Myth 5 – Stalin Did Not Coordinate Any Fighting with Hitler


Stalin Did Not Coordinate Any Fighting with Hitler

Maksym Maiorov

Vyacheslav Molotov about the division of Poland in 1939

“If we did not meet the Germans in 1939, they would have occupied all of Poland to its border. Thus, we agreed with them. The Germans were forced into the agreement.”

The Essence of the Myth

Stalin decided to introduce his own troops onto the territory of western Ukraine and western Belarus on 17 September 1939. Therefore, he did not give these territories up to Germany to occupy.

Fast Facts

In the war against Poland, the USSR and Germany were allies. They coordinated their air campaign, jointly disarmed Polish units, co-ordinated with each other in their occupied territories and even held a joint military parade.

Detailed Facts

The planned German war of aggression against Poland began with the assumption of neutrality or assistance from Moscow. Otherwise, the German General Staff could not be confident in its success.

The “Fall Weiss” plan of the attack began to be developed in April 1939. The plan did not include the Wehrmacht occupation of the Ukrainian and Belarusian regions of Poland. According to Germany’s vision, these areas would be occupied by the USSR. As a fallback plan, the authors considered deploying the Ukrainian and Belarussian nationalists in uprisings.

However, Hitler was primarily interested in attracting Stalin in the division of Poland. During the spring-summer of 1939, the Germans made significant efforts in their agreements with the USSR.

Afterwards, as the Wehrmacht began hostilities against Poland, the German Foreign Office repeatedly insisted that the USSR join the war.

The Germans referred to the need for Stalin to occupy territory which was considered a Soviet sphere of influence under the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. But Moscow delayed being fearful of being exposed to Western democratic anger about the declaration of war.

From the first days of the Second World War, the USSR supported the aggressor. For example, on 1 September, the USSR offered the Germans the use of available radio stations in Minsk, which served as a guidance beacon for Luftwaffe bombers toward Polish cities. Finally, on 17 September Stalin told the German ambassador that the Red Army would begin its occupation of Poland. On the same day, Soviet troops occupied Ternopil and Rivne, followed by Kolomyia, Stanyslaviv (Ivano-Frankivsk) and Lutsk.

Red Army soldiers crossing the Soviet-Polish border (17 September 1939)

When Soviet troops crossed the eastern border, Poland was still resisting the Wehrmacht. At that moment, Warsaw had not yet surrendered. Western Ukraine and Belarus were in the rear of the Polish defence. Polish command hoped to regroup its troops and hold a strategic turnabout in the Carpathians. On 17 September, the Red Army deprived Poland of their last chance to fend off Germany.

Already on the second day of the Polish campaign, the Red Army appeared in the German-Soviet communiques. It stated that the actions of the Soviet and German troops in Poland “do not have a goal that would be going against the interests of Germany and the Soviet Union and are contrary to the spirit and letter of the Non-Aggression Pact.”

In the next communique from 22 September, a demarcation line between the two countries was already installed. And on 28 September 1939, the USSR and Germany signed the German- Soviet Frontier Treaty. Thus, both aggressors publicly stated that they had no contradictions when it came to Poland.

German and Soviet troop maneuvers in Poland continued.

After receiving the message that the Red Army crossed the border, German command gave the order to stop their troops on the Skole – Lviv – Volodymyr-Volynskyi – Brest – Bialystok line.

German General Guderian and Soviet Light Tank Brigade Commander Krivoshein inspecting troops during the transfer of Brest-Litovsk to the Red Army

On 20 September, Hitler ordered his troops to stop fighting with the Poles and retreat west to their August 1939 demarcation line. The Wehrmacht retreated and handed over the conquered territory to the Red Army.

In late September, both parties agreed to change the demarcation line. Now Soviet troops were diverted from the east. These were quite difficult maneuvers.

For example, the siege of Lviv and Brest was started by the Germans but as they later retreated, it was completed by the Red Army.

On 22 September 1939, a joint military parade was held during the arrival of the Soviet troops into Brest. The ceremony was attended by units of the Wehrmacht Mechanised Corps under the command of Heinz Guderian and the Light Tank Brigade led by Semyon Krivoshein.

There were also cases of German and Soviet troop interaction in their battles against the Polish Army. On 21 September, the commander of the Ukrainian Front, Semyon Timoshenko, sent a directive to the troops:

“In cases when German representative’s appeal to our troops to provide assistance for the destruction of Polish troops or gangs – commanders should allocate all necessary forces to provide for the joint elimination of enemy forces.”

Soviet tank crew disarms Polish officers, illustration from the newspaper “Vilna Ukraina” – “Free Ukraine,” (4 October 1939)

The directive was followed. For example, on 24 September, the Soviet and German troops carried out joint operations in order to evict Polish troops from Zamość. Between 26 and 28 September, in the district of Zhuravylntsi, the allies defeated several regiments of the Polish cavalry who retreated to Hungary. On 27 September, Marshal Timoshenko reported the defeat of Polish troops near Nemyriv together with the Germans.

On 28 September, Warsaw fell. The territorial division of Poland between the USSR and Germany was completed on 28 September 1939 during the signing of the Frontier Treaty.

“Rendezvous”: cartoon in “Evening Standard”, a London newspaper (20 September 1939)