Stalin believed that with a German invasion of the West, a major war of attrition between the waring powers would ensue. Stalin hoped that such a quagmire would be similar to the Western Front of the First World War, keeping his German partner wholly engaged with Britain and France. If that become so Stalin figured, the Soviet Union would be given a free hand to do as it pleased. Perhaps even with the Soviet Union playing agent provocateur to keep both sides in a vicious fight indefinitely. 

Stalin was also buying time to ready the then chaotic state of the Red Army, before the growing conflict engulfed the Soviet Union. After decapitating his officer corps with politically motivated purges, reorganizing the Red Army to adopt new doctrinal priorities, and implementing an array of new weapons technology – the Red Army was pretty much a mess between 1939 – 1941. This strongly bore out in their humiliating, yet ultimately successful, Winter War with Finland to seize the Karelian Isthmus and the Arctic port of Petsamo. 

As events unfolded in continental Europe, Stalin became quickly disabused. Hitler would complete his conquest of Norway, Denmark, the Low Countries and France by the end of June 1940. 

Ideology vs. Strategy

Regardless of the realistic benefits the pact provided, ideology eventually won out in Hitler’s mind. One of National Socialism’s main philosophical tenets was a violent rejection of Soviet communism. The Nazi movement has, in fact, it’s genesis as a reaction to the various far left movements in Germany following its defeat in the First World War.

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Even worse to Hitler, Soviet communism was directly connected to the groups Nazism infamously targeted most – above all others, the Jews and Slavs. It did not help that many major Bolshevik figures involved in the 1917 October coup were both. To this day, Nazism’s views roughly informed what was known as “The Judeo-Bolshevik Conspiracy.”

To explain this ridiculous ideological patchwork, it can be best understood as follows:

The conspiracy boils down to the idea that Judaism, by virtue of a massive international conspiracy, seeks to dominate and enslave humanity through Communism. Moreover Soviet communism, specifically Moscow itself, was viewed as the epicenter of this conspiracy. This is due to prominent cohorts of the Bolshevik party leader Vladimir Lenin being of Jewish descent.  Though Hitler’s designs of the Soviet Union expand beyond the mere ideological. 

Accompanied with the fact the USSR and Nazi Germany were natural economic powers, Hitler much preferred to conquer those Soviet assets than trading for them. In Mein Kamp Hitler spoke of German “Leibensraum” – living space – for colonization in what was the western Soviet Union. Ultimately seeking to forcibly seize the very raw materials they were trading for, and enslaving the Slavic population. This idea was not unique to Nazism in Germany. Leibensraum roughly comports to the 19th century German nationalistic concept of “Drang nach Osten” or “Drive to the East,” that promoted a unified Germany conquer the traditional Slavic lands.

What is quite interesting is that if you look at the entirety of the European war, almost everything Nazi Germany did was clearly outlined in Hitler’s so-called autobiography he dictated serving prison time, Mein Kampf. 

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Did Stalin even read Mein Kampf?

Apparently so. Stalin was an avid reader, accumulating a vast personal library. It included many books one might not expect to see on the shelf of Maxist-Leninist number one – like say, the Bible. Stalin had a translated copy of Mein Kampf and marked it up quite well. He knew exactly the ideology that Nazism embodied, as well as the target sitting on his back. 

Yet in the first half of 1941 the Vhoz had reason to believe himself outside the Nazis’ crosshairs. 

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The Soviet Pre-Barbarossa Intelligence Debacle

Historian Stephen Kotkin explains in his newest release, Stalin Volume II: Waiting for Hitler 1929-1941 that Soviet intelligence sources were unknowingly blinded to Hitler’s true intentions through misinformation and disinformation campaigns skillfully run by German counterintelligence in early 1941.  

Before their invasion of the Soviet Union, the Nazi regime conveyed many different but equally plausible reasons for the Wehrmacht’s growing presence in Eastern Europe. In one such explanation, the German’s asserted that their presence, at what was essentially Stalin’s doorstep, was only a temporary stop en route to operations against the British Empire in the Middle East. Even Hitler actively participated in the deception. He communicated directly to Stalin that his troops in Poland and East Prussia were nothing to worry about; that they were only there to be out of range of RAF bombers hitting Germany.

These mis/disinformation operations could only succeed so long as they fit Stalin’s preconceptions of Hitler’s military goals.  Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, they fit a little too well.  The paranoid dictator may not have accepted the stated reasons for Germany’s presence but he did believe that Hitler was trying to put pressure on the Soviet Union by his military buildup on their frontier, hoping to coerce various concessions from the Kremlin to Germany’s benefit. Speculation to this end varied from hoping to extract greater material benefit via trade, to the Soviet Union leasing Ukraine to Germany for a 99 year lease. 

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Throughout this ordeal, the Soviet Union’s main intelligence arm the NKVD, was not asleep at the wheel. The NKVD created a bulging intelligence dossier codenamed “Zateya” or “Venture” to examine Hitler’s intentions. Though as far reaching as NKVD assets were, they did not impress Stalin. For example, in early 1941 there were countless reports from Soviet agents that portended the German date of invasion – that would invariably pass without incident. This only reinforced Stalin’s own diposistion and views. Moreover, any Soviet apparatchik was careful to report intelligence that the Soviet despot didn’t want to hear. Many had been purged and executed for less. Naturally this created a perilous situation for the Soviet nation. 

Still, some Soviet intelligence assets did try to raise the alarm with accurate reports about the impending Nazi betrayal. The most prominent was Richard Sorge, a German journalist posted to the German embassy in Tokyo that worked for the NKVD. From his position at the embassy, Sorge was able to provide the exact date for the invasion to his superiors. Yet Sorge was one voice among many, however, and no leader has ever lost an empire by taking all their spies reports at face value.

Richard Sorge was even placed on an East German stampBundesarchiv

In the history of espionage, most spies are seldom honored with their own stamp. Kim Philby enjoyed this honor as well in the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, Stalin slavishly believed that Hitler would never attack the Soviet Union while still being at war with the British. In Mein Kampf Hitler was unequivocal about his belief that Germany lost the First World War because they were engaged in war on two fronts. Stalin hitched a great deal to this oft stated opinion by Hitler. This conviction neglected one obvious fact: Germany may still have been at war with the British Empire, however, the British Army did not have a single fighting soldier in continental Europe. Yes, there was the fighting happening in colonial North Africa and British strategic bombing, but this hardly constituted a second front great enough in Hitlers eyes to deter his ambitions.

Who was really calling the shots in the Third Reich at war?

Last, but hardly least, Stalin had a major misperception of how power was exercised within the structure of the Third Reich. Stalin, by using the First World War as precedent, assumed that the military leadership once again had the real decision making powers for use of force during war, thus paralleling Kaiser Wilhelm II effectively ceding control of Germany to the duumvirate of Paul von Hiddenburg and Erich Ludendorff. As such, Stalin supposed that the Wehrmacht generals – not Hitler himself – wanted war with the Soviet Union. In truth, more the opposite was true. Based on this erroneous assumption, Stalin issued strict orders to avoid doing anything that could be perceived as a provocation,especially at the common western border.

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With the benefit of hindsight and access to archival records from both sides, Hitler’s intentions appear incredibly obvious now, and for some the Führer’s schemes may have seemed just as clear at the time. Yet when using prospective history, as opposed to retrospective history, one can see how this calamity came to pass. When you consider the highly effective disinformation employed by Germany, a Soviet intelligence apparatus unwilling to tell their mercurial boss something he didn’t want to hear, combined with Stalin’s devotion to his own interpretation of events, disaster ensued. Ultimately, the only opinion that mattered was Stalin’s, and the Vhoz drastically misread the Nazi dictator. Now you know the rest of the story, as it were. 

Recommended Reading:

  • “The Devil’s Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin, 1939 – 1941” by Roger Moorhouse
  • “Stalin, Volume II: Waiting for Hitler, 1929-1941” by Stephen Kotkin
  • “What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa” by David E. Murphy
  • “Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia” by Gabriel Gorodetsky

Recommended Watching:

  • “World War II Behind Closed Doors: Stalin, The Nazi’s and the West” directed by Laurence Rees
  • “World War Two: 1941 and the Man of Steel” hosted by David Reynolds 
  • “Warlords” (2007) directed by Simon Berthon

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The Forgotten Declaration of Independence Signers Who Lost Everything for Signing

It never ceases to amaze how these U.S. Founding Fathers, among the foremost collaborators in the American Revolution, paid for their treason against the British Crown. It is also astonishing in equal measure how, despite their immense personal sacrifice, they have been all but lost to American history.

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Declaration of Independence
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From Cromwell to Trotsky, history repeatedly demonstrates that revolutions devour their own children. Despite the constant patriotic thrum that recounts the Olympian deeds of the American founding fathers who signed the Declaration of Independence, they were no exception to this rule. Some who signed that most radical of declarations did survive the struggle to achieve great prominence in their newly found country. Many more, however, sacrificed no less than their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor for the liberty they sought by the war’s end. The following names are only 13 signatories of the Declaration of Independence who gave all and more when their “John Hancock” inked that seditious parchment, freeing themselves of the British yoke and simultaneously marking themselves as traitors against the Crown.

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Benjamin Harrison V 

Declaration of IndependenceWikicommons

A planter by profession, Benjamin Harrison V was a member of both Virginia’s House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1777. History must think one traitor deserves another because during January 1781 Harrison’s Virginia home and all of his possessions were destroyed by none other than the forces commanded by Benedict Arnold.

 

George Wythe

Declaration of IndependenceWikicommons

A skilled practitioner of law, Wythe served as a judge in Virginia, and was a noted scholar. He was  party to both signing the Declaration of Independence as well as the Continental Congress.

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Unfortunately, a farmer leasing land on his Virginia plantation Chesterville was a British spy. The spy, Hamilton Usher St. George, encouraged four British raiding parties to destroy neighboring farmers, settlements along the James river, and the burning of Williamsburg using his inside information.  Evan after the eviction of St. George, Wythe’s tribulations continued when the Yorktown battlefront resulted in the destruction his library and scientific instruments  at the College of William and Mary fire.

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D-Day in Perspective: What if the Allied Invasion of Normandy Failed?

For most people today, there are few historic counter-factual questions more disturbing than, “What if D-Day failed?” This is a detailed look at the nightmarish, dystopian world that might have resulted if Operation Overlord ended in catastrophe.

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D-Day
Image Credit: History.com

On June 6, 1944 the Western Allies launched Operation Overlord – better known as D-Day – an amphibious invasion of northern France that was a dramatic and unprecedented gamble for the future of Western Europe. It’s success ensured the defeat of Nazism by creating a western Second Front in Europe opposite the Soviet Union’s Red Army in the east. Their presence also guaranteed that Soviet influence would not extend beyond their furthest reach in the occupied eastern portion of Central Europe.

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Today, D-Day is rightly remembered as a day of heroes with forces from every Allied nation assaulting the heavily defended beaches of Normandy. Through its mythologized retelling, countless consider the landing’s success a historical inevitability. However, that belief could not be further from the truth. Overlord’s architects who planned and executed the offensive understood that their efforts may have instead been mourned as one of the greatest disasters in military history. Yet with profound conviction Allied leaders accepted the risk because success might ensure the freedom of humanity from one of the greatest evils it had ever faced. On the other hand had it failed, world history would have become unrecognizable compared to our own.

To appreciate the sacrifice of those who boldly attacked the Atlantic Wall 73 years ago today, one must consider the world they risked their life to avoid. As we take a moment today to honor their sacrifice, let’s consider what that other course of history may have entailed. This piece postulates what turns the war may have taken if Germany had succeeded in repelling the Normandy attack, squashing the Allied invasion, and leaving the Second Front stillborn.

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