Myth 10 – In 1941 the Soviet Union Was Not Preparing for a War


In 1941 the Soviet Union Was Not Preparing for a War

Kyrylo Halushko

Georgy Zhukov, Memoirs and Reflections in 2 Volumes, vol. 1.

“Not believing in war and trying to avoid it, the Soviet people were taught the basic principles and means to implement peaceful economic plans.”

The Essence of the Myth

Through the very nature of the people, the Soviet regime was peaceful and the USSR was not preparing for a war. It was because of this that there were temporary difficulties and defeats in 1941.

Fast Facts

In 1941, the USSR was the most militarized country in the world. Documents of the Soviet leadership from 1940– 1941 showed that all strategic plans for war with Germany were envisioned solely in an offensive war.

Detailed Facts

Readiness for war is defined primarily within the armed forces of the state. At the end of the 1930s, the Soviet Union was the most militarized country in the world. Military procurements in the USSR in 1939 amounted to 26% of expenditures or 12.2% of the national income. For Germany, in the same year, these figures were 23% and 9%, respectively.

By 1941, the armed forces of the USSR quickly increased due to the introduction of general military conscription on 1 September 1939.

In 1941, army costs increased to 43% of budget expenditures. The personnel increased more than 2.5 times – from 1.943 million in 1939 to 5.7 million in June 1941.

During the same period, the number of cannons and mortars more than doubled from 55,800 to 115,900.

In 1939, there were 18,400 tanks, and by 1941 there were 23,300.

At the same time, the number of combat aircrafts was 15,500, then it became 22,000.

On 22 June 1941, the German army outpaced the Red Army only by the number of personnel (more on this in Myth 11).

There is ongoing debate among historians: Was the Soviet leadership planning an attack on Germany? There is no direct documentary evidence of this. There is evidence that plans of an attack were discussed, but most of developments and facts relating to the strategic defense plan do not exist. The German attack on 22 June 1941 turned the USSR into a martyr. Until this time, the whole world perceived the Kremlin as an aggressor and ally of the Third Reich.

Before the war, a cult of the armed forces was cultivated. Soviet poster reads: “More Metal – More Weapons!”

On 5 May 1941, Joseph Stalin said to the graduates of military academies:

“We had for some time held the line of defense. And now, when we rebuilt our army, saturate technology for modern combat, when we have become stronger, now we must go from defense to attack. Ensuring a defense for our country, we much must act in this way.”

Also in May, the General Staff proposed to inflict a preemptive strike against German troops. Additional troops, carrying strategic stocks, were redeployed to the border of Germany and Romania along with topographic maps of Poland, Germany and Romania. However, Stalin forbade his commanders to plan any operations that would prepare their defenses.

The graduates of military schools on parade in Red Square (1941). Perhaps, Stalin even appeared before them

None of the documents from 1940 till 1941, which contain Soviet plans for a possible war with Germany, describe defensive plans, only plans for an offensive war.

For instance, the concentration of Soviet troops in certain areas specified in an operational plan were to be completed from 1 June to 10 July 1941. Accordingly, after 10 July, everything was to be ready for an offensive in the east.

The signed Soviet plans of aggression against the West were similar to Hitler’s Barbarossa plan but had yet to begin.

There are famous documents which showed the USSR’s plans to attack the Third Reich:

1) The memorandum from the Commissar of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army to the Central Committee of the Communist Party and V. Molotov: “On the basis of the strategic deployment of the Soviet Armed Forces in the West and East,” from 16 August 1940;

2) Policy briefings from 18 September 1940;

Red Army soldiers in Red Square in Moscow during a parade on 1 May 1941

3) A report from the People’s Commissar of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army to the Central Committee, Stalin and Molotov: “On the strategic deployment of the Soviet Armed Forces in 1941,” from 5 October 1940;

4) Notes from the Kyiv Special Military District’s Chief of Staff, in accordance with the decision of the Southwestern Front plans to deploy in 1941, from December 1940 (N.B. the term front was used six months before the war began);

5) A directive from the People’s Commissar of Defense and the Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army and Commander of the Western Special Military District regarding a plan for the development of operational deployment of troops to the country, April 1941;

6) Considerations on a strategic plan for the deployment of the Armed Forces of the USSR in case of a war with Germany and its allies from 15 May 1941 prepared by Gregory Zhukov, Semyon Timoshenko and Alexander Vasilevsky.

This last document should be briefly cited: “The main attack of forces in the Southwestern Front is to be placed toward Krakow, Katowice, cutting off the Germans from their southern allies.”