by Miguel Lallena
The War engulfs the World: November 1940 – December 1940
The Soviet Plans: Operation Nevsky
On October 31st, Stalin receives some surprising news from Zhukov: not only has he planned out an offensive against the Nazi stronghold in Poland, but he has already arranged for the 200 infantry divisions, the 10,000 tanks and the 30,000 aircraft that will take part in the invasion to be deployed near the border with German Poland, and that the Red Army only needs Stalin's word to act. Although he doesn't like his people to take the initiative (after all, anyone with initiative could decide to take over the Soviet Union and kill him), he decides to pardon Zhukov, praises him for a well done job, and tells him: "All the Rodina stands by your side in the glorious campaign ahead."
November 7th 1940, 6:00 AM. In Russia, it's the 23rd anniversary of the Communist Revolution. German soldiers in the German-Soviet border patrol. Most of them are tired, having patrolling for several hours, a few for nearly the whole night. The only thing they want to do is to go back to their beds and rest for a time, perhaps five or six hours, before they must start again with the diary drills. However, today won't be a normal day. Several soldiers had been praying for a change in the routine. They are about to learn that asking for something may result in getting it, but not in the way you expect it.
At 6:03 AM, a humming can be heard. The soldiers don't pay attention: they figure that it might be some planes doing a routine training in the airstrips near their camp. However, the humming is getting nearer, and stronger, and it's not only one plane, but several tens of them. With a blast, a bomb falls in the middle of the fort where the soldiers are living and tears apart one of the barracks, which at that moment had around 50 soldiers. All die in a few seconds. Operation Nevsky, the invasion of German Poland by the Red Army, has started. The war has turned into World War Two.
When news of the invasion reach the Reichstag in Berlin (four hours after the attack started), Hitler explodes in fury: he had obviously not expected the attack, the betrayal from the Communist Untermenschen; he had expected them to stay quiet until the German armies went east and dealt with them once the British were finally beaten. And his fury multiplies when he learns that the soviets have already advanced 5 kilometres into German Poland thanks to the deployment of airborne units and the swiftness with which tanks have entered the territory, surprising most soldiers. In the first hours of the Soviet-Nazi war, nearly one thousand German soldiers have died or disappeared.
After declaring in a hate-filled speech that Germany is declaring war on the Soviet Union and vowing that Moscow will be burned to the ground by the Wehrmacht, Hitler instructs his commanders in Poland to launch a counterattack on the Soviet positions. Alfred Jodl is the one to transmit this order, and soon the divisions of the Wehrmacht in Western Poland are moving towards the enemy. However, it isn't fast enough, because two days after the start of Operation Nevsky the Russians are about to take Lublin. It'll take the Russians eight days to finally make the city fall, because the fanatical defence presented by the German units in the city is stopping every offensive the Soviets are launching into the city.
The day after the siege of Lublin starts, a massive rally is held in the city of Berlin, in front of the great Brandenburg Gate. Hitler isn't present: he is currently holding off a meeting with the higher echelons of the OKW in order to design the best strategy with which the Soviets may be, first, expelled from East Prussia and the General Government, and then relentlessly attacked until finally beaten. Instead, Joseph Goebbels, minister of Propaganda of the Nazi government ever since Hitler took the office of Reichschancellor in 1933, is leading this rally. In here, he calls for the German people to launch a total war against the Bolshevist invader, whom he accuses of the worst crimes he can imagine (ironically, one of them is the organization of massacres of people, something that his government himself is guilty of, although of course that is something he prefers not to mention) while he makes a petition for the Western powers to aid Germany in turning back the Soviet offensive. However, reception of this message in the world is lukewarm at best, and outright insulting towards the Germans at worst: while Spain starts to prepare the promised aid in case of war against the Soviet Union (but doesn't actually declare war, yet), several parties are held in Britain as the people are convinced that the Soviet will completely beat the Germans, and in the United States there is much joy among the liberal sectors of society: in fact, the day after Goebbels' plea, the New York Times posts a cartoon in which Hitler appears hanged and in flames, and a title stating that "Hitler will soon go to meet his Maker". Charles Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh, however, blast Roosevelt for not doing anything to try to save "the only Anglo-Saxon nation worthy of imitation," never mind that Britain is an ally and also an Anglo-Saxon nation, and that even the United States could be said to be an Anglo-Saxon nation considering its origins. This leads to a drop in Coughlin's popularity before he even realises that what he said could be construed as an insult to his own country.
However, not every anti-Nazi person in the democratic nations of the world is cheering: both Churchill and Roosevelt, while they are content with the fact that the Germans are possibly facing a big defeat in the east, they are worried that, if the Soviets end with the Germans, it won't be a lot of time until Stalin decides to attack either of their countries in an attempt to expand Communism. Churchill is the one that is most worried about this, because they have heard of rumours that Stalin pretends to install a Soviet Union that encompasses all of Eurasia, and Britain will probably be attacked in an attempt to carry out that dream. That's why both of them will soon ask their Chief of Staff to start drafting contingency plans for the defence of Scotland and Northern Ireland (in Churchill's case) or Alaska (in Roosevelt's case) against a theoretical Soviet invasion.
November 13th: Lublin falls against a repeated Soviet assault. The several hundreds of German soldiers that are still in the city decide to commit suicide instead of allowing the Soviets to capture them. Also of note is the fate of an SS battalion that had been ordered to attempt a breakthrough of the Soviet siege: an assault against rear Soviet troops turns into a massacre when several Polish Communist partisans join the battle and attack the SS flank, wiping out the whole battalion to a man. Heinrich Himmler, the SS commander-in-chief, falls into a severe depression when he learns of this incident.
Not everything is good news for the Red Army, however: as the Red Army advances towards Krakow, several Stuka squadrons appear and dive-bomb the advancing armies, destroying a whole artillery unit and several Soviet tanks, thus forcing Soviet ground forces into a tactical retreat. This small victory prompts Hitler to transfer half the planes in France that are part of theUnternehmen Adler, the bombardment of Britain, to airbases in Germany so that they can continue with the pounding on Soviet positions. The Stukas are, unfortunately for the Luftwaffe, terribly weak against fighter attacks, and despite the presence of the Bf 109 planes protecting the bombers, Stuka squadron are falling by the drove against the USSR's Polikarpov fighters. Hitler will also order that a third of the troops and armoured brigades used to keep the occupation of France and the Benelux are taken to the east in order to have them fight the Soviet invaders. This will be the first mistake of a series that will cost him everything he has won, but he hasn't realised it. Yet.
In Moscow, Stalin is awaiting with impatience for General Zhukov to send word of the fall of Warsaw and Krakow: he really wants revenge for the Red Army's defeat nineteen years before, when Russia attempted to recover what was lost after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and, while the terrains gained thanks to the Molotov-Ribbentrop were a good first step, he wants to take all of Poland. After all, he knows that this will be the first step of the USSR towards a Soviet Union that will stretcht from the Atlantic to the Pacific.
In London, there are two groups of people that are awaiting the result of Operation Nevsky (a name that won't be known to the rest of the world population until 1942): on one side, the Polish government-in-exile headed by WładysławRaczkiewicz, who fears (with due cause) that the Soviet victory in Poland will be followed either by outright annexation of the country or establishment of a puppet communist government – the latter seems the more likely happening, considering that most Polish people don't like or outright hate the Soviet Union. On the other side, Charles de Gaulle, current leader of the Free French Forces, who expects this attack to weaken the Germans so much that it could give the Free French a chance to finally expel Philippe Pétain and his collaborateurs of the Vichy Regime. If something of great importance happened to Pétain, and combined with the weakened German military position, then it could be what France needed to get rid of the German occupiers.
The Blue Division
Franco had promised just a couple of weeks ago in the Hendaye train station that Spain would help Germany in case of war with the USSR. The attack of November 7th is a serious bump into his plans for Spain. He knows that Hitler should have foreseen Stalin's intentions: after all, Stalin is a Jew Communist, and thus he is a conniving, plotting, backstabbing person that would sell his soul to the devil as he spreads his atheistic message. However, he can't exactly spend everything he has in fighting the Russian Communists, no matter what the most recalcitrant characters of the Falange believe. Also, he had hoped that the attacking side would be Germany, as that would allow him to send enough soldiers and, since Germany would have the advantage of initiative, the number of Spanish dead soldiers would be less. But with the Soviets coming to Germany, he isn't that sure that his soldiers will survive.
Officially, his country's position in the war is that of "non-belligerent", a situation not recognised by international law but that has been accepted nonetheless by the other countries and that has allowed him to throw his country's support behind the Nazis. Now, however, he realises that he will soon be pressured to make his promises good, if not by Hitler, then by his fellow Falangists. Indeed, in the first days of the war between Germany and the USSR, half of the Falange's higher echelons will have visited him and tried to convince him to immediately declare war on the Soviet Union and to send the army – even his own brother-in-law Ramón Serrano Súńer comes daily in order to switch Franco's opinion.
But Franco knows that it isn't possible yet to send the army as a whole. With the economy in shambles, it wouldn't be possible to fully fund the army, and the logistics – going through war-devastated Spain and France, and then through Germany – would be a huge nightmare, although Franco thinks that Germany will help with that once war starts. But before this happens, Spain must recover, at least in part, in order to be able to provide for its soldiers. That's why, three days after the start of the war, Franco unveils the idea he has worked on with Súńer.
The Blue Division (this isn't their official name; they will be called that way because they will decide not to cast away their blue shirts from their uniform), consisting on several thousands of volunteers (half of them veterans from the Spanish Civil War), enough to form a full division, will be deployed to Germany. As Spain isn't officially at war with the Soviet Union, the volunteers will wear the Wehrmacht uniforms (although with a patch that indicates their Spanish origin) and use German weaponry, but their most immediate officers will be Spanish, with German officers only being those in the higher echelons of the army. A Blue Squadron will also be created, wholly formed by the Civil War veterans that were trained by the Condor Legion
By November 28th the whole contingent of volunteers has been recruited. After a mass hosted in the Alcázar of Toledo by Archbishop Isidro Gomá y Tomás, all of them are taken to the train station and board the trains with destiny Irún, where they will cross the border and pick other train that has been put at the Spanish volunteers' disposition by Philippe Pétain himself – after some pressuring from Hitler, of course – that will take them to Hamburg, where they will start their training to know the German war tactics better. One of the wagons in this first part of the long travel has a series of unusual paintings, amongst them the sentence "Vamos al Este a combatir a la conspiración judeo-masónica-marxista", meaning We go to the East to fight the Jew-Masonic-Marxist conspiracy, a topic that is a big part of the official mythology, that Franco started the Glorious Uprising of 17th July to prevent Spain's fall into anarchy and become prey to the Jews, the Communists and the Masons (which are, according to the propaganda, one and the same, for some reason; of course, this doesn't take into account that the Soviet Communists are nearly as anti-Semitic, or even more, than the Germans). Most of the volunteers' morale as they travel to Germany by train is unusually high. In their conversations as the long travel goes on, it is obvious that they believe they will be able to practically defeat the Soviets single-handedly. Why, they managed to beat the Soviet-supported Reds in the Spanish Civil War! Sure, they were quite hard to beat, but they still defeated them! Surely it can't be that hard to beat the Soviets, when even God himself must be on their (the Spanish) side as they fight those who not only do not believe in Him, but that are always trying to force others to do the same! No?
Unfortunately, they haven't taken into account the fact that the Soviet Army is much bigger than the Republican Army; that the Soviet Army, despite the Great Purges of 1937, still has several good officers on its payroll; that the Soviet Army has many more tanks, aircraft and military paraphernalia than everything the Republic used during the Civil War; and that, in the last three weeks, they have been beating the until-then-thought unbeatable Nazi army, and have been doing it with mortal precision.
As they travel, the Soviet Army nears Krakow, having overcome the problem with the Stukas by using fighters of their own to hunt and destroy the Stukas before they can drop their lethal charge over the tanks. Further to the south, several armoured brigades have entered the Protectorate of Slovakia, and even further, the government of Iron Guard Ion Antonescu, an Axis ally, is facing an invasion of Romania by the Ukranian and Moldavian SSR's armies, hardly a few months after the loss of Bessarabia to the Soviets. Things are indeed looking grim indeed for the Nazis in Eastern Europe...
The Warsaw Ghetto Escape
In the city of Warsaw, things aren't going very well, either. Ever since the Germans conquered the city, the people that didn't leave have felt the weight of the German boot, which is certainly very heavy on everyone. Poles and Jews are the ones having the worst time, especially Jews, which are being crammed into one of the city's quarters, which is being called the Jewish Ghetto. Not only that, but everyday the Nazis are bringing even more Jewish people from the rest of Poland and are forcing them into the Ghetto, which is getting more overcrowded as time passes. Already several people have died of hunger and disease.
However, for the last weeks the Nazi garrison in Warsaw, save for the usual patrols done to ensure that curfew is being respected, the local population hasn't been harassed save for being drafted into working on a set of defences that surrounds the whole city of Warsaw. The Jews, despite the isolation, know why this is happening: the Soviets are getting near the Polish capital, and obviously the Nazis want to turn the city into a death trap for the Soviets.
Barricades, machine-gun nests, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, tanks buried in the ground that act as make-shift bunkers and artillery units... The Nazis have thought of everything. Several civilians and soldiers have been trained as snipers so that they kill Soviet officers and commissars, in order to induce the biggest hit to morale to the Soviet armies. Unfortunately, all of these preparations mean that plans to deal with the Jews can't be implemented (there was even one plan that called for a wall to isolate the quarter completely from the rest of the world, and even a group of Jews were planning to start active collaboration with the Nazis and persecute them) and that keeping a close watch on them will be impossible save for the hatedJüdischer Ordnungsdienst or Jewish Ghetto Police. The Nazis believe that the Jews will just stay there, quiet, as they should do.
How mistaken they are. Despite their general bad health, the Warsaw Jews are not only surviving, thanks to several decent people that are risking their lives in order to help the Jews (which is punished with death), but they are organizing better during this brief period of respite the Soviet attack has given them. Schools, hospitals, orphanages, libraries and even a symphony orchestra have kept the Jews busy, while several illegal workshops have provided them with jobs and manufactured goods that are smuggled and sold out of the ghetto. Even the younger children have been doing their own bit, travelling in and out of the Ghetto and smuggling food into it, sometimes transporting goods that weigh more than they do.
One of the things that has been smuggled into the Ghetto is radios, and this has given the Jews a more clear idea of what's going on. Hearing the German broadcasts gives them important information. Sometimes, if they are lucky, they can receive Soviet broadcasts, and those that still remember the times before the Great War translate from Russian. All of this helps them, as now they know that the Soviets are getting near to Warsaw. Opinion is divided on this matter.
Some Polish people (mostly the communists that have managed to survive the Nazi purges) are willing to welcome the Soviets as liberators. Most Polish people (particularly the Jews) are very much sceptical of the Soviets just coming to liberate them. They still remember with bitterness the Polish-Soviet War of 1919, in which the Soviets nearly took the city of Warsaw and it was only through an unexpected victory in the Battle of Warsaw that Poland preserved its independence, and some even remember the horrible rule under the Czar, who attempted many times to force the Polish people to abandon their own culture and follow the Russian one. Jews have an extra reason to not like the Soviets, as they are as anti-Semitic as the Nazis are (a sad remnant from the Czarist times), but, of course, Stalin isn't exactly going to proclaim it to the four winds.
The Warsaw Judenrat, the organism that is officially leading the Ghetto, discuss what to do with this. Several people are willing to either fight the Soviets or the Nazis, but mostly, for them it's a matter of deciding which is the least evil, Nazism or Communism. It's in the middle of their meeting in November 13th (the day Lublin falls) when a man half-covered in slime and with a long beard covering his face appears before the Judenrat and presents himself. It's Mordechaj Anielewicz, the famous – or infamous, depending on your point of view – guerilla warrior that has, since the invasion of Poland, been a nightmare to the Nazi occupiers as they launched several attacks against them. Being a Jew himself, this appearance brings some hope to the Judenrat that this might be the start of a great scale attack against the Nazis. Anielewicz soon clears the notion: at this moment he is alone, and it took him a bit to first find a way into the sewers and then find the way into the Ghetto through the sewers. His resistance group doesn't have enough members to mount such an operation, he claims, but there are several of them in the forests around Warsaw, waiting for him to come out. There is an idea he has had, thanks to information his contacts with the Polish government-in-exile have provided him, but he will need to know whether the Judenrat is willing to take risks in order for it to work.
They ask him which is his idea. "The Swedish Government are neutral in this war. We could sneak out everyone and send them to Sweden," Mordechaj claims. The Judenrat claims that he is mad: winter is approaching, and they will die of coldness if they go outside. "There are many forests on the way north, where people can stay, and feed from the animals that can be hunt, and the sea travel wouldn't be done in the middle of the winter." They ask how are they going to leave. "Using the sewers. I think that each night we could take around 10,000 people, and during the day we could get more people out of the Ghetto walking. The Nazis are distracted and it shouldn't be very difficult." The Ghetto's population is about 400,000 big, they say, it'll be impossible to get everyone out of there. "We would take the children, the women and the ancient ones first. Most men could get out when the Nazis are so distracted that they won't be able to notice that everyone has left. And we can even steal Nazi uniforms to blend even more. And the most able for a fight will do it in the middle of the fight when the Soviets arrive, if needed." And when does he plan to start? "Today, I hope. The sooner we start this, the more people we will be able to get out. Also, it's new moon in two days, so it lessens the chances of being discovered." A last question: why does he think people will follow the plan? "The way I see it, everyone will have to choose between facing the cold, facing the cold and the Nazis, facing the cold and the Soviets or facing the cold, the Nazis, the Soviets and the fight that will start when they meet." In less than a quarter an hour, the Judenrat decides to spread the word that there is a chance to escape the Ghetto.
In one of the most daring, wild and crazy operations of the war performed by the Armia Krajowa, people trickle from the Ghetto, using the sewer system as a escape way. The most ancient people have to be carried on arms or giving them a piggy back, while children are carried by their mothers and other women. The most fit people even manage to swim down-river in the Vistula, taking care not to be seen in the effort. During the day, children leave like they normally do, and their mothers manage to sneak out with the help of Polish Gentiles that are aware of this attempt. But none of them will come back to the city, using the fact that the Germans are constantly distracted by strafing Soviet planes as they bombard Warsaw. Some people die in these attacks, unfortunately, as they are caught out of a protected building or they enter the building but it falls due to the bombs. However, most people manage to get out
By the time the Soviet tanks reach Warsaw and their artillery starts to fire on German positions, more than a half of the Ghetto residents have left the city of Warsaw for forests at several kilometres from the capital. They will have to wait there till the situation is cleared by the Polish Resistance members that accompany them. A part of the gigantic group has had to go towards the south in order to avoid being seen by the Germans, and thus will have to go their way south and expect to get to other places. Some of them will be found by the Soviets later, and it'll be the start of one of the biggest crimes against humanity ever seen.
When Rabbi Moishe told us what was going on, I could hardly believe it. Mordechaj Anielewicz himself was going to get us out of there! We had to do it in the middle of the night, of course, what with the Nazis always watching. Perhaps if I had known what the Soviets would do to us, maybe I would have chosen to join the Resistance instead of leaving the zone...Extract from Night, Elie Wiesel
Big Raids: Land, Sea, Air
In Berlin, things are getting quite nasty for the Nazi higher echelons, particularly Reichsluftfahrtminister (Minister of Aviation) Hermann Göring and Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) and Oberbefehlshaber des Heeres (Commander of the Army) Walther von Brauchitsch, whom Hitler regards as the ones at fault with the fact that the Soviets are advancing. Both Göring and von Brauchitsch know that, after the invasion of France, many soldiers have been garrisoned in Western Europe, as well as many planes that have been sent there to deal with the British – although the order given by Hitler to send several squadrons back to the east have prevented the Red Air Force from achieving supremacy, it hasn't been able to follow up on it and actually substitute Soviet superiority with German superiority – but they are careful not to point this fact out to Hitler. After a thirty minute long tirade, he finished by ordering the three men in front of him (von Brauchitsch, Göring and Großadmiral Erich Raeder) to design a plan with which to strike back at the Soviets. Erich Raeder suggests a triple attack, combining the three arms of the Wehrmacht and aimed at several points in order to surprise the Soviets. After explaining his idea, von Brauchitsch and Göring suggest some changes to the plan and possible objectives that they think will be able to mine the Soviet morale. Hitler approves of this plan and instructs the operation to be launched in less than a week. The supplying lines will be busy in the next days.
December 7th 1940 will be signalled as one of the turning points of what has yet to actually be called World War II. It'll be the start of what German papers callUnternehmen Barbarossa, after the German emperor who nearly managed to become the most powerful man in his time. It is depicted as a four-pronged attack over several points along all of Europe: two through the sea, one air raid and two land attacks:
The first hours of the counter-invasion are very successful for the Axis. In the north, Operation Silver Fox strikes an early success after occupying the Rybachy peninsula and reaching the cities of Murmansk and Kantalahti. More to the south, in Leningrad, people have just noticed the loss of the Aurora cruiser and the Lenin statue, which is a huge hit to their morale. In Moscow, some people in the basement of the yellow building have managed to get free, making the most of the distraction that Beria's death and the building's near destruction has caused, and they, in turn, free the rest of the people, most of which had the only crime of thinking differently than the Stalinist dogma. The attack in Poland manages to push the Soviets back several kilometres, and it seems they may manage to take all of Pomerania, and maybe even reach Warsaw and push the Russians away from the city...
To be continued...