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  • What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa
  • Allen Blitstein
What Stalin Knew: The Enigma of Barbarossa. By David E. Murphy. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2006 [2005]. ISBN 0-300-11981-X. Maps. Glossary. Appendixes. Notes. Index. Pp. xxii, 310. $18.00.

Given the number of books and articles covering the German-Soviet War already extant, what does this book add to our knowledge of this important period? David E. Murphy is a retired CIA officer and chief of Soviet Operations, and has four previous military history publications to his credit. He concentrates on reports that Stalin received from Soviet intelligence operatives, using primarily Russian archival documents. Much of this information was heretofore unavailable because Western researchers typically have been denied access to Soviet archives. The information that these documents provide adds to our knowledge of what Stalin knew from his own sources and why the U.S.S.R. was still caught unprepared for the German invasion.

Soviet military intelligence personnel in European countries had developed very reliable sources of information. Murphy provides details of information transmitted to Moscow by these units. The overwhelming majority of reports on German intentions, troop movements, and actions obviously meant to support military activities to the east, etc., was accurate. Many of the reports gave the exact or approximate date of the intended German invasion. The information regarding German troop movements, construction of military fortifications, and other preparations on the eastern front made Hitler's intent obvious.

There were other sources of intelligence in addition to Soviet military intelligence. For example, Richard Sorge, about whom much has been written, worked for Soviet military intelligence while living in Japan. He obtained valuable information on German plans to attack the Soviet Union, but Stalin treated these reports with disdain because, according to Murphy, they did not agree with his preconceived notions. In addition, the NKVD/ NKGB was engaged in collecting intelligence both from their operations abroad and from counterintelligence operations within the U.S.S.R. NKVD/ NDGB contacts in border areas in which railroads operated received information on German preparations for invading the USSR. Border troops were also collecting intelligence information from listening posts and from patrols into German-occupied territory.

Stalin refused to believe the intelligence sent to him by American and British sources because he was convinced that they wanted to instigate a Russo-German war. In addition, some Soviet intelligence officials knew Stalin's feelings regarding the content of intelligence reports with which he did not agree, and much of the information that they passed on to the Soviet leadership was slanted to support Stalin's preconceived notions. These distortions were very much at variance with the plethora of reports from reliable sources received by Soviet intelligence organizations. Despite this practice among some intelligence bureaucrats, Murphy contends that the preponderance of intelligence that reached Stalin was accurate information from numerous reliable sources and provided the truth regarding German intentions and preparations for war.

Six days before the German attack, NKVD/NKGB intelligence reported [End Page 561] that all was in readiness for the Germans to invade the U.S.S.R. and that the invasion could come "at any time" (p. 205). Stalin wanted to negotiate with the Germans, but they were unresponsive to his communications. Even these last-minute developments did not cause him to reconsider his preconceived notions. He did not take the decisive actions necessary to prepare for the invasion. The order that Stalin eventually issued was "one of the strangest military orders in history" (p. 215).

Murphy sums up the situation as follows: "it was Stalin's insistence on accepting German deception as truth [and] his rejection of the overwhelming volume of valid intelligence from his own services . . . that led to the debacle of the summer of 1941" (p. 215). In addition, "The blame for the catastrophe of 1941 falls not only on Stalin but on the system of government by fear that he created" (p. 250).

Murphy has done an excellent job of laying out the evidence to prove his case against Stalin. The documentation supporting his contentions is both extensive and very convincing.

Allen Blitstein
Surprise, Arizona


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pp. 561-562
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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