A World in Flames: A Short History of the Second World War in Europe and Asia, 1939-1945

By Martin Kitchen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
Attack on the Soviet Union June 1941-December 1941)

In the summer of 1940 Hitler was at the height of his powers. Almost all of Europe from the North Cape to the Bay of Biscay was in his hands. At home, those who had questioned the soundness of his strategy were silenced and his control over the state apparatus was absolute. With breathtaking rapidity he had reversed the events of November 1918 and given Germany unprecedented power and glory. He was bathed in the unquestioning adulation of a united people.

Only Britain remained defiant, but it was generally assumed that the Wehrmacht would soon be despatched across the Channel and the country overrun within six weeks. Neither Hitler nor the German Foreign Office shared this view. They assumed that the British would realize the hopelessness of their situation and would soon begin peace negotiations whereby Germany would be accepted as master of continental Europe and Britain would remain a great maritime power with its vast overseas empire intact. It was therefore perplexing when the British Government rejected out of hand Hitler's 'appeal to common sense' in his Reichstag speech of 19 July. Hitler correctly assumed that the British hoped for increased support from America, but was incorrect in suggesting that they might also be counting on a dramatic change of course by the Soviet Union. Sir Stafford Cripps arrived in Moscow as ambassador in May and was hopeful that Anglo-Soviet relations would improve, but this optimism was not shared by either the British Foreign Office or the Cabinet. The Soviet occupation of the Baltic states and the confiscation of all British assets led to a worsening of relations, and by August even Cripps was ready to pack his bags and go home.

The Soviet Occupation of the Baltic states was also a matter of

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