How the 'Big Three' Teed Up the Cold War at the 1945 Yalta Conference

How the 'Big Three' Teed Up the Cold War at the 1945 Yalta Conference

By February 1945, it was increasingly clear that not only would Adolf Hitler's Third Reich fail to last a millennium as he had hoped; it wouldn’t even survive the spring.

With the end of World War II finally in sight, the “Big Three” Allied leaders—U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin—met in the Soviet resort town of Yalta to plan for the dawn of the post-war world. Although Roosevelt had been the one to propose this follow-up to the Allies’ 1943 Tehran Conference, to project a united front against Nazi Germany, Stalin could dictate the summit’s location on the Black Sea coast because his forces had a stronger battlefield position. While American and British forces had yet to even cross the Rhine River, the Red Army stood some 40 miles from Berlin.

“This is Stalin’s show,” says Robert Citino, senior historian at the National World War II Museum. “He has a giant army occupying most of Central and Eastern Europe, and the Western allies are back on their heels with the Battle of the Bulge and grinding fights on their hands.”

Each leader came to Yalta with the goal of preventing another global war—but they differed on tactics. The frail Roosevelt made the 6,000-mile journey to Yalta by air and sea, zigzagging across the Atlantic to avoid German U-boats, to gain support for his United Nations proposal. Stalin sought to divide Germany to make it incapable of launching another war and to use Eastern Europe as a buffer zone for additional protection. He also wanted punitive reparations from Germany—a measure adamantly opposed by Churchill, who pegged self-determination in Poland as “the most urgent reason for the Yalta Conference.”

READ MORE: Yalta Conference

The ‘Big Three’ plotted World War II’s final months.

Once the summer playpen of the czars, Yalta still bore deep scars from the Nazi occupation of the Crimean Peninsula when the Allied leaders arrived. “If we had spent 10 years on research, we could not have found a worse place in the world than Yalta,” quipped a less-than-enthused Churchill, who dubbed the location “the Riviera of Hades.”

The conference opened on February 4, 1945, inside the Livadia Palace, once the summer home of Czar Nicholas II. For eight days, the Allied leaders and their top military and diplomatic staff negotiated amid a haze of cigar and cigarette smoke while feasting on caviar and imbibing vodka and other liquors. “The P.M. seems well,” wrote British diplomat Alexander Cadogan, “though drinking buckets of...champagne, which would undermine the health of any normal man.”

Not all was so opulent inside the palace, though. Sleeping nine to a room, the Americans sprayed DDT to ward off the army of bedbugs. And facing only a handful of functioning toilets, Stalin was among those enduring long lines for bathrooms and buckets. “Excepting only the war, the bathrooms were the most generally discussed subject at the Crimean conference,” recalled U.S. General Laurence Kuter.

By the time the summit concluded, the trio had agreed to demand Germany’s unconditional surrender and the division of the country—and the capital of Berlin—into four occupied zones administered by American, British, French and Soviet forces. They settled on the payment of German reparations “to the greatest extent possible,” with the amount to be determined later. With Roosevelt’s advisors warning him that an invasion of Japan could claim one million American lives, and the atomic bomb still untested, the president gained Stalin’s secret pledge to attack Japan within three months after Germany’s surrender in return for diplomatic recognition of its satellite state of Mongolia and the restoration of territories lost in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War. Stalin also agreed to the formation of the United Nations after the Soviet Union received veto power in the Security Council.

READ MORE: As the Allies Closed in on Hitler, They Jockeyed for Future World Dominance

Poland’s fate sparked disagreement.

The greatest debate in Yalta came over the fate of Eastern Europe. The conference shifted Poland’s borders westward, with the Soviet Union annexing much of the country’s east with land seized from northeast Germany granted as compensation. The agreement also contained loose language for the inclusion of democratic leaders from a Polish government-in-exile, backed by the British and Americans, in the provisional communist-dominated government installed by the Soviets. It also called for free democratic elections in Soviet-occupied countries in Eastern Europe.

With the Red Army far outnumbering the Allies on the western front, Stalin had the upper hand in dictating the terms of the agreement. “It was not a question of what we would let the Russians do, but what we could get the Russians to do,” said American delegate and future secretary of state James Byrnes.

One thing not subject to debate at Yalta was Roosevelt’s health. Although the youngest of the three, the president cast a gaunt, ghostly figure with sallow cheeks and sunken eyes. “Everyone seemed to agree that the president had gone to bits physically,” wrote Churchill’s physician.

READ MORE: Why Poland Wants Germany to Pay Billions for World War II

The Cold War brought a reassessment of Yalta.

By the time of Roosevelt’s death two months later on April 12, it was becoming clear that Stalin had no intention to support political freedom in Poland. World War II had begun with the invasion of Poland’. It ended with Poland under Soviet domination. Poland was not among the dozens of countries represented when the conference to form the United Nations met for the first time in San Francisco on April 25.

Two days after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. A week later, Japan surrendered. The Yalta Conference had helped to end World War II. But it now began to shape the ensuing Cold War. No longer bound by a common enemy, the uneasy alliance of capitalist and communist superpowers would not endure. “An iron curtain is drawn down upon their front,” Churchill wrote about the Soviets to Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, on May 12, 1945.

In February 1946, American diplomat George Kennan wrote his “long telegram” to Byrnes in which he urged the abandonment of thoughts of cooperation with the Soviets and the adoption of a policy of “containment” to prevent the spread of communism. The principle would become the bedrock of American foreign policy toward the Soviet Union for decades to come.

The rise of the Cold War, revelations of Yalta’s secret agreements and the development of the atomic bomb that reduced the need for Soviet intervention in the Pacific Theater led to criticism that Churchill and Roosevelt, hampered by his weakened state, yielded too much to Stalin. “You can’t say Yalta was a sellout unless you come up with a strategy to evict Stalin from Eastern Europe,” Citino says. “Look at a map in February 1945 and see where the contending armies are, and it’s obvious why Stalin was able to turn Eastern Europe into a satellite state. I’m not sure the fighting fit and energetic Roosevelt of 1933 would have gotten a better deal out of Stalin at Yalta.”

Watch full episodes of World War II: Race to Victory.


Y is for Yalta

The “Big Three” — Britain, Russia, and the United States — met at Yalta, a resort on the Russian Black Sea, in February 1945. Their purpose was to shape the post World War II world. During the conference, the Western Allies (to their regret) acknowledged that the enormous Soviet sacrifices and successes in the war entitled the Soviet Union to a preeminent role in Eastern Europe. This understanding was reflected in a number of key decisions that — during the Cold War — became known as “the treason of Yalta” or the “Yalta agreements.”

At the conference a nasty debate erupted over the future of Poland. The Soviets had recognized a communist-dominated regime before the meetings began. During the talks, FDR and Churchill demanded that pro-Western Poles be included in the government. The three men finally agreed that the regime must be “reorganized on a broader democratic basis.” To reinforce the agreement, FDR proposed a “Declaration of Liberated Europe,” providing that each of the three powers would pledge cooperation in applying the self-determination principle to newly liberated nations. The Russians amended the declaration until it was almost meaningless.

Stalin left Yalta believing that his allies had acquiesced to his domination over Eastern Europe. But he had miscalculated. Two weeks after the conference adjourned, the Soviets demanded that the king of Rumania appoint a communist-controlled government. The US claimed that Stalin was breaking the Declaration of Liberated Europe. Control of Eastern Europe was at stake. Soon after, a crisis developed when Russia refused to allow more than three pro-Western Poles into the 18 member Polish government.

For America, Poland became the test case of Soviet intentions. On April 1, Roosevelt warned Stalin that the Soviet plan for Poland could not be accepted. Within a week Roosevelt was dead and the new President, Harry Truman, inherited a decayed alliance. Truman demanded that the Soviets agree to a “new” (not just “reorganized”) Polish government. Stalin rejected Truman’s demand, observing that it was contrary to the Yalta agreement. Truman’s toughness reinforced the Russian determination to control Poland. By mid 1945, Churchill would note that an “iron fence” was falling around Eastern Europe. (For more on the Iron Curtain, see letter I.)


How the 'Big Three' Teed Up the Cold War at the 1945 Yalta Conference - HISTORY

The relatively smooth waters of cooperation between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin at Yalta concealed roiling cross currents beneath the glistening surface which some historians like to emphasise. These rip tides were quick to erupt in the last weeks of the war.

Much has been written over the years about the wartime Yalta conference, and more ink will no doubt be spilled this year, on its 75 th anniversary. Yalta was supposed to mark the beginnings of post-war Anglo-American-Soviet cooperation. Plans were discussed for the United Nations. Germany was to be sorted out so it would not again threaten European security. Reparations in kind were to be paid to the USSR to help rebuild the country. Poland was to be moved westward with a new government acceptable to the Big Three allies. The USSR would come into the war against Japan, and so on. The atmosphere at the meetings was cordial, but the cordiality did not last long. All the high hopes were soon dashed, and then followed by a welter of recriminations. Naïve, sick Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) caved in to Joseph Stalin. Or FDR betrayed Winston Churchill. Or Churchill and FDR abandoned Poland to communism. Or… and this is perhaps the more common view in the West, Stalin betrayed the Grand Alliance and duped his partners. Yalta, whichever way you look at it, did not lead to those “broad, sunlit uplands”, as Churchill put it, on which many pinned their hopes.

The Russian government likes to remind people in the West of the Grand Alliance against Nazi Germany with a view to improving relations in the present for some new common cause, or simply because there is no other alternative. One can understand that need and the reasoning, and more power to the Russians for trying, but as a historian I follow the trails of evidence wherever they lead.

In November 1933 FDR and Maksim M. Litvinov, then commissar (narkom) for foreign affairs, negotiated US recognition of the USSR.

If only things had been different. For example, if only FDR had not suddenly died on 12 April 1945, and if only Harry Truman had not become US president. I am not sure FDR’s continued presence in the White House would have mattered one way or the other. In November 1933 FDR and Maksim M. Litvinov, then commissar (narkom) for foreign affairs, negotiated US recognition of the USSR. Both Roosevelt and Stalin wanted to close a deal, especially on outstanding debts from the revolutionary period. This would have allowed wider cooperation on “political” issues, mainly security against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. If these two powerful leaders wanted to get on better terms in 1933, a Soviet-American rapprochement should have started in that year, and not in 1941. What happened? The State Department, full of Sovietophobes, intervened to scuttle the start made by FDR and Litvinov. Would it have been any different in 1945, had Roosevelt lived?

It was not just the anti-communists in the United States, who opposed postwar cooperation with the USSR there were also Sovietophobes in London. Anglo-Soviet relations were almost always bad from 1917 to 1941. After the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917 the British government sent troops to the far distant corners of Russia and paid out more than a £100 million pounds to support the White Guard resistance against Soviet Russia. This was not beer money. If it had been up to Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war (from January 1919), a lot more would have been done to overthrow the Bolsheviks. After the failure of the Allied intervention in 1920-1921, there were occasional attempts to improve Anglo-Soviet relations which never went very far.

The best chance came in 1934 when Sir Robert Vansittart, Permanent Undersecretary of the Foreign Office, and Ivan M. Maisky, the Soviet polpred, or ambassador in London, started talking about a rapprochement in the summer of 1934. The motivation for both was the rising menace of Nazi Germany, as it was for FDR and Litvinov. In March 1935 Anthony Eden, then Lord Privy Seal, went to Moscow, to meet Stalin, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, Litvinov and others. Litvinov wanted to talk about the Nazi danger, but Eden preferred generalities. Litvinov and Maisky thought Eden was on their side, but they were wrong. When he became Foreign Secretary at the end of the 1935, he almost immediately put the brakes on the Anglo-Soviet rapprochement.

Maisky, the Soviet polpred, or ambassador in London

Why would Eden do that? It was the usual anticommunism amongst the British governing elite, the usual Sovietophobia. Anglo-Soviet relations never got beyond this false start even as the Nazi threat to peace increased through the various crises of the late 1930s. At the Munich conference in September 1938 the British and French governments sold out Czechoslovakia for five months of false security. They had ambitions for much more with Herr Hitler, but he bitterly disappointed them.

And finally there were the last chance negotiations in 1939 to organise an Anglo-Franco-Soviet front against Nazi Germany. In April the Soviet government made new alliance offers, and put them in writing to make a point. Even then however, as astonishing as it might seem now, Britain and France failed to seize the opportunity to close a deal with Moscow. British and French leaders were just not serious about an anti-Nazi entente with the USSR in spite of Churchill’s warning in the House of Commons that without the Red Army, France and Britain had no chance in a war against Hitler.

Litvinov wanted to talk about the Nazi danger, but Eden preferred generalities

In May Stalin sacked his stalwart narkom Litvinov. It should have been a wake-up call in London and Paris, but wasn’t. You could not blame Stalin for dismissing Litvinov. He was mocked in the west. He had tried since 1933 to organise an anti-Nazi bloc. It was the Grand Alliance That Never Was. This was not a personal policy, by the way, but Soviet policy approved by Stalin. All the USSR’s prospective allies had abandoned Moscow one after the other: the United States, France, Italy (yes even fascist Italy), Britain, and Romania. Even the dodgy Czechoslovaks were unreliable. Poland of course always stood against cooperation with the USSR. In July 1939 British officials were caught still talking with German counterparts about a last minute détente.

In August 1939 British and French delegations finally went to Moscow to negotiate terms of an alliance. They travelled on a slow chartered merchantman, without authority to conclude an agreement, but with instructions to “go very slowly”. “With empty hands,” said the French chief negotiator. The clock was ticking down to war, and still the British and French were not serious with their assumed Soviet allies.

You know what happened next. Stalin bailed himself out by concluding the non-aggression pact with Hitler. Nothing to be proud of, mind you, but what options did he have? Trust the French? Trust the British? They were not serious, and you don’t go to with war with allies who are not serious. What would you have done? Of course, the British and French blamed Stalin for the failure of negotiations. And so have generations of western historians and more recently politicians. It was an audacious Pot calling Kettle black.

In September 1939 the Wehrmacht invaded Poland and defeated it in a matter of days. In May 1940 France was knocked out of the war, lasting only a little longer than Poland had done. Couldn’t the French have fought a little? Stalin asked his colleagues at the time. And the British, how could they let this happen? Now Hitler is going to beat our brains out, Stalin rightly feared.

On 22 June 1941 Hitler invaded the USSR. Every intelligence agency in Europe knew that Hitler was going to attack. The various Soviet agencies knew too and kept Stalin well informed. He must have been about the only leader in Europe who did not believe that Hitler would invade. The British and Americans reckoned that the Red Army would hold out for 4 to 6 weeks. Not much optimism there. The British of course were projecting from their own experience. They had yet to beat the Wehrmacht in battle.

David Low, the celebrated British cartoonist, drew an image, asking when Britain would offer real help instead of rhetorical flowers of praise.

Churchill broke out cigars and cognac when Germany attacked the USSR. You can always count on Winston for a good quote: “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil.” On other matters he was not so eager in spite of a grand speech on BBC the evening of 22 June. There was a big debate inside the government about whether the Soviet national anthem, the Internationale, should be played on BBC radio on Sunday evenings along with the anthems of other British allies. The government at first refused to approve, not wanting to appear to be endorsing socialist revolution. A touchy subject, Winston was adamant until after the Soviet victory before Moscow in December 1941. Eden, again Foreign Secretary, asked the PM to relent. “All right,” Churchill wrote on Eden’s note. Churchill had a hard time deciding whether the Russians were “barbarians” or allies, even when he needed them most.

That summer of 1941 Britain began to ship war matériel to the USSR. Not much mind you, but better than nothing. Britain was still not in a position to offer important assistance. When Stalin suggested that Britain send troops to fight on the Soviet front, Churchill would have nothing to do with it, though others in London felt guilty because the Red Army was doing all the fighting. The Foreign Office suggested an evasive reply. David Low, the celebrated British cartoonist, drew an image, asking when Britain would offer real help instead of rhetorical flowers of praise. In early July 1941 Maisky, the Soviet polpred, raised the question of a second front in France. That too was out of the question.

Did the British want to fight to the last Red Army soldier? David Low wondered in a cartoon where ‘Colonel Blimp’, the proverbial rotten British Tory, and his cronies sat watching from afar the war in the east. You could hardly blame Stalin for accusing the British of shirking the fight during the late summer and autumn of 1942 with the battle of Stalingrad raging. Churchill and Roosevelt made careless promises about a second front which they could not or would not keep.

During the summer of 1941 Roosevelt got involved after sitting on the sidelines, worried about the “isolationist”, anti-communist opposition. The Soviet polpred in Washington reported obstacles in obtaining US assistance, but then he noted an improvement in the atmosphere. In November 1941 FDR announced that “Lend-Lease” supplies would go to the USSR. The Grand Alliance began to form up. Roosevelt became Godfather of the Big Three.

David Low wondered in a cartoon where ‘Colonel Blimp’, the proverbial rotten British Tory, and his cronies sat watching from afar the war in the east.

After the Soviet victory before Moscow in December 1941 the Foreign Office debated what impact it would have on the course of the war. Stalin could opt out of the war leaving Britain and the US in the lurch. Sir Orme G. Sargent and Sir Alexander Cadogan, senior Foreign Office officials, were great Sovietophobes. Historians can always count on them for something nasty to say about the USSR. In early February 1942 they were worried about the outcome of the war. They feared that the Red Army might win without any help from the west. According to Cadogan and Sargent, that would be a catastrophe. Britain would have nothing to say about the post-war order.

Here is what Cadogan had to say on 8 February 1942: “… we ought to hope for continued pressure by the Soviet, with erosion of German manpower & material and not too [emphasis in original] great a geographical advance.”

Eden responded on the same day: “… it remains broadly true that a German collapse this year will be an exclusively Soviet victory with all that implies. Therefore clearly we must do all in our power to resolve grievances & come to terms with [Stalin] for the future. This may also prevent him from double crossing us, but it will at least remove pretexts. He has these now…” Britain had no armies in Europe, fighting the Germans.

The Foreign Office had two big worries in February 1942: the Red Army winning too quickly and Stalin double-crossing them. Can you imagine? The Red Army had already suffered more than 3 million casualties, not to speak of civilian losses, and the Foreign Office was worried about the Red Army winning too quickly.

Pragmatist that he was, Churchill knew what he had to do. He threw some flowers to Stalin: “Words fail me to express the admiration which all of us feel at the continued brilliant successes of your Armies against the German invader, but I cannot resist sending you a further word of gratitude and congratulation on all that Russia is doing for the common cause.”

Philip Faymonville, the Brigadier in charge of Lend-Lease, got on well with his Soviet counterparts which did not sit well with the US military attaché, Joseph Michela

In July 1941 the British and Soviet governments exchanged military missions. The first three British heads of mission were a failure. They were Generals Frank Noel Mason-Macfarlane, Giffard Martel and Brocas Burrows. The latter two officers were true blue Sovietophobes. General Burrows had been in Murmansk during the British intervention in 1918-1919. Burrows could not hide his hatred of the USSR. He wanted to wear medals he had got from the White Guard armies. The Foreign Office reluctantly let him do it. Burrows only lasted a few months in Moscow before Stalin himself asked for his recall.

There was also trouble in the US embassy in Moscow. The Brigadier in charge of Lend-Lease was Philip Faymonville. He got on well with his Soviet counterparts which did not sit well with the US military attaché, Joseph Michela. Brigadier Michela hated the USSR and disdained the Red Army. He was wrong about Soviet capabilities and intentions in just about every report he sent to Washington. What on earth was he doing in Moscow? In 1942 he accused Faymonville of being a homosexual, blackmailed, he implied by Soviet intelligence. The FBI investigated and found nothing but praise for Faymonville. Michela was a good hater and hated “the pinks” in the US government who supported the Soviet war effort. That also included FDR since it was his policy to support the USSR. The US embassy in Moscow was infested with Sovietophobes and it was civil war between Michela and Faymonville. In 1943 they were recalled to Washington.

In the summer of 1944 Sovietophobia in the British War Office was so intense that it worried the Foreign Office. Stalin was certain to hear of it. In August 1944 the Chiefs of Staff were talking about the USSR as “enemy no. 1”. This was a reversion back to the 1930s when western elites could not decide if the USSR or Nazi Germany was “enemy no. 1.” The Foreign Office was greatly alarmed by the inability of British senior officers to conduct themselves “diplomatically” with their Soviet counterparts. To quote the head of the Northern Department, Christopher F. A. Warner, “Anglo-Russian post-war relations will be irretrievably prejudiced with the most appalling results for perhaps 100 years. This is altogether too high a price to pay for the prejudices of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff [Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke]”. Even Churchill had trouble restraining his old anti-Bolshevik urges, shocking his colleagues at times with outlandish comments about communist crocodiles and Russian barbarians.

Russophobia and Sovietophobia were alive and well in the higher ranks of the British and US armed forces even as the Red Army was crushing the Wehrmacht. And that was not all. In June 1944 Stalin proposed the formation of a Tripartite Military Commission to coordinate military planning with the western allies, they having finally landed in Normandy. After months of delays, the proposal was abandoned because of foot dragging by the British Chiefs of Staff.

British army hostility also manifested itself in planning for the post-war period. In several major planning documents prior to the end of the war you can follow the revisions to these papers where the authors slipped in preoccupations about a potential Soviet threat to British interests in the post-war period.

All of this occurred in the lead-up to the Yalta conference. The relatively smooth waters of cooperation between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin at Yalta concealed roiling cross currents beneath the glistening surface which some historians like to emphasise. These rip tides were quick to erupt in the last weeks of the war.

In March 1945 there was a row over secret Anglo-American negotiations in Berne, Switzerland with German military representatives for the surrender of German forces in northern Italy. In late March Molotov, narkom for Foreign Affairs, accused the Anglo-Americans of going behind the back of the Soviet Union. In early April German resistance in the west collapsed, though not in the east. It looked like the Red Army was going to have to bear most of the casualties again in reducing the last German forces. The Soviet side must have wondered if there was a connection between the March negotiations in Switzerland and the end of German resistance in the west.

In the Foreign Office, Sargent, Deputy Permanent Undersecretary, took offence at Soviet irritation. It’s time for “a showdown” with Moscow, he wrote in early April 1945. A “showdown,” he said. We’ve put up with the Soviet for a long time because they were carrying the brunt of the fighting, but since the German collapse in the west, things have changed. We can start setting conditions for the Soviet side, Sargent wrote. What is interesting about his memorandum is that he already anticipated the division of Europe between east and west. We’re going “to rehabilitate” Germany, Sargent wrote, as we did Italy “so as to save her from Communism.”

“They [the USSR] may well decide that there is not a moment to be lost in consolidating their cordon sanitaire, not merely against a future German danger, but against the impending penetration by the Western Allies.” Godfather Roosevelt quieted down the row over the Berne negotiations just before his death on 12 April. US Ambassador Averill Harriman and the US head of the military mission in Moscow, General John R. Deane, then rushed to Washington, to obtain, in effect, the abandonment of FDR’s policy toward the Soviet Union.Roosevelt’s ghost could not do much against the zeal of subordinates who were determined to set matters straight with the USSR.

Not to be outdone, Churchill ordered the Joint Planning Staff to draw up contingency plans for war against the USSR. Yes, that is correct, for war against the USSR. This astonishing, scandalous document was entitled Operation “Unthinkable” and dated 22 May 1945, three months after Yalta. It was classified “top secret”, and you can understand why. The document foresaw the contingency of military action against the Red Army only a fortnight after VE Day, making use of reconstituted German divisions to be allied with British and US forces. “The overall or political object is to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and British Empire.” Of course, we’ll offer the Russians a choice, said the document, but “if they want total war, they are in a position to have it.” The War Office weeders really slipped up when they did not destroy this particular document. I have never seen in British archives so much stupidity, so many wild ideas, packed into one 29pp. document. General Hastings Ismay, the PM’s military advisor, wrote to Churchill in early June that the document was “bare facts”. The Chiefs of Staff felt that “the less that was put on paper… the better.” Churchill replied that the paper was a “precautionary study of what, I hope, is still a purely hypothetical contingency.” That sounded like backpedaling.

You will find this extraordinary document in the British National Archives at Kew in a Cabinet file entitled “The Russian Threat to Western Civilisation”. My guess is you can also find fresh files like this one, dated 2014 or after, in top secret US and British government vaults. Foreign Office official Warner was more right than he knew when he wrote about the danger of 100 years of Anglo-Russian hostility. If one starts the clock ticking in 1917, we are at 103 years and counting.

This is why I propose that the Yalta conference was a mirage, brilliant to be sure, but still a mirage. As soon as the German danger subsided, it was back to business as usual in the West. The Grand Alliance was over—it was a “truce”, some of my students have said. The cold war, which began after 1917, then gradually resumed in the spring of 1945. Count the years since 1917 when the USSR and Russia have had good relations with the west and with the United States in particular. Four years out of 103 leaves not quite a century of hostility, and this does not bode well for change in the foreseeable future. It is best to see things as they are, and not as you might wish them to be.

The relatively smooth waters of cooperation between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin at Yalta concealed roiling cross currents beneath the glistening surface which some historians like to emphasise. These rip tides were quick to erupt in the last weeks of the war.

Much has been written over the years about the wartime Yalta conference, and more ink will no doubt be spilled this year, on its 75 th anniversary. Yalta was supposed to mark the beginnings of post-war Anglo-American-Soviet cooperation. Plans were discussed for the United Nations. Germany was to be sorted out so it would not again threaten European security. Reparations in kind were to be paid to the USSR to help rebuild the country. Poland was to be moved westward with a new government acceptable to the Big Three allies. The USSR would come into the war against Japan, and so on. The atmosphere at the meetings was cordial, but the cordiality did not last long. All the high hopes were soon dashed, and then followed by a welter of recriminations. Naïve, sick Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) caved in to Joseph Stalin. Or FDR betrayed Winston Churchill. Or Churchill and FDR abandoned Poland to communism. Or… and this is perhaps the more common view in the West, Stalin betrayed the Grand Alliance and duped his partners. Yalta, whichever way you look at it, did not lead to those “broad, sunlit uplands”, as Churchill put it, on which many pinned their hopes.

The Russian government likes to remind people in the West of the Grand Alliance against Nazi Germany with a view to improving relations in the present for some new common cause, or simply because there is no other alternative. One can understand that need and the reasoning, and more power to the Russians for trying, but as a historian I follow the trails of evidence wherever they lead.

In November 1933 FDR and Maksim M. Litvinov, then commissar (narkom) for foreign affairs, negotiated US recognition of the USSR.

If only things had been different. For example, if only FDR had not suddenly died on 12 April 1945, and if only Harry Truman had not become US president. I am not sure FDR’s continued presence in the White House would have mattered one way or the other. In November 1933 FDR and Maksim M. Litvinov, then commissar (narkom) for foreign affairs, negotiated US recognition of the USSR. Both Roosevelt and Stalin wanted to close a deal, especially on outstanding debts from the revolutionary period. This would have allowed wider cooperation on “political” issues, mainly security against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. If these two powerful leaders wanted to get on better terms in 1933, a Soviet-American rapprochement should have started in that year, and not in 1941. What happened? The State Department, full of Sovietophobes, intervened to scuttle the start made by FDR and Litvinov. Would it have been any different in 1945, had Roosevelt lived?

It was not just the anti-communists in the United States, who opposed postwar cooperation with the USSR there were also Sovietophobes in London. Anglo-Soviet relations were almost always bad from 1917 to 1941. After the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917 the British government sent troops to the far distant corners of Russia and paid out more than a £100 million pounds to support the White Guard resistance against Soviet Russia. This was not beer money. If it had been up to Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war (from January 1919), a lot more would have been done to overthrow the Bolsheviks. After the failure of the Allied intervention in 1920-1921, there were occasional attempts to improve Anglo-Soviet relations which never went very far.

The best chance came in 1934 when Sir Robert Vansittart, Permanent Undersecretary of the Foreign Office, and Ivan M. Maisky, the Soviet polpred, or ambassador in London, started talking about a rapprochement in the summer of 1934. The motivation for both was the rising menace of Nazi Germany, as it was for FDR and Litvinov. In March 1935 Anthony Eden, then Lord Privy Seal, went to Moscow, to meet Stalin, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, Litvinov and others. Litvinov wanted to talk about the Nazi danger, but Eden preferred generalities. Litvinov and Maisky thought Eden was on their side, but they were wrong. When he became Foreign Secretary at the end of the 1935, he almost immediately put the brakes on the Anglo-Soviet rapprochement.

Maisky, the Soviet polpred, or ambassador in London

Why would Eden do that? It was the usual anticommunism amongst the British governing elite, the usual Sovietophobia. Anglo-Soviet relations never got beyond this false start even as the Nazi threat to peace increased through the various crises of the late 1930s. At the Munich conference in September 1938 the British and French governments sold out Czechoslovakia for five months of false security. They had ambitions for much more with Herr Hitler, but he bitterly disappointed them.

And finally there were the last chance negotiations in 1939 to organise an Anglo-Franco-Soviet front against Nazi Germany. In April the Soviet government made new alliance offers, and put them in writing to make a point. Even then however, as astonishing as it might seem now, Britain and France failed to seize the opportunity to close a deal with Moscow. British and French leaders were just not serious about an anti-Nazi entente with the USSR in spite of Churchill’s warning in the House of Commons that without the Red Army, France and Britain had no chance in a war against Hitler.

Litvinov wanted to talk about the Nazi danger, but Eden preferred generalities

In May Stalin sacked his stalwart narkom Litvinov. It should have been a wake-up call in London and Paris, but wasn’t. You could not blame Stalin for dismissing Litvinov. He was mocked in the west. He had tried since 1933 to organise an anti-Nazi bloc. It was the Grand Alliance That Never Was. This was not a personal policy, by the way, but Soviet policy approved by Stalin. All the USSR’s prospective allies had abandoned Moscow one after the other: the United States, France, Italy (yes even fascist Italy), Britain, and Romania. Even the dodgy Czechoslovaks were unreliable. Poland of course always stood against cooperation with the USSR. In July 1939 British officials were caught still talking with German counterparts about a last minute détente.

In August 1939 British and French delegations finally went to Moscow to negotiate terms of an alliance. They travelled on a slow chartered merchantman, without authority to conclude an agreement, but with instructions to “go very slowly”. “With empty hands,” said the French chief negotiator. The clock was ticking down to war, and still the British and French were not serious with their assumed Soviet allies.

You know what happened next. Stalin bailed himself out by concluding the non-aggression pact with Hitler. Nothing to be proud of, mind you, but what options did he have? Trust the French? Trust the British? They were not serious, and you don’t go to with war with allies who are not serious. What would you have done? Of course, the British and French blamed Stalin for the failure of negotiations. And so have generations of western historians and more recently politicians. It was an audacious Pot calling Kettle black.

In September 1939 the Wehrmacht invaded Poland and defeated it in a matter of days. In May 1940 France was knocked out of the war, lasting only a little longer than Poland had done. Couldn’t the French have fought a little? Stalin asked his colleagues at the time. And the British, how could they let this happen? Now Hitler is going to beat our brains out, Stalin rightly feared.

On 22 June 1941 Hitler invaded the USSR. Every intelligence agency in Europe knew that Hitler was going to attack. The various Soviet agencies knew too and kept Stalin well informed. He must have been about the only leader in Europe who did not believe that Hitler would invade. The British and Americans reckoned that the Red Army would hold out for 4 to 6 weeks. Not much optimism there. The British of course were projecting from their own experience. They had yet to beat the Wehrmacht in battle.

David Low, the celebrated British cartoonist, drew an image, asking when Britain would offer real help instead of rhetorical flowers of praise.

Churchill broke out cigars and cognac when Germany attacked the USSR. You can always count on Winston for a good quote: “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil.” On other matters he was not so eager in spite of a grand speech on BBC the evening of 22 June. There was a big debate inside the government about whether the Soviet national anthem, the Internationale, should be played on BBC radio on Sunday evenings along with the anthems of other British allies. The government at first refused to approve, not wanting to appear to be endorsing socialist revolution. A touchy subject, Winston was adamant until after the Soviet victory before Moscow in December 1941. Eden, again Foreign Secretary, asked the PM to relent. “All right,” Churchill wrote on Eden’s note. Churchill had a hard time deciding whether the Russians were “barbarians” or allies, even when he needed them most.

That summer of 1941 Britain began to ship war matériel to the USSR. Not much mind you, but better than nothing. Britain was still not in a position to offer important assistance. When Stalin suggested that Britain send troops to fight on the Soviet front, Churchill would have nothing to do with it, though others in London felt guilty because the Red Army was doing all the fighting. The Foreign Office suggested an evasive reply. David Low, the celebrated British cartoonist, drew an image, asking when Britain would offer real help instead of rhetorical flowers of praise. In early July 1941 Maisky, the Soviet polpred, raised the question of a second front in France. That too was out of the question.

Did the British want to fight to the last Red Army soldier? David Low wondered in a cartoon where ‘Colonel Blimp’, the proverbial rotten British Tory, and his cronies sat watching from afar the war in the east. You could hardly blame Stalin for accusing the British of shirking the fight during the late summer and autumn of 1942 with the battle of Stalingrad raging. Churchill and Roosevelt made careless promises about a second front which they could not or would not keep.

During the summer of 1941 Roosevelt got involved after sitting on the sidelines, worried about the “isolationist”, anti-communist opposition. The Soviet polpred in Washington reported obstacles in obtaining US assistance, but then he noted an improvement in the atmosphere. In November 1941 FDR announced that “Lend-Lease” supplies would go to the USSR. The Grand Alliance began to form up. Roosevelt became Godfather of the Big Three.

David Low wondered in a cartoon where ‘Colonel Blimp’, the proverbial rotten British Tory, and his cronies sat watching from afar the war in the east.

After the Soviet victory before Moscow in December 1941 the Foreign Office debated what impact it would have on the course of the war. Stalin could opt out of the war leaving Britain and the US in the lurch. Sir Orme G. Sargent and Sir Alexander Cadogan, senior Foreign Office officials, were great Sovietophobes. Historians can always count on them for something nasty to say about the USSR. In early February 1942 they were worried about the outcome of the war. They feared that the Red Army might win without any help from the west. According to Cadogan and Sargent, that would be a catastrophe. Britain would have nothing to say about the post-war order.

Here is what Cadogan had to say on 8 February 1942: “… we ought to hope for continued pressure by the Soviet, with erosion of German manpower & material and not too [emphasis in original] great a geographical advance.”

Eden responded on the same day: “… it remains broadly true that a German collapse this year will be an exclusively Soviet victory with all that implies. Therefore clearly we must do all in our power to resolve grievances & come to terms with [Stalin] for the future. This may also prevent him from double crossing us, but it will at least remove pretexts. He has these now…” Britain had no armies in Europe, fighting the Germans.

The Foreign Office had two big worries in February 1942: the Red Army winning too quickly and Stalin double-crossing them. Can you imagine? The Red Army had already suffered more than 3 million casualties, not to speak of civilian losses, and the Foreign Office was worried about the Red Army winning too quickly.

Pragmatist that he was, Churchill knew what he had to do. He threw some flowers to Stalin: “Words fail me to express the admiration which all of us feel at the continued brilliant successes of your Armies against the German invader, but I cannot resist sending you a further word of gratitude and congratulation on all that Russia is doing for the common cause.”

Philip Faymonville, the Brigadier in charge of Lend-Lease, got on well with his Soviet counterparts which did not sit well with the US military attaché, Joseph Michela

In July 1941 the British and Soviet governments exchanged military missions. The first three British heads of mission were a failure. They were Generals Frank Noel Mason-Macfarlane, Giffard Martel and Brocas Burrows. The latter two officers were true blue Sovietophobes. General Burrows had been in Murmansk during the British intervention in 1918-1919. Burrows could not hide his hatred of the USSR. He wanted to wear medals he had got from the White Guard armies. The Foreign Office reluctantly let him do it. Burrows only lasted a few months in Moscow before Stalin himself asked for his recall.

There was also trouble in the US embassy in Moscow. The Brigadier in charge of Lend-Lease was Philip Faymonville. He got on well with his Soviet counterparts which did not sit well with the US military attaché, Joseph Michela. Brigadier Michela hated the USSR and disdained the Red Army. He was wrong about Soviet capabilities and intentions in just about every report he sent to Washington. What on earth was he doing in Moscow? In 1942 he accused Faymonville of being a homosexual, blackmailed, he implied by Soviet intelligence. The FBI investigated and found nothing but praise for Faymonville. Michela was a good hater and hated “the pinks” in the US government who supported the Soviet war effort. That also included FDR since it was his policy to support the USSR. The US embassy in Moscow was infested with Sovietophobes and it was civil war between Michela and Faymonville. In 1943 they were recalled to Washington.

In the summer of 1944 Sovietophobia in the British War Office was so intense that it worried the Foreign Office. Stalin was certain to hear of it. In August 1944 the Chiefs of Staff were talking about the USSR as “enemy no. 1”. This was a reversion back to the 1930s when western elites could not decide if the USSR or Nazi Germany was “enemy no. 1.” The Foreign Office was greatly alarmed by the inability of British senior officers to conduct themselves “diplomatically” with their Soviet counterparts. To quote the head of the Northern Department, Christopher F. A. Warner, “Anglo-Russian post-war relations will be irretrievably prejudiced with the most appalling results for perhaps 100 years. This is altogether too high a price to pay for the prejudices of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff [Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke]”. Even Churchill had trouble restraining his old anti-Bolshevik urges, shocking his colleagues at times with outlandish comments about communist crocodiles and Russian barbarians.

Russophobia and Sovietophobia were alive and well in the higher ranks of the British and US armed forces even as the Red Army was crushing the Wehrmacht. And that was not all. In June 1944 Stalin proposed the formation of a Tripartite Military Commission to coordinate military planning with the western allies, they having finally landed in Normandy. After months of delays, the proposal was abandoned because of foot dragging by the British Chiefs of Staff.

British army hostility also manifested itself in planning for the post-war period. In several major planning documents prior to the end of the war you can follow the revisions to these papers where the authors slipped in preoccupations about a potential Soviet threat to British interests in the post-war period.

All of this occurred in the lead-up to the Yalta conference. The relatively smooth waters of cooperation between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin at Yalta concealed roiling cross currents beneath the glistening surface which some historians like to emphasise. These rip tides were quick to erupt in the last weeks of the war.

In March 1945 there was a row over secret Anglo-American negotiations in Berne, Switzerland with German military representatives for the surrender of German forces in northern Italy. In late March Molotov, narkom for Foreign Affairs, accused the Anglo-Americans of going behind the back of the Soviet Union. In early April German resistance in the west collapsed, though not in the east. It looked like the Red Army was going to have to bear most of the casualties again in reducing the last German forces. The Soviet side must have wondered if there was a connection between the March negotiations in Switzerland and the end of German resistance in the west.

In the Foreign Office, Sargent, Deputy Permanent Undersecretary, took offence at Soviet irritation. It’s time for “a showdown” with Moscow, he wrote in early April 1945. A “showdown,” he said. We’ve put up with the Soviet for a long time because they were carrying the brunt of the fighting, but since the German collapse in the west, things have changed. We can start setting conditions for the Soviet side, Sargent wrote. What is interesting about his memorandum is that he already anticipated the division of Europe between east and west. We’re going “to rehabilitate” Germany, Sargent wrote, as we did Italy “so as to save her from Communism.”

“They [the USSR] may well decide that there is not a moment to be lost in consolidating their cordon sanitaire, not merely against a future German danger, but against the impending penetration by the Western Allies.” Godfather Roosevelt quieted down the row over the Berne negotiations just before his death on 12 April. US Ambassador Averill Harriman and the US head of the military mission in Moscow, General John R. Deane, then rushed to Washington, to obtain, in effect, the abandonment of FDR’s policy toward the Soviet Union.Roosevelt’s ghost could not do much against the zeal of subordinates who were determined to set matters straight with the USSR.

Not to be outdone, Churchill ordered the Joint Planning Staff to draw up contingency plans for war against the USSR. Yes, that is correct, for war against the USSR. This astonishing, scandalous document was entitled Operation “Unthinkable” and dated 22 May 1945, three months after Yalta. It was classified “top secret”, and you can understand why. The document foresaw the contingency of military action against the Red Army only a fortnight after VE Day, making use of reconstituted German divisions to be allied with British and US forces. “The overall or political object is to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and British Empire.” Of course, we’ll offer the Russians a choice, said the document, but “if they want total war, they are in a position to have it.” The War Office weeders really slipped up when they did not destroy this particular document. I have never seen in British archives so much stupidity, so many wild ideas, packed into one 29pp. document. General Hastings Ismay, the PM’s military advisor, wrote to Churchill in early June that the document was “bare facts”. The Chiefs of Staff felt that “the less that was put on paper… the better.” Churchill replied that the paper was a “precautionary study of what, I hope, is still a purely hypothetical contingency.” That sounded like backpedaling.

You will find this extraordinary document in the British National Archives at Kew in a Cabinet file entitled “The Russian Threat to Western Civilisation”. My guess is you can also find fresh files like this one, dated 2014 or after, in top secret US and British government vaults. Foreign Office official Warner was more right than he knew when he wrote about the danger of 100 years of Anglo-Russian hostility. If one starts the clock ticking in 1917, we are at 103 years and counting.

This is why I propose that the Yalta conference was a mirage, brilliant to be sure, but still a mirage. As soon as the German danger subsided, it was back to business as usual in the West. The Grand Alliance was over—it was a “truce”, some of my students have said. The cold war, which began after 1917, then gradually resumed in the spring of 1945. Count the years since 1917 when the USSR and Russia have had good relations with the west and with the United States in particular. Four years out of 103 leaves not quite a century of hostility, and this does not bode well for change in the foreseeable future. It is best to see things as they are, and not as you might wish them to be.

The relatively smooth waters of cooperation between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin at Yalta concealed roiling cross currents beneath the glistening surface which some historians like to emphasise. These rip tides were quick to erupt in the last weeks of the war.

Much has been written over the years about the wartime Yalta conference, and more ink will no doubt be spilled this year, on its 75 th anniversary. Yalta was supposed to mark the beginnings of post-war Anglo-American-Soviet cooperation. Plans were discussed for the United Nations. Germany was to be sorted out so it would not again threaten European security. Reparations in kind were to be paid to the USSR to help rebuild the country. Poland was to be moved westward with a new government acceptable to the Big Three allies. The USSR would come into the war against Japan, and so on. The atmosphere at the meetings was cordial, but the cordiality did not last long. All the high hopes were soon dashed, and then followed by a welter of recriminations. Naïve, sick Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) caved in to Joseph Stalin. Or FDR betrayed Winston Churchill. Or Churchill and FDR abandoned Poland to communism. Or… and this is perhaps the more common view in the West, Stalin betrayed the Grand Alliance and duped his partners. Yalta, whichever way you look at it, did not lead to those “broad, sunlit uplands”, as Churchill put it, on which many pinned their hopes.

The Russian government likes to remind people in the West of the Grand Alliance against Nazi Germany with a view to improving relations in the present for some new common cause, or simply because there is no other alternative. One can understand that need and the reasoning, and more power to the Russians for trying, but as a historian I follow the trails of evidence wherever they lead.

In November 1933 FDR and Maksim M. Litvinov, then commissar (narkom) for foreign affairs, negotiated US recognition of the USSR.

If only things had been different. For example, if only FDR had not suddenly died on 12 April 1945, and if only Harry Truman had not become US president. I am not sure FDR’s continued presence in the White House would have mattered one way or the other. In November 1933 FDR and Maksim M. Litvinov, then commissar (narkom) for foreign affairs, negotiated US recognition of the USSR. Both Roosevelt and Stalin wanted to close a deal, especially on outstanding debts from the revolutionary period. This would have allowed wider cooperation on “political” issues, mainly security against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. If these two powerful leaders wanted to get on better terms in 1933, a Soviet-American rapprochement should have started in that year, and not in 1941. What happened? The State Department, full of Sovietophobes, intervened to scuttle the start made by FDR and Litvinov. Would it have been any different in 1945, had Roosevelt lived?

It was not just the anti-communists in the United States, who opposed postwar cooperation with the USSR there were also Sovietophobes in London. Anglo-Soviet relations were almost always bad from 1917 to 1941. After the Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917 the British government sent troops to the far distant corners of Russia and paid out more than a £100 million pounds to support the White Guard resistance against Soviet Russia. This was not beer money. If it had been up to Winston Churchill, then secretary of state for war (from January 1919), a lot more would have been done to overthrow the Bolsheviks. After the failure of the Allied intervention in 1920-1921, there were occasional attempts to improve Anglo-Soviet relations which never went very far.

The best chance came in 1934 when Sir Robert Vansittart, Permanent Undersecretary of the Foreign Office, and Ivan M. Maisky, the Soviet polpred, or ambassador in London, started talking about a rapprochement in the summer of 1934. The motivation for both was the rising menace of Nazi Germany, as it was for FDR and Litvinov. In March 1935 Anthony Eden, then Lord Privy Seal, went to Moscow, to meet Stalin, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, Litvinov and others. Litvinov wanted to talk about the Nazi danger, but Eden preferred generalities. Litvinov and Maisky thought Eden was on their side, but they were wrong. When he became Foreign Secretary at the end of the 1935, he almost immediately put the brakes on the Anglo-Soviet rapprochement.

Maisky, the Soviet polpred, or ambassador in London

Why would Eden do that? It was the usual anticommunism amongst the British governing elite, the usual Sovietophobia. Anglo-Soviet relations never got beyond this false start even as the Nazi threat to peace increased through the various crises of the late 1930s. At the Munich conference in September 1938 the British and French governments sold out Czechoslovakia for five months of false security. They had ambitions for much more with Herr Hitler, but he bitterly disappointed them.

And finally there were the last chance negotiations in 1939 to organise an Anglo-Franco-Soviet front against Nazi Germany. In April the Soviet government made new alliance offers, and put them in writing to make a point. Even then however, as astonishing as it might seem now, Britain and France failed to seize the opportunity to close a deal with Moscow. British and French leaders were just not serious about an anti-Nazi entente with the USSR in spite of Churchill’s warning in the House of Commons that without the Red Army, France and Britain had no chance in a war against Hitler.

Litvinov wanted to talk about the Nazi danger, but Eden preferred generalities

In May Stalin sacked his stalwart narkom Litvinov. It should have been a wake-up call in London and Paris, but wasn’t. You could not blame Stalin for dismissing Litvinov. He was mocked in the west. He had tried since 1933 to organise an anti-Nazi bloc. It was the Grand Alliance That Never Was. This was not a personal policy, by the way, but Soviet policy approved by Stalin. All the USSR’s prospective allies had abandoned Moscow one after the other: the United States, France, Italy (yes even fascist Italy), Britain, and Romania. Even the dodgy Czechoslovaks were unreliable. Poland of course always stood against cooperation with the USSR. In July 1939 British officials were caught still talking with German counterparts about a last minute détente.

In August 1939 British and French delegations finally went to Moscow to negotiate terms of an alliance. They travelled on a slow chartered merchantman, without authority to conclude an agreement, but with instructions to “go very slowly”. “With empty hands,” said the French chief negotiator. The clock was ticking down to war, and still the British and French were not serious with their assumed Soviet allies.

You know what happened next. Stalin bailed himself out by concluding the non-aggression pact with Hitler. Nothing to be proud of, mind you, but what options did he have? Trust the French? Trust the British? They were not serious, and you don’t go to with war with allies who are not serious. What would you have done? Of course, the British and French blamed Stalin for the failure of negotiations. And so have generations of western historians and more recently politicians. It was an audacious Pot calling Kettle black.

In September 1939 the Wehrmacht invaded Poland and defeated it in a matter of days. In May 1940 France was knocked out of the war, lasting only a little longer than Poland had done. Couldn’t the French have fought a little? Stalin asked his colleagues at the time. And the British, how could they let this happen? Now Hitler is going to beat our brains out, Stalin rightly feared.

On 22 June 1941 Hitler invaded the USSR. Every intelligence agency in Europe knew that Hitler was going to attack. The various Soviet agencies knew too and kept Stalin well informed. He must have been about the only leader in Europe who did not believe that Hitler would invade. The British and Americans reckoned that the Red Army would hold out for 4 to 6 weeks. Not much optimism there. The British of course were projecting from their own experience. They had yet to beat the Wehrmacht in battle.

David Low, the celebrated British cartoonist, drew an image, asking when Britain would offer real help instead of rhetorical flowers of praise.

Churchill broke out cigars and cognac when Germany attacked the USSR. You can always count on Winston for a good quote: “If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil.” On other matters he was not so eager in spite of a grand speech on BBC the evening of 22 June. There was a big debate inside the government about whether the Soviet national anthem, the Internationale, should be played on BBC radio on Sunday evenings along with the anthems of other British allies. The government at first refused to approve, not wanting to appear to be endorsing socialist revolution. A touchy subject, Winston was adamant until after the Soviet victory before Moscow in December 1941. Eden, again Foreign Secretary, asked the PM to relent. “All right,” Churchill wrote on Eden’s note. Churchill had a hard time deciding whether the Russians were “barbarians” or allies, even when he needed them most.

That summer of 1941 Britain began to ship war matériel to the USSR. Not much mind you, but better than nothing. Britain was still not in a position to offer important assistance. When Stalin suggested that Britain send troops to fight on the Soviet front, Churchill would have nothing to do with it, though others in London felt guilty because the Red Army was doing all the fighting. The Foreign Office suggested an evasive reply. David Low, the celebrated British cartoonist, drew an image, asking when Britain would offer real help instead of rhetorical flowers of praise. In early July 1941 Maisky, the Soviet polpred, raised the question of a second front in France. That too was out of the question.

Did the British want to fight to the last Red Army soldier? David Low wondered in a cartoon where ‘Colonel Blimp’, the proverbial rotten British Tory, and his cronies sat watching from afar the war in the east. You could hardly blame Stalin for accusing the British of shirking the fight during the late summer and autumn of 1942 with the battle of Stalingrad raging. Churchill and Roosevelt made careless promises about a second front which they could not or would not keep.

During the summer of 1941 Roosevelt got involved after sitting on the sidelines, worried about the “isolationist”, anti-communist opposition. The Soviet polpred in Washington reported obstacles in obtaining US assistance, but then he noted an improvement in the atmosphere. In November 1941 FDR announced that “Lend-Lease” supplies would go to the USSR. The Grand Alliance began to form up. Roosevelt became Godfather of the Big Three.

David Low wondered in a cartoon where ‘Colonel Blimp’, the proverbial rotten British Tory, and his cronies sat watching from afar the war in the east.

After the Soviet victory before Moscow in December 1941 the Foreign Office debated what impact it would have on the course of the war. Stalin could opt out of the war leaving Britain and the US in the lurch. Sir Orme G. Sargent and Sir Alexander Cadogan, senior Foreign Office officials, were great Sovietophobes. Historians can always count on them for something nasty to say about the USSR. In early February 1942 they were worried about the outcome of the war. They feared that the Red Army might win without any help from the west. According to Cadogan and Sargent, that would be a catastrophe. Britain would have nothing to say about the post-war order.

Here is what Cadogan had to say on 8 February 1942: “… we ought to hope for continued pressure by the Soviet, with erosion of German manpower & material and not too [emphasis in original] great a geographical advance.”

Eden responded on the same day: “… it remains broadly true that a German collapse this year will be an exclusively Soviet victory with all that implies. Therefore clearly we must do all in our power to resolve grievances & come to terms with [Stalin] for the future. This may also prevent him from double crossing us, but it will at least remove pretexts. He has these now…” Britain had no armies in Europe, fighting the Germans.

The Foreign Office had two big worries in February 1942: the Red Army winning too quickly and Stalin double-crossing them. Can you imagine? The Red Army had already suffered more than 3 million casualties, not to speak of civilian losses, and the Foreign Office was worried about the Red Army winning too quickly.

Pragmatist that he was, Churchill knew what he had to do. He threw some flowers to Stalin: “Words fail me to express the admiration which all of us feel at the continued brilliant successes of your Armies against the German invader, but I cannot resist sending you a further word of gratitude and congratulation on all that Russia is doing for the common cause.”

Philip Faymonville, the Brigadier in charge of Lend-Lease, got on well with his Soviet counterparts which did not sit well with the US military attaché, Joseph Michela

In July 1941 the British and Soviet governments exchanged military missions. The first three British heads of mission were a failure. They were Generals Frank Noel Mason-Macfarlane, Giffard Martel and Brocas Burrows. The latter two officers were true blue Sovietophobes. General Burrows had been in Murmansk during the British intervention in 1918-1919. Burrows could not hide his hatred of the USSR. He wanted to wear medals he had got from the White Guard armies. The Foreign Office reluctantly let him do it. Burrows only lasted a few months in Moscow before Stalin himself asked for his recall.

There was also trouble in the US embassy in Moscow. The Brigadier in charge of Lend-Lease was Philip Faymonville. He got on well with his Soviet counterparts which did not sit well with the US military attaché, Joseph Michela. Brigadier Michela hated the USSR and disdained the Red Army. He was wrong about Soviet capabilities and intentions in just about every report he sent to Washington. What on earth was he doing in Moscow? In 1942 he accused Faymonville of being a homosexual, blackmailed, he implied by Soviet intelligence. The FBI investigated and found nothing but praise for Faymonville. Michela was a good hater and hated “the pinks” in the US government who supported the Soviet war effort. That also included FDR since it was his policy to support the USSR. The US embassy in Moscow was infested with Sovietophobes and it was civil war between Michela and Faymonville. In 1943 they were recalled to Washington.

In the summer of 1944 Sovietophobia in the British War Office was so intense that it worried the Foreign Office. Stalin was certain to hear of it. In August 1944 the Chiefs of Staff were talking about the USSR as “enemy no. 1”. This was a reversion back to the 1930s when western elites could not decide if the USSR or Nazi Germany was “enemy no. 1.” The Foreign Office was greatly alarmed by the inability of British senior officers to conduct themselves “diplomatically” with their Soviet counterparts. To quote the head of the Northern Department, Christopher F. A. Warner, “Anglo-Russian post-war relations will be irretrievably prejudiced with the most appalling results for perhaps 100 years. This is altogether too high a price to pay for the prejudices of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff [Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke]”. Even Churchill had trouble restraining his old anti-Bolshevik urges, shocking his colleagues at times with outlandish comments about communist crocodiles and Russian barbarians.

Russophobia and Sovietophobia were alive and well in the higher ranks of the British and US armed forces even as the Red Army was crushing the Wehrmacht. And that was not all. In June 1944 Stalin proposed the formation of a Tripartite Military Commission to coordinate military planning with the western allies, they having finally landed in Normandy. After months of delays, the proposal was abandoned because of foot dragging by the British Chiefs of Staff.

British army hostility also manifested itself in planning for the post-war period. In several major planning documents prior to the end of the war you can follow the revisions to these papers where the authors slipped in preoccupations about a potential Soviet threat to British interests in the post-war period.

All of this occurred in the lead-up to the Yalta conference. The relatively smooth waters of cooperation between FDR, Churchill, and Stalin at Yalta concealed roiling cross currents beneath the glistening surface which some historians like to emphasise. These rip tides were quick to erupt in the last weeks of the war.

In March 1945 there was a row over secret Anglo-American negotiations in Berne, Switzerland with German military representatives for the surrender of German forces in northern Italy. In late March Molotov, narkom for Foreign Affairs, accused the Anglo-Americans of going behind the back of the Soviet Union. In early April German resistance in the west collapsed, though not in the east. It looked like the Red Army was going to have to bear most of the casualties again in reducing the last German forces. The Soviet side must have wondered if there was a connection between the March negotiations in Switzerland and the end of German resistance in the west.

In the Foreign Office, Sargent, Deputy Permanent Undersecretary, took offence at Soviet irritation. It’s time for “a showdown” with Moscow, he wrote in early April 1945. A “showdown,” he said. We’ve put up with the Soviet for a long time because they were carrying the brunt of the fighting, but since the German collapse in the west, things have changed. We can start setting conditions for the Soviet side, Sargent wrote. What is interesting about his memorandum is that he already anticipated the division of Europe between east and west. We’re going “to rehabilitate” Germany, Sargent wrote, as we did Italy “so as to save her from Communism.”

“They [the USSR] may well decide that there is not a moment to be lost in consolidating their cordon sanitaire, not merely against a future German danger, but against the impending penetration by the Western Allies.” Godfather Roosevelt quieted down the row over the Berne negotiations just before his death on 12 April. US Ambassador Averill Harriman and the US head of the military mission in Moscow, General John R. Deane, then rushed to Washington, to obtain, in effect, the abandonment of FDR’s policy toward the Soviet Union.Roosevelt’s ghost could not do much against the zeal of subordinates who were determined to set matters straight with the USSR.

Not to be outdone, Churchill ordered the Joint Planning Staff to draw up contingency plans for war against the USSR. Yes, that is correct, for war against the USSR. This astonishing, scandalous document was entitled Operation “Unthinkable” and dated 22 May 1945, three months after Yalta. It was classified “top secret”, and you can understand why. The document foresaw the contingency of military action against the Red Army only a fortnight after VE Day, making use of reconstituted German divisions to be allied with British and US forces. “The overall or political object is to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and British Empire.” Of course, we’ll offer the Russians a choice, said the document, but “if they want total war, they are in a position to have it.” The War Office weeders really slipped up when they did not destroy this particular document. I have never seen in British archives so much stupidity, so many wild ideas, packed into one 29pp. document. General Hastings Ismay, the PM’s military advisor, wrote to Churchill in early June that the document was “bare facts”. The Chiefs of Staff felt that “the less that was put on paper… the better.” Churchill replied that the paper was a “precautionary study of what, I hope, is still a purely hypothetical contingency.” That sounded like backpedaling.

You will find this extraordinary document in the British National Archives at Kew in a Cabinet file entitled “The Russian Threat to Western Civilisation”. My guess is you can also find fresh files like this one, dated 2014 or after, in top secret US and British government vaults. Foreign Office official Warner was more right than he knew when he wrote about the danger of 100 years of Anglo-Russian hostility. If one starts the clock ticking in 1917, we are at 103 years and counting.

This is why I propose that the Yalta conference was a mirage, brilliant to be sure, but still a mirage. As soon as the German danger subsided, it was back to business as usual in the West. The Grand Alliance was over—it was a “truce”, some of my students have said. The cold war, which began after 1917, then gradually resumed in the spring of 1945. Count the years since 1917 when the USSR and Russia have had good relations with the west and with the United States in particular. Four years out of 103 leaves not quite a century of hostility, and this does not bode well for change in the foreseeable future. It is best to see things as they are, and not as you might wish them to be.


Differences between Yalta and Potsdam

The conferences at Yalta and Potsdam were the two most important peace conferences of World War II. The major powers at the conferences were the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union. The Yalta and Potsdam conferences were called to help the Allies decide what would happen to Europe, and in particular Germany, at the end of the Second World War.

The conference at Yalta took place from February 4-11, 1945. Yalta is located on the southern coast of Ukraine. The “Big Three” at Yalta were US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Coming into the conference the Soviet Union held the strongest military position in Europe. They controlled Rumania, Bulgaria, and most of Poland and Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, and had moved within 100 miles of Berlin.

The Potsdam Conference took place in Germany, from July 17-August 2, 1945. The “Big Three” nations were once again represented, though their leaders had changed. Stalin was there, but Truman had become President when Roosevelt died in April. Churchill was there to begin the conference, but he was replaced when Clement Atlee was elected Prime Minister in the middle of the conference on July 26. Many things from the Yalta Conference came up, including the occupation of Germany and reparations. Also discussed were plans for war crime trials, and a possible surrender by Japan.

Yalta and Potsdam – the basics

Yalta – February 1945: Germany was not yet defeated, so, although there were tensions about Poland, the big three – Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill – managed to agree to split Germany into four zones of occupation, and to allow free elections in Eastern European countries. Russia was invited to join the United Nations, and Russia promised to join the war against Japan when Germany was defeated.

Potsdam – July 1945: Germany had been defeated, Roosevelt had died and Churchill had lost the 1945 election – so there were open disagreements. Truman came away angry about the size of reparations and the fact that a communist government was being set up in Poland. Truman did not tell Stalin that he had the atomic bomb.

It will help if you are able to describe the huge differences between Yalta and Potsdam – the issues were the same, but the goodwill to overcome them was gone, because the countries no longer needed to stick together. Note how not all the broken promises were by Stalin:


The Inevitability of the Cold War

Michael Dobbs is author of a recently completed Cold War trilogy that includes “Down with Big Brother,” on the collapse of communism, “One Minute to Midnight,” on the Cuban missile crisis, and “Six Months in 1945.”


Credit: Wikimedia Commons/HNN staff.

As a historian and a journalist, I am interested in hinge moments in history. I witnessed one such moment as a reporter for the Washington Post in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe at the end of the Cold War. My new book, Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman -- from World War to Cold War, focuses on another, equally momentous, historical transition from one era to another.

Historians pretty much agree that the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989. But when, why, and how it began has been the subject of much debate. Traditionalist historians emphasize the Sovietization of Eastern Europe, culminating in the Communist-led coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 orchestrated by Josef Stalin. Revisionists accuse President Truman of setting the stage for the Cold War with the bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945 and his embrace of “atomic diplomacy” against the Soviet Union.

The premise behind these competing versions of history is that one or other political leader was responsible for the great ideological clash that dominated the second half of the twentieth century. I disagree. I believe that the Cold War was the virtually inevitable sequel to World War II. As long as they were both fighting Nazi Germany, the United States and the Soviet Union had reason to preserve their alliance and paper over any disagreements. As soon as their common enemy was defeated, and Americans and Russians met each other in the heart of Europe, their political and economic interests diverged sharply. Friendship turned to rivalry in the blink of an eye.

With his twisted but occasionally brilliant grasp of historical forces, Adolf Hitler got it right when he concluded in April 1945 that the defeat of the Third Reich would leave “only two great Powers capable of confronting each other -- the United States and Soviet Russia.” He went on to predict that “the laws of both history and geography will compel these two Powers to a trial of strength, either military or in the fields of economics and ideology.”

Virtually all the watershed events of the early Cold War can be traced back to the six-month period between February and August 1945 that spanned the Yalta conference, the death of Franklin Roosevelt, the end of World War II, the disintegration of the anti-Hitler alliance, and the dawning of the atomic age. The Czechoslovak coup followed a pattern established a pattern established in Romania in the weeks immediately following Yalta, with the Moscow-backed Communists using their control over the security forces to seize complete power. Truman’s support for pro-Western governments in Greece and Turkey in 1947 followed logically from his earlier resistance to Soviet plans to acquire military bases along the Dardanelles and in the Mediterranean. The 1948-1949 Berlin blockade had its origins in the squabbles over Western access rights to the city during the Potsdam conference in July 1945.

Any chance of averting a global confrontation between the two emerging superpowers was overwhelmed by the nuclear arms race, which also began in this six-month period. Well before the bombing of Hiroshima, the Russians and the Americans were engaged in a frenzied competition to locate bomb-making materials amid the ruins of the Third Reich, and sign up German scientists for their nuclear and missile projects. Once Stalin knew that the Americans had an atomic bomb, he was determined to acquire one, too.

There is plenty of evidence that none of the principals wanted a Cold War. Although Stalin regarded a confrontation as inevitable over the long run, he would have preferred a period of détente with the imperialist camp that would have allowed Russia to repair the devastation caused by the war. But he was not prepared to sacrifice the territorial gains in Eastern Europe that had been acquired through so much sacrifice.

In their own fashion, American leaders were at least as ideological as Soviet leaders. Stalin was ready to divide up the continent, according to the principle that “everyone imposes his own system as far as his army can reach.” But this was anathema to the Americans who remained committed, in theory at least, to the Wilsonian proposition that the world had to be made “safe for democracy.”

Few Americans were more committed to the preservation of the wartime alliance than Harry Hopkins, FDR’s closest confidant and an early adviser to Truman. But even Hopkins was compelled to revise his rosy opinions about the prospects of post-war cooperation following a meeting with Stalin in Moscow in May 1945. “The American people want not only freedom for themselves,” he told the Soviet expert Charles Bohlen. “They want freedom throughout the world for other people as well.”

The incompatibility of the two competing ideologies was often clearer at a lower level than at the level of statesmen and senior diplomats. While the Big Three were trying to hammer out a plan for the joint occupation of Germany at Potsdam in July 1945, their soldiers were already shooting at each other in the streets of Berlin, a few miles down the road. These early skirmishes grew out of the struggle to control the city, but also represented two entirely different cultures, economic systems, and general world view. After a six-day tour of Germany that same month, a British intelligence officer, Goronwy Rees, concluded that “the war between the Russians and the democracies is approaching, and indeed has already begun.”

The onset of the Cold War is sometimes dated from Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech at Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946. But we forget that the British prime minister had been using such imagery long before. On May 12, 1945, five days after VE-day, he complained to Truman that “an iron curtain is drawn down” across the Russian front. “We do not know what is going on behind.” Churchill was referring here to an information curtain -- the indispensable prequel to the consolidation of Soviet control over a vast stretch of Europe.

Another widely accepted marker for the beginning of the Cold War is the “long telegram” sent by American diplomat George Kennan to the State Department in February 1946, in which he outlined the strategy that later became known as “containment.” But that, too, was hardly new. From his isolated perch in Moscow, Kennan had been long been convinced that Soviet Russia was an “unfit partner” for the United States and had advocated the division of Europe into American and Soviet spheres of influence. His “long telegram” differed from his earlier dispatches only in the enthusiastic reception that it was accorded in Washington.

If you want to go even further back into history, then consider the views of Alexis de Toqueville, who noted that America and Russia were guided by opposite ideological principles. “The principal instrument of the former is freedom of the latter, servitude,” the French seer wrote in 1835. “Their starting point is different and their courses are not the same yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.”

When it comes to the start of the Cold War, the “great man” theory of history does not explain very much. In their different ways, Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill and Truman all struggled to prevent the division of the globe into rival ideological-military camps. How, despite this, they came to implement “the will of Heaven” is the story of six months in 1945.


Introduction

Who first coined the phrase “Cold War”? The general consensus among historians is that it was the celebrated author and journalist, George Orwell, in his essay ‘You and the Atom Bomb’ published in the Tribune magazine on 19 October 1945 (though one biographer has traced his use of the phrase back to 1943). In the 1945 article Orwell reflected on the repercussions of ‘a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of “Cold War” with its neighbours’. He envisaged ‘the prospect of two or three monstrous super-states’ dominating the world, and possessing weapons which can kill millions in seconds. Orwell concluded that the atomic bomb was likely ‘to put an end to large-scale wars at the cost of prolonging indefinitely a “peace that is no peace”.

Seeing into the future

Looking back at Orwell’s predictions, he possessed amazing foresight. The Cold War (1945-1991) was a confrontation, both military and ideological, between two superpowers, the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union (and their respective allies), made all the more tense by the threat of nuclear war. This highly charged stand-off was a thread running through historic developments such as the iron curtain, the Cuban missile crisis and the construction and dismantling of the Berlin Wall.

Because there was so much at stake – arguably, the very future of civilisation – the superpowers avoided direct confrontation but fought a series of savage proxy wars, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, supporting local factions. Orwell’s “peace that is no peace” prediction was borne out.

Revelations

Contemplating the Cold War from today’s perspective, one aspect cannot be predicted – the surprises that can emerge from documents you haven’t seen before. Many narratives are available for the Cold War: it is the subject of many books, documentaries and films. However, this package of documents from The National Archives shows us that archives still have the capacity to surprise us about this period in history. There are many instances of this. For example, it is well-known that Churchill’s famous quotation “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent” was part of a speech given in Fulton, Missouri, USA, on 5 March 1946. But did you know that he used the phrase ‘iron curtain’ almost a year earlier, in a personal telegram to President Truman on 12 May 1945? This is a heartfelt message in which Churchill expresses his ‘deep anxiety’ about Russian intentions in Eastern Europe.

Another surprise is a report by the Joint Planning Staff which puts forward a plan, (little known today) entitled ‘Operation Unthinkable’, advocating an attack on Soviet Forces in order to push them out of East Germany and Poland in July 1945. This document has real ‘shock value’: ‘If they [the Russians] want total war, they are in a position to have it’. The strident language of this document is striking: the intention was ‘to impose on Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire’. However, it is acknowledged that ‘to win would take us a very long time’.

Dramatic language is also a feature of a report called ‘The Threat to Western Civilisation’ from the Foreign Secretary to the British Cabinet in March 1948. This refers to the possibilities of the Soviet Union establishing a ‘world dictatorship’ or the ‘collapse of organised society over great stretches of the globe’. The writing style is so powerful, the words leap from the page. Yet another example of vivid writing can be seen in a Foreign Office telegram reporting back to London about the uprising in Hungary on 25 October 1956: ‘the populace are terrified of massive reprisals’.

In some cases, document content is not dramatic in itself but is, none the less, surprising. A great example of this is the last paragraph of Atomic Spy Klaus Fuch’s confession on 27 January 1950, when he suddenly begins to ‘wax lyrical’ about his admiration for English people: ‘since coming to Harwell I have met English people of all kinds, and I have come to see in many of them a deep rooted firmness which enables them to lead a decent way of life. I do not know where this springs from and I don’t think they do, but it is there’. This incongruous piece of reflectiveness at the end of a confession statement shows how Fuchs was somewhat detached from reality at the time he made it – the does not seem to realise the import of what he had just confessed to, the giving of vital atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

As well as the textual documents, visual sources can also tell a powerful story. Grainy black and white photographs of the early days of the construction of the Berlin Wall make us reflect on the predicament of Berliners, looking on at the partially constructed wall, the barbed wire, the turrets, and the ‘death strip’. For another striking example of visual material, see the illustrations in the leaflet advising householders on protection against nuclear attack (1963), which are strangely cosy, hinting at elements of normality even during fall-out conditions.

Value of archives

The National Archives is the nation’s memory – we preserve the integrity of the public records, stretching back some 1,000 years. George Orwell truly understood the value of authoritative records: Winston Smith, the anti-hero of Orwell’s 1984, worked in the ‘Ministry of Truth’, falsifying back-numbers of The Times so that the information contained in them corresponded with the current pronouncements of Big Brother’s regime. The corollary of this imagined scenario, of course, is that archives you can trust are essential for a true understanding of the past.

Mark Dunton
Principal Records Specialist
The National Archives


Know Thy Allies

After World War I, the political right in Germany developed a myth called the “stab in the back” theory to explain its people’s defeat. Though military leaders had helped negotiate the war’s end, they fixed blame on civilian leaders—especially Jews, socialists, and liberals—for “betraying” the brave German fighting men. This nasty piece of propaganda was later picked up by Hitler and the Nazis to stoke the populist resentment that fueled their rise to power.

America has had its own “stab in the back” myths. Last year, George W. Bush endorsed a revanchist view of the Vietnam War: that our political leaders undermined our military and denied us victory. Now, on his Baltic tour, he has endorsed a similar view of the Yalta accords, that great bugaboo of the old right.

Bush stopped short of accusing Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill of outright perfidy, but his words recalled those of hardcore FDR- and Truman-haters circa 1945. “The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. Yet this attempt to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability left a continent divided and unstable. The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.”

Bush’s cavalier invocations of history for political purposes are not surprising. But for an American president to dredge up ugly old canards about Yalta stretches the boundaries of decency and should draw reprimands (and not only from Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.).

As every schoolchild should know, Roosevelt and Churchill had formed an alliance of necessity with Josef Stalin during World War II. Hardly blind to Stalin’s evil, they nonetheless knew that Soviet forces were indispensable in defeating the Axis powers. “It is permitted in time of grave danger to walk with the devil until you have crossed the bridge,” FDR said, quoting an old Bulgarian proverb. He and Churchill understood that Stalin would be helping to set war aims and to plan for its aftermath. Victory, after all, carried a price.

In February 1945, the “Big Three” met at a czarist resort near Yalta, in the Soviet Crimea, to continue the work begun at other summits, notably in Tehran in 1943. (Many of the alleged “betrayals” of Yalta, at least in rough form, were actually first sketched out in Tehran.) By this time, Soviet troops had conquered much of Eastern Europe from the Germans, including Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, East Prussia, and Eastern Germany. The Western allies, meanwhile, remained on the far side of the Rhine River. Having made terrible military sacrifices to gain these positions, Stalin resolved to convert them into political payoffs.

Many of the agreements the Big Three reached at Yalta were relatively uncontroversial: The Allies decided to demand unconditional surrender from Germany, to carve up the country into four zones for its postwar occupation, and to proceed with plans to set up the United Nations.

But other issues were contentious. Asia was one. FDR wanted Stalin to enter the war against Japan, so as to obviate any need for an American invasion. In return, Stalin demanded that Russia regain dominion over various lands, notably Sakhalin and the Kurile Islands, then under Japanese control. He forswore any designs on Manchuria, which would be returned to China.

By far the knottiest problem—and the source of lingering rage among the far right afterwards—was the fate of Poland and other liberated Eastern European countries. Over several months, the Allies had been divvying up Europe according to on-the-ground military realities and their own individual national interests. The United States and Britain had denied Stalin any role in postwar Italy. Churchill and Stalin had agreed (without Roosevelt’s participation) that Britain would essentially control Greece, and Russia would essentially control Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary.

Poland was another matter. In Lublin, Poland, the Soviets had set up a government of pro-Communist Poles. Back in London, however, a pro-Western group claimed to be the true government-in-exile. Throughout the war, Stalin had acted with customary barbarity in seeking an advantage. In 1940 he ordered the slaughter of thousands of Polish army officers in the Katyn Forest, fearing their potential allegiance to the London Poles. In 1944, he stalled his own army’s march into Poland to let the Germans put down the Warsaw Uprising, again to strengthen the Communists’ hand.

At Yalta, Stalin wanted FDR and Churchill to recognize the Lublin government. They refused. Instead, all agreed to accept a provisional government, with a pledge to hold “free and unfettered elections” soon. For other liberated European countries, the Big Three also pledged to establish “interim governmental authorities broadly representative of all democratic elements in the population” and committed to free elections.

Roosevelt knew that Stalin might renege, and it was perhaps cynical for him to trumpet elections that might never take place. But as the historian David M. Kennedy has written, he had little choice, “unless Roosevelt was prepared to order Eisenhower to fight his way across the breadth of Germany, take on the Red Army, and drive it out of Poland at gunpoint.”

Stalin, of course, never allowed elections in Poland or anywhere else. “Our hopeful assumptions were soon to be falsified,” Churchill wrote. “Still, they were the only ones possible at the time.” Short of starting a hot war, the West was powerless to intervene, just as it was in Hungary in 1956 or Prague in 1968.

Because FDR kept many details of the Yalta agreements under wraps, people in Washington began whispering conspiratorially about “secret agreements.” Soon, critics, especially on the far right, were charging that FDR and Churchill had sold out the people of Eastern Europe—charges that Bush’s recent comments echo. They asserted that the ailing Roosevelt—he would die only weeks later—had come under the malign influence of pro-Communist advisers who gave Stalin the store.

But Yalta did not give Stalin control of the Eastern European countries. He was already there. Moreover, as Lloyd C. Gardner has argued, it’s possible that postwar Europe could have turned out worse than it did. For all its evident failings, Yalta did lead to a revived Western Europe, a lessening of open warfare on the continent, and, notwithstanding Bush’s remarks, relative stability. Without Yalta, Gardner notes, “the uneasy equilibrium of the Cold War might have deteriorated into something much worse—a series of civil wars or possibly an even darker Orwellian condition of localized wars along an uncertain border.” Such “what if” games are generally pointless, but they can remind us that the harmonious Europe that Yalta’s critics tout as a counter-scenario wasn’t the only alternative to the superpower standoff.

Along with the myth of FDR’s treachery in leading America into war, the “stab in the back” interpretation of Yalta became a cudgel with which the old right and their McCarthyite heirs tried to discredit a president they had long despised. Renouncing Yalta even became a plank in the 1952 Republican platform, although Eisenhower did not support it. In time, however, these hoary myths receded into the shadows, dimly remembered except as a historical curiosity, where, alas, they should have remained undisturbed.


The Cold War - A History

The Cold War began at the conclusion of World War II in 1945. To put into perspective the uneasy and often hostile relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union, it is important to touch briefly on the origins of the Cold War which date back to the latter part of World War I. The real or perceived threat to the Western way of life generated by Communism, and the resulting apprehension on the part of Americans and Western Europeans is easy to understand. Yet, the anxieties and often near paranoia expressed by people in the East, particularly the Russians, about the fear of being attacked by the West has often mystified westerners. Some causes for Russian suspicion and fear can be found rooted in events that took place during and after the Russian Revolution.

In 1917 the Czar&rsquos army, badly bruised and demoralized, was on the brink of collapse. Vladmir Lenin, with German support, had come out of exile and returned to Russia. During the revolutions of 1917 and the subsequent Civil War in Russia, Lenin and other Bolsheviks assumed power and established a communist state.

The events alarmed the West for a number of reasons. One, the collapse of Russia in the east released German soldiers for combat on the western front. Great stores of supplies were stockpiled in Russian ports which the allies feared would fall into German hands. Some 40,000 Czechoslovakian soldiers had been fighting alongside the Russians against Germany and were essentially stranded in Russia. The British were alarmed at the Communist takeover in Russia and viewed Lenin and his followers as a threat to western ways and ideology. Americans, having supported the war to protect free peoples also felt threatened by the situation in Russia.


Prime Minister Winston Churchill

President Woodrow Wilson was reluctant to respond directly to events in Russia at first, but gave in to pressure from Winston Churchill and others in Great Britain. He was also influenced by events, particularly the armistice between Russia and Germany in December 1917, and later, the Brest-Litovsk Treaty of March 3, 1918.

Allied troops under British command were dispatched to Russia in August 1918 and took the city of Archangel. Some 9,000 American troops soon joined the force and were engaged militarily against the Bolsheviks. In addition to the reasons earlier stated for being in Russia, the Americans also fit into a British plan to overthrow the Bolsheviks. Moreover, since the Japanese also sent a large contingency of troops to Russia, there was a concern on the part of the American government about Japanese designs.

The Americans did not withdraw from Russia until 1919, long after hostilities had ended. Whatever the motives, right or wrong, Russians from that point on retained a vivid recollection of an &lsquoinvasion&rsquo of their homeland by an Anglo-American army. The collective memory played a large role in creating a perception in the minds of future Russians that we were quite capable of repeating the act.

That Woodrow Wilson and his three successors refused to recognize the Soviet government played a role as well in fomenting hostilities. When Germany was invited to join the League of Nations in 1925 but Russia was not, resentment simply deepened along with Russian suspicion that Germany would be re-armed and again be a threat to Russia.

The United States formally recognized the Soviet Union during the Roosevelt administration in 1933. Prior to the beginning of WWII, tensions between Russia and the West again escalated when the Soviet Union and Germany signed a non-aggression pact in August 1939. The pact essentially gave Hitler a free hand to invade Poland a few short weeks later, and to unleash his military in Europe without concerns about an &lsquoeastern front&rsquo. For Stalin&rsquos part, he was able to acquire the Baltic states and share in the division of Poland. In effect, the Soviet Union began building a buffer zone along its western frontier. At the same time, its actions aroused suspicions in Britain and the U.S. regarding its long range intentions.

Aggravating the situation more was the fact that Britain had been passing intelligence on to Stalin concerning Hitler&rsquos intentions which Stalin chose to ignore. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Stalin of course allied himself with the U.S. and Great Britain and the war effort hinged on the ability of the &lsquoBig Three&rsquo to plan and work together to defeat Nazi Germany.

In the course of events including Big Three conferences, Roosevelt was focused on defeating Germany and was somewhat taken in by Stalin&rsquos personality whereas Churchill looked beyond the defeat of Germany and to the containment of Communism.

Stalin and the Soviets for their part had no plans of giving up territory acquired as a result of the earlier Soviet-German pact, or during the ensuing conflict. The fact that Russia had been invaded twice in a short span of time by Germany and by allied nations as well influenced Soviet thinking. While Churchill pressed for a resolution of territorial issues during the war, Roosevelt felt that the issues could be resolved after Germany and Japan were defeated.

Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin at the Yalta conference.

The Cold War-Significant Events

With the end of WWII, the United States emerged as a super power. No longer in isolation, the U.S. recognized the need to play a part in global affairs and protect its interests and security through a projection of power and influence. President Roosevelt had died and was succeeded by Harry S. Truman.

As for the Soviet Union, the U.S. found that an intelligence gap existed and very little was known about the internal workings of Stalin&rsquos regime. Truman and Churchill agreed early on that containment of the Soviet Union and its influence in Europe were a first order of priority. However, there existed a need to establish a reliable intelligence network within the Soviet Union and at the time only one group was in place to meet the needs of the U.S. The remnant of the Abwehr, German intelligence, under the command of General Reinhard Gehlen made itself available to the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), the latter becoming the CIA in 1947. With over 2,000 former Nazi agents on the scene within the Soviet Union, the &lsquoGehlen Organization&rsquo solidified its relationship with the CIA and was a primary source of intelligence on the Soviet Union for years to come. In 1956, Gehlen founded the BND or German Intelligence Service which continues to this day.

While the partnership between Gehlen and the U.S. is a story in and of itself, the reader can safely surmise that a good deal of information transmitted to the U.S. from Gehlen about the Soviet Union was intended to help heighten our suspicions and fears about Soviet planning and intentions.

George F. Kennan, charge d&rsquoaffaires for the U.S. in Moscow responded to an urgent request from the State Department for information on the Soviets with his &lsquolong telegram&rsquo of February 1946. In it, he made an assessment that essentially indicated that Russia was not so much a military threat to the West as long as the latter maintained a strong force, rather, the Soviets presented a real political threat to western countries.

Kennan, and later Dwight D. Eisenhower as President, did not think, as long as mistakes were not made, that there would be a military confrontation between the Soviets and the West in Europe.

Détente having been the basis for American-Soviet relations immediately after WWII, the Truman Doctrine of 1947 launched a policy of containment. Basically stating our support for Greece and Turkey not falling within the Soviet sphere, the doctrine clearly stated our intent to contain Soviet influence outside of its boundaries. Truman&rsquos policies agreed with Kennan&rsquos assessment that firmness and force could contain Soviet political ambitions and prevent military action.

The Berlin Airlift served to attest to that assessment as a potential major confrontation with the Soviets was neutralized with force and determination.

NATO &ndash Germany Partitioned &ndash Korean War

NATO was established in 1949 and in that year, the Federal Republic of Germany was formed. In response, Stalin created the East German state. Berlin was and remained a bone of contention for West and East. In the not too distant future, it would be a catalyst for either a major war, or a move towards &lsquosofter relations&rsquo between the Americans and Soviets.

While Korea was geographically removed from Europe, it was in fact a place where free peoples were tested mightily by the communist regimes in China and the USSR. During the years 1950 to 1953, the East and West contested each other militarily. When Stalin died, a senior member of the Soviet government, Malenkov, pushed the Communist side for a cease fire and armistice talks and the fighting finally ceased.

West Germany enters Nato &ndash Warsaw Pact Is Formed

Another factor that raised concern in the USSR about western intentions was the re-arming of West Germany. When in fact West Germany joined NATO on May 9, 1955, the Soviets responded immediately with the establishment of the Warsaw Pact, May 14, 1955. West Germany had some conditions for joining given its own fear of Soviet reprisal. Our German allies did not want their country to be a battleground, at least, not without substantial defense. In a form of quid pro quo, NATO agreed to a &lsquoforward defense&rsquo strategy which called for forward deployment of NATO forces, up against the Soviet-East bloc boundaries. From that point on, we were nose to nose.

It was soon after that the 3 rd Armored Division took up position, nose to nose with Soviet forces, and participated in the defense of American security and Europe. The Cold War Time Line with a substantial number of major events continued on until in 1989, the Soviet empire ceased to exist. That time line and its events will be covered in a separate page. It is hoped that the Cold War History, to this point, will help the reader understand the basis for some of the tensions that developed between West and East.


Day Three at Yalta, the Conference That Shaped the World: ‘The Whole Palace Was Bugged!’

Seventy-five years ago, in February 1945, some of the last battles of World War II were still being fought but the Allies—US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin—knew the defeat of Nazi Germany was not far off. Their next great challenge was to decide how to manage the peace and to do that the three leaders needed to meet face to face, as they had last done in Teheran in 1943. Under pressure from Stalin, the chosen venue was on his home territory—the Black Sea resort of Yalta on the Crimean Peninsula, recently liberated from the Nazis.

Between February 4 and 11, 1945 the “Big Three”—as the press called them—made decisions that resonate to this day. Stalin’s price for Soviet entry into the war against Japan enabled the Red Army to advance into Korea and precipitated the Korean War, leading to the continuing partition of Korea and the ongoing confrontation with the Kim dynasty today. Yalta also seeded the ground for the Cold War. Within just weeks Stalin violated protocols signed at the conference that should have guaranteed democratic freedoms for the countries of Eastern Europe, and the Iron Curtain began to descend.

This diary reveals—often in the words of those who were there—what happened on each of eight momentous days, exactly 75 years ago, as Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill not only defined a new world order but bequeathed a problematic legacy to our time. (Head here to read day one of the Yalta diaries. And here to read day two.)

Day Three

Tuesday, February 6, “warm, pleasant weather”

Morning: Vorontsov Palace
Churchill’s secretary Jo Sturdee writes home that she is “eating far too much … I wish I were a camel and could store some of the lovely creamy butter”—all such a contrast to the strict rationing back home in wartime Britain. But the lack of safe drinking water and copious vodka, champagne and wine are a challenge: “You have to take darned good care that you are definitely steady on your feet and can walk in a straight line.”

The UK delegation is amused by evidence that Stalin’s security staff have bugged the Vorontsov Palace. Two days after Chief of Air Staff Peter Portal remarked loudly that a large glass fish tank with plants growing inside “contained no fish,” goldfish suddenly appeared in it.

Morning: Livadia Palace
Like the UK delegation, the US delegation are learning to cope with the minimal bath and lavatory facilities. Admiral King’s quarters—the boudoir of the last Tsarina—contain the only functioning lavatory on the first floor. King likes to read while sitting on the toilet. With other senior military personnel also clamoring to use the lavatory, “a time and motion system,” as one colonel jokes, is introduced.

Later that morning: nearby port of Sebastopol
Anna Boettiger, Sarah Churchill and Averell Harriman’s daughter Kathleen drive along tortuous roads to the port of Sebastopol—“a terrible sight,” Sarah writes. “I didn’t see one house that had not been shattered.” Bedraggled Romanian prisoners of war queue for food, “something out of a bucket brought on a cart by a tired thin horse. One has seen similar queues of hopeless stunned humans on the films—but in reality, it is too terrible.”

Noon: Livadia Palace
With mounting international speculation about the conference’s location and purpose, Foreign Ministers draft a press release. The “Big Three” are meeting “in the Black Sea area” to concert plans “for completing the defeat of the common enemy.” Discussions will include “the occupation and control of Germany” and “the earliest possible establishment of a permanent international organization to maintain Peace.” No further information will be released until the conference ends.

13.00: Roosevelt’s apartments, Livadia Palace
Churchill arrives for lunch with Roosevelt. Determined that he should not exhaust her father, Anna Boettiger asks Harriman, who is attending, “to shoo the PM out at 2.45.” In fact, Roosevelt himself brings the lunch to a close at 3:00, suggesting Churchill takes a siesta before the coming plenary session. Hopkins turfs one of Roosevelt’s oldest friends and aides, General “Pa” Watson, who is ill, out of his bedroom to accommodate Churchill.

16.00: Grand Ballroom, Livadia Palace
The third plenary session opens. Churchill renews his demands for a strong France which—when US troops go home—“alone could deny rocket sites on her Channel coast and build up an army large and strong enough to contain” any German resurgence. Backtracking a little from the previous day, Roosevelt says that though the American public want their troops home quickly, the establishment of a world organization to preserve the peace might alter their attitude. Thus, he has neatly turned discussion to one of his key objectives—the establishment of the United Nations.

Secretary of State Stettinius sets out the US’s proposed voting formula for the UN Security Council which will have eleven members, of which five, including the US, UK and USSR, will be permanent members. No motion will be carried unless at least seven members support it. However, since these seven must include all five permanent members, this means each of the latter can exercise a veto on any measure it does not like.

If Poland is a matter of honor for the British it is “a matter of life and death” for the Soviet Union.

Though Roosevelt sent Stalin a note outlining these proposals two months ago, Stalin looks puzzled. Hopkins decides “That guy can’t be much interested in this peace organization.” Stettinius thinks Stalin believes “we are trying to slip something over on him.” Stalin says the proposals “are not altogether clear” and he wants to study them further, adding that “The greatest danger is conflict among ourselves.” The Soviet Union, America and Britain are currently allies, but who knows what might happen in ten years’ time? The UN arrangements must be robust enough “to secure peace for at least fifty years” and preserve the great powers’ unity.

Next comes the subject of Poland’s borders. All three are agreed that Poland’s 1939 borders should move westwards to restore to the Soviet Union some of the territory forfeited in fighting after the First World War. Poland will be compensated with German land. The Soviet Union already occupies nearly all Poland. Roosevelt says it would help him win over the Polish community in the US if the Soviet Union would offer the Poles some concessions on their proposed new eastern frontier, like leaving the city of Lvov with Poland. The Poles, he suggests, are “like the Chinese … always worried about ‘losing face.’” Stalin pounces. Which Poles does Roosevelt mean? “The real ones or the émigrés? The real Poles live in Poland.”

“All Poles,” says Roosevelt, taken aback, adding that what matters more than borders is “a permanent government for Poland.” US public opinion will not accept the Soviet-backed so-called “Lublin” group, because it only represents a small proportion of Poles. Churchill agrees that Poland’s freedom and independence matter more than borders—they are why Britain went to war in 1939, taking a terrible risk that “had nearly cost us our life.” Poland must be “mistress in her own house and captain of her own soul.” It is wrong, he argues, that at present there are two competing Polish governments—the Lublin group, now in Warsaw, and the Polish government in exile in London. At Yalta they must agree on one fair and representative government pending full and free elections.

Stanislaw Mikolajczyk, Prime Minister of the Polish Government in exile in London during most of the war. Popperfoto / Contributor.

Stalin rises to his feet and marches up and down behind his chair, gesturing theatrically. If Poland is a matter of honor for the British it is “a matter of life and death” for the Soviet Union. Twice in 30 years Poland has been the corridor through which German troops marched to attack Russia. He will make no territorial concession to Poland in the east. If the Poles want more land it must be at the expense of Germany in the west. He derides Churchill’s suggestion that they can agree a new provisional Polish government at Yalta—it must have been a slip of the tongue. How could such a thing be done without the participation of the Poles? “I am called a dictator and not a democrat, but I have enough democratic feeling to refuse to create a Polish government without the Poles being consulted.” Finally, he accuses the London Poles of orchestrating attacks by anti-Communist partisans against the Red Army in Poland. Soviet troops “should not be shot at from behind.”

Fatigued and determined to wind up the session, Roosevelt says “Poland has been a source of trouble for over 500 years.” Churchill replies, “All the more must we do what we can to put an end to these troubles.” With that the most difficult session so far ends.

That evening: Roosevelt’s apartments, Livadia Palace
An exhausted Roosevelt has a massage and takes a rest. Worried about Poland, after dinner he drafts a letter to Stalin which Harriman takes to the Vorontsov Palace to show Churchill. Shrewdly couched as an appeal for Allied unity, it tells Stalin that Roosevelt is “greatly disturbed” that the three powers cannot agree “about the political set-up in Poland … If we cannot get a meeting of minds when our armies are converging on the common enemy, how can we get an understanding on even more vital things in the future?” He suggests bringing to Yalta members of the Soviet-backed Lublin group but also “other elements of the Polish people” to discuss forming a new representative government.

That evening: Churchill’s apartments, Vorontsov Palace
Churchill and Eden discuss Poland over dinner—the reality, they agree, is “that the Red Army hold most of the country.” Harriman arrives with Roosevelt’s draft which Churchill thinks is “on the right lines but not quite stiff enough.” He suggests amendments.

Later that night: Yusupov Palace
Roosevelt’s letter to Stalin, including Churchill’s changes, arrives. Stalin’s security chief Lavrentii Beria is delighted with how things are going—“On Poland Stalin has not moved one inch.”

CHECK BACK TOMORROW FOR A DIARY OF DAY FOUR.

Eight Days at Yalta: How Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin Shaped the Post-War World, by Diana Preston is available now from Grove Atlantic. Featured image, left to right: Churchill’s daughter Sarah, Roosevelt’s daughter Anna, and Harriman’s daughter Kathleen at Yalta, where they were known as “The Little Three.” Courtesy Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.


Potsdam and the Origins of the Cold War

An exploration of Potsdam and its effects on the Cold War.

The 70th anniversary commemorations of the end of the Second World War haven’t been hitting the peace-making highlights with much enthusiasm. And no wonder: in retrospect, the periods of the end of World War II and the start of the Cold War are one and the same. The so-called “Good War” did not end well. The hybrid combination in the victorious Allies of democracies and totalitarians made for vastly different aims and long-lasting effects: the Soviet Army occupied much of Eastern Europe and half of Germany because they had pushed the Nazis back that far. This was a fact on the ground only another full-scale war could possibly change.

Seventy years ago this week, the Potsdam Conference was winding up. It was a meeting between Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Joseph Stalin to decide what do with a defeated Germany in terms of territory, reparations, and administration of the occupied zones. But things changed rapidly during the course of that meeting in the Cecilienhof Palace in Potsdam, Germany, from July 17-August 2.

Truman had only been President for a few months following the sudden death of Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 12. While in Potsdam, he was told that the U.S. atomic bomb was read for use. This knowledge was held back from the Russians and A-bombs were dropped on Japan on August 6th and 9th. Churchill would lose an election in the middle of the Conference, to be replaced by the Labour Party leader Clement Attlee, who had accompanied him in case of just such a contingency. Meanwhile, their British Empire was on its last legs, fatally undermined by the war. Only Stalin remained of the “Big Three.”

Robert Cecil explores “Potsdam and its Legends.” In terms of reputation it was no Yalta Conference, which had been held in February, 1945, and was seen as another Munich, or sell-out, by the right-wing in the U.S. But it did very much fail to unite Germany, a result that pleased the Soviets and the French (Charles de Gaulle had not been invited to Potsdam and did his best to let his pique be known about this).

Thomas G. Paterson has some other legends to question in his short introduction to the origins of the Cold War. Most historians now think the Soviet threat at the end of the war was exaggerated. The U.S., meanwhile, was expanding into the vacuum of the British Empire, projecting its might all over the world, and encircling the U.S.S.R. Stalin’s brute paranoia and the U.S.’s vision of a new imperium made for years of missteps, proxy wars, and nasty little struggles in the dark of espionage.

Both these articles makes for bracing reading, as all good history should.


Watch the video: The Big Three Conferences. Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam. WW2 Ends, Cold War Begins