Why Stalin thought El Alamein was a Sideshow

Churchill sent a telegram to Stalin on 7th July [1941] promising every possible help…”*

Churchill wrote the script of British understanding of the Second World War. One result of this is that the Soviet Union’s gigantic battles are virtually unknown. El Alamein lasted 20 days, Stalingrad 163. The total numbers of combatants is stark: El Alamein about 310,000, Stalingrad 2.2 million. Rommel’s army was routed but escaped to Tunisia whilst the German Sixth Army was annihilated. Stalin raged against Churchill and Roosevelt dismissing El Alamein as a sideshow demanding a second front in Europe. Stalin felt Churchill was betraying his commitment. (see above)

Churchill arrived in Moscow on the 12th August, 1942, the same day as Eisenhower’s Operation Torch was achieving great successes, with amphibious landings on the north African coastline west of El Alamein. He,

…reacted very badly to Stalin’s taunts about the lack of a second front…and was, as the [British] ambassador put it, ‘at his bloody worst and his worst is really bloody’”*

If Britain’s successful generals, Alexander and Montgomery, had been on Stalin’s staff they’d have faced execution for letting Rommel escape instead of being praised.** Rommel’s forces retreated to Tunisia where they were reinforced and held out until May, 1943 against British coalition forces and Eisenhower’s Americans. The battle for Stalingrad ended in February, 1943 with the German Sixth Army annihilated. In Stalin’s eyes El Alamein showed a lack of fighting spirit, which he felt was confirmed by the lengthy battle for Tunisia.

Stalin’s fear that Churchill and Roosevelt wanted the Soviets to bleed to death wasn’t just paranoia. Both had an anti-soviet bias amongst influential members of society. Former President Hoover said,

To align American ideals alongside Stalin will be as great a violation of everything American as to align ourselves with Hitler…”***

The battle for Stalingrad was utterly different to anything experienced in western Europe. There was brutal intensity on both sides. The battle for Stalingrad is in vivid contrast to Britain and America’s lack lustre performance in 1942.

…the SS organ, Das Schwarze Korps (29th October 1942), contended that if Stalingrad were defended by the English or Americans, its capture would have taken only a few days….’because the Bolshevik is a Beast’”

Paulus informed Hitler in 22nd January, 1943,

“‘There was no longer a possibility of stopping the Russian advance; the Sixth Army had neither food nor supplies’…. Hitler replied that there was to be no surrender…. It was clear that he expected the Sixth Army to hold their position to the last man.’” Field Marshall Paulus’ surrender was a terrible blow for Hitler.

The defeat of the Sixth Army left 124,000 dead, 90,000 taken as prisoners (only 5,000 of whom ever returned to Germany) and 40,000 wounded who’d been evacuated to Germany prior to surrender. This is a fraction of the casualties sustained by both sides during the battle. Stalingrad contextualises Stalin’s contempt for Churchill’s equivocation, as he saw it, of the second front in Europe. Stalin was prepared, like Hitler, to suffer enormous losses unlike Britain or America.

El Alamein was Britain’s first victory over Germany and Churchill lauded it to the skies. It was a huge morale boost for the British people who saw Germany wasn’t invincible. Together with American armed support, the country’s mood changed to confidence that Hitler would be defeated. Stalin on the other hand viewed El Alamein as a minor incomplete victory. Placed within the context of Stalingrad, it was. Stalin misunderstood its importance in a democracy where the ‘people’ had to be carried with the government. Stalin had no comprehension of Churchill’s absolute need for a British victory. They were both right: it was both sideshow and triumph.

* Kitchen, Martin. “Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union during the Second World War.” The Historical Journal, vol. 30, no. 2, 1987, pp. 415–436. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2639201. Accessed 2 Apr. 2020.

** Both were made Field Marshals in 1944 and viscounts in 1946 they took their titles from the north Africa campaign.

*** Timothy Walch and Dwight M. Miller, eds., Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Documentary History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998), 209–11. Accessed from http://www.bradford-delong.com/2018/08/herbert-hoover-as-bad-to-ally-with-stalin-and-churchill-against-hitler-as-to-ally-with-hitler-against-stalin-and-churchill.html#more

Sources

For Stalin’s purge of the army in the 1930s see

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Purge#Purge_of_the_army

For neo-Nazis see https://oedeboyz.com/2017/08/15/the-governor-of-the-bank-of-england-and-the-nazis-in-1934/

Baird, Jay W. “The Myth of Stalingrad.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 4, no. 3, 1969, pp. 187–204. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/259739. Accessed 3 Apr. 2020. especially p 190 and p195

For the Moscow Conference, 1942, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moscow_Conference_(1942)

For the total losses sustained by the Germans and the soviets see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Stalingrad

For Operation Torch see Paul Kennedy Engineers of Victory Penguin 2013 pp235-240

The definitive Stalingrad novel is Sven Hassel’s SS General (Hassel was a Danish SS conscript)

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