Tuesday, December 18, 2018

September 21, 1941: Raging Soviet Paranoia

Sunday 21 September 1941

Soviet POWs 21 September 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Germans transporting Soviet POWs in open cattle cars at Vitebsk railway station, 21 September 1941 (Vorpahl, Federal Archive Bild 101I-267-0124-20A). Note that it is nice and warm out in this picture, but the same wagons are used throughout the conflict regardless of the weather.
Eastern Front: The situation on the Eastern Front that looked so stable for Joseph Stalin just a week or two ago suddenly has taken a precipitous turn as of 21 September 1941. Kiev now is lost, Leningrad is encircled except over Lake Ladoga, and about a million men have been lost on the southern front. It isn't that the war is lost, but a question begins to arise: are the troops fighting as hard as they can?

German soldiers in Estonia, 21 September 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
German soldiers at Kuressaare (Ahrensburg) Island Osel, SSR Estonia attend to a fallen comrade. The injured man (who did not survive) was the leader of a propaganda film unit, a very hazardous occupation in the Wehrmacht (Perch Dorff, Federal Archive Picture 146-1992-021-17).
Already, there are signs of disintegration in the Red Army. In fact, entire units in the southern sector of the front - the area with the least love for the Soviet regime - going over to the enemy. For instance, Major Kononov's 436th Infantry Regiment of Soviet 155th Rifle Division deserted en masse around 19 September and goes into German service as a Don Cossack unit. Old regional rivalries in the area are reasserting themselves as Soviet control and intimidation wanes, with Ukraine a particular area of concern at the moment. As the Germans advance, they offer opportunities to defect to tribes that dislike Moscow and Stalin, a Georgian whom many instinctively dislike.

Totenkopf Division near Smolensk, 21 September 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Panzergrenadiers of the 3rd SS Panzer Division "Totenkopf" on the road near Smolensk, September 1941.
Stalin knows this could spell real trouble. The Soviet Union dwarfs the Reich and has a huge manpower edge (roughly 3:1). However, if the Soviet state fragments, that advantage is lost and may even reverse. While Stalin always has been a suspicious loner ready to believe the worst of anyone, this tendency suddenly mushrooms into outright fear. A tone of rising paranoia begins to creep into official communications from the Kremlin, and it is distinctively unfriendly toward anyone who might pose a threat.
A burning farmhouse in Ukraine, 21 September 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A Ukrainian farmer's wife has no recourse and no assistance as her farmhouse burns down in September 1941.
There are two instances today of Stalin exerting tightening his grip. He personally sends a message to his top general, Georgy Zhukov, who recently took over in Leningrad. He is not worried about the military situation, perilous as it is. Instead, the note to Zhukov (also addressed to local leaders Andrei Zhdanov, Nikolai Kuznetsov, and Vsevolod Merkulov, but everyone knows who is really in charge) inquires on a much more mundane and seemingly trivial incident.
President Roosevelt in New York, 21 September 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Franklin Roosevelt relaxing over a picnic on Cruger's Island near Tivoli, New York. This is near his home in Hyde Park. With FDR are several cronies and Crown Princess Martha of Norway. 21 September 1941.
Stalin notes that the Germans have been using local Soviet citizens as messengers to demand a surrender of the besieged garrison. Again, Stalin is not worried about the contents of the messages or the response - it is the messengers themselves that concerns him. Stalin writes that these ordinary Soviet citizens are "more dangerous than the fascists" and must be executed for becoming involved. Now, Leningrad is a special case - it was a focal point of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and has a long history of acting contrary to Moscow's wishes. However, another incident today shows that this is not an isolated concern of Stalin's.

Bishop Joseph Kumpfmüller of Augsburg, 21 September 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Bishop Joseph Kumpfmüller of Augsburg. On 21 September 1941, he delivers a sermon in which he compares the Soviets to medieval Turks and the Wehrmacht in Russia as Christians fighting them at the famous Battle of Lepanto. He says during the sermon that "We wish nothing more earnestly than their early, final victory over the enemies of our faith." The Church has a very complicated relationship with the Third Reich, and while many prelates oppose German conquest, others, well, don't.
Marshal Shaposhnikov at the Kremlin issues Stavka VGK Directive No. 002202. While ostensibly requesting a routine status report from Colonel-General Kirponos (who, unbeknownst to the Stavka already is dead), the directive is quite revealing. It states:
The Stavka of the Supreme High Command demands that you report immediately: 1. Whether or not your units have abandoned Kiev? 2. If Kiev has been abandoned, whether or not the bridges been blown up? 3. If the bridges have been blown up, then who will vouch for the fact the bridges have been blown up?
Note the last portion of the inquiry. The Stavka wants not only to know that the bridges have been blown, but it wants proof that they have been blown. There's no trust there, and Stalin no longer even trusts his top generals on the spot. It's obvious that whoever "vouches" for the fact that the bridges have been destroyed will pay with his life if they are not, or if the job was done improperly

Japanese Type 95 Ha-Go Tank of the Kwantung Army, 21 September 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Type 95 Ha-Go Tanks near the Manchurian Soviet border preparing for Operation "Kantokuen" the projected invasion of Far East Russia. The Kwantung Army was ready to invade the Soviet Union until early 1942 when the operation was canceled due to the changing situation. It is apparent that Japanese tanks were a full generation behind the latest Soviet models. September 1941.
All of this seems extremely alien to Western eyes, almost incomprehensible. Orders are orders, and they are expected to be carried out. If they are not carried out, then a reason will be provided and perhaps a court-martial arranged, but it is simply assumed that everyone is at least operating with patriotism. However, paranoia rages in the Soviet Union at the best of times, and these are hardly the best of times for Joseph Stalin.

Dangling Locomotive in Chicago, 21 September 1941 worldwartwo.filminspector.com
A locomotive of the "Midnight Special" on its way from Chicago to St. Louis dangles off of a railroad bridge over the Chicago River on 21 September 1941. The bridge had been opened to allow a lake freighter to pass through, but nobody told the engineer. There are no casualties and the train is pulled back into the station and makes its normal run later (Chicago Daily Tribune, 22 September 1941). 

September 1941

September 1, 1941: Two Years In
September 2, 1941: Germans Pushed Back at Yelnya
September 3, 1941: FDR Refuses to Meet with Japanese
September 4, 1941: Hitler Furious at Guderian
September 5, 1941: Germans Evacuate Yelnya
September 6, 1941: Japan Prepares for War
September 7, 1941: Hitler Orders Drive on Moscow
September 8, 1941: Leningrad Cut Off
September 9, 1941: Germans Attack Leningrad
September 10, 1941: Guderian Busts Loose
September 11, 1941: Convoy SC-42 Destruction
September 12, 1941: Starve Leningrad!
September 13, 1941: Zhukov at Leningrad
September 14, 1941: Germany's Growing Casualties
September 15, 1941: Sorge Warns Stalin Again
September 16, 1941: Soviets Encircled at Kiev
September 17, 1941: Iran Conquest Completed
September 18, 1941: Focke-Wulf Fw 190 in Action
September 19, 1941: Germans Take Kiev
September 20, 1941: Death at Kiev
September 21, 1941: Raging Soviet Paranoia
September 22, 1941: Defense of Nickel Mines
September 23, 1941: Air Attacks on Leningrad
September 24, 1941: Japanese Spying Intensifies
September 25, 1941: Manstein at the Crimea
September 26, 1941: Kiev Pocket Eliminated
September 27, 1941: Massacre at Eišiškės
September 28, 1941: Ted Williams Hits .400
September 29, 1941: Babi Yar Massacre
September 30, 1941: Operation Typhoon Begins


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