A week after the momentous and unexpected Nazi invasion of the USSR on 22 June 1941, Stalin reportedly blurted out to his shocked colleagues: ‘Lenin left us a great inheritance and we, his heirs, have fucked it all up!’1 Regardless of the expletive, this statement reveals Stalin’s despair at the calamity that had befallen his creation. The ‘infallible’ Leader had inexplicably failed to foresee or adequately prepare for Operation Barbarossa. He had obstinately refused to accept the veracity of his own military intelligence that accurately dated the German attack. He had declined to mobilise the Soviet armed forces on the western fronts. He bizarrely held to the idea that the attack when it finally came was a ‘provocation’ against Hitler’s wishes. Even as he uttered the words above, he was overseeing a disaster of immense proportions as the Wehrmacht tore through the Soviet countryside, capturing and killing up to 5.9 million Red Army troops in the first six months of the fighting and eliminating an estimated ninety per cent of the Soviet tank strength.2 In addition, the Luftwaffe virtually destroyed the Red air force on the ground. Hitler’s betrayal of the Nazi-Soviet Pact was taken as a personal humiliation by Stalin, who had deluded himself to the last minute that the Führer would not voluntarily create a second front and would not launch his legions before 1942.
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