On the Eve of Germany’s Attack against the USSR. May – ​21 June, 1941

Speaking at a Kremlin reception for graduates of military academies on May 5, 1941, J. Stalin pointed to Germany’s aggression in Europe and the modernization of the Soviet armed forces which ‘could now defend our country… by taking the offensive’. On May 6, a decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR relieved V. Molotov of his duties as Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars and appointed J. Stalin in his place.

Numerous and often contradictory reports about Germany’s imminent invasion of the USSR poured into the Russian capital. In conversations with Soviet Plenipotentiary Representative in Germany V. Dekanozov on May 5 and 9, German Ambassador to the USSR F. von der Schulenburg proposed an immediate exchange of letters at the highest level to dispel ‘rumours’ about the deterioration of German-­Soviet relations. Nevertheless, he revoked his proposal on May 12, calling upon the Soviet government to take the initiative itself.

On May 10, Deputy Führer and Reichsminister R. Hess came to Britain on his private plane. This event made the Soviet leadership apprehensive of an Anglo-­German conspiracy.

On May 15, People’s Commissar of Defence S. Timoshenko and Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army G. Zhukov sent a note to J. Stalin with proposals on the strategic deployment of the armed forces in the event of war with Germany and its allies.

The Soviet leadership did its best to avoid provoking German aggression. A TASS communiqué published on June 13 stressed that the USSR ‘has respected and shall respect the terms of the German-­Soviet Non-­Aggression Pact, and so all rumours about the Soviet Union’s preparations for war with Germany are blatant lies and provocations’.

On June 17, Soviet People’s Commissar of State Security V. Merkulov sent Stalin an agent report from Berlin indicating that Germany had fully completed its preparations for war with the USSR and that it could invade at any moment. Stalin wrote an emotional resolution on the cover letter, accusing the source of disinformation.

On June 18 and 19, J. Stalin kept receiving ever more alarming reports. During these days, the personnel of the German, British and Italian Embassies and the Romanian and Hungarian Missions began leaving Moscow in large numbers. the staff of the German Embassy burnt its archives.

On June 21, V. Molotov transmitted to German Ambassador to the USSR F. von der Schulenburg a declaration from the Soviet government about the violation of Soviet airspace by German planes and asked him to comment on the general state of German-­Soviet relations. Schulenburg made no reply.

In the evening of June 21, J. Stalin met with V. Molotov, K. Voroshilov, L. Beria, G. Malenkov, S. Timoshenko, G. Zhukov and other officials. At this meeting, the Politburo of the Communist Party Central Committee adopted a resolution on the creation of the Southern and Northern Fronts and armies of the second line of defence headquartered at Vinnytsia, Leningrad and Bryansk and on the appointment of their commanders. All military districts were instructed to place their troops on alert in view of the possibility of a German surprise attack on June 22–23 (known as ‘Directive № 1’). However, the troops were told ‘not to react to any provocative actions to avoid major complications’, which made the orders ambiguous. the directive was signed by People’s Commissar of Defence S. Timoshenko and Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army G. Zhukov, who left J. Stalin’s office at 10:20 p. m. the directive was given to the ciphering department for distribution at 11:45 p. m. and sent to the commanders of the military districts at 12:30 a.m.

[Before 5 May 1941]
Central Archive of the Federal Security Service of Russia
Coll. 3os, ser. 8, fold. 56, ff. 1164–1167.
15 May 1941
Central Archive of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation
Coll. 23, ser. 7237, fold. 2, ff. 109–113.
Certified copy
30 May 1941
Central Archive of the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation
Coll. 23, ser. 24127, fold. 2, f. 422.

Certified copy