Joseph Stalin really didn’t want to believe that his country was about to be invaded. It’s somewhat strange that he thought this way, since he was just about the only one in Russia who did. He had been warned by the Americans. He had been warned by the British. And he had been warned (repeatedly) by members of his own staff and his heads of intelligence.
As 1941 was just getting underway, the Soviet Defence Commissariat was raising flags about the increase in German troop strength near the Russian borders and the menace it raised. On April 15th, General Zhukov’s intelligence chief reported that “A major transfer of troops…by railway, roads, motor columns and organised marches between 1 and 15 April, from the heart of Germany…towards the Soviet borders.” By early May, the NKVD (a group we’ve discussed before) was warning of open military preparations in occupied Poland. As May turned to June, there were more incidents of German agents dropping into Soviet territory. If anything smacked of “impending attack”, these signs certainly did.
And still Stalin did not believe what he was seeing. The British ambassador was called home from Moscow and took his wife with him. When Zhukov met with Stalin, Chris Bellamy writes (in his book Absolute War) that “Stalin was by now in his most paranoid, unbending and unreceptive mood, convinced of British and German attempts to trap him into a war he was not ready to fight, and seeing ‘disinformers’, ‘traitors’, and ‘wreckers’ in every shadow.” His fear of provoking the Germans reached the point that he ordered his news agency, TASS, to send a message to Germany, reasurring them that the Soviets were still on friendly terms.
All the while, the Hitler’s Field Marshals and Generals were putting the final pieces in places for one of the greatest invasions ever attempted. More than 150 divisions, with thousands of tanks, artillery pieces too numerous to count, and planes that blotted the noon-day sun were poised for action.
And on June 14, 1941 (just one day after TASS’s communique), more information arrived. This time it came not from reconnaissance, nor from border patrols, nor from captured agents. It came from the Red Orchestra, and that source packed a punch. The Red Orchestra was, without question, one of the most successful spy organizations of the entire war. Three different spy rings made up the Red Orchestra and each had a center. There was one in charge of France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Another ring was centered in Berlin. The third (and most successful), the Lucy Ring, was run from Switzerland. Its contacts reached into some of the highest echelons of the German government, including the Wehrmacht’s communications department and a communications officer in Army Group Centre, currently sitting on the Soviet border. The information these spies transmitted back home was of impeccably high quality.
And on the 14th, they sent word of a confirmed invasion date…June 22nd. This was not data to be casually tossed aside. And yet that’s precisely what Stalin did, with a brutally coarse manner typical of the Soviet leader. His generals had a grave concern bordering on panic, and did whatever was possible to make Stalin see beyond his own thinking, but nothing worked.
If the Red Orchestra’s information, which in numerous cases came straight from the German High Command, was tossed aside by Joseph Stalin, then no other information save the bombs and bullets and artillery shells would suffice, either. It wouldn’t be the first time he ignored information dropped in his lap.
Recommended Reading: The Red Orchestra – I read this in college as an assignment for a military history class, and found it fascinating. If you can locate a copy, check it out.