Another interesting anniversary

Posted by Helen Wednesday, August 23, 2006

One of Tory Historian’s many weaknesses is an almost insuperable lack of interest in the actual military history of World War II. That is balanced by an abiding fascination with the politics around the various agreements before, during and after, particularly if these involved shenanigans to do with the great dictators.

Thus of the three anniversaries to be marked today – start of the Blitz (1940), start of the Battle of Stalingrad (1942) and signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (1939) – it is the last of them that is of particular interest.

The Pact, signed by Vyacheslav Molotov, who had replaced the Jewish Maxim Litvinov as Soviet Foreign Minister in May of that year and by Joachim von Ribbentrop, his German counterpart. Though it is sometimes referred to as the Stalin-Hitler Pact, the two tyrants never met.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact can be considered to be the real beginning of the Second World War. Whatever may have happened before that, once that was signed there was no way back. Though nominally a non-aggression treaty, it had secret clauses that referred to countries between Germany and the USSR falling into one or other sphere of influence.

In practice, that meant being invaded and there was a great deal of territorial rearrangement in the subsequent months.

The treaty stayed in force till June 22, 1941, that is Barbarossa Day, when Nazi Germany invaded what was then the Soviet Union (in fact, of course, eastern Poland, then western Ukraine that had been independent till 1938) and the deadly war between the two monstrous regimes began.

1 Responses to Another interesting anniversary

  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. In terms of significance, you are almost certainly correct, but in terms of interest, I wonder. Certain debates in history continue to arouse passions almost irrespective of their significance.

    I can recall Duncan Grinnell Milne in Silent Victory arguing that the Navy prevented the invasion of Britain in 1940 and the view was wchoed about a decade ago by one of the RAF aces of the Battle of Britain. Nice to see Andrew Gordon and his colleagues weighing in today - but there is an even more interesting set of questions. Did Hitler ever intend to invade, and, if he did, and there had been an invasion, could the Germans have triumphed. If, as war gaming suggests, the putative invasion had been defeated, the war might have been shorter and Britain's position rather different.

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