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Posted at 7:07 PM ET, 06/30/2010

Why Stalin mattered to D-Day's success

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Mike Lofgren,
Alexandria

The June 26 editorial “Stalin, hero of D-Day?,” about the new Stalin bust at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va., betrayed either historical ignorance or ideological blindness. Joseph Stalin was an unsavory character. But unlike Poland, France, the Low Countries and others, the Soviet Union did not throw in the towel to Hitler — in part because of Stalin’s ruthlessness. James Dunnigan, author of “Dirty Little Secrets of World War II,” reveals that seven-eighths of all months in combat by German divisions in World War II were expended on the Russian front.

Charles Winchester, in “Ostfront,” informs us that in August 1944, 38 Allied divisions defeated 20 German divisions in France; further east, 172 Soviet divisions overwhelmed 67 German divisions. These data suggest that had it not been for the Soviet Union — and the decisions of its leadership, however odious — the Western Allies on D-Day would have met a fate similar to their abortive landing at Dieppe in 1942.

World War II was a good war in the most important sense: Just ask the intended victims of the New Order who managed to survive. But it was also deeply ambiguous and tragic: With allies like Stalin, Mao Zedong, Tito and Ho Chi Minh, how could it not be? Unfortunately, the editorial offered a cartoon caricature of events that did justice neither to the veterans of D-Day, who were part of a much larger struggle, nor to the historical record.


By washingtonpost.com editors  | June 30, 2010; 7:07 PM ET
Categories:  HotTopic, Virginia, military, parks, recreation  
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Comments

I find it interesting that the author decries "historical ignorance" at the critics of the Stalin bust. I would argue that American support to the Soviet Union via lend-lease would be as much a factor in the Red Army's victory as Stalin's ruthlessness. Where is the bust to de Gaulle? His French resistance fighters actually did play a role in the Normandy landing. Also, comparing the Dieppe Raid to the Normandy invasion is very questionable. The Dieppe raid involved barely 6,000 allied soldiers, was completely ill-conceived and it is widely accepted that the German's had foreknowledge of the raid. The Normandy landings involved 164,000 men landed on the beaches with an additional 24,000 men airdropped in earlier, supported by 5,000 naval vessels. The political reasons for putting up Stalin's bust is a different (but no less dubious) argument, but the history just isn't there.

Posted by: ChrisH2 | June 30, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Lofgren's comment on "historical ignorance" is an example of the maxim "physician--cure yourself!" "Poland threw in the towel...." Poland fought longer than France. Its resistance was larger than any other occupied Allied country in Europe. How much more effective that resistance could have been... if "ally" Joe Stalin did not first murder 14,000 Polish officers in the Katyn wood, or let the Warsaw Uprising die in 1944 while he sat on the other side of the Vistula, barring Western Allied resupply, is something we can only speculate.

Posted by: grondelsjm | July 1, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

Poland "threw in the towel to Hitler"? Poland was crushed. We fought. My dad made barricades in Warsaw in September of 1939. He drew cartoons for the underground press. He fought in the uprising of August 1944 while Stalin's armies waited on the other side of the Vistula River. By war's end much of my home town of Warsaw was bombed or burned out. Paris was largely intact. Lofgren is the blind one.

Posted by: hawk11 | July 1, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

Describing Josef Stalin as an "unsavory character" is breathtaking understatement. He killed or imprisoned millions of his countrymen.
The historical record does show that the war with the USSR tied down so much of the German Army on the Eastern Front and it is true, as the editorial says, that the Western Allies would have faced huge odds on D-Day if it had not been for that prior German commitment.
But here's another historical what-if: What if Stalin had not signed a non-agression pact with Hitler in August 1939?
That Molotov-Ribbentrop pact meant Hitler did not have to worry about a war with the USSR if he went ahead with his plans to attack Poland and probably go to war against France and Britain shoiuld they honor their commitments to Poland.
Stalin reached this secretly negotiated agreement with Germany while publicly negotiating with Britain and France about a tripartite arrangement to forestall Hitler.
The fact that Molotov-Ribbentrop allowed Stalin to join Hitler in carving up Poland and to annex the Baltic states might have decided Stalin which way to jump.
There's no way of knowing whether or when World War Two would have occurred without the green light Stalin gave Hitler.
What we do know is that Stalin played a crucial role in when and how it actually began. He ought to be remembered for that but not honored.

Posted by: TheOLeary | July 1, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

The letter writer has it by and large right.
Yes, Lend Lease was critical to the style of warfare that the Soviets learned from the Germans and then perfected. But Russians fought and died in the millions. They annihilated entire German armies that would undoubtedly have prevented a successful invasion of France for decades.
The writer does not single out Poland for surrendering. It is admittedly a little unfair to compare Russia's successful survival in 1941, which owed nothing to Stalin's leadership and everything to the vastness of Russia and the logistical failings of the Germans, to the brave but futile armed resistance of the Poles.

Posted by: krickey7 | July 1, 2010 4:50 PM | Report abuse

It should also be noted that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939, in which Germany and the Soviet Union agreed to spheres of influence in Eastern Europe, freed Germany to invade Poland on 1 September, initiating World War II.
On 17 September the Soviet Union attacked and occupied eastern Poland. Subsequently it annexed Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, and invaded Finland, which were allocated to it by a secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

But the Soviet Union and its puppet communist parties in the Western European nations did nothing to oppose Hitler until 22 June 1941, when Germany invaded Russia.

Posted by: jack512 | July 1, 2010 9:27 PM | Report abuse

The editorial June 26, 2010 stated that the presence of Stalin in a new D-Day memorial was inappropriate. Incorrect.
Fact: history makes strange bed-fellows.
Fact, during World War II, about 21 million Russians were killed, which includes about 11 million civilians; and among the English about 383 thousand military and about 67 thousand civilians were killed. For America, about 417 thousand military and about 1,700 citizens were killed. (For the record, more that 5 million German military were killed, and more than 1,200,000 German civilians.)
Fact, in preparation for D-Day, the Russians were specifically asked by Churchill and Roosevelt to provide a heavy offensive on the Eastern Front, to split Hitler's forces. Fact, they did so.
In conclusion, it is quite likely that D-Day would not have succeeded without extreme Russian participation and a huge number of Russian deaths on the Eastern Front.

Posted by: claudekacser1 | July 1, 2010 9:30 PM | Report abuse

I don't think that anyone here is questioning the fact the Soviet forces were pivotal to the defeat of Nazi Germany. The question being debated here is whether or not Joseph Stalin, as leader as the Soviet Union, deserves a memorial bust for a battle that his forces played no direct part in. If this was a monument to the participants of the Yalta conference, fine. I wouldn't expect the Soviets to have a memorial bust of FDR at Stalingrad or Eisenhower at Kursk. Also, Stalin was no friend of the Red Army. It seems plausible that the Red Army would have had much greater success against the Germans, especially in the early part of the war, had their leadership not been decimated by the Great Purge.

Posted by: ChrisH2 | July 2, 2010 6:56 PM | Report abuse

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