No way could Hitler have attacked Russia

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin, head of Britain’s armed forces, is certain that Putin won’t invade any NATO country. Why?

Speaking at a Chatham House defence conference, Sir Tony answered that question with exhaustive finality: “The biggest reason that Putin doesn’t want a conflict with NATO is because Russia will lose. And lose quickly”.

Article 5 of the NATO Charter, saying that an attack on one member is an attack on all, will be enacted, and “the inescapable fact is that any Russian assault or incursion against NATO would prompt an overwhelming response.”

How overwhelming? Do your own maths, suggested the admiral.

“NATO’s combat air forces, which outnumber Russia’s 3:1, would quickly establish air superiority,” he explained, while NATO’s ships would “bottle up” Russia’s navy.

“NATO has four times as many ships and three times as many submarines as Russia,” added Sir Tony and it’s “an alliance that is becoming stronger all the time.”

With Sweden and Finland joining, NATO is growing from 30 to 32 nations, “with a collective GDP twenty times greater than Russia. And a total defence budget three-and-a-half times more than Russia and China combined.”

“Plus NATO has the additional strategic depth of a population of over one billion,” he said. “And sitting above all of this is NATO as a nuclear alliance.”

You could see me wiping my brow even as we speak. Not only have I worried for no good reason, but I’ve also communicated my concerns to at least some of my readers. Then again, my problem is that I’m not good at maths.

Anyone who can add up would know that, for all of Putin’s bluster, there’s no way he’d ever consider attacking a NATO country. He knows the numbers as well as Admiral Radakin, possibly even better.

Now that my fears have been allayed, I can heave a sigh of relief and do a bit of historical revision. For, contrary to a popular misconception, Hitler didn’t attack the Soviet Union on 22 June, 1941. He couldn’t possibly have done so because the numbers were prohibitively stacked against him.

The principal offensive weapon of the time was the tank, and the Red Army enjoyed a 7:1 advantage over Germany, 4:1 at the Soviet western border. Moreover, Stalin’s tanks were not only more numerous but also better.

Of the 21,000 Soviet tanks, roughly 3,500 were brand new T-34 and KV models that had no analogues in the Nazi panzer force. That means Stalin had a greater number of advanced tanks than Hitler had altogether. Moreover, the Soviet equivalents of Germany’s T-1 and T-2 tanks, which made up the bulk of the panzer force, weren’t even regarded as tanks in Soviet nomenclature.

In warplanes, Stalin’s numerical superiority was a meagre but still impressive 3:1. And the quality of the Red Air Force was at least comparable to the Luftwaffe, slightly superior in some categories, slightly inferior in others.

Most of the 60,000 Soviet artillery pieces were new models, whereas the German artillery park wasn’t just grossly outnumbered, but most of it dated back to the previous World War.

The numerical strength of the Red Army was roughly twice that of the Wehrmacht, and Russia’s mobilisation reserves were vastly superior. Another critical factor was that Russia has a practically unlimited supply of natural resources, such as oil, whereas Germany relied on imports for most of hers.

Add to this the sprawling expanse of Soviet territory, known to have defeated earlier invaders all by itself, plus an undefeated Britain in Germany’s rear, and you’ll realise that Hitler couldn’t possibly have attacked Stalin. So did he?

I have it on good authority that he did. And came within a hair’s breadth of winning, only succumbing four years and 28 million Russian corpses later.

On paper, Hitler was so vastly outnumbered in just about every category that it was sheer madness even to conceive of something as foolhardy as Operation Barbarossa. But wars aren’t fought on paper. They are fought on battlefields, where many imponderables come into play.

One such has to do with a common-or-garden mosquito. That tiny insect you can barely see is capable of puncturing a thick human skin with its minuscule sting. How does it do it? By concentrating all its power on one point.

The Nazis used that very principle to rout the regular Red Army in the summer of 1941. If a division attacks a front sector defended by a single regiment, it’ll break through – regardless of the power ratios in other sectors. All it takes is audacity and generalship.

NATO is strong, but its strength isn’t distributed evenly. Its defences of, say, the Baltics are paper-thin. The Russian army has suffered horrendous losses in the Ukraine, but it’s now battle-hardened. It could indeed do to the Baltics what Putin promised to do to the Ukraine: occupy them within days.

That, according to Sir Tony, “would prompt an overwhelming response”. Allow me to be ever so slightly sceptical.

Article 5 isn’t a tripwire. It only says that NATO “will consider this act of violence as an armed attack against all members and will take the actions it deems necessary including the use of armed force to assist the Ally attacked.”

That falls short of a guaranteed commitment to use armed force. To deem such a response necessary NATO would have to show unity and resolve, commodities that seem to be in short supply. If NATO members are reluctant to supply the Ukraine with enough armaments to win the war, how prepared would they be to commit their own troops?

Many of the impressive figures cited by Sir Tony come from by far the biggest and most significant NATO member, the US. Yet the US commitment to NATO seems to be dwindling away.

Biden’s administration talks tough, but does much less than is vitally necessary. And Trump’s understated affection for NATO is widely known and never concealed.

Moreover, when it comes to a possible confrontation with Putin, Trump’s feelings may be informed by what former Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull described as the “awe” of Putin.

“When you see Trump with Putin, as I have on a few occasions,” said Mr Turnbull to Australian TV, “he’s like the 12-year-old boy who goes to high school and meets the captain of the football team. ‘My hero.’ It’s really creepy.” 

Since the next US president will in all likelihood be either Biden or “the 12-year-old boy”, US participation in any overwhelming response can’t be taken for granted, and without her participation one has to wonder just how overwhelming that response would be.

One would be foolish not to have doubts about the strength of the bellicose spirit in at least some NATO members, such as Germany, France, Hungary, Turkey and yes, even Britain.

When President Macron suggested hypothetically that under some extreme circumstances France might consider sending her troops to the Ukraine, 68 per cent of French respondents in the subsequent poll were aghast. I doubt the results of similar surveys in the countries I’ve mentioned would be drastically different.

None of this is a show of defeatism. I hope that, push come to shove, NATO will marshal its resources, both material and spiritual, to send Putin packing. All I’m suggesting is that we shouldn’t put all our eggs into the material wicker basket woven by Admiral Radakin.

Let’s not forget that it’s not weapons but men who win wars. And men need more than just weapons to emerge victorious.

7 thoughts on “No way could Hitler have attacked Russia”

  1. Finland fought unassisted against the Soviet Union twice, and won (albeit with grievous wounds) both times. I hope Marshal Mannerheim is still remembered there with reverence. I’m not unoptimistic, because I learn from the Internet that the population of Finland is still 91% Finnish.

    I’m not so optimistic about any of the other NATO countries.

    1. Finland, unfortunately, didn’t win. She had to cede almost a third of her territory, including such a major city as Vyborg. In the Winter War, the Finns did indeed inflict heavy losses on the Russians, about 500,000 by some counts. And they retained their sovereignty, although after the war that sovereignty was contingent on Russia’s good will — that’s when the term ‘finlandisation’ appeared.

      1. You describe in more detail what I summarised as “grievous wounds”.

        The alternative to “finlandisation” was extinction, and the result is that Finland is now an endangered country, but not an unfree country – and any European who thinks he now lives in an unendangered country is a fool, as I know you agree.

        Finland today has an enormous reservist army of trained former conscripts, which is good not only for Finland but for the softer nations of Europe too.

  2. “an alliance that is becoming stronger all the time.”

    Sir Tony needs to be sent to The Tower to sit in stir a while. The British are now taking their entire complement of Typhoon fighter planes off-line as a cost saving measure. Forty planes the mission was to guard the British isles from approaching enemy aircraft.

    Forty the number of course meaning the end of one era and the beginning of another.

    The beginning of another that might be too horrible to contemplate as they say.

    1. I am incorrect. That number of fighter planes being taken out of the inventory thirty and not forty.

      I can imagine Vlad in the Kremlin got a good chuckle upon being briefed on this
      RAF development. At this exact moment of crisis the British sending the wrong message to the Russian.

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