World War II: NAZI-Soviet Alliance--Soviet Agressions (1939-40)


Figure 1.--These Estonians are left to right: Milvi Tomasson, grandfather Jaan Tuum, and Uuno Tomason, The photograph was taken in Tallinn during 1937. The Tomasson family was deported, but not the grandfather. Only about half the deportees survived to return to Estonia. In the dreadful conditions experienced in the deportations, the children were especially vulnerable. In this case their father Johannes died in Soviet Sverdlovsk Oblast prison camp (April 1943). We do not knoiw the fate of the children.

Although it is the NAZI aggressions that are most commonly addressed in World War II histories, the Soviet Union compiled nearly as long a list of aggressions as the NAZIs. Operating within secret protocols to the Non-agression Pact, Hitler and Stalin were in fact close partners in the waging of aggressive war. The Great Patriotic War fought against the NAZIs after the 1941 German invsion came to be an icon in Soviet history. Left unsaid was the fact that Hitler and Stalin were partners in the virtul partition of Europe. After Poland, the first target was Finland, but Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania were also targets. The Soviet invasion of Finland had significant repercussions. The Allies for a time considered actively aidinging Finland, but the Germans offensives in the West soon made that impossible. The poor performance of the Red Army in Finland was a factor in Hitler's decission to attack the Soviet Union before Britain had been defeated.

Soviet Policy

Although it is the NAZI aggressions that are most commonly addressed in World War II histories, the Soviet Union compiled nearly as long a list of aggressions as the NAZIs. Operating within secret protocols to the Non-agression Pact, Hitler and Stalin were in fact close partners in the waging of aggressive war. The Great Patriotic War fought against the NAZIs after the 1941 German invsion came to be an icon in Soviet history. Left unsaid was the fact that Hitler and Stalin were partners in the virtual partition of Europe.

NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact (August 1939)

NAZI Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and newly appointed Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs Molotov on August 23, 1939, signed the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. At the time of thesigning, British and French delegations were in Moscow trying to reach an understanding with Stalin. Hewas convinced, however, that they were tring to draw him into a war with Hitler. The two countries which until that time had been bitter foes, pledged not attack each other. Any problems developing between the two countries were to be delt with amicably. It was last for 10 years. The Pact shocked the world and the purpose was immedietly apparent. It meant that Germany could attack Poland without fear of Soviet intervention. Thus after defeating Poland, Germany did not have to fear a full-scale European war on two fronts. What was not known at the time was that there was a secret protocol to the pact which in effect divided Eastern Europe betwen the two countries. This protocol was discoered after the end of the World War II in 1945. The Soviets continued to deny this protocol until 1989. The NAZIs 8 days after signing the Pact invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, launching World War II. Britain and France declared war September 3. Poland's fate was sealed on September 17, when the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Although the Soviet's did not enter the War against Britain and France, the Soviets were virtual NAZI allies as they provided large quantaies of strategic materials, especially oil. Communist parties in Britain and France opposed the war effort. The Communst Party in America opposed President Roosevelt's efforts to expand defense spending and assist Britain and France.

Individual Countries Targeted

As Europe move toward war, bothe the Allies and the NAZIs sought an arrangemt with the soviet Unon. It was not lost on both sides that it was rhe allian with Russia that saved France in World War I. Most historiand and most ominously Adolf Hitler believed that it was the two front war that resulted in Germany's defeat. Stalin gfor his part was aware of the price Russian paid for honoring its treatty obligations. Thus putting off war with Germany was a major enducement. In addition based on World War I, Stalin had every reason to believe that th NAZIs aAllies would batter themselves as they did in World War I, making them more vulnerable to Soviet military action. In addition, the Germans were willing to partition Eastern Europe with the Soviets, beginning with Poland. The Allies were not willing to contenence Soviet aggression to secure a treaty. The NAZIs ertr more than willing. The first victim of the NAZI-Soviet alliance was Poland. After Poland, the first target was Finland, but Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Romania were also targets. None had the military power to succesfully resist Soviet aggression.

Poland (September-October 1939)

Once certain of Polish defeat, Stalin ordered the Red Army to attack from the East. German and Russian forces met at Brest-Litovsk on September 18. Poland's fate was sealed on September 17, when the Soviets invaded Poland from the east. Already shattered by the NAZI invasion, the Polish Army offered little resistance to the Soviets. Polish soldiers were internened in camps by the Soviets. Soviet actions in eastern Poland were extremely brutal. An estimated 0.1 million Poles were killed by the Soviets (1939-41). The most publicized killings were the Polish officers shot by the NKVD in the Katyn Forrest, but this was only a part of the wide spread executions of Poles by the Soviets. Some estimates suggest that 2.0 million Poles were deported to Siberia and other areas in the Soviet Union.

Finland: The Winter War (November 1939-March 1940)

It was the Soviet Union not Germany that first struck after the invasion pf Poland. Only 2 months after seizing eastern Poland, the Soviet Union on November 30, 1939 invaded Finland, launching the Winter War. Stalin sought a security belt to the west. Finland was the next step in that process. Soviet planes and naval vessels bombarded Finish cities. Roosevelt called in the "rape of Finland". [Freidel, p. 324.] Former Ameican President Herbert Hoover, who had organized American relief efforts for Belgium during World War I, headed voluntary war relief for the Finns. (The President hoped that Hoover would work with Mrs. Roosevelt to work on Government sponsored civilian war relief for the Allies. Such was Hoover animosity toward Roosevelt that he refused. If he had agreed, he suely would haave eventually headed American World War II relief efforts. [Freidel, p.325.] The Finns and Soviets reached a peace agreement in March 1940. The Soviets got the security belt they wanted around Lenningrad. The Soviet invasion of Finland had significant repercussions. The Allies for a time considered actively aiding Finland, but the Germans offensives in the West soon made that impossible. The poor performance of the Red Army in Finland was a factor in Hitler's decission to attack the Soviet Union before Britain had been defeated.

Estonia (1939-44)

Although independent for almost 20 years, the Soviets continued to see Estonia and the other Baltic Republics as lost provinces of Russia. Estonia was a small nation and in 1939 faced a Soviet Union that now had a massive army. The NAZI Blitzkrieg against Poland doomed Estonia. Following the NAZI success in Poland, Stalin ordered the Red Army to invade from the east. Within days the Soviets were making demands on the Estonians. The Soviets demanded bases in Estonia for the Red Army (September 24, 1939). The Government yielded to the Soviet ultimatum (September 28.) An estimated 25,000 Red Army soldiers entered Estonia (October 18). Some of the bases were used to launch air strikes against Finland uin the Winter War. Some Estonians went to Finland to fight the Soviets there. The Estonian Government had no real control on the number of Red Army personnel. One source estimates that there were 30,000 Red Army soldiers and 10,000 members of a labor batalion in Estonia (April 1940). The NAZIs launched their Western offensive (May 10) amd entered Paris (June 14). The French were forced to sign a humiliating armitice and it looked at the time like Britain would soon follow. The Allied military dissater removed in any reservations Stalin might have had about seizing the Baltic Republics. The Soviets presented a new ultimatum to Estonia demanding that a new government be appointed and that they accept the total occupation og the country (June 16). The Estonian Government complied (June 17). This essentially meant the end of the Estonian state. The Red Army occupation was accomplished with 160,000 men and 600 tanks. The Soviets used 5 divisions of the Air Force with 1,150 aircraft to control the whole Baltic air space. The Soviet Navy blockaded Estonian and other Baltic ports. The KGB was ordered to prepare to receive 58,000 prisoners of war. One author reports that about 130,000 Soviet soldiers, KGB personnel, and other specialists assigned to establish new Soviet administrative apparatus in Estonia. Arrests, deportment, and executions were to follow. [Walter]

Latvia (1939-44)

After the outbreak of World War II (September 1939) Latvia was in an impossible position. The NAZI defeat of Poland destroyed the olny buffer in the region. Unbeknownst at the time, the NAZI-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact had assigned Latvia and the other Baltic Republics to the Soviets. The Soviets immediatelt began making demands on the Latvian Government. Latvia was forced to sign a 10-year mutual assistance treaty leasing Latvian bases to the Soviet Union (October 5, 1939). The treaty allowed the Soviets to garison Latvia with 30,000 troops. After Hitler called the Baltic Germans home to the Reich, Latvia also signed a repatriation treaty with the NAZIs covering the return of 60,000 Baltic Germans. After two decades of independence, Lativia was invaded first by the Soviet Union. The fall of France appears to have been the immediate cause of Soviet action. The Soviets accused the Latvians of colluding with the Estonians to form an anti-Soviet alliance. The Soviets demanded the establishment of a pro-Soviet Givernment and permission to garrison additional Soviet military forces in the country. Before the Latvian Government could react, the Soviet Union occupied the country (June 17, 1940). The Soviets then staged a closely supervised election which resulted in a Communist Government. The new Goverment proceeded to Sovitize the Latvian Government and military. The newly elected parliament petition the Soviet Goverment for admitance to the Soviet Union (July 21) which was granted (August 5).

Lithuania (1939-44)

NAZI Germany and the Soviet Union shocked the world by signing a Non-Agressioin Pact (August 23, 1939) A secret memorandum to the Pact involved an agreement on how to draw the borders between Soviet and NAZI control not only in Poland, but in the Baltics as well. Lithuania was allocated to the NAZIs. Stlalin's delay in invading Poland meant that the Wehrmacht had moved into areas of central Poland that had been allocated to the Soviets. As a result, Stalin demanded Lithuania in subsitution for central Poland. Stalin was surprised with the German successes in the West. Embolded by France's impending collapse and mindful of the need to create a buffer between Soviet and German forces, Stalin proceeded to take cover the Baltics. The first step toward seizing Lithuania was to demand that the Lithuanian Government accept Communist muinisters. The Lituanians saw no alternative to accepting and did so (June 10, 1940). The Soviets then immediately demanded that the Government dissolcve (June 14). President Smetana understanding what was coming went into exile. A new Communist-led government was organized. The new Government proclaimed Lithuania to be a Soviet Republic and requested that the country be admitted into the Soviet Union. This was accepted (August 3). The arrests and deportations (1940-41) had targeted groups that might harbor anti-Soviet attiutudes. With the deportations beginning after the Soviets had reestablished control were aimed at changing the ethnic ballance in Lithuania. The goal was to Russify Lithuania. Many of the deportees did not suyrvive.

Romania (July 1940)

Each of the NAZI aggressions are covered in great detail by historians, the Soviet aggressions are much less covered. And the Soviet assault on Romania ar best receives little more than a footnote. The fall of France as in the Baltics caused Stalin to proceed more boldly. The Soviets demanded that Romania cede the provinces of Bessarabia and northern Bukovina. The population of both provinces which bordered on the Soviet Ukraine was largely Ukranian. The secret protocols to the NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact had ceded control over Bessarabia to the Soviets. The Soviets demanded not only Bessarabia, but Northern Bukovina as well. Romania had a small military which could not possibly had resist the Red Army. It would prove helpful to the Germans and Stalin's eviseration of Romania forced the Romanians more firmly into NAZI hands. It also probably sped up the timetable for Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union. Hitler was concerned about the demands because they brought the Soviets even closer to the vital Romanian oil fields--the only impprtant source of natural petroleum for the German war mchine. The Romanians who had been cooperation with the Germans pleaded for Hitler to intervene. He refused. Although concerned anout the Soviet move, Hitler did not want to risk any confrontation with the Soviets yet. His primary goal was to keep Stalin convinced that their alliance was holding--not to alert him to Brbarossa. The Germany military was still largely deployed in the west, having just defeated France and contemplating a cross-channel invasion of Britain. Hitler already had his mind set on the east, but he was not yet ready. He rejected the Romanian pleas and the Romanians had to cede the provinces to Stalin. We have little information as to what happened in Bessarabia and Bukovina after it was annexed by the Soviets. We do know that Hitler ordered the Volkdutsche to leave before the Red Army moved in .

Sources

Davidson, The Unmaking of Adolf Hitler (The University of Missouri Press: Columbia, 1996), 519p.

Fest, Jaochim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1973).

Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.

Gilbert, Martin. A History of the Twentieth Century Vol. 2 1933-54 (William Morrow and Company, Inc.: New York, 1998), 1050p.

Reese, Roger Roi. "The Red Army and the Great Purge," in J. Arch Getty and Roberta Manning, eds., Stalinist Terror: New Perspectives (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 198-214.

Reese, Roger Roi. Stalin's Reluctant Soldiers: A Social History of the Red Army, 1925-1941 (Modern War Studies), 272p.

Walter, Hannes "Estonia in World War II", webpage accessed April 9, 2004






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Created: May 25, 2003
Last updated: 11:16 PM 1/12/2017