* Greg Cochran writes: In October, 1941, the Soviet Union was in trouble. The Germans had just taken another huge bite out of the Red Army, capturing half a million men in the Vyazma and Bryansk pockets. At this point the Soviets were badly outnumbered, for the only time in the war, and the Germans were about 75 miles west of Moscow.
On Oct 13, the Germans took Kalinin, northwest of Moscow.
On Oct 15th, Stalin ordered the evacuation of the Communist Party, the General Staff and various civil government offices from Moscow to Kuibyshev (now Samara). “October 16th became known as the Bolshoi drap in Moscow, the day of the “Great Panic.” The Soviet government began to evacuate across the Ural mountains to Kuibyshev, over 600 miles away. Party officials jammed the roads and railway stations while offices and factories emptied out; the general public took their cue and joined the exodus. Looting was extensive in the empty streets without any police force to keep order. ”
“Stalin himself had ordered his special railway car prepared for evacuation on the sixteenth. However, he did not leave the city. He pondered whether or not Hitler might not be willing to come to an agreement similar to the Brest-Litovsk treaty of 1918, in which Russia exchanged huge swaths of territory for peace with Germany and the continued existence of the Communist government. He rejected this remote. He called on Zhukov and implored him to give assurance that Moscow could be held. Gaining Zhukov’s assurance, he then made the decision to stay.”
He was thinking about leaving: that railway car wasn’t for decoration.
What if he’d run, like Darius?
There was a lot of trade going on between Germany and the USSR in the first half of 1941, flowing out of the Hitler-Stalin pact. The terms of trade were favorable to the Germans: the soviets, scared shitless of the Germans, thought that the Germans wouldn’t invade if they got everything they wanted. Towards the end, the Russians were shipping more and more stuff, over and above the agreed amount, because they were trying to placate the Germans. Grain, oil, lots of stuff. So much so that the Germans had trouble trans-shipping it all. While the Germans were shipping less and less: explaining that the check was in the mail. Every German ship left Russian ports before the attack.
If the Russians were planning an attack in the near future, they would have acted as the Germans eventually did – stiff the trading partner you’re soon going to be at war with. There were many other things that the Germans did in preparation for the attack – many recon flights into russia, sending in sappers to cut phone lines on Der Tag, etc – the Russians did none of those things.
* The USSR was just too big and too cold for the Germans. Good old General Winter, invaluable with both Napoleon & Hitler.
The Nazis did get as far as seeing the city in the distance. The part about Stalin ordering much of the government east but staying himself was well described in Simon Sebag Montefiore‘s book on Stalin. The engine kept running, Stalin pacing around the station.
Even if he had retreated, it’s hard to see the Nazis winning. But they might have forced Stalin out of the war. It worked in WW 1.
* People usually bring up Napoleon-Moscow as some argument why Germany taking Moscow in ’41 wouldn’t have been a war winner. But the economic/industrial/transportation/political situation in ’41 was completely different.
If somehow Germans had taken Moscow (and held it, very important given flank exposure, winter, and SU counterattacks), beyond huge propaganda morale blow to SU it also means Northen front is basically cut off, so Leningrad almost certainly falls soon thereafter as well as all Karelia (likely annexed by Finland).
And the Russian logistical situation would be a nightmare across the board whereas German would improve. With fall of Leningrad and Moscow it’s very hard to imagine SU not pulling back to behind Urals and suing for some Brest-litovsk style peace.
* Steve Sailer: My guess is that Stalin in 1939 had a pretty reasonable plan based on WWI: make a deal with Germany, wait for them to attack France and then get inevitably bogged down on the Western Front just like in 1914. After a few years of disastrous trench warfare, the tottering capitalist powers would be ripe for revolution, at which point the Red Army would invade Western Europe and pick up the pieces.
Unlike Hitler, Stalin was a worrywart and preferred to be opportunistic rather than adventurous. For the Soviets to attack the Germans before the Germans were severely weakened by years of war with the French and British would be suicidal. The Germans had proven themselves brilliant counterpunchers in the Great War, while the Russians had not distinguished themselves on offense. But if the Soviets sat out the first few years of WWII and built their strength, they could come in at the end like the Americans had in 1918 and prove decisive.
But when the Germans conquered the French in 1940, this prospect evaporated and Stalin was left without much of a plan other than being nice to Hitler in the hope he wouldn’t attack.
My vague impression is that Russians/Soviets aren’t that good at coming up with a Plan B until desperation forces them. Stalin had a pretty decent Plan A — wait for Germany to exhaust itself fighting in the West. But when Plan A became untenable, Stalin went into a funk for a year.
* Axis victory where Germany puts its industry on total war footing near the beginning of the war instead of waiting until 1943 to begin the process, which was not consummated until the summer of 1944 (even then it was still ‘in-process’ but could not advance any further on account of the accumulation of strain from the war). If I remember correctly German tank production peaked in August 1944, more than a year after the near-complete destruction of Hamburg by Allied bombers, not to mention the ongoing Allied naval embargo of occupied Europe and bomber raids targeting the Ruhr. That the Germans reached the peak of their industrial capacity – at least in terms of tank production – under these circumstances is so goofy it would seem implausible if it weren’t true, and shows you how much they were fucking the dog for the first half of the war. So the “what if” here is something like, what if Operation Barbarossa had substantially more Panzer and motorized infantry divisions to work with? Like how about twice as many? In that case, the blow should have been hard enough to knock the Soviets down; it almost was even so.
It doesn’t seem so implausible; it’s 1939 or 1940, you’re at war with France and England, you’re thinking long-term about invading the Soviet Union, you’re in what most sensible people would consider a “serious situation.” You’re Nazis, so you have the necessary control over society and the economy to accelerate the production of war materials. Why the hell didn’t they do it? In the first half of the war, Nazi Germany made less effort and less sacrifices to put the economy on a war footing than democratic Great Britain.
* Oddly enough, the Nazis thought that homefront morale was fragile and needed cossetting; – they blamed morale collapse for the loss in WWI. And then they thought winning would be easy.
* There’s a book full of scenarios for a Nazi victory: Third Reich Victorious, ed. Peter G. Tsouras.