|Molotov with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in 1939.|
|Von der Schulenberg|
David Murphy, a former spy, wrote "What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa," which sheds some light on this issue. Apparently, Hitler was sending secret letters to Stalin explaining away all the intelligence reports as misunderstandings of what Hitler was actually doing. Two secret letters from Hitler to Stalin state that Hitler was only moving troops East to protect them from British bombing. Stalin would have been well aware of such bombing because Molotov had been forced to take shelter from it during his visit to Berlin. Hitler also claimed, a little less believably, that the troop movements were actually preparations for the invasion of the British Isles. Hitler swore “on my honor as a head of state” that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union. If Stalin actually believed Hitler, that would have been very unusual for the ruthless Soviet leader, but it's certainly possible.
|General Georgy Zhukov in 1941.|
This argument devolves into a series of "Stalin knew that Hitler knew that Stalin knew that Hitler knew" loops that are impossible to resolve. There are the usual backhanded arguments that look at the ultimate victor and provide reasoning in hindsight, which recur after all massive military events, along the lines that Stalin wanted Germany to attack so that he would have a pretext to take over all of Europe (as very nearly happened). Historian Gabriel Gorodetsky has put forward the notion that Stalin did this simply to impress Hitler with his own power, as there had been discussions (such as during Molotov's Berlin trip) about spheres of influence between the two regimes, with Stalin getting British India, Hitler Europe, and so forth. Moving troops ostentatiously forward was an attempt to improve his own bargaining position. It's notable that Stalin and Hitler continued dickering over boundaries well into the war, perhaps as late as September 1943. Nobody knew the Germans would collapse as completely as they did.
|German General Franz Halder.|
|Hitler talking with Mannerheim (right) on June 4, 1942. Part of this conversation was secretly recorded by Finnish intelligence and survives.|
“We did not ourselves understand— just how strong this state [the ussr] was armed. If somebody had told me a nation could start with 35,000 tanks, then I’d have said, ‘You are crazy!’ . . . [Yet] . . . We have destroyed—right now—more than 34,000 tanks . . . . It was unbelievable . . . . I had no idea of it. If I had an idea—then it would have been more difficult for me, but I would have taken the decision to invade anyhow . . . .”Stalin did know the facts. Yet he chose to ignore what he knew. Perhaps Hitler did pull the wool over his eyes. However, Stalin was extremely canny. Perhaps he was comfortable allowing Hitler to attack, knowing that the Western Allies would immediately come to his aid if that happened (and Stalin was extremely demanding of aid throughout and even after the war). Stalin may just have figured nobody would be foolish enough to start a two-front war against him while already fighting the rest of the world. If so, he was sadly mistaken.