In the movie, a pivotal plot point is the end to the Good Times marked by Soviet tanks rolling into Kabul to aid local communist forces… due to the interest in the “India in WWII” series, I thought I’d post on yet another aspect of the conflict that many folks probably aren’t aware of – this time, the Desi-Soviet angle.
The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact gets a fair amount of coverage as a milestone for WWII in Europe. Before the Soviets fought with the allies, they were secretly helping the Nazis and this pact solidified the Nazi-Soviet alliance. It outlined how the two butchers would divvy up Central and Eastern Europe whilst the British, under Chamberlain, sought appeasement; Wikipedia summarizes it thusly –
In addition to stipulations of non-aggression, the treaty included a secret protocol dividing the independent countries of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania into spheres of Nazi and Soviet influence, anticipating “territorial and political rearrangements” of these countries’ territories.
All were subsequently invaded, occupied, or forced to cede territory by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, or both.
Based on the (initial) success of this pact, the Soviets & Nazis formed other pacts to divvy up the world…
“The British Empire would be apportioned as a gigantic world-wide estate in bankruptcy of 40 million square kilometers” - Hitler to Stalin, 1940
“The British Empire would be apportioned as a gigantic world-wide estate in bankruptcy of 40 million square kilometers”
- Hitler to Stalin, 1940The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was merely the most famous of several secret pacts negotiated between the two parties. Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin (via their respective foreign ministers Molotov and Ribbentrop) had much larger ambitions than just continental Europe. Some portions of the pact were known at the time but many weren’t revealed to the world until the late 1980′s & the fall of the Soviet Union.
The other secret pacts clearly show how Ribbentrop & Hitler aimed to create a grand axis including not just Italy and Japan but the Soviets as well who, collectively, would rule the world. BUT, all parties knew that the number one thing standing the way of such an arrangement was the nation that ruled the seas – Britain (at this point in history, the US was but a wee footnote in these calculations). And the axis powers knew that a good chunk of the might of Britain lay in her ability to draw men and materiel from across the Empire.
So, while FDR opposed the British Empire in the name of Freedom, Stalin and the Axis powers covetted it in the name of Wealth and Power. And the crown jewel of the empire of course, was India….
The key architect of the plan was Reich foreign minster Joachim von Ribbentrop. As maestro of Hitler’s international diplomatic machine, he was one of the most powerful members of the Furher’s inner circle – particularly at the beginning of the war. Focus on the British Empire was early and deep -
From the latter half of 1937, Ribbentrop had championed the idea of an alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan that would partition the British Empire between them. After signing the Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact, Ribbentrop expanded on this idea for an Axis alliance to include the Soviet Union to form an Eurasian bloc that would destroy maritime states such as Britain.
Ribbentrop served as Hitler’s primary emmissary to the Soviet Union and his diplomatic communique’s back & forth between the Fuhrer & Stalin make for some fascinating, and now public, reading. In 1940 Hitler, confident of victory in the then raging Battle of Britain, via Ribbentrop, promised spoils to his allies if they’d play well together –
After the conquest of England the British Empire would be apportioned as a gigantic world-wide estate in bankruptcy of 40 million square kilometers. In this bankrupt estate there would be for Russia access to the ice-free and really open ocean. Thus far, a minority of 40 million Englishmen had ruled 600 million inhabitants of the British Empire.
Ribbentrop proposed that the Soviets and Japanese slice & dice the British Empire roughly along lines of latitude –
The aspirations of Japan would still have to be clarified through diplomatic channels. Here too, a delimitation could easily be found, possibly by fixing a line which would run south of the Japanese home islands and Manchukuo.
The focal points in the territorial aspirations of the Soviet Union would presumably be centered south of the territory of the Soviet Union in the direction of the Indian Ocean.
The proposal was accepted and a draft, joint pact dated November 15, 1940 euphemstically hands over a half billion souls who live “in the direction of the Indian Ocean” to the Soviet Union -
Upon the signing today of the Agreement concluded among them, the Representatives of Germany, Italy, Japan and the Soviet Union declare as follows:
1) Germany declares that, apart from the territorial revisions in Europe to be carried out at the conclusion of peace, her territorial aspirations center in the territories of Central Africa.
2) Italy declares that, apart from the territorial revisions in Europe to be carried out at the conclusion of peace, her territorial aspirations center in the territories of Northern and Northeastern Africa.
3) Japan declares that her territorial aspirations center in the area of Eastern Asia to the south of the Island Empire of Japan.
4) The Soviet Union declares that its territorial aspirations center south of the national territory of the Soviet Union in the direction of the Indian Ocean.
The Four Powers declare that, reserving the settlement of specific questions, they will mutually respect these territorial aspirations and will not oppose their achievement.
What a world it would have been….
And perhaps most importantly, the deal between scoundrels unravelled as both Stalin & Hitler misjudged each other & underlying, core differences broke through to the surface. For all the grand planning that went into the pact, the beastly nature of the parties involved ultimately tore it to shreds. Stalin, gambling that Hitler wouldn’t start a second front in the war, overreached and tried to grab more of Finland and the Baltics than was initially apportioned by the Pact. Hitler, finding a causus belli in this treachery and not exactly a fan of the Russian/Slavic communist, untermensch to begin with, gambled that the Soviet Union would be “brittle” and fall quickly during a lull in his ambitions for Britain.
The result was the disastrous (for the Reich) Operation Barbarossa just 7 months after the November pact. Barbarossa thrust the Russians deeply into the Allies camp and, almost fittingly, it’s estimated that 70% of *all* Nazi casualties over the course of the war were at the hands of the Red Army. Thus, many argue, the failure of Barbarossa more directly led to the destruction of the Third Reich than the D-day landings at Normandy.
Japan, of course, recognized that open war between Hitler and Stalin meant that Ribbentrop’s pact was in tatters. Given their near total success in routing the British & Americans from the Far East to date, they decided India was up for grabs and were finally stopped at the Battle of Kohima.
Ribbentrop considered the Pact with Russia his crowning career achievement and thus fought hard to convince Hitler against Barbarossa and to maintain focus on England & the Empire –
Despite the obvious admiration and subservience with which Ribbentrop regarded Hitler, it should be possible to conclude one thing: prior to BARBAROSSA, Ribbentrop, for multiple reasons, was willing to attempt an un-tracking of Hitler’s ideological drive to Moscow.
…Ribbentrop’s frustrations concerning BARBAROSSA were again reflected in his dictation of the following words to his Secretary of State, Ernst von Weizsacker, on 28 April, 1941:
One can perhaps find it enticing to give the Communist system its death blow and perhaps say too that it lies in the logic of things to let the European- Asiatic continent now march forth against Anglo-Saxondom and its allies. But only one thing is decisive: whether this undertaking would hasten the fall of England . . . A German attack on Russia would only give a lift to English morale. It would be evaluated there as German doubt of the success of our war against England. We would in this fashion not only admit that the war would still last a long time, but we could in this way actually lengthen instead of shorten it.
p>He let his feelings be known in unusually frank diplomatic language -
He passed a word to a Russian diplomat: “Please tell Stalin I was against this war, and that I know it will bring great misfortune to Germany.”
And thus one of the key turning points in the war may have been avoided. Had Ribbentrop persuaded Hitler, not only would the bulk of the Wehrmacht be available to fight the Brits (and later the Americans) BUT, the Grand Axis could have thrived with the Soviets continuing to contribute their Industrial and Manpower might.
p>Although Churchill & Roosevelt talked about “unconditional surrender” from the Axis, Ribbentrop bet that faced with these odds, “moderates” amongst the allies would bring them to the negotiating table. This pressure, Ribbentrop hoped, would create a dÃ©tente where Good Cop / Bad Cop routine could work its magic. The goal? A new series of Grand Power-negotiated territorial partitions like his earlier pact that divided Eastern Europe. In modern terms, this could look a lot like the later creation of China/Taiwan, East/West Germany, North/South Korea, and North/South Vietnam. So perhaps, under pressure, a different partition of India might have created an Axis / Soviet / “land” aligned “North India” and a British / Western / “sea” aligned “South India”?
Of course, this is all speculation and we’ll never know for sure. As one of the top officers of the Reich, good chunks of Ribbentrop’s master plan were left dangling with him on a hangman’s noose in Nuremberg….