UK & France prepared to strike USSR’s Baku oil fields in the late 1930s

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Between 1939-1940, Britain and France were actively planning a joint strike at the USSR and destroy the Baku oil fields. This information was present in the documents first presented in Moscow at the exhibition “On the Eve of the Great Patriotic War. September 1, 1939 – June 22, 1941”.

The exposition opened on Wednesday in Moscow in the Exhibition Hall of Federal Archives. The exposition displays a wide range of historical documents stored in the Russian federal archives, in the Belarusian state archives, as well as in the departmental archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, and the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. There are more than 300 historical sources, many of which are introduced into scientific circulation for the first time. The project was implemented with the support of the Presidential Grants Fund.

Both the countries, after the signing in August 1939 of the Soviet-German non-aggression pact called the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, fearing the strengthening of the Third Reich due to supplies from the USSR, primarily oil, planned military action against the Soviet Union. They planned to bomb the Baku oil fields, as well as the Soviet Black Sea ports Batumi and Tuapse. To counteract the Soviet-German alliance, the possibility of destabilizing the situation in the Caucasus by activating national separatist and religious movements was also considered, and in extreme cases, a military invasion of the region by the French and British armies.

The proposed operation against the Soviet oil-producing regions was named Pike (‘Spear’). At the end of March 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme Military Council decided to plan an attack on the Transcaucasus or the South Caucasus. But a month later, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that the USSR was changing its political course towards Germany, and the Pike operation was canceled.

As per the displayed documents, on November 4, 1939, the People’s Commissar of Internal Affairs of the Soviet Union Lavrenty Beria, referring to information received by the Parisian station of Soviet foreign intelligence, informed the People’s Commissar of Defense Kliment Voroshilov about secret dispatches of Anglo-French troops to the East. In the Persian Gulf. The troops were loaded, which were sent to Syrian ports, and in Syria itself, about 300 thousand soldiers were stationed under the command of French General Maxime Weygand. French intelligence services collected detailed information on the topography of the area, the condition of roads, and natural barriers in Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan noted Beria in another report to Voroshilov in mid-December 1939.

Soviet moves

Soviet military intelligence also reported on plans for London and Paris. In early February 1940, the head of the Fifth Directorate of the Red Army, Ivan Proskurov, sent a reconnaissance report ‘on events in the West’ to the Deputy People’s Commissar of Defense of the USSR Grigory Kulik.

“As per the information coming from the Masonic circles of Belgium, the Anglo-French strategic plan of operations of the allied forces of the Middle East under the command of General Weygand against the Soviet Transcaucasia is based on the conviction that the USSR’s transport capabilities are insufficient for the timely delivery of troops and supplies from the interior regions of the Soviet Union,” wrote Proskurov.

But the Soviet leadership took appropriate measures. On May 4, 1940, the Defense Committee under the USSR Council of People’s Commissars issued a decree ‘On ensuring the transportation of units and cargo of the People’s Commissariat of Defense to the Transcaucasian and North Caucasian military districts’, aimed at strengthening the forces and means of the Red Army in the Transcaucasus. This document for the current exhibition was provided by the State Archives of Russia.

Highlanders ready for sabotage

One of the ways the French and British achieved their goals in the Transcaucasus was sabotage on Soviet territory. At the exhibition, the Russian State Military Archive presents the original message of Beria Voroshilov about the cooperation of emigrants from among the prominent mountaineers with the military intelligence of France.
In a document dated March 22, 1940, the People’s Commissar of the NKVD cited intelligence information obtained by Soviet foreign intelligence in this country. “Representatives of the mountain emigration Khandoba, Kelechi-Grey and Chermoev were invited to the General Staff, where they were directly told that if they want to count on the government’s support, they must fulfill a number of tasks of the Second Bureau,” Beria wrote. In those years, the organ of French military intelligence was called the “second bureau of the General Staff”.

From the General Staff, three emigrants were immediately sent to the “Second Bureau”, where they were asked to name “absolutely reliable people” and to transfer them to the full disposal of French military intelligence. “They named seven people. These people are intended for sabotage work in the Transcaucasus,” the People’s Commissar of the NKVD reported.

In the General Staff, Khakandokov,  Kelech-Girey, and Chermoev, according to Beria, stated that the leadership of the mountain emigration has always been against the Russian monarchy and “due to national and historical kinship, stands for the annexation of Dagestan and Azerbaijan to Turkey.”

Gen. Sultan Kelech-Girey is a leader of the White movement. In 1921 he emigrated to Turkey and then to Europe. In emigration, he was engaged in propaganda and political work in the “Committee for the Independence of the Caucasus”, which included the leaders of the mountain nationalists. During the Second World War, he actively collaborated with the Nazis. He took part in the formation of the North Caucasian 2nd Turkestan Legion of the Wehrmacht, which he then led. This legion committed atrocities in Croatia, burning farms to ashes where Yugoslav partisans were seen. Nevertheless, the mountain units were considered by the Nazis to be the most unreliable and most prone to desertion among all the national legions.

In 1942-1943, being on the territory of his native Adygea occupied by the Nazis,  Sultan-Girey Klych called on his Adyg tribesmen to actively help the Nazis in the struggle against the USSR. At the end of May 1945, Sultan-Girey Klych surrendered to the British troops in Austria, and they handed him over to the Soviet Union. By the military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR, Sultan-Girey Klych was sentenced to death for treason and hanged in Moscow in January 1947. In 1997, the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court declared him not subject to rehabilitation.

Konstantin Khagondokov (Khakandokov) – Former Major General of the Russian Imperial Army. During the Civil War, he emigrated to France, where he became an industrialist, a shareholder in oil production. He took an active part in the life of Russian émigré military organizations in Paris. One of the founders of large Masonic lodges operating in France in the 1920s and 1930s. Chermoev is one of the relatives of the major oil industrialist Abdul Majid (Tapa) Chermoev (1882-1937), who moved with him to Paris during the Civil War.

Nazi plan to capture oil fields in the Caucasus with the help of chemical weapons

The Nazis intended in 1942 at any cost, including with the help of chemical weapons, to seize Soviet oil fields in the Caucasus, which were critical for the Third Reich, as per the Soviet documents released in 2020.

As per a cipher telegram sent on 14 May 1942 from Stockholm to Moscow by an outstanding intelligence officer, a resident of Soviet foreign intelligence in Sweden,  Boris Arkadyevich Rybkin, under the operational pseudonym ‘Keene’. That message concerned the plans of the Nazis to attack the Caucasus in the summer of 1942. “The Germans put everything at stake to capture the Caucasus,” Rybkin reported. He pointed out, “the situation with oil reserves in Germany is far from a catastrophe does not quite correspond to the actual state of affairs,” “the lack of fuel is now very felt and that there have even been cases that, due to lack of fuel, fighters were out of order during operations.”

The cipher telegram noted that for the Nazis “the success of operations against the Caucasus will decide the outcome of the war.” “Therefore, the Germans will not disdain any means to achieve success,” Rybkin emphasized. He added that the command of the Wehrmacht grouping “has already sent special gas troops in large numbers and sent a large number of gas grenade launchers and other chemical materials.”

As reported by Keene, Germany reckons with the fact that the Russians, when threatened with the loss of oil fields, will destroy them. “Therefore, the Germans have already prepared gigantic warehouses and tanks, equipment (drilling machines, etc.). In addition, all mining engineers have been mobilized, regardless of age,” Rybkin reported.
He reported that the operation against the Caucasus was planned to be carried out as in Crete, where the Nazis had landed a large assault force from the air. “Unheard-of masses of parachute troops will be dropped on the oil fields, almost everything that Germany has, with the task of seizing oil sources. These airborne assault forces will try to hold out until the Germans approach from Rostov,” the Soviet resident noted.

The offensive in the Caucasus was the main goal of the 1942 German campaign. By seizing the oil fields of the Caucasus, Germany not only provided itself with additional sources of liquid fuel, but also deprived the Soviet Union of such sources. However, the Red Army stopped and did not allow the Germans to the oil regions of Grozny and Baku. In fierce defensive battles, Soviet troops inflicted heavy losses on the Nazis. It is believed that the battles for the Caucasus and Stalingrad predetermined a radical turning point in the Great Patriotic War and World War II in general. The strategic initiative gradually passed to the Soviet Union.

As per the documents, the collection “The Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation. 100 Years. Documents and Testimonies” for the first time using archival materials tells about the main milestones in the history of Russian foreign intelligence from the moment of its creation on 20 December 1920 to the present day. Most of the documents included in the collection are being introduced into scientific circulation for the first time. The book uses materials from the archives of the SVR, the Central Archive of the FSB, the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation, the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History, and others.

(Image credits: By Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R00738 / Wikipedia Commons)


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