Stalin's Missed Chance
Stalin's Missed Chance is a study by Russian military historian
Military history
Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships....

 Mikhail Ivanovich Meltyukhov, author of several books and articles on Soviet military history
Military history of the Soviet Union
The military history of the Soviet Union began in the days following the 1917 October Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power. The new government formed the Red Army to fight various enemies in the Russian Civil War. The years 1918-1921 saw Red Army's defeats in Polish-Soviet war and...


Stalin's Missed Chance covers a theory of planned Soviet invasion
Soviet offensive plans controversy
The Soviet offensive plans controversy refers to the debate among historians on the question of whether Joseph Stalin was planning to invade Germany prior to Operation Barbarossa.-Background:...

 raised by Viktor Suvorov
Viktor Suvorov
Viktor Suvorov is the pen name for Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun , a former Soviet and now British writer of Russian and Ukrainian descent who writes primarily in Russian, as well as a former Soviet military intelligence spy who defected to the UK...

, author of highly controversial books such as Icebreaker
Icebreaker (Suvorov)
Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War?, by Viktor Suvorov is a 1987 documentary book, which alleges that World War II started as a result of Joseph Stalin's ploy to "liberate" the working class of Europe and eventually the whole world.-Suvorov's thesis:Suvorov challenges the widely-accepted...

. Unlike Suvorov's works, Meltyukhov's book is based on archive materials, some of which were until recently classified. Contrary to many Western scholars (David Glantz
David Glantz
David M. Glantz is an American military historian and the editor of the Journal of Slavic Military Studies....

, John D. Erickson
John Erickson (historian)
John Erickson was a British historian who wrote extensively on the Second World War...

, Richard Overy
Richard Overy
Richard Overy is a British historian who has published extensively on the history of World War II and the Third Reich. In 2007 as The Times editor of Complete History of the World he chose the 50 key dates of world history....

 and others), Mikhail Meltyukhov concurs with Suvorov's claim that Stalin and the Soviet military leadership had planned an offensive against Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 in 1941.

Meltyukhov rejects, however, Suvorov's claims that the German assault (Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

) was a pre-emptive strike
Pre-Emptive Strike
Pre-Emptive Strike is the first release by Five Finger Death Punch on July 10, 2007. It was only released as a digital download to the American iTunes Music Store. The live version of "The Devil's Own" was recorded at a performance in Las Vegas, Nevada....

: Meltyukhov affirms both sides had been preparing to invade the other, but neither believed the possibility of the other side's strike.

Stalin's Missed Chance is an extensive study of archive sources, often quoting and summarizing wartime records of the Red Army and the Soviet Union. The book also draws on a legion of published primary sources from the years 1939 to 1941.

On the eve of World War II

According to Meltyukhov, Russia had lost its position as a Great Power during the revolution and the breakup of its empire. The Soviet leadership had the option either to accept the regional status of the USSR or to become a Great Power once again. Having decided for the latter, the Soviet leadership used Communist ideology (the Comintern
The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern, also known as the Third International, was an international communist organization initiated in Moscow during March 1919...

, the idea of world revolution
World revolution
World revolution is the Marxist concept of overthrowing capitalism in all countries through the conscious revolutionary action of the organized working class...

 etc.) to strengthen its position. The key objective was to exclude a possible alliance of Capitalist
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

 countries. Although diplomatic relationships had been established with the capitalist countries, the USSR was not accepted as an equal partner.

That changed, however, in the course of the political crisis of 1939, when two military and political blocs were formed: Anglo
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

, both of which were interested in an agreement with the USSR. Moscow then had the opportunity to choose with whom and under what conditions to negotiate.

The basic aim was to retain neutrality, and after the weakening of both belligerent sides, to emerge as the decisive factor in ensuring victory for one side. Thus, "the USSR succeeded in staying out of the European war, after obtaining in this case a significant free hand in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

, wider space to maneuver in its own interests between the belligerent sides ."

During the years 1939 and 1940, the USSR annexed several Eastern European countries and territories. The Kremlin
A kremlin , same root as in kremen is a major fortified central complex found in historic Russian cities. This word is often used to refer to the best-known one, the Moscow Kremlin, or metonymically to the government that is based there...

 viewed Germany as a force capable of weakening the positions of Great Britain and shaking the capitalist order. And "then at the suitable moment the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 could have destroyed Germany and would have freed Europe both from fascism
Fascism is a radical authoritarian nationalist political ideology. Fascists seek to rejuvenate their nation based on commitment to the national community as an organic entity, in which individuals are bound together in national identity by suprapersonal connections of ancestry, culture, and blood...

 and from "rotten capitalism.""

As for Soviet-German relationship during 1940, Meltyukhov points out that although both sides had the common goal of weakening Britain and negotiations were held in November 1940, an actual military alliance was never realised, for Soviets would have had to leave the whole continent to the German-Italian sphere of influence, i.e., relegating the Soviets to a second-rate role in the world matters.

The new phase

From that time on, it became clear that Germany was the main obstacle for Soviet penetration into Europe, and the relationship between the two entered a new phase. Both sides began preparing for the conflict.

The USSR took steps to normalize relations with the Western governments (including French leaders). These negotiations intensified as rumours spread about a possible Soviet-German military conflict. In June 1941, the Soviets proposed negotiations with Germany, which could have deceived the Germans and provided justification for an assault should the talks break down.

From the beginning of 1941, measures were taken for increased combat readiness in the Western boundary districts, a large part of which was to be completed by July 1. The Soviet economy approached war footing and the country had prepared for troop mobilization since 1939.

According to Meltyukhov, the material resources and system of mobilization ensured the development of the army. He claims the Red Army considerably exceeded the German army in the quantity of armaments and combat materials (Meltyukhov 2000:497). By saying that, he rejects David Glantz' work, which portrays the Soviet army as seriously unprepared for war.

Soviet and German offensive plans

As Meltyukhov asserts with his study, the General Staff of the Red Army had already begun developing a plan for an assault on Germany in October 1939. This process intensified in March 1940, and at least four different versions of the plan were developed throughout 1940 and 1941. The concentration of troops was disguised as maneuvers; in May/June 1941 the preparation for a Soviet invasion of Germany reached the final stage, as the full-scale concentration of troops began.

It is worth mentioning that the draft plan from March 11, 1941 demanded to "start the offensive [on] 12.6.", which in Meltyukhov's opinion should refute Gorodetsky's affirmation that the draft assumed defensive strategy. As it is known, the precise date of the outbreak of war is determined by the side which plans to strike first. Thus, the author thinks that the idea that the Red Army must strike first (clearly formulated in Zhukov's plan from May 15, 1941) was in a concealed form already present in all the previous drafts.

As for the usual suggestions that the Red Army was preparing a counteroffensive, a possible Wehrmacht invasion is suggested in plans cited by Meltyukhov, but with obvious lack of depth: the estimation of the enemy's intentions, with exception of the possible direction of the main attack, did not undergo substantial changes. Furthermore, Meltyukhov claims those plans did not proceed from factual data and two possible Wehrmacht assault directions (Southern version, through Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

 and Northern version, through Lithuania and Latvia, the latter being abandoned later) were taken into consideration, while an assault on Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

 was excluded without any reason. Thus, one might wonder if this was merely guess-work. Aleksandr Vasilevsky
Aleksandr Vasilevsky
Aleksandr Mikhaylovich Vasilevsky was a Russian career officer in the Red Army, promoted to Marshal of the Soviet Union in 1943. He was the Chief of the General Staff of the Soviet Armed Forces and Deputy Minister of Defense during World War II, as well as Minister of Defense from 1949 to 1953...

 has recalled himself that there was no straight answer to the probability of a German invasion, nor was a possible timing discussed. This fact and the absence of a connection between a possible strike by the enemy and the actions of the Red Army makes the suggestion of a 'counter-strike strategy' very implausible to Meltyukhov.

On the other hand, the concentration of Red Army on the borders was elaborated throughout different plans (Meltyukhov reports five different versions) and went through substantial changes. As also indicated by M. A. Gareyev, who is himself skeptical of the Soviet strike thesis, "the direction of the concentration of basic efforts by Soviet command was chosen not in the interests of the strategic defensive operation (this operation was simply not provided and was not planned), and conformably entirely to other methods of operations."

Military actions would have begun with the surprise blow by the Soviet Air Force on the airfields of Eastern Prussia
East Prussia
East Prussia is the main part of the region of Prussia along the southeastern Baltic Coast from the 13th century to the end of World War II in May 1945. From 1772–1829 and 1878–1945, the Province of East Prussia was part of the German state of Prussia. The capital city was Königsberg.East Prussia...

, Poland and Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

. The overall Soviet superiority in aviation would have made it possible to subject German airfields in a 250 km-deep border zone to continuous airstrikes, which would have led to a significant weakening of the enemy and would have facilitated Red Army ground forces operations. The ground forces were supposed to have two major strike directions: one striking towards Eastern Prussia and Poland and the other into Romania in the South.

The basic idea of Soviet military planning consisted in the fact that the Red Army was to concentrate near the border under the disguise of maneuvers and to go over into a sudden, decisive attack. "The absence of any references to the possible defensive operations of the Red Army shows that the discussion was not about the preparation for a pre-emptive strike but for the assault on Germany and its allies. This idea is clearly expressed in the document of May 15, 1941, by which the Red Army was to be guided in the beginning of war." Meltyukhov suggests that the assault on Germany was initially planned to take place on June 12, 1941, but was postponed because the Soviet leadership feared an Anglo-German reconciliation against the Soviet Union after the flight of Rudolf Hess
Rudolf Hess
Rudolf Walter Richard Hess was a prominent Nazi politician who was Adolf Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party during the 1930s and early 1940s...

 on May 12, 1941.

The basis for this assumption is revealed by Molotov's recollection 40 years later in a conversation with Russian journalist Ivan Stadnyuk: "I don't remember all the motives for cancelling this decision, but it seems to me that Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess' flight to England played the main role there. The NKVD
The People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs was the public and secret police organization of the Soviet Union that directly executed the rule of power of the Soviets, including political repression, during the era of Joseph Stalin....

 reconnaissance reported to us, that Hess on behalf of Hitler had proposed Great Britain to conclude peace and to participate in the military march against the USSR... If we at this time would have unleashed ourselves a war against Germany, would have moved forces to Europe, then England could have entered the alliance with Germany without any delay... And not only England. We could have been face to face with the entire capitalist world".

Meltyukhov believes that "the question about the new period of the completion of war build-up was solved on May 24, 1941, at the secret conference of military-political leadership at the Kremlin. Now accessible sources show that the full concentration and the development of the Red Army on Soviet Western districts was to be completed by July 15, 1941. The rate of the concentration of the Red Army on the Western borders was increased. Together with the transfer of 77 divisions of the second strategic echelon, from June 12 to June 16, 1941, began the re-dislocation of troops of the second echelon of armies and reserves of the military districts near the Western boundary.

As for German offensive plans, Meltyukhov points out that the German leadership hoped for a rapid crushing defeat of the USSR which would have given Germany necessary resources for victory in a long war with England, and maybe the USA. Hitler's idea could thus be characterised as striving for a victory in the East for the purpose of winning the war against the West.

Therefore, Meltyukhov claims, the explanations by Nazi leaders of a pre-emptive strike against the Soviet Union were groundless, since Hitler had regarded the concentration of Soviet troops as merely defensive. Operation Barbarossa was scheduled a long time before, and Hitler hadn't really comprehended the Soviet invasion threat. The concentration of Soviet troops was interpreted as a defensive reaction to the discovered Wehrmacht
The Wehrmacht – from , to defend and , the might/power) were the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer , the Kriegsmarine and the Luftwaffe .-Origin and use of the term:...

 deployment. With regards to the failure of the Soviet leadership to comprehend the German threat, Stalin hadn’t believed Hitler was going to invade and risk war on two fronts.

What is more, it is believed that Stalin was expecting a German ultimatum and thus the Soviets evaluated the concentration of troops as a means of pressure.

Had the Soviet assault taken place

Meltyukhov asks the hypothetical question: what would have happened if the Soviets had carried out their initial plan and begun the invasion on June 12, 1941? By that time, German troops had completed preparations for Operation Barbarossa and concentrated themselves on the Soviet boundaries, where in the strip from the Baltic Sea
Baltic Sea
The Baltic Sea is a brackish mediterranean sea located in Northern Europe, from 53°N to 66°N latitude and from 20°E to 26°E longitude. It is bounded by the Scandinavian Peninsula, the mainland of Europe, and the Danish islands. It drains into the Kattegat by way of the Øresund, the Great Belt and...

 to the Black Sea
Black Sea
The Black Sea is bounded by Europe, Anatolia and the Caucasus and is ultimately connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Mediterranean and the Aegean seas and various straits. The Bosphorus strait connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and the strait of the Dardanelles connects that sea to the Aegean...

 it had already gathered 81.6% out of the divisions which the Wehrmacht would have on June 21. The remaining troops were in motion and the Luftwaffe
Luftwaffe is a generic German term for an air force. It is also the official name for two of the four historic German air forces, the Wehrmacht air arm founded in 1935 and disbanded in 1946; and the current Bundeswehr air arm founded in 1956....

 had completed re-dislocation after the Balkan campaign, but the "Wehrmacht had neither defensive nor offensive groups [yet], and a Soviet attack at this moment would have placed it in a very complicated position and made it possible [for the Red Army] to tear its forces apart.". For Soviet troops concentration, see

The situation at the border strip from Ostrołęka to the Carpathians
Carpathian Mountains
The Carpathian Mountains or Carpathians are a range of mountains forming an arc roughly long across Central and Eastern Europe, making them the second-longest mountain range in Europe...

 is shown in the table
Red Army German Army (inc allies) Relation
Divisions 128 55 2.3 : 1
Personnel 3,400,000 1,400,000 2.1 : 1
Artillery 38,500 16,300 2.4 : 1
Tanks 7,500 900 8.7 : 1
Aircraft 6,200 1,400 4.4 : 1

It is important to point out, however, that this table ignores powerful German forces positioned north of Ostroleka, who could have interfered with the Soviet plan. These included the whole of Army Group North
Army Group North
Army Group North was a German strategic echelon formation commanding a grouping of Field Armies subordinated to the OKH during World War II. The army group coordinated the operations of attached separate army corps, reserve formations, rear services and logistics.- Formation :The Army Group North...

 with the Sixteenth Army, the Eighteenth Army, and Fourth Panzer Army, as well as Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre
Army Group Centre was the name of two distinct German strategic army groups that fought on the Eastern Front in World War II. The first Army Group Centre was created on 22 June 1941, as one of three German Army formations assigned to the invasion of the Soviet Union...

's Ninth Army and the Third Panzer Army to the North of Lomzha.

According to estimations by B. Sokolov, on the basis of Georgy Zhukov
Georgy Zhukov
Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov , was a Russian career officer in the Red Army who, in the course of World War II, played a pivotal role in leading the Red Army through much of Eastern Europe to liberate the Soviet Union and other nations from the Axis Powers' occupation...

's proposal from May 15, 1941, 152 Soviet divisions had to break 100 German divisions as the main attack was provided for the South-Western Front in the direction of Kraków
Kraków also Krakow, or Cracow , is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland. Situated on the Vistula River in the Lesser Poland region, the city dates back to the 7th century. Kraków has traditionally been one of the leading centres of Polish academic, cultural, and artistic life...

, Katowice
Katowice is a city in Silesia in southern Poland, on the Kłodnica and Rawa rivers . Katowice is located in the Silesian Highlands, about north of the Silesian Beskids and about southeast of the Sudetes Mountains.It is the central district of the Upper Silesian Metropolis, with a population of 2...

Meltyukhov believes that the Western leaders would have approved the Soviet strike, for it was difficult for Great Britain to win the war alone and the British had already done everything within their means to convince the Soviets to take a less benevolent attitude towards Germany.

In a telegram to President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt , also known by his initials, FDR, was the 32nd President of the United States and a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the United States during a time of worldwide economic crisis and world war...

 from June 15, 1941, British Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is the Head of Her Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister and Cabinet are collectively accountable for their policies and actions to the Sovereign, to Parliament, to their political party and...

 Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, was a predominantly Conservative British politician and statesman known for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the Second World War. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the century and served as Prime Minister twice...

 suggested providing the Soviets with every possible assistance in case a war between Germany and the USSR broke out. Roosevelt accepted this proposal without reserve on June 21. (Meltyukhov 2000:507-8)

Taking everything into account, Meltyukhov claims that though an "offensive by the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 would not have led to the immediate solution on the outcome of war, […] the Red Army could have been in Berlin no later than in 1942, which would have made it possible to gain much greater territory in Europe under the control of Moscow, than it really did in 1945." (Meltyukhov 2000:506)

Reception in the West

Due to the remarkable thoroughness and important subject matter the work received many reviews in Western academic publications and was referred to in several other World War II studies.

Meltyukhov's study — namely the chapter dealing with the Soviet military's takeover of the Baltic states — has been used by Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

n historian Magnus Ilmjärv
Magnus Ilmjärv
Magnus Ilmjärv is an Estonian historian. He graduated from the University of Tartu cum laude in 1988 and defended his MA thesis in 1997, in June 2004 defended his PhD at the University of Helsinki. From 2006 on, Ilmjärv has been the director of the Estonian Institute of History...

  for specifics on Soviet military planning against the three republics and determining the number of Soviet forces allocated. Meltyukhov's book (which has been translated into Estonian as Stalini käestlastud võimalus) has also been reviewed quite positively by Estonian historians. Russian émigré historian Constantine Pleshakov, also supportive of the planned Soviet offensive theory, has used Stalin's Missed Chance (just like books by V. Nevezhin
Vladimir Nevezhin
Vladimir Nevezhin is a Russian historian , is working as a professor in Moscow, chief scientific collaborator at the Institute of Russian History and member of the editorial board of the journal Отечественная история .During the 1990s, he took part in the discussion and dispute...

 and V. Danilov) in his recent study. Meltyukhov's book, as well as other similar titles, has been reviewed by professor Raack in the Russian Review
The Russian Review
The Russian Review is a major independent peer-reviewed multi-disciplinary academic journal devoted to the history, literature, culture, fine arts, cinema, society, and politics of the Russian Federation, former Soviet Union and former Russian Empire. The journal was established in 1941 and is...


See also

  • Operation Barbarossa
    Operation Barbarossa
    Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

  • Soviet offensive plans controversy
    Soviet offensive plans controversy
    The Soviet offensive plans controversy refers to the debate among historians on the question of whether Joseph Stalin was planning to invade Germany prior to Operation Barbarossa.-Background:...

  • Stalin's speech on August 19, 1939
    Stalin's speech on August 19, 1939
    This article covers a speech allegedly given by leader of the Soviet Union Joseph Stalin on 19 August 1939 to members of the Politburo, wherein he supposedly described the strategy of the Soviet Union on the eve of World War II....

  • Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
    Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
    The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Soviet Union and signed in Moscow in the late hours of 23 August 1939...

  • Richard C. Raack, Stalin's Drive to the West, 1938-1945: the origins of the Cold War, Stanford University Press
    Stanford University Press
    The Stanford University Press is the publishing house of Stanford University. In 1892, an independent publishing company was established at the university. The first use of the name "Stanford University Press" in a book's imprinting occurred in 1895...

    , 1995, ISBN 0804724156


External links

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