Should Britain have gone to war with Stalin as well as Hitler?

March 31, 2021
Churchill and Stalin in 1945 Credit: MARKA / Alamy Stock Photo
Churchill and Stalin in 1945 Credit: MARKA / Alamy Stock Photo

During the Second World War, Churchill and Roosevelt allied with one murderous dictator in order to defeat another. In this revisionist history Sean McMeekin argues that, after the 1939 Nazi-Soviet pact, Britain should have taken on both Hitler and Stalin. Bombing the Baku oil fields which fuelled both their brutal conquests would have turned the war into “a principled fight against totalitarian aggression.” McMeekin further maintains that, having missed this chance, western democracies were absurdly over-generous in giving Russia Lend-Lease goods. He does indeed provide a staggering inventory of the materiel by which capitalism sustained communism. It included, once Stalin had reinstated Tsarist military epaulettes, some three million yards of gold braid costing $7m. As well as guns, the US supplied butter in such enormous quantities that it was rumoured that the Russians used it to grease their boots. Meanwhile American housewives had to make do with margarine.

Such was Roosevelt’s open-handedness, says McMeekin, that “it is hard to escape the impression that Soviet agents of influence had taken over the White House.” And in exchange for this bounty, he asserts, the west got “nothing whatsoever.” In fact they were paid in blood. Far from being dupes of Stalin, the democratic leaders recognised the stupendous sacrifices that Russia was making on the Eastern Front, where 80 per cent of all German battlefield casualties occurred.

As this figure suggests, the notion that Britain should have challenged the Red Army as well as the Wehrmacht in 1940 is preposterous. To go to the aid of the gallant Finns would certainly have been high-minded, but it would have led to certain defeat. Of course the Kremlin tyrant was loathsome, as no one appreciated better than Churchill, long the flail of Bolshevism. He and Roosevelt made grisly concessions to Stalin, but by doing so they secured the destruction of Hitler.

Although not always correct in detail (General Brooke was not Churchill’s “air chief”), Sean McMeekin’s book is based on a vast amount of research. But like a previous work of this Bard College historian, which placed undue blame on Russia for starting the First World War, it is quite wrong-headed.

Stalin’s War by Sean McMeekin (Allen Lane, £40)