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Posts Tagged ‘Nazi-Soviet Pact’

If you remember way back to this site’s younger days, you might recall the discussion of the Nazi-Soviet Pact.  Signed in August of 1939, it allowed for the disappearance of Poland, half of which went to Germany, and the remainder going to Russia.

But included in the pact was permission for the Russians to do as they pleased with the Baltic States…Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.  Of course, that permission didn’t come from any of the named countries.  Funny how that works sometimes.

Well, on June 15, 1940, Russia began cashing in on their end of the deal.  It actually began a little before that with accusations by the Russians that the Baltic States were sympathetic to the Allies.  They were followed by more accursations, this time that the Baltics were actually collaberating with the Allies.  On the 12th, the Russian government simply issued an ultimatum, demanding that the country allow Red Army troops to cross the border.  And on the 15th, the Soviets simply moved in and occupied Lithuania.

The following day, Latvia and Estonia would follow suit, falling victim to the bloodless war.

A little more than a month later, all three states would be absorbed into the Soviet Union.  And they would remain so for less than a year.  Then the Germans would come calling…

Recommended Reading: Hitler and Stalin

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For nearly a month, direct negotiations had persisted.  Back-and-forth communications?…more than 18 months.  The Soviet Union had, since April of 1938, been interested in territory that belonged to Finland, its neighbor to the west.  And Finland had (more or less) politely refused.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact came and went.  The combined German-Soviet removal of Poland from the map came and went.  And still the Soviets negotiated with Finland.  Not as far as he could kick him did Soviet dictator Jospeh Stalin trust his counterpart in Berlin.  Yes, half of Poland gave Stalin a sizeable space-cushion between himself and the National Socialism he despised.  But he was still afraid that Adolf Hitler would use his military might, vastly superior to any of the Scandanavian countries, to take over Finland, whose borders were just a stone’s throw from the Communist “Mecca” of Leningrad.

So, Stalin’s representatives asked that Finland give up 20 miles of territory on the Karelian Isthmus (the strip of land between the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga).  They also desired that Finland cede several islands in the Gulf of Finland and the northernmost tip of Finland (the Rybachi Peninsula).  Finally, they asked that Finland allow them to lease the port of Hanko (on the the southernmost tip of Finland) and build a base there.  Essentially Stalin was creating additional buffer space on all approaches to Leningrad.

For its part, Finland reiterated that it was a decidedly neutral nation, and any incursion (including one from Germany) would be viewed as hostile.  So there was no need to give the Soviets a buffer zone…Finland would provide it for free.  What’s more, giving up territory in the Karelian Isthmus meant destroying much of the Mannerheim Line, a fairly stout series of fortifications, tank traps, and pillboxes.  Finland would essentially be defenseless, which wasn’t necessarily terrible…if that’s all that Stalin wanted.  If.  IF.

But Joseph Stalin was a man who had spent most of the last several years slaughtering thousands and thousands of officers, including a goodly number of Finnish-born officers.  If his own men could not trust him, how much less a target country with almost no military power?  If Finland ceded the territory, there was no way it could defend itself against subsequent aggression.

Carl Gustav Mannerheim, Finland’s leading military man, did not hold to the Finnish convention.  He strongly believed Finland should give the Soviets what they wanted.  He said that if the Soviets wanted the territory badly enough, they would simply take it by force, and Finland could do nothing anyway.  So while Foreign Minister Eljas Erkko was convinced Stalin was bluffing, Mannerheim was not.

And so the Soviet-Finnish meetings continued.  Having begun in earnest on October 12, 1939, they had lasted throughout the month.  The Finnish delegation (shown above) gave some ground, offering to give up a bit of Karelian territory and some of islands, but the Mannerheim Line and the port of Hanko were simply non-negotiable.

It was on this day, November 9, 1939, that the negotiators met for the last time, where the Finnish delegation reminded Stalin of their compromises…and their unwillingness to go any further.  Stalin was somewhat surprised by the intransigence he witnessed.  After an hour, the meeting concluded (despite the heavy discussions) on an upbeat note. Vyacheslav Molotov, the Soviet Foreign Minister smiled and waved.  Stalin wish the Finns the best and then departed…

…to meet with his generals and begin making plans to subdue a stubborn little pip-squeak country on its western border.

Recommended Reading:  A Frozen Hell – A friend (and fellow reader of Today’s History Lesson) recommended this book to me.  I’m reading it now, and it’s really good.

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When Germany signed its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union in August of 1939, it caused a huge stir in the capital cities of many countries, not the least of which were London, Paris, and Warsaw.  There the reactions were those of shock and dismay, as the British and French had been trying to negotiate with Joseph Stalin, and the Polish now realized that their days were numbered.

But many don’t know that just four days before that, the Soviets and Germans had, with relative quiet, signed an economic aggreement as well.  The German-Soviet Commercial Aggreement, signed on August 19th, allowed the Soviets to trade raw materials (oil, rubber, manganese, and foodstuffs) to Germany and receive a couple hundred million Reichmarks worth of civilian (and military) equipment in return.

And then the war came a week later and even Poland, probably the weakest enemy Germany fought, proved a tremendous strain on Germany’s resources.  What’s more, her aggression served to cut her off from additional suppliers, and Hitler knew that expansion to the West would be very difficult without the resources of transport, particularly oil.

And so, the German dictator turned to the Soviets again.  On February 11, 1940, another aggreement was reached.  This pact was also called the German-Soviet Commercial Aggreement, but served to expand the trade between the two powers.  The numbers were increased to 650 million Reichmarks.  The Germans would send the Soviets the blueprints for the Bismarck, the unfinished cruiser Lutzow, a destroyer (in pieces), naval guns, gobs of other military equipment, and plans for airplanes, including the Me-109 fighter.  The Soviets would send to Germany oil, grains, oil, manganese, more oil, a little oil, some copper, oil, platinum, and oil.

But the catch for the Soviets was in the delivery times.  All Soviet products had to be delivered to Germany within 18 months.  From February 11, 1940, that meant a deadline of August of 1941.  Germany, on the other hand, didn’t have to fulfill its end of the deal for 27 months, or May of 1942.  And of course, you’re probably laughing, since Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union commenced in late June of 1941…just about the time of the Soviet deadline.  Who do you suppose got the better end of that deal?

Recommended Reading: Absolute War

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On September 27, 1940, the Axis Powers were officially created when Germany, Japan, and Italy signed the Tripartite Pact in Berlin.  Set to last for 10 years, the Pact contained several articles.  First, Japan recognized that Germany and Italy were in charge of things in Europe, while Germany and Italy submitted to Japan in East Asia and the Pacific.  It also stated that each country was allowed to acquire the territory needed to maintain peace (sounds strange, right?), and that each member should economically, politically, and militarily support the acquisition efforts of the others. 

The Tripartite Pact also addressed the Soviet Union…with good reason.  If you recall, Germany and Japan had already signed the Anti-Comintern Pact back in 1936.  Simply put, the two countries agreed that Communism was evil and that neither country would enter into any kind of treaty with the Communist Soviet Union.  Fast-forward to 1939.  Germany, in setting up Poland for occupation, signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact with Russia, which caused some consternation in Japan, who was involved in on-again, off-again territorial disputes with the Soviets and wanted to focus more on deteriorating relations with the United States.

As a result, the Tripartite Pact contained language stating that this Pact in no way affected any member’s current relationship with Russia.  So, Japan and Russia could stay mad at each other, and Russia and Germany could be friends (for the time being), and Japan wouldn’t have to be mad at Germany…one of those high-school-girls-type alliances if ever there was one.

Over the course of next several years, other countries would join the Pact.  Today’s History Lesson has already directly addressed two of those:  Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.  Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia would be added in November, and Croatia would join in 1941.

Recommended Reading: Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941

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For two and a half weeks, the German army had been swarming over Poland.  Since the start of the invasion on September 1, 1939, Poland had only offered the weakest resistance to their enemy’s armies and air force.  And just when the Poles thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.

On September 17, 1939, the Soviets attacked from the east.  With well over half a million troops, the Red Army surged into Poland, in keeping with their secret agreement made with Germany back on the 23rd of August.  Russian dictator Joseph Stalin called the action a “liberation”, but for thousands and thousands of Poles, it was anything but that.

Stalin had determined in his mind that all traces of Poland would cease to exist.  And because he no longer viewed Poland as an entity, niceties such as the Geneva Convention and concern for the citizens had no meaning.  So as the army moved westward, behind them came the NKVD with their lists of names.  Polish law enforcement officers, public and government officials, professors and scientists, and military personnel were all rounded up (like those shown above).  Nearly all of them would be executed.

And as with the German invasion, the Soviet invasion of Poland would be met with stern condemnation from Great Britain and France (both of whom had made military guarantees to Poland), but nothing else.

In all pratical ways, Poland was gone.

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If you had asked the German officials, they would have said something like, “Polish militants attacked us without provocation and we were forced to respond.”  If you would have asked the leadership in Warsaw, they probably would have responded with something like, “Yeah, right.  The Nazi-Soviet Pact trapped us between two colossal enemies, so our answer was to attack the strongest of the two.  Yeah, right!!”

If you would have flown over the German-Polish border the night before the Germans launched their attack, what you saw may well have blown your mind.  Fully 85% of Germany’s military was prepared for attack.  The numbers are staggering:  1.6 million men, more than 65,000 artillery pieces and 4,000 tanks, and 2,000 aircraft.  The Poles were hopelessly outnumbered:  2-to-1 in men, 2-to-1 in artillery, more than 4-to-1 in tanks, and nearly 5-to-1 in airplanes.  Germany was poised to make a military statement, and Poland was the tablet on which it would be written.

And that’s precisely what happened on September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland and commenced the Second World War in Europe (keep in mind that Japan and China had already been fighting on the Chinese mainland for years).  France and Great Britain would declare war on Germany two days later (which also “formally” began the Second World War), but by then it was already too late to send any forces that could stem the German onslaught.

The War was on…

Recommended Reading: Panzer Leader

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Poland.
That stubborn country that refuses to do what I want.
Poland.
The country with the backwards military, to whom “blitzkrieg” means “saddle up those horses and ride like mad”.  Where airplanes still have two wings and shoot bullets through the propellers.
Poland.
The puzzle piece that sits right between the much more important pieces of Germany and East Prussia.
Poland.

I can’t prove that Adolf Hitler thought all these things, but I’ll wager that thoughts very similar to those (and many others less pleasant) went through his mind.  The German dictator had been working overtime to gain back the Free City of Danzig and the Polish Corridor as a way to unite “east and west”, but to this point had been stymied as the Poles simply refused to cooperate.

So rather than work with the Polish government, he decided to simply work around it.  In May of 1939, Germany joined the Pact of Steel with Italy.  A pact of mutual cooperation and mutual defense, the treaty was designed to provide “flanking” protection to Germany against a French and/or British military response to German aggression.

But still, Hitler worried about overrunning Poland without bringing trouble from the Soviet Union upon himself.  And that’s where the Nazi-Soviet Pact came into play.  Though signed in the early morning of August 24th, it was dated August 23, 1939, and it goes by numerous names…the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the MolotovRibbontrop Pact (named for the Russian & German foreign ministers who put it together), and the German-Soviet-Non-Aggression Pact, among others.

Regardless of the exact name, the Pact gave Hitler similar protection in the east to what the Pact of Steel gave him in the west.  It also secretly provided for the disappearance of Poland (into Germany and the Soviet Union) as well as giving the Soviet Union a free hand with Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

Reactions were similar, though for very different reasons.  Elements in both Soviet Russia and Germany were aghast that Bolshevism and National Socialism, two sworn enemies, were now operating in partnership.  France and Britain were aghast, as they had also been working on negotiations with Stalin and the Pact was a stunning turn of events.  And Poles were aghast because they knew that Hitler’s dream of, once again, joining Germany and Prussia was about to become a reality…at their expense.

Recommended Reading: The Deadly Embrace – Hitler, Stalin, and the Nazi-Soviet Pact 1939-1941

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