Read this term paper to learn about the formation and working of Grand Alliance between various countries during the second world war.
Wartime Strains within the Alliance:
The Alliance has been described by David Thomson as “The Uneasy Alliance”. It was forged in 1941 and 1942 between the Soviet Union and the Western Powers and is again identified as “a marriage of necessity and convenience”.
Hitler’s letter, written to Mussolini on December 18, 1940, found in German archives, runs “The German Armed Forces must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign before the end of the war against England”. The code name of the invasion was entitled “Operation Barbarossa”. Hitler’s directive then went into considerable detail about the main lines of attack.
A good many historians have contended that Hitler in his Barbarossa directive did not go into detail. This is not true. The complete German text in which, considerable detail given was submitted in the Nuremberg trial (1945-46). The Nuremberg documents and testimony discloses the full details, thus revealing how far German military plans were at this early date advanced.
At any rate, for Hitler the die was cast, and though he did not know it, his ultimate end sealed by this decision of December 18, 1940. In fact, two events of the Second World War produced the final outcome of a dramatic plot. The first was obviously Hitler’s decision to invade Russia and the second was the Pearl Harbour attack.
While the first brought about the annihilation of the Nazi regime, the second devastated Japanese militarism. Hitler concluded Ten Years’ Non Aggression Pact with Soviet Union and the latter supplied uninterrupted flow of food and oil to Germany, thus strengthening her war efforts against the Western Allies. Besides, Communist propaganda during the war almost regularly denounced the Anglo-French attempt to resist Germany as an unworthy war of imperialism.
But when the tide was turned and Hitler invaded Soviet Union on June 21, 1941, the wrangling between Russia and the Allies was stopped for the time being. Immediately after the invasion, unhesitating support came from Churchill to Stalin which could be shown as an attempt to dispel the deep-rooted animosity between them.
Even before the invasion Churchill tried to warn Stalin through Sir Stafford Cripps, the then British ambassador in Soviet Union. From German sources we come to learn that Cripps knew the exact date, i.e., 22 June, long before.
On April 24, the German naval attack in Moscow sent a curt message to the Navy High Command in Berlin:
“The British ambassador predicts June 22 as the day of the outbreak of the war.”
So Churchill and Britain long before the actual invasion determined what would be the future foreign policy of the Allied Powers. Therefore, immediately after the German invasion against Soviet Union started, Churchill, the staunch enemy of communism, extended his helping hands towards Stalin. He declared that anyone who was fighting against the evil (Nazi) would get British support. It was according to that policy that Britain and other Allied powers concluded an alliance with the Soviet Union in 1941 against Germany.
This is known as Grand Alliance — burying the hatchet, at least temporarily, over the ideological differences. The Western Powers must have realised that the destruction of Soviet Union by Germany would be disastrous to them because, in that case, Germany would be potentially dangerous, acquiring huge stock of natural resources of Soviet Union. It was not very easy to forget, along with other things, the most important was ideological differences.
In this war, there were three distinct ideological fronts. The Nazism and Fascism were on one side. Democracy on the other and Communism was hobnobbing with Nazism when the World War started. Ideological conflicts and national interests together produced a cleavage between nations and led to their alignment in rival groups.
In the formation of these groups a common ideology was no doubt an important factor, but the most powerful incentive to join a particular alignment was supplied not so much by a common political faith as by considerations of furthering national interests. The rival systems often overlapped. Hence, to attribute the tensions and conflicts of the inter-war period to only one of these factors would be an over-simplification of a fact which was essentially complex.
When the Second World War broke out Mussolini, the close ally of Hitler formulated the ideological challenge in these words: “The struggle between the two worlds can permit no compromise. Either we or they.” But historical evidence shows that “they” as well as “we” had to compromise. The Nazis had to compromise with communism and then democracy had to compromise with Communism.
Ever since the fall of France (1940), it had been hoped in London that, the Russians would realise the dangers to themselves that would arise from the defeat of Britain. Sir Stafford Cripps, who had been an enthusiastic advocate of close collaboration between Britain and Russia, was sent to Moscow in June 1940 as ambassador, in the hope of improving relations and negotiating a trade settlement.
Unfortunately Stalin, the Russian dictator, felt that his position after the fall of France — which he had not expected — was so weak that he was obliged to go on appeasing Hitler. Consequently no Anglo-Soviet trade treaty could be negotiated, and Russian economic aid to Germany went far to make the British blockade ineffective. Evidence of German preparations for an attack on Russia began to mount in the spring of 1941 and in April Churchill sent Stalin a personal message about the impending threat.
But Stalin took few precautions, evidently being afraid that they might provoke attack, or at least expecting that demands for further concessions would be the prelude to invasion. The result was that when the actual invasion took place on 22 June, the Soviet army and air force were badly shaped.
The troops had no clear orders to fire back at once, and many aircraft were destroyed on the ground. The German army made rapid advances in the first days of their assault. Hitler might have thought a repetition of the First World War could be made.
The British War Cabinet was better prepared and had already decided on its attitude to the new struggle. Churchill, on behalf of his colleagues, at once hailed the Russians as allies and offered them such aid as Britain could provide. In public there was enthusiasm and relief at this turn of events. In official circles, however, there was little expectation that Britain would derive advantage from it.
Like Germany, War Office of Britain and almost all of its experts believed that Russia would be “knocked out in ten days”. A Joint Intelligence Committee report concluded that the occupation of the Ukraine and the capture of Moscow could be accomplished in three to six weeks. Then the entire German army would be free to attack Britain, either across the channel or in the Mediterranean or Middle East.
Even Cripps believed that Russian resistance would collapse in a few weeks; the thought was, however, belied. However, Churchill gave instructions that measures to counter the threat of the enemy should be strengthened. Reinforcements had to be sent urgently to the Middle East, which might be the objective of a German offensive directed either through Asia Minor or through the Russian Caucasus, as well as by the use of the existing Sicilian supply line.
Despite all the evidence of Hitler’s intentions, the men in the Kremlin, Stalin above all, blindly hoped that Soviet Russia somehow would still escape the Nazi tyrant’s wrath. From evidences published in William Shirer epic volume’ it has come to our notice that both Britain and the United States knew Hitler’s plan of attack and accordingly Soviet Union was forewarned.
But Kremlin turned it down as obvious absurdity. “It is almost inconceivable but nevertheless true that the men in the Kremlin, for all the reputation they had of being suspicious, crafty and hardheaded, and despite all the evidence and all the warnings that stared them in the face, did not realise right up to the last moment that they were to be hit, and with a force which would almost destroy their nation.”
The Nazi-Soviet honeymoon was over on June 22, 1941, the roar of Hitler’s guns along hundreds of miles of front had blasted it forever. But before the war actually started, Schulenburg sent an urgent telegram to German authorities in Berlin on 21 June informing the Soviet allegations against Germany. In reply Germany blamed Soviet Union raising a barrage of questions: Soviet Union concentrating all available Russian forces on a long front from the Baltic to the Black Sea, which had menaced the Reich; while Germany had loyally abided by the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Russia had repeatedly broken it.
The Soviet Union practising “sabotage, terrorism and espionage” against Germany; it had “combated the German attempt to set up a stable order in Europe”; it had conspired with Britain “for an attack against the German troops in Rumania and Bulgaria”. It is interesting to learn Hitler’s mood at the last hour before the invasion.
A very urgent letter was dispatched to Soviet Union by German Foreign Office, on June 21, 1941 in which it was stated that:
“Reports received the last few days eliminate the last remaining doubts as to the aggressive character of this Russian concentration…. In addition, there are reports from England regarding the negotiations of Ambassador Cripps for still closer political and military collaboration between England and the Soviet Union.”
To sum up, the German Reich declares that the Soviet government, contrary to the obligations it assumed:
(i) Had not only continued, but even intensified its attempts to undermine Germany;
(ii) Had adopted anti-German foreign policy;
(iii) Had concentrated all its forces at the German border intending to attack her from rear when it was struggling in a life and death battle, thereby had broken its treaties with Germany.
The Fuehrer, therefore, issued order to the German armed forces to oppose this threat with all their means.10 At 3.30 a.m. on June 22, a half hour before the closing of diplomatic formalities in the Kremlin and the Wilhelmstrasse, Germany invaded Soviet Union.
Within three weeks of the opening of the campaign. Field Marshall Fedor von Bock’s army group centre, with thirty infantry divisions and fifteen Panzer or motorised divisions, had pushed 450 miles from Bialystok to Smolensk. Moscow lay about 200 miles further east along the high road which Napoleon had taken in 1812.
To the north Field Marshall von Leeb’s army group, twenty-one infantry and six armoured divisions strong, was moving rapidly up through the Baltic States toward Leningrad. To the south Field Marshall von Rundstedt’s army group of twenty-five infantry, four motorized, four mountain and five Panzer divisions was advancing toward the Dnieper and Kiev, capital of the fertile Ukraine, which Hitler coveted.
The German War machine made its deepest penetrations into Southern Russia in the summer and fall of 1942. In the far south the Nazis had swallowed up the Black Sea and the Panzers were within striking distance of the shores of the Caspian. These penetrations took the Germans to a point nearly four hundred miles east of the longitudinal parallel of Moscow; the Wehrmacht pushed a great bulge into the lower belly of Russia.
It is remarkable to find the Soviet troops were fighting brilliantly against hundreds of hazards and odds. Contrary to expectation, however, the Russians kept on fighting, although they continued to suffer heavy losses. In July, Britain had made an agreement with Russia whereby the two countries undertook to aid each other and promised not to make a separate peace with Germany as she had done in the First World War leaving her allies in hopeless condition.
A beginning was made is sending supplies from Britain to Russia, and by late August some 440 planes had been promised, which operated from Murmansk for several weeks in the autumn in order to protect shipping in the port. British and Russian troops also moved into Iran to round German agents there and to organise supply routes.
Towards the end of July 1942 Harry Hopkins was sent by President Roosevelt as his personal emissary to Stalin and pledged to support him with money and materials necessary for war. This mission was a turning point in the wartime relations of Britain, United States and Soviet Union. Thus one-time enemies became friends under compulsion and an alliance was concluded between them against Germany.
But friendly relations soon strained because of more than one reason. Stalin requested the Allied powers to open a new battle-front in Europe to ease the pressure on her as this would draw off the considerable part of German army. According to British and American historians, it was impossible for the Allied powers to open a new battle-front in Europe, although Churchill ordered his staff to consider various possibilities, such as a landing on the tip of the Normandy peninsula or an invasion of Norway.
But after exhaustive discussions he had to agree with the Chiefs of Staff that the projects were impracticable, owing to shortage of landing craft and lack of bases sufficiently close to ensure air superiority.
There remained only the Western Desert where some kind of campaign could be carried on, hoping that this would to some extent relieve the pressure on the Eastern Front. Britain faced another kind of internal trouble. There was clamour in Britain that Russia must be helped with all possible assistance immediately. Beverbrook, a Cabinet member, staged a resignation on the grounds that he could not continue to be a member of a government which had signally failed to help Russia.
An attempt was, however, made, not in Europe, but in the Middle East, which followed a series of severe fighting in which neither side secured any great advantage. It succeeded in diverting some elements of German strength from the Russian front, at least temporarily — it had not satisfied Soviet solicitation.
The Western Powers eventually decided to open a second front in North Africa but the Soviet Union declined to accept this proposal. In Soviet Union “it was assumed that the Western Powers were more concerned with forestalling Russian influence in South-eastern Europe than with aiding the Soviet Union by a frontal attack in the West”.
According to the military experts of the West, Germany contained two mighty arms — one of which was Rommel, who was threatening Egypt and the Near East, and the other arm was directing German offensive in the Ukraine. Two arms must not meet together in Iran. So one arm must be broken and, to Britain, North Africa was the ideal place where she had some hope of accomplishing the task and this would give Soviet Union real relief.
Towards the end of the war, another strain was visible when the Eastern and Western allies found themselves in unfortunate rivalry to get to Berlin first causing uncongenial situation.
In fact, it was difficult for the Western allies to have trust in Russia as the latter had been formally an ally of Germany and, for the first nine months of the war, offered enormous help to her against Western allies. Again, the signing of Non-Aggression Pact in 1939, which had precipitated the war, could not be forgiven by the Western Powers. On the other side, it was equally difficult for Soviet Union to forget or forgive the Western allies for not including her in the Munich Settlement.
Again, Soviet Union knew very clearly that the Western Powers tried their best to divert Hitler’s onslaught towards East. Soviet Union could not forget the action taken by them when she was expelled from the League of Nations because of its attack upon Finland, whereas Manchuria invasion by Japan was ignored.
Therefore, the Grand Alliances which were concluded under exigency in haste against the common enemy were “clouded from the start by memories of recent treacheries on both sides.”