So much of disappointment, despair,  and fatigue... This photograph, taken on 29 June 1941 in the People's Commissariat of Defence, was supposed to be destroyed. The photographer saved it with the risk to his life, as he pulled it literally out of the waste basket.



One of the many lies, introduced into circulation after Nikita Khrushchev's notorious report to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Party, is that the German invasion on the Soviet Union became such a shock to Stalin that he reportedly fell in depression and was hiding in an out-of-the-city villa. And only the members of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee, sent there for that purpose, talked him into returning to work. This is how this episode is presented in the memoirs of Nikita Khrushchev himself:
The war had begun. But as yet there were no statements by the Soviet government or by Stalin in person. This did not make a good impression. Later, in the afternoon on that Sunday, Molotov gave a speech. He announced that war had begun, that Hitler had attacked the Soviet Union. There is hardly any need now to talk about that speech because all this has been described, and people can familiarize themselves with the events from the newspapers of that time. But why did Molotov speak and not Stalin? That made people wonder. Today I know why Stalin didn't speak. He was completely paralyzed, unable to act, and couldn't collect his thoughts. Much later, after the war, I learned that when the war began Stalin was in the Kremlin. Beria and Malenkov both told me about it.
 
Beria said: "When the war began, members of the Politburo gathered in Stalin's office. Stalin was completely crushed. His morale was shattered, and he made the following declaration: 'The war has begun. It will develop catastrophically. Lenin left us the proletarian Soviet state, but we have sh-- all over it' [i.e., made a mess of it]. That is literally how he expressed himself. He said 'I am giving up the leadership,' and walked out of the room. He walked out, got in his automobile, and went to his dacha nearest the city."

Beria continued: "We remained. What were we to do next? After Stalin had shown his colors in this way, some time went by. We consulted among ourselves, Molotov, Kaganovich, Voroshilov, and I (although I don't know whether Voroshilov really was there because at that time he was in Stalin's disfavor because of the poor showing in the operation against Finland). We consulted among ourselves and decided to go see Stalin, to get him to return to activity, to make use of his name and abilities to organize the defense of the country. When we came to his dacha (so Beria related), I could see from his face that Stalin was very frightened. I suppose that Stalin was thinking we had come there to arrest him for renouncing his role and for not taking any measures to organize resistance to the German invasion. We began trying to persuade him that ours was a huge country, that we had the possibility of organizing ourselves, mobilizing industry and people, summoning them to struggle, and, in a word, doing everything necessary to raise up the people to resist Hitler. At this point it seemed that Stalin regained his senses somewhat. And we began to make assignments specifying who should be in charge of each particular aspect of organizing the defense, overseeing military industry, and so forth."
 
I have no doubt that the passage quoted above is the truth. Of course the possibility of asking Stalin himself whether things were exactly that way was not available to me. But I had no reason to disbelieve Beria's account, because I myself had seen Stalin just before the beginning of the war, and what Beria described was just a continuation of what I had seen. Stalin had been in a state of shock. [Khrushchev N. S. (2005).]
So, Khrushchev personally did not witness the alleged scene. But he "had no doubt that the quoted passage was the truth". Why - Beria told it all; you don't believe - ask him! And since Beria has been long dead, who will prove it was not so? And what is particularly cynical about the whole story, it is that Lavrentiy Beria was killed by the order of Khrushchev.

Therefore, we have no other choice but to turn to other sources of information to make the records straight. Let us begin with eye-witnesses. Here is an excerpt from the memoirs of Marshal Georgiy Zhukov, who, unlike Khrushchev, had been contacting Stalin during the first hours of the war:
It has been said that Stalin came apart in the in the first week of the war and could not deliver a radio speech to the nation, assigning this address to V. M. Molotov. This claim is not true. Certainly, in the first hours Stalin was confused, but soon he became normal and worked with great energy, though it is true he displayed excessive nervousness, often distracting us from our work. [Zhukov G. K. (1971).]
And here is an excerpt, dated with 22 June 1941, from the diaries of the secretary general of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, Georgi Dimitrov:
At 7:00 a.m. I was urgently summoned to the Kremlin. (...)
In Stalin's office are Molotov, Voroshilov, Kaganovich, Malenkov. (...)
Striking calmness, resoluteness, confidence of Stalin and all the others. The government declaration that Molotov is to make over the radio is being edited. Orders are being issued for the army and navy. Measures for mobilization and martial law. An underground area has been prepared for the work of the CC and the staff. [Dimitrov G. (2003).]
And finally, this is what the former people's commissar for transportation Lazarus Kaganovich told in the interview with Felix Chuyev:
A question about 22nd June, 1941. Was Stalin confused? It is said that he did not meet anyone?

It is all lies! We were with him. At night while Molotov was meeting Schulenberg we were there at Stalin's place. He immediately handed over the responsibilities. I was given - Transport, and Mikoyan - Supplies. And transport was ready! To carry 15-20 million people, the factories... it was not a joke. Stalin was working all the while. Of course, he was surprised. He had thought that he would be able to avert the invasion for some more time as the crisis in Anglo-American relations would deepen. I do not think that this was a miscalculation. It was impossible to provoke us. Perhaps Stalin was over-careful. At that time there was no alternative. At first I thought that perhaps Stalin's idea at the start of the war was to overcome the crisis diplomatically. Molotov said "No". This was war and nothing could have been done. [Чуев Ф. И. (1992).]
However, nowadays historians are in possession of the sources even more reliable than personal reminiscences. These are Stalin's appointment diaries, which have fixed names of his visitors, and times they spent in Stalin's office. Those diaries have been published frequently. So, who had visited Stalin on those fateful days?
So, what transpires from these appointment diaries, is that instead of hiding in his out-of-the-city villa, Stalin at the first hours of the war arrived in the Kremlin, where he received dozens of visitors - members of the Political Bureau, party and state officials, and army commanders. And on the following days he kept working in his office and receiving visitors.

As to Khrushchev, he, striving to smear his predecessor whatever the cost, told a blatant lie: regardless, whether Beria did or did not tell him anything, appointment diaries from the archives of the Central Committee of the CPSU were at any time available to Nikita Sergeyevich. And his tales about Stalin falling in panic are nothing less than deliberate slander.

Nevertheless, after the publication of the appointment diaries, professional anti-Stalinists had to check their stories. Since then they have been writing that the Soviet leader fell in prostration not on the first day of the war, but a week later, as he had got the news about the fall of Minsk. Regretfully, even otherwise serious historians include this tale in their researches. For example, Mikhail Meltyukhov writes the following, based on recollections of Khrushchev and Anastas Mikoyan:
On June 28th, as he heard about Minsk had fallen to the enemy, Stalin snarled: "Lenin left us a great legacy, and we, his heirs, have fucked it up!" - and left for his dacha, where he remained till July 1st. [Meltyukhov M. I. (2010).]
Let us start from the notion that Meltyukhov constructs his theories on the sources that lack reliability: two anti-Stalinist tale-tellers, who have been many times caught lying. What is more - Khrushchev places the alleged event on 22 June, while Mikoyan speaks about 29 June. Therefore, 28 June as the date of Stalin's fall in prostration is Meltyukhov's own fabrication. So, let us reconstruct the events of the last three days of June 1941.

According to the appointment diaries, on 28 June Stalin arrived in his office no later than at 19:35; last visitors left at 0:50 (that is already 29 June). There are no records for 29 June - apparently, Stalin did not receive anybody in his office. But he had marked his presence elsewhere. According to Zhukov
On June 29th Stalin twice visited the Defence Commissariat and the Stavka, and reacted extremely sharply to the situation that developed on the Western Front. [Zhukov G. K. (1971).]
And this is what Mikoyan said:
In the evening, on 29 June, Molotov, Malenkov, me and Beria were gathered with Stalin in the Kremlin. We were all interested in the situation on the Western Front, especially in Byelorussia, where during the previous evening German-Fascist forces had occupied Minsk. Communications with the Byelorussian Military District had been interrupted. No fresh reports about the situation in Byelorussia at that time were coming through. What was certain was that there was no contact with the forces on the Western Front. Stalin rang up Marshal Timoshenko at the People's Commissariat for Defence. However, he could not give any concrete information about the situation on the Western Front.

Anxious about the developments Stalin suggested to us all that we go to the Defence Commissariat and investigate the situation there. In the office with Timoshenko were Zhukov, Vatutin and several other generals and officers of the General Staff.

Stalin stayed calm and inquired about the command of the Byelorussian Military District, and whether there was communication. Zhukov reported that the communication had been lost and could not be restored all day long. Then Stalin asked other questions: why the Germans made ​​a break-through, what were the measures taken to establish communication, etc.

Zhukov reported what measures had been taken, said that people had been sent, but no one knew how long would it take to restore communication.

The conversation was growing very grave. Then Stalin erupted: "What is this General Headquarters? What sort of Chief of Staff is it who since the first day of the war has no connection with his troops, represents nobody, and commands nobody?"

The granite-faced Zhukov collapsed under this barrage and ran from the room, sobbing like a wench. Molotov followed him. We all were depressed. Some 5 or 10 minutes later Molotov brought back Zhukov, overtly calm but his eyes were moist. [Микоян А. И. (1998).]
Writer Ivan Stadnyuk reports the same Mikoyan's story this way:
It is true that on 29 June in the evening Stalin lost self-control, as he learnt that the Germans had mastered Minsk for two days then, and in the west to the Byelorussian capital they had slammed the trap around the bulk forces of the Western Front, which meant that the way to Moscow was opened before the Nazi armies.

Without waiting for the next report from the people's commissar of defence Timoshenko, and chief of the General Staff, Zhukov, regarding the operational situation, Stalin, with a number of Politburo members, suddenly showed up at the People's Commissariat for Defence.

It was the most dangerous moment in the relations between the supreme state authorities and the supreme command of the Armed Forces of the USSR; the verge, beyond which could be only explosion with the gravest consequences. Having interviewed Molotov in details about how everything had happened, I, while working on the second volume of the book War, have written a chapter without trying to soften the poignancy of the events, and without elucidating in nasty details: the conversation had been rude, mutually insulting, and nervous, with swearing and threats.

The quarrel ended when Zhukov and Timoshenko proposed that Stalin and the Politburo members leaved the offices and interfered not with the process of evaluating the situation and making decisions. [Стаднюк И. Ф. (1993).]
Finally, writer Nikolay Zenkovich claims that Stadnyuk had told him, quoting Molotov, the following story:
There was a heavy quarrel, with threats and swearing. Stalin bashed Marshal Timoshenko, Zhukov and Vatutin, called them ignorants, non-entities, petty clerks, and puttee counters. Nervous tension affected also the militarymen. Timoshenko and Zhukov rashly threw many offences in the face of the leader. It all ended with pale Zhukov telling Stalin to fuck off, immediately leave the room, and not to disturb examining the situation and making decisions. Dazed with such an insolence of the military, Beria tried to stand for the leader, but Stalin, without saying good-bye, made for the exit. He immediately left for the out-of-the city cottage. [Зенькович Н. А. (2004).]
After all, there are attempts to put in doubt the date of 29 June as the date of Stalin's visit to the ministry of defence. The only basis for that are stories of Yakov Chadayev, who at that time was a senior administrator of the apparatus of the Council of People's Commissars. Those stories are reported by Edward Radziński, but are they reliable, especially in Radziński's interpretation? Here are examples of the most blatant flubs that contradict documentary evidence:

First: What did Stalin do on 27 and 28 June?

According to Chadayev: On 27 June in the morning members of the Political Bureau as usually met at Stalin's office. Then Stalin & Co. went to the People's Commissariat for Defence, where he had a word with Zhukov et al. In the evening he failed to show up: In the latter half of June 27 I looked in on Poskrebyshev. The government telephone rang and Poskrebyshev answered: "Comrade Stalin is not here, and I don't know when he will be." [Radzinsky E. (1997).]

Whereas according to the appointment diaries Stalin had no visitors in the morning of 27 June. He had office hours in the evening. From 16:30 till 16:40 he saw Nikolay Voznesenskiy, the deputy prime-minister. Then there was a break. After about an hour came Vyacheslav Molotov (prime-minister) and Anastas Mikoyan (minister for foreign trade); they left at 18:00. They were back again between 19:35 and 19:45. Finally, beginning of 21:25 Stalin saw a lot of people in his office, among others Marshal Semyon Timoshenko (minister of defence) and generals Georgiy Zhukov (chief of the General Staff) and Nikolay Vatutin (deputy chief of the General Staff).

On 28 June, according to Chadayev, Stalin again failed to show up: Next day, I went to Stalin's outer office, but he hadn't arrived. Nobody had any idea what could have happened. [Radzinsky E. (1997).]

Whereas according to the appointment diary of 28 June, Stalin was in his office, where he saw 19 persons beginning of 19:35.

Second: What did Stalin do on 25 June?

Radziński quotes Chadayev: On June 25, Poskrebyshev summoned me urgently to Stalin's waiting room. Someone was needed to take minutes. I went straight into the office. There were no one there except Stalin, Timoshenko, and Vatutin. Vatutin was just finishing his report. [Radzinsky E. (1997).]

This quotation already rises a lot of questions, like for example what was the purpose of summoning someone to take minutes when Vatutin was just finishing his report? But let us go to the essence of the matter.

According to the appointment diary of 25 June, Stalin had office hours twice on that day, in the morning and in the evening. In both cases Timoshenko and Vatutin were present. In the morning they were at Stalin's office from 1:40 till 5:50, and at some time they were there along at least Molotov (1:00 till 5:50) and Adm. Nikolay Kuznetsov (minister of the navy, 1:40 till 5:50).

In the evening Stalin saw Timoshenko (20:20 till 24:00) and Vatutin (20:20 till 21:10). At the same time with Vatutin should have been present Molotov, marshals Semyon Budyonny and Kliment Voroshilov (19:40 till 1:15), people's commissar for medium machinery-building Vyacheslav Malyshev (20:05 till 21:10) and Beria (20:10 till 21:10), and most probably Voznesenskiy (20:25 till 21:10) and Kuznetsov (20:30 till 21:40).

So, since Chadayev's reminiscences of the first days of the war obviously contradict facts fixed in documents, his claim that Stalin visited the ministry of defence on 29 June proves untrue.

Therefore, simple logical comparison of available evidence allows to make an unequivocal conclusion: on 29 June, instead of falling into prostration, Stalin went (may be even twice) to the People's Commissariat for Defence, where he tongue-lashed Zhukov. In result the future most famous commander of the Second World War either "sobbed like a wench" or "told him to fuck off". Taking into consideration Zhukov's temper, the latter is more probable.

Then came 30 June. Let us turn to Mikoyan's testimony:
Mikoyan left interesting memoirs of this time. He recalled that Molotov, Malenkov, Voroshilov, Beria, Voznesensky and he resolved to propose to Stalin that they create a State Defence Committee which would take over all state power. It would be headed by Stalin. We decided to go and see him. He was at the nearby dacha.

Molotov said that Stalin was in such a state of prostration that he wasn't interested in anything, he'd lost all initiative and was in a bad way. Voznesensky, appalled to hear this, said, "You go on ahead, Vyacheslav, and we'll be behind you." The idea was that, if Stalin was going to continue to behave in this way, then Molotov ought to lead us and we would follow him. We were sure we could organize the defence and put up a proper fight. None of us were downcast in mood.

We got to Stalin's dacha. We found him in an armchair in the small dining room. He looked up and said, "What have you come for?" He had the strangest look on his face, and the question itself was pretty strange, too. After all, he should have called us in.

On our behalf, Molotov said power had to be concentrated in order to ensure rapid decision-making and somehow get the country back on its feet, and Stalin should head the new authority. Stalin looked surprised but made no objection and said "Fine." [Микоян А. И. (1998).]

How reliable is this Mikoyan's story? Let us refer once again to the appointment diaries - at what time did Stalin usually arrive in his office on those days?


on 22 June -
at 5:45

on 23 June -
twice: at 3:30 and at 18:25

on 24 June -
at 16:20

on 25 June -
twice: at 1:00 and at 19:40

on 26 June -
at 12:10

on 27 June -
16:30

on 28 June -
19:35

Therefore, Stalin might show up in his office at four o'clock, six o'clock and even after seven. So, his absence from his office at 16:00 on 30 June hardly seemed any unusual, and would give the members of the Political Bureau no reasons to think that he fell in prostration. Also, Molotov was known for his absolute subordination to Stalin's will, and his initiative to create such an organ of power like the State Defence Committee sounds improbable.

What is more probable, is that after the clash with the military command Stalin came to conclusion that it was necessary to concentrate all military powers in his hands. It is one thing to ask to "fuck off" a civilian, even a high-ranking one, and a completely different thing to do it to the direct superior officer. And the decision to create the State Defence Committee, with Stalin in van, was made on the very 30 June. About that Stadnyuk wrote:
Stalin returned to the Kremlin in the early morning of 30 June with the decision: to concentrate all the power in the country in the hands of the State Defence Committee, headed by himself, Stalin. At the same time the "trinity" at the People's Commissariat of Defense was separated: Timoshenko on the same day was sent to the Western Front as its commander, Lieutenant-General Vatutin - the Deputy Chief of Staff - was appointed the chief of staff of the North-Western Front. Zhukov remained at his post of the Chief of Staff under the watchful eye of Beria.

It is my deep conviction that the establishment of the GKO and personnel changes in the military leadership were a consequence of the quarrel that flared out on 29 June 29 in the evening at Marshal Timoshenko's office. [Стаднюк И. Ф. (1993).]
Finally, on 1 July 1941 at 16:40 Stalin resumed seeing visitors in his office at the Kremlin. Pauses of few days had been observed later too. For example, Stalin did not receive any visitors on 13 and 14 July, or on 22 and 23 July. And somehow no denunciator gets any idea to claim that on those days Stalin fell in prostration as well.

And what about the speech on 22 June, delivered by Molotov, not Stalin? First of all, as it transpires from Dimitrov's diary, it was the result of a collective thought of the members of the Political Bureau summoned to Stalin's office. And second, those, who perceive it as a sure evidence of Stalin's confusion, make a grave mistake of applying present-days standards of the Western political life to the pre-war USSR. It is important to a modern politician to twinkle constantly on the TV screens, give interviews and hold speeches on any occasion, or even without an occasion at all. But Stalin had no need to win sympathies of the "electorate". Therefore, since he was not a professional chatterbox like Leo Trotsky and other fervent revolutionists, he spoke in public very seldom.

For example, during the whole 1936 Stalin had only one public speech - on the draft of the new constitution, on 25 November. In 1937 Joseph Vissarionovich became more talkative, as he spoke in public three times - twice in February and March during the party plenary conference, and on 13 December at his Moscow constituency, before the elections to the Supreme Council. Yet, in 1938 he pleased his fans with only one speech: in May, during the conference of the academic staffs.

In 1939 Stalin appeared at the 18th Party Congress with the report on the work of the Central Committee - and that was it. In 1940 Stalin held no public speeches at all. So was in 1941, when it was not until 3 July that the Soviet people heard his voice again.

So, there was nothing unusual in the fact that it was Molotov, who was speaking on the Soviet radio on 22 June 1941. He was the second person in the state, and that looked normal. Especially in the view of the fact that Stalin used to write his speeches by himself. That fateful morning he had a dilemma: to organize the defence against the German invasion, or to leave everything and employ himself with exercises in epistolary genre. The made the obvious choice: within the first hours of the war he edited, approved and signed directives to the Red Army concerning the outbreak of the war, conduct of war, general mobilization, and a number of other state and military documents. While his speech to the nation had to wait 11 days.