Russia at bay


On 19 September 1941, German forces entered Kiev. That day, Leningrad suffered its worst air and artillery bombardment of the war, with 276 German bombers breaking through the city’s anti-aircraft defences. More than a thousand citizens were killed, including many who, already wounded, were in one of the city’s hospitals when it was hit. Two days later, on September 21, 180 bombers struck at Leningrad’s principal defensive island, Kronstadt, seriously damaging the naval dockyard.

From London, with Churchill’s authority, British Intelligence sent Stalin a series of warnings between September 20 and 25, based upon the reading of the most secret German Vulture messages being sent to and from the Eastern Front, giving details of German intentions and movements on the Moscow front. These details included information on the location and strength of German air and ground concentrations in the Smolensk area. For Britain herself, however, the end of the second week of September brought bad news at sea. On September 20, a convoy of merchant ships bound for Gibraltar lost five of its twenty-seven ships when German submarines struck. Morale was briefly raised when a German aircraft, flying over the convoy and radioing U-boat commanders of the location of the merchantmen, was shot down by one of the escort vessels. One of the merchant ships, however, the Walmer Castle, leaving the convoy to rescue survivors of two of the torpedoed ships, was bombed from the air, and sunk. Then, on September 21, the German submarines disappeared; they had found another target, a convoy on its way to Britain from Sierra Leone. In three nights, nine of its twenty-seven ships were sunk.


On the Eastern front, SS units fought alongside the regular German Army formations. Sometimes their brutality was particularly in evidence, as on September 23, when, near Krasnaya Gora, in reprisal for the killing of three SS sentries, the inhabitants of a whole village were lined up and machine-gunned. Sometimes it was the fearlessness of an SS man that was seen, as on September 24, at Lushno, when an SS corporal, Fritz Christen, after every soldier in his battery had been killed, remained at his gun, knocking out thirteen Soviet tanks. The first Death’s Head soldier to be awarded the Iron Cross First Class with the coveted Knight’s Cross, Christen was later flown to Rastenburg to be decorated personally by Hitler.

In the Far East, the Japanese were making plans to start their war with the United States by means of a daring raid on the American naval base at Pearl Harbour, in mid-Pacific. On September 24 the Japanese Consul in Hawaii, Nagai Kita, was instructed to divide Pearl Harbour into five zones, and to report back to Japan on the precise number of warships moored in each zone. American Signals Intelligence in Hawaii intercepted this message, but, having no decrypting facilities, had to send it back to Washington by Pan Am Clipper. There was only one flight a week; but the weekly flight on September 26 was cancelled because of bad weather. The intercept was therefore sent by sea, reaching Washington on October 6. Shortage of decrypting staff, and the fact that the message was not in the very highest grade of codes, led to a further three days’ delay; but even then, with the message finally decrypted, it was not considered to be more than a routine espionage assignment, typical of those in a dozen other places, such as similar orders which were being decrypted from Japanese agents in Manila, Panama and Seattle.

Stalin, meanwhile, continued to be informed of the contents of the Enigma messages in which the Germans were transmitting their most secret military positions and plans. The only other Russian to be told was the Chief of the General Staff, Marshal Shaposhnikov. Whenever the Russians asked for the source of the messages, Cecil Barclay, the special liaison officer with the British Military Mission, was instructed to maintain the utter secrecy of the intercepts by saying that the information came from an officer in the German War Office.

On September 25, the German forces launched their southern attack. Hitler intended this attack to precede the imminent assault on Moscow, for which German armoured units were even then reassembling after their transfer from the Leningrad front. But this twin drive towards Kharkov and the Crimea, which Hitler had expected to be swiftly accomplished, was to be checked and frustrated by a strong Soviet defence. A new and powerful Russian tank, the T-34, had begun to dominate the battlefield. It was on September 26 that the SS Death’s Head Division was first forced to send into action special ‘Tank Annihilation Squads’ to attack the T-34, against which its hitherto devastating anti-tank guns had proved ineffective. These squads consisted of two officers and ten men who, carrying explosives, mines, grenades and bombs in satchels, had to go forward on foot towards any individual Russian tank that had penetrated through the German defensive line, and to destroy or disable the tank as quickly as possible with their hand-held explosives.

On September 26, an SS Captain, Max Seela, demonstrated what could be done when he destroyed the first of seven Russian tanks which had broken through to the German position. Seela crawled up to the tank on his own, placing two satchels of explosives against the turret, and detonating them with a grenade. He then led his squad forward to destroy the six remaining Soviet tanks. As their crews struggled to escape from their burning vehicles, they were shot down one by one and killed.

Not only in battle, but far behind the lines, cruelty continued to be a daily feature of the war in the East. That September 26, when a Lithuanian policeman patrolling a street in the Kovno ghetto thought that he heard a shot being fired, 1,800 Jews living in the street—men, women and children—were rounded up, loaded on to lorries, driven to one of the pre-First World War forts on the outskirts of the city, and killed. On the following day, on no provocation at all, 3,446 Jews in the Lithuanian town of Eisiskes, including more than eight hundred children, were taken to specially dug pits in the Jewish cemetery, and shot down by machine-gun fire.

The scale of the Special Task Force killings now exceeded anything previously recorded: by the end of September, in a two-day massacre, 33,771 Jews had been murdered in the ravine at Babi Yar, on the outskirts of Kiev, and a further 35,782 ‘Jews and Communists’, according to the same Operational Situation Report—No. 101 of October 2—in the Black Sea cities of Nikolayev and Kherson. There were German complaints, also, that their work of mass murder was being obstructed. On September 28, at Kremenchug, the Russian mayor, Vershovsky, ordered the baptism of several hundred Jews with a view to protecting them from the slaughter. He was arrested and shot.


On September 27, German forces captured Perekop, cutting off the Crimea from the rest of southern Russia. That day, in the Baltimore Naval Yard, the United States launched a 10,000 ton merchant ship, the Patrick Henry, the first of what were to be many thousand of standardized, mass produced vessels, known as ‘Liberty ships’, and overcoming by their sheer numbers and rapid construction the loss inflicted upon Britain by the incessant German submarine attacks. With many of the parts prefabricated before the final assembly, one such ship, the Robert E. Peary, was constructed in the extraordinary record time of four days.

On September 28, the first British convoy of war supplies to Russia, Convoy PQ 1, left Iceland for Archangel. Two days later, Churchill announced in the House of Commons that the whole British tank production of the week just ended was to be sent to Russia. Large quantities of aluminium, rubber and copper, as earlier requested by Stalin, had already been despatched. On October 2, as German forces prepared to launch Operation Typhoon against Moscow, Churchill read the German secret messages giving details of the assault. ‘Are you warning the Russians of the developing concentrations?’ he asked the head of the Secret Intelligence Service, and he added: ‘Show me the last five messages you have sent….’

In Moscow, the Anglo-American Mission headed by Lord Beaverbrook and Averell Harriman was finding out what Russia required, and doing its utmost to meet Stalin’s requests. It was the Americans, for example, who were able to satisfy his appeal for four hundred tons of barbed wire a month. On September 30, Lord Beaverbrook agreed to send Russia the whole of Britain’s share of her forthcoming supplies from the United States: 1,800 fighter aircraft, 2,250 tanks, 500 anti-tank guns, 23,000 tommy guns, 25,000 tons of copper, 27,000 tons of rubber and 250,000 soldiers’ greatcoats.

The extent of Britain’s material pledge to Russia was formidable, covering every facet of the naval, air and land war. The Russians were to receive, in nine monthly deliveries, a total of 1,800 British Hurricanes and Spitfires, 900 American fighters and 900 American bombers. For the Soviet Navy, 150 sets of Asdic submarine detection sets were to be supplied, as well as 1,500 naval guns, 3,000 anti-aircraft machine guns and eight destroyers ‘before the end of 1941’. For the Red Army, the list of immediate requirements to be provided was staggering, eating into both Britain’s and America’s essential war needs, and including one thousand tanks a month together with ‘a proper complement of accessories and spare parts’, three hundred anti-aircraft guns a month, three hundred anti-tank guns a month, and two thousand armoured cars a month, together with their anti-tank guns.

Other Soviet needs which the British and American Governments promised to supply included 4,000 tons of aluminium a month, substantial quantities of copper, tin, lead, brass, nickel and cobalt, 13,000 tons monthly of steel bars for shells, as well as industrial diamonds, machine tools, rubber, wool, jute and lead. For the soldiers of the Red Army, Britain was to provide three million pairs of army boots immediately, followed by 400,000 pairs a month, the Americans sending in addition, also monthly, 200,000 pairs of army shoes. More than a million metres of army cloth were to be supplied each month.

Other Anglo-American committees in Moscow had agreed to supply 20,000 tons a month of petroleum products, including lubricating oil for aviation engines, shipping to enable the transport of cargoes of up to half a million tons a month for food, oil and war material imports, and medical supplies on a vast and comprehensive scale, including more than ten million surgical needles and half a million pairs of surgical gloves.

Other medical supplies sent to Russia included 20,000 amputation knives, 15,000 amputation saws, one hundred portable X-ray sets, four thousand kilogrammes of local anaesthetics, more than a million doses of the recently discovered antibiotics—including M & B 693—sedatives, heart and brain stimulants, 800,000 forceps—including forceps for bone operations—instruments for brain and eye operations, and a million metres of oilcloth for covering wounds.

Not only Churchill, but his wife Clementine, sought to provide Russia with the military material and medical help needed to resist the renewed German attack; that September Clementine Churchill launched an Aid to Russia Appeal which had an enormous response, especially among British factory workers, where it ‘touched’, as one civil servant later recalled, ‘the feeling of popular sympathy for the Russians in their gallant resistance’. Within a month, the appeal had raised enough money to send to Russia, without delay, fifty-three emergency operating outfits, thirty blood-transfusion sets, 70,000 surgical needles, half a ton—one million doses—of the painkiller phenacetin, and seven tons of absorbent cotton-wool for bandages.

Even as these supplies were being sent to Russia, the eastward move of Russian resources, as far out of reach of the German armies as possible, was approaching its conclusion; by the last week of September, 1,360 heavy industrial plants in western Russia had been successfully transferred to the Urals, western Siberia, the Volga, Kazakhstan and Central Asia. At the same time as this mass of essential war machinery was moving eastwards, on an estimated million and a half railway wagons, the railways were also moving two and a half million soldiers in the other direction, westwards, to the front line. It was a formidable achievement. On September 29, the Soviet Government ordered the evacuation to beyond the Urals of Russia’s largest heavy-machine works, at Kramatorsk, south east of Kharkov. Despite continuous German aerial bombardment, the evacuation was ready to begin five days later.

Also on September 29, in Leningrad, plans were drawn up to establish priorities for partisan activity throughout the Leningrad region, including the sabotaging of the siege-gun batteries, and night raids on German barracks and airstrips. On the following day, however, there was another blow to Leningrad’s chance of early relief, when Finnish troops broke through to the Soviet positions at Petrozavodsk, on Lake Onega.


As British and American scientists worked towards the development of an atomic bomb, one of their number, Klaus Fuchs, who had come to Britain from Germany as a refugee in 1933, and was a dedicated Communist, began passing the secrets of Tube Alloys—the British and American code name for the project—to his Soviet Embassy contact in London, Simon Davidovich Kremer, a member of the staff of the Military Attaché. Later that year, Fuchs’ contact was a German—Jewish refugee, Ruth Kuczynski, code name ‘Sonya’, whose husband was in the Royal Air Force.

On October 3 the result of the British researches was communicated officially to Professor Conant in the United States, and six days later through him to Roosevelt—and no doubt, through Fuchs, to Stalin. It seemed that the explosive core of an atomic bomb, weighing no more than twenty-five pounds, might explode with a force equivalent to 1,800 tons of TNT. An enormous expenditure was needed, however, to bring the bomb into existence.

As Fuchs worked to alert Russia to Western progress on the atomic bomb, the Germans launched Operation Typhoon, the attack on Moscow. ‘Today’, Hitler declared in a communiqué broadcast on October 2, ‘begins the last, great, decisive battle of the war.’ Germany was shortly to have ‘the three greatest industrial districts of the Bolsheviks’ completely in her hands. ‘At last we have created the prerequisites for the final, tremendous blow which, before the onset of winter, will lead to the destruction of the enemy.’

Nearly two thousand tanks advanced that day against the Russian Army. Far behind the lines, October 2 saw the machine gunning, at Zagare, of ‘633 men, 1,017 women, 496 children’, all of them Jews, 150 of whom had been shot down while trying to resist being forced out of the town, and of a further 976 Jews at Butrimonys, where the German Special Task Force had also organized a ‘spectacle’, placing benches at the execution site so that the local Lithuanians could have a ‘good view’.

For ten days the German Army drove forward on the road to Moscow. As the Germans approached each day closer to the capital, Russian peasants set fire to their already harvested crops, drove away their livestock, and blew up the main buildings in their villages. This was the pre-arranged and self-inflicted scorched-earth policy; the Germans were to be denied all but a blackened terrain.

In Paris, on October 2, the SS chief, Helmut Knochen, ordered the destruction of seven synagogues. Six of them were dynamited that night; the seventh, where the fuse had failed, was blown up on the following day ‘for safety reasons’.

On the Eastern Front, the Germans seemed finally to have broken their adversary. On October 3, Orel was captured, so quickly that there was no time for the Russians to destroy its remaining factories. Hitler, returning by train to Berlin for a single afternoon, told an enormous crowd in the Sportpalast: ‘Forty-eight hours ago there began new operations of gigantic dimensions. They will lead to the destruction of the enemy in the East. The enemy has already been routed and will never regain his strength.’

Hitler was back in Rastenburg on October 4. On that day, in Kovno, less than a hundred and twenty miles away, all the patients, doctors and nurses in the ghetto hospital, as well as the orphans in the adjacent Jewish orphanage, were locked in the building, which was then set on fire. Anyone who managed to break out was shot. Three days later, at Rovno, the mass murder began of more than seventeen thousand Jews.

With the Russian armies driven back to Vyazma and Bryansk in the centre, and forced out of Dnepropetrovsk in the south, the mood of the German generals was jubilant. ‘Now the operation is rolling towards Moscow,’ the Army’s Quartermaster General, Eduard Wagner, wrote privately on October 5. ‘Our impression is that the final great collapse is immediately ahead, and that tonight the Kremlin is packing its bags.’ As to Hitler’s military judgement, Wagner added, ‘This time he is intervening—and one can say decisively—in the operation, and so far he has been right every time. The major victory in the south is his work alone.’

On October 6, in the southern sector, German forces entered Berdyansk, taking more than 100,000 Russian prisoners-of-war. That day, further north, the second snow flurries of winter fell. On October 7, snow flurries fell at Hitler’s Rastenburg headquarters.


On October 4, and again on October 6, Stalin had learned, direct from Churchill, of the schedule of convoys being sent to Archangel. On October 12, twenty heavy tanks and 193 fighter aircraft would arrive. These would be followed on October 19 by a hundred fighters, 140 heavy tanks, two hundred bren-gun carriers, two hundred anti-tank rifles and fifty heavy guns. On October 22 a third convoy would arrive, with two hundred fighters and two hundred heavy tanks. Each convoy would take seventeen days on its journey around the North Cape, braving Arctic storms and German air strikes.

On October 8, in southern Russia, Mariupol fell to the German advance; Hitler’s troops had reached the Sea of Azov. ‘In a military sense,’ Hitler’s Press Chief, Otto Dietrich, told foreign journalists in Berlin on the following day, ‘Soviet Russia has been vanquished.’ But Soviet resistance had not been broken, nor had the T-34 tanks been overcome. And over the BBC’s Foreign Service a German voice murmured after every seventh tick of the ticking clock: ‘Every seven seconds a German dies in Russia. Is it your husband? Is it your son? Is it your brother?’

On October 10, Stalin brought General Zhukov back from Leningrad, where the first deaths from starvation had begun to occur, to take command of a newly formed Western Front, and to halt the German advance on Moscow. Zhukov’s political adviser in his new task was Nikolai Bulganin. That afternoon, in his Rastenburg headquarters, Hitler told those who were with him: ‘The law of existence prescribes uninterrupted killing, so that the better may live.’ This was not mere thinking aloud; that same day, October 10, Marshal Walther von Reichenau, commander of the German Sixth Army, issued a directive in which he declared: ‘The most essential aim of the campaign against the Jewish-Bolshevist system is the complete crushing of its means of power, and the extermination of Asiatic influences in the European region.’ This, von Reichenau went on to explain, ‘poses tasks for the troops that go beyond the one-sided routine of conventional soldiering’; the German soldier ‘must have full understanding for the necessity of a severe but just atonement on Jewish sub-humanity’.

The spirit of Reichenau’s directive was widely emulated; on October 12, in the Yugoslav town of Zasavica, several hundred Jews and Gypsies were murdered; the Gypsies, like the Jews, having now become a part of ‘sub-humanity’. In its Operational Situation Report No. 120, dated October 21, the Special Task Force operating in Serbia reported ‘for example’—as they phrased it—2,200 Serbians and Jews shot as a reprisal for an attack on a train near Topola, when twenty-two German soldiers lost their lives, and a further 1,738 inhabitants, ‘and nineteen Communist women’ executed at Kraljevo. Further south, in Greece, two villages near the Strumen estuary, which were ‘proved’ to have given support for Greek partisans, were burned down, and ‘all the male inhabitants (202) were shot’.

The first part of October was also covered in Operation Situation Report USSR No. 124, compiled in Berlin on October 25. Among the October executions which it recorded were 627 Jews ‘liquidated’ in Shklov, as well as 812 ‘racially and mentally inferior elements’, and three thousand Jews, murdered in the Vitebsk ghetto.


The fate of those Russian soldiers who were captured by the Germans was horrifying; between the middle of August and the middle of October 1941, 18,000 Russian prisoners-of-war had been murdered in Sachsenhausen concentration camp alone; an average of three hundred a day. One of those who helped organize this mass murder was SS General Eicke, who had earlier been wounded on the Eastern Front.

On October 12 Russian troops were forced to abandon Bryansk and Vyazma. Eight Russian armies had been trapped and destroyed, and 648,196 men taken prisoner. That day, the Germans seized Kaluga, a hundred miles south-west of Moscow. ‘Wonderful news from Russia,’ General Rommel wrote to his wife from the Western Desert on October 12. ‘After the conclusion of the great battles,’ he forecast, ‘we can expect the advance east to go fast and thus remove all possibility of the enemy creating any significant new forces.’ Two days later, ninety miles north-west of Moscow, the town of Kalinin fell to the Germans. That day, the first German offensive against Soviet partisans, Operation Karlsbad, was launched between Minsk and Smolensk, where partisans had threatened to cut this essential supply route to the front.

It was not only the first anti-partisan operation that troubled the Germans on October 14; that same day, as the first snowflakes fell on Leningrad, the temperature throughout the central battle zone fell to below zero. ‘Weather prediction is not a science that can be learned mechanically,’ Hitler told his entourage at Rastenburg that evening. On the following day, October 15, one of the regimental diaries of the SS Death’s Head Division recorded the first substantial snowfall, ten inches of snow.

Throughout the Eastern Front, a mixture of melting snow flurries and heavy rain had created a thick, glutinous mud, which slowed down and could even halt the advance of the German tanks; it was a mud which the Soviet T-34 tanks, with their wider tread, were better designed to overcome.

From Odessa, on October 15, the Soviet military authorities began the final evacuation of troops and equipment. Earlier, 86,000 men had embarked; now, in one night, thirty transports sailed from the port with 35,000 men, setting course for Sevastopol. More than a thousand lorries and four hundred guns had been taken off earlier, also 20,000 tons of ammunition, in 192 sailings. It had been a bloodless Tallinn; a third Dunkirk.

Also on October 15, all Soviet Government offices, and all diplomatic missions, in Moscow were told to prepare for evacuation. They were to be moved eastwards, to the Volga city of Kuibyshev. On the approaches to Moscow, fifty-six bridges were mined, ready to be blown up before the Germans could cross them. Inside Moscow itself, sixteen more bridges were mined, to be blown up ‘at the first sight of the enemy’.

Even as Hitler saw Moscow within his grasp, his subordinates were ordering the deportation of 20,000 Jews and 5,000 Gypsies from the cities of Germany to the ghetto of Lodz, already a scene of desperate hunger and deprivation, in which as many as a hundred people had died of starvation in the previous month. In the Warsaw ghetto, where the daily death toll was twice that of Lodz, on October 15 the Germans imposed ‘punishment by death’ on all Jews who left the ghetto without permission, and also, as a warning of equal severity to the Poles, on any person ‘who deliberately offers a hiding place to such Jews’.

The threats of tyranny were dire; but the Germans were becoming careless in their challenges. When a transatlantic convoy from Sydney, Cape Breton, was attacked by German submarines on October 16, and five American destroyers from bases in Iceland came to its aid, one of the submarines fired its torpedoes at one of the destroyers, the Kearney, which was badly damaged; eleven American sailors were killed.

‘Hitler’s torpedo was directed at every American,’ Roosevelt told the American people in his Navy Day address eleven days later. But he was still not prepared to declare war on Germany. October 16, the day of the torpedoing of the Kearney, was also the day on which, in Tokyo, the Government of Prince Konoye was forced to resign, giving way to an administration led by General Hideki Tojo, his Minister of War. For those who wanted to challenge the United States on the battlefield, Tojo was the ideal choice as Prime Minister. For Stalin, however, the Japanese threat was over; in the first week of October, he had learned from Richard Sorge in Tokyo that the Japanese Government had definitely decided that there would be no Japanese attack on the Soviet frontiers before the spring of 1942 at the earliest. Stalin had immediately ordered further troops, now totalling half of the divisional strength of the Far Eastern command, to rush to the defence of Moscow. In all, more than eight divisions were moved westward, together with a thousand tanks and a thousand aircraft. One of the first transferred divisions was ordered into action at Borodino in front of Mozhaisk, as soon as it could be hurried westward through Moscow, even though only half of its regiments had been assembled.

In the two weeks following Stalin’s decision of October 15 to evacuate Moscow’s government institutions and armaments factories, two hundred trains left the capital for the Volga and Ural regions; so too did 80,000 trucks, which evacuated the essential equipment of nearly five hundred factories. One factory, which manufactured infantry weapons, needed twelve trains.

There were other trains moving east on October 16, not from Moscow, but from several cities in Germany; on them were Jews being deported to the Lodz ghetto. One of the trains, with 512 Jews, came from Luxemburg. Five, with five thousand Jews in all, came from Vienna. Five, with a similar number of deportees, were from Prague, and four trains, with 4,187 Jews, came from Berlin. Four other trains came from Cologne, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Düsseldorf. The deportees were henceforth to share the fate of the Jews of Lodz.

For the Germans, the weather on the Russian front had become the dominant concern. On October 16, a pilot arriving at Hitler’s Rastenburg headquarters reported that six inches of snow were covering the whole countryside. ‘Our wildest dreams have been washed out by rain and snow,’ General Hoffman von Waldau, Deputy Chief of Staff of the German Air Force, noted in his diary. ‘Everything is bogged down in a bottomless quagmire. The temperature drops to 11°, a foot of snow falls, and then it rains on top of the snow.’

On the evening of October 17, Hitler did not seem too perturbed about the weather. Rzhev, Belgorod, Stalino and Taganrog—less than three hundred miles from the Volga—had all fallen to his armies in the previous forty-eight hours. In the south, General von Manstein had broken into the Crimea. That evening at Rastenburg Hitler told his guests, including Dr Todt, of his plans for motor roads to the Crimea and the Caucasus. ‘These roads’, he said, ‘will be studded along their whole length with German towns, and around these towns our colonists will settle’—not only Germans, but Scandinavians, and even people from ‘Western countries and America’. As for the local inhabitants, ‘we’ll have to screen them carefully. The Jew, that destroyer, we shall drive out.’

Even as Hitler spoke in the privacy of his headquarters, the ‘top secret’ Operation Situation Report USSR No. 117 was being compiled in Berlin, giving details of how, in the Nikolayev region, the districts occupied by the Special Task Force ‘were cleansed of Jews’, 4,091 Jews and forty-six Communists being executed in the first two weeks of October, ‘bringing the total to 40,699’. Nor were Jews under German rule in Western Europe to be allowed, as a few had been, to seek a legal way out through neutral Portugal. On October 18, Himmler telephoned Reinhard Heydrich, who had just been appointed Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, and told him: ‘No emigration by Jews to overseas.’

It was not only against Jews, but also against partisans, that the Special Task Forces were now in action every day. The Operation Situation Report USSR No. 116, sent from Berlin on October 17, had given details of partisan activity, and the efforts to combat it, in the Gatchina region near Leningrad. In an effort to combat acts of sabotage ‘ten people had to be shot in Slutsk’. On October 18, between Smolensk and Vyazma, the one effective east-west highway on the road to Moscow was booby-trapped with high-explosive shells; when detonated by remote control, they caused craters in the road thirty feet wide and eight feet deep.

Closer to Moscow, Mozhaisk was ablaze, while both Maloyaroslavets and Tarusa were occupied, exposing a new threat to Moscow from the south.

In Moscow itself, workers had begun to form labour detachments, to dig anti-tank ditches around the capital. ‘We were taken some kilometres out of Moscow’, one of them, Olga Sapozhnikova, later wrote. ‘There was a very large crowd of us, and we were told to dig trenches. We were all very calm, but dazed, and couldn’t take it. On the very first day we were machine-gunned by a Fritz who swooped right down on us. Eleven of the girls were killed, and four wounded.’

The anti-tank ditch dug by Olga Sapozhnikova and her workmates was between Moscow and Kuntsevo. Another, four miles long, was at Naro-Fominsk.


It was on October 18 that, in Tokyo, the Japanese authorities arrested Richard Sorge. An extraordinary saga of successful espionage from the very centre of German diplomatic activity in Tokyo was at an end, three days after Sorge had been able finally to set Stalin’s mind at rest about Russia’s vulnerability to attack in the Far East. Also arrested were thirty-five members of the ring which Sorge had set up, including his four principal confidants, two of them Japanese.

Stalin’s Far Eastern spy had proved his devotion to Soviet Communism and to the survival of Russia. On October 19, from Moscow itself, Stalin proclaimed a state of siege, and issued an Order of the Day: ‘Moscow will be defended to the last.’ In Leningrad, in a gesture of defiance to the German efforts to force the city to surrender, Professor losif Orbeli, Director of the Hermitage, obtained permission for half a dozen of the city’s leading orientalists to be released for a few hours from the front line, to celebrate the eight hundredth anniversary of Nizami, the national poet of Azerbaidjan.

By October 20, a half million Russian men and women had been mobilized in Moscow to dig a total of five thousand miles of trenches and anti-tank ditches around the city. At the same time, 185 miles of barbed wire were laid out. The Germans were now only sixty-five miles from the Soviet capital. They had already occupied 600,000 square miles of Russian territory, with a population of sixty-five million. They had captured more than three million Soviet soldiers. ‘A nightmare picture’, Field Marshal von Bock wrote in his diary on October 20, ‘of tens of thousands of Russian prisoners-of-war, marching with hardly any guards towards Smolensk. Half dead from exhaustion, these pitiful souls trudge on.’ ‘The columns of Russian prisoners moving on the roads’, Colonel Lahousen, an assistant to Admiral Canaris, noted that same day, ‘look like halfwitted herds of animals.’ General von Reichenau’s Sixth Army, Lahousen added, ‘has ordered that all prisoners who break down are to be shot. Regrettably this is done at the roadside, even in the villages, so that the local population are eye-witnesses of these incidents.’

In London, learning that evening that the German armies were within sixty-five miles of Moscow, Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff at once agreed that British tanks then being shipped to Russia should be furnished with three months’ worth of spare parts, ‘whatever sacrifice this might entail’.

On October 21, on the Russian front, the 2,500 technicians of the Kramatorsk heavy-machine works south-west of Kharkov were ready to follow their evacuated factory to the east, after three weeks of incredible efforts to dismantle its machinery and pack it on trains for its journey to safety. As the evacuation task was completed, German troops were only seven miles away. The technicians, unable to find a train, walked twenty miles eastward to the nearest railway station that was still functioning.

In Yugoslavia, the Germans carried out three massacres on October 21. At Kragujevac, 2,300 men and boys were killed, including whole classes of schoolboys. At Kraljevo, seven thousand were killed, and in the Macva region, six thousand men, women and children.

In France, on October 21, the Germans shot fifty hostages at Nantes, as a reprisal for the assassination on the previous day of the German military commander of the region, Lieutenant-Colonel Hötz.

In his conversations at Rastenburg at noon that day, Hitler’s mind was still obsessed with the Jews. ‘By exterminating this pest,’ he told his confidants, ‘we shall do humanity a service of which our soldiers can have no idea.’

Well aware of their service to ‘humanity’, German Army units joined with the Special Task Forces, as well as with Roumanian soldiers, in carrying out to the letter General von Reichenau’s directive of October 10 for ‘the extermination of Asiatic influences in the European region’. In Odessa, within twenty-four hours of Hitler’s noonday comment, the mass murder began of 25,000 Jews, half of whom were locked into four vast warehouses, three of which were then set on fire. Those who were not killed by the flames, and who sought to escape through holes in the roof, or through the windows, were met with a hail of hand grenades and machine gun fire. Many women went mad, throwing their children out of the windows. The fourth warehouse, filled entirely with men, was then destroyed by artillery fire.

On the evening of October 21 Hitler’s private talk was entirely of the architectural future of Berlin. ‘Nothing will be too good’, he said, ‘for the beautification of Berlin. When one enters the Reich Chancellery, one should have the feeling that one is visiting the master of the world. One will arrive there along wide avenues containing the Triumphal Arch, the Pantheon of the Army, the Square of the People—things to take your breath away!’ The new Berlin, Hitler explained, would be built in granite: ‘Granite will ensure that our monuments last for ever.’

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