Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
What Stalin Knew

What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa

David E. Murphy
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 340
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1np8p0
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    What Stalin Knew
    Book Description:

    This extensively researched book illuminates many of the enigmas that have surrounded the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, offering keen insights into Stalin's thinking and the reasons for his catastrophic blunder."If, after the war, the Soviet Union had somehow been capable of producing an official inquiry into the catastrophe of 6/22-comparable in its mandate to the 9/11 commission here-its report might have read a little like [this book]. . . . Murphy brings to his subject both knowledge of Russian history and an insider's grasp of how intelligence is gathered, analyzed and used-or not."-Niall Ferguson,New York Times Book Review"Afascinating and meticulously researched account of mistaken assumptions and errors of judgment that culminated in Hitler's invasion of Russia in June 1941. Never before has this fateful period been so fully documented."-Henry A. Kissinger

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13026-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Sources
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: Stalin’s Absolute Control, Misconceptions, and Disastrous Decisions
    (pp. xv-xx)

    On June 17, 1941, Stalin received a report signed by Pavel M. Fitin, chief of NKGB Foreign Intelligence, asserting that “all preparations by Germany for an armed attack on the Soviet Union have been completed, and the blow can be expected at any time.” The source was an intelligence officer in Hermann Göring’s Air Ministry. In the margin of the report, Stalin scrawled this note to Fitin’s chief, the people’s commissar for state security, Vsevolod N. Merkulov: “Comrade Merkulov, you can send your ‘source’ from the headquarters of German aviation to his fucking mother. This is not a ‘source’ but...

  6. Abbreviations and Acronyms
    (pp. xxi-xxiv)
  7. CHAPTER 1 Stalin versus Hitler: Background
    (pp. 1-6)

    The year 1945 saw the end of the most destructive war in the history of mankind. Among the nations that suffered the greatest human and physical losses were Germany and Soviet Russia. It was a decision made final in August 1939 by the German and Soviet leaders that rendered this catastrophic war inevitable. Why was that decision made? How did the German leader, Adolf Hitler, and his Soviet counterpart, Josef Stalin, view the world at that time?

    Both Germany and Soviet Russia were losers in World War I. After a relatively brief but important period of diplomatic, military, and economic...

  8. CHAPTER 2 The Outspoken General: Ivan Iosifovich Proskurov
    (pp. 7-13)

    How could Stalin have trusted Hitler? Here follows the history by which Stalin, supplied by his own country’s intelligence services with absolutely solid information on Hitler’s intentions, blindly disregarded the intelligence in favor of Hitler’s lies.

    The interwoven careers of three intelligence officers dramatize this history and will enable the reader to determine what Stalin knew and how he came to know it. The first of these was Ivan I. Proskurov, a talented military pilot and air force commander who had fought in Spain. The second was Pavel M. Fitin, who was assigned to the NKVD’s Foreign Intelligence Service by...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Proskurov Sets Stalin Straight
    (pp. 14-28)

    To appreciate the value of the intelligence reporting from the Warsaw RU residency under Proskurov in 1939, it is necessary to know something of the residency’s history and of the backgrounds and capabilities of its agent sources. Warsaw was an important RU residency (the term describes an operational station of Soviet intelligence abroad) because Poland had been considered a potential Soviet adversary since the Soviet-Polish conflict in 1920. But the intelligence activity that would impact most importantly on the period 1939–41 began with the arrival of Rudolf Herrnstadt in Warsaw in 1933. The Moscow correspondent of the German newspaper...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Soviet Borders Move Westward
    (pp. 29-46)

    Historians have largely subscribed to the theory that by recovering the borderlands lost to Russia after World War I and moving Soviet frontiers westward, the USSR improved its defensive posture. This was not entirely true. By incorporating parts of Romania and Poland into the Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Moldavian union republics and absorbing the Baltic States, Soviet security and military forces had to contend with intensely hostile populations. Ukrainian and Belorussian nationalists aided German intelligence in espionage operations before June 1941 and served as saboteurs in the early hours and days of the war, destroying Red Army communications and other facilities....

  11. CHAPTER 5 The Finns Fight: Proskurov Made a Scapegoat
    (pp. 47-61)

    The Soviet treaties of mutual assistance with the three Baltic countries had barely been completed when Stalin decided it was time to rearrange his northwest frontier with Finland. The Treaty of Tartu with Finland in 1920 had awarded the Finns the Petsamo area in the Arctic north and moved the border on the Karelian Isthmus to a point only thirty kilometers from Leningrad. The danger to that city was evident, and Stalin in early 1938 had begun to sound out the Finns’ willingness to agree to frontier adjustments.

    In April 1938 he had selected Boris A. Rybkin, NKVD legal resident...

  12. CHAPTER 6 Soviet Military Intelligence Residencies in Western Europe
    (pp. 62-70)

    In June 1940 the Soviet Military Intelligence Service, still headed by Proskurov, produced two intelligence reports on the events transpiring in Europe. One reflected the German view of the Wehrmacht’s successes in France. The other provided the first indication of what Hitler would do after the defeat of France.

    On June 4, 1940, Proskurov sent the first report to Stalin. It was based on a visit to the German embassy by Colonel Gerhard Matske, German military attaché in Tokyo. He had stopped off in Moscow on his way back to Tokyo after a two-week stay in May with a German...

  13. CHAPTER 7 Soviet Military Intelligence Residencies in Eastern Europe
    (pp. 71-83)

    In Eastern Europe one found the same mix of agent sources as in Western Europe. There were those with good access to knowledgeable sources who reported solid intelligence and provided firstrate reports and, contrarily, those with purely social contacts who repeated gossip or unsubstantiated information based on rumors. Information obtained from the latter sources was, of course, likely to contain German deception. Stalin, however, disregarded the accurate reporting as disinformation. His people paid an extraordinarily precious price for his actions.

    The best producer of information in Eastern Europe was the RU residency in Bucharest, headed by Colonel Grigory M. Yeremin...

  14. CHAPTER 8 Who Were You, Dr. Sorge? Stalin Never Heard of You.
    (pp. 84-90)

    The picture provided by the RU residencies in Western and Eastern Europe would be reinforced by reports from Japan, which became the principal playing field for the RU in the Far East in the period immediately preceding the German invasion of June 22, 1941. There was a legal residency in Tokyo under Ivan V. Gushchenko, who was military attaché from February 1940 to June 1942. Two of his subordinates—Sergei L. Budkevich (who served in Tokyo from 1936 to 1941) and Viktor S. Zaitsev (who was employed there from July 1940 to February 1942)—served as links to the residency’s...

  15. CHAPTER 9 NKVD Foreign Intelligence
    (pp. 91-96)

    In addition to the RU, the principal organization involved in providing intelligence to Stalin from agent sources was the Fifth (Foreign Intelligence) Department of the NKVD’s Chief Directorate for State Security (Glavnoe Upravlenie Gosudarstvennoi Bezopastnosti, or GUGB). It began as the Foreign Department of the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission (Cheka) on December 20, 1920. For most of the 1920s it focused on foreign threats to the young socialist state ranging from Russian émigrés to the followers of Leon Trotsky. Gradually it broadened its coverage to include the acquisition of foreign technical secrets. With Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, it began...

  16. CHAPTER 10 Fitin’s Recruited Spies
    (pp. 97-107)

    Fitin’s foreign intelligence directorate was part of the state security apparatus on which Stalin had always relied. Because this apparatus was headed by men like Beria and Merkulov on whom he believed he could depend, he may have tended to pay special attention to Fitin’s reports. Which of Fitin’s spies produced the best intelligence reports for Stalin, and did their reports please him? City by city, here is the answer to that question.

    The Berlin residency began to rebuild after Hitler’s ascent to power. A new resident, Boris M. Gordon, arrived in 1934 and began recruiting sources. His most successful...

  17. CHAPTER 11 Listening to the Enemy
    (pp. 108-116)

    NKVD/NKGB foreign intelligence was not the only component under State Security Commissar Merkulov that produced valuable information for Stalin on Germany’s intentions. We know from the 1977 official classified Soviet history of the organs of state security that in the period leading up to the German invasion the counter intelligence components ran extensive operations against foreign missions in Moscow. These operations involved agent penetrations, telephone taps, the installation of listening devices, and efforts to suborn and recruit members of these missions. Although their principal goal was to identify foreign intelligence officers, monitor their activities, and investigate contacts with Soviet citizens,...

  18. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  19. CHAPTER 12 Working on the Railroad
    (pp. 117-123)

    Before and during the war the Soviet economy functioned much as it had since its creation by Stalin in the first Five Year Plan. Problems in speeding the transformation of the Soviet Union into a modern industrial state were addressed with punitive measures carried out by the economic components of the NKVD’s State Security Chief Directorate. Industrial accidents, for example, were reported as sabotage by informants and punished by death or imprisonment. Thus, it is not surprising that the First (Railroad) Department of the NKVD’s Chief Transport Directorate (GTU) was charged with improving the performance of the national rail system....

  20. CHAPTER 13 The Border Troops Knew
    (pp. 124-136)

    One security component in the Soviet establishment was ideally situated to observe and report on the progress of the German buildup across the frontier. This was the Chief Directorate of Border Troops (GUPV), whose forces covered every kilometer of the western borders of the USSR from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea. Although the border troops regard May 28, 1918, as their official founding, it was not until 1939 that a separate directorate was established. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the border troops were included administratively with troops responsible solely for internal security. Their official history maintains that throughout...

  21. CHAPTER 14 Proskurov Is Fired
    (pp. 137-144)

    In July 1940, a little less than a year before the German invasion, Stalin dismissed Ivan I. Proskurov as his military intelligence chief, replacing him with a man who had no intelligence experience. Stalin’s reasons have never been officially revealed and he probably never committed them to paper in any detail. Nevertheless, several motives seem plausible.

    Among the grounds Stalin certainly had was his resentment and anger at Proskurov for his behavior at the April 1940 conference on the lessons of the Finnish war. It didn’t take long for the story of the clash between Stalin and Proskurov to get...

  22. CHAPTER 15 Golikov and Operation Sea Lion
    (pp. 145-161)

    As head of military intelligence from July 1940 to June 1941, Golikov was responsible for the dissemination of reports from RU field residencies; he also supervised the preparation of periodic intelligence summaries or analyses based not only on RU agent reports but on all information available from all elements of the government, including the Foreign Affairs Commissariat. Significant in Golikov’s treatment of this information was his emphasis on German operations against England. Aware that Stalin was convinced that Hitler would not attack the Soviet Union until he had defeated England, Golikov used every opportunity to reinforce this view and to...

  23. CHAPTER 16 “We Do Not Fire on German Aircraft in Peacetime”
    (pp. 162-172)

    Notwithstanding intelligence reports describing the buildup of German troops along the Soviet borders, there was an even more serious threat. That one, too, affected the border areas but now it was in the skies above them. Very probably the single greatest error committed by Stalin between the summer of 1940 and June 22, 1941, was his decision to allow the Luftwaffe freedom to conduct unlimited reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union. Fearing that preventive action by Soviet air defenses would “provoke” Hitler, he issued strict orders against it. He would not change his views even after Soviet intelligence provided him...

  24. CHAPTER 17 German Deception: Why Did Stalin Believe It?
    (pp. 173-184)

    Without examining the full dimensions of Germany’s artful program of deception, one cannot entirely understand the tragedy of June 1941. As Barton Whaley’s seminal work first noted, it was not random noise that prevented Moscow from divining Hitler’s true intentions.¹ Rather, it was the dissemination, through myriad channels, of bits and pieces of information based on very specific deception themes, some of which were designed by Hitler himself. The entire program was executed under Abwehr control, and it involved virtually all components of the German government, although in each component only a few officials were briefed on their roles in...

  25. CHAPTER 18 Secret Letters
    (pp. 185-191)

    In 1965–66 Konstantin M. Simonov, the renowned Soviet war correspondent, writer, editor, and poet, conducted several interviews with retired Marshal Georgy K. Zhukov. At one point, Zhukov recalled a meeting with Stalin at the beginning of January 1941 concerning the large numbers of German forces in the Government General (Germanoccupied Poland). Stalin told Zhukov he had “turned to Hitler in a personal letter, advising him that this was known to us, that it surprised us, and that it created the impression among us that Hitler intended to go to war with us.” In reply, Hitler sent Stalin a letter,...

  26. CHAPTER 19 The Purges Revived
    (pp. 192-203)

    When Proskurov was relieved of his position as chief of military intelligence back in July 1940 and an order came down placing him at the disposition of the Defense Commissariat, he became a man without a job.¹ An order of this type was issued when Stalin or the top military brass had not yet decided on an officer’s next assignment. For a man with the energy and determination of Proskurov, this distance from the action was hard to take. The fact that the air forces were undergoing a reorganization favored by many senior officers made it that much harder. He...

  27. CHAPTER 20 On the Eve
    (pp. 204-215)

    On Friday, June 20, with rumors of an imminent German attack growing more persistent, Proskurov decided to visit military intelligence headquarters and get the facts. There is no indication he spent any time there with his successor, Filipp I. Golikov. This is not surprising, as Golikov’s reputation for manipulating intelligence information to conform to Stalin’s theories was by this time well known to most of the RU officers. Instead, Proskurov went to the office of Colonel Ivan A. Bolshakov, who headed the German desk.¹ Proskurov’s purpose was obviously to discuss the situation with officers who had been handling information reports...

  28. CHAPTER 21 A Summer of Torture
    (pp. 216-231)

    At dawn on Sunday, June 22, 1941, the Germans invaded the USSR. It would take Stalin, who had rejected as disinformation the scores of intelligence reports predicting the attack, several hours, even days, before he could bring himself to acknowledge war’s reality. He would never admit that Hitler had successfully deceived him. Much of his concern, as the Red Army suffered its tragic losses on the battlefields, would be to ensure that others, then in prison, who knew or suspected the truth of his culpability would never live to testify against him.

    Although the exact date and even the hour...

  29. CHAPTER 22 The Final Reckoning
    (pp. 232-244)

    Hindsight enables us to savor the final irony of the German invasion of the USSR in June 1941. It was a colossal blunder by Adolf Hitler that denied the Wehrmacht the capture of Moscow and preserved Stalin’s power. The Austrian corporal, whose ability to outfox Stalin resulted in the deaths of millions of Soviet citizens, demonstrated that he, like Stalin, suffered from delusions that condemned him to make wrong choices in the summer of 1941.

    By the end of July 1941, the city of Smolensk had been captured against very strong Soviet resistance. By mid-August, Army Group Center’s two panzer...

  30. Conclusion: Will the Future Be a Repeat of the Past?
    (pp. 245-252)

    The characterization of Stalin that emerges from this book is at variance with that advanced by many American, European, and Russian historians. It seems doubtful that Stalin’s foreign policy followed the conventional patterns of nineteenth-century diplomacy. Some have said that his August 1939 treaty with Nazi Germany, which succeeded in delaying German aggression for over a year, enabled Stalin to improve the USSR’s defensive posture somewhat. There were improvements, but Stalin hesitated until it was too late to take the steps urged on him by his military professionals. Actually, Stalin’s underlying motivation for the 1939 treaty was to render the...

  31. APPENDIX 1: Organization and Functions of Soviet Military Intelligence
    (pp. 253-255)
  32. APPENDIX 2: Hitler’s Letters to Stalin
    (pp. 256-258)
  33. APPENDIX 3: Those Executed without Trial on October 28, 1941
    (pp. 259-260)
  34. APPENDIX 4: Chronology of Agent Reporting
    (pp. 261-263)
  35. Glossary of Spies and Their Masters
    (pp. 264-274)
  36. Notes
    (pp. 275-300)
  37. Index
    (pp. 301-310)