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Subject: Question for WWII afficionados rss

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Moshe Callen
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In terms of the European theatre, WWII started when in response to the invasion of Poland Britain and France declared war on Germany. Yet both The Soviet Union and Germany had invaded Poland. I understand that the Allies did not think the could handle a war against the Soviet Union as well as Germany, but if the invasion of Poland was the casus belli how did the Allied sell singling out germany to their Polish Allies?
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Perhaps a question of simple physical proximity.

FWIW, the Soviet Union was lumped in with the Axis as global hegemonic villains until Op. Barbarossa, at least if we are to believe The Three Stooges (IMO this is a better satire of dictators than Chaplin's):

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The casus belli was continued German expansionism, not Polish Independence. England and France both signed treaties with Poland guaranteeing military assistance in the event that Poland was attacked by Germany. I believe in the French treaty, this was stated explicitly, while in the Anglo-Polish treaty there was a secret protocol that basically said "but only if it's Germany that attacks you."

It didn't serve England or France's interests to go to war with the Soviet Union in 1939, so they didn't.
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Angela Sutton
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It's difficult to imagine what operation the Western Allies might have carried out against the Soviet Union in the fall of 1939; they were hard pressed just to protect themselves for many months. A declaration of war would have locked the Soviets and Germans together more tightly without hurting either of them a bit.

Also, it's worth noting how fast the Russo-German nonagression pact fell together. I believe it was signed within a few days prior to the German attack (August 28?). Up until then, the British had been negotiating with the Soviets themselves to help stabilize Eastern Europe against the Germans (albeit half-heartedly). The West was taken by surprise, and not for the first time.
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It looks like the Soviets invaded Poland just one day after defeating Japan in Mongolia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet_invasion_of_Poland

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battles_of_Khalkhin_Gol
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LeeDambis wrote:
...Poland was the casus belli because the British and French chose to frame it as one, and they did so largely because they couldn't abide yet another provocation, yet another broken promise, and yet another slice of Europe being sheared off by the Germans...


Nailed it. thumbsup

Remember, collective security usually equals no security.

BTW, the British considered bombing Baku in the USSR. WWII was an oil war.

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whac3 wrote:
In terms of the European theatre, WWII started when in response to the invasion of Poland Britain and France declared war on Germany. Yet both The Soviet Union and Germany had invaded Poland. I understand that the Allies did not think the could handle a war against the Soviet Union as well as Germany, but if the invasion of Poland was the casus belli how did the Allied sell singling out Germany to their Polish Allies?


In answer to the question, they didn't bother, and neither did they care about Poles or Poland for all the rest of the war either, especially as the Soviets preferred this stance. Only months before Britain and France had supported Finland against Russia, though more politically than to any meaningful material degree.

Clearly there was general co-ordination between ending the conflict in Mongolia victoriously, signing the non-aggression pact and invading Poland. The Soviet Union's belated occupation of Eastern Poland was of little significance to the west, indeed Poland generally might be considered more trouble than it was worth to the occupiers. A bigger question is why did the Germans bother to invade? Czechoslovakia had been a sunshine democracy with world-leading, military-significant industries, plus the most fertile farmland of all, despite a dour population with the rep of being the Scotsmen of Europe. Germany had been very weak at this time, and probably could not have dealt with armed resistance, wholeheartedly backed by the western powers. Poland was a brutal medieval dictatorship with a "human rights" record bad enough to make a good Nazi blush. They don't like to publish those photos of Jews cheering on the Red Army as they took over their ostensibly Polish towns.

A strong point is that Austria and Czechoslovakia had been denied the Nazi experience and were not team members at this moment. A short victorious little war in Poland might make them so, whilst at the same time the East as specified in Mein Kampf would become accessible. It was a backward weird useless & nasty country, whose improvement-by-invasion was hardly likely to provoke a response in anyone far away. Italy had invaded medieval Albania in mid-1939 and no one much card about that, apart from feeling sorry for poor King Zog.

What Hitler did not expect, and who IMO was very surprised by [according to eye-witnesses at the Eagles Nest talking under post-war circumstances], was a declaration of war from Britain, which inevitably pulled in the less enthusiastic French, which started the final World War. For this Hitler blamed the Jews around Churchill, and by extension FDR, and is quoted as saying "if they want a war, I'll give them one", though he, better than most, was aware of Germany's degree of unpreparedness. Tooze et al feel that burgeoning rearmament in the West meant that Hitler could not wait any longer, however until 1944 peace with a strong British Empire seems to have been Hitler's ultimate war aim, which explains the apparent but persistent 'soft line' he took with Britain in previous war years.
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aforandy wrote:
whac3 wrote:
In terms of the European theatre, WWII started when in response to the invasion of Poland Britain and France declared war on Germany. Yet both The Soviet Union and Germany had invaded Poland. I understand that the Allies did not think the could handle a war against the Soviet Union as well as Germany, but if the invasion of Poland was the casus belli how did the Allied sell singling out Germany to their Polish Allies?


In answer to the question, they didn't bother, and neither did they care about Poles or Poland for all the rest of the war either,


Not caring, and not being able to do something, are two different things.
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Michael Dorosh wrote:
aforandy wrote:
whac3 wrote:
In terms of the European theatre, WWII started when in response to the invasion of Poland Britain and France declared war on Germany. Yet both The Soviet Union and Germany had invaded Poland. I understand that the Allies did not think the could handle a war against the Soviet Union as well as Germany, but if the invasion of Poland was the casus belli how did the Allied sell singling out Germany to their Polish Allies?


In answer to the question, they didn't bother, and neither did they care about Poles or Poland for all the rest of the war either,


Not caring, and not being able to do something, are two different things.


Well they did care, Churchill did anyway. He just couldn't do anything about it. At the late war conferences Churchill was insistent on a post-war independant Poland, not a Soviet sattelite Poland. He couldn't accept that the country they went to war over to guarantee its independence was going to end up occupied anyway. But what arguments can one make to Stalin when millions of his troops are already in the country and setting up a puppet government? Not many....
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Germany struck first.

WWI was still fresh in the minds of many British and French leaders. With Germany ignoring the treaty of Versailles I'm sure they knew war was inevitable.
 
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p38_Lightning wrote:
Germany struck first.

WWI was still fresh in the minds of many British and French leaders. With Germany ignoring the treaty of Versailles I'm sure they knew war was inevitable.

That's understood.

A few people in the thread have directly addressed the point. I know in practical terms why war was not declared against the Soviets; the UK and France had all they could handle with just Germany. I was more asking the question about selling the idea to the Poles on whose behalf nominally they went to war.

The pointthat the treaties with Poland were only meant to protect it from a German invasion and that Germany invaded first, not simultaneously with the Soviets, seems the most direct response.
 
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whac3 wrote:
I was more asking the question about selling the idea to the Poles on whose behalf nominally they went to war.


The way Wlodzimierz Borodziej depicts it, the British government didn't even try to sell it to them. In October 1939, Chamberlain and the British Foreign minister simply told the shocked Polish foreign minister that the Poles should not undertake any anti-Soviet activities, that a British declaration of war against the Soviet Union was unrealistic and more or less gave him to understand that they had nothing against the Soviet Union keeping the land east of the Curzon line (the proposed border between the Soviet Union and Poland suggested by the Allies during the Polish-Soviet war), i.e. almost all the land occupied by the Soviets. (Borodziej, Geschichte Polens im 20. Jahrhundert, p. 236).

I think also underlying this stance was the view that Poland's claim to the land east of the Curzon line, which it had gained in the Polish-Soviet war of 1920, was illegitimate. I believe the British made numerous references to the line in their decision making on Poland.
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Michael Dorosh wrote:
Not caring, and not being able to do something, are two different things.


They are the same thing whilst tea is being served at 3pm on a Sunday in Viscount Halifax's back garden.
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UniqueRabbit wrote:
Well they did care, Churchill did anyway.


Lets say he was mildly politically embarrassed at the war's end, but mostly with regard to the Poles in the armed forces. The government-in-exile had long since been sidelined. The fiction of there being substance to the casus belli was rapidly forgotten as a new and emergent one replaced it in mid-war, namely the preservation of the Empire, and losing that in the aftermath of the war, sometimes in genocidal circumstances that rival anything that went on during it, was Churchill's major failure. Of course once the Empire was no longer under external military threat, a new war aim had to be invented, which was the eclipse of Hitler. Adolf never understood the reason for this, as he so presciently said: 'après moi, le déluge'.
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Who remembers 1991?

The First Gulf War, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Bryan Adams, the Bills losing to the Giants on Norwood's kick.

Great Times.

Either way, 1991 is to now (2012) as 1918 was to 1939.

Just for a frame of reference on the time scale.
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As an aside on this - my thesis advisor was an undergraduate student at UC-Berkeley at the time. He said in the time frame of Estonia, Lavtiva, Lithuania and Finland, combined with the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviet invasion of Poland a lot of students and professors left the US Communist Party over disillusionment.
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aforandy wrote:
Michael Dorosh wrote:
Not caring, and not being able to do something, are two different things.


They are the same thing whilst tea is being served at 3pm on a Sunday in Viscount Halifax's back garden.


You sound like the same sort of poltroon who would show up in the field and whine that the commanding officer had a cot and tent for sleeping while the troops were slumbering in trenches out in the open.

Personally, I think most troops preferred the C.O. well rested and with a clear head when he's making decisions that affected their well-being, and perhaps even their very lives. And if the RSM wasn't insisting that the C.O. get a bit of rack time in order to make those hard decisions, he wasn't doing his job, either.
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The Poles would find by the end of the war that they had many reasons to be disappointed with their British allies.



Darilian
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When criticized for being allied with Russia, Churchill offered this quote-
If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.
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groggal wrote:
It's difficult to imagine what operation the Western Allies might have carried out against the Soviet Union in the fall of 1939; they were hard pressed just to protect themselves for many months. A declaration of war would have locked the Soviets and Germans together more tightly without hurting either of them a bit.


The Allies didn't have any problems protecting themselves up until May of 1940, so they did have a window of opportunity.

The French and the British discussed using their airbases in Syria and Persia to bomb the Baku oil fields. The range is short enough to make it possible. It was made more attractive because the Germans were buying quite a lot of oil from the Soviet Union, which largely came from just those oil fields.

They also could have attacked by land through Persia or attacked Murmansk/Archangel with naval forces, possible supported by landings.

Of course, you're 100% right about the political effects. At the time, though, it wasn't clear whether it would be possible to separate Germany and the Soviet Union as long as the Allies were fighting Germany in the west, and attacking Baku indirectly attacked both German industry and the German war machine.
 
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wmd8tc wrote:
Who remembers 1991?

The First Gulf War, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Bryan Adams, the Bills losing to the Giants on Norwood's kick.

Great Times.

Either way, 1991 is to now (2012) as 1918 was to 1939.

Just for a frame of reference on the time scale.


You left out the earth shattering events of Krackerjack graduating High school and enlisting in the Marine Corps.

Your point about the time scale is a good one and reinforces the effect WWI had on WWII decision makers. Desert Shield/ Desert Storm still colors our military decision making, especially on the political side. We (the US) still attempt to build a coalition, use the UN, and conduct combat operations with an emphasis on minimal casualties for domestic political reasons. Even after 10 years of sustained combat operations in the Middle East, Desert Shield/ Desert Storm is still has an impact on how politicians employ the military instrument of power.

Now imagine the impact on the US political system id Desert Shield/ Desert Storm had lasted four years and robbed the country of almost a full generation on young men. Just during the Battle of the Somme, both sides lost on the order of the entire US active military.

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elbmc1969 wrote:
They also could have [...] attacked Murmansk/Archangel with naval forces, possible supported by landings.


When, during the Russian Civil War, Britain did this, its forces ended up sitting around catching frostbite. It's a long, cold, cold march from Murmansk or Archangelsk to anywhere significant in Russia.
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Salo sila wrote:
elbmc1969 wrote:
They also could have [...] attacked Murmansk/Archangel with naval forces, possible supported by landings.


When, during the Russian Civil War, Britain did this, its forces ended up sitting around catching frostbite. It's a long, cold, cold march from Murmansk or Archangelsk to anywhere significant in Russia.


Wait! Murmansk was pretty significant suring WWII. The Russians received lots of supplies from..ehm... uhm.. forget it
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Darilian wrote:
The Poles would find by the end of the war that they had many reasons to be disappointed with their British allies.



Darilian


Chamberlin and Halifax may not have been overly concerned about 'far away countries of which we know nothing', but if there was one major allied leader in WW11 who really did care about what happened to Poland, it was Churchill. That Britain was powerless to do anything significant to change Poland's fate is amply demonstrated by the course of events. To repeat a point already made, not being able to influence effectively is not the same as callous realpolitik.
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ozimek wrote:
Wait! Murmansk was pretty significant suring WWII. The Russians received lots of supplies from..ehm... uhm.. forget it ;)


I'm not saying it wasn't. But moving troops over hostile terrain is somewhat harder than transporting supplies over friendly land.
 
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