It's often said the peace was only both sides buying time. There's ample evidence Hitler always intended to break the pact. Did Stalin?

Suvorov's thesis that Stalin was preparing for an offensive against Germany has been debunked. Stalin's actions (such as shooting agents who reported threatening German troop movements, as British spies) suggest to me that he did not have plans to attack Germany, nor did he anticipate a German attack.

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    I am afraid the documents are still classified. The best evidence in such situation is a contemporary literature. An opening paragraph of The Living and the Dead (Первый день войны застал семью Синцовых врасплох, как и миллионы других семей. Казалось бы, все давно ждали войны, и все-таки в последнюю минуту она обрушилась как снег на голову; очевидно, вполне приготовить себя заранее к такому огромному несчастью вообще невозможно) leaves no doubt.
    – user58697
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 18:57
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    In what time period? Stalin might well have thought along the lines of Hitler and the British, French, &c fighting to exhaustion, then marching in to pick up the pieces.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 5:39
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    @user58697, it is funny to give as a corroboration of something an excerpt from a fiction book by Simonov, who was actively participating in Khruschev's anti-Stalin libel campaign. If anything needed a corroboration, it would be "stories" in Simonov's books
    – d.k
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 8:00
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    "Suvorov's thesis has been debunked"? By whom? I am aware of a long discussion of Suvorov (mostly in Russian) and my impression from this discussion that most serious researchers agree with him. The only question which is really discussed is WHEN this attack was scheduled.
    – Alex
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 13:56
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    @Alex, Suvorov has been debunked at least by the fact that he was caught numerous times with deliberate distortions of sources, citations etc. He is debunked just by the common sense. If one believes that an army can be prepared only for offense or defense and in this case it cannot to the opposite thing, he is an idiot. In 1942 the Germans were planning to attack at south. But Timoshenko made a "preemptive" strike but somehow was completely defeated. According to the theories of Rezun-Suvorov the Germans should have been defeated and retreat to Berlin, because they were preparing for offense
    – d.k
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 14:52

4 Answers 4


There are no documents available that support the theory that Stalin was planning for such an attack.

In fact, the German attack caught Stalin by surprise. He was in such a firm believe that Germany would never attack that he had ignored all warnings so far.

The attack lead to mental breakdown of Stalin.

Read more at Stalin's-breakdown

Hitler was also clever enough to falsely reassure Stalin that there would be no attack.

In the book "What Stalin Knew" written by David Murphy, a retired CIA officer, it is mentioned that Hitler himself wrote two secret letters to Stalin. In these letters Hitler confides to Stalin that troops were being moved east to protect them from British bombing and to conceal the preparations for the invasion of the British Isles. He concludes with an assurance

“on my honor as a head of state” that Germany would not attack the Soviet Union.

The notable names who praised the book -

  • Niall Ferguson, New York Times Book Review
  • Henry A. Kissinger

David Murphey himself was chief of CIA’s Berlin base from the early 1950s to 1961 and then became chief of Soviet operations at CIA headquarters in the U.S.

Historian Gabriel Gorodetsky says, Stalin was absolutely convinced that Hitler would attempt nothing until he had resolved his conflict with Great Britain.

Whether or not Stalin would attack Hitler after few more years is a matter of debate. But for the time being, Stalin was only concentrated in organizing and modernizing his army, while Hitler destroyed the capitalist forces.

There were multiple evidences that Stalin never planned an attack. Two of them are:

  • When asked by Britain to protect Romania's oil, Stalin refused to do so. Soon Germany took control of the oil. It would be a heavy blow if Germany was denied access to the oil.
  • He had another opportunity when Germans started assembling armies to attack Yugoslavia and Greece. But he didn't took it.

Two important points regarding why Stalin ignored intelligence report of German invasion -

  • He thought those intelligence reports were misinformation by CIA and MI8 to make him attack Germany.
  • He had eliminated the cream of red army Officers. Most of the intelligence channels were created by them. Clearly he didn't trust those sources.

One concrete proof that Stalin never anticipated an attack was that even the day before attack as per his order food and raw material supply to Germany was on.

Common sense: Why one would empower someone if he knew that he was empowering his enemy.

Other field facts just before invasion:

  • Stalin pulled back all his troops.
  • Asked not to react to German provocation.
  • Not to intercept German aircraft in soviet airspace.

In reputable question/answer site Quora, in this page I quote the following lines by user Andrew Warinner

So when Germany attacked on June 22, 1941, Stalin, if not all of his subordinates, was thunderstruck. Stalin went into near seclusion and did little to rally an effective response for days. By some accounts, he expected to be ousted.

I quote the following lines from history.com

To begin with he reacted to the German victory (over France) by pursuing a policy of active appeasement. Deliveries of raw materials to the Nazis increased and Stalin became anxious not to offer any ‘provocation’ to the Germans.

Stalin managed to conclude a non-aggression pact with Japan in April 1941. And it was as he was saying goodbye at Moscow station to the Japanese Foreign Minister on 13 April that Stalin displayed extraordinary weakness. He saw Colonel Hans Krebs of the German embassy on the station platform and immediately embraced him, promising that: ‘We will be your friends –whatever will come!’ Krebs later remarked to a friend that Stalin seemed under great strain, and perhaps was drunk.

Stalin was displaying weaknesses that were all too human – anxiety, denial and fear. But these were not the qualities that would enable the Soviet Union to survive the storm that was to come.

A clear insight into Stalin's mentality. Initially he was so convinced that the Germans won't attack, the more the days went the more weaker he got mentally.

Also it supports my point that Stalin ordered his troops to never respond to any German provocation.

Another important point to be taken note of is that Stalin was not like Trotsky. He was not expansionist. He knew about his capabilities. He was concentrating in organizing and modernizing his own army. He was never the man who was willing to take part in a world war.

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    The clincher in that article is the statenent that when Beria and Mikoyan came to ask Stalin what to do when the Germans invaded, he thought they were coming to arrest him.
    – Spencer
    Commented Aug 12, 2017 at 23:13
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    I voted down, since these "tales" about Stalin's "mental breakdown", "completely surprised by the attack" have also been debunked as well as the tales of Mr. Suvorov. I'll try to address this in my own answer
    – d.k
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 8:39
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    Was Stalin surprised? Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 13:14
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    the CIA didn't exist in 1941, so Stalin could not think about anything as misinformation of the CIA, but this is a cavil. Second, some of you points are, sorry, simply ridiculous. Like this When asked by Britain to protect Romania's oil, Stalin refused to do so. This is the first time I hear this, but even if it is true, how do you imagine to protect Romania's oil. This would have meant to go to war with Germany. Was Stalin a moron to go to that war voluntarily, when many of his actions imply that he was trying to evade the war as long as possible? What was the reason for the 1939 pact?
    – d.k
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 15:40
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    I read somewhere that Stalin kept an eye on the global wool market and since Germany wasn't buying wool it fed his false belief that Germany wouldn't attack.
    – ed.hank
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 20:27

First, your question is not completely clear. What do the words "prepared to fight Germany" mean? There are three options here:

  1. Stalin thought that the USSR should be prepared to any war, even with Germany
  2. Stalin was planning to attack Germany
  3. Stalin was considering a war with Germany really possible in other scenarios (like German attack)

Point 1, Stalin thought that the USSR should be prepared to any war

This one is trivial, since it's obvious that any normal government should be always prepared for war and there are always numerous documentary evidence of this.

Point 2, Stalin was planning to attack Germany

Regarding this, I can say that there is no such known documentary evidence, but with two important reservations:

  • to get such documentary evidence, one need either to conquer Russia and take its archives, scour them, and others need to believe him that he hadn't falsified or destroyed anything he found and nothing had been destroyed before him. Or one can "find" a photocopy of such "documents" as was the case with the so-called Secret Protocol of the 1939 Soviet-German Treaty of Non-aggression or the Japanese Tanaka Memorial. So this is not a correct comparison of Russia or Britain/USA or whatever to Germany. Germany was defeated and, most importantly, occupied, so now many documents are widely available, considered genuine and if a document is not available, some witness testimony of its falsification is there (like in the case of the sinking SS Athenia by U-30, when the u-boat's documents were falsified according to a testimony by K. Donitz)

  • I do not imply to give any corroboration to Suvorov's "findings", which I consider rather foolish

Point 3, Stalin was considering a war with Germany really possible

This is directly related to questions "did Stalin really ignore numerous evidence of German war preparations, intelligence reports about them", was he "mentally broken down" and all this stuff. To address this point one can write a book, so I will give only a couple of instances, which debunk many or at least some of those myths about Stalin and his behavior on the eve of the war.

The most concrete evidence of the fact, that Stalin planned to fight Germany is the order of military alert (I don't know if this is a correct translation of the Russian term "Приказ о приведении войск в боевую готовность"), which was given on June 18th, 1941 (the order itself most likely was given by Zhukov or Timoshenko, since they were respectively the chief of the General Staff and the People's Commissar (Minister) of Defense at the time, and Stalin had no office in the the Army until July 19th, 1941).

The document itself today may not exist, since it was probably destroyed during the Khrushchev times. Why it was destroyed is another question but this was definitely a part of the anti-Stalin campaign in the USSR during Khrushchev's rule. But there are numerous other documents, which mention that order.

I'll give a citation from the book of a Russian "amateur" historian Yury Mukhin "Great commander in chief J.V. Stalin" with my translation* and my notes in square brackets. Some may consider Mukhin an odious person, but I mention him here only as a tribute to his findings and work, I'll give references to "serious" sources corroborating Muhin's points as well. At least, unlike Suvorov, Mukhin has never been caught with falsification of citations.

But, perhaps, the most mean thing Zhukov did, was that he concealed from historians orders from June 18th, 1941 about military alert state in the western military districts and readiness to repel the German strike. …

Zhukov during Khrushchev's rule destroyed something in the archives of the General Staff, but not everything. Particularly, while Stalin was still alive in the end of 1940s — the first half of the 1950s the Military-scientific directorate (the chief — A.P. Pokrovsky) of the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces was generalizing the experience of concentration and deployment of troops of the western military districts along with the plan for protection of the state border of 1941 at the eve of the Great patriotic war.

With this purpose participants of those events, who were holding different positions in the military districts at the early period of the war, were asked five questions:

  1. Were they informed with the plan for protection of the state border, in part, which pertained to their position, when and what was done by the command and staffs to provide the fulfillment of the plan?
  2. When and along with what order did the cover forces start to deploy at the state border and how many of them had been deployed before the war started?
  3. When was the order of military alert been received in relation to the anticipated attack of Nazi Germany at morning of June 22nd. What instructions and when were given to fulfill the order and what was done by the troops?
  4. Why was the major part of artillery placed in training centers?
  5. To what extent staffs were prepared to command troops and how much did this affect carrying out of first-day war operations?

In 1989 the Military-historical magazine, issue 3, started to publish answers of Soviet generals to this questions, dedicating one article in one issue to answers to one question in turn. It managed to publish answers for the first two question, and as soon as the turn came to question 3, "When was the order of military alert received?" — the publication ceased without any explanation from the magazine. Gareevs and anfilovs [Makhmut Gareev and Viktor Anfilov are "professional" historians, Gareev himself is the president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences] suddenly checked themselves. But even from what had been published by the magazine, it became evident that in the Baltic military district this order was received long before the full-scale war.

These accounts of the generals can be checked in issue 3 of the magazine a pdf-file in Russian, p. 68 of the file and issue 5 p. 25. I cannot provide them here, since it would increase the size of the already long answer even more, but the fact is, that the German attack was not a surprise for neither the USSR, nor Stalin.

The notion about the "surprise attack" was concocted during the anti-Stalin libel campaign. For Zhukov and his fellows one probable reason to do this, was to explain some how great defeats the Red Army suffered at the early stage of the war and to cover their own failures.

There is also a myth at least in Russian historiography, that in the Navy, heroic people's commissar of the Navy Kuznetsov without Stalin's decision/permission gave the military alert order to the Navy. I'll once again give a citation from Mukhin's book "Great commander in chief Stalin":

… such an order [for military alert] was given on June 18th. This is corroborated by specially collected memoirs of survived generals of those days and their reports about execution of that order. During Khrushchev and Zhukov all this was distorted, memoirs were written accordingly: let's say, people's commissar of the Navy Kuztensov states that he secretly from Stalin and Timoshenko put the Navy into the military alert state. This is ridiculous in and of itself, but the important part is, that there is a report of commander of the Baltic fleet Tributs, where he informs about the fulfillment of the order not Kuztetsov, but the commanders of the the Baltic and Leningrad military districts, those from whom he received the order.

I hope, I was able to give a corroborated explanation about the fact that the USSR and Stalin were definitely in full awareness of the anticipated war and planned to fight Germany and reasons for the defeats of the early period of the war lie elsewhere, not in the "fact" that Stalin was stupid and "believed" that Hitler would never attack. Not to mention all these Khrushchev-Mikoyan lies about Stalin being afraid of Beria to arrest him in 1941 etc.

* If anyone needs a direct reference to the citation, one can search the book "Великий главнокомандующий И.В. Сталин" for the words "пожалуй, наибольшей подлостью Г.К. Жукова явилось", I cannot provide a page number, since I have an e-book edition.

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    Very interesting, thank you. Despite all of the Stalin-stroking (it's rather amusing to see a Stalin-apologist to take a pop at Khrushchev for destroying documents, frankly) this answer raises a good point about the military alert. Worth looking into.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 13:50
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    This answer is clearly one sided and biased
    – Sonevol
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 14:19
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    @Sonevol, how is it biased? The point is, that since approximately 1960s the official line was that the war took Stalin by surprise. Then I give a reference to a "serious" academic source (the magazine), which mentions that the order to put the troops on alert was issued. With this approach one can call biased anything which was not anointed by "professional" historians, namely those who have been distorting history for a living. Your account about Stalin's "mental breakdown" is based on "memories" of Mikoyan. Why do you deny other people (here those generals) to remember something else?
    – d.k
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 14:26
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    @NeMo, the point is, that regardless of Mukhin, there is evidence, that the troops were put to military alert. But definitely this was just the final stroke in preparations for the war, because such an order just puts in motion plans, which were created month or years before. The US had Plan Orange before 1941. This doesn't mean that the US attacked Japan, but it is definitely a documentary evidence of "preparation to fight" Japan.
    – d.k
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 14:42
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    Point 3, Stalin was considering a war with Germany really possible Yes, this is what I was referring to in the question. Regarding my Stalin-apologist remark: I took your comment The notion about the "surprise attack" was concocted during the anti-Stalin libel campaign to mean that Khrushchev's denunciation of Stalin's mass killings was unfounded. If I misunderstood you, and you do indeed recognise that the most important fact about Stalin was that he killed the second-highest number of people in history, then I of course withdraw that and apologise.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Aug 13, 2017 at 21:12

There is quite a bit of evidence that Stalin was planning an attack in this book: Deutschland im Visier Stalins (2015). There are other references in the reviews on the Amazon page. Suvorov has been mentioned in the other answers.


Yes, there was a plan - but was it Stalin's?

The question is somewhat skewed in asking whether "Stalin" himself had a plan to fight the Germans. There is a documented plan which was presented to Stalin by the Operations Directorate of the General Headquarters of the Red Army in May 1941 which outlined a proposal to attempt to preempt a possible German invasion of the Soviet Union with a full-scale offensive into Poland, and to pursue an aggressive active defense in other sectors. This proposal has given rise to suggestions that Stalin was planning a preemptive strike against Hitler, however there is no evidence that Stalin himself ever actually endorsed the plan. Zhukov is understood to have said that there were no other plans in effect, and no evidence of any other plan endorsed by Stalin has come to light. So it is unclear whether anybody ever actually expected this plan to be executed or not.

The full text (in Russian) can be found here: Strategic Deployment Plan Considerations, May 1941

An English translation of key passages can be found below:

enter image description here

Strategic Deployment Plan Considerations

General-Major A.M. Vasilevsky

Note - The document was written by the hand of the Deputy Chief of the Operations Directorate of the General Headquarters of the Red Army General-Major A.M. Vasilevsky. Published taking into account the correction of digital data and the text made by the hand of the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army, General Lieutenant H.F. Vatutina. Vatutin's correction of digital data, deletion, inscription and correction of individual words are not specified. Reservations made only where Vatutin entered paragraphs and phrases (given in bold). Under the document are the signatures of the People's Commissar of Defense of the USSR Marshal of the Soviet Union S.K. Tymoshenko and Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army Army General G.K. Zhukov. But their own handwritten signatures are not. Orthography and punctuation are given according to the original document. (Note by the publisher.)

Strategic Deployment Plan Considerations

Forces of the Soviet Union in case of war with Germany and its allies

People's Commissar of Defense of the USSR

May 1941

Only in person.

Unity instance.

To the Chairman of the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR comrade To Stalin

I am reporting on your consideration of the plan for the strategic deployment of the armed forces of the Soviet Union in case of war with Germany and its allies.

I. At present, according to the intelligence of the Red Army, Germany has deployed about 230 infantry, 22 tank, 20 motorized, 8 air and 4 cavalry divisions, and a total of about 284 divisions. As of 15.4.41, of these, up to 86 infantry, 13 tank, 12 motorized, and 1 cavalry divisions, totaling up to 120 divisions, were concentrated on the borders of the Soviet Union.

It is assumed that in the current political situation, Germany, in the event of an attack on the USSR, will be able to put up against us - up to 137 infantry, 19 tank, 15 motorized, 4 cavalry and 5 airborne divisions, and a total of 180 divisions...


... Most likely, the main forces of the German army, consisting of 76 infantry, 11 tank, 8 motorized, 2 cavalry and 5 air divisions, and up to 100 divisions, will be deployed south of the Brest-Demblin line to strike in the direction of Kovel, Rivne, Kiev.

At the same time, one should expect attacks in the north from East Prussia to Vilna and Riga, as well as short, concentric attacks from the side of Suwalki and Brest to Volkovysk, Baranovichi.

In the south - one should expect blows:

a) in the direction of меmeřín, the Romanian army supported by German divisions,

b) in the direction of Munkach, Lviv and

c) Sanok, Lviv.

The probable allies of Germany can put up against the USSR: Finland up to 20 infantry divisions, Hungary - 15 infantry divisions, Romania up to 25 infantry divisions.

In total, Germany and its allies can deploy up to 240 divisions against the USSR. Given that Germany is currently keeping its army mobilized, with its rear deployed, it has the ability to prevent (underlined in the text. - Yu. G.) deployment and deliver a surprise strike.

In order to prevent this, I consider it necessary in no case to give initiative to the German Command, to prevent (underlined in the text) the enemy in deployment and attack the German army at the moment when it is in the deployment phase and does not have time to organize yet troops.

II. The first strategic goal of the actions of the Red Army forces is to set as a breakdown the main forces of the German army deployed south of the Brest-Demblin line and to reach the Ostrolenka front by the 30th day of operation, r. Harev, Lovich, Lodz, Kreuzburg, Oppeln, Olomouc. The next strategic goal is to advance from the Katowice region in the north or north-west direction, to destroy the large forces of the center and the north wing of the German front and master the territory of the former Poland and East Prussia. The immediate task is to defeat the German army east of r. Wisla and on the Kraków direction, go to rr Harev, Wisla and take control of the Katowice region. for what:

a) to strike the main blow with the forces of the Southwestern Front in the direction of Krakov, Katowice, cutting Germany off from its southern allies;

b) apply an auxiliary left-wing strike of the Western Front in the direction of Siedlec, Demblin, with the aim of holding down the Warsaw grouping and mastering Warsaw, as well as assisting the South-Western Front in the partition of the Lublin grouping of the enemy;

c) to conduct active defense against Finland, Eastern Prussia, Hungary and Romania and be prepared to strike against Romania in a favorable environment. In this way, the Red Army will begin offensive operations from the front of Chizhov and Lyutovisko with the help of 152 divisions against 100 German forces. In other parts of the state border, active defense is provided.


  • This is all interesting, but as AJP Taylor said, it's dangerous to try and deduce political intentions from military plans. Said plans exist so that commanders don't have to start from scratch when conflict escalates quickly. I originally asked whether Stalin (and I do mean Stalin) believed that war with Germany was likely or if there was no danger of Germany attacking. There were probably plans for a Franco-Russian, Anglo-Russian and Russo-American war, but that doesn't mean Stalin thought any of them were likely.
    – Ne Mo
    Commented Mar 4, 2020 at 22:47
  • @Ne Mo It is inconceivable, even simply on the basis of the information in the report I have quoted above, that Stalin could have believed that a German attack was unlikely, if not imminent. This report is a document from his top military advisers telling him exactly that. If he chose to ignore or dismiss their expert advice, for reasons either calculated or otherwise, and I'm not certain that he actually did ignore their warning, then he must at the very least have understood that there was a growing risk of a German attack. The precise framing of the political narrative was critical. Commented Mar 7, 2020 at 9:17

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