On March 23, 1940, a twin-engine civilian Lockheed-12A, registration code G-AGAR, took off from an airfield in the London suburb of Heston. British pilot Haig McLane was at the controls. The aircraft set course for Malta; then after an intermediate stop in Cairo, it flew on to the British military base in Baghdad. From there, it headed towards the Soviet border with two aerial photography specialists on board. After crossing the border unobserved at an altitude of 7000 m, the plane flew to Baku on an aerial photo-reconnaissance mission.
What was that all about?
The photos were sent to appropriate departments in England and France. They were used to draw up plans for a surprise attack on the Soviet Union, which was to begin with bombings of the cities of Baku, Grozny, Batumi, Maikop and Poti. The plan called for the use of 90-100 English Blenheim and American Glenn Martin bombers in the attack on Baku. The bombing was supposed to go on day and night, with pilots orienting on the fires. All of the oil fields, refineries and ports were supposed to go up in flames.
The USSR had completed refitting its oil refineries by the beginning of 1940. But large crude oil collectors—pits filled with oil—and a great number of wooden oil derricks were left over from the past. According to an assessment by American experts, the soil in those areas was so saturated with oil that fire would spread at a high rate of speed and move to other fields. It would take months to extinguish the fires and years before production could resume.
What we know of ecology today tells us that those bombings would have created an environmental disaster. Convection columns would have formed above the fires, and hot air would have pushed the products of combustion into the upper layers of the atmosphere. That would have produced acid rain, disrupted heat exchange in the atmosphere and contaminated the area with carcinogenic and mutagenic substances. Baku’s residents would have been left without water, of course, because the combustion products would have poisoned the wells. Fires at deep wells would have released “dead water” containing compounds of copper and nitrogen. The runoff of combustion products into the sea would have destroyed marine flora and fauna.
It’s horrible to imagine. It is incomprehensible that the ‘civilized’ West would coldly plan to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians even before the barbaric bombings of Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And they were civilians, because there were no significant military forces or facilities in Baku, Dresden, Hiroshima or Nagasaki.
The preparations were in earnest
French Foreign Ministry Secretary General Leger wrote US Ambassador Bullitt on January 11, 1940 that France would not break off diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union or declare war against it; it would destroy the Soviet Union if possible, using cannons—if necessary.
French Prime Minister Deladier offered to send a squadron into the Black Sea to block Soviet lines of communications and shell Batumi from the sea. On January 19, 1940, he sent a document about the attack on the Soviet Union to General Gamelin, Commander-in-Chief of the French Army and Deputy President of the Supreme War Council, as well as Admiral of the Fleet Darlan. Two copies of the document were addressed to General Koëltz, commander of the French ground forces, and General Vuillemin, French Chief of the Air Staff and Commander-in-Chief of its Air Force, respectively.
On January 24, 1940, the Chief of England’s Imperial General Staff, General Ironside, sent the War Cabinet a memorandum on “the main war strategy,” in which he stated his opinion that England could effectively assist Finland only if it attacked Russia on the largest possible number of axes and, most importantly, struck Baku—an oil production region—in order to cause a serious national crisis in Russia.
One more fact: at the January 31, 1940 meeting of the Chiefs of General Staff of England and France in Paris, French General Gamelin suggested that the British bomb targets in Russia’s interior; and England’s Marshal Pierce, the Deputy Chief of England’s Air Staff, supported the proposal.
As they say, the weak follow the strong. Iran’s War Minister Nakhjavan asked the British to provide 80 aircraft and coordinate plans for the war on Russia.
On February 3, 1940, the French General Staff ordered General Jaunaud, the French air commander in Syria, to study the possibility of an air attack on Baku. Three days later, the issue was discussed and approved at a meeting of England’s War Cabinet. In light of the assigned mission, the Chiefs of Staff Committee ordered preparation of a document.
On February 28, 1940, France’s Air Staff produced a document containing precise calculations of the assets required for the attack on Baku. The British approach to the matter was thorough and proposed attacking our country from three directions. In the end, all details were coordinated and negotiations were held with the Turkish General Staff in March—it was understood that Turkey would also participate in the attack on the Soviet Union. Even more intensive work to coordinate and finalize the aggressors’ plans took place in April. Reynaud, who succeeded Deladier as Prime Minister, was an even bigger hawk than his predecessor and demanded more action from the British.
The infernal machine preparing for the attack on the Soviet Union began to count down the last days and hours before the bombing of our country’s oil fields that was to occur on May 15, 1940. Stocks of aviation fuel and high explosive and incendiary bombs were increased at British and French airfields in the Middle East; navigators marked out directions of attack on maps; and pilots practiced night bombing. Reynaud telephoned Churchill on May 10, 1940 to say that France was ready for the attack on May 15.
What stopped them
But—the ironies of fate! On May 10, five days before England and France were to begin their war against the Soviet Union, Hitler gave the order to stop the “Phony War” with France that featured no military operations and launch a decisive attack. The Germans defeated the French within a matter of days, and for some reason a new Russian campaign held little appeal for Napoleon’s heirs. The Germans failed to destroy the British Expeditionary Force in France and allowed it to escape at Dunkirk.
Just five days—and history took a different path! History, of course, abhors the subjunctive mood, but we can be sure that the cost of the war would have been completely different. We would have repelled the attack by the British and French aggressors. The Soviet leadership knew about the plans for attacking Baku—and it was ready with a response. High-altitude MIG-3 fighters had been developed and put into service—they were capable of intercepting British, American and French bombers at high altitudes. English fighters armed only with machine guns were no threat to the armored Il-2 fighter-bombers, not to speak of the French fighters. So the “allied” air raid would not have caused the disasters, death and destruction that they were hoping for. Relations with Germany may have been different.
Sooner or later, Germany’s political system would have evolved; its excesses would have been in the past, like the fires of the Inquisition and the Crusades, the persecution of heretics and the burning of witches.
Of course, an attack on our country would have been worrisome. Germany would have figured out how to make common cause with England or France. Especially since England had its own Sir Oswald Mosley—the leader of British Fascists and a Member of Parliament and the government who personally knew both the English and Belgian kings, as well as Hitler and Goebbels. They would have found a common language. We should not forget: Hitler’s forces included 200,000 French volunteers that fought against our country. And here is another interesting detail: the last defenders of Hitler’s bunker were French SS troopers.
Five days, just five days—and history would have taken a different course…