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Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War?, by Viktor Suvorov (Russian title: Ledokol, Ледокол) is a book which alleges that Stalin used Nazi Germany as an "icebreaker" to start a war in Europe which would allow for the Soviet Union to come in, clean up, and take control of all of Europe. Suvorov claims that, just as Stalin eliminated his political enemies by pitting them against one another, so too was the plan when he gave Hitler the support to attack Poland, knowing that the act would trigger a war between Germany and the United Kingdom and its allies. The principal argument is based on an analysis of Soviet military investments, diplomatic maneuvers, Politburo speeches and other data. Suvorov suggests that Stalin perceived the outcome of World War II as a loss.
Suvorov challenges the view that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime attacked an unsuspecting USSR on June 22, 1941 with a much superior and better prepared force. Instead, Suvorov argues that the Soviet Union was poised to invade Nazi-controlled territories in July 1941.
Suvorov claims that Stalin successfully manipulated Hitler into removing the "buffer zone" (Poland) between Europe and the USSR. Suvorov further argues that Stalin's goal was the export of communism to other countries. Once Hitler 'broke the ice', Soviet victory in the large-scale war that followed would enable the USSR to impose Stalinist regimes on most of Europe. In this theory, Nazi military aggression would ironically form the icebreaker for a communist invasion.
Suvorov is often accused (or praised by historical revisionists) of shifting the blame of World War II on Stalin and thus removing the blame from Hitler. However, the actual content of Icebreaker contains no praise of Hitler or justification of his terror. In his later books, Suvorov insists that Stalin was a true evil genius (although unlucky), while describing Hitler as evil but grossly incompetent.
Suvorov's view that a Soviet invasion of Germany was imminent in 1941 is not shared by the majority of historians.
A noteworthy rebuttal of Suvorov's thesis is contained in Colonel David Glantz's work Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War. Glantz views Suvorov's argument as "incredible" on a variety of fronts: first, Suvorov rejects without examination classified ex-Soviet archival material, and makes highly selective picks from memoirs. Glantz points to this as a serious methodological flaw. Further, Glantz argues, Suvorov's thesis is strongly contradicted both by ex-Soviet and German archival material, and the facts do not support the argument that the Red Army was prepared to invade Germany. On the contrary, the appalling lack of readiness, poor training level, and abysmal state of deployments show that the Red Army was unprepared for static defense, much less large-scale offensive operations. Glantz's conclusion is that "Stalin may well have been an unscrupulous tyrant, but he was not a lunatic."
For his part, however, Suvorov not only admits his selectiveness but justifies his methods, recalling his work in the intelligence community:
- "If a hundred secret agents are reporting one way, and one sounds out of place and makes no sense, deal with him. No one will trust him or you, they will laugh at you, and they will not believe you. But this is how great discoveries are made".
Commenting on the existing plans for Soviet preemptive strike Robin Edmonds argues that "the Red Army planning staff would not have been doing its job if it had not devoted some time between 1939 and 1941 to the possibility, at some future date, of a pre-emptive strike against Wehrmacht". David Brandenberger notes that recently published pre-1941 German analysis of Soviet military readiness also do not support the major Icebreaker's thesis demonstrating that Soviet preparations were assessed to be "defensive" by German intelligence."
Although Suvorov claims that an attack date of July 6, 1941 had been selected, this is contradicted by the evidence as presented by Glantz and others. There were no stockpiles of fuel, ammunition, and other stores held in forward areas as would have been needed if an invasion was about to be mounted. Major ground units were dispersed into small garrisons rather than being concentrated at railheads, as they would have been had they been preparing an invasion. Units were not co-located with their own transportation assets, leaving, for example, major artillery units immobile. Over 50% of all Soviet tanks required major maintenance on June 22, 1941. If an invasion were being planned, these maintenance tasks would have been completed. Most Soviet armor units were in the process of re-organizing into new Tank Corps; the German invasion caught these units in the midst of this reorganization. Such a large-scale reorganization is inconsistent with an impending invasion.
The origin of Suvorov's thesis may lie in the fact that Marshal Zhukov did suggest a pre-emptive strike on Germany early in 1941. Zhukov recalled this plan later but claimed either that the plan was rejected by Stalin or didn't reach the leader at all. This doesn't sound too convincing, though, as military historian Mikhail Meltyukhov has pointed out. First, it is hard to believe Zhukov's claim that he had given the top secret document to a secretary so that the latter could deliver it to Stalin. Second, the claim by Suvorov rejectors that the document doesn't have signatures really proves nothing. It is known that during those years official military documents were almost exclusively passed without proper formatting.
Icebreaker cites over 140 sources, mostly published memoirs and speeches of Soviet military officers participating in the war.
Summarising the western scholars' opinion on Icebreaker Hugh Ragsdale concludes that the book is "generally considered discredited" by now, whereas Jonathan Haslam notes that Suvorov's claims "would be comical were it not taken so seriously". According to the latter, "there is a significant segment of opinion in Germany that wishes to rehabilitate the Nazi past, and the end of the Soviet regime created an atmosphere favorable to the publication of the book." It is worth noting, however, that Suvorov draws much of his support from the former communist states of Eastern Europe, not just Germany.
- Eastern Front (World War II)
- Operation Barbarossa
- Soviet offensive plans controversy
- Timeline of the Eastern Front of World War II
- Suvorov, Viktor. Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? (Viking Press/Hamish Hamilton; 1990) ISBN 0-241-12622-3
- Glantz, David. Stumbling Colossus: The Red Army on the Eve of World War. University Press of Kansas (May 1998), ISBN 0-7006-0879-6
- Suvorov, Viktor. The Chief Culprit: Stalin's Grand Design to Start World War II. Potomac Books (July 20, 2007) ISBN 1-59797-114-6
- Author(s): David M. Glantz. Reviewed work(s): Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War?. by Viktor Suvorov. The Journal of Military History, Vol. 55, No. 2 (Apr., 1991), pp. 263-264 Published by: Society for Military History
- Suvorov, Viktor. The Chief Culprit: Stalin's Grand Design to Start World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 2008.
- Robin Edmonds. Reviewed work(s): Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War? by Viktor Suvorov. Source: International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 66, No. 4, Seventieth Anniversary Issue (Oct., 1990), p. 812
- David Brandenberger. Reviewed work(s):Sekrety Gitlera na Stole u Stalina: Razvedka i Kontrrazvedka o Podgotovke Germanskoi Agressii Protiv SSSR, Mart-Iyun' 1941 g. Dokumenty iz Tsentral'nogo Arkhiva FSB. Source: Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Jun., 1997), pp. 748-749
- Mikhail Meltyukhov 'Stalin's Missed Chance' (2000) -- Мельтюхов М.И. Упущенный шанс Сталина. Советский Союз и борьба за Европу: 1939-1941 (Документы, факты, суждения). — М.: Вече, 2000
- "Viktor Suvorov" 'Icebreaker' (1987) -- Виктор Суворов Ледокол. -- 1987
- Hugh Ragsdale, The Munich Crisis and the Issue of Red Army Transit across Romania, Source: Russian Review, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Oct., 1998), pp. 614-617. Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Editors and Board of Trustees of the Russian Review.
- Jonathan Haslam. Review: Soviet-German Relations and the Origins of the Second World War: The Jury Is Still Out. Reviewed work(s): Stalin's Drive to the West, 1938-1945: The Origins of the Cold War. by R. Raack; The Soviet Union and the Origins of the Second World War: Russo-German Relations and the Road to War, 1933-1941. by G. Roberts Source: The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Dec., 1997), pp. 785-797