Soldier and Citizen
The victory salutes thundered over Moscow, while the struggle continued at the front. Superficially the city showed little sign of the war. Anyone who had heard of the desperate air-battles over Moscow would have been amazed not to see any destruction that could be attributed to bombing. In Gorky Street only one house had been destroyed by bombs. I passed by the ruins more than once without even noticing them. Boards, painted like a gigantic film set, concealed them from the eyes of passers-by. Bomb damage generally was rare, and there was nothing in the nature of planned strafing from the air.
The same was true of Leningrad. The Leningrad houses were pitted with shell-scars, practically all the wooden houses in the suburbs were pulled down and used for fuel by the people themselves during the blockade. But in Leningrad, too, there were no extensive signs of bomb damage.
In Moscow there were many who wondered whether it really was not possible for the Germans to drop at least one or two bombs on the Kremlin. Just as a joke, to put the wind up its residents! It could not have done any harm, for a bomb-proof shelter had been built for the government in the nearest Underground Station, Kirovskaya, and it was connected with the Kremlin by an under-ground passage. The Moscow people firmly believed that the shelter had been constructed long before the outbreak of war. In 1942 the government was evacuated to Kuibishev, but the news-papers proudly emphasized that Stalin himself was remaining in Moscow. Of course the Muscovites added that a tunnel was hurriedly being constructed all the way from Moscow to the Volga town.
By 1944 the majority of the government departments had returned to Moscow, and the city throbbed with a bustling, almost peace-time activity. The barrage balloons sent up for the defence of Moscow every evening seemed an obsolete procedure. The chief sign that the war was still going on was the great number of uniforms to be seen in the streets. There were more uniformed people than civilians.
The Moscow command had very strong patrols in the city, and they not only checked documents, but saw to it that uniforms were scrupulously neat and boots and buttons polished. The patrol posted at the escalators of the Baumanskaya Underground station were rather worried about the swaggering fellows in uniform who had been using this station regularly for some time past. They wore the normal soldier’s shoulder-straps, but the red ground was edged by a very unusual gold piping. And almost all of them wore new officers’ coats of green English cloth. In addition, they had new Russian leather boots which were the object of the patrol’s envy, officers’ swordbelts with a red star and swordknot, and fur caps dashingly worn over one ear. Even these caps were not of the usual lambswool, but of grey caracoul. To crown everything, many of these foppish soldiers carried document-cases. In the army the function of the hands is to extend down the seams of trousers or to salute, not to carry document-cases.
At first the military patrols were dumbfounded at such disregard of all the army regulations. Then, licking their lips at the thought of having such a rich booty in the guardhouse, they asked these youngsters to show their documents. When they presented crimson personal identity cards bearing the State escutcheon and the words ’Military College’ in gold lettering the patrols involuntarily saluted these extraordinary soldiers and shrugged their shoulders helplessly: ’Soldiers’ tabs and officers’ documents!’
Not all the students in the first course were officers. When the son of some Moscow proletarian leader was called up the leader phoned the head of the college. General Biyasi: “Nikolai Nikolaich! How’s things? I’m sending my son along to see you today. Have a chat with him.” That was one way of doing your military service, even in wartime, without leaving your hearth and home, and with the opportunity of learning a valuable profession into the bargain. Unlike the students of other colleges we did not have to live in barracks, but could occupy private dwellings. As each student successfully completed each course he was advanced in rank.
At the end of the first course an ordinary soldier became an officer, and a first lieutenant a captain. In this way a man who held no officer’s rank at all when he entered the college could leave it with a captain’s commission. On the other hand, a captain might have to start in the first course. The important thing was not one’s rank, but the faculty and course which one was attending. The members of a first course waited in a queue until it was their turn to enter the dining hall, but members of other courses walked in without having to queue. The members of the fourth course enjoyed many privileges and liberties. They could even take their rations home, a right that even officers on the teaching staff did not possess.
In my time there were only eight students altogether in the fourth course of the German Department of the Western Faculty. They had been drawn from all over the U. S. S. R., and most of them had attended a university before. Their knowledge was of a very high standard, but so were the demands made of them by the college curriculum. They had to work hard and intensively. In addition to taking the normal subjects of the fourth course they had to get through the so-called ’special subjects’ of preceding courses, for instance, ’army service regulations’, ’army equipment’, ’army organization’, and ’army special training’. The discreet phrase ’special training’ connoted secret service and defence. And, of course, the ’army’ covered by the German Department was not the Soviet, but the German force. Outside his own special province, no Soviet officer knew as much about the Red Army as a student in our college had to know about all the formations of his ’army’, whether German, British, or other army covered by his particular department.
For study of the special subjects the educational material provided usually consisted of handwritten matter or the service regulations of the respective army. It was forbidden to take notes on subjects which had to be kept very secret, and those concerned with the immediate past. But duplicated and carefully numbered rough notes could be obtained on these subjects, against the student’s signature and deposit of his personal documents. But these notes could be used only in the hall set apart for the purpose. The contents of these rough notes were always kept up to date, they were never more than a month old. The information covered not only the actual position at the moment, but even matters that were only in the planning or preliminary stage. Frequently photo-copies of the original documents were attached to the notes. The quality of the photograph indicated whether the document had been photographed legally, so to speak, or whether it had been done in rather less convenient and normal conditions. Sometimes one could tell quite easily that it had been taken with a micro-film camera. Such cameras can be built into a button, into the fastener of a lady’s handbag, etc.
We in the German Department were taught some very interesting things. We had to study the medieval originals of literature in Gothic and old High-German, languages which would completely baffle a twentieth-century German. From the manner in which a man pronounced the words gebratene Gans we had to determine exactly where he came from, to within a few kilometres. We had to know the local food and drink of the various parts of Germany, how the people in various districts dressed and what were their characteristic habits. We had to know the smallest detail of the distinctive features of each national group, and learned to distinguish any faded German wine label with absolute certainty. We were told which of the German national groups cannot stand one another, and why; and what were their usual terms of abuse for one another. We were shown the historical genesis of all the present and past political and economic, ideological and religious antagonisms inside the German nation.
The history of the Communist Party of Germany as we learnt it was very different from that to be found in the usual handbooks. The lecturer usually referred to the Party by the phrase ’our potential’ or other, more precise terms, but one might listen to a two-hour lecture without hearing the words ’communist party’ at all. These lectures would have been of great interest especially to German communists. Many of them honestly believe they are fighting for a better Germany. A political movement is to some extent only a trap for the credulous. Of course the leaders, who are in touch with the Comintern, are better informed on this delicate question.
Once one of our students asked the lecturer: “Why don’t we get any communist come-overs from Germany these days?”
“Think it over and you’ll find the answer for yourself,” the lecturer answered. “I can’t waste the other students’ time in giving explanations of such an elementary matter. We don’t want any come-overs. They’re much more use to us when they work outside.”
In addition to lecturing at our college, this lecturer was an in-structor at the Red Army Secret Service High School, his subject being ’Underground work in the rear’.
Despite what he said, if the issue be examined more closely certain questions remain unanswered. What has happened to the enormous German Communist Party? Germany was the first world power to enter into commercial and friendly relations with Soviet Russia. She had the strongest Communist Party and the most clearly defined industrial proletariat in all Europe, and for us Russians they were the shining example of proletarian consciousness and solidarity. At one time communism had struck its roots deep into the souls of the Germans. It had been regarded as axiomatic that Germany would be the next link in the chain of world revolution. Thalmann’s cap was as familiar to us as Karl Marx’s beard. And now...
Now the Germans were fighting like devils, and our propaganda had thrown overboard all the principles of class approach. Instead, all Germans were branded as fascists and all we were expected to do was: ’Kill the Germans!’ Hitler couldn’t have thrown all the com-munists in Germany into concentration camps. Even our propaganda did not go so far as to say that. And yet Nazism seemed to be growing stronger and stronger among them. So what had happened to the communist consciousness, the proletarian solidarity, the class struggle, and so on?
After a time our college transferred to new accommodation in a building right opposite the Stalin Academy for the Mechanization and Motorization of the Red Army, in Lefortovo Street. Under the old regime the building had been a Junker school; then it had be-come an artillery school. The place was rather uncomfortable, it stank of a barracks. On the other hand, this removal solved one of the most important problems of our command: now we were all under one roof, behind one fence. There was a parade ground in the middle, and a guardhouse somewhere in the background.
In those autumn days of 1944 one often saw an edifying sight: students sauntering about the courtyard under the guard of other students. The prisoners had been relieved of their sword-straps and tabs, and they carried brooms and spades. With perfect equanimity they swept up the leaves that the autumn wind sent flying from the trees. The work was about as productive as bailing out water with a sieve. But the prisoners didn’t worry about that. Midday was still a long way off and life was boring in the clink.
Other students did their best to cheer up the prisoners. “What Kolya, you in again? What heroic deed have you done this time? How long have you got?” Others stopped to stare at one of the generals’ sons among the prisoners. A very piquant situation: the father a general and the son collecting cigarette-butts under the eyes of a guard!
The victims were usually first course students, many of whom were not yet accustomed to army discipline. Their punishment con-sisted mainly of sweeping up the leaves and collecting cigarette-butts. This was the method used to purge them of any desire for indepen-dent thought and to drill into them unquestioning submission to orders. Someone at some time or other had carefully carved the words on the door of the guardhouse: “I’ll teach you to love freedom!”
This phrase was fashionable in the army about this time. Generals shouted it at the officers when they came upon signs of indiscipline during inspections. Sergeants shouted it into the faces of recruits, usually garnishing it with strong language and emphasizing it with blows of the fist.
To this phrase there was one mysterious, but eloquent answer: ’Till the first battle...’ There is good reason for the change made in the new service regulations, as the result of which officers march, not at the head of their unit, but in the rear.
Many of us officers were genuinely angry at the methods used to train reserve soldiers before transferring them to the front. They were drilled almost entirely in the manner of the parade ground; they learned to react to the orders ’right’ and ’left’, to salute their officers in the regulation style, to march in close order, etc. All through their training they used only dummy weapons, and they often reached the front without having fired a single shot from a rifle or other arm. The men themselves grumbled about this at first, but then they got used to it and submitted. This sort of thing often had its origin in local circumstances, but the general direction came from above and had a deeper significance.
For the outcome of a war it is of no importance whether one man falls or another. But it is important that he should obey orders. And that is a decisive factor in training.
The winter passed. I gradually got used again to study, and made acquaintances. I don’t remember how I first got to know Lieutenant Belyavsky. Some thirty-one years old, lean and upright, he seemed to possess an imperturbable calm and unconcern. But in reality he was very passionate by nature, and capable of great enthusiasms. At one time he had studied at the Leningrad University, and then had taken special courses preparatory to work abroad. He was master of several languages. During the Spanish civil war he was sent to Spain, and for some time passed as a Spaniard. For some mysterious reason he had remained with the rank of lieutenant for nearly ten years, whereas all his former Spanish comrades had by now achieved much higher rank and responsible service posts.
He had a great love of the theatre, and brought tickets for all the Moscow first nights a month in advance. I sometimes thought he suffered from the spiritual malaise which affects so many Leningrad people, and that he turned to the theatre for temporary oblivion. For he had gone right through the worst period of the Leningrad blockade, and you could never get him to say a word about those days.
All the college knew Valentina Grinchuk, generally and affectionately called Valia for short. While fighting with partisans she had been seriously wounded, had been brought out by air, and sent to a hospital just outside Moscow. On her recovery she was sent to our college to study. She looked like a child; her head reached no higher than my waist. In all the warehouses of the Moscow military district not one pair of boots could be found to fit her, so a pair had to be made to measure for her, on a children’s last. Yet few of our students could wear so many decorations, genuine battle orders, as that child. They were in such contrast to her clear, childishly innocent face that one could not help looking round as she passed. Even officers of superior rank to her involuntarily saluted her first.
Before the war she had been a fourteen-year-old girl, running barefoot through her forest village to take a bucket to the well. She had had no idea who Hitler and what Germany were. Then one fine June morning the war violated the peace of her childlike heart. The Germans occupied her village; in the first intoxication of easy victory they did as they liked in the new ’eastern space’. With a child’s instinct she began to hate these strange men in grey-green uniform.
By chance she happened to come into contact with the members of a regular partisan unit which had been detached from the Red Army for operations in the German rear. At first they used her as a scout. It never occurred to the Germans that this straight-haired, skinny little girl, who looked no more than twelve years old, could be in touch with the dangerous partisan movement. Soon after this, she was left an orphan, and she went off to join the partisans. She acted as machine-gunner, saboteur, and sniper, she volunteered for long treks as a liaison, she carried out highly dangerous acts of es-pionage. Many a German who thought of her as only a child had to pay for his negligence with his life. She had no real knowledge of life, and possibly for that reason she looked death fearlessly in the face; her soul was steeled in the fight.
Just one thing was lacking in her-she never smiled. She had no knowledge of laughter, happiness, and joy. The war had robbed her of her chance of knowing the brighter aspect of life.
Now she was an attractive girl of eighteen, attending a privileged Moscow college. Her contemporaries were still attending school, but this child wore the insignia of a first lieutenant, she had spent years in fighting, her officer’s tunic carried rows of active service decorations and gold and silver wound stripes.
A flying officer, a second-course student, once invited Valia to go to a concert with him, and she readily agreed. Nobody knows exactly what happened that evening. It was only known that he tried to treat Valia as he thought girls who had fought at the front were used to being treated. Officers who had not themselves been at the front were always making this sort of mistake. When Valia sharply told him where he got off he shouted at her in a rage: “Everybody knows how you got all those orders! You’re all...”
A little later he was found lying in the street with a head wound inflicted by a pistol butt.
When the head of the college, General Biyasi, sent for Valia and demanded an explanation she curtly answered: “He can think him-self lucky he got off with his life.” The general did not know what to say to that, and only ordered Valia to hand over her pistol. But after that even the most presumptuous critics of front-line women fighters treated her with respect.
February 1945. The German counter-offensive in the Ardennes was drowned in its own blood. The Allied invasion armies were preparing to leap over the Rhine and break through the notorious Siegfried Line. After prolonged preparations our troops on the Oder had gone over to the offensive, had broken the resistance of the East Wall and had enlarged the bridgehead, ready for the last blow against the heart of Germany. The war was nearing its end.
Strange to say, conditions in Moscow had improved a little by comparison with the previous years; possibly the difficulties had been stabilized and the people had grown accustomed to them; possibly the successes at the front and the hope of a speedy end to the war made it easier to endure the difficulties. In the army and all over the country there was a clear improvement in morale. A miracle had been achieved: instead of being exhausted by the long years of war, the army was technically and morally stronger. Towards the end it was using a vast number of planes, tanks, automatic weapons, munitions, and equipment; in other words, it now had all that was so disastrously lacking at the beginning. That was difficult to under-stand, and many of us racked our brains over the problem.
It would be naive to assume that this miracle was due solely to our military efforts and the moral transformation that had occurred in the nation’s soul during the war; nor could it be ascribed simply and solely to Allied aid. For one thing, by the end of the war the Soviet war industry potential was lower than at its beginning. The moral factor played a great part, especially when one remembers that at the beginning it completely failed to come up to the Kremlin’s expectations; but then, as the result of skilful internal propaganda and the enemy’s mistakes, it was brought up to specification again. The military aid provided by the Allies was enormous; it greatly lightened the burden of the Russian soldiers and the Russian people, it made up for many defects in the Kremlin’s military apparatus, and shortened the war. But not one of these factors determined the out-come of the war.
War is like chess, it is susceptible of innumerable variations. The single moves may change in accordance with circumstances, but the game as such is determined from the beginning by the funda-mental strategy of the players. In this war the Kremlin developed a strategy that at first deliberately resorted to a gambit opening, in order that reserves could be thrown in at a later stage with all the greater force. This quite clearly occurred during the final phase.
We students of the college often discussed the ’three stages’. While we were of various opinions in regard to details, fundamentally we were in complete agreement as to the general interpretation of our war strategy. These discussions had their origin in the very restricted circle of the Kremlin and Red Army general staff milieus. There was good reason for the fact that our college was secretly known as the ’Kremlin college’; not for nothing did many of our students have their ’papas’ on the General Staff. In the college one learned a great deal which was quite unsuspected by the ordinary soldier.
It is very significant that all who took part in such discussions emphasised that they paid no attention to the official statements and rumours. Many ’rumours’ were deliberately put into circulation by the ’rumour-mongers’ of the Narcomvnudel. The Kremlin made use not only of an official propaganda machine in the form of the press and radio, but also of a remarkably efficient network of ’rumour-mongers’ organized by the Narcomvnudel, with the task of systematically leading the people into error in the direction the Kremlin desired. It need hardly be said that the Kremlin never publicly ad-mitted adoption of the gambit strategy known as the ’three stages’.
According to this interpretation, the story of the war can be divided into three stages, or phases. The first phase began the day the Soviet-German Pact of Friendship was signed. The following day, in September 1939, I was to start my course of training in practical work at the Rostov Agricultural Machinery Works (Rostselmash), the largest producer of agricultural machinery not only in the Soviet Union, but in all Europe. When I went to the reaper-combine department, to which I was assigned, I was struck by a remarkable sight.
The most important feature of this shop was the U-shaped conveyor belt, on which the combines were assembled. The conveyor was mounted on the floor, and each combine was fastened to a hook rising from the belt, so travelling round the shop. But now the con-veyor was at a standstill, the combines stood motionless, half assembled. And literally every square yard of space between the conveyor belt and the workmen’s benches was packed with a new production line: thousands of munitions chests for anti-tank guns. They had been made overnight, after the conclusion of the Pact of Friendship. A similar sight was to be seen in all the other shops.
On the day the Pact of Friendship was signed with Germany tele-graphed orders were sent out from Moscow to put into operation a secret mobilization plan; this plan had been kept in the safe of the secret department attached to every Soviet factory and works. During all the three months I worked at Rostselmash every shop, all of which in normal times were concerned only with production for peaceful purposes, was engaged in turning out military material. Not only that, but from the very first day of the works’ existence so-called ’special departments’ had worked uninterruptedly on orders connected with the production of military weapons.
In the course of my work I frequently had to visit the goods yards in Rostov station, and could not help seeing the endless trains loaded with armaments which were being produced by the Rostov industries which had been engaged in peacetime production. I must make it clear that I am not referring to the normal armaments works, each of which had its own railway lines, and whose production did not come under public notice.
If one may digress into the field of political economy, the Soviet industry engaged in producing means of production could be analysed into two basic categories: the armaments industry as such, pro-ducing exclusively military material; and the other industries, which can be described as industries for peace production, but which, even at the time of their inauguration, were so planned that they could be turned over to armaments production in a moment. It is very difficult to draw the line between the two categories. Machinery construction appears at first sight to be a peace industry, but ninety per cent of the machinery produced goes to equip arma-ments works. And in September 1989 even this second category, which hitherto had been working, within limits, on the production of consumer goods, was geared wholly and completely to the mobilization plan, and from then on worked exclusively for war purposes.
Like myself, the other students of our Industry Institute had to undergo practical training, being sent to hundreds of the larger works all over the Soviet Union. They all reported the same picture everywhere. The open preparations for war were obvious, even in September 1939. The only uncertainty was: whom was this war to be waged against? There were many who rather assumed that the Kremlin had decided to join with Germany in sharing out the world. The events in Finland, the Baltic States and Bessarabia, which followed soon after the Pact, seemed to confirm this view. In any case the Kremlin had already decided that the time had arrived for an active solution of the foreign policy problems.
So the Kremlin prepared all its war machinery for the struggle. Friendship with Germany was made to serve the same end. U-boats bought in Ger-many arrived in Kronstadt, where the German distinguishing ’U’ was painted over with the Soviet letter for ’shch’, after which the Soviet naval men called them ’pike’, since the ’shch’ letter was the first letter in the Russian word for ’pike’ (shchuka). These U-boats served as prototypes for the Soviet dockyards to turn out ’pikes’ by the dozens. Later on battleships were ordered in Germany, but their arma-ments were to be supplied by the Kirov works in Leningrad, where they were to be mounted. But these battleships did not arrive in time.
At a certain moment in this ’friendship’ period-the historians could establish the exact date-unexpected changes occurred in the relations between the ’high contracting Parties’. Both the partners’ appetites had grown immensely. Apparently Hitler, intoxicated with his successes, now felt convinced that he could manage to eat all the cake himself, without the aid of his bewhiskered friend. Any Soviet General Staff officer would laugh outright if anyone were to tell him that Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union took the Kremlin by surprise. And with justice, for no other regime in the world is so well informed on the situation in neighbouring countries as is the Kremlin.
The myth of the unexpected ’perfidious attack’ was put out in order to justify the Kremlin’s mesalliance to the world. Weeks before the start of fighting on the Soviet-German front many citizens of the Soviet Union heard the British radio reporting the transfer of 170 German divisions to the eastern frontier of the Reich. And did the innocent children in the Kremlin have cottonwool in their ears?
Anyone who did not happen to hear the radio transmissions could draw his own conclusions from the official Tass dementi: ’The foreign press recently has contained provocative reports of a concentration of German forces on the Soviet frontier. From well informed sources Tass is authorized to state that these reports are completely un-grounded fabrications.’ The Soviet people knew Tass far too well not to know that the truth was exactly the opposite of this statement.
By the early spring of 1941 the Kremlin knew that war was in-evitable during the next few months. An extraordinary session of the Politbureau was held to draw up the basic decrees covering the strategy to be adopted in the event of a ’change in the situation’, i. e., in the event of war. A Defence Committee was set up at the same time, though its existence was made public only after the outbreak of war.
The Kremlin knew the power relationships perfectly, far better than did the German Supreme Command. Despite all the enormous war preparations it knew that Russia was at a disadvantage in this respect. The only hope of salvation lay in wearing down the enemy by means of a protracted war, in thorough exploitation of the country’s vast territory and her material and human reserves, and therefore in the application of the Kutuzov strategy adapted to the requirements of modern war. It was about this time that the Krem-lin decided on a gambit opening. This form of defence strategy was to cost the country dearly; it was completely contrary to the Krem-lin’s pre-war propaganda, which had always talked of a ’bloodless war on enemy soil’. Naturally these new plans could not be made public. They were the Kremlin’s deepest secret since the first days of the Politbureau.
Even at that stage the lines of retreat were foreseen and approxi-mately determined, the presumable losses and the available reserves were balanced against each other; even then Stalingrad was re-cognized to be the farthest point of retreat. They coldbloodedly worked out on paper operations involving tens of millions of human lives, and the results of the toil, sweat and blood of a whole generation. The members of the Politbureau could feel the ropes round their necks, it was a question of saving their own skins. The price...
Even at that stage the war was divided into phases, and it was calculated what must be held in reserve for the ’third phase’. All else, everything that did not seem to be required for the ’third phase’, was condemned to be sacrificed in the ’second phase’.
When the war broke out, men were sent to the front with old, quite unserviceable uniforms and weapons. Yet millions of sets of complete, modern equipment, armaments, and automatic weapons were lying, packed to resist the ravages of time, in scaled warehouses: these were predestined for the ’third phase’. When the Germans advanced more swiftly than the Kremlin plans had provided for, such stocks were destroyed or they fell into the hands of the enemy; but in no case were they distributed to the forces ahead of schedule.
In the ’second phase’ there was much that did not go according to the Kremlin plan. Most of all they erred in their estimation of the people’s moral state. The Russian people made it quite clear that they had no desire whatever to defend the Politbureau. The morale of the troops was much lower than expected, and so the loss in human material was much higher. In order to retrieve the situa-tion the Kremlin was compelled to resort to extraordinary measures and declare the war a national patriotic war for the fatherland.
The loss of territory was more or less in line with the ’plan’, but fulfilment of the ’territorial plan’ cost far more human lives than had been expected. The losses in material corresponded with the calculations; the forces thrown into defence received only out-of-date equipment and weapons; ’old stock’, planes and tanks of the most ancient type, were disposed of. This held good of the human material too. Sixty-year-old men, and women, were sacrificed to the ’defence phase’, while reserves for the ’third phase’, the ’offensive phase’, waited in the Far East for the day when they were to be thrown in.
At the critical moment a new and favourable factor came into the reckoning. The western democracies, who in the period of Stalin-Hitler friendship had been reviled as bitter enemies, were now, willy-nilly, the Soviet Union’s allies.
This was when the great game began. The Kremlin showed that, if it was not clever, it was at least cunning. Its aim was to spare its own reserves and to squeeze all the help possible out of the western democracies. And then, at the end, it would play its trump card, the reserves held in readiness for the ’third phase’, and the Russian bear would not only be left alive, but going forward to victory.
The farther the Red Army advanced westward during the third phase, the greater was the quantity of first-class equipment of Soviet production that reached the front. It was no secret to staff officers that in 1945 great masses of arms were thrown in, much of it bearing a pre-war production mark.
But since in the early stages the Kremlin had spared its man-power less than its material, toward the end of the war there was an acute shortage of soldiers. Moreover, the industries not regarded as of ’war importance’ were no longer able to fulfil the tasks set them, and so during the ’third phase’ there was a disastrous shortage of transport and other ’war-unimportant’ details, whereas Soviet-produced tanks and planes were available in adequate quantities. The majority of the military transport lorries and the like were of American production. The situation was still worse in regard to food. The food shortage was terrible. But, after all, that was nothing unusual in Soviet conditions. It was much more important to keep the war industry running at full speed.
Such was the theoretical explanation of the war successes put forward by Moscow military circles.
The Yalta conference came and went. After they had settled their military problems, the Big Three turned to the problem of restoring order in the world after the war.
In connection with the Yalta conference, ’high circles’ of the Kremlin openly talked of two attempts to enter into peace negotia-tions between Hitler and the Soviets. The first attempt to sound the ground for a separate peace on the eastern front was made by Hitler when the Red Army gained a foothold on the right bank of the Dnieper. The Kremlin was quite ready to talk, and stipulated that observance of the Soviet 1941 frontier was the most important prerequisite.
This shows how little the Kremlin then hoped for any great successes. Their only concern was to save their flayed hide from being worried any more. But Hitler still doubted whether the wheel of history had begun to turn to his disadvantage, and he demanded the Ukraine on the right bank of the Dnieper as his price. In this instance both the totalitarian opponents played with their cards on the table; at least they were more frank than they were with their democratic opposite numbers.
The second attempt to conclude a separate peace was made by Hitler when the noose was already round Germany’s neck, im-mediately before the Yalta conference. On the eve of Stalin’s departure for Yalta he had no hesitation in entering into preliminary negotiations with Hitler. Who would offer him more, Hitler or the democracies?
This time Hitler was asked to pay dearly for his immoderate demands in the earlier negotiations. Now the Kremlin no longer insisted simply on the retention of its pre-war frontiers; it required a free hand in the Balkans, possession of the Straits, and extensive concessions in the Near East. This time it was Hitler who was offered his former frontiers. Now the dream of world domination had come to birth in another brain. The policy of keeping trumps up the sleeve was justified; it brought not only salvation, but also the possibility of continuing the game.
Hitler flatly rejected the Kremlin’s conditions. To accept them would have been a moral defeat for him. He preferred to suffer both moral and physical defeat, and to drag his whole nation, his Reich, down into the pit with him.
The Yalta conference appeared to achieve complete unanimity among the partners. And then Stalin threw overboard all thoughts of a separate peace with Germany and concentrated all his attention on the diplomatic game with the western democracies. In the castle of Livadia he felt far more confident than he had been in Teheran. But even now he preferred not to make great demands, but to apply the tactic of squeezing out aid and concessions in exchange for promises and guarantees which he had no intention of keeping. It was still too early to show his strength. The Kremlin’s strength was only just beginning to develop, and the Kremlin itself had no clear idea of its immensity. It was best to gain time, and meanwhile get as much as possible in negotiations.
The western allies proved very complaisant. They were quite convinced that the Kremlin was not strong enough to overrun Europe, and that the ’coup de grace’ would be administered by them, while the Soviet bear would remain stranded somewhere on the frontier of Poland. They made many concessions in the belief that the Kremlin would not be in a position to take advantage of them.
Only the prudent and farsighted Churchill perceived the danger, hence his proposal to build up a second front in the Balkans and so protect Europe from the Red peril advancing from the East. The execution of this plan would have cost the Allies far more dearly than the invasion on the Atlantic seaboard, so its opponents won the day and it was decided to give the Soviet bear a further opportunity to burn its paws in pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for them.
The Soviet bear pulled out the chestnuts, but he put them into his own mouth, even while he went on complaining of his weakness in order to obtain further deliveries of commodities. Quite con-vinced that he was bleeding to death, the Western Allies readily threw him further milliards in the form of lend-lease deliveries, and the bear prudently locked them away in his store-room.
So the ’high contracting Parties’ shook one another’s hands and signed the communique, which at least one of them did not believe for one moment, having no intention of observing its terms. The communique was published, and all mankind, with the exception of the signatories, believed in it and were overjoyed. The future lay before us like a sunny May day, or like the blue sky above the Yalta shore. True, the only thing the ordinary Russian knew about current policy was that bread in Moscow cost fifty roubles a kilogramme.
I took the final course examinations in the middle of February 1945. As I was credited with several subjects which I had taken during my studies at other schools, I was set free ten days earlier than my colleagues. After much difficulty I succeeded in getting a week’s leave. I obtained an official ’order’ from the college, and an official travel voucher to correspond, and so was enabled to visit my home town in the south of Russia.
This trip was not a very cheerful one. The town gave me the same sort of impression as that conveyed by an autumn garden after a stormy night: bare boughs, leaves rustling underfoot, broken twigs. In my heart I felt desolation and emptiness.
Before the war Novocherkassk had been famous for its high-spirited youth. There were five higher educational institutions to its hundred thousand inhabitants, and students dominated the town. But now I walked along the main street from the station at twelve o’clock midday and met only a few wizened old women. The typical picture of the Soviet rear. I walked beneath the cool colon-nades of my alma mater. The pictures my memory conjured up out of the past seemed far finer than the present reality. But had the reality changed so much, or had my wanderings about the world led to my applying a different yardstick?
At the street corners women in rags were sitting, selling sun-flower seeds and home-made fruit drops. Just like 1923! Only now I had to give my little cousin a thirty-rouble note to buy the same quantity of seeds as five kopeks had bought in those days. The need, the poverty, were so hopeless, so completely without the least ray of light, that even the modest conditions of pre-war times seemed like a golden age. What we had thought wretchedness then passed for prosperity now.
As I left the station at Moscow and plunged into the midst of the great metropolis’s swirling hurry and activity, I felt as relieved as a man returning home from the cemetery. In Moscow there was an upsurge of hopeful life. But in all the rest of our vast country men were conscious only of the bony hand of hunger, they felt only utter hopelessness.
Now, after the German yoke had been thrown off, something much worse had taken its place: dread of a settle-ment of accounts. Men did not know what crime they had com-mitted, they knew only that there would be no escaping the reckon-ing. Enormous areas of the Soviet Union, and over half its popula-tion, had been under German occupation. And now, over every one of these people hovered the spectre of a reckoning for ’betrayal of the fatherland’.
At the end of February all the graduates of our course were sent to the front and attached to the active army; before taking their State examination they had to have a period of experience on active service. I was attached to the staff of the First Byelorussian Army.
During those days the divisions of the First Byelorussian and the First Ukrainian Armies were fighting desperately to overcome the latest achievements of German fortifications technique. After breaking through the East Wall a fight began to enlarge the Oder bridgehead. Inspired by their successes, the Soviet troops were burning to tear on into the heart of Hitler’s Germany, on to Berlin.
Towards the end of April, just as the street battles in Berlin had reached their height, I was unexpectedly recalled to Moscow.