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Initial Red Army failings

LAURENCE REES: As you mentioned, Stalin then launches this war against Finland. To what extent was he shocked by the course of this conflict? 

: He was totally shocked by the Finnish disaster. He was amazed. I mean, he thought it would be a police operation. He actually went into a sort of depression that year, the sort of depression that we see later when Hitler takes Minsk. He was disappointed. There was a scene where he’s sort of sitting there with a terrible streptococcal sore throat, barely able to function, lying on a sofa, and he was just appalled by what was going on. The Finnish war was just what happens when you have crazy commissars running riot in military matters, they were just totally unprepared and it really was initially a total disaster. So he was very shocked by that and there were big inquiries and that basically destroyed Voroshilov’s career. Quite rightly so. And there were big inquiries into it and he realised it was a disaster. It was actually a rare thing in higher Soviet echelons; genuine criticism suddenly was allowed of everything, except Stalin himself, but in the army, it didn’t matter who you were, it didn’t matter how close to Stalin you were, you could be criticised. And that was a pretty healthy thing actually. That probably prevented even greater disasters later, and they promoted new, tougher people, and a lot of  reputations in military commanders like Voroshilov’s and Kulik’s were sort of semi-ruined by it. Of course it had a huge influence on Hitler, the Finnish conflict, and on all of Europe. Everyone was just amazed at how badly the Russians had done, and so it had an influence on everybody. Suddenly Stalin realised he had a serious problem that he scarcely had time to fix, and of course Hitler saw it and thought actually this army really will collapse like a house of cards.