Today, May 8 2015, as I write this post, marks the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War Number Two in Europe. The war would rage on for four more months in the Pacific Theater of Operations, but in Europe the Nazi “Reich that would last a thousand years” cashed in its chips after just twelve. And oh, God in Heaven, what a price mankind had paid for the twelve years that that twisted, hideous, demonic Reich endured! For six years, and more if you were Jewish, Communist, Gypsy, homosexual, mentally or physically challenged or a member of a host of other categories, a pitiless war of annihilation had been waged against you in the name of cleansing the gene pool, and if you were Slavic your crime was that you occupied space that the Nazi supermen needed for the expansion of their living space, or “lebensraum”. In Berlin the Reich ended in a three day orgy of rape and violence by Soviet soldiers unleashed by their officers against German civilians and, indeed, the city itself. Elsewhere, in Western dominated areas at least, it ended with a sigh of relief on the part of soldiers no longer shooting at each other and civilians trying to curry favor with the new conquerors while dodging blame for the horrors of the Nazi regime that were never all that far from them nor hard to find.
Seventy years after that fact I posted on Facebook a message simply saying “Happy V E Day”. In response one of my friends, a thoughtful person who is certainly worth listening to, posted a message stating “If only they had let Patton continue East—“. This is a sentiment that I have heard expressed many times in my life and I believe that it is worth looking into a little bit more deeply,
Just as a refresher for you two or three people who did not see George C. Scott’s magnificent portrayal of the legendary general in the movie “Patton”, as the war in Europe ground to a halt in May of 1945 the general urged General Eisenhower to turn him and his army loose on the Russians whom, Patton stated, we would have to fight anyway sooner or later. Patton was told to shut up, was summarily dismissed from his duties, and managed to die in a traffic “accident” in a matter of a few short weeks. The Western Allies and the Soviet Union then settled down to the job of dividing Europe into opposing camps and began the struggle for domination that was to occupy the next forty five years. But what if? What if President Truman, General Eisenhower, and all of the other necessary politicians and military men would have removed the leash from Patton’s collar and said “Go to it”? What follows are some random thoughts on how such an act might have been played out.
The Soviet Red Army was brimming with men, supplies, and success on May 8, 1945. From a pit of despair following the Nazi plunge across the western borders of the Soviet Union in 1941 the Communist leader Stalin had first regained his composure, and then reestablished his economic plant in the Ural Mountains far to the east, and then rallied his military to first slow down and then stop the German advance, and then slowly to begin forcing the Nazis into a prolonged retreat which would end four years later in Berlin itself. Any German soldiers who survived the Eastern Front and who had not been marched east to disappear into the oblivion of Stalin’s Gulag Archipelago could tell you that the Red Army in May of 1945 was a formidable force.
And the Red Army would not face the Western armies alone. Well organized Communist irregulars who resisted the German in France, in Greece, the Balkans and other areas across Europe would not remain silent nor inactive if the Communist leader in Moscow issued a call to arise and harass the attackers in the rear areas and make the pacification of shattered Europe and security of the all-important supply lines an impossibility. Also, there was tremendous sympathy to be found for Stalin and the Communist experiment among Western politicians, social and academic elites, whereas there was almost universal disgust felt for the Nazis by nearly everyone in those circles. One example of this can be seen in the following story. After completing “Animal Farm”, which was a very critical allegory of communism in Russia, it took George Orwell eighteen months to find a publisher who would put the book into print. Orwell’s later masterpiece “1984” encountered similar resistance until the obvious profits to be gained by its publishing finally outweighed the political sensibilities of the publishing world. The opinion formers of the West, it would seem, took a dim view of critics of the USSR and certainly would not support a military campaign against the totalitarian Communists with the same unanimity and ardor which they showed against the totalitarian Nazis.
Nor were Western governments untouched by Soviet influence. In the United States government spies and agents had infiltrated to all levels. This sounds like John Birch Society paranoia, I know, but it is a fact that while President Truman was putting off meeting with Stalin in Potsdam until after he got word of the successful test of the atomic bomb in New Mexico, the Russian leader already knew of the successful test even before Truman did because of the success of spies Karl Fuchs and the Rosenburgs. Explore the FBI’s “Venona Project” on the internet to further develop an understanding of Soviet infiltration of the U.S. Government.
Or read Whittaker Chambers’ book “Witness”. Chambers was a devoted Communist who became disillusioned with the Party and attempted to expose a Soviet agent who held an influential position in the United States Department of State. For his efforts, Chambers was viciously attacked by the press and other elites and was made to look like a two-bit liar and general low-life. Chambers persisted, and with the help of one sympathetic member of the press waged a campaign that ended with the Soviet agent’s arrest and conviction and Chambers vindicated.
My point is that the resolve of Western society in general to continue the war, and this time against the Stalinist Russians who had many friends on this side of the pond, was not nearly as solid as it had been during the war against the Nazis. But that being said, our American resolve would have seemed like granite compared with the support that such a campaign would receive from our British allies. The United Kingdom had just finished almost six years of war, with the first two years fending off German conquest and hanging on by a thread following multiple defeats, the next two buoyed by America’s entry into the war but highlighted by expulsion from Crete, being harassed and chased across North Africa until their backs were against the walls of Cairo in Egypt, and suffering extreme deprivation on the home front due to the submarine war against allied shipping bringing supplies from the American “arsenal of democracy” across the Atlantic to a hungry and ill-armed England, and the last two years arming and training for the massive Normandy invasion and the long grind of warfare across northern France and Germany itself. This extreme, almost ultimate effort on the part of the U.K. had left British society exhausted with war and their military at the end of their endurance. Truman, Secretary of War Stimson, General Marshall, Admiral King, and theater commanders in Asia, Europe and the Pacific knew that there would be little if any British energy remaining to spill more of their blood against Japan. There was no reason to believe that they would volunteer more blood against Stalin either. The U.S. would have only a few friends in a continuation of World War II against the Soviet Union.
On the other hand, there were reasons why such a campaign could succeed. The Red Army had been in the field almost as long as the British had and the conditions in the East were even more awful than they had been in the West, and behind the victorious but tired Red Army lay a shattered Eastern Europe that could offer little support to either Army. The Russians had managed to dismantle much of their war industry when it was threatened by the Germans in 1941 and 42 and reassembled it in the Ural Mountains. Their factories turned out a staggering amount of war material but not nearly enough to supply the vast needs of the Red Army. America and British supplies had streamed into Russia through the Arctic, Persian and Pacific routes and were quickly thrown into the battle. By removing those supplies and support, and if a bombing campaign could then be mounted against Russian industry and infrastructure (which we would have known the whereabouts of, at least more or less) on a scale close to what we had thrown against the industry and infrastructure of Germany and Japan, Russia would quickly have simply run out of bullets and bombs.
At first those factories would have been unreachable by U.S. bombers, but as ground was gained from the retreating Russians, facilities for the projection of airpower would soon be established in Poland, Ukraine, and other nations under Soviet domination. This was a resource which Hitler squandered. The Ukraine had no love for Russia (still doesn’t) and a significant German population. If Hitler and his minions had behaved in a little bit less beastly fashion he would have had valuable allies in his war against Russia. We Americans are not saints, but on our worst days we can hardly match the Nazis for being the dregs of humankind. Even minimal decency to the citizens of Eastern Europe would have ensured nearly complete cooperation against the Reds, and that would have put the Russians in a very bad situation indeed.
Compounding the Russians’ problems would be the certainty of a two front and possibly a two-and-a-half front war. With Japan defeated (and their defeat was certainly imminent on May 8, 1945), there was no reason why an American or American and Australian occupation force couldn’t be left in Japan to manage that country’s post war affairs while the vast bulk of the army was sent past Japan to begin clawing at the Soviet Union from the East. The vastness of Siberia would have been an obstacle, to be sure, but with the equally vast supply of manpower presented by our Nationalist Chinese allies, who might be offered territorial incentives to draw them north, could provide the garrisons needed to hold bases as we leapfrogged over land and through the air just as we had island hopped across the Pacific. Caught in a pincers between American armies on both sides, with their industrial plant being hammered into dust and blood, the Russians were not likely to hold out long before suing for peace on whatever terms they could get.
And then there’s The Bomb. We had it. They didn’t. Stalin knew that we were on the threshold of owning that ultimate weapon and the means of deploying it. The Bomb changed everything, and before any tank battle on the scale of Kursk, or defense of a city such as Stalingrad could be contemplated to reinject hope and self confidence into the Red Army, those tank units or that city would be turned into glowing rubble. It ain’t pretty, but it’s the truth.
So could Patton’s plan to fight on eastward and eliminate the Soviet threat succeed” Militarily, I think that it could have, and if it would have been pursued without interruption – one war leading straight into another – it might have been over before the forces which would oppose it could be drawn together. That was not likely to happen however. America, too, was tired of burying its children. The friends of Stalin would have exploited that exhaustion and quickly implemented a campaign to try and end that war far short of a Soviet defeat. Success does breed support however, and in the long run I believe it is very possible that a committed push by the U.S. with whatever allies it could scrape together would have been successful in ending the existence of the USSR in a lot less than the seventy two years that it took for it to collapse under the weight of its own internal contradictions and some very clever gamesmanship on the part of its Western adversaries.