The Day Before the Disaster: How Stalin Outsmarted Hitler in June 1941

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The website of the TV channel “Tvzvezda” has published a series of articles on the great Patriotic war of 1941-1945 by writer Leonid Maslovsky, based on his book “Russkaya Pravda”, published in 2011.

In his opinion articles, Maslovsky reveals “the myths of the imaginary foe, Russia, and the events of the great Patriotic war, showing the greatness of our Victory.” The author notes that in his articles he is going to “show the US’ unhelpful role in West Germany’s preparations for war with the USSR”.

Intelligence reports suggested an impending German attack on the USSR on 22.06.1941, but the Soviet government considered it possible that Germany had deliberately leaked information about the attack on the USSR on that date.

The purpose of these German actions could have been the desire to force us to conduct mobilization activities, to gather the whole army near the border, and to give the Germans a pretext for declaring us as the aggressor, and the ability to break the boundaries of our whole army. When the date given by our intelligence of the German attack on the USSR came, and the attack did not happen, this gave every reason not to trust the intelligence. The attack on 22nd June 1941 was transmitted by too many sources.

The Soviet government deemed a repetition of the mistakes of the past unacceptable. On July 19th (August 1) 1914, Germany declared war on Russia after Tsar Nicholas II declared a state of mobilization. Of course, the First world war was unleashed with the goal of crushing Russia, but the reason for declaring war,  was to mobilize Russia.

Therefore, it is not excluded that Stalin, on the proposal of S.K Timoshenko and G.K Zhukov, about the mobilization on June 14th 1941 said: “Your offer to mobilize the country, raise the troops and move them to the Western borders? This is war! You both understand this or not?!”.

The Soviet government left 60% of their troops in the second and third echelons, i.e, at a distance of 400 km from the border. This decision in general was aimed at saving the Red Army, as the Germans, with the first blows, would use all their strength and experience to crush the enemy’s defense, and even with an equal ratio of forces we, most likely, wouldn’t have been able to absorb this blow, and the army would have lost.

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Due to this decision we kept the army in major battles at Smolensk, Kiev, Leningrad and defeated German troops near Moscow. It should be noted that even in the absence of evidence of mobilization on the eve of war,  in addition to the expanded recruitment of persons in reserve for training sessions, a sufficient number of pseudo-historians accuse the USSR of an attack on Germany.

But their slander is unconvincing on the background of a huge number of facts indicating the contrary. If we had declared full alert before Germany, for example on 21.06.1941, and the Germans – 22.06.1941, even if it happened a few hours earlier than Germany, it would have given an excuse throughout Europe to declare that we had attacked Germany.

The USSR would have been blamed for the outbreak of the Second world war. It’s an important reason why Stalin rejected the proposal to put all the troops of the border districts on full alert. And what purpose would this announcement have served for our troops? Troops should always be in combat readiness.


On the evening of 21.06.1941, Stalin ordered troops to be sent according to the Directive, which stated that an attack may start with provocative actions of the Germans, and our troops, so as to not cause complications (the prosecution of the USSR for the outbreak of war), we must not yield to any provocations. Furthermore, the directive contained an order to Timoshenko and Zhukov to prepare for a possible enemy attack on the night of the 21st on 22.06.1941.

Before Hess’ mission and the posts of TASS, the concentration of German troops near our border did not yet indicate that they were ready for an immediate attack on the USSR. Moreover, the troops were there for several months and the Soviet Union did not attack them. The presence of German troops close to our border could be explained by the desire of Germany to mislead England.

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But after Hess’ mission and the reaction of Germany to TASS, the Soviet leadership became increasingly drawn to the fact that the troops were intending to attack the USSR. On 22.06.1941, the threat was perceived as real, because Germany ended the war in the Balkans and was ready for a new war.

However there was no confidence in the attack on us the next day by Germany and its allies. There was faint hope that Germany would first attack England. Today it is all clear, but then it was not as clear as it seems. But the government of the Soviet Union correctly understood the situation and sent a directive to the troops.

Our intelligence spent public money abroad, and the Soviet government never received the necessary intelligence for decision-making upon receiving information about the mission of Hess, nor the direction nor the strength of the main attack of the German troops. But a defending side can remain standing only if it knows in advance the direction and strength of the main attack of the enemy.

The date of the attack is secondary information compared to the information about the direction of the main strikes of the enemy. The lack of intelligence necessary for the defense of our borders led to inaction by the military because they didn’t know which direction(s) the enemy would inflict major blows, and thus the troops distributed relatively evenly along the border.

Doubts about the reliability of the provided intelligence regarding the date of the attack had compelled us to act with extreme caution. And if we were accused in 1941 for the attack on Germany, it is unknown how our relationships with future allies, Great Britain and the United States, would have evolved.

But, of course, concern about relationships with our future allies were not a major factor of consideration when making decisions. Any sane person in the place of the Soviet leadership, up to the final few minutes, would have been sceptical of the attack on 22.06.1941 by Germany.

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First of all, Germany, to all countries that they attacked, filed a claim, exhibited a pre-condition. The USSR was not issued with any claims, neither in oral or written form. Secondly, the Soviet leadership was aware that German troops were not ready for war in winter conditions, as the German army had no winter clothing, and by Soviet standards in such circumstances, the country could not have started a war. Thirdly, the USSR suggested that Germany would first attack the weaker opponent – England, to completely eliminate the threat of military force, not merely use the assurances of the Hess, and then attack the USSR.

All these reasons are axioms, and introduced doubt in the probability of a German attack on 22.06.1941 on the Soviet Union. The USSR government did not allow us to be declared as aggressors, and despite the doubts, they took measures to repel aggression, using the relevant available information. But the information of intelligence, unfortunately, was not enough, and our military was not able to concentrate troops on the main attack of Germany and its allies on the USSR. The government’s actions before the war led to the conclusion that they should be condemned.

The West glorifies its government and army, the losers of the war, and some maniacs try to highlight the mistakes and miscalculations of the government and army of the winners,  the country who defeated the strongest opponent, the strongest army in the world. Our state’s heads, like our military commanders, had of course committed errors (those who do nothing never commit any mistakes), but their errors didn’t led to a fiasco as it did with the errors of German heads and military commanders.

Our leaders and our military leaders led the USSR to victory over the army of the United Europe, over the advanced German industry, greater than France, Czechoslovakia and other European countries combined.

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