D-Day: glorious, heroic – and wrong (PART 2)

Germany’s pre-emptive strike on 22 June, 1941, effectively destroyed the Soviet regular army, with 4.5 million prisoners (my father, incidentally, among them) taken in the next two months. Many of those prisoners not only surrendered without a fight, with whole regiments marching into Nazi captivity to the sound of brass bands, but at least 1.5 million of them volunteered to fight against Stalin.

Comparing this shocking figure with the number of Russian soldiers bearing arms against their country in the Napoleonic war of 1812 (none), we may begin to realise the depth of hatred the Bolshevik regime had unleashed among its own people.

Few were Soviet soldiers who hadn’t had next of kin shot, tortured or starved to death, sent to concentration camps or imprisoned. The morale in the army, especially after the 1937-1938 purges in which most officers from the level of regimental commander up had been wiped out, was below low.

 The terrorist methods used by Stalin and Beria to make the Red Army fight are best described in the book Stalin’s War of Extermination by the late German historian Joachim Hoffmann. But fight the army finally did, losing uncountable and largely uncounted millions on the way to Berlin.

 But already in 1941 Stalin knew that THUNDERSTORM, if it was to succeed at all, would have to have its objectives reassessed. Conquering the world, or even all of Europe, was no longer on the cards. He knew he’d have to satisfy himself with a slice instead of the whole cake. From the debacle of 1941 onwards Stalin’s sole aim was to make sure the slice could be as fat as possible.

Britain, thrust into an alliance with Soviet butchers, pursued more modest aims. Winston Churchill, who had devoted his whole life to the good of the British Empire, wished to have the Empire preserved. Also, alone among the Allied leaders, he wasn’t blind to the Bolshevik threat. For Europe to thrive after the war, he felt correctly, it wasn’t enough to defeat Hitler. Stopping Stalin was just as important.

Understandably, this put Churchill on a collision course with Stalin, a conflict that could only be resolved by the richest Ally and the greatest supplier of arms to both Britain and the USSR – the USA led throughout the war by Franklin D. Roosevelt.

However, Roosevelt’s war aims, and especially his post-war ones, differed from Churchill’s. Not to cut too fine a point, Churchill wanted to preserve the British Empire, while Roosevelt wanted to destroy it. His aim was for America to supplant Britain as the major Western power, and in this Roosevelt was continuing the American imperialist policy already pursued during the previous war by President Wilson.

Thus Roosevelt’s aims overlapped with Stalin’s who also saw Britain, and Churchill personally, as the main obstacle on the way to achieving his own objectives. This explains why Roosevelt consistently joined forces with Stalin to defeat Churchill’s proposals on war strategy.

A significant factor in Roosevelt’s decision-making was his entourage, densely staffed with Soviet agents, such as Harry Dexter White, who de facto ran Treasury, Alger Hiss, one of Roosevelt’s top diplomats, and especially Harry Hopkins, who effectively led the country during Roosevelt’s last term when the President was increasingly incapacitated.

These men were influential in steering Roosevelt’s policies towards Stalin’s, and away from Allied, interests, but their role must not be exaggerated. Roosevelt was a visceral American supremacist, and as such he knew anyway that his and Churchill’s bread was buttered on opposite sides.

Stalin desperately wanted the Allies to invade Europe through northern France, for this would leave Eastern Europe defenceless against Soviet conquest and subsequent domination. Churchill, on the other hand, was in favour of invading through the south, mainly Italy, cutting Stalin’s hordes off the Balkans and eastern Europe.

Understandably, if illogically, Stalin kept bleating about the need for a second front, refusing to acknowledge that it already existed. It was as if the Anglo-American troops dying in their thousands in North Africa and the Far East weren’t fighting on any front at all (incidentally, this is the impression most Russians have even today, largely thanks to the history books created by Putin’s government).

Most important, a second front had already existed even in Europe since 12 September, 1943, when 200,000 Anglo-American troops landed from Sicily at Salerno on the Italian mainland. Using their established bases in Italy as the beachhead, the logic of the war demanded that the Allies expand their operations from the Aegean and Adriatic Seas into south and central Europe.

This view was shared by Gen. Eisenhower who later said, “Italy was the correct place in which to deploy our main forces and the objective should be the Valley of the Po. In no other area could we so well threaten the whole German structure including France, the Balkans and the Reich itself.”

Yet the thrust through Italy was slowed down, with the invasion forces denuded in preparation for the utterly unnecessary invasion of northern France. Even in spite of that the Allies managed to liberate Rome on 4 June, 1944 – two days before D-Day.

None of that counted as a second front as far as Stalin was concerned, and Roosevelt agreed. Yet there’s little doubt that, had the Allies refused to play lickspittle to Stalin, they could have driven from Italy into Austria and then into Germany much sooner, conceivably ending the war a year earlier, and saving millions of lives.

The American general Mark Clark, commander of Allied forces in Italy, understood this perfectly well. In his 1950 memoir he wrote, “We celebrated a victory when in reality we had not won the war.”

Indeed we hadn’t. Whatever was left of the British Empire was lost immediately after the war, as was Eastern Europe and much of Asia. The Soviet Union emerged as the immediate victor, and the United States the long-term one.

Still, this isn’t what we should mainly think about on Friday. Instead we should turn our thoughts and prayers to the Allied heroes who died on the beaches of Normandy exactly 70 years ago.

But once we’ve risen up from our knees and joined in the spirit of jubilation, we ought to remind ourselves that neither those 10,000 nor the subsequent millions had to die. Through no fault of their own, their heroism delivered half of Europe to the worst nightmare history has so far thrown up, probably adding years to the life of that foul abomination.

Happy D-Day!







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