Posts Tagged ‘Moscow’

WW2 People

|   29 December 2010

Siberians – tough people

Snow – the great leveler

When I was out walking through the snow in the Chiltern Hills outside of London the other day, with the cold air penetrating through my thick clothes, I remembered the toughest man I have ever met.

He was a Siberian, called Vasily Borisov. And exactly sixty nine years ago today he was fighting the Germans outside Moscow. And when I met him in 2006, when he was well into his eighties, he seemed every bit as strong as he must have been during the war. His hand shake almost crushed my fingers and his big, slab-like face exuded health and energy.

He was part of a Siberian division that had been sent to defend the Soviet capital in December 1941. ‘During the counter-attacks [against the Germans],’ he said, ‘there was man to man fighting. We had to fight the Germans in the trenches. And the fitter ones survived and the weaker ones died… We had bayonets on our rifles and I was very strong – I could pierce him [the German soldier] with a bayonet and throw him out of the trench… It’s the same as piercing a loaf of bread.’


WW2 Anniversary

|   23 June 2010

The curse of hindsight

The Kremlin – where Stalin trembled in 1940.

Seventy years ago this month, in his office in the Kremlin in Moscow, Joseph Stalin listened to a radio report of the German occupation of Paris. As he learnt of the Wehrmacht’s triumph, he turned almost in despair to his comrades and complained about the performance of the French army, saying: ‘Couldn’t they have have put up any resistance at all?’

The German success in France was a disaster for Stalin. The core foundation of his foreign policy – the belief that the Germans would become embroiled in a war of attrition in the fields of Flanders,  just as they had in the First World War – was now shattered. Stalin had thought, back in August 1939, that he was being extremely clever in negotiating the Nazi/Soviet pact which kept the Soviets out of the fighting, and yet now he had to rethink his policy completely – and from a position of weakness.

In the wake of the German conquest of France, Stalin practiced his own version of obsequious appeasement. Deliveries of raw materials to the Nazis increased, and Stalin went out of his way over the following months to try and assure Hitler that he was a loyal chum of the Fascists. It was the behaviour of a terrified man – and reached a low point on 13 April 1941 when Stalin hugged Colonel Hans Krebs of the German embassy at Moscow railway station. ‘We will be your friends!’ said Stalin emotionally. ‘Whatever will come!’ Krebs was clearly not impressed by this display of weakness from the Soviet leader. ‘It can’t be ruled out,’ Krebs subsequently wrote to a friend, his letter dripping with contempt, ‘that Stalin was under the influence of alcohol.’