The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin 1939-1941 – A Review
12th June 2020
In this blog post we have two reviews of the same book, prepared by students in HM5406, Revolution from Above: the Soviet Union, 1921-53. This is your chance to ‘compare and contrast’. Thanks to our students Harry Brown and Dan Moore.
Moorhouse’s The Devils’ Alliance provides a detailed and engaging discussion of the notorious Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939 with an analysis both of the circumstances of its declaration and of the two year period of collaboration between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany prior to the implementation of Operation Barborossa in June 1941 – the Nazi’s campaign to invade and conquer the Soviet Union.
Moorhouse initially is keen to emphasise the peculiarity of the agreement, including at the time to the international community, due to the clear animosity between the two nations. Much of the Nazi’s political rhetoric was built on anti-communism and revolved around the conspiracy of ‘cultural Bolshevism’, while Soviet media had dubbed Hitler ‘insane’ and condemned the Nazis as ‘modern day cannibals’. This therefore makes the circumstances of the pact even more intriguing.
Moorhouse discusses how, at the beginning of the Second World War, both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union had expansionist interests and aspirations for similar territory, with Germany seeking to expand eastwards and the Soviets to the west. Stalin at the time was confident that conflict between the two nations was inevitable and that it was therefore in the Soviet’s interests to seek a non-aggression agreement between them in order to ‘buy time’ to prepare its infrastructure and the Red Army for an attack.
Moorhouse uses Poland as an example of Germany and the USSR’s mutual territorial interests, stressing that it was ultimately beneficial to both partners with Hitler being able to secure his eastern frontier on the defeat of Poland and Stalin being able to both destroy a long term Russian enemy and access German military hardware. He goes on to discuss the disconcerting nature of the pact across Europe, with many in Britain declaring that war was imminent with the invasion of Poland by both Germany and the Soviets inevitable.
In terms of the ultimate souring of the relationship between the two powers, Moorhouse cites strategic rather than ideological factors on the Nazi’s part as the ultimate obstacle to the continuation of the pact. Moscow’s ambition to rule over the ‘Danubian’ region in Eastern Europe had begun to alarm Hitler who sought control of the entire region for himself and this therefore posed a stark conflict between the two powers, and rumours that Hitler had given the order for war led the Soviets to prepare to defend themselves from inevitable German aggression.
The Devils’ Alliance therefore focuses primarily on the opportunism of Germany and the USSR in this period, both countries seeking to reap the benefits of expansion in Europe and therefore prepared to recognise their mutual interests despite stark ideological contempt for each other.
There is no doubt that The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s Pact with Stalin 1939-1941 is a highly intriguing and in-depth interpretation of the events that took place in and around the Nazi-Soviet pact. The impact of such an agreement changed the course of World War Two and laid out a new path to eventual war between the Nazis and the Soviet Union. The pact, as is widely known, was not intended to be a permanent one. Instead, it was a political tool for logistical warfare. For Hitler, he could first deal with the West; for Stalin, he could gear up for war.
The huge number of primary sources, most notably from Molotov and Ribbentrop and the historical accuracy displayed, is evidence of an expert in the field of German history especially. The information echoed aligns itself to describe two ‘yes- men’ (Molotov and Ribbentrop) and illustrates the grave seriousness and necessity for precision with regards to the pact. The two deal makers were merely Stalin and Hitler, masked by the faces of their respective foreign ministers.
I was intrigued to read such information because the Nazi-Soviet pact is something I am not much of an expert on, and the intriguing style and level of investigation certainly has fuelled my interest for further reading. I gauge from the book itself a number of parallels between the Stalinist Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. After the war, such parallels had to be hidden for the sake of reputation and shame; after all Molotov denied any pact, a lie he took to his grave.
With regards to the view that Moorhouse’s book is a new perspective on the Nazi-Soviet pact, it is to an extent, with a huge reliance on reputable sources, but much of the contents are merely a slight reinforcement of the facts already circulated in common knowledge. Overall, the interpretation is not distracted too far by political outlook and remains as historically accurate as possible. There are many who would disagree with elements of the publication, as the book is dealing with facts and figures that may never be truly determined accurately, most notably statistics regarding extermination and various other humanitarian and political issues. The crucial thing however is that the book is thoroughly researched and delves deeply into the intentions and effects of the pact.