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The USSR did not plan a preemptive strike against Germany

The issues concerning the USSR preparations for a possible war with Germany are considered to be the most debated in the newest historiography. New archive materials, which are brought into scientific circulation, gave the possibility to numerous national and foreign historians to initiate the discussion around the problem of Germany surprise attack, the preparation of the Soviet Union for “offensive war” or making “preemptive strike”.

The accusation of the Soviet Union for “attacking Germany from rearward area” was heard from the mouths of official representatives and the propagandists of Nazi Germany as early as in summer 1941. In particular, such explanation of the reason for starting the war against the USSR had been voiced by Hitler in his addressing to the German people.

Later on in the works of some former generals and officers of Wehrmacht, as well as the officials of the third Reich, who rushed to justify their participation in preparations and realization of the Barbarossa plan, the thesis as to the preventive character of Hitler’s attack had been repeated.

But closer to the realities of the history it was absolutely different. The German authority knew about the unpreparedness of the USSR for the war that’s why on summer of 1941 it had taken into an account that furthermore the conditions became more and more unfavorable for the attack. The Nazi leaders also understood that time works in Soviet Union favor, and not in Germany favor, that’s the reason why it rushed to realize the attack. During the conference on September 27, 1939, Hitler was saying: “The time will work, in fact, against us if we do not use it at present time… from war perspective it also works against us”.

Such war and political reasons, probably, had influenced the adoption of Berlin decision as to the preparation for attacking the USSR.

At the same time, the Nazi leadership had truly believed that in the nearest future the USSR not only won’t take any aggressive measures against Germany, but also the one won’t risk to go in for preventive and offensive actions for defensive purposes.

According to the authoritative source such as the journal of chief of general staff of land forces of Germany, F. Galder, general-colonel, Hitler not once had spoken out like that. On August 14, 1939 on the secret meeting of the executive body of Wehrmacht, he declared that “Russia isn’t going to pull the chestnuts from fire for England and will axe out war”.

Hereafter, on July 22, 1940 he stated with absolutism once again, “the Russians don’t desire a war”. In particular, this estimation was shared by von Crosich, treasury minister of Germany, who believed that “The USSR abides the agreement (1939 – J.N.) and doesn’t create a threat for Germany by its military force”. The estimation of Galder himself coincided with the opinion of Fuhrer, “Russia will do its best to avoid a war”

Immediately, on the eve of the aggression, on May 22, 1941, Galder underlines the defensive character of the Red Army grouping near western near-border areas, he notes both “the resolute desire of the Russians to get a hold of their border” and absence of the signs of the preparation for offensive. On May 7, 1941 Goebbels recorded in his journal that, “Apparently, the Russians do not suspect anything. They set up their forces in the way that benefit us, we can only hope for more…”

Nevertheless, the war specialists foresaw the preventive variant of the Red Army actions. In strategic concept of the OKV operative department on preparation and holding the campaign against the USSR of September 15, 1940, the possible variants of the USSR actions during the war against Germany were set out, including the one within which “the Russians will want to forestall us and for that purpose they will launch a preventive strike against German forces, which begin to commence near the border”

However the authors of the document thought it is “unbelievable that the Russians will decide to conduct the attack of the large scale, for example, to trespass on bounds of Western Prussia and the Northern part of the General-Governorate… It seems that nobody will be capable for it neither the command nor the forces”. The most probable variant that was considered by the document was the one under which the Russian armies “will face the attack of the German forces, by deploying near the border…” While this variant had been considered as the most favorable for the German army, considering that “after defeat at near-border regions the Russian command will not be able to provide an organized retreat of all the army”.

The Wehrmacht command had followed similar estimation of the Soviet troop’s actions and later on, based on the fact that Red Army will act on the defensive. It is said in the OKH directive on the strategic expansion of January 31, 1941 that: “It should be considered that it is the most probable that the Russians, with usage of reinforced field fortifications on separate areas of new and old state borders as well as numerous water barriers that are convenient for defense, will get into action as big forces. Upon unfavorable development of operations further south and north than the Pripyat swamps; the Russians will try to stop the German offensive in direction Dnepr – Western Dvina line of rivers”.

F. Galder on March 22, 1941 recorded in his journal: “I don’t believe in probability of the Russians’ initiative”. This opinion had been confirmed by intelligence reports, which were sent to Berlin. So, in the reports of the department of  studying of foreign armies of the East of Western General staff of Germany land forces No. 5 of June 13, 1941 it was noted a reinforcing deployment in Western near-border regions of “Russian forces”, but the conclusion was drawn out, that on their side “as before, the preventive measures are foreseen”.

The same estimation of the possible actions of the Red Army had been contained in the messages of the German ambassador and the military attaché in Moscow. In particular, in May of 1941, the ambassador had reported to Berlin: “I strongly believe that within the international situation, which Stalin considers to be serious, he had stated the objective to protect the Soviet Union from a clash with Germany”. In the course of private discussion with Hitler, F. Schulenburg had stated: “I can’t believe that Russia will ever attack Germany”. Upon accepting this, Hitler had expressed the grievances against the fact that it is even impossible to provoke the Soviet Union for an attack.

During negotiations with Matsuoka, the Japanese minister of the foreign affairs, in March, 1941 Hitler and Ribbentrop had characterized the position of the USSR in a corresponding manner.

It must be noted that these sources were meant by no means for propaganda and confusing public opinion, as well as they include the estimates of the real scenario.

H.A. Jacobsen, professor of Bonn University, had said in one of his interviews: “… according to numerous archive materials and according to the private discussion with Galder himself, I had made an opinion that Hitler hadn’t based his ideas on the belief that “The Russians will do favor for the Germans” by attacking them first”.

I. Zuckertrot, who is another famous German historian, had made the conclusion that Hitlerite “invention as to the preventive war had pursued two goals: first of all to attach to the attack on the Soviet Union at least a part of the moral excusevisibility, secondly, with gambling on anti-communism to try to bring the western governments on its side as allies for predatory “campaign to the East”.

During the Nurnberg process the most of the Hitlerite generals – in particular, Paulus and Rundstedt – had acknowledged that no data was present as to the Soviet Union’s preparations for the attack, and G. Frisch, the former manager of the German press and radio broadcasting, had stated that he had “organized the broad campaign of anti-soviet propaganda to try to convince public that the Soviet Union is responsible for initiation of the war, not Germany…”, however “no proofs were present to bring accusations to the USSR in preparations for a military attack on Germany”.

The contemporaries had perceived the German attack on the USSR differently. However, whatever the feeling the circle of world society had to USSR, no thought head popped out that Soviet Union had prepared an attack at that time, while Germany had only outrun it with delivering the blow. The realties did not give the grounds, or the smallest motive for such conclusion. Everybody knew that Nazi statement on “preemptive strike”, on “preventive war” – is just another propagandistic trick, with the help of which they wanted to justify next act of aggression.

Consequently, the issue as to the character of the German attack on the USSR can be considered as closed – it was a non-provoked aggression.

Nevertheless, some authors (first of all it concerns historians, who develop the idea of V. Suvorov-Rezun) don’t consider the German estimate of Soviet military preparations as adequate one to real circumstances. According to their opinion, the Nazi political management, general officers and secret services were mistaken concerning the estimation of the Soviet Union’s preparations for war as preventive, while in the USSR the “liberating movement” to Europe was thought of, as well as it were arranged preparations for an attack on Germany as early as in summer of 1941.

The special place within this argumentation system is reserved for operative plans, which were developed in the General staff of the Red Army on the verge of the war. Unclassified in the 90s and partly published, these documents considerably had widened the conceptualization of historians about the USSR preparations for possible war in 1940-1941.

In antebellum years and on the verge of the war, the system of operative and strategic plans development had been established in the USSR for prosecution of the war. It represented the complex of different documents, which were divided into two interdependent parts – operative and mobilizable ones.

Strategic plan of armed forces deployment, plan for covering mobilization and troop concentration, as well as plans of the first front operations contemplated the basis of the operative part of the plan. The plan (scheme) of armed forces mobilizable deployment (mobilizable plan) and plan of industrial mobilization contemplated the basis of the mobilizable part of the plan.

Prior to the launch of the Second World War the last operative plan had been adopted by the government (CC and CPC) in November 1938. The General staff under the management of B.M. Shaposhnikov proceeded to the development of the new plan in July 1940; however the next events in Baltic’s states and Bessarabia had required making amendments. In August, under the signature of both S.K.Timoshenko and B.M. Shaposhnikov, the document was ready; however the government had made some amendments relating to the proposed directions of the general attacks of an enemy, and correspondingly the WPRA directions of operations. These amendments were introduced and updated already under the leadership of new General staff Chief – K.A. Meretskov. The document was present before the government and after discussion and updating was adopted on October 14, 1940.

In 1941 under the leadership of G.K. Zhukov, who was the new Chief of General staff, the work as to the improvement of operative planning documents had continued.

The documents, which were prepared by the General staff first-hand prior to the war in May-June 1941, had the doubtless interest.

 

“The considerations according to the plan of the strategic deployment” of May 15, 1941, allow us to assume that the management of the General staff, represented by both G.K. Zhukov and A.M. Vasilevsky had realized and was alarmed by the fact that Germany had apparent advantage in the terms of the concentration and the deployment of invasion army on USSR borders compared to the opposing them to Red Army forces.

“Taking into account that Germany at present time holds its army at complete mobilization, with deployed rears – it was mentioned in the document – it has the opportunity to warn us upon deployment and make the surprise strike. In order to prevent it I take it as necessary to withheld the initiative of the German command actions and to be ahead of enemy’s deployment and to attack the German army in that moment, when it will be at the deployment stage and won’t be succeed in organizing the front and arms coordination”. Next to tasks listing, which were set for the front forces, it is offered to realize all necessary preparation actions on complete mobilization and concentration of the troops.

Unfortunately, many historians interpreted this plan as preemptive strike plan, without any serious proves, as if the proposition to strike was made by the management of the General staff of the Red Army for I.V. Stalin in May 1941. Herewith the preemptive strike was understood as the proposition to take the initiative in launching military actions.

However, the expressions “prevent in deployment”, make “surprise strike” not necessarily must mean to “carry out an attack”. If it was planned that during the deployment of forces of both sides some time will require after launching the war (in other words, “launching a blow” and initiating military actions are don’t fit chronologically), that expression of the document “to prevent in deployment” should be understood as reflection of the aspiration to realize it in the shorter-term than the enemy would do it (shortening moreover the “initial period”) and correspondingly launching the blow the first. It is nothing more. The interpretation of this document as the proposition to initiate military actions, to trigger off the war is the unjustified outspreading of the thesis and without any additional argumentations it is inadmissible.

The developers of May “Considerations…” by taking into account the possibility of the outbreak of the war in summer 1941, had proposed to I. Stalin to carry out all the required actions beforehand and which would allow the Red Army forces to start a surprise attack immediately after the outbreak of the war by preventing his deployment of its general forces.

It was supposed that the collision with Germany could only occur on the initiative of the last one and not being sure that the war will start in any case, the management of the General Staff planned to continue the defensive measures provided that the tension between the two countries will be resolved in some other way.

In this connection it is advisably to refer to the works of O.V. Vishleva that  contain strong arguments that the Soviet leadership hoped that the initial military actions will be preceded by the  bickerfest at the diplomatic level, at least it will be any provocation on the Germany side. In addition, the Soviet intelligence service failed to discover the intention of the enemy timely, the intelligence estimates and the special information that were reported to Stalin contained conflicting information as to the both  plans of Germany and terms of its probable attack on the USSR.

Very informed P.A. Sudoplatov, as both direct witness and participant of the events of those years had time to respond to launched discussion as to the Soviet antebellum plans in the beginning of the 90's. “However, I must say with all responsibility - he said - that so-called preventive war plan against Germany did not exist. Zhukov and Vasilevsky offered to forestall the Germans in strategic deployment of the forces in case of German military actions”.

 

In addition, the political leadership and WPRA command couldnotunderstandthat the countryand its armedpower were notreadyfor war. The economyhas not beenput on a war footing. The production ofnew types oftanks,planes andotherarmamentjust kick-started. The RedArmywasatstage of its radicalrestructuring.Under the circumstances, it was of critical importance for the Soviet Union to gain the time of the beginningof the warfor at least1-2 years.

When the Soviet political leadership and WPRA command realized that the war with Germany cannot be avoided in the near future, our armed power were clearly late to create the initial force grouping, foreseen by the  antebellum plans.

 

Concentration and deployment of the Red Army was carried out as response to the threat of the German attack that become increasingly obvious, and therefore could not lag behind in comparison with similar enemy activities enemy. Therefore in the last days of peace likely Stalin did not have any alternative but to continue the older politics: “to gain time through thick and thin” another week, another 15-20 days ...”, “do not yielding to provocations ...” avoiding actions that could accelerate the Germany march-off.

 

As it was written by G. K. Zhukov, all thoughts and actions of Stalin at that time “were imbued with one desire - to avoid a war or to delay its start time and with the assurance that he will succeed in it”.

 

The described in “considerations ...” plans of the first WPRA operations have offensive character; it gave to a number of historians, especially to the followers of Suvorov-Rezun, the additional reason for the accusation of the USSR in the preparation of the attack on Germany. However, there is not the direct connection between the nature of the actions of armed power and the political objectives of the war.

 

The Soviet command did not plan the retreat inland in the spirit of 1812, taking into account from the first days of the war to start struggle for the strategic initiative. Only such an option allowed to hope for the successful outcome of the collision with such powerful enemy as Hitler’s Germany was. And was nothing exceptional in it: as A.V. Isaev shown convincingly, all plans of major powers that saw the both first and second world wars, were offensive.

 

EvenFinlandand Poland planned “offensive war”.Nevertheless, nonecharged, and charges France andPolandwith preparation of the attackon Germanybecausethe army menof these countriesin caseof warplanned to act in offensive manner”.

The “Offensive character” of the Soviet military doctrine and planning documents (on the grounding of which some historians spent a lot of efforts) can’t serve as the evidence that the decision as to the attack on Germany in the summer 1941 was made by the soviet administration, or cannot serve as the argument in favor of any special “aggression” of Stalin USSR.

There is no doubt, that German aggression against the USSR was the realization of Hitler’s directive to conquer  the  “living space” conquering in the East of Europe and to exterminate the  Soviet Union as both national-government-formation and social system.

Concerning the  Soviet Union, declassified in 1990 documents of military strategic planning do not provide the grounds to assert that the  preparation of the attack on Germany was conducted. Moreover, there are no satisfactory grounds for the assertion as to the Red Army General Staff preparation of preventive strike against the German forces that are combined along the borders.

The USSR had no intention to attack Germany. Peaceful relations with it were more beneficial to it from all points of view than the collision with unexpected consequences. In spring and in the beginning of summer 1941, the government of USSR put a lot of efforts to withhold Germany from military attack, and the one started the Red Army deployment only after that the situation had become critical. Even during the troop’s movement towards the borders, the government kept on to seek the ways of overcoming the crisis by peaceful means.

The assumptions regarding the idea that the USSR could attack Germany in 1942 or later are the speculations that do not have the documentary evidence. The plans of the strategic deployment for this period were not developed by the Red Army General Staff; no policy statements related to this matter were made by the USSR government

Indeed, in 1942 the USSR would be more powerful military, than in 1940 or 1941. But, it does not mean at all that Stalin would attack Germany certainly. The power of the Red Army would be the key factor that would exclude the military march-off of the Nazis’ Germany against the Soviet Union.

Now then, who is the beneficiary party in distortion and commonly in simple falsification of the historical evidences, related to the German attacks of the Soviet Union? First of all, the forces that would like to hide the responsibility of western powers and USA for the initiation of the World War II, to place the Hitler Germany on the same day with the USSR, and on base of it to review the postwar period order completely. It is necessary to think of this situation, including some Russian political figures, because such revision of the past will lead to significant political dislocations inevitably.

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Author: Юрий Никифоров

Publication date : 24 May 2011 12:33

Source: The world and we

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