He delivered the lecture on Friday about his recent book “Faustian Bargain: the Soviet-German Partnership and the Origins of the Second World War” hosted by the history department.
“My book is the story of a 20-year-pact between Germany and the U.S.S.R and how this partnership led the world back to war, a war even more horrific than the First World War,” Johnson said.
He began his talk speaking of the Treaty of Versailles and its major repercussions on the economy and welfare of Germany. At the time, the Soviet Union was also at a financial loss and without a standing army.
“It was at this moment of isolation that the two states began to work together,” Johnson said.
As part of their relationship, the U.S.S.R. offered Germany access to its land for pilot training in exchange for technology, Johnson said.
“Why did two groups who viewed each other as the literal embodiment of evil, begin cooperating so shortly after fighting each other? Their hostility toward the international status quo was greater than their hatred of each other,” Johnson said.
In April 1922, Soviet Russia and Germany signed the Treaty of Apollo, Johnson said.
Yet, ever since the Treaty of Versailles, restrictions on military production prohibited Germany from forming an army within its own country. As a result, it relocated military production, flight training and technological advancements to Soviet Russia, Johnson said.
“To have someone come and speak who is an expert in military history is an almost impossible thing,” graduate student Caleb Itterly said.
Because the U.S.S.R. was also struggling financially, Soviet Russian leader Leo Trotsky consulted the German senior leadership branch to also rebuild the Red Army.
“Only a few 100,000 out of the five million men in the Red Army had uniforms and rifles,” Johnson said.
According to Johnson, factories, classrooms, and other facilities across Soviet Russia operated in secret with the assistance of German technology, engineers, and officers.
“German business men dressed in red uniforms,” Johnson said. “By 1940, half of all tank factories in the Soviet Union had been built, managed or equipped with German assistance.”
In exchange, German aces disguised as tourists trained on airfields from dawn to dusk in Soviet territory.
“Twenty-two senior officers in the Luftwaffe during WWII had either studied, taught or commanded in Soviet Russia,” Johnson said. “Nearly 1,000 pilots, mechanics and observers were trained at this facility. To put this in context, that was the entire reformed Luftwaffe in 1935.”
Come April 1939, Hitler sought to pursue this partnership through the Molotov Ribbentrop pact, Johnson said.
“Most importantly though, their renewed partnership paved the way for Hitler’s invasion of Poland on Sept. 1, 1939,” he said.
After the occupation of both Germany and Soviet Russia in Poland, the two states celebrated with each other.
“Although the soldiers were formally banned from fraternizing with each other, they actually exchanged cigarettes, climbed on each other’s vehicles and compared uniforms,” he said. “This was the high point of the Soviet-German relationship.”
However, on June 22, 1941, the pact ended with Operation Barbarossa: Germany invaded Soviet Russia. According to Johnson, Hitler launched the largest invasion in world history, marching more than 3 million German soldiers with 100,000 fellow allies into the U.S.S.R.
“What is remarkable and often forgotten, is how much these two armies had in common. Rarely in history have two sides spent so much time preparing each other for war with each other,” Johnson said. “German forces marched on rubber boots made from material shipped over the Trans Siberian Railway. The German rations included Soviet grain and arrived up until the day of the attack. The ammunition contained chrome nickel steel and manganese mined in the U.S.S.R.”
Red Army soldiers had received military training from German textbooks and officers. German machinery powered many of the Soviet tanks and military equipment used in the defense, he said.
“It is interesting because right after the Treaty of Versailles happened, Germany and Soviet Russia were already re-arming themselves,” graduate student Christian Warner said. “It wasn’t really two World Wars but one.”